Monday, October 25, 2010

Around the World in One Blog Post

I think that happiness comes in the form of cheese...melted and oozing between or within layers of dough. Grilled cheese sandwiches? Check! Quesadillas? Check! Empanadas!? Yes please!

A few months ago I experimented with empanadas for the first time… those unbelievably good pockets of dough filled with deliciousness and then baked or fried. I baked Puerto Rican style papa y queso empanadas inspired by the flaky-fried empanadillas I regularly devour (for only $3 during happy hour) at La Isla. Then, since I was on a roll, I also made crumbly Italian sausage, caramelized onion, and gorgonzola empanadas, inspired by a fantastic pizza creation (made by V) that was comprised of the same delicious goodies. That’s the beauty of empanadas… and grilled cheese sandwiches or quesadillas, for that matter…you can put anything in them, and as long as there’s a layer of rich gooey cheese melting in and around the other ingredients, your heart will be happy. Well, not literally…with all that cheese, your heart (and your heart doctor) will probably be un-happy, but we’ll let someone else’s blog deal with that.

Last week I was reminded of how wonderful, simple, and versatile empanadas are when my friend Amanda (not my sister, different Amanda) hosted a fall-themed girl’s night dinner in her new apartment. She made really good empanadas, but I’ll get to that in a second. First, a little about Amanda. She was the first friend I met in college, because our sisters were roommates. We went out together that first night in Seattle, and told people we were sisters. Then, when we met our separate roommates and made new friends in the dorms, we merged groups. We’ve been one giant girl-group ever since. We basically could have started our own sorority…if we were into that sort of thing. We weren’t into that sort of thing though, especially not Amanda—she’s a free spirit. So free, in fact, that last year, she and her boyfriend quit their jobs and flew to Southeast Asia, with open ended return tickets.

They travelled through Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Vietnam, and Indonesia (and probably some other places I missed) for over a year. They celebrated Thanksgiving with a freshly butchered rooster on a permaculture farm deep in the jungles of Malaysia, and filled hand-sewn Christmas stockings with local treats in Indonesia. And now they’re back in Seattle, looking for jobs and settling into a new apartment and a ‘normal’ routine. I’m sure they won’t stick around for long though, so I’m gonna try to get lots of Amanda-time in…hopefully with a side of Southeast Asian cuisine!

…Or a plate of sautéed mushroom and goat cheese empanadas, which is what she served the other night. Like I said… you can put anything in empanadas. I’m not sure exactly what she threw in that mix… but I know that sautéed mushrooms, spinach, roasted garlic, and goat cheese were definitely in there. The beauty is that once you figure out a good dough recipe, the filling can be improvised. The possibilities are endless… she could have thrown some toasted nuts in there, or maybe taken it a completely different route and added caramelized onions and shredded Swiss to the mushrooms. I could sit here and write for hours about different empanada-filling possibilities, but instead, I think you should just try it for yourself.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous, I would suggest getting creative with empanadas. If you’re feeling a lot adventurous, perhaps a trip around Asia is more your style?

If you just want to make some good food and don’t want to think about it, however, you can make these.

Queso Y Papa Empanadas

Empanada dough (see below)
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed small
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro
1-2 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper
approx. 1 cups grated mozzarella
1 egg and a tablespoon water-whisked

For sofrito: In food processor, pulse onion, red pepper, cilantro, garlic, salt and black pepper until like a paste.

Heat oil over medium low in a large non-stick skillet or pot (I use a big wok). Add potatoes and sofrito, and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Lightly mash with fork or back of spoon. Remove from heat and cool to room temp.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Divide dough into 16 pieces, and form each one into a disk. To fill, roll out 1 piece on a floured surface w/ rolling pin into a 3-4-inch round. Spoon a tablespoon of potato filling and a pinch of cheese (eyeball it) into center and fold dough in half. Press edges together to seal, then crimp with a fork. Transfer all filled empanadas to oiled baking sheet. Brush empanadas with egg wash and bake 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, serve warm.

Empanada Dough
From Gourmet Magazine

2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour before filling.
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