Thursday, December 17, 2009


Empanadas are half-moon shaped turnovers, usually small enough to be eaten in two to four bites and full of either sweet or savory fillings.  They originated in Spain and now are made all throughout Latin America.  They are either fried or baked, and because of the amount of work involved to prepare them, they are mostly served for special occasions. 

We tried two different kinds of dough for the crust today in class;  one with cream cheese, and one was a traditional pie crust.  Here is the recipe for the cream cheese dough, which is easier to make and more rich in flavor:

16 oz cream cheese
8 oz (one stick) butter
1 tsp salt
3 cups all-purpose flour

 - Beat together the cream cheese, butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, until well blended. 
 - Slowly add in the flour, mixing until incorporated.
 - Form two balls (it will be easier to work with 2 separate pieces of dough), then flatten each into a disk. Dust with flour, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

For the filling:

1 lb. sirloin beef (either strips, cut into small pieces, or ground)
3 shallots, diced small
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms (or any mushrooms you prefer), chopped 
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped to small pieces
8 oz can small diced tomatoes, drained
8 spanish green olives w/ pimento, chopped
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper

-  Saute shallots in oil over medium low heat until starting to brown. 
-  Add garlic and meat, stirring until meat begins to brown, then add mushrooms.  
-  Cook for two more minutes then stir in spices and raisins.
-  Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool before adding tomatoes, olives and eggs.
-  Taste for seasoning, and add more of any you like.

When dough is ready to roll, preheat oven to 375.

On a lightly floured, smooth, clean surface, roll out one of the dough rounds to a thin 1/8-inch thickness. (If refrigerated for more than an hour, you may need to let it sit for 10 minutes to soften it enough to roll it out more easily.) Use a round biscuit cutter or a glass or plastic container with a 4 to 5 inch opening to cut out rounds. Place them on a baking sheet.
During this and the next step, if the dough becomes too soft and therefore difficult to work with, put whatever you are working on in the refrigerator to chill for 5 or 10 minutes.
Use a pastry brush to lightly brush the inside edge of the rounds with egg wash (to help the empanadas seal). Place a teaspoon of meat inside each round. Fold the round over to and press the edges to seal shut. Use the tines of a fork to flute the edges

Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  If dough seems too soft, chill empanadas for 5 or ten minutes before brushing with eggwash and baking.  Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.  Allow to cool for at least five minutes before eating.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baking Basics - Pretzels

Welcome to the new session, and the new incarnation of cooking class:  Baking Basics.  It was great to see all the new faces today, as well as the returning chefs.  This class will be a bit different now because we will be focusing on baked products and using the oven each week.  We will learn about different kinds of dough and various leavening processes.  Get ready to experiment and be covered in flour!
Here is the recipe we did in class today:

This one is for you, Poppop!

                                               Philly Soft Pretzels

Nothing beats a warm, soft, salty pretzel.  Just like they sell on the streets of Philadelphia.


1&1/4 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
1&1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
3 to 4 cups AP flour
2 tsp salt
2 oz melted butter  [we forgot this ingredient when we made it in class today, so yours will turn out softer and more flavorful!]

ALSO:  Fill a stock pot with at least 10 cups of water and have 1Tbsp baking soda set aside for later.
And make an eggwash with one egg and 2Tbsp water beaten together in a small bowl.  Have kosher or pretzel salt ready for sprinkling before baking.

Combine the water, yeast and sugar in a large bowl. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour, salt and butter and mix with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add small bits of flour now and then until the dough seems ready to handle.  Then use your hands to knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.  Let the dough rest in the bowl, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
In the meantime, turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope.

Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel.

 Let them sit for a few minutes to rest before boiling.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, carefully dropping them in one at a time, and boil for about a minute. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula or slotted spoon. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

North America - Three Sisters Soup

The Three Sisters - A Native American Legend

A long time ago there were three sisters who lived together in a field.These sisters were quite different from one another in their size and way of dressing. The little sister was so young that she could only crawl at first, and she was dressed in green.

The second sister wore a bright yellow dress, and she had a way of running off by herself when the sun shone and the soft wind blew in her face.

The third was the eldest sister, standing always very straight and tall above the other sisters and trying to protect them. She wore a pale green shawl, and she had long, yellow hair that tossed about her head in the breeze.

There was one way the sisters were all alike, though. They loved each other dearly, and they always stayed together. This made them very strong.
One day a stranger came to the field of the Three Sisters - a Mohawk boy. He talked to the birds and other animals - this caught the attention of the three sisters.
Late that summer, the youngest and smallest sister disappeared. Her sisters were sad.
Again the Mohawk boy came to the field to gather reeds at the water's edge. The two sisters who were left watched his moccasin trail, and that night the second sister - the one in the yellow dress - disappeared as well.
Now the Elder Sister was the only one left.
She continued to stand tall in her field. When the Mohawk boy saw that she missed her sisters, he brought them all back together and they became stronger together, again.

                        Three Sisters Soup

                                                     (Serves about 4 as a main dish)

1 acorn and/or butternut squash, cut into wedges, drizzled w/ olive oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted (325*, 30 minutes)
1 onion, diced
2 inch piece fresh ginger, minced
a couple garlic cloves, minced
5 slices bacon, cut into small pieces and sauteed until crispy
1 to 2 C. frozen or fresh corn, roasted in dry saute pan until slightly brown
1 30 oz. can pinto beans
4-5 cups vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 tsp each: dried ginger, allspice, sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
2-3 Tbs. chopped fresh herbs (thyme, sage,parsley, or cilantro would be great)
salt and pepper to taste
While you are roasting the acorn squash wedges in the oven,  begin sauteing onions in an oiled pan over medium low heat.  Stir occasionally, until slightly brown, then stir in garlic and fresh ginger.  

Cook for one more minute, then add stock, beans, roasted corn and bacon.  Increase heat and simmer while you finish the squash.
When the squash is tender, and then cool enough to handle, cut the skin off  and cube squash into bites-size pieces.  Add to the pot and let the flavors  marry as it comes to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer and add herbs and spices.  Let simmer for at least 20 minutes.

For instructions on growing your own three sisters garden click  here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Greek - Loukoumades


Greek Honey Puffs, or Honey Tokens

     Two thousand seven hundred and eighty four years ago, in 776 B.C., the ancient Olympic Games were born.

     Victors were awarded a wreath fashioned from a small branch taken from a wild olive tree that stood in Zeus’ sacred grove at Olympia. The wreath is an unmistakable symbol of the importance of the olive and its cultivation to the Greeks, both past and present. Olive oil is a fundamental ingredient in Greek cooking and has been so from the most ancient times.

     The poet Callimachus tells us that one of the earliest prizes awarded to the winners were what is commonly translated as “honey tokens” , which were essentially fried balls of dough covered in honey. These were offered to the victorious athletes in a highly ritualized ceremony along with the kotinos wreath. Callimachus’ reference to these “honey tokens” is the earliest mention of any kind of pastry in European literature. Today, the “honey tokens” of Callimachus are known as Loukoumades (pronounced ‘loo-koo-MAH-thess) and can be found throughout Greece in special pastry shops that serve only Loukoumades.

Here is the recipe we followed today in class:

1 1/2 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
3 cups lukewarm milk
2 eggs slightly beaten
1 Tbsp vanilla
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt

2 cups honey
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar

In a mixing bowl, mix the yeast and sugar with the warm milk.  Let rest for 5 minutes, then add the egg and vanilla,  flour and salt.   Mix until the batter is thick but smooth.   Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for about an hour. (don't stir again or it will deflate.) The result should be a bubbly batter.

In a deep fryer or a large heavy pot, heat four inches of oil to 375º F, making sure there are at least 2 inches between the oil surface and the top of the pot. This should take about 20 minutes.
While the oil is heating, prepare the syrup by warming the honey in a small pot over low heat (or in the microwave for a quick minute, then add the lemon juice.

Working in batches, slide dollops of the batter (about the size of a heaping tablespoonful each) into the hot oil at a time, making sure not to crowd the pan. The dollops will puff up and float to the top. Turn the puffs occasionally with a slotted spoon until they are a deep golden brown on all sides and very crisp, about 2-4 minutes total. Remove carefully and drain on paper towels or brown paper bags.

Drizzle with honey lemon syrup and dust the puffs generously with cinnamon-sugar.
Enjoy while warm, as they do not keep well.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Greek - Spanakopita


  • 3 lb frozen, chopped spinach 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 medium onions
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt (1 tsp table salt)
  • 6 tbsp pine nuts
  • 3 tbsp fresh mint
  • 4 tbsp fresh dill
  • 1 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh nutmeg
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups feta cheese

Before you start the spanakopita, be sure your phyllo is defrosted and the spinach is well drained.
Then preheat your oven to 350° degrees Fahrenheit.
Dice the onions, heat a fry pan over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the onions until slightly browned. While the onions cook, toast the pine nuts over low heat. Then roughly chop and set aside. Next, finely chop the mint and dill. When the onions are done, turn off the heat and add the spinach, chopped herbs, pine nuts, pepper, and nutmeg. Mix everything together, transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly. Add the eggs and mix until evenly combined. Lastly, break up the feta and fold into the spinach mix.

  • 1 package phyllo dough, defrosted
  • 3/4 cup clarified butter

To assemble the spanakopita, place a sheet of phyllo onto a cutting board, and brush with the melted butter. Cover with a second sheet of phyllo, brush with butter and cut into 3 strips.

Portion some of spinach mixture onto each end of phyllo and fold into a triangle. Place onto a baking tray and brush with a little extra butter.
Bake for approximately 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Once done, remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
Serve warm with homemade tzatziki sauce (see below for recipe).

Note:  Spanakopita can also be made a few hours ahead, or frozen raw for baking later. There is no need to defrost them before baking, but keep in mind, the baking time will be a bit longer.


  • 1 cup cucumber (1/2 cucumber)
  • 2 cups plain thick yogurt
  • 1/2 tsp Salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp chopped scallions
  • 3 tbsp dill
  • 3 tbsp mint

Start by chopping scallions, garlic and fresh herbs. Peel cucumber and remove the seeds, then chop.  Add all ingredients into yogurt along with salt and pepper. Fold everything together.

Check out this link to a video with 
 step-by-step instructions for making 

Saturday, October 31, 2009

France - Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin

Upside-down Apple Tart

The story has it that the tarte Tatin was invented by the Tatin sisters, whose restaurant was located in Lamotte Beuvron (Loir-et-Cher). There are conflicting stories concerning the tart's origin, but the predominant one is that Stéphanie Tatin, who did most of the cooking, was overworked one day. She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples, quickly finishing the cooking by putting the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests appreciated the dessert. 
So often, mistakes in the kitchen can lead to new and wonderful recipes!

Here is the recipe we followed in class this week:

{Make pie dough ahead of time so it has time to cool in the refrigerator.  You can also use packaged pie rounds or puff pastry from the grocery store.}

Sweet Pie dough -
1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 Tbs sugar
1/4 tsp salt
6 oz cold unsalted butter (one and a half sticks)
4 Tbs Crisco (vegetable shortening) refrigerated
1/2 cup ice water

For caramelized apples, you will need the following ingredients:
5-6 granny smith apples
6 Tbs unsalted butter
1 1/2 cup sugar 
zest and juice of one lemon

- For pie dough, mix dry ingredients in bowl, then quickly cut in butter and crisco until pea-sized pieces are formed.  The dough will resemble lumpy cornmeal in texture.  
- Add cold water, one tablespoon at a time.  Stop adding water when you feel that the dough will squeeze together and form with your hand.  You will not need the whole 1/2cup.  In fact, probably only 5 Tbs or so will do.  Remember not to overwork the dough.  Only combine the ingredients and work the dough into a round, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Peel and core apples, cutting each half into four pieces.  Toss with 1/2 cup sugar and lemon juice and zest.  Let sit for 20 minutes.

Using a cast iron skillet, or other pan which can go from stovetop to oven, melt butter completely then add 1 cup sugar.  Using a wooden spoon, stir to blend over medium heat. Keep stirring and watch for mixture to begin browning and bubbling

When mixture is caramel colored, remove from heat and add apple slices.  Lay them side-by-side facing the same direction, forming an attractive pattern. (This will be the top of the tart when served.)

Now fill in the gaps with remaining apples.  If the pan seems full, don't worry, the apples shrink while cooking. 
Place pan back over medium heat and cook until juices blend with caramel and bubble up through the apples.  Using a spoon or turkey baster, bring the liquid up and baste it over tops of apples.
When the liquid seems to have thickened and become syrup-like (about 5 minutes), remove from heat.
Let cool while you roll out your pastry dough.  Make the dough circle about 1 inch bigger than the pan.  
Place dough over pan, covering apples, and tuck the edges inside around the apples.
With the tip of a sharp knife, make 4 or 5 slits in the dough to let steam escape.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Let cool slightly before inverting onto a large serving platter or sheet pan.
Serve with sweetened cinnamon whip cream, or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, October 23, 2009

FRANCE - Cream Puffs


The French consider cooking an art, and French cuisine is famous worldwide. The first French cookbooks date back to the Middle Ages, and French standards were the early gauge of fine cooking. Regional traditions are strong. There are several types of cooking, ranging from hearty, inexpensive fare to sophisticated dishes with costly ingredients. Nouvelle cuisine, created in the 1960s, was a reaction to heavy cooking. While still made of expensive ingredients, it is much lighter, portions are smaller, and the presentation is more artistic.
Most people eat a light breakfast of coffee and bread or croissants. Lunch was once the main meal of the day, but urban society has changed and many people now have a light lunch, eating their main meal in the evening. In Paris, lunch (déjeuner) is usually eaten around noon or 1 p.m. and dinner often is not before 8 p.m. In other parts of the country, particularly rural areas, people eat earlier.
Filled croissants and sandwiches can be bought in shops and cafés. Cafés also offer toasted ham-and-cheese sandwiches (croque-monsieurs) and salad-type vegetables for a light meal. Pâtisseries (pastry shops) sell cakes, and some restaurants sell crêpes. The French population tends to resist foreign fast food because of health concerns about genetically modified foods and worries about globalization, which is seen as a threat to France's small farmers.

cream puffs

Cream puffs (and eclairs) start with pate-a-choux, which is simply water, butter, and flour cooked on the stove and then mixed with eggs, scooped or piped onto baking sheets, and baked. The dough rises quickly in the oven, becoming crisp buttery puffs, hollow in the middle. The cream filling is a sweet vanilla custard lightened with whipped cream. And on top—a glistening crown of bittersweet chocolate ganache.

1 cup water
6 Tbsp unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp sugar
1 cup (liquid measure) eggs - approx. 5 eggs beaten lightly together
{pour any extra egg (anything over one cup) into separate cup and mix with a splash of water to use as an egg-wash before baking}

Preheat oven to 425.
In a medium saucepan, bring the butter, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and add the flour. Using a wooden spoon, stir vigorously to combine. Continue to stir, using a figure-eight motion and smearing the dough against the sides of the pan to cook the flour and work out any lumps, for 2 minutes. The mixture will be thick and look like a firm ball, or balls, of sticky mashed potatoes that pull away from the pan sides. During this process, it’s normal for a thin layer of dough to stick to the bottom of the pan and sizzle.

Remove the pan from the heat, keep stirring to cool slightly.  Make a well in the center of the dough and add 1/4 of the eggs.  Stir until incorporated.  Keep adding eggs 1/4 cup at a time and mixing thoroughly between additions.  When finished, dough should be the consistency of cake batter.

Fill a pastry bag half full with dough and pipe onto a well-greased sheetpan.  Hold the bag straight up and down, squeezing evenly until one blob is formed, with a slightly smaller atop it.    Then stop squeezing and lift bag straight up to form a point.  Space them 1 1/2 inches apart.

Dip pastry brush into eggwash and lightly touch each puff.  
Immediately place the puffs in the oven and bake 10 minutes.  Turn the pans and switch shelves, then bake for about 10 more minutes.  Bake until the puffs have about doubled in size, are a nice golden brown, and are crisp to the touch. Rapidly remove from the oven and make a slash in each to let out steam.  Return to the turned-off oven for 5 minutes.

Pastry Cream Filling
You can use a  packaged pudding like Cozy Shack, and mix it with whipped cream as we did in class, or you can use the following recipe to make your own vanilla pastry cream:

1 cup whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbs. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. table salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat until tiny bubbles appear. Meanwhile, in a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow. Add the cornstarch and salt and whisk well. Pour the hot milk into the yolk mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens to the consistency of thick pudding, about 2 minutes. (It will look lumpy as it starts to thicken but will smooth out as you continue to whisk.) 
Remove from the heat and scrape the pastry cream into a large clean metal bowl. Whisk in the vanilla and then lay a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, about 1 hour.

Mix 1 cup pastry cream with one cup whipped cream.  Fill a pastry bag (with a small tip) halfway full, and pipe filling into puffs.  Do not overfill or they will be a mess to eat.
Next make your glaze and brush or spoon it on each puff.

Chocolate Glaze
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (I prefer 55% to 63% bittersweet chocolate)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp. light corn syrup

 In a small saucepan, warm the cream over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer around the edges of the pan. Remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate pieces and the corn syrup. Let stand for 5 to 7 minutes and then stir until smooth.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mango-Coconut Burfi & Chai (Spiced Tea) from India


Diet depends on culture and region. For example, rice is a staple in the south, while wheat bread (roti) is a staple in the north. Indian meals are usually very spicy. Onions are used in most dishes. Different types of curry (vegetables, eggs, fish, and meat in a spicy sauce) are popular. Betel leaves and nuts commonly are eaten after meals to aid digestion. Vegetarianism is widely practiced, often for religious reasons. All castes have different food laws and customs, as does each religion. Hindus consider cows to be sacred and will not eat beef. Muslims do not eat pork or drink alcohol

Go to this link for more spicy, colorful photos of India:

This week's class recipes:

Mango Coconut Burfi

Yield: 10 pieces

  •  2 cups shredded coconut fresh (toasted)

  •  1/2 cup milk (whole)
    1/2 cup sugar

    1/3 cup mango pulp (fresh or canned)


    1 Tbsp ghee (clarified butter)
    1/2 tsp cardamom powder

1) Spread coconut on a sheetpan and toast in the oven at 350 degrees.  Keep an eye on it, as this takes only a few minutes.  You want it just slightly brown.
2)  In a small saucepan, add the milk, sugar and mango pulp and stir continuously on medium flame.
3)  Let it boil, stirring constantly until very thick. It takes about 15-20 minutes. If you have a candy thermometer, cook it to 225 degrees F.
4) Remove from heat and add the ghee.
5) Add the cardamom powder to the coconut and mix thoroughly.  Add this to the syrup and stir together.
6) Grease a small plate and pour this mixture into it and even it on the top with a spoon or spatula so that it is about 0.5 inch thick.
Cut into desired diamond shapes or even make laddos (small balls) of this.

CHAI (Spiced Tea)

four servings:

4 cups water                                                          
1 cinnamon stick
1 inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
10 cardamom pods
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole coriander seeds
3-4 teabags of black tea
1 cup milk

-bring water and spices to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes
-add teabags and milk and simmer for an additional 3 or 4 minutes.  Remove teabags, sweeten to taste, and serve, pouring the tea through a strainer to catch any floating spices.
-this tea gets stronger the longer it sits, so if you want a stronger spice flavor, let it sit for a while and then reheat.  Add more teabags if you desire a stronger black tea taste.


*****Many thanks to Karina Cherniske for photos taken in class this week!!*******