Monday, October 26, 2009

The Calm Before the Storm

I kind of feel like a teenager who's missed curfew and is trying to sneak back into the house without their parent's detection. You know you're late, but you're hoping there's some way to get into bed and then act all nonchalant like you've been there for hours doing your nails when your mom pops her head into your room and finds you there. Personally, I could never pull it off. At a certain point you just had to suck it up and face the music. So without further ado . . .  I realize I haven't blogged in 22 days. I wish I had a good excuse (i.e. alien abduction), but I don't really have one (although I was recently in New Mexico). At least when I was younger, I could usually blame my older brother ("Mom, I swear I wanted to come home on time. I couldn't get Rob to leave the party!"), but I can't play that card here. How about just "I'm sorry and I won't let it happen again. And here is a nice recipe I think you'll enjoy!" 

I do feel as if this time of year is the calm before the storm. Once Halloween hits, it seems like the holiday tornado is unleashed. I admit I considered momentarily ordering holiday cards last night as I booked my airline ticket for Thanksgiving, but couldn't bring myself to do it. For one, the 87 degree weather we're having is tricking my brain into thinking that Labor Day is around the corner. And two, I want to relish the peaceful pre-holiday window just a tad longer. Plus, it's a great time to make some tasty treats you can pop in the freezer now to enjoy in the midst of the holiday hustle and bustle — which really is just around the corner.  

I think it's nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve for the holidays, which means you have to plan ahead. OK, that sounds a bit soap-boxy. What I really mean to say is it's much easier to do this now than when you're trying to juggle the end-of-year push at work, family commitments, holiday shopping, insane people who are also out holiday shopping, bad weather, travel, etc. I discovered this great recipe, which I think makes for the perfect holiday "secret weapon." These empanadas would make an awesome Thanksgiving amuse-bouche, a delicious (and easy) addition to a holiday cocktail party or buffet (thumbs up for anything you can make ahead), or even a thoughtful gift (as long as there is a freezer nearby) for any hardworking, food-loving hostess. 

They'll be the perfect foil to the holiday madness. And you'll look like a rock star.  

Chicken and Chorizo Empanadas with Raisins, Olives and Spinach
Adapted from Gourmet (R.I.P.)

1 breast and 2 thighs of rotisserie chicken, shredded and chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 large onions, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 California bay leaf (or 2 Turkish)
3/4 cup finely diced Spanish chorizo, casing removed
1/2 tsp Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
1 tsp coriander 
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 cup pitted green olives, chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
8 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
Empanada dough (recipe following) or 1 lb pizza dough
1 egg 

Saute onions, garlic and bay leaves in olive oil until onions are softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add chicken and chorizo, along with paprika, coriander, salt and pepper. Add olives, raisins, spinach, wine and broth, then reduce heat to moderately low and simmer until liquid has evaporated but mix is still moist. The goal is to avoid a soupy empanada filling. 
Divide your empanada dough into two sections. Roll out first section on a floured surface until the dough is very thin, probably 1/8" in thickness. You need the dough to be thick enough to hold the filling but not so thick to overwhelm eat bite so all you get is a mouthful of dough. Keep the other half of the dough wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. 
Cut out 3" circles as your empanada base. Place a dollop of filling in the middle of each circle. You don't need much — about 1 Tbsp per circle. Wet the edges of the circle and fold in half to seal. Press the edges with a fork to create a decorative border. I think it goes faster if you do this in an assembly line fashion: cut out all the circles, then add the filling to all, then fold and seal, etc. Brush the top of each empanada with an egg wash of 1 yoke and 1 Tbsp water. 
If you are going to eat them immediately, place them on a lightly greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 25-40 minutes, until golden brown. 
If you are going to freeze these, simply put the finished empanadas on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer until firm. You can then remove them and store in a Ziploc bag for a month or two in the freezer. To reheat, place them on a cookie sheet and thaw for about 15 minutes. Bake them at 350 degrees for 25-40 minutes, until golden brown. Yields: Approximately forty 3-in empanadas. 

Empanada Dough
2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some pea-sized butter lumps. 
Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with a fork until just incorporated. The mixture will look "shaggy."
Turn out mixture on a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with the heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into a flat rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Yields: Approximately twenty 3-in empanadas. 

Note: The filling can be made 2 days ahead and cooled, uncovered, then chilled, covered. It also can be frozen until you're ready to make these. Just bring the filling to room temperature before assembling. This recipe actually makes a lot of filling (enough for 40+ or double the dough recipe), so you may want to make one batch and then freeze the rest until you're ready for your next batch. Just make sure there's not a lot of excess water from the spinach. 
I have not made these with pizza dough but that is what the original recipe called for. To me, it was not difficult to make the dough from scratch — and that is coming from a non-baker! I'm sure they'd still be a hit if you used the shortcut, which may be all the time you have during the holidays so don't let that stop you. As an alternative, you might even consider making this into a calzone, which would also be sure to please on a cold winter's night. 

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