Monday, March 31, 2008

stuff it

I loved pizza pockets as a kid. It was one of the few junk foods I would eat and now, as an adult food snob I still have desires that need to be filled. A stuffed pastry is a whole meal in hand and a food craving fulfilled. Now, my desire runs from savory to sweet, and the beauty of making these encased meals they can be made, and frozen – therefore waiting my next hankering that needs satisfaction.

The versatility of this preparation can be found around the globe – the Indians have samosa; in Latin America you will find empanadas; the Brits having been serving up meat pies long before Sweeney Todd’s fame, and in Asia Minor phyllo is the wrapper for many an item.

I have a basic dough I use that is easy to make, and has great mouth feel. What you fill them with becomes your fancy…..

Potato and Saffron Turnover with Tamarind Chutney – yields approx 12
for the filling:
1-1/4 pounds Russet Potatoes
1/4 cup Vegetable Oil
1 onion - finely diced
1-cup peas - fresh or frozen (if frozen thaw before using)
1 tablespoon grated ginger (peeled)
1 Asian green chili - seeds removed and diced fine
3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stem and root
3 tablespoons water
Salt to taste
1-teaspoon ground coriander
1 pinch saffron
1-tablespoon curry powder
2 teaspoons toasted ground cumin seeds
1/4-teaspoon cayenne pepper

Vegetable for frying

Make the stuffing: Boil the potatoes in their jackets until tender when pierced with a knife. Cool and then discard the potato skins and roughly mash the potatoes.

Heat a sauté pan and add the 1/4-cup of vegetable oil. Add the onions and cook until the onions are lightly browned then add in the peas, ginger, green chili, cilantro and 3 tablespoons of water. Cover and lower heat to a simmer and cook for five minutes until the peas are tender. Add in the salt, coriander, saffron, curry powder, cumin and cayenne pepper and mix in thoroughly and cook for a few minutes. Add the onion/pea mixture into the mashed potatoes to completely incorporate. Taste and correct seasoning. Allow the filling to cool.

To make the dough:
1-1/2 cups pastry flour
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2-teaspoon salt
1/4 pound unsalted butter – cut into small pieces and chilled
1-cup sour cream

Sift he flour, and salt together. Place the flour mixture in the bowl of a food process fitted with the steel blade. With the machine running quickly drop in the pieces of butter until the mixture resembles a rough meal. With an on/off pulse add the sour cream and continue until the dough just pulls together. Divide the dough in half, and flatten each half into a 1-inch thick disk. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch cookie cutter or a wide mouth glass cut out rounds of the dough. Place a tablespoon of potato filling in the center of each round, and then brush the edges of the dough with the egg/cream mixture. Fold the disks in half to form a half moon shape, use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges of the turnovers.

Tamarind Chutney yields approx. 1-1/2 cups
1/2 cup tamarind paste – soaked in 1/2 cup warm water for 10 minutes
1/4-cup rice vinegar
1/4-cup golden raisins
1-tablespoon tomato paste
1 to 2 red Asian chilies (seeds removed to lower heat)
1/4-cup cilantro
3 scallions – green tops only
1-teaspoon salt

Push the tamarind and water thorough a fine meshed sieve. The objective is to collect the sour pulp and discard any seed and fibrous material.

Place all ingredients in the blender and process until smooth. If too thick thin the chutney out with some extra water.

Guava filled Empanadas – yields approx. 12

3 cups pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter – cut into small pieces and chilled
1 cup sour cream
1/4 pound cream cheese
1/ 1/2 cups guava paste or jam
2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon cream

Sift he flour, salt, and sugar together. Place the flour mixture in the bowl of a food process fitted with the steel blade. With the machine running quickly drop in the pieces of butter until the mixture resembles a rough meal. With an on/off pulse add the sour cream and continue until the dough just pulls together. Divide the dough in half, and flatten each half into a 1 inch thick disk. Wrap each piece of dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4 inch cookie cutter or a wide mouth glass cut out rounds of the dough. Place a tablespoon of guava paste and cream cheese in the center of each round, and then brush the edges of the dough with the egg/cream mixture. Fold the disks in half to form a half moon shape, use the tines of a fork to crimp the edges of the empanadas.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the empanadas on a lightly oiled baking tray, and brush them with the remaining egg/cream mixture. Sprinkle each empanada with some additional sugar. Place in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Morning Pancakes

I have been sitting on a formula for my favorite pancake of any culture – that of India and their dosa. This past winter during my month long sojourn through the southern third of the sub-continent I ate at least one dosa a day. Then while staying in the port city of Fort Cochin I met with a local chef there who gave me a lesson on making this paper-thin savory cake. So, soon as I got home a made a beeline for Kalustyan’s New York’s best resource for spices, rices, dalhs and more (they can be accessed on-line).

For two months now I have had the rice and dalh I’d need sitting in the cabinet waiting for me. Making the actual batter is a full day’s wait -- soaking, grinding and fermenting. This past holiday weekend gave me no excuse it was the perfect quiet few days.

I made a mash of plantains, onions, chilies and curry to fill my dosa as well as some cheese.

I stuffed myself just as the dosas themselves eating dosas all day long as well as a few idylls – they are made from the dosa batter steamed in custard cups for about 10 minutes.

I’m still a be full and have to admit to not always achieving a perfect round pancake – though now I motivated to go at it again and not in two months.


1/2-cup uncooked white long grain rice
1/2-cup urad dal
1/4-teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2-teaspoon salt

1 small onion – halved
2-tablespoons canola oil
In separate bowls soak the rice and urad dal in one cup of water each for 4 to 8 hours.

Pour the rice and dal along with any unabsorbed water into a blender along witht eh fenugreek and salt. Process the grains until completely smooth. Transfer the puree to a clean bowl, and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let the puree sit in a warm spot for 8 to 12 hours.

Heat a cast iron griddle over a medium heat. Hold the onion with a fork, and dip the cut side into the oil. Use the oiled onion half to lubricate the pan. Sprinkle a few drops of water on then pan, and then pour a thin layer of the batter into the pan. Work the batter quickly in a circular motion to as thin as possible. Then start loosening the batter from the edges carefully moving under then dosa. You will not be flipping this particular pancake. Once set fill with whatever stuffing you are using, and fold in half and serve.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The wait is coming to an end.........

................................................Spotting a crocus
Even as northeastern winds blow
......................................................................................Green tips readying

Lamb Tenderloin with Dried Fruit Strudel - yields 12 servings
1 cup dried apricot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1 cup dried cranberries
1cup red wine (preferably Pinot Noir or Zinfadel)
1-cup pomegranate juice
2 tablespoons dried Rose petals (prepared for making tea)
1/2-teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1-teaspoon salt
2 cups pistachio nuts - ground to a coarse meal
1-pound phyllo dough
1-pound butter – melted

Rough chop the apricots. Mix with blueberries raisins and cranberries in a large bowl.

In a 3-cup saucepan combine the red wine, pomegranate juice, rose petals, black pepper and salt. Bring to the mixture just to the boil then reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes covered. Shut off the heat, and let the mixture steep for 10 more minutes.

Strain the mixture directly over the dried fruits. Cover the bowl and let sit, at room temperature for 12 t 24 hours.

Pre heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Strain the dried fruit reserving the soaking liquid in a small saucepan. Reserve the soaking liquid. Toss the dried fruit and the pistachio nuts together.

Lay a sheet of phyllo out on a clean work-surface and lightly brush the entire sheet with melted butter. Repeat this process three more times so that it is four layers of phyllo. Spread a third of the fruit mixture across the bottom third of the phyllo leaving a 2 inch boarder at the very bottom. Carefully roll phyllo, but tightly, around the dried fruit. Paint with rolled strudel with a bit of melted butter, and cut three vent holes into the strudel. Repeat with the remaining fruit mixture.

Place the strudels on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve slices drizzled with reserved soaking liquid.

Lamb Tenderloin Fillet
3 pounds lamb tenderloin fillets
1-teaspoon ground cumin
1/2-teaspoon ground coriander
1/4-teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8-teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4-teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2-tablespoons Dijon mustard

Trim the lamb of the fat and sinew.

In a small bowl mix the spice and mustard to together, and then rub the lamb with the spice mix. Refrigerate the lamb for 8 to 24 hours.

Remove the lamb from the refrigerator, and season with salt. Grill the lamb for about 10 minutes over a moderate direct heat. Remove from the grill, and rest the lamb for 10 minutes at room temperature. Slice the lamb on an angle and serve accompanied with the dried fruit strudel and a drizzle of mint puree.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Yucca, cassava, manioc whatever you call it this Amazonian originating tuber delivers a caloric wallop. In a pound of this tropical root vegetable there are about 700 calories – ninety-five percent of that coming from carbohydrates. So, you carb-phobic eaters out there be warned. For me, it is one of my winter staples. It is very mild in flavor willing to absorb whatever seasonings it is introduced to. You should buy firm, unblemished yucca and it need to be peeled with a knife. Immediately store the peeled, cut yucca in water as it oxidizes rather quickly. There is a fibrous, unpleasant core in the yucca that needs to be removed. I either cut the root in half, afterwards I cut out the center, or, I will cut the yucca in large pieces and boiled it for about 10 minutes. Then drain the yucca, and gently pull the center out. I put yucca in soups and stews in lieu of potatoes and love it boiled, and then tossed with garlic, lemon juice and olive oil. When you are feeling really naughty try them fried.

Chicken Soup – yields approx. 12 servings
1 capon – cut into 12 pieces and rinsed under cold water
4 quarts chicken stock
3 carrots – peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
4 celery stalks – washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 large onion – cut into 1 inched pieces
5 garlic cloves – peeled and chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves – roughly chopped
1 pound cassava (yucca) – peeled and cut into about 2 inch pieces
1/8 cup cilantro – roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 limes cut into 12 pieces for garnish

In an eight quart pot bring the capon and stock to the boil, and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes skimming the fat and impurities off that float to the top. After a half hour add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, parsley and cassava. Bring the soup back to the boil, and continue cooking for a minimum of 1 hour (up to 3 hours). Add the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Serve hot in a large bowl with each serving getting a piece of chicken, and garnish with a lime wedge.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Flailing Claws

Lobster was one of those foods I could not stand as a kid. Maybe it was the fact that I would walk into a restaurant and immediately see these poor creatures occupying such wretched conditions -- so far removed from a natural setting -- climbing all over each other with pitifully bound claws. As the years went on I grew to love the rich, sweetness of this king of the crustaceans. I have eaten lobsters while on the Mediterranean, living on the Pacific Ocean, from both the California coast and the shores of Australia, and I always considered the lobster I know as child the best – those from the northern coast of the eastern seashore.

I tend to buy lobsters that are 1-1/2 to 2 pounds in weight – any larger and their meat takes on a tougher quality. I then cook them for 16 minutes fully submerged in boiling water. I remove the now redden lobsters to a tray to allow any excess water drain from its shell.

To break the lobster down – twist the tail from the head. Then lay the tail on its side and place a towel over the tail. Gently press down on the tail till you hear the tail crack. Then using the towel to protect your hands from the sharp scalloped edges of the tail split the shell open to reveal the meat. Use a pair of lobster crackers to break the claws open. The spidery legs for me are the chef’s delight – best way to get to that meat is to just suck it out.

Lobster and Mango Salad with Mint Dressing – yields 6 to 8 servings

3 lobsters (about 1/12 pounds each)
2 cups water
2 cups white wine
1 vanilla bean – split down lengthwise
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 ripe mango
1/2 pound jicama – peeled and sliced julienne
1 hot house English cucumber

In a 12-inch high-sided pan that will accommodate the lobsters place the water, wine, and vanilla bean and peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and place in the lobsters. Cook the lobster for 16 minutes, covered. Remove the lobsters from the poaching liquid and let cool. Split the bottom side of the lobster tails to expose its meat with a pair of kitchen scissors and gently loosen the lobster from its shell. Remove the meat from the claws. Slice the lobster meat into about 1/12” to 2” medallions.

Peel the mango and remove the flesh from the seed. Slice the mango into 1/2” thin slices.
Arrange the ingredients on plate in an alternating circular pattern. Drizzle with the dressing.

1/2 cup packed mint
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
3/4-cup olive oil
1/4- cup almond oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in the blender and process until smooth.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A costly pinch

The most expensive spice on earth, saffron, weighs in over one thousand dollars a pound -- fortunately, it is used by the pinch and bought by the gram. It is the stigmas from an autumnal crocus indigenous to Asia Minor that has been adding an ethereal note to dishes for millennium. It is Spain and northern India that supplies us with the majority of these pungent, culinary filaments and needs to be purchased with care. I believe you should always buy saffron that is packaged in a dark glass jar or tin in order to prevent light from activating the volatile oils within these petite threads – keeping the fragrance waiting for the cook. I then store the leftover saffron in the freezer for heat and light are the activators of fragrance, and I prefer it to sit dormant waiting for my command.

When I use the saffron I would say that 9 times out of 10 I bloom the threads in some liquid in order to release its flavors as well allow its dyeing possibilities to spread evenly throughout a dish. As an alternative for saffron, only for its ability to stain, are annatto seeds and turmeric – there won’t be those high notes of saffron.

Saffron and Lemon Risotto - yields 6 to 8 servings
2 lemons
1/4-cup olive oil
1 medium onion - diced
1/8 teaspoon red chili flakes
11/2 cup Arborio rice
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock - at the boil
1 large pinch saffron
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped oregano leaves
2 tablespoons chopped thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/8 pound shaved Asiago cheese for garnish

Zest the lemons (that is the yellow portion only avoiding any of the white pith) and finely dice the zest. Juice the lemon and hold to the side with the pinch of saffron soaking in the juice.

Heat a 4 quart sauce pan over a medium flame and add the oil, onions and chili flakes. Cook the onions until they start to turn a golden hue. Add the rice and lemon zest and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Start adding the stock and white wine into the rice mixture one ladle full at a time (should be approximately 6 ounces) and continue stirring until the rice has absorbed the liquid or it has evaporated. Continue until all the stock has been add then add the reserved lemon juice, saffron, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. Cook until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is softened throughout – this will take about 25 minutes. Serve immediately with some shave Asiago cheese over each serving.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Taking a breath

These are the hardest days to get through. No, it is not due to heavy snowfalls that might blanket the world outside my window -- more due to the knowledge is just a bit more than an arm’s reach away before I can grab Spring. I am biting at the bit for a dirt-laden vegetable grown in my own yard. Yet, I know no matter how ready I may be Mother Nature has her own schedule, and regardless of my desire I must abide by her timing. So, now it is a waiting game. I watch the weather channel and pray there are stretches of nighttime temperatures that stays above the freezing mark. This is the indicator that the earth is thawing, and hibernating that were covered over last autumn will ready themselves, and start germinating.

For now, I allow myself to be fulfilled by the expected surprise of the first crocus nestled in melting snow and the splash of colorful daffodils filling a field -- all working to distract me from my true yearning. These seasonal leaders are just trumpeting nature’s green return, and my daily feasts.

Lime Drenched Black Beans - yields 6 to 8 servings

2 cups black beans - soaked 8 hours or overnight
2 inch piece ginger - sliced
1 small onion - diced
2 garlic cloves – crushed to paste
2 limes - zest and juiced
1/8 cup cider or white wine vinegar
1/4 cup cilantro - chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Drain the beans of its soaking liquid, and place them in a 2 quart pot. Cover the beans with 6 cups of water along with a have of the sliced ginger. Bring to a boil and cook until the beans are tender to the bite – approximately 30 to 45 minutes.

Drain the beans discarding the pieces of ginger; reserving 1-1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. Return the beans along with the onion and garlic as well the reserved liquid to the pot. Simmer the beans for 15 to 20 minutes covered, and then add the zest of the lime and vinegar. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Finish the beans with the lime juice, salt, pepper and chopped cilantro. Serve hot.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The Lion Roars

Early spring excites
More than nature's need to grow
Eyes that take in sight
Redolence perfumed glow
Fantasies - readied; set; go

Moroccan Spice Blend

1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
3/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon Lavender buds
3/4 teaspoon dried Rose petals - roughly crashed
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon sumac

Mix all ingredients together to thoroughly combine.

Use as a spice rub on chicken, lamb, or try it as a spice hit in a carrot salad.