ARGENTINE PICADILLO EMPANADAS WITH CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

Before I begin this post, I want to share a definition with you. It is the basis for this entire post. The definition of shortening is any fat that is a solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry and other food products.

Mr. C. and I visited Argentina in 2006 and enjoyed the most delicious empanadas. I knew with the first bite that when I returned home I would be trying my hand at empanada making. I got the gist of this recipe from one of the cookbooks I brought back with me. Well, I made the empanadas, but the pastry part was simply not as good as I remembered! Now, in the cookbook, both the pastry and the filling called for rendered pork fat, preferably from around the kidney. Being both uneducated on the unforeseen qualities of lard, and following my preconceived belief that lard was terribly bad for us (no actual knowledge to back up that idea you realize,) I spurned the use of lard in favor of butter.

So last week I decided to make empanadas for a concert gathering, and I went back to my old recipe and read what I had written about lard in my 2nd cookbook. I made the empanadas practically as written, (a few changes here and there) but again the pastry “feel” was just not perfect! Don’t get me wrong. The empanadas were good, but there was still something not-quite-right with the pastry part. So before I started writing this post, I decided to do a little research on the subject of lard.

I felt very foolish as I began learning about the merits of lard versus other forms of shortening – butter, margarine, or vegetable oils such as soybean and cottonseed oil, which have been hydrogenated to create a solid (think Crisco here). Hydrogenation creates trans-fatty acids which turn polyunsaturated fats into saturated fats.

So, where previously I thought of lard as the black hat wearing villain, I now learned that some lards (leaf lard, for example) are not only OK, they are actually good for us!

But as you know, sometimes a little knowledge can be bad. In this case, the ”bad” part is that “good” lard is expensive and not readily available. (The lard you most often find in grocery stores is hydrogenated. You do not want hydrogenated lard.)

For a good article on why you don’t want to use hydrogenated lard (or any other hydrogenated oil for that matter) visit the Natural News website and search for the article entitled “Why Hydrogenated Oils Should be Avoided at All Costs”. Truly worth a read. But back to this recipe.

So as I said, I made the empanadas and they were very well received. But with my new-found knowledge, I plan to start making all my pastry dough and pie crusts with leaf lard. I’m even going to start frying our morning eggs in lard. That is, when my shipment arrives. (And yes, I did have to order the lard on-line.)  I will keep you posted (literally) on how my new affair with lard works out.

In the meantime, if you need a killer hors d’oeuvre to serve during the holidays, this recipe is perfect for a large crowd. Yes it takes some time to prepare, but you can do a lot of the prep work ahead of time. And as far as the Chimichurri Sauce goes, it’s amazing! Perfect with empanadas and killer on a beautifully grilled, medium rare steak. I tell you, Argentinians know how to eat. Some of the best food I ever ate was in Buenos Aires. Just sayin’!

For more information about leaf lard, read the attached article at the bottom of this post. Actually very interesting reading, especially for people like myself who previously thought Crisco was the be all and end all of flaky pastry! (It’s a generational thing!)

  • 6 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1½ c. cold leaf lard* or 1½ c. unsalted butter (3 sticks) cut into small pieces
  • 3 eggs, divided (2 for the dough, 1 egg – white and yolk separated and both lightly whisked
  • ¾ c. milk, plus more as needed 

Mix the flour and salt in a large food processor. Add the lard and pulse until mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add 2 of the eggs and pulse until blended. Then add the ¾ cup milk. Pulse until a clumpy dough forms adding additional milk only as needed to obtain a soft, smooth, and elastic dough. (My food processor is not big enough for this much dough. But because it is such a simple recipe, I cut the ingredients in half and make two batches.)   

Split the dough into 2 large balls, flatten slightly into the shape of disks, cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. After an hour, the dough can be used immediately or remain refrigerated until ready to use (1-2 days max).

Roll out dough into very thin sheets and cut out rounds, 3½ – 4-inch circumference for appetizers and 5 – 6- inch rounds for main dish empanadas. (Scraps can be clumped together, rolled out, and used for more empanadas.

Assembling and baking the empanadas:

To assemble the empanadas, place a spoonful of filling (see recipe below) on the middle of each empanada disc. (I use a small ice cream scoop to measure the amount of filling for each empanada.) The amount of filling varies depending on the size of the empanada. Hint: It’s much easier to seal an empanada that isn’t overstuffed.

To seal the empanadas, brush half of the outside edge with a small amount of the beaten egg white, fold the other half over, and then use a fork to seal the edges. Simply press the tongs of the fork fairly lightly around the edge. When sealed, place about ½-inch apart on parchment paper lined baking pans small enough to fit in your refrigerator. After all the empanadas are formed, place pan(s) in refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before baking. (The time spent in cold storage helps the edges seal better and helps prevent the filling from leaking out.) Just before popping in the oven, lightly brush with the beaten egg yolk. 

Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 20-24 minutes. The empanadas are done when they are a nice golden brown. Remove from oven and serve warm or allow to cool and store in an airtight container. Serve warm with Chimichurri Sauce (see recipe below).

Note: If you have a convection oven, use it for the last 10 minutes of baking time.

BEEF PICADILLO EMPANADAS 

  • ½ c. unsalted butter or lard
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 lg. onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. minced fresh parsley
  • 1 T. flour
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 T. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. chili powder, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (I think Mexican oregano is the best)
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 bunch green onions, very finely chopped
  • ½ c. golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • ½ c. pimento stuffed green olives, coarsely chopped

Melt the butter in a large frying pan. Add the ground beef and onion; stir fry until the meat is no longer red and the onion is tender. (Break the meat apart as it cooks.) Add the garlic and parsley; cook for one minute. Stir in the flour and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, oregano, and cumin. Let cool before stirring in the green onions, raisins, and green olives. Taste and adjust seasoning if required. Refrigerate until ready to use. 

CHIMICHURRI SAUCE

  • 2 T. drained capers
  • 2 garlic cloves, rough chopped
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley
  • ½ bunch cilantro
  • 2 T. red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. dried oregano (Mexican is best)
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ c. extra virgin olive oil

Place capers and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Whirl until finely chopped. Add the parsley and cilantro and pulse 4-6 times to rough chop the leaves. (Don’t over process.) Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, and olive oil.  Taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.  

Refrigerate until ready to use (preferably the same day).  

*From The Spruce: “Leaf lard is the highest grade of various types of lard. All lard is rendered pork fat; the term is usually used to refer to rendered pork fat suitable for cooking. Leaf lard specifically comes from the visceral, or soft, fat from around the kidneys and loin of the pig. As such, it has a very soft, super spreadable consistency at room temperature.

Like all types of lard, leaf lard has a high smoking point, making it an excellent choice for frying, pan-searing, and even grilling. Also, while leaf lard doesn’t have the porky flavor of caul fat, it does have a gentle back-note of subtle, gentle meatiness that hydrogenated lard lacks. So leaf lard is a good choice when you want that high smoking point, but you don’t want the final product to taste like pork. Two example that pop to mind: frying homemade doughnuts and making homemade French fries.

Due to its natural moisture content and mild flavor, leaf lard is particularly prized by bakers for use in producing flavorful and flaky pie crusts. Yes, pie crusts.

True lard-ophiles may even choose to spread leaf lard on bread. Add a sprinkle of salt and you’ll see why it’s common practice in some regions of the world.”

 

According to Danelle Wolford, former nurse, and I quote, “the three main reasons to cook with lard are:

LARD IS AS HEALTHY AS OLIVE OIL!

When compared with olive oil, lard is a close second in the monounsaturated fat department! Olive oil has about 77% monounsaturated fat, with lard at 48% monounsaturated fat. Butter ranks third with 30% monounsaturated fat and coconut oil is last at 6%. The main fat in lard (oleic acid) is a fatty acid associated with decreased risk of depression. A 2005 study from Thailand also reported that oleic acid has high anti-cancer benefits and can decrease your risk of breast cancer. Those same monounsaturated fats, are responsible for lowering LDL levels while leaving HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels alone. Shocking, right?

Lard also contains high amounts of Vitamin D, a necessary fat-soluble vitamin. It is estimated that 1 tablespoon of lard contains 1000 IU of Vitamin D! As a society, we are extremely deficient in Vitamin D. As a powerful immunity booster, the intake of Vitamin D can prevent those frequent colds and flu in your home each year. Our family caught a cold ONE time this year. ONCE. We eat A LOT of Vitamin D in our household because we believe that instead of buying a Vitamin D supplement (a processed, synthetic version of the vitamin), we try to eat the real stuff.

If you think you can get Vitamin D from plants, you are right. You can get some, but nothing comes close to lard! Mushrooms are the ONLY plant source of Vitamin D, with about 21 IU per mushroom. Personally I’d rather cook with a tablespoon of lard rather than eat 50 mushrooms every day. But that’s just me.

If you think you can get Vitamin D from the sun, you are right, again. But, the problem is, humans aren’t too efficient at assimilating Vitamin D from the sun. At the recommended 20-30 minutes of sun exposure per day you will only receive 100-200 IU. Pigs, on the other hand, are super-heroes at absorbing Vitamin D. This is why so much is stored in the fat under their skin.

Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium. Vitamin D will also aid in the removal of harmful toxic metals such as cadmium, aluminum, strontium. But one of the most important tasks of Vitamin D is hormone production and regulation. When you remember that many processes in the body are performed by hormones, you can see why it’s so important to include lard into your diet. Problems with your adrenals that can be manifested as fibromyalgia, problems with your thyroid that can be manifested as hypothyroidism, and problems with your sex hormones that can be manifested as infertility are all related to your deficiency in fat-soluble Vitamin D. The natural food sources that God has placed on earth contain these.

LARD MAKES EVERY RECIPE BETTER!

We use lard to make crispy fried chicken, make deliciously flaky pies, and cooking a simple food like eggs or hash browns. Lard isn’t smelly. It’s divine! Food was meant to be enjoyed! And trust me, lard makes EVERYTHING taste a little better.

LARD IS NATURAL and SUSTAINABLE

If you were to raise a pig in your backyard and butcher it when it’s about 250 pounds, you’d most likely get about 15-20 lbs. of lard. It would take about 6-9 months to raise a pig to market weight, so if your family ate about 1 pig a year, you can guess that eating 15-20 lbs. of lard per year would be a natural and sustainable amount. For our family of four, we eat about a pound of lard a month so about 12 pounds a year.”

 

 

 

SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND TORTELLINI SOUP

I love fall! And do you know why? Because I love soup! (Not that I don’t build soup throughout the year, but there’s just something special about soup burbling on the stove while the wind and rain tear the leaves off of our trees and scatter them all over the yard.) What could be more exciting than that! (Some would say a trip to Italy or almost anything that doesn’t cause pain, loss of dignity, or the presence of mind not to inadvertently discard a winning lottery ticket.)

But for me, even the prepping of vegetables becomes a treat when I am inside warm and dry, while just outside my window Mother Nature is causing all kind of havoc in the yard. (Maybe I like fall so much because at least for a few months I don’t have to worry about Mr. C. mowing our vacant lot and working his fingers to the bone keeping the weeds at a reasonable level, and me spending countless hours watering! It really could be just as simple as that!)

But whatever the reason, soup in the fall is a must in my kitchen and hopefully also in yours. (And no, opening a can of chicken noodle soup and warming it on the stove just doesn’t cut it!) Real soup has that one ingredient that is missing from canned soup, well that and too much salt and all the ingredients listed on the can that are unpronounceable. Real soup has love mixed in during every step of the preparation. Plus, who in their right mind doesn’t relish walking into the kitchen and smelling soup simmering on the stove? Everyone loves good smells emanating from the kitchen. It just makes one feel loved and cared for. And homemade soup is one of the healthiest dishes you can feed your family. Without much trouble at all, you can tuck all kinds of nutritious ingredients into soup without any of your family suspecting your duplicity. (In this type of situation, I truly believe that duplicity is OK. Actually, it’s better than just OK. It’s almost mandatory to help keep you and your family healthy!)   

So when our dear fried Susan served us this soup after a band rehearsal that her husband Tim had called, we were in heaven. I liked the soup so much I immediately asked for the recipe. I made a couple of tiny changes, but then, that’s what I do. (I simply can’t help myself!)

I hope you fix this soup in the near future. It’s easy to prepare, relatively inexpensive, and absolutely perfect for a stormy fall or winter evening. Actually, it’s the perfect soup to serve after spending an afternoon raking leaves. (If that’s the case, I would also encourage that you bake up a batch of brownies as another surefire way of thanking your family for all their hard work!)

Speaking of thanks, thanks again Susie for this wonderful recipe.

  • 1 lb. bulk sweet (not hot) Italian sausage
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 1 med. sized green pepper, chopped
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. chicken or beef broth/stock
  • 1-2 Parmesan rinds, opt. (I use 2 rinds, each approximately 2-inches square)
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice (preferably Italian tomatoes)
  • ½ c. dry red wine
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican oregano is fabulous)  
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8-10 oz. pkg. fresh or frozen tortellini (I use three cheese tortellini)
  • 1 med. zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then into ¼-inch wide half rounds
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ c. chopped fresh basil, opt.
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large covered soup pot, break up and sauté the Italian sausage until the meat is no longer pink. Remove sausage from pan to a small bowl. Set aside. Add the onion and green pepper to the pan. Sauté gently until the onion is translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. (There will be brown bits (caramelized meat) sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is good. When you add the liquid in the next step, gently lift the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with your stirring utensil.)

Add the broth, Parmesan rinds, diced tomatoes, red wine, dried basil, dried oregano, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and half of the cooked Italian sausage. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, add the tortellini, zucchini, and the rest of the cooked Italian sausage; simmer until the tortellini is tender. Remove the Parmesan rinds and stir in the parsley and fresh basil. Adjust seasoning.

Ladle into individual soup bowls. Pass the grated Parmesan cheese.

I serve this soup with toasted crusty baguette slices. No butter required. Just dunk the bread in the broth. Yum

  

 

MINCE TARTS OR PIE WITH BOURBON CARAMEL WHIPPED CREAM

So what the heck is a mince tart? Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of mincemeat. Mince is merely mincemeat without the meat – thus “mince”! A sweet mixture of liquored and spiced minced fruit (apples, raisins, sultanas, currents, and candied orange peel), baked in a buttery crust. And a mince pie? (I’ll leave you to figure that one out on your own!)

It all started when Jim, this years’ Thanksgiving dinner host, asked me to bring dessert. No problem. I knew that meant French Apple Pie (recipe on site) and Pumpkin Pie Bars (also on site). Then he mentioned how much he loved mincemeat pie. (I can take a hint when I hear one!) So of course, I added mincemeat to the lineup.

At first I was tempted to buy mincemeat, but the good stuff is expensive.  For example: The lowest price I could find for a decent mincemeat – Cross and Blackwell Rum and Brandy Mincemeat, 29-oz. jar was $24.99 from ebay. At least it wasn’t $25.00, that would have been really too prohibitively expensive. (And yes I do know that $24.99 is really $25.00! But most retailers still must think that consumers don’t know the difference, because they continue to waste printer space and ink by not labeling a product $25, instead of $24.99!) Sorry for that little rant, but it bugs me that retailers think the general public is completely lacking intelligence! And grocery stores. What’s with “sales” prices on an item liked canned baked beans advertised as “3 for $6”? Why not just $2 a can? Because how many ever you buy, the price is still going to be $2 a can. You don’t have to buy 3 cans to get the “sale” price. (Sorry, I’ll stop now!) Back to this recipe.  

I had made homemade mince before, but it had been almost 15 years. So I looked up the recipe in my 2nd cookbook, made a couple of changes I felt were necessary (I’ve learned a thing or two about baking in the past 15 years), and came up with this recipe. And oh my! It turned out to be a really good mince recipe.

Now I know some of you have memories of mincemeat pies that weren’t terribly good. But I feel duty bound to encourage you to put your unpleasant memories behind you and give this mince a try. First of all, no critters were harmed in the making of this mince. Mince is simply, as stated above, a sweet mixture of liquored and spiced minced fruit (apples, raisins, sultanas, currents, and candied orange peel). There is nothing in mince not to like. And when you add a dollop of Bourbon Caramel Whipped Cream – it’s a holiday in your mouth.

So start a new tradition at your home this year. But don’t wait. Make the mince now so that it will be ready for Christmas. Like nice people, mince only improves with age.

  • 1½ c. raisins
  • 1½ c. golden raisins (sultanas)  
  • 1½ c. dried currents
  • 2/3 c. + ¼ c. bourbon or brandy, divided
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely minced
  • 8-oz. container candied orange peel
  • ½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ c. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground mace
  • ¼ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange
  • tart or pie pastry (recipes below)
  • coarse or granulated sugar

This recipe makes enough mince for 2 10-inch tarts or 2 8-inch pies

Place the raisins, sultanas, and dried currents in a small saucepan. Add the 2/3 cup bourbon, bring just to a boil, stir to coat all the fruit, remove from heat, and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, combine the apples, candied orange peel, butter, brown sugar, spices, and the zest and juice of the lemon and orange, in a large ovenproof dish. When the raisins and currents are cool, stir into the apple mixture.  

Cover the dish and place in a cool place overnight. (The remaining bourbon gets added the next day.)

The following day, place the ovenproof dish in a cold oven, bring the temperature to 200 degrees, and bake for three hours, stirring every hour or so. Remove from oven, let cool completely, and stir in the remaining fourth cup bourbon.

Store covered in your refrigerator until ready to use. (Best if left to mellow at least 4 weeks, but if you are like me, the mince only gets to age for about a week. It’s still good, so no worries.)

MINCE TARTS (makes enough pastry for 2 10-inch tart pans)

  • 3 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • ¾ c. (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 5 to 6 T. ice water, enough to make a cohesive dough

Combine the flour, salt, and butter in a food processor. Pulse mixture until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. With the motor running, drizzle in the ice water, stopping when the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in half, and shape each piece into a flattened round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to prepare the tarts, remove the dough from the refrigerator. Let warm for 15 minutes or so, till it’s “rollable.”  

If using 10-inch tart pans, roll each disk into a 12-inch circle, about 1/8″ thick. (Remember, always roll the dough from the middle outward.) Using a plate or “whatever”, cut the dough into a 12-inch circle. (Save the scraps to use for decorative cutouts for the top of the tart.)

Note: If you are making tarts smaller or larger than 10 inches, measure the bottom of the tart pan plus double the height of the sides. Roll your pastry dough to that circumference. 

Gently nestle the dough circles into the tart pans. The pastry on the sides should be flush with the top of the tart pans. (Try not to stretch the pastry too much.) Cut shapes from the dough scraps: set aside.

Prick the bottom of each pastry several times with a fork. This helps to prevent puffing while the tart bakes.

Spoon mince into the pasty lined tart pans until it reaches the top of the crust. Gently press down as you fill the tart. Top with cut out decorative tart crust pieces liberally sprinkled with coarse or granulated sugar.

Bake the tarts in a preheated 400 degree oven for 28 to 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbly. Half way through the baking time, cover the mince with a round piece of aluminum foil to prevent the mince from browning too much and becoming dry.

Remove the tarts from the oven and cool in the pan. When ready to serve, gently push up on the removable bottom of the tart pan and cut into very narrow wedges. Serve at room temperature with Bourbon Caramel Whipped Cream (recipe below) or topping of choice.

MINCE PIE 

  • 6 T. ice cold water
  • 3 c. flour
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • heaping 1 c. Crisco

Step 1 – Pour cold water into a small bowl.

Step 2 – Measure flour and salt into a mixing bowl.

Step 3 – Take ½ cup of the flour back out of the mixing bowl and stir it into the water. Make a paste. Set aside.

Step 4 – Add the heaping cup of Crisco to the flour and salt mixture. Mix together. (I use my KitchenAid mixer.)

Step 5 – Add the water/flour paste to the flour/shortening bowl and mix just until blended. Do not over-mix. Divide dough in half. Roll out dough and place in 8-inch pie pans. Cut off excess dough and save for pie crust cut outs to decorative the top of the pie.

When ready to bake pies, pour mince into the pastry lined pans. Top with cut out decorative pie crust pieces liberally sprinkled with coarse or granulated sugar.

Cover edges of pie crust with 1½-inch strips of aluminum foil to prevent excessive browning. Remove foil last 5 minutes of baking time.

Bake in a pre-heated 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes or until the crust is a very light brown and the filling is starting to bubble. Half way through the baking time, cover the mince with a round piece of aluminum foil to prevent the mince from browning too much and becoming dry.

Serve warm or at room temperature with Bourbon Caramel Whipped Cream (recipe below) or topping of choice.

Helpful hint: Use a pastry cloth to roll out your pie crust. It really makes a difference. You can find pastry cloths in almost any kitchen wares shop. Well worth the $10 or so.

BOURBON CARAMEL WHIPPED CREAM

  • ¼ c. unsalted butter
  • ½ c. brown sugar
  • tiny pinch salt
  • ¼ c. + 2 c. heavy whipping cream
  • 2 T. good bourbon

Whisk butter, brown sugar, and salt together over medium heat in a small heavy saucepan until brown sugar has dissolved completely. (This happens after the mixture comes to a boil and is allowed to burble for a couple of minutes or until it turns kind of shiny. Continue whisking the whole time the mixture is on the heat.) Remove from heat and gently whisk in the quarter cup heavy cream and bourbon. Allow caramel to come to room temperature and then refrigerate.

Beat the remaining 2 cups of whipping cream to stiff peaks. Add the cold caramel sauce and whip just until well blended. (The caramel sauce and whipped cream can be combined up to a few hours before serving.)  

CHOCOLATE CHIP, TOASTED COCONUT, AND CHOPPED ALMOND BLONDIES

I’m sure you noticed that there don’t appear to be any chocolate chips in my picture of these bar cookies. In fact, if you look really, really closely, you will see (or more correctly not see) any picture above at all! There’s a very good reason for this. I failed to take a picture. But here’s where your imagination comes into play. Place tiny dots of chocolate in the picture of my regular Blondies (recipe on site) below, and you have as close a resemblance to what these bar cookies actually look like as you are going to get until I bake another batch. That is, if I remember to take a picture the next time I build these amazing treats. (It’s all a game of chance with me these days!)

I was just so excited to taste these babies, I totally spaced on my duty as resident food photographer. (Hard to get good help these days!) Anyway, back to these cookies.

Now I know everyone loves blondies (butterscotch brownies). But I decided to add a couple of my favorite ingredients to my daughter Paula’s recipe. And, oh my! These cookies are really chewy and absolutely delicious. But then, I really love coconut. Mr. C., not as much. But he likes these cookies, as do a couple of other people I know who profess to not like coconut!

So next time you need a bar cookie that is not only scrumptious, but easy and quick to prepare, you need look no further. This is the cookie for you.

  • ½ c. melted unsalted butter
  • 2 c. brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla
  • ½ tsp. almond extract
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 c. shredded coconut, toasted
  • 1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 c. coarsely chopped almonds

Stir the melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, almond extract, baking powder, and salt together using a whisk. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the flour just until combined with the other ingredients. Fold in the coconut, chocolate chips, and almonds. Spread the dough into a lightly buttered 9×13-inch pan (glass is best). Bake in a pre-heated 325 degree oven (350 for metal) for 40 minutes, or until a nice golden brown on top and around the edges. (Do not overbake.) Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into bar shaped pieces just before serving.

 

 

 

PRESBYTERIAN REVENGE

This post was written by guest contributor Andy Carr.

Andy writes, “While I most often enjoy Scotch neat (or with a slight addition of Drambuie), I’m a sucker for a nice, balanced, fruit-inspired cocktail.  This one, called Presbyterian Revenge, is delicious. 

I was curious about Cynar (pronounced chee-NAR).  It’s a bitter liqueur made from various herbs and plants, the most prominent being artichoke.   The bitterness is offset by the citrus from the lemon juice and grapefruit bitters.

By the way, the Revenge is so named because Cynar comes from Italy, a Catholic country.

This recipe calls for Black Grouse, a blended Scotch whiskey which is affordable as a mixer and brings a moderate smokiness to the drink. I used The Famous Grouse in the picture above, because that’s what I happened to have on hand. Both siblings are delicious in this drink.”

Patti writes, “This drink is based on the recipe for Presbyterian Revenge on the Serious Eats website. Proportions have been changed to accommodate Mr. Carrs’ personal taste.

Special thanks to our brother-in-law Rick for introducing us to yet another weird and wonderful drink. Keep them coming. The resident mixologist is having a great time experimenting with some of the unusual ingredients found in these recipes. Maybe someday he may even forgive me for purchasing a bottle of banana liqueur that I only used once 15 years ago. I can only hope.”

  • 1.5 oz. Scotch, preferable The Black Grouse or The Famous Grouse  
  • .5 oz. Cynar (the standard recipe calls for .75 ounce; I prefer slightly less)
  • .25 oz. fresh lemon juice
  • .25 oz. simple syrup (see recipe below)
  • 2 dashes grapefruit bitters (I use Fee Brothers)
  • ice
  • club soda

Pour the Scotch, Cynar, lemon juice, simple syrup, and grapefruit bitters into a shaker. Add ice to about one third up the side of the shaker. Shake and strain the liquid into a rocks or highball glass* and add 5-6 ice cubes. Top with a splash of club soda.

Note: The standard recipe specifies a grapefruit twist as a garnish – I haven’t tried this.

*An Old Fashioned or “rocks” glass is a short tumbler with a wide brim and a thick base.  A “highball” glass (pictured above) is cylindrical in shape and narrower and taller than an Old Fashioned glass, but shorter than a Tom Collins glass.

Simple Syrup

  • 1 part water
  • 1 part granulated sugar

In a small saucepan, bring water and sugar to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Store covered in the refrigerator.

 

 

MEXICAN PINTO BEANS

I love dried beans. They are so terribly multitalented and the best part – they are really, really good for us. Let me count the ways! Source – Huffington Post, Bonnie Taub-Dix

  1. Beans contain an abundance of soluble fiber, which can lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In other words, they are heart healthy.
  2. Beans are low in fat (only 2-3 percent) and contain no cholesterol.
  3. Beans pack protein. Half a cup provides 7 grams of protein, the same amount as 1 ounce of chicken, meat, or fish. Beans are a terrific source of protein for vegetarians and vegans.
  4. Beans balance blood sugar. With a low glycemic index, beans contain a beautiful blend of complex carbohydrates and protein. Because of this, beans are digested slowly, which helps keep blood glucose levels stable, which in turn helps curtail fatigue and irritability.
  5. Beans cut the risk of cancer and chronic diseases. Scientists recommend that adults consume 3 cups of beans per week to promote health. Beans contain an abundance of antioxidants which prohibit (and in some cases even prevent), the oxidation of other molecules in the body. The benefits of antioxidants are very important to good health, because if free radicals are left unchallenged, they can cause a wide range of illnesses.
  6. Beans help our bodies stay regular. Filled with fiber, beans can promote regularity by preventing constipation. To maximize the benefit, always accompany high-fiber foods such as beans with ample amounts of water.
  7. Beans give us that “full” feeling. Because beans are metabolized more slowly than other complex carbs, they may aid in weight loss by keeping us feeling full without being excessively high in calories.
  8. Beans are convenient and inexpensive. Canned or dry, beans are a breeze to purchase, prepare, and store. They are also the least expensive source of protein, especially when compared to fresh meat.
  9. Beans are rich in nutrients. They contain a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals, such as copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans refer to many of these important nutrients as “shortfall nutrients,” meaning most of us aren’t getting enough of them.
  10. Beans are very versatile. They can be incorporated into a main dish (chili), side dish (rice and beans), appetizer (soup) or snack (dip). It’s easy to be creative when you have pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils, etc. etc. in your pantry.

Now that you know the health reasons behind incorporating more beans into your diet, let me share with you the real reason I eat beans. They are just plain delicious! And this recipe, which is really simple to prepare, is a good example. But before you get too excited, I need to mention that this dish is never going to be the star of any Mexican meal. Think of this dish like you would the back-up singer in a band. Creates another level of enjoyment for the audience, would be missed if not on the stage, but not the reason you came to the concert in the first place.

Or think of how you order a meal in a Mexican restaurant. You never order “whole beans with an enchilada on the side”. Of course not. You order an enchilada which almost always comes with a side of beans! So this is that side of beans that is good on its own, but is really on the plate to compliment the enchilada, or tamale, or whatever!

And that’s exactly what happened last evening. I made Cheese Enchiladas with Red Chili Sauce, (on this site) and served these beans on the side. What a yummy meal. BTW, the Red Chili Sauce for the cheese enchiladas is absolutely the best Mexican red sauce I have ever tasted. I’ve been making it now since the mid 70’s, and like I said, I have never tasted one better. Even the restaurants in New Mexico, Arizona, or Colorado can’t make a red sauce as flavorful as this one! (And yes, I can boast about this sauce, because I didn’t invent it. I received it from my late friend Jan W.)

So, break out the tequila, put on a mariachi CD, and whip up a Mexican dinner for your family and/or friends. Don’t forget the Guacamole! (Recipe also on this site). Salud!

  • 1 lb. dry pinto beans (about 2½ cups)
  • 8 c. water, divided, or more as needed
  • 1 lg. bay leaf
  • ½ tsp. cumin
  • ½ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. granulated garlic
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)

Pour beans into a colander. Run water over the beans and remove any rocks, dirt, or misshaped beans. Add beans to a large covered pot. Pour in 6 cups of the water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for 1 hour. Stir periodically.

After an hour, add the remaining 2 cups water, bay leaf, cumin, smoked paprika, granulated garlic, onion powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer on low heat for an additional 60 to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Beans are done when they are soft and the liquid is creamy. (Add more water if the beans aren’t tender but most of the liquid has evaporated. If you have too much liquid, remove the lid and simmer gently until you achieve desired consistency.) Adjust seasonings as required.

 

MARHAPÖRKÖLT (HUNGARIAN BEEF STEW)

Hungarian food entrances me because I have always loved the key ingredients in this delightful cuisine – sour cream, paprika, potatoes, pasta, onions, caraway seeds, poppy seeds, cabbage (including sauerkraut), and a wide array of sausages. I mean truly, what’s not to like?

So when I recently decided to prepare a beef stew, I decided to forgo my usual recipes in favor of something new. And almost any time I think “something new”, my thoughts automatically drift towards the Carpathian Basin.

I found plenty of recipes during my internet search. But I quickly realized, like American beef stew, there are as many recipes for this Hungarian standard, as there are cooks. And not just Hungarian cooks. I found recipes from cooks from almost every ethnicity, as well as recipes from magazines as disparate as Saveur and Women’s Day.

So I glommed together what I thought would work, and got out my largest LeCreuset Dutch oven. Following what I thought to be the key ingredients in most of the highest rated recipes, I came up with this mix. I had a few trepidations about using a whole green pepper, but in the final analysis, it’s the green pepper that sets the stage so beautifully for the paprika and caraway to work their magic. These three ingredients were obviously meant to be together. They set the flavor base for this incredible dish. The funny thing is, unless you have truly amazing taste buds, (of which I am not blessed), it is difficult to ascertain where the green pepper flavor leaves off and the paprika and caraway take the forefront. And really, isn’t that the essence of good cooking? Achieving a blend where no one ingredient hogs the stage. (Kind of like a good band. Every player in sync with every other player to form a blend rather than a cacophony of individual sounds.)   

So please give this recipe a try. It is the essence of comfort food, even before you place it on the table. The smell alone is worth the effort. All you have to do is read the first two ingredients to know of what I speak. 

  • 4 slices thick cut lean bacon, diced
  • 1 lg. onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped (don’t even think of leaving the green pepper out)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. cubed lean beef (I use round steak because it’s inexpensive and very lean)
  • 3 T. sweet (mild) Hungarian paprika (yes, 3 tablespoons), or more to taste
  • scant ½ tsp. caraway seeds, coarsely crushed (don’t leave the caraway seeds out either!)
  • 1 lg. bay leaf
  • 8 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably Italian)
  • about 2 c. beef broth
  • ½ lb. thick egg noodles
  • 1 T. chopped fresh parsley, garnish
  • sour cream, garnish, opt.

In a large covered Dutch oven or soup pan, fry the bacon until it is crisp. Remove from pan and set aside. Add the onion and sauté for about 8 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic, green pepper, salt, and pepper. Continue to sauté for another 5 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant and the bell pepper is tender-crisp.

Add the beef to the pan. Cook for 5-6 more minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the meat is brown. Add the cooked bacon, paprika, caraway seeds, bay leaf, and diced tomatoes to the pan. Pour enough beef broth into the pan to almost cover the meat. Stir and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cover the pan. Let the mixture simmer slowly for about 90-120 minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more broth as needed to keep the stew from getting dry. (If too much liquid, remove the lid the last 30 minutes or so of cooking time, thus allowing the excess liquid to evaporate.)

The stew is done when the meat is fork tender and the sauce is thick. Adjust seasoning.

Just before serving, cook the noodles to al dente and drain.

To serve, cover the bottom of a soup bowl with noodles, and ladle on the stew. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and offer sour cream at the table.

Can substitute mashed potatoes or steamed rice for the noodles.

Pairs very well with Hawaiian Won Bok and Carrot Slaw. (on blog)

 

    

HAWAIIAN WON BOK (NAPA CABBAGE) AND CARROT SLAW

I fell in love with a slaw while dining at a beer pub in Hawaii. I know! Who would expect to find a truly great coleslaw in a small town pub? But this slaw was beyond delicious. The worst part was that I hadn’t ordered a meal that came with the slaw. But my dear friend Vicki offered me a bite of hers because she thought it was so good. Well – one bite was all it took. I was hooked.

So as soon as I got back home, I started researching Hawaiian Won Bok Slaw dressing recipes. Of course first I tried searching on the brew pub site. No luck. Then I searched for Hawaiian Won Bok Slaw recipes. I found a couple of dressing recipes that at first glance looked like they contained the same ingredients as the dressing on the slaw that I had tasted. Close, but not one of the recipes looked just right. So I took bits and pieces from several recipes and came up with my first endeavor.

My first attempt was OK, but it was lacking. So I changed one ingredient and added a couple of others, and served the salad to our friends Jim and Margo. Well needless to say, it was a success. 

Now I have no idea whether or not this recipe is even close to what I tasted in Hawaii. It actually tastes like a Hungarian coleslaw if truth be told. But in the final analysis, who cares?!?! It’s delicious and easy to prepare. Besides, what’s in a name anyway?

  • 1 T. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. dry mustard
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ c. vegetable oil
  • 2 T. mayonnaise
  • 3 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp. poppy seeds
  • 4-5 c. thinly sliced Napa cabbage
  • ½ c. shredded carrots

Whisk together the sugar, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. (Dry mustard tends to clump, so this simple step alleviates the problem.) Whisk in the oil, mayonnaise, vinegar, and poppy seeds. (Can be made ahead of time and refrigerated.)

Combine the cabbage and carrot in a salad bowl. 20-30 minutes before serving, pour the dressing on the cabbage, toss, and refrigerate. Give the salad a good toss again just before serving. 

 

 

ASIAN SAUTÉED SPINACH

As I have mentioned before, a simple healthy green vegetable is almost always a welcome addition to a dinner menu. I absolutely love greens, and good old fashioned spinach is one of my favorites. And nothing could be tastier or easier to prepare than this recipe. I actually make this recipe quite often, not only because it’s delicious, but because it takes me no time to assemble the ingredients and cook up at the last minute. (I’m lazy, remember!)

So if you too want to cook healthy, but not spend hours in the kitchen, this is the veggie side dish you have dreamed about. I thank you, Popeye thanks you, and I’m sure your family will thank you too!

  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1 tsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
  • tiniest pinch crushed red pepper flakes, opt.
  • 10 oz. bag of pre-washed fresh baby spinach
  • 1 T. Tamari (or more to taste)

Heat vegetable oil and sesame oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper flakes; cook briefly. Add spinach and cook until mostly wilted. Add soy sauce to taste and continue cooking just until the spinach has completely wilted. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

 

 

CANTALOUPE AND CUCUMBER SALAD

I am always looking for unusual and really tasty fruit salads. I had read that cantaloupe and cucumber were really delicious together, so I went on-line looking for a recipe that would feature these two ingredients. I found several recipes that looked interesting, but none were just what I was looking for. So taking bits and pieces from several recipes, and adding my own ingredients that I already knew were good with cantaloupe (black pepper and lime) and adding a bit of heat (Tajin Clásico Seasoning), I came up with this recipe.

Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to take a picture because I was too busy getting ready to serve 30 some guests before a JazzVox concert. (Having only two hands is also unfortunate at times like these.)

But people loved the salad, so you will just have to trust me when I tell you that not only is the salad terribly yummy, it is also very visually appealing.    

p.s. Next time I will try harder to get my act together, although keeping balls in the air is getting more difficult with each passing year! Any of you experiencing the same problem?

  • ¼ c. fresh lime juice
  • ¼ c. honey (local honey is best)
  • couple grinds of black pepper
  • pinch Tajin Clásico Seasoning* or sea salt
  • 1 cantaloupe, cubed 
  • 2 c. seedless red grapes, halved
  • 1 tart apple, diced (I love Opal, Braeburn, or Honey Crisp for this salad)
  • 2 ripe kiwi, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced
  • 1 English cucumber, partially peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded, and sliced (not too thin)
  • 1 T. minced fresh mint leaves

In a small bowl, whisk the lime juice, honey, pepper, and Tajin together. (Can be made ahead and refrigerated.)

Place cantaloupe, grapes, apple, kiwi, and cucumber in a large salad bowl; add dressing and toss to coat. Cover and place in refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the fresh mint.

*Tajin Clásico Seasoning – a delicious blend of ground chili peppers, sea salt, and dehydrated lime juice. Available at large grocery stores or Mexican markets.