Whole Wheat Cheese and Onion Empanadas and Dulce De Leche Alfajores

I’m struggling for words tonight. Brain cramps. That, and my slightly injured finger (thank you slip of the hand with a peeler–eew, I know) is discouraging me from typing too much.

Argentina is awesome. Honeymoon flashback!

cafetortoni

firstmate

caminito-604x453

donenriquelodge

Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I hear. So you’re welcome for that 5,000 word essay about our trip. Okay, okay, the words are coming a bit easier after looking at the photos. (I wish I could redo the whole trip with a better camera and my current enthusiasm for photography).

During our stay, we ate a couple steaks, pizzas and pastas, French cuisine, numerous empanadas, and various sweets. The empanadas were everywhere and easy and cheap. Cheap was important as we were (are always) on a budget. Wine, when consumed, was exclusively malbec. A light tea seemed quite common since supper was eaten so late. I fell in love with dulce de leche (sweet milk that is caramelized), which was served at breakfast and tea. Dulce de leche is used in lemon shortbread sandwich cookies called alfajores.

We were constantly on the lookout for these cookies, because my sister-in-law had made them for my travel-themed bridal shower. That bridal shower, and the other in Wisconsin (where I am originally from), were both so thoughtfully planned to fit my interests and personality. I’ve got good people in my life…

But alas, I must get back to the post at hand and my recent batch of alfajores.

First, the empanadas. I used a basic dough recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but used all whole wheat pastry flour. The crusts turned out deliciously. I really used to think that I hated (okay, disliked) baking in comparison to cooking, but between this crust and the cookies, I think I can get used to butter and flour on a daily basis. Yes, I went with the full on butter and didn’t bring Earth Balance into the mix.

I went with an easy cheese (sharp cheddar) and onion combination. I simply put raw chopped onions and shredded cheese on each disc and folded over. No recipe or extras involved there. I do think a stuffing with a bit of chive cream cheese would take it over the top. Maybe another time. I seriously see myself making all sorts of little empanadas post project time crunch.

Moving onto dessert.

Making alfajores involves two main steps: dulce de leche and the cookies. I was fretting a bit about where to get dulce de leche, or thinking about substituting some other type of caramel. Why I don’t google things before I start to worry is beyond me. Crisis averted. David Lebowitz came through for me (Let me just pretend that the oober-famous food blogger posted that solely for my benefit; I like to pretend he and Heidi Swanson are talking directly to me.)

Would you believe you only need one ingredient to make dulce de leche? I followed his steps.

Fill the outside pan with water, and cover s.c. milk with foil and bake for 1 1/2 hours. Really easy. I think Jordan thought I had engaged in some sort of kitchen sorcery to have made dulce de leche at home. He asked that I make it daily. Ha. Riiiight. That’d be dangerous for the waistline.

For the cookies, I used a simple shortbread recipe:

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • zest of one lemon
  • 1 t vanilla

These turned out as well as I had hoped. And the first cookie instantly took me back to our travels.

I love that food has the ability to do that. Smell and taste are so underestimated when it comes to memory. We try so hard to remember what everything looks like. But yet it seems that smells and tastes are ingrained in our minds even without focusing on remembering them.

Happy week, readers. Don’t let Monday get you down. Bake something instead.

Jewelled Persian Rice and Vegetarian Pomegranate Stew

Sometimes it’s worth spending your entire night on a dish.

Tuesday of this week was the Persian New Year, known as Nowruz.  We decided to celebrate.

Iran, or Persia (the terms are culturally–though not politically–interchangeable), is amazing to me.  I am quite intrigued with Persia’s deep and oft-underestimated cultural heritage and influence.

While in New York, Jordan and I went to dinner with some folks and began discussing the blog…always on my mind, you know.  They mentioned that they really enjoy Persian food and typically have issues getting the ingredients they need for Persian food.  Barberries were mentioned, in particular.  I was a little worried about getting my hands on them this week.

But Knoxville came through for me!  I was able to get barberries, pomegranate molasses, and saffron from a Mediterranean and Middle East foods market.  And I was in business/celebration mode.

I decided to make two recipes: a split pea pomegranate soup (usually has some lamb as well) and a sweet Persian rice.  On the perpetually-changing Jordan’s Ranking List, the rice dish took number one.  Costa Rica has been dethroned!  One thing to note about the rice, is that in Iran the browned rice at the bottom is considered a delicacy.  (I first learned that while reading House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.  Good one, if you haven’t read).

Even if you’re not interested in reading the recipes, scroll to the end for the money [spoon] shot of the pretty rice. 🙂

Split Pea Pomegranate Soup, 6 servings, (Vegetarian)

Don’t let her pretty, pink color scare you.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup yellow split peas
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 beets, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 brown rice
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 scallions, sliced
  • 1 T sugar
  • 2 T lime juice
  • 1/4 cup parsley
  • 1 T pomegranate molasses
  • 1 T Earth Balance
  • 1 cup spinach
  • Garnish of feta cheese
  • 1 T mint, crushed, for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oil in large pot.  Add onion and cook until translucent.
  2. Add water and split peas and bring to boil.  Boil for 15 minutes.
  3. Add beets and rice and cook for 30 minutes more.
  4. Add sugar, scallions, most of the lime juice, parsley, salt, pepper, and pomegranate molasses.
  5. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  6. Before serving, add in spinach and let wilt.
  7. Garnish with mint and cheese.

I really felt that adding the feta made a splendid difference.  I highly recommend it.  Do it.  I mean it.  Don’t think twice.  Unless you’re a vegan or lactose intolerant…then I’ll back off.

Quite honestly, I love the color of the soup.  It’s beautiful and matches the color of those coveted barberries.

I’ll move on with the next recipe.  This was a long process.  And this certainly is not a whip-up-after-work recipe.  Although, now that I’m thinking of it,  I made mine after work one night.  But I had mentally prepared.  And actually left work on time.

Jewelled Persian Rice, 6 servings (Vegetarian)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of the best white basmati rice you can find
  • 1 large onion
  • 1/2 cup carrots
  • 1/4 cup barberries (soaked for a few minutes)
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • Candied orange peels from 2 oranges (see below)
  • Juice of one orange
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/4 cup T blanched and slivered almonds
  • salt
  • 6 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and soaked in 1/4 cup hot water

Directions:

  1. Rinse your rice with cold water until the water is clear.  Then soak your rice in salted water for 1 hour.
  2. During this time, prepare the orange peels.  Set aside.
  3. Crush your saffron (say a quick thank you to God that you are able to cook with saffron) and add to the water.
  4. Drain the rice.  Add enough water to a large pot to cover the rice.  Bring the water to a boil, add the rice and boil for 5 minutes.  (No longer is needed!) Drain well.
  5. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a pan over medium heat. Add onion, cook until translucent.  Add the carrots.  Cook together with onions until onions are slightly browned. Add 1-2 T of the saffron-infused water, along with the spices.  Cook until spices are fragrant.
  6. Add in the golden raisins, barberries, and orange peel (with the water in the orange pan).
  7. Melt 4 T butter (don’t feel bad about the fat here…it is so necessary for your dish) in a Dutch oven. Place half the rice into  the bottom of the pot, making sure the rice is spread over the bottom. Add the carrots-onion mixture to the pot.  Add the remaining rice on top of it.  Let the pot stay uncovered on medium heat to create the coveted browning on the bottom of the rice. Don’t move the rice, though.
  8. Drizzle the juice of one orange and the rest of your saffron-infused water over the rice and cover.  Turn the heat to low and leave for approximately 30 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, think about toasting those almonds and pine nuts in 1 T of butter.  If you haven’t cleaned it already, use the same pan you used for the onions.  This will give you nuts a slight spice coating as well.
  10. Remove rice from pan into serving dish.  Use a spatula to preserve the browned rice crust on the bottom.  Let your guest of honor eat this part.  Top with toasted nuts.
  11. Give yourself a major pat on the back for the work you’ve put in.

For candied orange peels:

Peel the orange in slender strips.  Boil these until any pith is no longer bitter.  Drain.  Boil again in 5 T water with 3 T cane sugar until half of the sugar is gone.

And yeah, that’s it.  Enjoy your hard work.

 

Gregory’s Bald Early Spring Hike | GSMNP

Hey, there. No focused ranting today. 🙂

Much has happened during my Cassie Knoxvillian blog hiatus.  Glenn and Kirsten came to visit with boys in tow, and I still haven’t done a proper blog recap of their stay.  I’ve been cooking steadily away at the 210 countries on my to-cook list (progress can be checked at The Pearl Project blog).  I met my sister in New York City for five days while Jordan spent time at the American Association of Geographers conference.  We hiked all 11.3 miles to Gregory’s Bald in GSMNP.  Jordan, (the other one), left for SoDak to finish up his schooling.  And my parents have flown the coop to Uganda (our pastor is on the trip with them, so check his blog, Pastor Martin’s Myopia, if you’re interested in updates).

I still plan to blog a bit more in depth (i.e. share some photos are stories) about some of the things mentioned above.  But not all at once.

Spring is here.  Mostly.  I love Spring here.  Many, many blossoms.

Just remember that it might be Spring here, but when you climb 3500 feet, it’s probably not Spring up there.  As mentioned above, we did hike to Gregory’s Bald.  The snow never accumulated on the ground and truly was beautiful falling down around us.  But it was frigid.  How frigid?

I only pulled my hands out of the fleece for three photos.  And not even once for photos at the top of the bald.  And you probably can guess how much I like taking photos.  Check out this ice along the trail:

It crunched beneath our boots.  Which was fun.

We weren’t super cold at this point, since we still hadn’t surfaced on the windy, wintery bald.

On the way down, I rolled an ankle and landed on the opposite knee (lovely bruise forming).  Not my proudest hiking moment.  ‘Twas a long, tough, cold, winter hike. Though I know I should be grateful for each and every hiking opportunity I have, I cannot honestly say that I was thrilled to be hiking during that one.

But since Spring is here and just around the corner at Gregory’s Bald, I think we’ll give it another shot once those flame azaleas start coming around.