Empanadas

Most cultures have a pastry/hand pie like this one ….. empanadas are famous in many countries, but I’ve only had the pleasure of eating them in Mexico so that is what I have fashioned these after.  They can be deep fried, but I prefer baking them for fluffy, flaky pastry and creamy filling.  Extra bonus points for the way your house smells while they are baking!

Empanada 1

In today’s version I used chicken, onion & red pepper, topped with a chunk of jalapeño havarti.  The tomatillo salsa was delicious for dipping!

Empanadas are such a treat.  These will give you flaky pastry, and a creamy tasty filling.

Make sure when you roll out your dough that you do it a little thinner than you would for a pie – you want to make sure you have a good ratio of filling to crust.

Empanada 2

Saute onions and garlic until softened, then add red pepper and cook for only a couple more minutes.  Stir in cooked shredded chicken and season to taste.  In this version, I added a couple of tablespoons of tomatillo salsa, and then topped with jalapeño havarti cheese for an extra bit of kick and creaminess.

Other suggestions for empanada filling:

  • ground meat seasoned with taco spices, topped with Oaxaca string cheese
  • leftover pulled pork and pickled red onions
  • wilted spinach, sautéed mushrooms and feta cheese
  • go sweet with fruit, cinnamon and a bit of vanilla

I’ve included my pastry recipe here, but if you aren’t into making your own pastry go ahead and use a prepared frozen pie shell.  Just take it out and roll it a bit thinner.

Cut your pastry into rounds, brush beaten egg around the outside and then put about a tablespoon or two of filling in the middle, add some cheese on top.  You will want enough filling so that your ratio of stuffing to pastry is tasty.  Fold edges up together and press to seal.  Set them on a baking sheet and pinch/crimp the top to make sure it is well sealed.

Brush beaten egg over the top of the sealed empanada, and then poke a hole so steam can escape and the pastry doesn’t leak too much of your goods outside the shell.

Bake at 375 for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.  You can also freeze them on a cookie sheet at this point and bake later, from frozen.  Just bake a little longer.

Empanada 3

Oh, these were G O O D.  Before baking season the tops with salt and pepper.

Everybody loves flaky pie crust – but people are divided on whether to use shortening, lard or butter.  Through trial and error, I think I have found the best of them all – by combining lard and butter.  Try it ….. so light and flaky – you will love it.

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 cups white flour
  • 3/4 cup cold vegetable lard or (if you prefer) shortening
  • 3/4 cup cold butter
  • 5 tbsp very cold water
  • Lightly beat egg and vinegar

Whisk flour and salt

Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in lard/butter until pea sized.  Add very cold water to egg and vinegar mixture.  Make a hole in the center of the flour blend and stir in the egg/vinegar/water combination.  Work just until pastry comes together – adding slightly more liquid if it doesn’t, and if it is too wet, add a wee bit more flour.  Work together just until it all comes into a solid mass.  Knead very lightly on floured surface.  Wrap tightly and put in the fridge for at least 40 minutes.

Roll on lightly floured board until just thin enough to use for pie dough.

This recipe makes enough for 1 smaller pie (top and bottom) or a large deep dish pie crust bottom.

Mexican Pickled Vegetables (Escabeche)

Escabeche 1

Today’s version included potato slices, onions, carrots, cauliflower and zucchini.

Have you ever noticed those bowls of pickled vegetables at every taco stand you’ve been to in Mexico?  They are easy to make at home, fantastic to have in the fridge and add a flavourful zip to any side dish (or pizza!).  This recipe is perfect, feel free to use whatever vegetables you have on hand ….. I’d skip broccoli though as I have found that it doesn’t keep either it’s bright colour or crunch.

Ingredients

  • 8-10 jalapenos
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 onion
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • olive oil
  • 1.5 cups white vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (Kosher or sea salt)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano (use Mexican if you have it)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 8-10 cracked peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf

Instructions

  • Give the jalapenos a rinse and then cut into 1/4 inch slices.
  • Peel the carrots and cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • Peel and quarter the onion, chopping into thin slices
  • Peel and roughly chop the garlic
  • Heat a dollop of oil in a medium sized sauce pan on medium-high heat
  • Saute the onion and garlic for a few minutes
  • Add the jalapenos, carrots and the spices: ½ teaspoon oregano, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, 8-10 black peppercorns, 1 bay leaf.
  • Briefly saute and then add 1.5 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water, and 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer
  • Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the jalapenos turn army green
  • Fill each jar with the veggies and top with the brine
  • Store in an airtight container in the fridge
  • The jalapenos and carrots will have most of their flavor after a few hours of resting in the brine

I’ve tried a few recipes now from a blog …. “Mexican please”, and they are all great!  This is no exception.  I don’t use quite that many jalapeños (usually 2-3 large ones) and I also put in whatever vegetables I have on hand, cauliflower, zucchini, radish etc.  Just make sure to not overcook the more delicate vegetables.  For items like cauliflower and zucchini I only add them to the cooking liquid for a couple of minutes.  Be mindful of the amount of liquid you have and make sure you have enough to cover the vegetables once you get them into your pickling jars.  It is okay to top up with a bit more vinegar or water if need be.

Pork Carnitas

carnitas 5

A homemade corn tortilla, some pickled onions, avocado served with the tender pork and you have a perfect taco.

On our Mexican travels we have had some amazing carnitas, both in Michoacan, which is renowned for carnitas, but also at a Saturday mercado in Mexico City.  Once you have had great carnitas, that is something you will dream of when you get home!  Finally I’ve figured out how to do it at home, and it is the method as well as the recipe that is important.  

Ingredients

  • 2-2.5 lbs. pork shoulder
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lime
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 2-3 tablespoon oil

For serving:

  • 12-16 corn tortillas
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • freshly chopped cilantro
  • 3-4 limes, quartered

For the brine:

  • 1/2 cup sea or kosher salt
  • 2-3 quarts water

Instructions

  • Add 2 quarts cold water to a mixing bowl along with 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt.  Stir to dissolve.  Cut the pork shoulder into 2″ chunks.  Add the pork chunks to the brine, cover, and store in the fridge for an hour.  If the pork isn’t completely submerged just add a bit more water.
  • Once brined, remove the pork chunks and pat them dry.  Add them to a clean mixing bowl along with:  2 teaspoons Mexican oregano, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder (optional), 1 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons oil.  Combine well.
  • Add pork pieces to a casserole dish along with the juice of 1 orange, the juice of 1 lime, 1/2 onion cut into chunks, 1 jalapeno sliced in half, and 4 peeled garlic cloves.  I usually put the leftover orange pieces in the pan as well.   Cover tightly with foil and bake at 300F for three hours.
  • After three hours give it the fork tender test.  If you can insert a fork into the pork with no resistance then it’s done.  If the chunks are still firm give it another half hour.
  • Remove the pork and set aside.  Strain the resting liquid into a bowl and be sure to give it a taste!  As it sits the fat will rise to the top — you can remove some of the fat if you want but I use most of it.
  • To crisp up the Carnitas we’ll put the shredded pork chunks under the broiler (approx. 525F).   You can use the same baking dish, just be sure to remove the leftover fruit and veggie chunks.  Add the pork back to the dish and shred with two forks.  I usually give it a partial shred, leaving it chunky, but you can always shred finer if you want.
  • Drizzle some of the resting liquid over the pork and broil for 5 minutes.  Take a look and broil for another 5 minutes if you want it crispier.

 

For serving you’ll need corn tortillas, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion, some freshly chopped cilantro, the Salsa Verde, 3-4 limes, and cheese (optional).  You can warm up the tortillas in the oven but you’ll get happier faces if you crisp them up in hot dry skillet first.  I usually put a large skillet over medium high heat and crisp up 3-4 at a time, storing them in a tortilla warmer or tea towel.

If there are Carnitas leftovers, store in an airtight container in the fridge.  I usually store the resting liquid separately.  To re-heat, simply add pork to a saucepan along with some of the resting liquid, cover, and simmer over medium until heated through.
Carnitas 9

Chop the pork into 2 inch pieces and coat all over with the oil and seasonings.

Carnitas 8

Nestle all the pork in with the onion, jalapeño, garlic and squeeze the orange all over.  Tuck the orange pieces in, then cover tightly before slow roasting.

Carnitas 3

Three hours later this pork is tender and your house smells amazing.

Carnitas 4

I drizzled the pork with a little bacon fat just to add to the porky goodness.  Yum.

Carnitas 2

Put the pan under the broiler, and watch carefully – you only want a few crispy bits.

Carnitas 6

Stir the pork back into the cooking liquid and garnish with cilantro.

Carnitas 1

Fragrant and juicy tomatoes make a fantastic base for this refreshing Pico de Gallo.

Carnitas 10

What a fantastic bite!  Reminiscent of eating carnitas on a street corner or mercado in Mexico, we loved every morsel.

I’ve found this amazing new website (new to me anyway), and this recipe is courtesy of Mexicanplease …. check out that website, everything I’ve tried has been perfect …. including the flour tortillas made with bacon, delicious.

Halibut Veracruzana

halibut veracruzana

This is one of those recipes that is more a guideline.  Inspired by the flavours of fish we’ve had served in the style of Veracruz in Mexico, this is so easy to prepare at home, and if you have a good source of fish, give it a try!

You will need:

  • enough fish to feed your family (I’ve used halibut here but any white fish will work)
  • green olives
  • fresh tomatoes
  • black olives
  • capers
  • roasted red peppers
  • fresh red peppers
  • your best olive oil
  • lemon
  • sea salt & pepper

Generously butter a baking dish (extra points for using a pretty one that you can also serve this dish in!)

Lay in your fish, cut in serving size.

Chop the olives, peppers and fresh tomato, and then cover your fish with all the toppings.  Again, be generous with seasoning – liberally sprinkling salt and pepper over it all.  Then – squeeze a whole lemon and drizzle olive oil over the top.

Roast at 375 just until fish flakes nicely.  This will entirely depend on the thickness of your fish, so watch it carefully and check after 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, with a bright, crunchy salad on the side.  Add crusty bread to soak up those juicy drippings and you’ve got a quick easy dinner good enough for company.

Tossed Salad

Fajita Seasoning

Fajita Seasoning 1

Having this seasoning mix on hand makes dinner easy breezy!  (lemon squeezy??) Make a double batch and you can keep it for months in a cool, dry spot.  Use it on vegetables, fish or meat alike, these flavours go so well together and make dinner quick and simple.

  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

How easy is this? just toss it all into a bowl and thoroughly mix.  Do yourself a favour and make lots.

Fajita Seasoning

Just looking at this, you can tell it’s tasty, right??

This works with anything your imagination can come up with …. salad dressing or vegetable dip or seafood bake …. you let me know if you come up with more!

 

For fajitas:

  • protein (or not to make it vegetarian)
  • onions
  • peppers

 

To make fajitas, simply generously sprinkle slivered chicken (or any meat, seafood of your choice) and toss in fry pan until just cooked through.

Cook sliced peppers and onions separately so they don’t overcook.

Serve with:

  • lime crema (sounds fancy, but it’s just a squeeze of lime juice with sour cream and a bit of salt)
  • salsa
  • avocado
  • lime wedges
  • chopped cilantro
  • toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • tortillas

You can so easily turn this into what is crazy popular right now,  power bowls!  Just serve with cooked quinoa or grain of your choice.

Turn it into a sheet pan dinner, also featured everywhere right now, just generously sprinkle everything with the seasoning and toss it into a hot oven (?400?).

Yes, you are welcome, you didn’t know dinner could be so quick, easy, healthy and delicious, did you???

 

Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco Seasoning 1

How pretty is this colourful group of seasoning?

Ever noticed how many ingredients you can’t spell or pronounce on those premade taco seasoning packs??  Stop the madness with this mixture.  A little bit of flour makes the ground meat have a wee bit of a saucy texture.  Don’t stop at ground meat for goodness sake (pun? word play?)..  Sprinkle this over vegetables and roast them up – drizzle with a little lime crema and you’ve got an amazingly tasty dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne powder (use less if you aren’t keen on the heat)
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano

Mix all this up in a small bowl, and then have it on hand to season meat or vegetables.  You’ll be so glad you took a few minutes to get this ready.

Taco Seasoning 2

To use this for ground meat tacos, brown your meat in a fry pan, then add 2 tbsp mixture for each pound of ground meat and add about 2 tbsp water, stir and cook just until meat is cooked through.

If you want to leave the flour out altogether that is just great, that makes it even more versatile:

Salad Vinaigrette:  1 tbsp mix to 2 tbsp lime juice and 7 tbsp olive oil.

Vegetable (or chip!) Dip: 1 tbsp (or to taste) with 1/4 cup each plain yogurt and good mayonnaise.

Grilled Shrimp:   Sprinkle a generous amount over shrimp before grilling.

Taco Seasoning 3

I like to mix up 3 x this recipe and just keep it on hand.  Try it, you’ll do the same thing!

Crispy Crunchy Fish Tacos

Fish tacos 1

Crispy, crunchy, spicy & creamy – fish tacos don’t get any better!

Flaky white fish (cod today), coated in the crispiest, craggiest of batters, and topped with creamy avocado, spicy chipotle cream, fresh & crispy peanut cabbage coleslaw and cilantro.    Our favourite fish tacos in Mexico are found in Puerto Escondido at this amazing spot we just had to return to.  La Olito, you do it best!  No, I’m sure these are not exactly the same, but once you’ve had them you will also want to either hop a plane for Puerto Escondido or try my version.

 

BATTER

  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup rice flour
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • sea salt
  • 3/4 cup beer (maybe more if necessary)
  • 1 egg

This works for about 1 pound white fish, (halibut, cod, snapper).  Cut into 2″ pieces  and dust with salt and pepper, then a light coating of flour.

Combine flour, paprika, pepper & salt and whisk to combine.   Transfer half the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  Add the beer & egg to remaining mixture and whisk until a smooth batter (it should be about the consistency of paint).  Add a bit more beer at a time until it does.  Set aside.

Heat oil in deep fryer or fry pan to 350.

Take fish that has been coated in the light flour and dip in the batter, then into the dry spiced flour mixture.  Cook pieces a few at a time so that you don’t bring the temperature of the oil down by crowding the fish.  Turn fish a few times so that the entire fish piece is crispy, crunchy and golden brown.

As fish is cooked, keep warm in a 200 degree oven until all the fish is cooked.

Fish tacos 2

Serve with:

Chipotle Aoili

To make chipotle aoili combine:

  • 1/3 cup sour cream (feel free to use plain yogurt)
  • 1 minced chipotle chili in adobo sauce
  • 1 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper to taste

This is a generalization really …… everybody has different spice tastes, and all products have different levels of flavour.  Make this your own!

Peanut Coleslaw

roast 1/ cup peanuts lightly, chop and set aside

1-2 cups shredded cabbage (add carrot and red cabbage if you like)

  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tbsp peanut oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • salt & pepper to taste

Mix dressing ingredients together and toss with cabbage and peanuts

Heat tortillas, and fill up with fish, top with coleslaw, crema, avocado and cilantro.

 

If you haven’t packed your bags for Mexico yet …. get out the napkins and try these fish tacos.