Tuesday, January 27, 2015

See How Easy It Is to Make Cueva Bar Empanadas

Who doesn't love a hand pie? Empanadas are the quintessential savory hand pie. I've enjoyed them with a flaky pastry crust but I really love these empanadas wrapped in house-made flour tortillas by Chef Osvaldo Blackaller for his University Heights place, Cueva Bar. And, lucky us, he taught me how to make them.

Originally from a small high desert city called Monclova in Mexico, three hours south of Laredo, Texas, Chef Oz, as he refers to himself, has been cooking since he was a kid, although he pursued a more conventional career path in human resources. In college he befriended a young woman from Virginia who set him up with her twin sister. After a long distance relationship, he moved to Virginia to be with Joanna, making friends in his new country by cooking for them. Eventually Oz and Joanna married and moved to San Diego. Determined to make his passion his business--and with Joanna's support--they opened Cueva Bar in October 2010. The menu is a reflection of his Mexican roots, but also sprinkled with flavors from Argentina and the American South on up to the broader East Coast.

Among his featured dishes are empanadas. The three he introduced me to are chicken with gorgonzola, brisket and sauteed onions, and chorizo with smashed potatoes. It was hard to pick a favorite. Each was packed with intriguing flavors with moist, tender fillings and a crispy pastry. I couldn't choose which I wanted to feature so we've got the recipes for all three fillings, but first let's address making the dough. It's not at all difficult, but as I experienced, the more you make these the better they'll come out--and whatever you don't use for the empanadas can be enjoyed as quesadillas or soft tacos. They freeze well, too.

Cueva Bar Worldwide Empanadas
from Chef Osvaldo Blackaller
(printable recipe)

Yield: 20 tortillas

5 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces sparkling water (more or less, depending on how the dough comes together)

1. Mix the flour, salt, and shortening until flakes of shortening are formed.

2. Add 10 ounces of sparkling water and start kneading until its almost integrated. Touch for consistency and, if necessary, add more water slowly until the dough comes together--neither too moist or too dry. Don't overknead.
3. Cover dough and let rest for at least an hour before using.

4. When you're ready to roll out the dough, pull out individual pieces about the size of a golf ball. Smooth it into a small disc and gently fold over the edges to create one smooth side. Then roll out the disc to the size of a corn tortilla--about eight inches. 
5. Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees.
6. Add 2 ounces (or 2 1/2 tablespoons of the filling) to the center of the tortilla. Fold one side over the filling and crimp the edges to seal. Brush the top with either an egg wash (2 eggs, beaten) or a blend of chili oil and olive oil. Cut slits on the top to let the steam escape while baking.

7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

And here are recipes for each of the fillings. Notice that for the chicken empanadas, Chef Oz creates an upright empanada in the style of a rooster's coxcomb. For the chorizo, he shapes the empanadas into bull horns. Only the brisket has the traditional side shape with crimping.

Chicken Filling for Empanadas

4 pounds boneless chicken breast
6 cups finely diced onion
2 tablespoons black pepper
1 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon white pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon curry powder
2 cups water
1 cup vinegar

1. Prepare chicken marinade by mixing all spices and vinegar.
2. Grind chicken breast or finely dice.
3. Mix spice marinade with ground chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes before cooking
4. Brown onions.
5. Add chicken and cook on medium heat.
6. Stir thoroughly and add water.
7. Turn heat to medium low and let simmer until 90 percent of the juice is reduced.
8. Remove from heat and let cool before using it for empanadas.

Braised Beef Brisket Filling for Empanadas

For marinade
4 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Mix all dry ingredients and olive oil together.

5-pound brisket
Brisket marinade
2 cups red wine

Rub brisket and store overnight

The next day:
1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
2. Add wine to brisket. Place brisket in oven and oven sear for 15 minutes.
3. Turn heat down to 350 degrees and braise for 4 1/2 hours. Turn the oven off and allow brisket to sit in the oven for 30 minutes. Remove brisket from oven and shred the meat for the filling.

Beef Chorizo Monclova Filling for Empanadas

Chorizo Spice Marinade
4 Tablespons of salt
20 Guajillo Peppers
16 Ancho Peppers
1 cup of white vinegar
6 tablespoons of paprika
16 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons dry marjoram
2 teaspoons ground, toasted coriander seeds
1 teaspoon dry thyme

1. Place peppers in low boiling water for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft.
2. Grind all spices and herbs together.
3. Discard about 80 percent of the water from peppers and blend peppers.
4. Strain the pepper blend to get rid of all seeds.
5. Place smooth blended pepper mix back in blender, add vinegar, spices, and garlic. Puree until smooth. Taste spice level and adjust accordingly.
7. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

To make chorizo:

Chorizo spice marinade above
5 pounds ground beef

Mix spice marinade with ground beef until is well blended. Allow to cure for 2 days before using.

Cueva Bar is located at 2123 Adams Ave. in University Heights.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pickled Beets with Shallots or What I Did for Love

I hate beets. My family knows it. My friends know it. So do many chefs in San Diego.

And yet I made pickled beets over the weekend.

So, why should you trust me with a pickled beets recipe? Because I made them for my dad. He loves beets and asked me to make pickled beets for him. And, well, I love my dad. So, of course, I made them.

I scoured cookbooks and online recipes for something with simple flavors--nothing fancy or exotic. These days he prefers the basics. Cloves and cinnamon? Out. Tarragon? Out. The more I read, the more variations on a theme I saw. I could boil them or roast them. Put them in the refrigerator to let the brine penetrate over days or use a hot water bath to sterilize and can them. So many options.

So, here's what I finally decided on. Roasting root vegetables is always a good thing, so I trimmed the stems (keeping the beet greens for my mom and a neighbor to enjoy), then rubbed the beets in olive oil, and roasted them with large shallots.

I made a simple brine with white wine vinegar, sugar, salt, a couple of bay leaves, and yellow mustard seeds.

I washed a couple of quart jars in very hot soapy water, filled them with cut up beets and shallots and poured the boiled brine over them. After sealing the jars with the lids and screw rings, I put the jars in the fridge for a few days.

That's it. The toughest part--aside from red-stained fingers and living with the aroma of roasted beets--was peeling the roasted beets. The skins don't uniformly just slip off, unlike what many recipes will tell you. Keep a paring knife on hand to deal with the pieces of skin that simply won't budge. And, by the way, the paper towel rubbing method wasn't effective either.

Ultimately, it was no big deal. The beets got peeled and everything else was ridiculously easy. And, hopefully, Dad--and Mom--will be happy.
Pickled Beets with Shallots on Punk Domestics

Pickled Beets with Shallots
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 quarts

For Roasting Beets
4 pounds red beets
3 large shallots, peeled and quartered
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
4 tablespoons kosher salt

Pre-heat the oven to 400°. Trim tops of beets to one inch. Save the greens for a saute, soup, or salad. Trim the root. Rub each beet and the shallots with olive oil and place in heavy duty aluminum foil. Cover with more foil and roast for 40 minutes or until the beets are easily pierced through. Remove from heat and let cool enough so you can handle them with your hands.

Remove the stem and skin. Cut into bite-size chunks. Arrange in a clean jar with the shallot pieces.

Mix together the brine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Strain the liquid as you pour it over the beets in each jar. Place the lid on each jar and tighten the screw rings. Refrigerate three to seven days before serving.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Fruits to Try in 2015

In January the focus is always on resolutions. Well, how about resolving to break out of tried and true and experiment with novel eats--like unusual fruit?

When I asked Nathan Bochler of Specialty Produce what I could experiment on, he came back at me with three fruits I had little to no experience with: Carambola--often called star-fruit--Dulcia Citron, and Chinnoto. All three of these are grown organically in Vista by 3 Nuts Farm.

Let's start with the star-fruit. It's new to us in the States, but long cherished in Asia. In fact, you may have seen them at local Asian markets imported from China. The fruit is a visual showstopper. Oblong with five distinct ribs, they range from light green to a deep yellow. The star component comes when you slice them horizontally, making them a perfect visual for all sorts of dishes--from your basic fruit salad to a shrimp saute.

I love the delicate flavor and texture of star-fruit. Biting into a raw slice is not unlike biting into a kiwi or even an Asian pear. It's got a gentle crispiness to it. The flavor is floral and grape-like. Some, usually the green ones, are on the tarter side. The more yellow ones can be sweet.

Eat them out of hand as a snack or add to a salad, but they work well in a smoothie, and can be jammed or made into chutney. Add to a stir fry. Garnish a cocktail. Puree and turn into a sorbet. Or slice thin and dry out into star-fruit chips.

Next up, Dulcia citron. 

Citron is sort of the weird cousin of citrus. With citrus, the focus tends to be on the juicy pulp. Citron often has no pulp--think Buddha's Hand. With citron, you're making use of the skin, even if there is juice.

Dulcia citron is an aromatic squat oval, about the size of a smallish grapefruit. It's got a rough orange-yellow skin, white pith and a disconcertingly seedy pulp with some rather acidic juice. 

I zested one of mine and infused it in white wine vinegar. Champagne vinegar would be just as good. Zest it more finely with a microplane and add to a vinagrette.

You can candy the zest, add it to a simple syrup, add zest to butter to saute seafood or make a compound butter, or just use it in any way you'd use lemon zest.

Finally, we have Chinnoto.

This little orange grows in clusters, hence the dark "thumbprint" you find on them once they've been separated. They're small, like a mandarin orange, but the juice is quite sour. Popular in Italy, you most often find them juiced for a simple syrup added to soda for a refreshing drink. In fact, there is actually a bottled carbonated Chinnoto beverage sold in Italy, often attributed in origin to San Pellegrino.

So, what to do with this at home? Use it to make a simple syrup, of course, that can be included in drinks and cocktails, as well as curd. Use the juice to create a sauce for poultry or seafood or vegetables.

You can find all of these--if you hurry--at Specialty Produce. They aren't grown in volume so they go quickly.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Pork Porterhouse Chop with Garlic Sage Compound Butter

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a delicious unnamed pork part I enjoyed from Cook Family Butcher Shop. I've since written a post on the new shop for my Close to the Source blog on Edible San Diego. The butchers there kindly gave me a few cuts of meat to take home and try, including a thick porterhouse chop--something I've never had.

These chops are huge; mine was over a pound in weight, including richly marbled meat and a thick outer cap of fat all united by a T-bone. That's something you don't usually find in your typical supermarket meat department, which touts pork as "the other white meat," meaning lean to the point of no flavor. I'll send you to my Close to the Source post for more about the shop and the Cook Pigs Ranch philosophy of raising pigs to extract the most flavor from them in a humane way.

Right now, I just want to take you through the process of cooking a cut of meat you may not be familiar with. And the process is extremely easy. All I did was grill it on my stove top (no way was I going out on a rainy night to use my outdoor grill). It begins with a 24-hour brining. I used a simple brine inspired by Chef Anne Burrell that includes kosher salt, fresh sage leaves, crushed garlic, sugar, and a bay leaf mixed in a quart of water. Stir it up, add the chop, cover, and refrigerate.

At some point between brining and cooking you can make a simple compound butter to add even more richness to the dish. Because my brine included sage leaves from my garden, I stuck with the flavor profile and made a compound butter with minced sage leaves, diced red onion, garlic, and sea salt. All you need to do is leave the a stick of butter out until it's room temperature, slice off about a tablespoon and melt that in a small saucepan.

Add the sage, red onion, garlic, and sea salt, and saute gently until it's just cooked through, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and place the mixture in a small bowl. Let cool for 15 to 20 minutes. Then slice the rest of the butter, add the slices to the bowl, and thoroughly mix all the ingredients with a fork. Pull out a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap and place the butter mixture on it. Shape into a small log about an inch thick. Then fold the paper or wrap over the log and roll it a bit until it's evenly shaped. Then fold up the rest around the log and refrigerate it at least an hour so that it's firm (you can also make it a couple of days before). Remove it from the refrigerator before you begin cooking the chop.

When you plan to cook the chop, remove it from the brine and pat it down to remove the excess moisture. I also trimmed off much of the fat cap since it would only create even more of a smoky oil splattering mess than I already expected from stove-top grilling. Slather the chop in olive oil and, as Burrell suggests, sprinkle the meat with crushed red pepper flakes. Heat a cast iron skillet and when it's good and hot, place the chop in the skillet and cover with a splatter guard.

Cook for four to five minutes on each side until the internal temperature is about 145° and then hold the chop vertically with a pair of tongs to grill the edge of fat. That'll take about a minute. Remove from the skillet and let it rest. You should have a chop cooked medium rare.

For this meal I decided to include farro, leftovers from a batch I had made the day before, and some beautiful spicy red mustard that I got from Coral Tree Farm in Encinitas. I broke up the mustard leaves and quickly sauteed them in the skillet in which I'd cooked the chop. One less pan to cook and extra flavor for the mustard! 

Now, you're almost ready to eat. Cut the meat off the bone and slice it. (Save the bone to gnaw on secretly later.) Place the slices on the cooked mustard and top with a couple of slices of the compound butter. Serve with warm farro.

Happy New Year!

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