A Harmony of Flavors

Saturday, December 20, 2014

On a Roll - With Cookies

I am finally getting into the cookie spirit. As usually happens with me, once I start, no matter how innocently, no matter that I intended to make about 4 kinds of cookies total, I get carried away. Right now I have 3 kinds of cookies made, and only one of these three is one I intended to make. I mentioned at the end of my blog yesterday that I was going to make Forgotten Cookies next. And so it was. I did, however, already have a dough made for another kind, which I made this morning. For now though, the Forgotten Cookies.
 
Forgotten Cookies

I first learned of these cookies when I was 17 years old (a L-O-N-G time ago, in 1967). My boyfriend at the time, Dick McKinney, took me to his parents' house and his Mom had cookies out as refreshments. I tasted one of these cookies and went into raptures. I had a very hard time remembering any kind of manners, as I sort of ate my way through the plate of them! I asked his Mom what kind of cookies they were, and she said "Forgotten Cookies, because you 'forget' them in the oven overnight." The cookies themselves are meringues, with chocolate chips and nuts in them.
 
Forgotten Cookies

While it was a very long time before I ever found a recipe, sometime in the 1990s (I married - someone else - moved to Guatemala for 12 years, came back, got settled in the US, divorced, remarried....), I did always remember the name of the cookies. I do not recall where exactly I found it, finally, but when I made them, I remembered well why I loved them so much. Yesterday I spent some time online, just looking around, and found that Forgotten Cookie recipes are pretty much identical, no matter where one looks. It is not my original recipe. Why change a good thing? But here is the recipe anyway, just in case someone out there has missed these little gems, somehow.

Forgotten Cookies

makes about 40 to 45

2 egg whites
pinch salt
2/3 cup sugar, processed to fine powder
½ Teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 


Beat egg whites with salt, until they hold soft peaks. Beat in the sugar until the meringue holds stiff peaks. Add in the vanilla, then the chocolate chips and cuts. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto aluminum foil or parchment lined cookie sheets. Place in the preheated oven and turn off the heat at once and leave for at least 2 hours, or overnight.



Drop small dollops of the meringue onto parchment sheets
In the morning, they are perfectly dried little meringue cookies that melt in your mouth.
.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Finally Making Time for Christmas Cookies

Christopsomos, Greek Christmas Bread
I had made a decision to do something different for gifts this year. I have been making (probably literally) thousands of cookies, so I have enough to give away as gifts to all the family, and still have enough to keep for ourselves. Instead, I decided on making another of the wonderful breads from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. I had originally tried the Christopsomos, a Greek Christmas Bread, but changed my mind. There was absolutely nothing wrong at all with the Christopsomos. It tasted divine. I was just unsure how the family would like it, so I switched gears and went for the Panettone. 


I made 10 loaves of the Panettone, the Italian Christmas Bread, for gifts. As it was taking the entire day long for the bread to rise (2 rises, at 4 hours each!), and then baking and cooling time to factor in, well, those were some long days. As we are now at less than a week from Christmas, I did not opt to make a Panettone for us here at home; at least not at this time. I will say, it smelled most heavenly while baking! 

Panettone, Italian Christmas Bread, right from the oven
Today, finally, I started on my cookies. Not getting too far just yet, with other things to do, I did at least get one batch of cookies made, plus the dough for another kind. The ones I made today were an experiment of sorts. I am not a peanut butter fan. Not - at - all. My husband, however, is. The only peanut butter cookies I have made since my kids were little are the ones called "Miracle Cookies". That said, when I look around online, there are so many variations on Miracle Cookies now, that I am standing by the recipe I have had for at least 30 years. I like eating cookie dough. And bread dough, and cake batter, and just about any batter. I know this gives a lot of people the willies, but I have done it since early childhood, at my Mom's apron strings. At almost 65 years old, I am not planning on stopping now! 

I say that because, while I do not like peanut butter, I like the raw dough of these cookies. It may be strange, I know. I ate my fair share of peanut butter and jelly as a kid, and even in early adulthood. But, I have never, ever, in my life, taken a spoonful of peanut butter to eat. I have never liked it enough to do that. I do like the cookie dough! Go figure.

Miracle Peanut Butter Cookies, Christmas 2013
Back to the cookies. I have made these - not every year - but often enough, for my husband for Christmas. The recipe is so deceptively simple it is almost unbelievable, with only 4 ingredients. I know that others have made peanut butter cookies with a Hershey's Kiss set in the center. I remember one time seeing these at one of my sisters' houses. I have never done that, so I decided on making that little change to the Miracle Cookies this year. The basic cookie recipe is made entirely without flour, so they are gluten-free. I did not check the Hershey's Kiss bag to see if wheat is an ingredient, but without the Kisses, these cookies are totally gluten free. 

When making the peanut butter cookies without the Kisses, I scoop out and roll the dough into balls, and then use a fork to press the cookie down, making a criss-cross pattern on top (shown above). To make them with the Hershey's Kiss in the center, they are left in a ball, rolled in sugar and baked as is in the ball-shape. They only flatten slightly, so pressing the Kiss into the center makes the cookie flatten to a normal cookie shape.
 

Miracle Peanut Butter Kisses, 2014

Miracle Peanut Butter Kisses

makes about 24 cookies

1 cup peanut butter, creamy or crunchy as desired
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
---------
a bowl with about 1/2 to 3/4 cup sugar, for rolling
24 - 28 Hershey's Kisses, unwrapped

Place all four ingredients into a mixer bowl, or just a mixing bowl. The ingredients can be creamed by hand, but a mixer will made super fast work of the dough. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Once the ingredients are well combined, begin rolling balls of the dough - or use a cookie scoop. Normally, I use the smaller of my two cookie scoops to make the plain cookies as I made last year. For these, I wanted enough of the cookie dough to offset the size of the Hershey's Kisses, so I used my larger scoop, measuring about 1 tablespoon. Scoop out a portion of the dough, roll it in a ball and roll in the sugar, to coat. Set the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake them for 10 to 12 minutes. Immediately on removing from the oven, set one of the unwrapped Kisses into the center of each cookie, making the still-soft cookie spread, as shown in the photo. Carefully slide them off the sheet to a counter or rack to cool completely. The chocolate stays soft a long time, so allow sufficient time for the cookies to cool before storing.

My next cookies are going to be "Forgotten Cookies". I will be making those this evening. Happy Baking!


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Guatemalan Dessert with Unusual Name

Chancletas. That is the unusual name.

Chancleta is a rough, slang-like word for something like a slipper, or some type of slip on shoe. I guess I can sort-of see the chancleta reference. Last evening, as we ate this dessert after a lovely dinner of Hilachas, looking at the now-empty shell, there is a vague resemblance to a slipper. 
Chancleta, served

Whatever the word Chancleta means, that is what they called this particular dessert in Guatemala, made with a vegetable called Chayote. Guatemalans seem to make desserts out of the most unlikely things. Squash becomes candy, yuca root becomes a torta-type cake, and these Chayote Squash (called "Guisquil" in Guatemala) become funny-looking slipper-like desserts. 


Chayote Squash growing on a structure.

What is a Chayote?

Chayote Squash are known by many, many other names around the world, some of which are Mirliton, Vegetable Pear and Christophene. The vegetable, Sechium edule, is an edible, vining plant in the gourd family, along with cucumbers, melons and squash. They are extremely easy to grow - just stick one in the soil with the puckered end upwards. As with most vines, it will grow and positively take over an area. With these smaller squash, it is best (and easiest to harvest) if the vine has some sort of structure it can climb. The ripe squash will hang below and are easily seen and harvested. 

When I lived in Guatemala, I grew these Chayote Squash in our backyard, just as shown above. When you suddenly have 15 or 20 of them all ripe and waiting for use, you grasp at any recipe available. I made Chancletas relatively often! Obviously, these squash can be used in many other ways. They are not terribly flavorful, so using them in a dish with other flavors as the main point is great. I have often successfully made a "scalloped potatoes" recipe, using chayote squash instead of the potatoes, for a remarkably good and far less starchy meal or side dish.

How to Work with Chayote

Lower photo: slightly defined area to cut
There are a few small things to know about chayotes, when working with them. When peeling them, the inner flesh is a little sticky feeling. No big deal, but it is normal. Just an FYI. To take out the seed and the surrounding fibrous mass, lay the vegetable on one side and slice the vegetable across through its width, so the knife passes through and across the puckered end. This is shown in the photo sequence below. That picture shows an already cooked chayote, but the method is the same. The reason for this is that the seed is wide and flat, and it is surrounded by a fibrous mass akin to one of those loofah sponges, and totally inedible. You could try, but you would be chewing all day ;-)

If you have never worked with a chayote before, it is good to know where, exactly, this fibrous mass is, in order to cut it out effectively. Of course, you will find out soon enough. The knife won't pass through that mass either! In the photo here above, first is a photo of what these vegetables look like. They come in completely smooth skins and some are so spiny they are hard to touch. Most sold in the US are totally smooth. The ones I grew in Guatemala had a few little spines on them. The lower picture in the photo shows a chayote cut open. I drew a faint line that shows where to insert the knife when cutting out the fibrous part. Insert the knife at a flat angle and cut out a very flat cone and discard. At any point, if the knife will not penetrate, this means you've hit the fibrous part; just re-angle the knife until it goes around easily. 

This may all sound difficult. It is not. I just want anyone daring enough to try something new, to know just exactly what to expect. This always helps me want to try something new.

Now that I have it prepped....

At this point, you have the vegetable ready to use. These are not starchy squash. They have a fair amount of water to them. They will cook easily. Add them to any dish where other vegetables are used, such as a stew or a vegetable soup. It can be sliced or cubed, as desired. They are one possible addition to the Hilachas recipe I posted a couple of days ago. To cook a whole chayote, first the timing will depend on the size of the vegetable, but the ones I used for making the Chancletas cooked through in about 45 minutes or so. If cooking them whole to make Chancletas, when piercing to test for doneness, try to keep to the edge where the vegetable will eventually be cut. You will be reusing the skin. Now you are ready to make Chancletas.


Slice the squash through the width  |       inside     |  take out seed and fibrous mass  |         inner meat       |      ready to bake
The sequence of photos here above show the prep for making Chancletas. 
  1. The vegetables are cooked whole, covered in boiling water. Once cool enough to handle, they are sliced as shown, across the widest part of the vegetable. 
  2. The whitish area surrounding the seed is a good indicator of where to insert the knife to remove the fibrous part surrounding the seed. 
  3. The third photo shows the seed and fibrous mass removed. 
  4. The next step shows the flesh scooped out of the shell. Keep in mind, these "shells are very soft and tear easily, much like a cooked potato. Think of making Twice Baked Potatoes. You will need to leave just enough of the skin to give it a little structure. Not so much that you have nothing to use for the filling.
  5. The fifth photo shows the skins filled with the mixture, which is explained in the recipe below:

Chancletas

Makes 3 or 4 servings
Chancletas


My chayotes had excessive amounts of water to them. They kept leaking out more and more, to the point where I only had enough filling to fill 3 of the 4 chayote shells. This had never happened before, so much of this recipe will depend on how much of the flesh is scooped out to work with. Amounts may need to be adjusted.

2 Chayote squash
3/4 cup Champurrada crumbs or crumbs made from plain wafer cookies
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons raisins
1 tablespoon butter
pinch salt

Set the chayotes in a pot and cover them with water. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer until they are cooked through, about 45 minutes to an hour. Drain and set the chayotes aside until cool enough to handle.

Following the photos in the sequence above, first slice the chayotes in half as shown. With a small paring knife cut out a wide flat cone around the seed and fibrous mass. Discard. With a spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh, leaving only enough to give a little structure to the skins, which will be used to hold the filling. Puree the scooped out flesh and then add in the remaining ingredients. Once combined, fill the reserved skins with the mixture, set them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes, until set and golden. Serve warm. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hilachas - a Delicious Guatemalan Stew

Continuing on with my revision of a cookbook / memoir of Guatemala, which I made for one daughter and am now revising for another one, today I made two Guatemalan dishes. Finally, after so many years I have eaten some these things again, and now have photos. I am truly happy on both counts. The first dish is a Guatemalan Stew, called "Hilachas."  The second is a dessert, called Chancletas ("Slippers"), which I will describe in my next blog.

Hilachas?

The word Hilachas, translates to "rags." The dish is common all around Central America, and apparently Cuba and Puerto Rico as well. In the southern US it is more often seen on menus as "Ropa Vieja", which means "old clothes". It is not a far difference from old clothes to rags. Easy to see the similarity. In essence, the dish is the same. It is made with a meat that shreds easily, such as flank steak, and shredded into a sauce that is mildly tomato based. In Guatemala, some places made Hilachas adding in potatoes, some add in Chayote squash (Guisquil, in Guatemala) and some add carrots. Some places add all three. In the Castillo household, made by the wonderful maid named Carmen, it was only potatoes. And, despite the potatoes being a starch, the dish was served with rice. 

Hilachas, also known as Ropa Vieja
Despite the fact that Hilachas was served very often, being very economical to make, somehow I never made it myself. I had no idea of what went into the dish, beyond the vague notion of something tomato-y as the base, with meat and potatoes. I wasn't even sure what kind of meat they used. I attempted something with no research one time long ago, was completely unhappy with it, and never tried again.

Writing about the dish yesterday while working on the cookbook / memoir, I thought I would do some research. Even a few years ago there was very little online about Guatemalan foods. So little that it was almost impossible to find out anything. Following on that, even if one could find a "recipe," it was (and still is, in many places) so badly written, with little or no amounts, it was not an easy task to decipher what should really be done. I set myself the task of thinking about every aspect of Hilachas I could recall. And then I went online once again. 

Of course, with a recipe that varies from household to household, it is not easy to pin down how a recipe should be done, but from all the places I read about Hilachas, there was a common thread. They all seemed to use a "sofrito" and the thickening agent is either bread or tortillas. 

What is Sofrito?

Tomatillos
While I was familiar with the word "sofrito" I am not sure how or where I first heard it. I know that Puerto Ricans use the term. In essence, a sofrito is the base for many sauces, and it is the base of Hilachas. In this recipe, raw onion, garlic, tomatoes, tomatillos, and a guajillo chile (or two) are the sofrito ingredients. These are blended relatively smooth, or can be done in a food processor. Once pulverized, they are cooked with some oil to remove the raw flavors. In the case of the tomatoes in this recipe: as we are now reduced to flavorless supermarket tomatoes, I used a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes. If anyone is unfamiliar with tomatillos, they add a particular flavor of their own, and are used extensively in Guatemalan cuisine. They are found in far larger sizes here in the US. In Guatemala, they were most often quite small. Maximum, 1 1/2-inches diameter. They are from the ground cherry family and the fruit is encased in a papery husk. The husk is removed before using, and the fruit inside has a sticky residue that needs rinsing.

Creating the Recipe

Once getting the basic ideas together, I set about creating the recipe in a general sense. Flank steak would shred easily, so I would use that for the meat. The sofrito had to have some tomato, but tomato is not remotely the main flavor. This is where I went wrong all those years ago. I would guesstimate that there are about nearly equal parts tomato, tomatillo and onion in the sofrito. Then garlic (just because!) and chile. Some recipes called for guajillo chiles. In Guatemala, the choice would have been chile guaque, but that is not available here. I had neither! I do, however, have some dried Hatch chiles, so I used that instead. A dried ancho or pasilla chile could be used, or even, in a pinch, a combination of paprika and cayenne. 

Pan Frances - http://www.pinterest.com/pin/3870349653097821/
Once the sofrito is blended together and fried, the main bulk of the recipe is done. The meat is cooked and shredded. The stock leftover from cooking the meat is added into the cooked sofrito. Potatoes are added and cooked. And then it is thickened with bread crumbs. In Guatemala, most often this was accomplished by soaking one of the "Pan Frances" or French bread, in some of the broth, until very soft, then stirred into the soup/broth until it dissolves, accomplishing a thickened mixture. And there it is, the basic recipe idea. Here it is, in its final state:

Guatemalan Hilachas

serves 6 or more
Hilachas, served with rice, Guatemalan Style

COOK THE MEAT:
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds flank steak
1 quart beef stock, preferably unsalted (or water)
2 teaspoons salt (if using unsalted stock)
1 bay leaf
1/2 onion, skin on for good color in the stock

SOFRITO:
1 can (14.5 ounces) peeled, whole tomatoes
6 medium small tomatillos,husks removed
1 whole onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 - 4 guajillo chiles, or 1 dried ancho or paasilla
3 - 4 cloves fresh garlic

OTHER INGREDIENTS:
2 tablespoons olive oil
more salt, as needed
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon Spanish paprika
3 ounces fresh bread crumbs (about 1 cup)
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds potatoes, peeled, cubed 
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped

Earlier in the day, set the flank steak in a large pot with the stock, salt, bay leaf and onion half. Bring to boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until tender. Remove the meat to a dish to cool, remove the onion and bay leaf, and reserve the stock. Once the meat has cooled, slice it across the grain into 2-inch sections, then shred the meat into thin strips or "rags". Set aside.

While the meat is cooking, place the sofrito ingredients into a blender or food processor and process until relatively smooth. Heat a large saucepan and add in the oil. Being careful, as it will spatter, add the sofrito. Stir and cook, covered, for 15 minutes to cook out the raw taste. Stir occasionally, but be careful of hot liquid splattering. Once the sofrito has cooked, add in the remaining meat cooking liquid to the sofrito, along with the black pepper, paprika and potatoes. Cook this mixture for about 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. 

Add in the fresh bread crumbs and stir well. Taste for salt, and adjust. Return the meat to the pot and stir in the cilantro. Heat through and serve with rice, Guatemalan Style:

Guatemalan Style Rice

serves 4 to 6

1 cup long grain rice
2 tablespoons oil or butter
1/2 cup shredded carrot
2 tablespoons thinly sliced onion
1/4 small green pepper, sliced thinly
1/2 cup frozen peas
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt

Place all the ingredients into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook the rice for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes more. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Guatemalan Empanadas are a Delightful Dessert

Maya Woman selling lunch from doorstep
Antojitos! That is what little snacks are called in Guatemala. And, boy, they really specialized in Antojitos (ahn-toe-HEE-toes) down there. On any street corner one could find little carts selling something. From the wonderful typical candies, to glaceed fruits or vegetables (They made sweet potatoes and squash into a crystallized candy that was to-die-for!), pan dulce, and lots of other things on that order, to just a Maya woman selling pots of a lunch stew with fresh, hand-made tortillas from her doorstep. While I do not recall ever seeing these empanadas in a cart, there were also pastelerias (pastry shops) or panaderias (bread shops) also found easily. Someplace online I read that these empanadas were mostly seen during Holy Week (Semana Santa). This is not my recollection, and I recall buying them any time I saw them. 

Annatto Seeds, called Achiote in Spanish
Most empanadas seen either in recipes online, or in books, are of the savory variety. These Guatemalan empanadas I am going to describe are actually a dessert pastry, filled with a cornstarch pudding called Manjar Blanco, strongly flavored with true cinnamon). The pastry dough is quite orange in color due to the addition of annatto coloring. I don't recall when the first time was that I made these myself, but I had made them at least twice in past. I have not, however, made them for over 20 years! And I was having a snack-attack; a real craving; an "antojito"! So I got out my trusty recipe, copied out in Spanish in a little notebook. 

The first thing I realized is that it called for "harina de Salpor" as part of the dry ingredients. What the heck is THAT, I wondered? And if I don't know what that is, what in the world did I use when I made them before? Thus ensued an exhaustive search on the internet, only to find that apparently, while "harina de Salpor" is called for in more than one version of these empanadas, no one really appears to know what, exactly, it is. More than one site had someone speculating that it was a corn flour, but that it had more "fecula." Great! Another word I didn't know! I found that fecula translates to "starch". Could harina de salpor be cornstarch? I didn't think so, as cornstarch was called "maizena". Still, it seemed I was finally getting somewhere. 

Guatemalan Empanadas de Manjar
My recollection, such as it is, after more than 20 years, is that I used masa harina, the corn flour used for making corn tortillas. I can remember this flavor in the finished empanadas. In making these again a couple of days ago, I decided on splitting the difference and using half masa harina and half cornstarch for that portion of the recipe, thus upping the starch (fecula) factor. It seemed to work fine, though these have always been really good when I made them. If you would like to try something different for a nice little sweet treat, do give these a try - they are most delightful.

I used the combination of masa harina and cornstarch for my empanadas. I also combined butter and lard as the "manteca" component. Margarine could be used also, and any one of these things (butter, margarine, lard, shortening) could be used on their own. The amount of water needed for the dough will depend on how dry your climate. Start with 3/4 cup and add more to bind, if needed. My method of mixing the dough may not be "typical", but it works just fine. ;-)

Guatemalan Empanadas de Manjar

Empanadas de Manjar

makes 26 to 30 empanadas

CORNSTARCH FILLING / MANJAR:
2 cups milk
1 (3-inch) stick true (soft-stick) cinnamon
3 tablespoons (1 ounce / 30 g.) cornstarch
1/2 cup (3.8 ounces / 108 g.) granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

EMPANADA DOUGH:
1 pound (3 1/2 cups / 453 g.) all-purpose flour
1/4 pound (scant 1 cup / 112 g.) Masa Harina
1/4 pound (3/4 cup / 112 g.) cornstarch
7.3 ounces (1 cup / 207 g.) granulated sugar
5 ounces (9 tablespoons / 142 g.) unsalted butter
5 ounces (3/4 cup / 142 g.) shortening or lard
1 1/2 teaspoons ground annato powder
2 large eggs, whisked lightly
3/4 - 1 cup water

Manjar ingredients mixed   |      cook & stir         |    cooked and thickened    |           strained         |  covered with plastic film 
MAKE THE MANJAR: In a saucepan combine the milk, cornstarch and sugar until combined. Add in the cinnamon, separated into pieces. Set the pan on medium heat and whisk almost constantly until the mixture comes to a boil and is thickened. Once thick, continue to whisk and cook for about 5 minutes longer, to remove any raw cornstarch taste. Remove from heat, add the vanilla and then strain the mixture through a sieve into a bowl (to remove the cinnamon bits). Immediately set a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding. This eliminates a skin forming on top of the pudding while it cools. Let cool completely to room temperature before proceeding.

MAKE THE DOUGH: First take a small portion (2 - 3 tablespoons) of lard, shortening or butter and melt it in a small pan, adding in the annato powder. Once melted, set aside. 
Dry ingredients mixed with lard & butter  |     lard with annatto powder     |     eggs & water added     |      finished dough

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, masa harina, cornstarch and sugar. Add the "manteca" of choice: I used butter and lard. Cut in the butter and lard with a pastry cutter, with a fork, or fingers as for pie dough, until the mixture is in crumbs. Whisk the eggs with 3/4 cup of the water, then add to the bowl, moving around gently and quickly with a fork, again, as for pie dough. Add in the melted fat with the annatto powder and stir well. Begin to bring the dough together into one mass. If it will not cooperate, add in a few drops of water at a time, as needed to make the dough come together.
 
cut rounds with bowl  |  top with pudding  |  moisten edges and fold to seal  |  crimp with fork  | on sheet

Divide the dough into two parts, working with one at a time. Roll out one section of the dough, slightly thicker than for a pie. Use something round to cut approximately 5-inch circles. I used a dessert bowl. Use a 1 tablespoon measure to portion out the Manjar pudding onto the center of each round piece of dough. Have a cup with water handy and moisten the edges of the circle with a pastry brush or fingers. Fold the dough over and press the edges to seal into half moons. Use the tines of a fork to press the edges, crimping to seal well. With cooking spray, lightly grease a cookie sheet and place the empanadas onto the sheet as they are finished. Poke small vent holes in the top of the pastry using the tip of a knife and bake the empanadas for about 30 minutes, until slightly golden and set. Repeat with the second piece of the dough.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Greek Christmas Bread and Guatemalan Champurradas

Champurradas and Coffee!
I have been absent from this blog because I have been busy with various projects. One was even Christmas related! For starters, one of my daughters was turning 40 a few days back, and when my oldest turned 40, I had created a cookbook-memoir for her, of all the recipes I had amassed when in Guatemala. Mind you, many of the recipes I made while down there were made by copying what someone else did, while I watched, or approximating what I ate and tasted somewhere. 

While living in Guatemala, we had little money, and one little Instamatic camera. More often than not, the flash would not work, so it was safest to take photos outside, but even then, most photo taking was of one of the children, or my husband (at the time) or myself, for a holiday or birthday. Looking back, I so wish I could have had the camera I own today, and the ability to take all those missed photo ops all over again. So when it came to making that cookbook-memoir, I had little, if any, photos of the foods, much less of the beautiful scenery. I searched online for photos that looked similar enough to what I had made and used them in that book. It was only a memoir for my daughter, after all. She knows what the foods and the country look like, as she spent time there as a young adult, but it's nicer to have photos. 


One assortment from blogsite: http://csethna.com/?p=2251

So when Jenny turned 40 a few days ago, I asked if she was interested in a remake of that same book. It was an emphatic YES! At this point in time, I have made many of the recipes and photographed them for my website or this blog, so I can go back and replace some of the photos in that book with my own. Still, there are a lot of recipes I keep meaning to make and get photos of, but just never seem to make the time. Two of these are Champurradas and Guatemalan Empanadas de Manjar. I had been working on the remake of the cookbook-memoir, and when I got to the page for Champurradas, I thought, "Enough! Just DO it!" So I went downstairs and made them.

Assortment 2 from blogsite: http://csethna.com/?p=2251
I had never made Champurradas before. I had a recipe I copied from somewhere, but Guatemalan recipes are notorious for lack of proper measurements and sometimes of any measurements at all. I had cobbled together what I intended to try, after noting the differences in a few different recipes. One thing that my recipe called for was Masa Harina, the corn flour used for making tortillas. While I love the flavor of Masa Harina in things, my "taste memory" of Champurradas did not recall that particular flavor. Still, this was a test. If it came out well, great. If not, try, try again.

So What are Champurradas?

In Guatemala, as well as Mexico and other countries of Latin America, there are large varieties of what are called "Pan Dulce" or Sweet Breads. While these breads are not really what one might term "sweet", they are richer than French bread or sandwich bread. They are made in all sorts of flavors and styles. Little round ones with a sugary topping are "molletes", little anise studded ones called "cemitas", long, crispy, sugar-coated "hojaldras", flat, cookie-like "champurradas" and so many many more (see the two photos above, that I snitched from this website). So, a champurrada is the closest to a cookie that I can describe of the breads in Guatemala. Flat and crisp, but very large at about 5 or more inches across. Not really too sweet, they were marvelous dunked in a nice cup of coffee. As it happens, they turned out really well, and I am enjoying them, one at a time, with coffee. This is what I did to make them:

Champurradas

makes 10 to 12, depending on thickness and diameter
Champurradas, ready to bake


1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup shortening or lard (2 ounces)
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar (3 ounces)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (6.85 ounces)
1/2 cup Torti-Ya/Masa Harina (flour for making corn tortillas)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
2 eggs, lightly whisked
unhulled sesame seeds for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection Bake). Have two cookie sheets ready.

Cream together the butter and shortening or lard with the sugar. Whisk together the dry ingredients and add them to the creamed mixture until it looks like crumbs, much as for pie dough. stir in the lightly-whisked eggs and bring the mixture together quickly with a fork or fingers, without over working the dough. Lightly flour a surface and roll out the dough to less than 1/4-inch thick and cut rounds that are about 5-inches in diameter. I used a small dessert bowl with smooth rim. 

Set these rounds onto the cookie sheets. They will not grow appreciably, so they can be set as close as 1-inch apart. If there is a little egg left in the container where they were whisked, stir in a tablespoon of water to the container and use a pastry brush to brush this over tops of the cookies. Sprinkle lightly with the sesame seeds. Bake them for 25 minutes, or until nicely golden.

Christopsomos, Greek Christmas Bread

Large "X" on top of the bread
The other project I was working on was deciding what to give as gifts to the family here for Christmas this year. To date, I have given plates of cookies, and while well received, they are a chore at times, making so very many to give away. I thought of making some kind of bread. Turning once more to The Bread Baker's Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, I leafed through, checking what he had of interest in Christmas Breads. There are three in this book: German Stollen, Italian Panettone and Greek Christopsomos. I have made my version of Stollen many, many times, bastardizing the recipe in the Joy of Cooking, from circa 1966. Reinhart's version of the Stollen will likely be most exceptional. Every single bread I have made from that book has been exceptional. I wanted to try something different. I got caught up reading about "Greek Celebration Breads" and got hooked on the idea of the Christopsomos. 
  
This Greek bread is made with a Byzantine cross on top, made with curlicues at the ends. The cross is also an "X" shape, which is the first letter of Khrestos (Christ) in the Greek alphabet. The name "Christopsomos" translates to "Christ's Bread".

The only difficulty was that Reinhart does not specify how large a loaf the recipes makes. Reading the ingredients, I was unsure if one recipe would make two normal sized loaves or not. To be safe, I experimented first making 1 1/2 times the recipe. As it turned out, the bread was amazingly good, and the recipe would be perfect as gifts. But.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if maybe the Panettone would be better as a gift? We live in South Dakota. There are so many people who find what I feel are mundane ingredients to be totally "out there", strange and exotic. I used Kalamata dried figs and dried cherries, soaked in Gran Marnier overnight. I used Mahlab, a very Mediterranean spice, the tiny kernels of the pit of the St. Lucie Cherry. Maybe I was a little out of some people's comfort zones?

Christopsomos, sliced
So, while I have not yet made the Panettone, I expect it to come out amazingly good as with all the breads from this book. Once I make a batch I will post photos here. For now though, I would remake the Christopsomos bread any time. It made some amazing French Toast this morning, too!


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Turkey Pot Pie a Great Way to Use Leftover Turkey

Okay, this is my 2nd dish using some of our leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. By now, if you haven't used all your turkey up yet, you might be thinking about freezing some of it for later use. We ate the soup I made for a couple of days and I made this pot pie yesterday, to have some change going on in meals. Pot Pies, when I was growing up, came in little freezer boxes, in their own individual tiny pie tins, with both top and bottom crust. I loved those things. I am a true fan of the soggy bottom crust. I know everyone these days seem to be fixated on how to make the bottom crust of a pie crispy. All I can ask is why? I was out looking at recipes for others' pot pies and even saw one site where someone put the bottom crust in the oven first for 15 minutes, before adding in the filling and fitting with the top crust. If this suits you, then you might try this method. Not me.

If you have some pie dough in the freezer, you have a big part of this dish done already; just get it out and thaw. Preparation of this dish can also be divided up. Once the vegetables are cooked, the whole thing can be chilled to pick up later and continue. If you have to make the pie crust from scratch, which I did, you will want to make it earlier in the day or even the day before and chill it, so it's ready when you need it. I always use my Never Fail Pie Crust, or the Even Better Never Fail Pie Crust, since it makes large amounts. These recipes make enough for 3 (10-inch) pie crusts. Since this pie is made in a 10-inch pie plate, and uses a double crust, you will have enough for this recipe, plus one crust worth left to freeze for another use. 

Turkey Pot Pie

What Flavors?

Getting started, I thought about what vegetables I wanted in my pot pie. Most any vegetables can go in it, but I wanted the regular vegetables I know in pot pies, namely, onion, celery, carrot, potatoes and peas. Though my love for those little individual frozen pot pies was great, at this time in my life I was also looking for ways to heighten flavor. Using homemade turkey stock is wonderful, if it is available. Unfortunately I used all my stock in the soup I made a few days back. On to plan B: I used a bit of "chicken base" in warm water. This provided most of the salt needed in the recipe, also. Another trick to heighten flavor is to use wine of some sort. Adding wine and then completely cooking it out, until the pan is dry, gives a huge boost to flavor, with no residual alcohol. A third thing is the use of Worcestershire. It doesn't take much to really add flavor; just a tablespoon or so is enough. If, perchance, you can find the Lea & Perrins Chicken Worcestershire ("The Rooster-Booster" it says on the label), so much the better. Last but not least, herbs. I used some dry sage and thyme.

Getting Started

The first thing to start off the filling is gently sauteeing, or "sweating" the vegetables. In other words, you are not going for browning the vegetables, but only softening. I started with half the butter I planned to use, 2 tablespoons, and melted it in a large skillet. I added in the Holy Trinity of vegetables: onion, celery and carrot, and sweated them for about 10 or 12 minutes on medium low heat. The garlic was added after this time period, and only cooked another minute or so. At this point, I added in some Dry Sherry. Another dry white wine will do fine. Make sure if you do use Sherry, that it is one of the dry ones like Fino. There was no Fino Sherry in the store here, but I used one called Dry Sack, which worked perfectly. On absolutely NO account should you ever use anything called "Cooking Sherry!" If you cannot drink it, you should not use it in food. Once the Sherry or other dry white wine is added, allow this liquid to simmer out completely, until all that is left are the little oily beads from the butter in the pan.  Now add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to melt.
Sweating vegetables       |         add garlic        |        add the wine    |  allow wine to evaporate  |   add in the remaining butter

Making the Sauce

The next step in this process is making a roux. I expounded at some length on making roux in my post of November 25th, Two Methods to Make Great Turkey Gravy. Basically, flour is added to a melted fat of choice and stirred until the two are totally combined and sandy looking. Then, a cool liquid is added and stirred until the mixture thickens. Once the second bit of butter was added to the vegetables in the pan and thoroughly melted, the flour went in and was mixed until no white was remaining. Now is the time to add the chicken stock, water, or a mixture of water and chicken "base" or bouillon cubes. Stirring until this thickened, now the sage and thyme were added, with the Chicken Worcestershire and the cubed potatoes. The potatoes can be peeled or not, as desired. In my house they MUST be peeled! Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 12 to 15 minutes.
Flour added        |       stirred in completely         |       stock added     |      stir until thickened     |      add potatoes & cook

Finishing the Filling

Once the potatoes are tender, this is the time to set the dish aside until later, if time does not permit finalizing the dish at once. The mixture can be cooled and refrigerated until next day, or just set aside until later, while preparing other things. If the vegetable mixture was chilled, make sure it is heated through before continuing. If continuing immediately, this is the time to fit the bottom pie crust into your pie plate. Roll out the top crust and leave aside until ready. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Chicken Worcestershire  |  mixture warm   |  add peas, parsley & sour cream  |  stir thoroughly  |  add turkey & cheese

When ready to proceed, have the remaining ingredients handy. Add in the peas, parsley and sour cream and mix thoroughly. No need to cook. Add in the cubed turkey and the cheese and combine. 

How to Make the Pot Pie

Once the bottom pastry crust is in the pie plate, make sure that the pastry is eased well into the plate. It should not tug at the sides at all. Once it is well settled in the plate, use a small paring knife to trim flush against the outer edge of the plate. Set the top crust into place, then trim the top crust so it extends at least 1/2-inch beyond the edge of the plate. Tuck this extra width of pastry underneath the edge of the bottom crust. Crimp the edges as desired. Poke various small vent holes into the top crust and bake the pot pie for 20 minutes at 425 degrees. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 30 to 35 minutes more, turning the pie to brown evenly. If the crust gets too browned, cover the edges with foil.
filling into pastry      |   top cruse set in place & trimmed  |    fold top crust under       |      crimp and vent      |          baked   

Once the pie is done, allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before cutting. Here is the recipe:

Turkey Pot Pie

Makes one 10-inch pot pie. Serves at least 6.

1/4 cup unsalted butter, divided
1 cup onion chopped
1 to 1 1/4 cup chopped celery
1 to 1 1/4 cup chopped carrot
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup dry Sherry or white wine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry sage leaves (<1/2 teaspoon if powdered)
1/2 teaspoon dry thyme leaves (1/4 teaspoon if powdered)
1 1/2 cup chicken or turkey stock, water, or combination of 1 1/2 cup water and 1 1/2 teaspoons bouillon or base
1 1/2 cups cubed potato
1 tablespoon Worcestershire or Chicken Worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
salt, if needed
1 cup frozen peas
2 1/2 cups cubed, cooked turkey
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 cup sour cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
pastry for double-crust 10-inch pie

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add in the onion, celery and carrot, and sweat them for about 10 or 12 minutes on medium low heat. Add garlic and cook another 1 or so minutes. Add in the dry Sherry or white wine. Allow this liquid to evaporate out completely, until all that is left are the little oily beads from the butter in the pan.  Now add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to melt.

Once butter is melted, add in the flour and mix until there is no white left showing. Pour in the stock or other liquid, stirring until the mixture thickens. Add in the Worcestershire and potatoes, stir and cover the pan. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. 

DO AHEAD: If necessary, the dish can be prepared to this point, cooled and refrigerated. Once ready to continue with the recipe, slowly reheat the mixture thoroughly before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roll out the bottom pie pastry and fit it into a 10-inch pie plate, easing it gently into the plate, so there is no pulling from the edges. With a small paring knife, trim the edge flush with the plate. Roll out the top crust and leave it aside.

Finish the filling: To the warm mixture in the pan, first add the peas, parsley and sour cream and stir in until well combined. Add in the cubed turkey and the shredded cheese and stir to combine. Pour this mixture into the prepared crust. The filling is generous!

Top with the second pie crust, easing it over the filling. With a small knife or kitchen shears, trim the top crust so it extends about 1/2-inch beyond the edge of the pit plate. Tuck the top crust underneath the bottom crust edge all around. Crimp or flute the edge all around. Pierce small holes with a knife all over the top of the pastry. Place it in the oven. Set the timer for 20 minutes. Once this 20 minutes is up, rotate the pie and lower the temperature to 350 degrees. Set the timer for 30 to 35 minutes more. If the crust edges become too browned during this time, cover the edges with foil to finish baking.  Allow the pie to cool and set for 30 minutes before cutting.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
 

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