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.

S’mores Popcorn

 

Popcorn is such a wonderful snack. I have always said that even if I am completely full from a large meal, I still can’t resist a handful of popcorn if that buttery scent wafts my way. When Amanda and I have the rare chance to actually see one another in person, we usually like to have a lazy night in front of the television while having some long conversations solving the world’s problems and catching up on each other’s lives. It just so happens that this is also my favorite time to mindlessly munch on something savory. Amanda and I both have a love of chocolate and s’mores as well and so we knew we wanted to dress up popcorn in some way and s’mores are always a favorite.

To make this yummy popcorn treat, you’ll need:

6 cups popped popcorn, I prefer salted and buttered if not making it from a microwavable bag

1 cup chocolate chips

1 cup mini marshmallows

4 graham crackers

  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil (very important as we learned).
  • Spread out the popcorn on the baking sheet and try to remove any uncooked kernels if possible.
  • Crush the graham crackers into small pieces. I prefer to stick them in a zip top bag and pound with a mallet or crush with my hands.
  • In a micowaveable bowl, microwave the chocolate chips in 10-20 second intervals until chocolate is melted and smooth.
  • Drizzle chocolate over the popcorn, and try to avoid large globs. As you can see from our photo though, it’s not always possible.
  • Then, while chocolate is still liquefied, sprinkle the graham crackers and marshmallows over the popcorn.
  • Try to resist chowing down, and allow chocolate to harden. You could stick the pan in the fridge for fifteen minutes, and that usually does the trick.
  • To serve, you can eat straight off the baking sheet or break into smaller clumps and munch from a bowl. Enjoy!