Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Borek (Turkish Turnovers)

Last week's post was so delicious, I figured I'd continue the trend. So today, in the next installment of Delicious Dough-Wrapped Foods of the Mediterranean, I go from Spanish empanadillas to Turkish borek. These savory turnovers take various forms, from tangy lamb-filled phyllo triangles to rich puff pastry spirals filled with cheese. Snack time gets stepped up! You can read about borek and find several recipes over at NPR's Kitchen Window.

And speaking of NPR stories about delicious foods from other lands, I direct you to a recent radio story about Culture Kitchen, a California company that employs first-generation immigrant women as cooking instructors. I had the good fortune to sit in on a recent class, and am still thinking about those recipes. It's somewhat amazing to realize how vast the culinary and cultural world can be, and the delicious wealth of kitchen stories that are all around us...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Smoky Tuna-Cauliflower Empanadillas

I have sung the praises of Things Wrapped in Dough many times before, from Eastern European kreplach and knishes to Turkish manti. I'm not sure what it is about themthe fun of having your own gift-wrapped surprise? The adorable tidiness of the whole package? Whatever it is, I'm hooked. Especially when they're as delicious as these empanadillas.

These tidy little turnovers combine some of my favorite Spanish flavors: rich oil-packed tuna, smoky pimenton, and briny capers, all of which are set off by the tangy tomato in the filling and surprisingly sweet orange zest and juice in the dough. And yes, the cauliflower might not be traditional. But I like vegetables (and it works quite well).

Unlike their Latin American counterparts, the Spanish version of these turnovers features a rich rather than lean dough (and I've gilded the lily a bit, using my favorite technique to build in even more flaky layers). Sadly the standard Things Wrapped in Dough disclaimer applies: as with any time you have to Make The Dough, Make The Filling, and then Wrap The Filling In The Dough, these empanadillas aren't the quickest meal. But they're delicious. You can make up for this by preparing the dough and filling at separate times, or by doubling the recipe and making an army of empanadillas for your freezer in one big session. Because they're briny, smoky, punchy and delicious. In short, they're worth it.

Smoky Tuna-Cauliflower Empanadillas 

Inspired to some degree by some regional Spanish cookbook I no longer remember, dough technique inspired by Chez Pim. With the cauliflower, they're nearly a complete meal, but I like to serve with a big salad.

yields ~10 turnovers

2 1/2 cups flour (I like to swap out 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, but that's optional)
1 pinch salt
zest of 1 orange
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into pats
~1/3 cups orange juice (you can squeeze this from the orange you zested)

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced into thin half-moons
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons pimenton (smoked spanish paprika), sweet or hot
1 pinch chili flakes (omit if using hot pimenton)
1/2 cup tomato puree
1/2 small cauliflower, broken into small florets
2 5-ounce cans oil-packed tuna, drained
1/4 cup drained capers
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 splash sherry vinegar
2 sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only)
salt and pepper to taste 

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and orange zest. Add the butter, toss to coat with flour, and press down with the heel of your hand to flatten it into flour-coated flakes. Stir from the bottom to distribute, and repeat the pressing and stirring process until all of the flour is incorporated into flakes or bits. Add the orange juice, and work the dough until it just comes together (you'll work it more later, so no need to go nutssmears of butter are fine). You may not need all of the orange juice, or you may need more, depending upon your dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes. 

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling. Heat the oil in a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Saute the onions about 7 minutes, until beginning to soften, then add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes. Add the pimenton and chili flakes, stir to toast, then add the tomato puree and cauliflower. Cover and cook until the cauliflower barely begins to lose its rawness but is still plenty snappyjust a minute or two. Turn off the heat, and add the remaining ingredients. Place in the refrigerator to chill.  

While the filling is chilling, take out the dough out of the fridge, and unwrap on a lightly-floured countertop. Roll out to a rectangular shape, then fold like an envelope and rotate 90 degrees. Repeat twice more, then re-wrap and return to the fridge for another chill, ~30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment, and prepare your egg wash.  

When the dough has chilled, remove from the refrigerator, and let soften for a few minutes. Roll out thinly, and cut out 6" circles (if you, like me, don't have a 6" cutter or bowl to use, you can just use a 4" cutter, and then roll them out further, or divide the dough into 10 pieces, and roll each one into a round). Scoop 1/4 filling onto each round, and brush the edges of the dough circles with the egg wash. Fold over to make a half circle, securing the seal by pressing with your fingers or crimping with a fork. Place the filled turnovers on your baking sheets, brush with the egg wash, and cut a couple tiny holes for the steam to vent. If the kitchen is quite warm, you might need to chill them for a bit after this step, but ordinarily you can transfer them right into the oven (If you're making a bunch in advance, you can freeze them at this stage, and just add a few extra minutes to the baking time when you do cook them). Bake until browned and bubbling, ~30 minutes. Devour.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Meyer Lemon Focaccia

I am a big fan of the barter system. I love those exchanges that surprise you (something that seldom happens with cash transactions—at least not in a good way). And I especially love those trades where each party feels that they ended up with the way better deal.

A few years ago I swapped a jar of still-warm plum-rosemary jam for a dress at a yard sale (after discovering I had forgotten my wallet but still had my present while biking out to a birthday party), and brought a container of limoncello to a chef at a local tapas restaurant in exchange for some hard-to-find choricero peppers. Last month, a neighbor passed along symphony tickets after he got too sick to attend, and I simmered up a batch of matzoh ball soup in thanks (he was hugely grateful, and I got to hear Itzhak Perlman, so it was win-win). And last week I traded a home-cooked meal for a 90-minute massage.

I had never had a massage of that length in my entire life. And it was amazing. She worked out the kinks in my achey back, and teased apart the muscles that seem to have shortened and stuck due to hours spent hunched over the computer. So when it came to dinner, I knew I had to bring it.

I made something of a dramatic feast—I'll tell you more details when I've got the time, but here's a quick rundown: there were bitter-and-sweet negronis, with big round ball-shaped ice cubes (thanks to a few small balloons I found tucked away in a drawer). I shaved raw asparagus into tangled ribbons, and dressed them with fresh mint, toasted hazelnuts, and slivers of truffled cheese. Seared scallops were set in a puddle of rich-yet-light oniony-fennel cream sauce, and an almond tart was topped with creme fraiche whipped cream and sweet-tart candied kumquats. But we started out with meyer lemon focaccia. 

I debated whether or not to even post this, first-off because it's a shamelessly barely-changed riff on my concord grape focaccia (topped instead with the last of the hand-picked lemons from my recent trip to California), and second because of the unappetizingly low-light pictures. But it is so very, very good. Meyer lemons are shaved whisper-thin, then used to top a crusty, airy, salty-sweet flatbread. The hot oven caramelizes the lemons into sweetness, though the rinds still give a bit of a bitter punch that plays nicely off of the coarse sugar. I was worried at first that it would be an unequal trade, that even such a lux meal couldn't make up for the amazing massage I had received. But the food delivered. "Oh my," she sighed, after the first bite of the still-warm focaccia. "I feel like I'm getting a massage right now."

Meyer Lemon Focaccia

yields two 9" focaccia, enough for appetizers for 6-10, depending on their level of hunger/restraint
note: this recipe is started the day (or two) before you bake it
1 cup water
1 tsp active yeast
1 Tbsp coarse salt, divided
3 Tbsp sugar, divided
1/4 cup olive oil, divided, plus additional for greasing the bowl and handling the dough
2 ¼ cups (10 ounces) bread flour 
1 large or two small meyer lemons, sliced as thinly as possibleif you have a mandoline, it would probably work great, but otherwise just take your sharpest knife and pay attention (if your lemon is super-ripe, you can throw it in the freezer for a couple hours to par-freeze, which makes slicing a bit easier)
2 tsp fresh rosemary needles

Combine the water and yeast in a bowl, and let sit for a minute or two to allow the yeast to soften and bloom. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 2 tablespoons of the oil, and the flour. Mix with a large spoon until fully blended, then cover and let sit for 5 minutes to fully hydrate. Mix for an additional minute or two, until the dough becomes smooth. Grease another bowl with a bit of oil, and, using a spatula, transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.

After the dough has rested, using wet or oiled hands, reach into the bowl under one end of the dough, and pull it gently to fold the dough in half. Repeat with the other three sides of the dough, then flip the whole doughball over. Let rest 10 minutes, then repeat 2-3 more times. After the last folding, cover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight, or up to three days. These folds may seem a bit fussy, but achieve the dual purpose of incorporating some air pockets into the dough, and firming it up without using additional flour.

About 1 1/2  - 2 hours before you’d like to bake (depending on how warm your kitchen is), take the dough out of the refrigerator, and allow to come to room temperature for ~45 minutes to take the chill off. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper, or brush them heavily with olive oil. Gently divide the dough into two balls (they might be a bit more like blobs then balls), and place them on the prepared sheets. Let sit 10 minutes to relax, then, with oiled or wet hands, use your fingertips to sort of pat-and-push the dough out into 9” circles from the inside out, dimpling them without totally compressing them (if they resist, you can pat them out a little, let the dough rest ~5-10 minutes, then pat them out a little more and repeat as neededit’s important you press the dough out to out least this diameter, otherwise it will be too thick to cook properly).  Let rise for ~30-45 minutes (depending upon the heat of your kitchen, and how warm/risen the dough was when you started working). While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 500.

When the dough has risen, scatter the lemon slices over the top, and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil, and scatter on the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 2 teaspoons coarse salt. (that's 1 Tbsp/tsp per focaccia). Place the trays in the oven, then turn down the heat to 450. Bake for ~20 minutes, until the focaccia has cooked to a golden brown (it may seem a little underdone in some parts, especially around the lemons, but as long as their are no large uncolored spots you'll be fine). Let cool slightly, then serve warm or at room temperature (ideally within a few hours for optimum deliciousness).

Monday, March 05, 2012

Chocolate Thai Curry Cupcakes

Hooray for birthdays! Recently I sung the praises of my own celebration (San Francisco Edition!), and this past week brought the stateside birthday of my dear friend. I always get a bit excited when someone wants to spend some of their special day with me (heck, I'm still excited that people this amazing want to hang out with me on normal weekdays), and after being treated to an amazing birthday of my own, I wanted to pay it forward a bit. And oh, it did not disappoint.

We spent much of the afternoon swooning over a ridiculously amazing lunchwatching Brussels sprouts being shaved to order, drawing bites of nettle dumplings through a creamy walnut-studded sauce, and spearing delicious forkfuls of seared sweet scallop and juicy mandarinquats. I will be dreaming of this for some time to come. We talked and laughed and dreamed of traveling to a place where leisurely meals of such simple elegance are the norm (a place, I believe, called "Europe"), and sipped our way through a few glasses of txakoli. Then we walked home, and while the birthday girl went down for a birthday nap, I baked up some cupcakes.

I got the idea for these cupcakes from this Food52 recipe (by Raspberry Eggplant), which practically dares you not to make it. Chocolate cake + Thai spices? Holycrap! But since we were heading to a bar later, cupcakes seemed to be a more user-friendly format. So I pulled together my favorite batter and frosting recipes (the ones I used for the chocolate version of my wedding cupcakes), and gave them a healthy helping of Thai flavor. And the results just about knocked me out.

I added a scoop of Thai curry paste to the moist chocolate cupcakes, which not only added the usual chilies-and-chocolate flavor, but a floral edge from the aromatics and just the slightest savory note from the long-cooked shallots. And for the frosting, I pulled out a crazy-involved buttercream I fell in love with during my wedding cupcake prepnot too sweet, not too buttery, never crusting or melting and just perfect all around (except for the fact that it's a piece of work). I scented it with a bit of the standard vanilla, but made things even more fun with finely-grated lemongrass, keffir lime zest, galanga root and Thai basil.

I tend to expect more out of birthdays (and, to be honest, most things in life) than is reasonable, and thus am often primed for an emotional disappointment on the big day. But these cupcakes are suited to making even the highest birthday hopes come trueat least when it comes to dessert. Birthdays should always be so sweet.

Chocolate Thai Curry Cupcakes

inspired by Food52, cupcakes adapted from Gourmet, frosting adapted from The Cake Bible
yields 18 cupcakes

1 1/2 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped to bits
1 Tbsp Thai curry paste
3/4 cup hot coffee
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 small eggs (or 1 1/2 large eggs)
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp neutral oil, such as canola
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 300, and line 18 muffin cups with liners.

Place the chocolate and curry paste in a heatproof bowl, and pour the hot coffee over them. Let sit, stirring every now and then, until the chocolate melts.

In a large bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a stand mixer, beat the eggs until light-colored and thick, ~3-5 minutes. Add the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla, and then give the chocolate-coffee-curry mixture a good stir, and add that as well. Add the sifted dry ingredients, stirring until just combined (don't over-mix!), and quickly divide amongst the prepared muffin cups (they will be fairly full). Bake until a tester comes out clean (or with just a few damp crumbs), ~20-25 minutes. Let cool in pans (they're fairly delicate at first), and make sure they're fully cooled before frosting.


the use of subheadings and candy thermometers should alert you that this is a bit insane. That said, it's totally delicious, and rewards your fussing by being fairly indestructible in the end. But feel free to add the aromatics to your favorite frosting recipe instead. Also this frosting looks amazing when piped, but kinda fugly if you try to spread it. If you (like me) don't have a pastry bag, just transfer the frosting to to a plastic bag, cut a large opening in the bottom, and use it to pipe gorgeous swirls on top of your cupcakes.

Creme Anglaise:
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup coconut milk (or milk)
1" galanga root, hacked into slices (substitute ginger if unavailable)
1/3 cup + 2 Tbsp sugar, divided
2 Tbsp water
2 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
To Finish:
3/4 lb butter, softened to room temperature (if not fully warmed, the mixture will curdle, so be patient)
1/2 cup coconut cream (you can buy this separately, or just take the solid stuff that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk)
1/2 tsp vanilla
zest of 2 kaffir limes (or regular limes)
2 stalks lemongrass, peeled to their tender inner bits and finely grated
1 bunch Thai basil, leaves separated out for garnish, stems finely grated (this worked fine on a microplane grater, but if it fails for you, just aim for a fine mince)
1/2 cup coconut curls, lightly toasted (beware: the line between 'toasted' and 'burnt' can be crossed quickly)

Ready? Okay! Start with the creme anglaise: Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar in a small bowl. Heat the coconut milk up with the galanga root until almost boiling, then whisk a few spoonfuls of it into the egg yolk mixture to temper. Gradually whisk in the remaining mix mixture, and pour back into your pan. Heat over a medium-low heat until it begins to steam and a thermometer reads 170, then immediately take off the heat and transfer to cool bowl. Set aside and allow to cool completely (you can speed this up in the fridge, or do it in advance). If it curdles at all during heating, pass through a strainer (but return the galanga to infuse while it cools).

Next up: meringue! Mix together the 1/3 cup sugar and the water in a saucepan, and simmer gently until it dissolves.

In the meanwhile, beat the eggs, gradually increasing the speed of the beaters, until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and remaining 2 Tbsp sugar, beating until soft peaks form.

When the meringue is ready, go back to your sugar syrup, and raise the heat. Boil until it reaches 248-250 degrees, then grab it off the stove, turn the beaters back on, and drizzle it into the meringue (I aim to have it hit the side of the bowl just before the surface of the egg whites, so that it can trickle down into the mixture without cooling too much or being spattered by the beaters). Beat for a few more minutes, until completely cool. Whew! Set aside.

Now the relatively easy part: Place the softened butter and coconut cream in the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand-held mixer). Beat until fluffy. Add the vanilla, lime zest, grated lemongrass, and grated Thai basil stems. Mmm. Now take out the cooled Creme Anglaise (toss the galanga), and beat that in until combined. Add the meringue, and beat until just combined. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired.

To finish the cupcakes: Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag (or plastic bag), and pipe gorgeous fat swirls onto your fully cooled cupcakes. Top each frosted cupcake with a sprinkle of coconut, and a basil leaf (these will sadly get a bit wilty as the night wears on, so do that at the last minute). Birthday candle optional.