Monday, May 18, 2009


Summer is encroaching on my backyard – and I couldn’t be happier. Each time I step outside to check on the garden it seems the tomato plants have sprung up another six inches and the pole beans have climbed further up their trellis. I have the warm Southern California days to thank for all of this progress and it is because of those warm days that I surprised myself when I cranked the oven up to 400 degrees for the better part of the afternoon. With no air conditioning in my humble abode, this is quite the commitment, but one that was well worth it as I turned out my first batch of empanadas for a friend’s birthday celebration.

Empanadas are an enticing ethnic food that I have shied away from making at home, always assuming that indigenous hands would do a much better job than my white-bread paws could ever hope to achieve. This is also why I have yet to make any Indian dishes at home. I love my Tikka Masala and I’m pretty sure that Taj Indian delivery will always do a better job than I.

The first time I considered making empanadas was after hearing my friend Lauren recount her experience making hundreds of them for a party for her Argentine boyfriend. She, like me, doesn’t have the Latin blood pumping through her veins that I assumed was necessary for a successful empanada. Knowing that her creations were well received encouraged me.

The final push came from the recent New York Times article on empanadas. I sent the article and recipes to Lauren and we began talking about the different types of empanada filling and the kind of dough she uses - after some unsuccessful attempts at making her own, she now relies on Discos, packages of premade frozen discs of empanada dough. Lauren even happened to have a package in her freezer leftover from a recent party. She offered to give it to me and I earnestly accepted. Armed with Discos and the New York Times recipes, it was time to get over my reservations.

I didn’t want to completely cop out with the pre-made dough so I decided to make half the batch with Discos and half the batch with the New York Times recipe. As I mentioned, I was making the empanadas for a friend’s birthday celebration, which turned out to be the perfect opportunity to have a large group compare the Discos with their homemade counterpart. I am actually happy to report that the Discos beat my dough, hands down. I’m happy because it will make future attempts at empanada making even easier. Not that the dough is particularly hard to make, in fact I think we may have gone a little too fat-conscious in Los Angeles - the hardest part of the dough recipe was tracking down lard. I stopped at three stores before finally locating the animal fat at a small neighborhood market. If you’re planning your own empanada party, I recommend saving yourself the trouble and using Discos.

The traditional minced meat filling was the crowd favorite, only marginally beating out my own corn and goat cheese experiment. Both filling recipes are included below. If you want to try your hand at the dough, check out the New York Times recipe.

In addition to the empanadas, I brought a tomato seedling to the party as a gift for my friend. A recent text informed me that her tomato plant, like mine, is, “sprouting like a teenager.” I hope your gardens are having as much luck as we are here in Southern California. And, if you’re going to try your hand at empanadas, I hope you, unlike me, have central air.


Minced Meat Filling
Adapted (doubled) from the New York Times

1 pound lean beef, minced
3 T lard
2 cups chopped onion
Salt and fresh black pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t smoked paprika
20-pack of 5-inch Discos
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced
12 pitted cured black olives, chopped
30 raisins
1 large egg, beaten with 1 T water for an egg wash

Preheat Oven to 400*
If you, like me, weren’t able to find minced meat, cut your beef into chunks and process in a food processor until minced. Melt the lard in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, then add the beef. Cook until the beef is lightly browned and stir in the seasonings – salt, pepper, cumin and paprika.

Place the filling on half of a Disco, leaving a half-inch border at the edge. Top with a slice of egg, some chopped olive and a few raisins. Brush the border and the other half of the Disco with egg wash and fold over. Crimp the edges with a fork to make sure they are sealed.

Place the filled Discos on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the empanadas over and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

Corn and Goat Cheese Empanada Filling

2 T olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Corn cut from three ears of corn
1/2 bunch of cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 cup of goat cheese

Preheat Oven to 400*
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the shallots and garlic. Cook just until fragrant and add the corn. Cook until the corn begins to soften 8 to 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool before transferring to a food processor. Add the cilantro to the food processor and process until the corn is coarsely chopped. Stir in the goat cheese by hand and season with salt and pepper.

Place the filling on half of a Disco, leaving a half-inch border at the edge. Brush the border and the other half of the Disco with egg wash and fold over. Crimp the edges with a fork to make sure they are sealed.

Place the filled Discos on a baking sheet, lined with parchment paper, and bake for 10 minutes. Flip the empanadas over and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes until golden brown.

If you are making your own dough, a lid or other round surface makes a good guide.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries

I’m certain that when Anna Pavlova visited New Zealand in 1926 she was more concerned with the quality of her ballet performances than of the desserts she consumed. Fortunately for us, a local chef troubled himself with the later and created a dessert in her honor that consists of a pillow of meringue, topped with whipped cream or lemon curd (or both) and finished off with a scattering of fresh fruit. Best of all, it looks terrifically impressive and is perfect for company, but it’s also completely manageable if you’re willing to commit to a multi-step dessert.

I was willing to make such a commitment for a recent Sunday afternoon meal. However, my only company was the boyfriend and he thinks – or at least pretends to think – that everything I make is terrifically impressive (another one of the many reasons I keep him around). In the absence of guests to impress, I went ahead with the Pavlova recipe because really, when have I ever let the absence of an audience stop me from making something delicious?

And the Pavlova was delicious. It’s truly an exercise in varied textures. The crunch of the outside of the meringue contrasts with its marshmallow-like interior - achieved through slow and low cooking in the oven - and the creamy tartness of the lemon curd plays off the firm sweetness of the fresh fruit topping. All of these components come together to make not only an enjoyable mouthful, but also something beautiful to look at. And if you look closely, you may be able to imagine the ballerina’s tutu that inspired that pillow-like base.

The next time around I may add a little more sugar to the curd or use Meyer lemons as the tartness actually turned my tongue raw. Or maybe next time I will stop at one or two helpings instead of carrying on to three or four. Either way, your choice. I’ve included the recipe as it was printed in the April issue of Gourmet.


Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Berries
Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

1 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
3 eggs at room temperature for 30 minutes
3 T cold water
1 t white vinegar

3 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 T cornstarch
1/8 t salt
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 t grated lemon zest

1 cup heavy cream
4 cups mixed berries


Preheat oven to 300*
Trace a 7-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper cut to fit your baking sheet. Turn the parchment over and place on the baking sheet. Whisk the sugar and cornstarch together in a small bowl. Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed to soft peaks. Add the cold water and beat to soft peaks again. Increase the mixer speed to medium high and add the sugar and cornstarch mixture one T at a time. After the all the sugar has been added, beat for one minute more. Add the vinegar and beat for approximately five minutes until the eggs hold stiff peaks. Use a spatula to spread the meringue inside the circle drawn on the parchment paper. Shape a small crater in the middle by forming the edges higher than the center so you will have a place for the filling. Bake for 45 minutes until the meringue turns a tan color. Turn off the oven and prop open the door with a wooden spoon. Cool the meringue in the oven for an hour.


Whisk the egg yolks together in a small bowl and set aside. Stir the sugar, cornstarch and salt together in a medium saucepan. Place the pan over medium heat and add the lemon juice and butter. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook for one minute longer, whisking constantly. Temper the mixture by adding a 1/4 cup of the lemon and butter mixture to the egg yolks in a small drizzle, whisking constantly. Whisk the tempered egg yolks back into the pan with the remaining lemon mixture. Reduce the heat to low and stir constantly for about two minutes longer, until the curd has thickened. Stir in the lemon zest and transfer to a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the curd so a skin does not form and chill until cold 1 – 1 1/2 hours.

Beat the heavy cream until it holds soft peaks. Use a spatula to gently fold 1/4 cup of the whipped cream into the lemon curd. Spread the lemon curd over the crater in your meringue and pile berries on top. Serve with the whipped cream to cut the tartness of the curd.