February 27, 2011

The first time I made these empanadas they were tasty, but found that my empanada-making skills were terrible. The seams were ugly, ugly, ugly; plus they leaked and came apart in places. This time they came out much better, due to two improvements in technique. First, I rolled the seams before crimping with a fork, and any extra wide seams for trimmed down to size with a knife (the first time they burned). Second, I pre-packed the filling into the approximately half-moon shape before folding the dough to close the empanada. This meant I didn’t have to squish using the dough (which tore the dough in a few places last time).

A definately improvement in my empanada-making skills.

Overall, no leaky seams this time. And while every Latin-American grandmother completely out-classes my empanadas, I did an okay job considering I’m 100% gringo. The black dots in the picture are from bits getting stuck to my hand while filling. The flavor was good, but I accidentally omitted the vinegar, so they were a little plain. 4-stars.


  1. I forgot to add the vinegar after the beef had cooled. I definitely missed the slight tang, and put it in bold below so you wouldn’t forget it too.
  2. Because my kids were hungry I took a short-cut to speed dinner along. I began baking the first 6 empanadas immediately after preparing them, while I spent another 15 minutes rolling and filling the remaining six. The boys ate their fill (two empanadas each boy) from the first batch
  3. Chris recommends cooking on oil lines baking sheets, but I cooked them on parchment paper.
  4. Next time I will add 4-oz of Monterrey Jack cheese. Chris Kimball has such a simplified recipe here.

Recipe Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $6.00 for 12 pastries.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 4:30pm. Dinner time at 7:30pm.

Chris Kimball’s original is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

1 slice hearty white sandwich bread
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup chicken broth
1 lb 85% lean Ground Chuck
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions
4 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup coarsely chopped and packed cilantro leaves
2 hard-boiled eggs
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup pitted green olives
4 teaspoons cider vinegar

3 cups all-purpose flour (15 ounces)
1 cup masa harina (5 ounces)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons table salt
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tablespoons)
1/2 cup cold vodka or tequila (see note)
1/2 cup cold water
1 tablespoons olive oil or egg white for wash

  1. Make sure your olives are pitted, or run to the store to buy more. I tried to pit them myself and it didn’t go well. Hard-boil 2 eggs by adding to a pan with cold water, bring to boil and left boil for 5 minutes. Turn off stove and let sit in hot water for 10 minutes. Cut butter into 1/2-inch cubes, put on a plate and freeze. Put 1/2 cup vodka and 1/2 cup water in freezer. Finely chop 2 onions, and peel 4 garlic cloves (so that they are ready to press when needed).
  2. Add bread, torn into quarters, and 2 tablespoons chicken broth to food processor and process for 5 seconds. Add the pound of beef, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then pulse for eight 1-second pulses.
  3. Preheat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions and saute for 5 minutes; they should be beginning to brown. Add garlic, cumin, cayenne, and cloves, and cook for 1 minute. Stir in beef mixture and cook for about 7 minutes, breaking apart beef into small chunks. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and continue to simmer until mixture is no longer wet (but still moist); roughly 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl and allow to cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, coarsely chop cilantro, eggs, raisins and olives. ADD VINEGAR and the items you just chopped/diced and refrigerate for 1 hour. (or up to 2 days.)
  5. While the beef chills prepare the dough. Stir together 1 cup flour, 1 cup masa harina (or just an equal about of regular flour if you don’t have any), 1 tablespoon sugar sugar, and 2 teaspoons salt using food processor; two 1-second pulses. Add butter and process until dough has a wet sand consistency; 10 seconds. Add remaining 2 cups flour (10 ounces) and pulse until mixture with 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty the dough mixture into large bowl.
  6. Evenly sprinkle 1/2 cup cold vodka and 1/2 cup cold water over mixture. Mix dough with hands until it sticks together into a single blob. Divide dough into 12 equal pieces (I weighed mine), put on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 45 minutes (or up to 2 days).
  7. With an hour until dinner, adjust two oven racks to the upper-middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat 2 baking sheet and oven to 425 degrees. After 45 minutes in the refrigerator, use a rolling pin to roll each dough piece into 6-inch circle on a lightly floured surface. Add small amounts of flour to the counter as necessary. Cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap as you complete them, in order to prevent them from drying out. Put 1/3 cup filling mixture in the center of a dough round, brush edges of the dough with water. Gently compact the meat and pre-shape filling into the half-moon shape. Carefully fold dough over filling and press edges together. Roll about 1/4-inch of edges over onto itself and crimp edges with a fork.
  8. I used parchment paper, but Chris Kimball recommends drizzling 2 tablespoons oil over surface of each hot baking sheet. Also Chris recommends brushing top of empanadas with 1 tablespoon oil, but I brushed with egg white for a shinier finish. Place 6 empanadas on each baking sheet. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating and swapping positions of baking sheets after 15 minutes. Cool the empanadas on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

Rusty Brown Water

February 24, 2011

I am not complaining. But every household has a heavy-lifter; in ours, I am that person. The person who earns most of the money, pays all the bills, spends their lunch hour fighting with the insurance company,  files all the tax returns, etc. etc. Fortunately, there are happy things too; like planing all our vacations, figuring out and cooking our daily menu, and not only driving my son to soccer practice, but hanging around to see him playing and giggling with friends.

So naturally, the problem of our rapidly deteriorating water heater consumed most of my free-time this week, while life with the rest of my family went on undisturbed. I choreographed everyone’s showers, dish washing, to minimize leakage; and mopped constantly when the water heater was turned on.  After several days I decided against going the plumber route. We don’t really have the extra money right now and somebody once told me that everyone should know how to change a water heater. So I ended up replacing the hot water heater myself. Everything went smoothly with 3 hours of work.

So here’s the point of my story. The water in the water heater was disgusting; deeply brown and rusted. To put it pleasantly, it looked like Iced Tea, but my first thoughts were not so pleasant. I am told (a) that rust is harmless, and (b) the water I use daily is from the top of the tank, while most of the rust is near the bottom. But my mind could not help but recall every instance over the past few years when I inadvertently used the hot water tap in cooking. Yuck. So remember the advice you’ve all been given before, always, always cook with cold water.

I also realized a few more things about hot water heaters:

  1. That I should be draining my hot water heater annually. After seeing the brown sludge that’s lurking in my tank after 5 years of not draining, it’s another chore I’ll do annually. And worth every second.
  2. I had never heard of an Anode Rod before, but learned that it may have sped the demise of my 50-gallon water heater. The purpose of this rod is to degrade so that your hot water heater doesn’t.
  3. The funny “T” in the gas line that I just noticed has an important purpose. It’s a Drip Tube that will prevent condensation from ruining the hot water heater’s control valve. Wow, they think of everything.

So as much as I’d rather my sole responsibilities to be in the kitchen, a father’s duties must be much greater. Still, I am hoping to cook something extraordinary in the very near future.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

February 21, 2011

Unfortunately, Chris Kimball doesn’t have a recipe for Chicken Cordon Bleu. Perhaps he thinks it’s too similar to other forms of schnitzel (for example here or a milanese), but this version is rolled with ham and Swiss cheese.  Also, here I served it with a white wine sauce. Overall it is relatively simple to prepare and makes for a nice, but rich, meal. The hardest part is properly wrapping and rolling so that the cheese doesn’t ooze out during cooking; compete success today.

Breaded, Rolled Chicken, Ham and Swiss Cheese, with white wine sauce.


  1. During cooking the pan was hotter than expected, so the first side was a little too dark. I was able to adjust the temperature so that the dish wasn’t too badly overcooked.

Rating: 4-stars.
Cost: $8
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Started: 5:00 PM.  Ready:  6:30 PM.

Chris Kimball doesn’t have a recipe. Here is how I cooked them:

4 chicken breast, boneless and skinless
4 slices smoked ham
2 ounces Swiss cheese, cut into 4 equal “fingers”
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
3 + 1 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 cup white wine
Juice from one lemon

  • Butterfly the chicken and place each piece in a ziplock bag, pound to between 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch thick. Take care not to pound holes in the chicken.
  • Layer each breast with the ham, then place a finger of cheese in the center. Roll up to completely enclose the ham and cheese and secure with toothpicks.
  • Need three bowls. In first, combine the flour, salt and pepper. In second, eggs. In third, bread crumbs.
  • Lightly dredge the chicken in the seasoned flour, then dip in the egg and coat with bread crumbs.
  • Place on a baking sheet and chill at least 15 minutes and up to 4 hours.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add 3 tablespoons butter. Add the chicken and cook, turning carefully with tongs, until browned, about 12 minutes.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the stock to the skillet, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, 20  minutes.
  • Move the chicken to a warm oven
  • Raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring up browned bits clinging to the bottom, for 1 minute.
  • Add the wine, uncovered, until the consistency of gravy, about 5  minutes.
  • Add lemon and pour sauce over the chicken breasts.
  • Makes 4 servings.

Valentine’s Day Pretzels

February 15, 2011

When I was in elementary school Valentine’s Day was all about friends. I considered it a great “holiday”. But sometime in my teens it became only about romantic love, and transformed into one of my least favorite holidays. If I wasn’t in a relationship then I would feel even more lonely. If I was in a relationship, then there was always pressure to find something cool to do. But even if the date turned out great, my girlfriends still treated it as no more than an expectation.  Once married it became a husbandly duty to pay the exorbitant price of flowers,  which triple on Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day felt a lot like mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. What’s the fun in that?

However, yesterday was a great day because I did what I loved. I cooked a nice meal (Shrimp Scampi) and made some Heart-Shaped Valentine’s Day Pretzels. I hope everyone else had a Happy Valentine’s Day too.

Taste much better than $40 flowers.

Rating: 5-stars.
Cost: $1.90 for 12 Pretzels.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Started: 4:00 PM.  Ready:  7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Soft Pretzels is here. The descriptions of how I cooked them today are given below:

1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) bread flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
3 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons coarse salt

  1. Stir the water and honey together in a Pyrex measuring cup, microwave for 40 seconds. Add yeast, whisk together and allow to hydrate for 10 minutes. You should see bubbling.
  2. Place the salt and flour and in bowl of standing mixer equipped with dough hook. With the mixer on 2 running, slow add the honey/water mixture.
  3. Increase the mixer speed to 6 and mix the dough for another 2 minutes; a ball of dough will form.
  4. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for 2 minutes.
  5. Knead the dough by hand for 30 seconds on a lightly floured counter. Form into a smooth ball.
  6. Spray a large mixing bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at warm room temperature until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Gently deflate the dough. Re- cover and let rise again until nearly doubled in size, 30 to 40 minutes depending upon room temperature.
  8. Meanwhile, adjust the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. BEWARE: If you were using your oven to let the dough rise, don’t forget to remove before preheating.
  9. Add 6 cups water into a 12-inch skillet. Stir in the baking soda, and bring to a boil over high heat. It will heat faster if covered.
  10. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  11. Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (roughly 2 ounces each). Roll each piece into a 20″-long by 1/2″-wide rope.  Roll them first to about 12 inches, let them rest while you roll the remaining. This extra relaxation time will make them easier to finish rolling. Shape each rope into a pretzel and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Today I shaped them into hearts for Valentine’s Day.
  12. Using a spatula (with slots), gently place the 3 to 4 pretzels into the boiling water, top-side down for 30 seconds. Using tongs and spatula, carefully flip over and boil the second side for another 30 seconds. Remove the pretzels, drain briefly on wire rack, then place back onto the prepared baking sheet. The pretzels won’t rise much to you can place them pretty close.
  13. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 14 minutes, until the pretzels are well-browned, turning the baking sheet around halfway through baking.
  14. Let the pretzels from cool on a wire rack for 8 minutes (no longer to serve warm) or at room temperature.
  15. Makes 12 Pretzels. Preparation time is 3 hours.

Some turned out better than others; these were some of the best.

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

February 11, 2011

My favorite thing to do with leftover heavy cream is to make homemade ice cream; no matter how crazy is to make it in the dead of winter.  And ever since I started my vanilla project about 6 months ago, I’ve been wanted to try to make Vanilla Bean. Finally, today is my opportunity.

Delicious even if its freezing outside

I know the best way to make ice cream is to make a custard, but the ice baths and the straining strike me as too much fuss. But here is the recipe for those who have the time.  So today I’m skipping all those extra steps; I’m just adding some extra heavy cream for richness. The results are delicious, 4-stars, certainly richer than the regular, super-fluffy supermarket brands. But if you are trying to impress, then take the extra 4 hours and make the custard. The result will definitely be 5-star.


  1. I used two extract-grade vanilla beans, but the vanilla bean flavor was too pronounced. I’d recommend just 1 extract-grade vanilla bean. Chris Kimball recommends a 4-inch section of vanilla bean; presumably premium-grade.
  2. Oh yeah, I still owe an update on my vanilla extract project. I will post soon, I need some plain yogurt for my tasting.

Rating: 4 stars.
Cost: $1.30 for one quart.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 2:30 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original vanilla ice cream recipe is here.  The descriptions of how I prepared mine today (without making a custard) are given below.

3/4 cups of 2% milk.
1-3/4 cup heavy cream.
2/3 cups sugar.
3 egg yolks.
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 vanilla bean

  1. In a glass or metal bowl, combine milk, heavy cream and egg yolks. Gradually which in sugar until it has dissolved. Chill in freezer for 30 minutes.
  2. Slit vanilla bean and scrape out caviar. Add the vanilla beans to a jar containing about a cup of ice cream mixture and shake until all bean clumps are separated. Add to the rest of the mixture, and add 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract. Whisk briefly.
  3. Pour the mixture into your ice cream machine and follow instructions according to your ice cream maker.
  4. In my case, I let it run for about 30 to 35 minutes. The noise the machine makes will change when it is ready.
  5. Makes 1 quart. Start at least 4 1/2 hours before eating.

Superbowl Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

February 7, 2011

I was looking for an appetizer for last night’s Super Bowl, and found this recipe for Broiled Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp. After all, the only thing better than shrimp is bacon, right? I was sure that combining the two together was a sure winner. Unfortunately, no. Overall, I’d only give the recipe 3-1/2 stars, which is pretty amazing since I usually give both main ingredients almost 5-stars on their own. The main shortcoming was that the shrimp lacked flavor. The ratio of 1-bacon-slice to 6-shrimp was too stingy. Next time I will try 1-bacon-slice to 4-shrimp. But even considering the lack of sufficient flavorings, both my sons enjoyed the shrimp (so still a success).

Pretty light on the bacon flavor, and not much else.


  1. First and foremost, the shrimp needed more flavor. More Bacon, more anything. Next time I will use each slice of bacon to wrap 4 shrimp instead of 6. Also, the slightly longer strips will be easier to wrap.
  2. While the recipe calls for 21 to 25 per pound shrimp, I used the 26 to 31 that I already had in my freezer. It had been on sale for $5/lb.
  3. Because my shrimp were slightly smaller, I needed 5 strips of bacon to cover all my 30 shrimp.
  4. The recipe says to use a two-part broiler pan so that the bacon grease can drip down. But because most of the bacon fat was rendered in the microwave, next time I will place the shrimp directly on the foil for even easier cleanup. Also the extra fat will add flavor and hopefully keep the shrimp a little moister.
  5. The 2 tablespoons of chives was a waste of the $1. They looked nice, but almost all the chives just rolled off the shrimp and onto the plate. (BTW, I forgot to add them for the photo, but remembered before serving).

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.
Cost: $7.
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low.
Start time 6:30 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

Chris Kimball’s original recipe for Broiled Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp is here.  The descriptions of how I cooked it today are given below.

1 pound shrimp (26 to 31 per pound)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
5 slices bacon
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

  1. First thaw the shrimp in cold water for 30 minutes; changing the water every 10 minutes. Then peel and pat the shrimp dry the shrimp. Place in a medium bowl and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Gently stir the shrimp until evenly coated.
  2. Adjust an oven rack so that it is 6 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. Line the bottom of the broiler-pan with aluminum foil, then put the slotted broiler-pan top in place. (Next time I will just put the shrimp directly on the foil for easier cleanup).
  3. Slice each slice of bacon lengthwise into two, long strips, then cut each strip into three short pieces.  Each piece of bacon will yield 6 mini-pieces (Next time I will cut each slice into 4 pieces). Calculate the number of bacon slices your need depending upon the size of shrimp you are using.
  4. Spread the mini-bacon slices over 4 layers of paper towels on a plate, then cover with 2 more layers of paper towels. Microwave for 2 minutes, so that much of the fat has rendered but the bacon is still pliable.
  5. Wrap each shrimp with 1 piece of microwaved bacon, and place on the broiler-pan. Place so that both ends of the bacon are underneath the shrimp.
  6. Broil for 4 minutes; turning 180-degrees half way through cooking. The shrimp will be ready when they are pink and the bacon had browned.
  7. When done place on a large serving platter and sprinkle with the chives. The recipe also calls for skewering each shrimp with a toothpick.

Chili con Carne

February 4, 2011

I’ve made a few different Chris Kimball recipes for Chili con Carne (see here, and here) , but they have seemed too fussy. One batch of Chris Kimball’s Chili cost an astonishing $26. Plus none has measured up to my simple, old, ground beef Chili.  So while there are still at least two more recipes that I want to try (see here, and here), today I wanted to make my old standby Chili for the first time in more than a year. Results: 4-1/2 stars, and there are leftovers for 1 or 2 more nights.

Simple and delicious Chili con Carne

In my opinion Chili should be simple to make, but cannot be rushed. It takes time for the flavors to develop and blend. Fortunately, mostly its unattended cooking time. Make sure that the beans have at least 12 hours to soak; or you can substitute a 29-oz can of beans for each type of dried beans.  If you are making for guest then make it a day or up to five days in advance and reheat before serving. If making for yourself, eat it the first night and then heat the leftovers for dinner the following nights.

Rating: 4-1/2 stars.
Cost: $8 for 12 servings.
How much work? Low/Medium.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium
Start time 3:30 PM. Dinner time 7:00 PM.

Eventually I would like to try Chris Kimball’s Simple Beef Chili with Kidney Beans, but here is how I cooked my Chili today according to my own recipe.

1/2-pound dried kidney beans (or 29-oz can)
1/2-pound dried pinto beans (or 29-oz can)
2 pounds 85% ground chuck.
2 teaspoons cumin powder
3 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper.
2 medium onions, diced.
1 bell pepper, red preferred, diced.
2 Jalapeno or Serrano chilies, diced.
2 teaspoons salt
29-oz can tomato sauce
3 Tomatoes, diced. (or can of diced tomatoes)
1-1/2 cups water
If available: 1 celery stalk, diced.

  1. For best results, soak 1/2-pound of dried kidney beans and 1/2-pound of dried pinto beans overnight. Use 1-1/2 tablespoons salt  for a 1/2-gallon of water.
  2. Brown the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat, breaking beef into pea-size pieces; drain off any excess fat (if using less than 85% beef). Add the spices to the skillet; 2 teaspoons cumin powder, 3 tablespoons chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1-1/2 teaspoons black pepper, 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper; and mix and cook the spices together with the meat for 1 minute.
  3. Drain and rinse beans, and add to a large pot (still turned off). Add beef to the large pot, leaving the fat in the skillet.
  4. Add diced onions, bell pepper, chili peppers, and 2 teaspoons salt to skillet, saute for 5 minutes until slightly softened.
  5. Add sauteed vegetables to large pot. Add diced tomatoes, 1-1/2 cups water, and optional celery; bring everything to a low simmer. Reduce heat to low and cook covered, stirring every 15 minutes, for the first hour. Continue to cook uncovered for 2 more hours, stirring every 15 minutes.
  6. Garnish with sour cream, cheddar cheese, guacamole, julienne-fried flour tortilla, lime wedges, diced avocado, sliced scallions, chopped red onion, and chopped cilantro leaves.
  7. Makes between 10 to 12 servings. Active preparation is about 30 minutes. But should start 3 to 3-1/2 hours before serving.

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