A Trio of Tea Sandwiches

While reality television has never quite captured my attention, Amanda has recently gotten me hooked on a little show about the elite of Charleston called Southern Charm. The fourth season recently premiered and the Amanda household was kind enough to include me via Skype for their premier-watching party. Naturally, I wanted to make a meal that allowed me to feel the elegance and flavors of the south and to celebrate with the Florida crew in spirit.

I wanted to make something light, summery, and fancy-feeling that both touched on a southern classic (pimento cheese! yum!) but also represented the class of our favorite character on the show. Therefore, this trio of tea sandwiches–two savory and one sweet–was the perfect option for a viewing party (even if it was a party of one) and let me pretend I was one of the Southern Charm gang at one of their fancy garden parties (but without any drama or drinks thrown in faces).

Spicy Cilantro Cucumber Sandwich:

  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro
  • 4 oz can green chiles
  • 1 cup spinach leaves
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, freshly shredded
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and sliced thinly

Instructions:

  1. Combine cilantro, spinach, chiles, jalapeno and lime juice in a food processor and pulse until you have a fine puree. Add this mixture to a small bowl with the cream cheese and stir until combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Spread the cream cheese mixture onto 3 of the white bread slices and top with cucumber slices. Top with the other 3 slices of bread to form 3 separate sandwiches.
  3. Trim edges and slice into triangles, and they are now ready to serve!

Pimento & Pulled Chicken Tea Sandwich:

  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded
  • 4 oz jar of pimento peppers, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 6 slices of white bread

Instructions:

  1. Mix together the all ingredients (it does make it a bit easier if the chicken is still warm).
  2. Spread onto 3 slices of the white bread as thick and even as you can manage.
  3. Top with the other 3 slices of white bread to form 3 sandwiches.
  4. Trim edges and slice into triangles. Ready to serve!

Sweet Strawberry Mascarpone Tea Sandwich

  • 3/4 cup of strawberries, trimmed of greens and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  • Loaf of angel food cake or pound cake
  • 3-4 large strawberries, trimmed of greens and sliced longways-thinly

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the strawberries, sugar and salt and cook for about 5 minutes until the sugar is liquified and the strawberries are mushy
  2. Pass this mixture through a fine sieve to filter out the seeds and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Once cooled, mix together the strawberry puree and the mascarpone cheese until fully incorporated and there are no white specs in the cheese.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the cheese to cool.
  5. Slice the angel food cake/pound cake into 1/4″ thick slices.
  6. Spread the strawberry mascarpone onto one slice of bread and then top with sliced strawberries. Add another slice of the cake to the top. Trim edges and slice into triangles. Ready to Serve!

Drink Pairing: With these yummy sandwiches, I decided to forego wine this time in favor of a more Charleston representative cocktail: 2 parts firefly sweet tea vodka, 2 parts pink lemonade and 1 part firefly peach tea moonshine. Be warned though, these little numbers are tasty and dangerous. 

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Lemon Basil Petit-Fours with Strawberry-Red Wine Filling

As Amanda mentioned in her amazing Guava Cake recipe, the prodigal return of the Great British Baking Show to Netflix has taken us by storm. This show has an amazing ability to make me crave baking like no other, and many a Saturday have been surrendered to bread proofing and pie making after even a small binge Baking Show session. As you have probably seen, Amanda also caught the bug. So, for this Distance Dishes date, we wanted to try a bake we’d never done, and play with some techniques we might not have tried.

I’ve been wanting to try petit-fours for a long time, and when I had my first taste one earlier in 2016, I knew I wanted to try to make it for myself. This was the perfect excuse to do it! I also had a basil plant growing out of control and wanted to incorporate it with complementary flavors and now here we are.

The cake is tart and fresh, the strawberries and wine add berry notes which are all to be tamed by the added sweetness of the pourable fondant. Since this was my first attempt, I did not want to invest in a special cutter, but thankfully with a sharp knife and a ruler, we can still achieve some cute little cakes.

Lemon Basil Pound Cake Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded and chopped finely
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment paper.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, either with a stand or hand mixer, beat together the sugar, butter, and eggs, first on low speed until everything comes together, then on high speed for 5 minutes. Incorporate the milk and lemon juice into the sugar mixture, then add your flour mixture slowly. Beat until smooth. Gently fold in basil leaves.
  4. Spread your cake batter thinly and evenly over the lined baking sheets with an offset spatula.
  5. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until springy when touched.
  6. Allow cake to cool completely before assembly.

Strawberry-Red Wine Filling:

  • 8 oz strawberries, roughly chopped and greens removed
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup fruit forward red wine (I used a red blend with mentions of notes of berries on the label)
  • Pinch of lemon zest, if available

Instructions: 

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat all ingredients over low heat until the sugar granules are dissolved. Increase to medium heat so that the mixture is simmering.
  2. Stir over the heat for about 10 minutes until the strawberries lose their shape and the mixture thickens. The temperature should be around 220°F when finished.
  3. Strain through a sieve to help remove the seeds from the jam mixture.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or until ready to use for the cake. Can be stored without canning procedures in the fridge for up to 3 weeks or frozen for up to a year.

Pourable Fondant Icing Ingredients:

  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup hot water (I used plantation lemonade tea for something different, but not necessary)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • food coloring if desired
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips

Instructions: 

  • Melt the white chocolate chips over low heat in a saucepan or in 10-20 second increments in the microwave stirring in between each session until very smooth.
  • Add the powdered sugar, corn syrup, and hot water into a large bowl and stir gently until smooth. You can also use a stand mixer on low if you have one.
  • Add the melted white chocolate and vanilla and stir until smooth. If you’re using food coloring, this is also the time to add until you get the desired effect.
  • It is important to make sure this is still warm when you’re ready to use so make this immediately before you’re ready to dip your cakes (see assembly).

Assembly

  1. Once your cakes have cooled, trim the crust-type edges from the cakes so that you have clean sides.
  2. Portion and cut the remaining cake rectangle into three equal sections as these will make your three layers.
  3. Spread a layer of jam onto one of the new portions. Place another one of the portions on top, and top with additional jam. Top with the final cake portion.
  4. Repeat the trimming, portioning and layering with your other sheet of cake and then freeze all newly layered cake portions for 30 minutes.
  5. Once the cakes have hardened a bit, get out your ruler and a sharp knife and cut the cakes into equal, bite-size squares. I aimed for about 1.25″x1.25″ but however you’re able to portion these equally and what looked right to you will work.
  6. Freeze the cut cakes for another 15-30 minutes and make your pourable fondant just before you are ready to remove them from the freezer.
  7. Once you have your fondant ready, using a fork, slowly lower the mini-cakes into the fondant until submerged and shake off the excess. Carefully lower onto a cooling rack (with liner underneath) to harden. Repeat with all your cakes.
  8. You can decorate your new petit-fours with more melted chocolate drizzled over, sprinkles, or get crazy with traditional fondant if you’d like. Whatever makes you happy!
  9. Enjoy!

Wine Pairing: The obvious choice for this would be to suggest the rest of the bottle you used to make the jam. However, if you’re like me and that bottle is looking a little low because you needed something to do while waiting for the jam, cakes and fondants to harden, then I’d suggest checking out Amanda’s Giggle Water Recipe since it’s a light, refreshing beverage perfect for an afternoon treat. 

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Custard Buns (Lai Wong Bao)

Real talk – I totally messed up this recipe the first time. Putting together a few recipes, I finally found one that works for these Chinese custard buns (lai wong bao, or egg yolk buns). The trial and errors were totally worth it though to relive my favorite snack from my time in Boston! I worked on the outskirts of Chinatown, and picked up one of these custard buns every day on my walk back to the bus. Yum!

There was one special ingredient and special piece of equipment that I had to get for this recipe: custard powder and a bamboo steamer. Custard powder, an uncommon ingredient in American recipes, is a starchy vanilla powder cooked with milk to create a custard. The bamboo steamer, while helpful, could probably be improvised with a colander and wire rack.

Ingredients

Custard Filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch or wheat starch
  • 3 tbs cream
  • 1/4 cup custard powder
  • 2 tbs butter

Steamed Bun

  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbs powdered sugar
  • 6 tbs milk, divided
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Instructions

Custard Filling

  1. Heat several inches of water to simmer in a large pot to be used as a double boiler.
  2. In metal or otherwise heatproof bowl, beat together eggs and powdered sugar.
  3. Add milk and heavy cream and combine.
  4. Add flour, cornstarch, and custard powder and whisk until there are no lumps. Add butter and combine.
  5. Place bowl over simmering water and stir continuously until custard has thickened to about the consistency of dense cake batter.
  6. Remove from heat and, once cooled, refridgerate until ready to use in an airtight container.

Steamed Bun

  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Let sit for 10 minutes until mixture becomes frothy.
  2. Stir in flour, sugar, 3 tbs of milk, and salt. Combine thoroughly.
  3. Add additional milk 1 tbs at a time until a dough is formed. Knead for 3-5 minutes until dough is smooth.
  4. Coat with oil and allow to rise for a little over an hour or until dough has tripled in size.
  5. Remove custard from fridge and spoon balls of the custard onto a sheet of parchment paper.
  6. Pinch a ball of dough onto cutting board and spread into a thin circle about 4 inches in diameter. Put a custard ball in the middle of the dough and wrap. Roll around to ensure that the bun is sealed.
  7. Heat bamboo steamer over simmering hot water. Place each bun on a square of parchment paper to prevent sticking. Cover and steam for 15 minutes.

 

Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse Eclairs

When Amanda and I had this Distance Dishes date, Valentines Day was just around the corner so we wanted to make some recipes that were insanely decadent. To me, that meant something incredibly chocolatey. While an eclair might not seem like the logical first choice, I had some leftover raw cacao paste kicking around my pantry and I thought this might be the perfect vehicle to incorporate some.  I also wanted to do something a little different with the filling, so an avocado mousse seemed like a great experiment.

The result was this celebration of dark chocolate that was so rich, and had a chocolate flavor more pure than I’d experienced in a pastry before. The topping and the filling themselves seemed like they might be too much when combined in one bite, but the buttery pastry breaks it up perfectly and adds in another dimension of flavor. If you have some time to make these, I highly recommend it.

Pate a Choux

I used this recipe without the extra salt: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sweet-or-savory-pate-a-choux-recipe

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 stick butter (6 tablespoons)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (for sweet)
  • 5 3/4 ounces flour (about 1 1/4 cup)
  • 4 large eggs and 2 whites

Instructions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. In a saucepan over medium heat, boil the water, butter, salt and sugar.
  3. Add the flour and remove from the heat. Stir until a ball forms and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the ball to a stand mixer and turn on to the lowest stir setting.
  5. Add the eggs one at a time making sure each one is fully incorporated before moving on to the next.
  6. Once all the eggs are added you can check to make sure your dough is the right consistency by checking if it falls off the paddle to your mixer in v-like sheets. If it is too thick, you may need an additional egg white.
  7. Transfer dough to a piping bag or a plastic zip top bag with a hole cut in one corner, and pipe onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper into lines about 3-4 inches long, 2 inches apart.
  8. Turn the oven down to 35o and cook for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Once they are cooked, upon removing them from the oven, pierce the sides with a small knife to release steam. This will help them not to collapse in on themselves.
  10. Allow to cool fully and they will be ready for assembly.

Avocado Mousse Filling

Ingredients: 

  • 3 Ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup of raw cacao paste broken into chunks or cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup of agave syrup or maple syrup (granulated sugar will also work)
  • 1 tsp of vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Instructions: 

  1. Peel and mash the avocados in a food processor or blender.
  2. If using cacao paste, heat it over low-medium heat until the chunks are melted. Be careful to keep stirring so that the chocolate does not burn. Add in your sweetener of choice and stir. If using cocoa powder add it and the sweetener directly to the food processor.
  3. Add the cacao mixture to the food processor along with the vanilla extract and salt and pulse until everything is blended.
  4. If the mousse is too bitter for you, feel free to add more sweetener as needed. This can be enjoyed by itself as a tasty dessert treat, or can be the delicious filling for our eclairs.

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Dark Chocolate Ganache Icing

Note: You can find a more traditional recipe for ganache from my previous Chocolate and Peanut Butter Pie post–this is an alternative using raw cacao paste, but feel free to substitute the other recipe as it may be easier to acquire the ingredients. 

Ingredients: 

  • 2/3 cup of raw cacao paste, broken into chunks or cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup agave syrup or maple syrup (granulated sugar will also work)
  • 3/4 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

Instructions: 

  1. Heat the heavy cream over medium low heat so that it is close to but does not boil. Be sure to stir frequently to ensure that it does not burn.
  2. Reduce the heat to low and add the cacao and sweetener to the pan and stir frequently until all the chunks are melted and the mixture is fully incorporated.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Keep warm for eclair assembly.

Assembly: 

  1. Transfer the avocado mousse to a piping bag or something with a piping tip.
  2. Using the side you pierced with a knife already, pipe the mousse into the end of the choux pastry. Be sure to full them as much as you can without overfilling them.
  3. Once all are filled with the mousse, dip the tops into the ganache and allow to cool in the fridge.
  4. After all your hard work, these are ready to be enjoyed! To save yourself one long stint in the kitchen, the choux shells freeze well when they are unfilled so you can make them in advance. In addition, the mousse can also be made one day in advance, but just make sure you don’t eat it all if you want to save some for piping. Enjoy!

 

Wine pairing: With this ode to dark chocolate, you definitely want something bold with notes of chocolate and cherry to go with this decadent dessert. I’d recommend a Zinfandel with those undertones if you can find one, but an Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon are good choices as well ( I mean it’s wine an chocolate–hard to go wrong right?) Happy snacking!

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Herb Saffron Rice

While couscous is a traditional and delicious accompaniment to the wonderful Beef and Beet Tajine recipe Amanda and I recently tried, I decided to make some flavorful rice to go along with it this time.  I think it’s fairly clear that Amanda and I are fans of rice in general but this rice really is a showstopper.

The herbs used in this recipe are customizable to your tastes, although I’d probably stick within the leafy, more subtle family with this one. You might not want to use Basil or rosemary but Dill, parsley and cilantro (coriander leaves) would probably be delicious in your own preferred ratios. I received a hydroponic garden for Christmas and have been working on growing my herbs for a little while so this was the first dish in which I was able to use bits of my own plants in my food, so I used a lot of parsley and a bit of dill as well to equal the below measurement. I found this probably to be a little too exciting and should get out more. It was yummy though!

I absolutely love my rice cooker and I don’t know if I could live without it. However, I think it’s been established that not everyone enjoys grains as frequently as I do, so I have provided the stovetop method as well below. The stovetop method may actually produce better results since you’ll be able to control when you’re adding ingredients but either way, you’ll be rewarded with a delicious base for your tajine dinner or any other meal for sure.

  • 2 cups basmati or Jasmine Rice
  • Pinch of Saffron (about 15 threads)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil or even better, ghee
  • 1/2 onion minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2  cups vegetable or broth
  • 1 cup chopped, fresh herbs, I chose curled parsley and dill
  • salt

Stovetop Method:

  1. Rinse your rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Add the pinch of saffron to the 1/2 of water and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Add oil/ghee to a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  4. Ad the minced onion and garlic to the saucepan and saute until the onions are semi-translucent and the smell is fragrant.
  5. Add the rice and stir for about 1 minutes to bring out the flavor of the rice.
  6. Add the saffron water, broth, herbs and a heavy pinch of salt to the saucepan and bring to a boil.
  7. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed (don’t check on it before the 20 minute mark though).
  8. Fluff (gently) with a fork and serve with extra herbs if desired.

Rice Cooker Method:

  1. Rinse your rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain.
  2. Add the pinch of saffron to the 1/2 of water and allow to sit for 5 minutes.
  3. Add oil/ghee to either a pan or if your cooker has a “brown/saute” option, add it directly to the pot.
  4. Saute the minced onion and garlic in the oil until semi-translucent and the smell is fragrant.
  5. Add the rice and stir for a few moments to bring out the flavor. If this step is done outside the cooker, transfer the rice, onion and garlic to the rice cooker.
  6. Add the saffron water, broth, herbs and a heavy pinch of salt to the cooker and start the cooking.
  7. Once your rice cooker has indicated it is finished, give everything a good (but gentle) fluffing and it is ready to serve warm.

 

Salad Rolls with a Trio of Dipping Sauces

I remember one of the first times I thought I might be becoming an adult (I mean, still not 100%), it was after a particularly indulgent weekend full of gastronomic delights. It was at that point when I had the spontaneous thought: “Man, I really just want a vegetable.” That was a completely new feeling to me as anyone who knew my former eating habits could probably verify. Nowadays, it doesn’t take much to get that feeling again and I take pride in it. However, after weeks of the holiday season, hosting, attending parties (some people, not necessarily me), and partaking in all the scrumptious treats of the holiday season, it’s nice to get back to the routine of healthy meals for a little while.

This week, Amanda and I wanted to share our go-to veggie filled recipes when we need a little nutritional pick-me-up. While I try to make pretty healthy meals on the regular, when I’m really feeling disgusting and bloated and a little too deep-fried, a nice salad roll is my favorite. They are light, basically a salad burrito and if you fill them full of veggies and lean protein, a little dipping sauce might not hurt if you don’t go overboard.

The beauty of these rolls are in their customizability. You can add anything you like and dip into anything you like. I have seen spring and summer rolls filled with everything from cooked shrimp and vermicelli noodles to mangoes and strawberries. If you keep these rice wrappers on hand, you can easily scoop up some leftovers you have in your fridge and let your imagination go wild. Below, I wanted to share the version I gravitate towards as well as a few dipping sauce options:

Spicy Pineapple Dipping Sauce

  • 3/4 cup pineapple puree
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp sriracha
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp of sliced greens of green onions for garnish

To Make:

  • If you don’t have pineapple puree, blend together about 1 cup pineapple chunks (canned is fine) until smooth.
  • Whisk together all ingredients minus the green onions until combined.
  • Top with green onion slices.

Sesame Ginger Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp grated, fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped

To Make:

  • Combine all ingredients in a small bowl until well mixed and enjoy.

Peanut Dipping Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp grated, fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tbsp red pepper flakes

To Make:

  • Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined (the peanut butter might fight you for a second but it will come around) and it is ready to enjoy.

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My Salad Roll Ingredients:

  • Rice Paper Wrappers
  •  Butter Lettuce
  • Cooked Chicken
  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Avocado
  • Green Bell Pepper
  • (But the possibilities are endless so go wild)

To Assemble: 

  • Gather and slice all your ingredients mise-en-place style so you aren’t fumbling for anything. I like my vegetables and proteins (although shrimp can probably stay whole) to be cut into strip for easier eating.Make sure you have a large bowl of clean, cool, water big enough to submerge the entirety of your wrapper at one time, and a flat, clean surface to build your roll.
  • Dip one rice paper wrapper into the water and allow to sit for 10-15 seconds.
  • Remove from the water, and try to shake off and excess. Transfer to your surface for assembly.
  • Place a small amount of your ingredients about 1/3  of the way up from the bottom of the roll not surpassing the halfway mark of the wrapper. Try to fill in as much free space as possible but be careful not to overstuff.
  • Once you have added all of your ingredients, fold the bottom third over your ingredients and then fold in the sides. Then roll the rest up just like a burrito. As you can see in my picture above, the rolling might not always be perfect, but try to keep it as contained as you can.
  • Enjoy immediately as a whole meal or as an appetizer with your choice of dipping sauces.

Wine Pairing: I know we’re trying to be healthy here, but come on. Sometimes you can have both right? While it would depend on your dipping sauce selection, I can’t help but feel that a light Rose might be a nice selection to the summery feel of this dish–which may also match with the peanut sauce nicely. Happy cooking!

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Slowcooker Party Meatballs

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” as I’m sure your radios are crooning non-stop, but there are certainly quite a bit of stresses that comes with the joy of the holidays. Not only are we running around trying to decorate, purchase gifts for all of our friends and family, but there often are a deluge of holiday party invitations or hosting obligations this month (as I’m sure Amanda can attest). Whether it’s an office potluck or a family tree decorating party, an easy appetizer is always a hit with the other party guests and the host alike.

I wanted to share something that is easy, shows depth of flavor, and doesn’t take up too much kitchen space, just in case you also have an impressive entrée in the works. These sweet and tangy meatballs only take a few minutes of assembly and are low maintenance. However, they are sure to impress.

Full disclosure: I did attempt to not cut corners and make my own meatballs for the purpose of this post, but I don’t believe my meatball skills are quite up to snuff just yet. When I made these again the other night (they’re that good) with frozen meatballs, not only was if infinitely less stressful (which is the whole point) but also more delicious. If you’re the type who regularly makes meatballs and has a knack for it, by all means go for it. You probably wouldn’t need my recipe anyway. For the rest of us though, recipe is as follows:

  • 1 32oz. bag of frozen meatballs, or your favorite homemade recipe. Turkey is also good!
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 green onions, whites and greens separated (greens will be the garnish)
  • 2 tbsp sriracha
  • Sesame seeds for garnish

To make the Appetizer:

  • Add the frozen meatballs to your slow cooker.
  • Stir together all remaining ingredients except for the greens of the green onions and sesame seeds in a medium bowl until combined.
  • Pour sauce over meatballs and stir to ensure all are coated.
  • Cook on high for 2 hours if you’re pressed for time or on low for 4 hours and then enjoy at your leisure. Can be served with rice as a full meal or on toothpicks as yummy apps! Or you can always leave out the slow cooker with a serving spoon and let your guests fend for themselves. Happy partying!

 

Wine Pairing: Because these flavors are so bold with sweet and sour notes, I’d recommend an aromatic wine to accompany. I did try this with a Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2013 Riesling and I highly recommend. The fruity flavors of pear and peach complements the tangy sauce of the app in a delightful way. It’s definitely worth a try.

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Ground Beef Empanadas

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a lover of all things Disney, especially Walt Disney World and all its wonder. I have always loved the parks and have learned to appreciate them in a whole new light as I have grown up. As you can tell from seeing this blog, our favorites are exotic flavors, interesting takes on new dishes and lots and lots of wine. Needless to say, one of my favorite things about the Disney parks (and another reason I wish I could live in Florida like Amanda) is the annual EPCOT Food and Wine Festival that occurs each fall. Last year, I had the pleasure of experiencing this with Amanda as we were set to run the Wine and Dine half marathon (although Mother Nature had other plans–more on that later), and we were able to wander the entire world showcase sampling everything our hearts desired….well until about Japan and then we were very full  but that’s about half way around the “world.”

When we first arrived at EPCOT that weekend, we were absolutely famished. I’d like to say it was because we meticulously fasted to prepare for this gastro-event but I think it may have just been a mix of waking up late and laziness. Either way, my first stop was the Patagonia booth where I was served with the most delicious, wonderful, spicy Empanada. I know hunger is the best spice, so I wanted to make some of my own inspired by the Disney recipe to see if my version lived up to this happy memory. Let me tell you, these are amazing, and they are perfect to make if you have a free afternoon and want to stock up on some snacks for later. They freeze and cook wonderfully, and they are so flavorful, convenient and the crust is so flaky. My mouth is watering as I think back on them. Fortunately for me, I still have a few of these bad boys in my freezer. I think I might go grab one…

To make these delicious Ground Beef Empanadas, you will need:

Crust:

  • 6 cups all purpose flour plus more for dusting
  • 1 tablespoon of salt
  • 6 oz cold vegetable shortening, cubed
  • 2 oz cold butter, cubed
  • 1 cup ice water
  • 2 eggs, kept separate

Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 lbs ground beef*
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, color of your choice, diced
  • 2 tablespoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (i used chipotle smoked salt if you have it) plus a pinch
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground garlic

*As an experiment for this dish I used half traditional ground beef and also made half the empanadas with Beyond Beef crumbles which are a vegan meat alternative, and both types were delicious.

The crust:

  • Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and mix in the shortening with your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. It is important to leave some of the fat still intact in large clumps as this adds the classic pie crust flaky texture. This can also be incorporated in a food processor if you have one large enough or could be done in batches.
  • Beat together 1 of the eggs and 3/4 cup of  the ice water and add this to the flour mixture slowly and incorporate with a spoon. Depending on the day, you may not need additional water, however add the extra 1/4 cup as needed if it looks too dry.
  • Transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead 4-5 times and work the dough into two disks as evenly divided as possible. It is important not to over work the dough; as long as it is coming together the kneading is less important in this instance.
  • Place each disk into a zip-top bag, seal and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or until you are ready to put everything together.

For the filling:

  • Heat oil in a large saute pan and cook onions, bell peppers and a pinch of salt until soft.
  • Add the beef and the seasonings listed above and stir constantly until meat is browned and mixture is fully incorporated.
  • Allow to cool slightly so it’s easier to work with as you roll out your dough.

Assembly:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  • Flour a large surface and roll out one of the dough disks to as thin as you can get it–ideally about 1/8 inch thickness. This is the most labor intensive portion and if you are lucky enough to have a tortilla press, I highly recommend using it (although you probably already have an awesome empanada recipe if you have one but hey).
  • With a 5 inch diameter cutter (I used a bowl and a pizza cutter), cut 10 circles from the dough reshaping as needed. Repeat the rolling and cutting with the second disk until you have at least 20 circles.
  • Beat the second egg with 1/2 tablespoon of water and brush the outside edges of the circles to allow for easier sealing. Add about 2 tablespoons of your now cooled filling to the center of each circle, and fold the dough in half to form a crescent shape. Try to get as much air out of the inside as possible and press the tines of a fork into the edges to hold the seal.
  • Now that all of your empanadas are sealed, divide them between two baking sheets and brush the remaining egg wash onto the tops of each empanada.
  • Bake for 20 minutes or golden brown. Serve warm or, if you don’t want to each 20 empanadas right away, these freeze fantastically. Place however many you want to freeze, uncooked, on a baking sheet and place in freezer for 1 hour. Once the outsides are frozen, transfer them all to a zip top freezer bag (freezing on the pan first will prevent them sticking together) and bake at 400 for 25 minutes whenever you’re hungry–no defrosting necessary!

Wine Pairing: Since these empanadas had a little kick, I thought something with some deep berry flavors might match nicely and complement, so I paired these with a Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (Inti is the brand I chose) to keep with the Patagonian theme. This wine also had a peppery hint to it which meshed with the zing of the empanadas quite nicely. Enjoy!

Original recipe here: http://www.disneyfoodblog.com/2013/09/16/epcot-food-and-wine-festival-recipe-beef-empanadas/

Pao de Queijo aka Brazilian Cheesy Bread

Between the summer festivities in August, the upcoming Food and Wine Festival at Walt Disney World this fall (more on that later) and my own visits to a Brazilian steakhouse this summer, Amanda and I have been in a Brazilian state of mind for sure. While Brazil has a lot of traditional and interesting dishes to offer, these delightful little cheesy puffs of deliciousness pretty much could not be skipped in our eyes. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going to a Brazilian Steakhouse, these are usually on the table. While I usually try not to distract myself from the prize at any Churrascaria (aka the poles of meat floating around the restaurant ready to be sliced just for me and grabbed by my spiffy  meat tongs), these are not to be missed.

I read an amusing quote years ago somewhere in the caverns of the internet that went something to the effect of “I treat recipes like I treat science fiction novels. When I finish reading one, I think ‘Well, that’s never going to happen!’.” This is generally my thought when I read any recipe with special ingredients  that I’d have to take a special trip to the grocery store to locate and then to find out it was never stocked there in the first place. While Amanda and I probably have ingredients on this blog that might not be in everyone’s kitchen, I like to keep things on the generally simpler side maybe with a few substitutions here and there if and ingredient is completely out of the question. When I saw Tapioca flour/starch was needed, I hoped there was some way around it. I will say though, it seems to be worth it to just bite the bullet and get some. The chewiness and texture of the start is unique in my experience and while I’m sure someone out there could provide an alternative, I recommend trying it. It should be noted that this also makes these little beauties gluten-free, which I know is so trendy.

As a disclaimer, I’m sure that my method of putting these ingredients together is not traditional. Amanda utilized a different (probably more correct) method involving heating and cooling and then baking and quite frankly that sounds like a lot to me (see science fiction quote). This really could not have been simpler, and makes an excellent last minute side dish if you’re ever in need (and already have that tapioca). The most difficult thing was probably cleaning the food processor. Without further ado, I present:

To recreate Merideth’s attempt at Pao de Queijo, you will need:

  • 1 2/3 cups tapioca flour*
  • 1 cup grated queso fresco**
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup of milk (I used skim milk, but I’m sure it can only be improved with more fat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly greased muffin tin(s). This makes about 24ish puffs so you can do it in batches or all at once depending on your tin supply.

*Hint: At my grocery store, this was located with the baking goods next to the potato starch, and not the specialty gluten-free section. I have since seen it in this section as well though, so check both if you have them.

**Queso Fresco is fairly mild and 1 cup is certainly upping the ratio from initial attempts because I love the cheesy taste (and does anyone else hate measuring grated cheese? Just dump it in!). However, if you want maybe a bit sharper taste or if your grocery store isn’t the best with its cheese selection, you could use a combination of mozzarella and parmesan (or just parmesan) to equal about 2/3 cup. 

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees as you are putting everything else together.
  • Dump everything into a food processor and pulse until everything is smooth and blended. This created more of a batter than a dough, so this is where those greased muffin tins come in handy.
  • Fill each tin about 2/3-3/4 full and bake in the fully preheated oven for 20 minutes or until it puffs up and starts to develop brown spots.
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool to a non-mouth-burning temperature but be sure to enjoy warm.

If you do not have a food processor, you can go Amanda’s route and heat the milk, oil and salt until combined, then remove from the heat and add the cheese and flour until combined. Then, wait for the mixture to cool a bit. Add the egg and spoon into your muffin tins continuing instructions above.

Wine Pairing: Moscato pairs really well with these treats, as the sweetness balances the cheese while still keeping with the lightness of this snack. Of course, you’re probably making yourself a steak to go with these so you could always just pair a nice red Cabernet and see what happens. Enjoy!img_0827

 

Summer Dishes: Zucchini Fries

Continuing the summery theme, there is no vegetable that I enjoy more with the summer months more than summer squash, particularly zucchini. Something about it is so light and delicious, even when hot it’s somehow refreshing. I adore how versatile zucchini is–whether spiralized to create noodles, shredded into hashbrown type patties, or just sliced and roasted, I’m willing to try zucchini in all forms. So, with this versatile, summery vegetable I knew it had to make it’s way onto my plate. Since this was an accompaniment to the sweet potato and black bean burger, why not baked zucchini fries? Still somewhat nutritious while also providing a satisfying crunch to the meal. Also, definitely easy to make:

You will need:

1-2 zucchini’s cut into fry-like strips

3/4 cup flour

2 eggs, beaten

2 cups panko bread crumbs

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp italian seasoning

Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400

Set out three bowls and fill the first with flour, the second with the beaten eggs and the third with the panko and spices.

Dip a few zucchini strips into the flour, then the eggs, and then the panko and set  on a baking sheet. If you have a rack to elevate the fries above the pan, that would be ideal.

Repeat this process with all remaining zucchini strips and arrange on baking sheet so as much air can move between them as possible.

Bake for 10-15 minutes until panko begins to turn brown.