Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Too Many Recipes
What’s cooking? Wonder Bread Pastry Cups

Summer collided with fall here in Austin yesterday afternoon, in the form of a downpour that has managed, in less than a day, to take the temperature down twenty degrees. Welcome to Texas. Even before it started, the sky was overcast and the air heavily humid, so it seemed like just the sort of day to go through my recipe files and winnow out the unworthy. I’ve been meaning to do it for at least a couple of years, but only realized the other day how bad the problem had gotten when I could barely lift the plastic folder out of its storage drawer. Probably just too many recipes with butter in them.

You know that file – you’ve all got one. It’s where you put the recipe for chicken cacciatore that you saw Giada making last week and it looked so good. Never mind that your neighborhood Italian restaurant makes chicken cacciatore to die for (and available for takeout) or that your child is allergic to tomatoes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Seasonal Differences
What’s cooking? Minted Water

Today I spent the morning in my garden, which, as often happens toward the end of the summer, has taken on some rather unruly aspects. Sort of like my hair after a two-hour drive in a convertible. My Sun Gold tomato plants are still producing like rabbits, but the vines have moved well beyond the confines of either the tomato cages at the north end of the garden, or the trellis at the south end. (And just to show you how little shame I have, here are the offenders in all their messy glory.) If the fruit weren’t so tasty, I’d be tempted to rip the plants out and start over.

Which is apparently what they do down here in Texas. I’m told that there’s actually a spring growing season and a fall growing season, separated by the inevitable scorching summer – as opposed to New Jersey’s single non-stop season from May to October, punctuated by a frigid winter. I’m not sure which I prefer, but they’re an interesting contrast.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Empanadas for Justice Sotomayor
What’s cooking? Shrimp Empanadas

This week, I hosted my book group – an eclectic group of women ranging in age from late 20s to early 60s. Many of us know each other exclusively through these meetings, so the conversation tends to be well focused on the readings; and most either are now or have been professionals of some stripe, so opinions are strong and vocal. Needless to say, these are lively evenings.

September’s selection was The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin. It’s a fascinating overview of the workings of the Supreme Court in general, and the justices who’ve made up the Rehnquist/Roberts courts in particular. Warts and all, as my grandmother would have said, but I am nevertheless impressed with the thoughtfulness and intelligence of at least most of the justices, and once again persuaded that the system will keep us moving forward in spite of ourselves. Not all of my group loved the material, but even those who didn’t admired the writing, and the majority thought Toobin did an outstanding job of weaving character analysis and personal histories of the justices with clear explanations of the major cases before them.

In honor of the newest member of the court, I screwed up my courage and tackled shrimp empanadas a la Culinary Institute. Empanadas are the Latin answer to Hot Pockets, and can be filled with just about anything; and while the recipe says you can fry them or bake them, those of you who’ve read earlier entries on this blog know that the Kitchen Goddess doesn’t do frying. Also, they’re a bit large for hors d’oeuvres, but what the heck – they’re delicious. For a smaller version, I’m thinking of trying the filling in pre-baked tartlet shells, with a sprig of cilantro on top.

Chef had told us we could use Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts, but I was intrigued by the beer in the dough recipe, so made my own. (Ok, ok, so I forgot to buy the ready-made stuff. Whatever.) In any case, the dough was really easy to assemble in the food processor, and not nearly as sticky as cookie dough, so the rolling out part was also pretty simple. Sort of the consistency of soft Play-Doh. Of course, I also forgot to buy a 4-inch biscuit cutter, and had to fall back on the top to my coffee canister, but it worked fine. It’s always something. And if you drink the rest of the beer while you cook the filling, it really takes the edge off the process.

Shrimp Empanadas (Makes 20)

For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup butter, cold and cubed
½ cup cold beer
egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water)

For the filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1½ cups onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup plum tomatoes, chopped
1½ tablespoons parsley, chopped
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular sweet paprika, if that’s what you have)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
¾ pound shrimp, finely chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

For the dough, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and butter in a food processor, pulsing until well mixed. Add the beer and pulse until the dough forms a ball in the bowl. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate while you make the filling.

Cook onions and garlic in the butter over medium-low heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Add the tomatoes, parsley, paprika, cumin, and cloves, and cook until the liquid has evaporated, 15-20 minutes. Add the shrimp, salt, and pepper. Cook just until the shrimp are done, 1-2 minutes.

Roll the dough out on a floured surface to pie crust thickness and cut into 4-inch rounds. Brush one side with egg wash, fill that side with a tablespoon of the shrimp mixture, and pinch closed. (You’ll have a little shrimp mixture left over for the chef to nosh on. Yum!) Bake at 375º for 12-15 minutes.

Kitchen Goddess Tip #1: Truth be told, I bought the small (51/60) pink shrimp already cooked, chopped them up, then cooked them another minute with the filling.

Kitchen Goddess Tip #2: These freeze – uncooked – really well. Freeze them on a baking sheet, and once they’re frozen, store them in a plastic bag. You can put them frozen into the oven; just add another 10 minutes to the cooking time.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spy School, Part 2
What’s cooking? Thai Meatballs with Green Curry Sauce

Here we are – my cousin Helen and I – with Chef. It’s hard to compress the learning that takes place at the CIA in a mere four days, but I’ve tried to focus on the most memorable. What follows then are five pearls of wisdom from my time at the CIA.

1. Beware the toque. Everyone in the CIA kitchen wears one, ostensibly because it keeps the sweat of your brow from splashing down into the food. My own experience is that they make you sweat more, because even with the air conditioning, it’s about 102º in those professional kitchens (really, that’s what they told us) – and you’ve got a hat on! Worse than that, at the end of the class, you have a terrible case of hat head.