Thursday, November 24, 2011

Apple and Cheese Empanadas

Empanadas may not sound like traditional Thanksgiving fare, but they fit right in on tonight’s plate. Apples, raisins, cheese, what’s not to like?

I cheated a bit and bought pre-made frozen empanada wrappers (Goya Discos). They were easy to use and baked up wonderfully – flaky, tender, delicious.

As is always the case with simple recipes, the quality of the ingredients goes a long way. We bought fantastic apples and cheese at Union Square Market – the Newton Pippin apples from Red Jacket Orchards (which my dad called “the best apple he’s ever eaten”) were tart and crisp with a startlingly bright and intense flavor, and the Dorset cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm melted beautifully into the filling, and had a dish-defining but by no means overwhelming funkiness to it. I can’t wait to make these again.

Apple and Cheese Empanadas

¼ cup golden raisins
3 medium tart, crisp apples, such as Newton Pippin or Granny Smith
2 Tablespoons butter
½ cup Calvados
¼ cup grated soft and pungent cheese, such as Dorset, Gruyere, or Raclette
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cumin
¼ tsp kosher salt
6 Goya Discos, or other empanada wrappers
1 egg yolk
Lemon wedges, for serving

1.) Place the raisins in a shallow bowl, cover with Calvados (if ½ cup Calvados does not cover the raisins, add more) and set aside. If you can, do this a few hours in advance to cooking, so the raisins plump up.

2.) Peel, core, and finely dice the apples

3.) Place the butter in a pan over medium-high heat, and let it cook until it has browned (the foam should be uniformly golden brown). Add the apples, stir to combine.

4.) Cook until the apples are soft and nicely browned.

5.) Add the Calvados and raisins. NOTE: THERE MAY BE MASSIVE FLAMES. You are flambe-ing the Calvados, the flames will die down when the alcohol burns off. Just be prepared. Make sure there is nothing flammable above or near the frying pan. If flames don’t erupt when you add the Calvados, induce them by tipping the pan so that the gas flame catches the alcohol, or, if you have an electric range, light the alcohol using a long match.

6.) Once things have calmed down, season to taste with cinnamon, cumin, and salt. The amounts listed above are approximate. You should taste the seasonings, but the apples and raisins should not be overwhelmed.

7.) Scrape the apple mixture into a large bowl, add the cheese and stir to combine.

8.) Preheat the oven to 400°.

9.) Lay out the empanada wrappers and place a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the center of each one.

10.) Fold an empanada in half, cupping it in your left hand. Wet a finger on your right hand and run it along the outer edge of the wrapper. Gently press the two halves of the wrapper together, forming a half-moon shape. Starting at one corner, fold a small section of dough over and gently squeeze it. Fold a second, overlapping crimp, press, then repeat until the entire empanada is sealed.

11.) Poke a few holes in the empanada with the tines of a fork. Whisk the egg yolk, then brush a small amount of yolk onto the top of the empanada (this will give it a nice lustre when you bake it).

12.) Repeat with the remaining empanadas, place on a parchment or wax paper lined cookie sheet and bake 10-15 minutes, until the tops are nicely browned.

13.) Serve with lemon wedges.

Cranberry-Chipotle Glaze

I loved how this sauce turned out. It paired well with duck, but I could see it as both a general-use hot sauce (on chicken wings, fried eggs, whatever) and an alternative to cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table.

Cranberry-Chipotle Glaze

½ cup cranberries, picked over (remove any mushy cranberries. To test the quality of a firm cranberry, drop it on a hard surface. If it bounces, it’s a good one).
1 chipotle pepper packed in adobo sauce, plus 1 Tablespoon adobo
¼ cup grade B maple syrup
Zest of 1 navel orange
Juice of 1 navel orange
Zest of ½ lemon
½ cup mulled cider (or, if you haven’t been mulling, regular cider)
¼ cup Calvados
Pinch kosher salt

1.) Chop the chipotle pepper, then combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.

2.) Cook until the cranberries burst and are very soft. Strain through a fine meshed sieve, pushing down on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

Spice Steamed Duck with Cranberry-Chipotle Glaze

Happy Thanksgiving! It was a wonderful day, I woke up, cooked, ate, cooked, ate, cooked, ate, ate and now I’m thinking of fixing myself a drink. Beethoven’s been on the radio all day, and my parents have been great company. The meal was quite non-traditional, but I tried to include some Thanksgiving flavors (cranberry, apple, cinnamon, clove), and, while it wasn’t perfect (it’s never perfect), I have to say I was very happy with how everything turned out. The first post will be on the bird, then the cranberry sauce, followed by the empanadas, and finally a note on Jean Georges Vongerichten, whose new cookbook was my source for today’s breakfast, dessert, and snack recipes.

So, the duck. This method for cooking duck is from Mark Bittman’s fantastic How To Cook Everything. The bird is poked all over with small holes, then steamed with spices in the steaming water, and then glazed and roasted, resulting in flavorful and tender meat. A lot of the fat cooks off in the steaming, although there was still plenty of fat left on the bird (we ate around it, mostly).

I believe I made the following mistakes: 1.) the duck wasn’t far enough away from the boiling water during the steaming (i.e. the roasting rack wasn’t high enough), so parts of the bird were actually submerged in the water, causing meat and skin to fall off, 2.) The holes I poked in the skin weren’t deep enough, 3.) There wasn’t enough salt on the bird (these last two reasons probably both contributed to the lack of crispyness). Still – yum. Duck is hard to screw up, and the flavor combinations from the spice-steam and the glaze were very nice.

Spice Steamed Duck with Cranberry-Chipotle Glaze

10 whole pieces star anise (or enough broken pieces to make up 10 whole)
25 pods green cardamom
2 sticks cinnamon
20 cloves
1 4 ½ pound duck
1 recipe Cranbery-Chipolte Glaze (see above)

1.) In a medium skillet, toast the spices over medium-high heat until they are browned and fragrant. Grind the spices into a powder using a spice grinder (i.e. a coffee grinder which you only use for spices), a mortar and pestle, or improvised grinding tools (I used a cast iron pan and an ice cream scoop).

2.) Remove any giblets from inside the duck, cut off any excess fat, and, using the point of a sharp knife, prick the skin all over with small holes, being careful not to pierce the meat (which is about ¼ inch from the surface of the bird).

3.) In the bottom of a roasting pan, combine the spices and enough water to fill the pan up 1 to 2 inches.

4.) Place a rack in the pan, then place the duck on the rack, breast side up. Cover and set the pan over two burners, both on high.

5.) Put a kettle of water up to boil. When the water in the roasting pan gets low, replace it with boiling water, then put another kettle up. Continue this process for 45 minutes, then remove the duck from the heat and let rest for at least 15 minutes.

6.) Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the duck, breast side down, on a rack in the roasting pan. Brush all over with the glaze.

7.) Roast 15 minutes, brush with glaze, flip it over, brush again with glaze, then raise the heat to 425°. Roast another 15 minutes. Carve and serve with the leftover glaze in a serving pitcher.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Calvados-Spiked Mulled Apple Cider

I’m home in NYC with my parents for Thanksgiving, and it’s just the three of us. For dinner tomorrow, a whole turkey seemed like way too much food, so we decided to go with duck. The menu plan blossomed out from there, and I’m absurdly excited to spend most of tomorrow cooking (spice steamed and cranberry-chipotle glazed duck, apple and cheese empanadas, braised bok choy, and a tarte tatin for dessert). This weekend, I’ll post all the recipes, with the exception of the tarte tatin which comes from this cookbook (although I will write a post on the genius behind the book).

While I was planning the menu, I tried to include the same ingredients in multiple recipes, for two reasons. One: shared flavors in each dish will help give the meal cohesion, and two: I didn’t want to spend too much money on ingredients that my parents will never use – while they love food as much as I do, they prefer eating it to cooking it, and every time I come home I see that the mirin, or the chestnut honey, or the cheesecloth that I bought ages ago is still sitting in the pantry.

So, here’s a recipe I decided to make when I realized that I’d have leftover spices and Calvados tomorrow (Calvados in an apple brandy, which I got excited about when I read this excellent article about it in the New York Times). The duck will be steamed with these spices, the empanadas and the bok choy will both be flavored with Calvados, and the glaze basically includes one of these drinks dumped into it. I just drank one, and it was delicious and a half. No single flavor stood out (well, apple, but that doesn’t count), and they all blended into warming, lingering complexity. Feel free to omit the alcohol, but, let me tell you, the brandy really makes this drink special.

[Sorry about the lack of pictures for the next few entries, I left my camera in Syracuse, yeesh]

Calvados-Spiked Mulled Apple Cider

10 whole pieces star anise (or enough broken pieces to make up 10 whole)
2 sticks cinnamon
40 cloves
15 pods green cardamom
½ gallon apple cider (I used Red Jacket Orchards cider. It’s available all over NYC, including the Union Square Market, which is, in fact, the most magical place on Earth)
5 long strips of orange zest, removed with a vegetable peeler, any white pith scraped off with a sharp knife (the pith is bitter and adds no flavor, it should never be included in any recipe that I know of)
3 long strips of lemon zest, removed with a vegetable peeler, any white pith scraped off with a sharp knife
Calvados, to taste (probably one or two shots per mug of cider), I used Christian Drouin Sélection, which was reasonably priced and wonderful.

1.) In a medium pot, toast the star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom over medium-high heat until they are browned and fragrant.

2.) Add the cider and citrus zests and bring to the liquid to a simmer. Do not let it boil, as this will extract all sorts of bitter compounds from the spices.

3.) Simmer for 2 hours, adjusting the heat if necessary. Taste periodically – you may want to increase or decrease the simmering time, depending on how strongly spiced you like your cider.

4.) Remove from the heat. Strain through a fine-meshed strainer. Add Calvados to mugs, then pour in hot cider, stir and serve (note: if you are reheating, heat the cider, then add the Calvados. Make sure it’s not scalding hot, as the alcohol could evaporate off).