Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas

May 13, 2010

Cooking a nice dinner is one of my favorite ways to spend a cold and rainy day.  My problem: what could I make in 2 to 3 hours with 1-1/2lbs of ground beef? The solution: Mini Beef and Cheese Empanadas; a stuffed pastry which was one of my favorite foods in my Latin American travels.

Takes a minimum of 3 hours, but worth every second.

Start by mixing flour, salt, sugar and slightly frozen butter in a food processor. Add water and mix, divide into two parts, then refrigerate the dough for 2 hours.  To make the filling, start by sauteing an onion, adding the spices, and then browning the ground beef. When the beef is no longer pink add beef broth, and let cook until no longer wet (but still moist).  Let the beef mixture cool completely. Finally, roll out the dough into an 18-inch circle and use an inverted cup (with 3-inch diameter) to cut the disks. Fill each with a heaping teaspoon of beef filling, fold over and crimp closed with the tines of a fork. Brush tops with eggs. Bake in two batches at 425-degrees for 20 minutes.

Result: 4-1/2 stars; cute, delicious, bite-sized empanadas.  Next time I might add 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar or 2 tablespoons of minced olives. Also, these would be perfect as appetizers; the recipe really focuses on the make-ahead options.


  1. My butter was too frozen and wouldn’t break down. I had to fish it out and microwave it for a minute to soften; but the final crust was no worse for wear.
  2. While the broth was only supposed to take 8 minutes to incorporate, after 12 minutes I still had yellow pools. I realized that this was fat, so used a slotted spoon to leave the extra grease behind.
  3. Dinner was going to be around 8pm, so I rushed the cooling of the meat by using the freezer.
  4. The dough rolled out into and 18-inch circle only yielded 17 to 19 disks (not the desired 24). I had to re-roll some of the scraps.

Recipe Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $4.00 for 42 pastries.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium/High.
Start time 4:30pm. Dinner time at 7:30pm.

Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts

May 10, 2010

There was a time when I would make Oven-Fried Chicken Breasts twice a week. I have a 15-year-old recipe that my family now refers to as “Mark’s Chicken”.  So, I was quite interested to see how Chris Kimball would prepare one of my favorite recipes.

Chris Kimball uses Melba toast run through a food processor to make a course crumb. This makes for a much crunchier skin than most oven fried chicken. The spices are mixed together in the egg wash (much better than my approach of seasoning the dry coating mixture).  Then the egg-soaked chicken is dipped into the crushed Melba toast, and baked at 450-degrees for 40 minutes.

Healthier chicken without the mess of frying.

Overall:  3-1/2 stars. I felt that the inclusion of the spices in an egg wash was a great improvement in technique, but next time I’ll add more spices. Thyme was too predominantly the only flavor. My family was divided, some liked the crunchy skin more than my recipe, while others thought it lacked flavor.


  1. 450-degrees was too hot. The outside crust had blackened in a few spots before the interior of the chicken could reach 160-degrees. Next time I’ll bake at 425-degrees.
  2. The Melba toast didn’t break down evenly.  I had to add some of the stubborn pieces back in for another 6 or 7 pulses.
  3. I bought salt-free Melba toast, and the recipe lacked salt. Next time I’ll make sure the toast has salt added, or add a teaspoon to the egg wash.  Actually, it lacked so much salt that my younger son refused to eat it, until my older son suggested some salt (at which point he gave it a thumbs-up).

Recipe Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $6.80 for 3-lbs of chicken.
How much work? Low
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 6:10pm. Ready at 7:00pm.

More Fudge

May 7, 2010

Craving chocolate, I decided to make more fudge. But traditional fudge is very temperamental; it’s all about precision. The ideal temperature for the sugar syrup is 238 degrees-at 234 degrees, the fudge is soft and gooey, while at 242 degrees, it’s dry and crumbly.

Easy fudge made in 15 minutes without a candy thermometer.

Not feeling in the mood to be too precise, I made 15-minute fudge for a second time. It came out equally delicious, but I was bordering on a catastrophe, which leads me to the following warning:

WARNING: In a separate section of the recipe it said, “Make sure to remove the fudge from the double boiler before the chocolate is fully melted. If the chocolate stays in the double boiler too long, there is the possibility of the chocolate separating and producing a greasy fudge.”  Oblivious to the reaction that was taking place in front of my eyes, I mixed and mixed because there were still lumps. I noticed the changing texture and kept mixing. At the last minute I saw the warning and pulled it off the heat just in time. Catastrophe averted.

Recipe Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $7.50 for 2 pounds of fudge.
How much work? Low
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 2:00pm. Ready at 5:00pm.

Fluffy Omelet

May 5, 2010

My family has raw-egg-phobia, so it wasn’t until this diner-style omelet recipe that I could coax them into eating an omelet.

Nothing runny in this omelet. My family's raw-egg-phobia has been cured.

Of course air is the key to make a fluffy omelet. The eggs are whipped in a standing mixer to incorporate lots of air. Heavy cream is whipped to soft peaks separately (instead of milk) which gives it even more lift. The omelet is browned on the stovetop for 3 minutes, but finished in the oven where is has time to cook all the way through (no runny center).  My favorite filling is their sausage and peppers filling, but I usually add 5 or 6 mushrooms as well. Pre-cooking the filling cooks most of the moisture off, keeping the center dry.


  1. The whipped cream should be mixed using a separate hand mixer (not your standing mixer), because there is so little heavy cream that the standing mixer won’t do the job.
  2. It’s so easy to forget that the skillet handle is 400-degrees. This morning was one of the few times I remembered; usually I burn myself.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $4.50
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 7:45 pm. Breakfast:  8:25.

Lexington-Style Pulled Pork

May 3, 2010

Such beautiful weather requires a barbecue. Extremely happy with my last barbecue, I wanted to try something similar but using pork. The recipe here.

Pulled Pork has more flavor than beef, plus it's half the price.

Smoked using 4 cups of wood chips and barbecued for 2 hours using indirect heat. Then it’s put in a foil pan and sealed using aluminum foil, and put in a 325-degree oven for 2-1/2 hours. It rests for 30 minutes before shredding, and is mixed 1 cup of sauce. The sandwiches are topped with more sauce.

Result. 4-1/2 stars. Worth the 6-hour wait, but the sauce is too light.


  1. The amount of sauce was completely insufficient. I had to leave the extra sauce off the kids sandwiches, and make another batch of sauce the next day for the leftovers.  Double the sauce!  (see “Sauce Update” at bottom of this post.)
  2. The sauce was too mild; more suggestive than assertive. I question the wisdom of adding the 1 cup of water; it made it too watery.
  3. I had to heat the meat up for 3 minutes in the microwave before serving, as it got too cool while shredding.  Fortunately the meat was very moist so there was no harm done.

Cost: $16.  7-lbs of pork, enough to feed 12 to 15 people.
How much work? Medium
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Started: Noon.  Ready:  6:10 pm.


Because there was so much meat; 7-pounds. The leftovers gave me a chance to improve upon the sauce.  Based upon this new sauce, I’d upgrade the recipe to 5-stars.

I made the following changes:

  1. Cut the water from 1 cup down to 1/2 cup.
  2. Increased the ketchup from 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup.
  3. Changed from 1 tablespoon granulated sugar to 1-1/2 tablespoons brown sugar.
  4. Finally, I let the sauce reduce for 20 to 25 minutes.

A thicker more assertive sauce was an upgrade to 5-stars.

My Sangria

May 2, 2010

As I promised yesterday, here is my own recipe for sangria, and how it compares to yesterday’s sangria by Chris Kimball.The differences are:

  1. My sangria uses only 1-1/2 oranges instead of two; and only half an orange is sliced. But my sangria adds more orange flavor in the form of an additional 1-1/2 tablespoons of triple sec. Overall, about the same amount of orange flavor.
  2. My sangria adds a half an apple.
  3. My sangria adds an extra 3 tablespoons of sugar. Ideally I substitute 2 tablespoons of sugar for an equal amount of juice from homemade maraschino cherries. Because the store bought cherries contains alum, I wouldn’t use it.
  4. My sangria contains two-thirds fewer slices (and rinds). This reduces the bitterness and also lets my sangria keep overnight. Too many citrus rinds will turn great sangria bitter if left for more than 8 hours.
  5. I add 1/3 cup ginger ale. Seltzer is traditional, but Chris Kimball skips it altogether.
  6. Finally, I add two tablespoons of brandy. This adds complexity (Chris Kimball obtains it by adding more rinds). But I prefer the extra “kick” as well as the stability of the flavors.
  7. I have already incorporated the technique I learned yesterday of dissolving the sugar in citrus. This saves me the mess of heating the sugar in 2 tablespoons of water.

Almost nector-like, my sangria has more flavors than just citrus.

Rating: 4-1/2 star.
Cost: $7.50
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 2:00 pm. Cocktail Hour:  5:30.


1-1/2 juice oranges
1 lemon
1/2 apple, cubed.
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons homemade maraschino cherry juice (or more sugar)
1/3 cup Triple Sec
2 tablespoons brandy
1 bottle inexpensive, Spanish red wine (750 milliliters)
1/3 cup ginger ale

  1. Slice half an orange, and a quarter of the lemon. Juice remaining citrus into separate dish and remove seeds.
  2. Put all citrus into a liter pitcher, add sugar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients (except ginger ale) and chill at least 2 hours.
  4. Add ginger ale just before serving.

Recipe [revised 4/26/2012], which has evolved into a double batch:

2 large juicy oranges (or 3 smaller ones) (2/3 cup)
2 lemon (1/3 cup)
1 apple, cubed.
7/8 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup Triple Sec
1/3 cup brandy
2 bottles inexpensive, Spanish red wine (total of 1.5 liters)
2/3 cup ginger ale (just before serving)

  1. Refrigerate your wine well before making.
  2. Thinly slice half an orange, and a half a lemon. Juice remaining citrus into separate dish and remove seeds.
  3. Put all citrus into a liter pitcher, add sugar and stir. Allow to sit for 15 minutes; stirring occasionally. If after 15 minutes it still hasn’t dissolved keep stirring.
  4. Core and dice the apple. If you plan to keep the sangria overnight, remove about 40-to-50% of apple peel to avoid bitterness the next day.
  5. Add the triple sec, brandy and 1.5L of red wine (not ginger ale) and chill at least 2 hours.
  6. Add ginger ale just before serving. Serve with 1 to 2 ice cubes per glass.

Here are the last of last summer’s homemade maraschino cherries.

Sangria According to Chris Kimball

May 1, 2010

Sangria has evolved into one of my specialties. I have refined my recipe over the years into one of the most delicious nectar I’ve tasted anywhere in my travels. Nowadays, I never have a dinner party without making a double batch. Even friends who don’t like alcohol love my Sangria (which makes for even more entertaining parties).

Nectar of the Gods, or the Devil's nectar?

So it was with a bit of skepticism that I undertook a recipe self-confidently called Best Sangria, using oranges and lemons as the only fruit. One orange and the only lemon are added as slices, while the second orange is juiced. The citric-acid is then used to dissolve the sugar (ingenious idea). Then add the wine and just 1/4 cup of triple sec. Finally, let it chill for between 2 and 8 hours. It’s really that simple; just five ingredients.

This is a simple interpretation of Sangria, very close to it’s original Spanish roots. Overall: 3-1/2 stars.


  1. This sangria has too many slices cluttering up the pitcher; which is both good and bad. Assuming you have a big-enough pitcher, you only need to be careful to drink it all in one day.  On the first day, the rinds give a nice complexity, but by the second day the rind-flavor becomes too over powering and bitter.  This is only an issue because I usually make a double-batch, expressly because I usually want “leftovers.”
  2. Slicing such a large portion of the citrus inevitable leads to more seeds floating about. Nobody like seeds floating in their sangria.
  3. The citrus simplicity of this recipe is one interpretation of sangria, but I miss the apples.
  4. With just wine and 1/4 cup of Triple Sec, this recipe is quite tame.

Rating: 3-1/2 star.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:00 pm. Cocktail Hour:  7:00.

Tomorrow I will write about my own version of Sangria.

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