Tag Archives: Fall

Spinach, Pear and Shaved Parmesan Salad

I love planning dinner party menus. Putting together a fun and unique combination of appetizers is always enjoyable and there are so many from which to choose. The entree requires a bit more thought, but it’s definitely the “meat” of the menu (no pun intended) and you know when you’ve found “the one.” The sides follow easily after that. And deciding on just the right dessert is – let’s face it – the icing on the cake. But for some reason, I seem to get stuck on the salad course. It’s always always the very last thing I add to my menu. I always change my mind a few times. I’m not sure why this is. Is it because I’m so clever and intuitive as to how a salad course should compliment and build up to the entree and dessert that I wait until last to decide? Probably not. Is it because so many salad courses include cheese and nuts and I’m a sensitive hostess who takes all potential food aversions very seriously? I do, but really, that’s not why. Is it because the dinner salad, put simply, just isn’t the sexy part of the meal? Perhaps.

This is where I got stuck last Thanksgiving during my menu planning. I had chosen a bean and kale salad at first – and  just typing those words makes me thankful that I  gave it a second thought. I finally found this spinach, pear and shaved Parmesan salad on BHG.com and I had that menu-planning Eureka! moment. And it didn’t disappoint. It’s so easy to make and it looks so beautiful on the dinner table. The tart mustard dressing is a perfect pair with the sweet slices of pair.

If you’re still stuck on your salad course for this weekend’s big dinner, I hope that this can maybe be your Eureka! menu moment.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 1 Bosch pear, quartered lengthwise, cored and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. Parmesan or Parmesano Reggiano cheese, shaved (you can do this ahead of time with a vegetable peeler and room temp cheese)
  • 2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. whole-grain mustard
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Combine spinach, pears and cheese. For dressing, whisk together vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper and sugar. Whisk in oil. Drizzle on salad and pass remaining.

Makes eight servings.

Beef Empanadas

I’m from the east coast and didn’t truly encounter any sort of empanada until I moved to Arizona in 2003. At first I kept a comfortable distance from all southwestern and Mexican food. I searched high and low for restaurants that served authentic versions of my beloved pasta, hoagies and pizza. I refused all avocado-laced hors d’oeuvres, dips and salads. I’m not quite sure when I realized exactly what I was missing out on, but one day after watching something on the Food Network featuring empanadas, I found myself wiping the drool off of my chin and thinking, “Yea, I think I’ll make empanadas.”

This is no simple commitment – everything is made from scratch, including the dough. But like most of the other cooking endeavors I’ve attempted over the past couple of years, making empanadas is by no means complex. If you have the time, this is a delicious alternative to your run-of-the-mill steak and potatoes dinner.

Empanada Dough

  • 4 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup or 8 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup ice water
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. (Mixture will look shaggy.) Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together and then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Form dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour. Dough can be chilled up to six hours total.

Empanada Filling:

  • 2 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped into bits
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 pound ground beef chuck
  • 2 tablespoons raisins (optional)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped pimiento-stuffed olives
  • 1 (14-ounce) can whole tomatoes in juice, drained, reserving 2 tablespoons juice, and chopped
  • 1 package frozen empanada pastry disks, thawed (or homemade, recipe follows)
  • About 4 cups vegetable oil and a deep-fat thermometer (if deep-frying)
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 teaspoons water (if baking)

Directions:

Cook onion in olive oil in a heavy medium skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Add garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in beef and cook, breaking up lumps with a fork, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes.

Add raisins, olives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and tomatoes with reserved juice, then cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced but mixture is still moist, about 5 minutes. Stir in hardboiled egg and spread on a plate to cool.

Lay a large sheet of plastic wrap on a dampened work surface (to help keep plastic in place), then roll out an empanada disk on plastic wrap to measure about 6 inches. Place 3 tablespoons meat mixture on disk. Moisten edges of disk with water and fold over to form a semicircle, then crimp with a fork. [You might see some different crimps in my pictures. The fork method really works best.] Make more empanadas in same manner.

If frying: Preheat oven to 200°F with rack in middle.

If baking: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 400°F.

Deep-frying instructions: Heat 3/4 inch vegetable oil in a deep 12-inch skillet over medium heat until it registers 360°F on thermometer. Fry empanadas, 2 or 3 at a time, turning once, until crisp and golden, 4 to 6 minutes per batch.

Transfer to a shallow baking pan and keep warm in oven. Return oil to 360°F between batches.

Baking instructions: Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until golden, about 25 minutes. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least five minutes.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing

Last fall when my husband asked me oh-so-sweetly if I would bake something for his office, I spent hours looking for the perfect (in other words simple and inexpensive) pumpkin recipe. Martha Stewart came through for me again with her pumpkin cupcake recipe. I made my own cream cheese icing to top them off and added a few sugary sprinkles for some texture. Rumor has it that these cupcakes were a huge hit and I was commissioned (ok, asked again by my husband in that same oh-so-sweet voice) to make them again.

Two weeks ago my husband got a promotion at work and he thought it would be nice to bring something in to welcome his new team. He quickly suggested the pumpkin cupcakes. This time they seemed even easier to make and I swear, they tasted at least five times better than last year! In fact, I might make them again for an afternoon get together this weekend. Not that I ‘m obsessed with them or anything…but really, they’re that good.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree.
  3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • 8 oz. package of cream cheese
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 lb. confectioner’s sugar

Directions

  1. Combine butter, cream cheese, add vanilla. Beat until smooth.
  2. Gradually add the sugar, while beating well.
  3. If mixture is too thick to spread, thin to a spreadable consistency by adding a small amount of milk.
  4. Leftover icing can be frozen for up to three months.