What to do with an abundant crop of cherries? Sure, you can eat them but they will go bad fast. Last year, we froze a large bag of cherries. I got them out in December and once again I had the same question. What to do with them? I discovered a recipe for a French dessert by the name of clafoutis. I made it two different ways, one on the stove top in a round pan and the other baked in Pyrex dish. It was delicious, although the frozen cherries turned dark as they thawed. The clafoutis was very good, kind of like a crepe batter cooked with cherries and also like a custard. The cherries and the dessert on the whole are not overly sweet, which is the usual treatment with cherries.
With a new crop of cherries, I was anxious to try the recipe again this spring. Nancy followed a recipe for clafoutis from Julia Child. It was also delicious and the cherries had a brighter look and better flavor. This picture below was taken before the dish was put in the oven to bake.
I got started on the end of summer tasks such as canning and pickling over Labor Day. I also baked a loaf of sourdough bread from a starter I’d been nursing for weeks. I was particularly pleased to get the first batch of tomatoes canned. The tomatoes are coming in late this year. I also made a batch of fresh chevre. Since I had the tomato sauce on the stove, I made a delicious tomato soup, adding fresh corn and chives.
It’s kind of a triple play for the kitchen — pickling, canning and baking.
I made this dish last night, a stir-fry with new broccoli, served with tender stems and leaves. I made a sauce with Tamarind paste and added mango to the chicken and mushrooms. Both in terms of taste and sight, broccoli was the standout.
Salad hates dressing, and dressing hates itself.
Let me explain. The greens we use in salad, whether or not they come from the lettuce family, are tender leaves with a shiny, waxy layer on the outside and thin cell walls within. The cells should be packed with moisture, enough to make the cell walls burst when we bite into them, creating the characteristic crunch that most people appreciate.
Some years ago around Christmas, I visited Argentina and fell in love with empanadas. They are small pastries that usually come with a meat filling. In Buenos Aires, you can find small shops that sell them as a specialty. They are ordinary, everyday pleasures but also a delicacy.
I’ve wanted to re-create those empanadas. I’ve been disappointed several times when I’ve ordered them in a restaurant, and even a version I had in Spain didn’t match the little treats I enjoyed in Argentina.
So I made my own empanadas over the holidays and here’s how they turned out.
The secret of empanadas is the pastry, which means that butter makes all the difference (1-1/2 sticks). I made the dough in advance and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days until I was ready to make them.
I found a good recipe in Cook’s Illustrated online. (It requires a subscription.) Here is a similar empanada dough recipe at laylita.com. You mix the ingredients in a food processor and roll it into a ball. This can be refrigerated and it is a good idea to do so even if you are making them the same day.
When you’re ready to make the empanadas, roll out the dough on a floured surface. I read that the dough should be about 1/8 of an inch thick. Next, you’ll cut out circles. The recipe said to use a 3″ biscuit cutter. Mine was about 2.5″ in diameter. Choose different sizes if you like. The small ones are nice as appetizers and in a tapas-type of meal. You can make them larger, but there’s something nice in keeping them bite-size.
I put the discs on parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I cooked a meat and cheese filling, which wasn’t particularly special. I also made a spinach filling for my family’s vegetarians. A teaspoon of filling on half the disc is all that’s needed. Then fold one half over the filling and use a fork to press and seal the edge.
I made about two trays, totaling about 40 empanadas. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. Before they went into the oven, I brushed egg yolk over the tops. I cooked them about 25 minutes and then let them cool down a bit.
I served them with a beet salad, made with rainbow beets from the garden and a homemade split-pea soup, which was based on a nice Deborah Madison recipe that didn’t call for blending the vegetables.) The empanadas stood out, and everyone loved them.
I had some dough leftover and several days made another batch of larger-sized empanadas, served again as an accompaniment to soup.
I could see getting into a routine of making empanadas regularly, keeping a ball of dough in the fridge. I could experiment with a variety of different fillings.
I’d bet that empanadas would be a hit with young kids as well, a good way to show a little love for the little ones.
Here are books recently bought or received as Christmas gifts that are on my Pillow Road reading list for the new year.
The Garden of Invention: Luther Burbank and the Business of Breeding Plants by Jane S. Smith. Burbank’s Goldridge Experimental Farm is less than a mile away from Pillow Road. I did not realize that Burbank came from a New England family of brickmakers, which were used to build mills. His background was more industrial than agricultural. He saw plants as an opportunity for inventors.
Hard to Swallow: A Brief History of Food by Richard W. Lacey. I found this book at a bargain price in a used bookstore (while shopping for others!) Published by Cambridge University Press, the book is by a microbiologist and media critic. It seems to be a fairly technical book, incorporating science and history while also considering the environmental consequences of industrial food production. I bought it for the chapter on food poisoning.
Useful Work versus Useless Toil by William Morris. This title is in the Penguin Books Great Ideas, short paperback books on select topics. In Chicago at the Art Institute recently, I did a quick drive-by of an Arts & Crafts exhibit featuring William Morris and the British movement he started. I slyly gifted this book to my daughter, Glenda, who was with me at the exhibit. Morris believed that machines de-valued work, and while I perhaps see machines differently than he did, I think there’s a real need to be thinking about the quality of the work we do now and in the future. It was really the major theme of Matthew B. Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft.
The Industrial Revolutionaires: The Making of the Modern World, 1776-1914 by Gavin Weightman. Carl Malamud pointed out this book to me. It’s a social history of the changes brought about by inventors and engineers. I’ve always been fascinated by the origins of the steam engine in Britain.
Dry Storeroom No. 1: The Secret Life of the Natural History Museum by Richard Fortey. Katie gave me this book, which I had not heard about. It’s about the British Natural History Museum, where Fortey worked for most of his careers. It’s a behind the scenes tour of the collections and the collectors. I’ve always like the term “natural history,” which also seems to have its origins as an idea in Britain.
Bay Area Produce Calendar by Krank Press. Glenda bought this small calendar on Etsy for me. I’ve set it out on my home desk because it’s really useful and nicely produced. For each month, the calendar lists what to plant and what’s in season. For January, I’m in good shape with chard, onions and spinach but the calendar reminds me I should have some radishes growing.
Earth to Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm by Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann. Katie and Ryan gave it to me. This looks like a reasonably practical cookbook shaped by the ideas of the Slow Food movement in America. I say practical because from what I’ve read in the introduction the authors seem to nicely bypass the heavy-handed ideology of the movement. They say that we all know what good food is and where it comes from. This book is as much about the photos of farm life as it is cooking. You wouldn’t want to order these kind of cookbooks on the Kindle and lose out on the colorful presentation that print makes possible.
Speaking of cookbooks, we watched the movie “Julie and Julia” after Christmas and I thoroughly enjoyed it. My big takeaway was that Julia Child was an amateur and she wrote for an audience of amateurs. She translated the fairly rigorous and esoteric aspects of professional French cooking for a largely female American audience of at-home cooks. Julie Powell is also an amateur, as we all are, cooking our own food and taking great enjoyment in it. As the authors of “Earth to Table” might say, we know what good food is and sharing it with others makes us happy. Julia Child lived it — hers was a rather simple recipe for good living.