Shrimp Empanadas


Empanadas, so yummy. (So poorly displayed. Oh well.) Easy to eat finger food. They lend themselves to all kinds of fillings and sauces. Whenever I serve them, they are all eaten, fast. In the never-ending quest for culinary perfection, I have been trying out several empanada dough, filling and sauce recipes over the last couple of years, and I have come to a winning formula.

Frozen Dough

I thought making empanada dough would be quite tedious. I imagined it taking forever to roll out 20 or 30 rounds. So I took the lazy route. I found frozen empanada dough at an outstanding Italian (!) grocery nearby, Lucca Ravioli Co. Interestingly, while you can get them at a couple of hispanic groceries in The Mission, the Hispanic markets around Sonoma don’t stock frozen empanada dough, a clue to me that it must be better and reasonably easy to do them by hand (or empanadas are not popular in Sonoma). If you choose to go this route for convenience’s sake, know that there are two kinds of frozen empanada dough, one for frying and one for baking. I don’t do deep frying, so I got the baking ones.

I thought they were a little cardboardy and they didn’t puff and didn’t brown well. So I leapt to the other extreme, and tried French butter puff pastry from the supermarket freezer. This was delicious, but it puffed too much. The empanadas got too big to eat easily, and they mostly popped open. I guess I could roll the pastry out thinner, but that’s getting close to what I would have to do with hand-made pastry.

Hand Made Dough

Once I made this pastry, I couldn’t believe I had put it off for so long. It’s simple, it behaves well, it delivers the goods, and you make it in a few minutes in a food processor.

I should have measured the thickness of the dough as I rolled it out, but I basically rolled until the dough started to get too thin to work easily. I cut the rounds with a 4″ cookie cutter. Because I was worried about the rounds sticking together, I cut out 30 circles of parchment paper the same size, and used them to separate the individual rounds as I stacked them up. The paper is reusable, and I keep it in a ziplock bag in the freezer.


You can put anything in empanadas that you could put in a pie or a calzone, though it should be pretty dry. People even make sweet empanadas with fruit fillings. The Argentinians love theirs filled with beef, of course, and they are delicious, especially with sliced olives, a raisin and a slice of hard boiled egg in each one. I have made squash and mushroom empanadas, chorizo and ham empanadas, Italian sausage empanadas. Today we are going to use shrimp.

No matter what the filling, you have to chop finely. You are only going to put a tablespoon or so of filling in an empanada, so that tablespoon has to be a good sample of the filling recipe. That means very small pieces, so sharpen your knife.

Working with shrimp makes this a bit problematic. If you chop shrimp too fine it will cook too fast or turn into paste. My solution was to mince the filling after it was cooked. First I chopped all the ingredients finely and cut the shrimp into quarters. I cooked up the onion/tomato sauce, added the shrimp quarters to poach in the liquid, quickly cooled it on a plate, and then spread it on a chopping board and minced it with my chef’s knife. Here it is cooling, prior to mincing. You can see I am looking for a very fine chop.



You have to pay attention to mise en place for your assembly station. Circling your workspace of about a foot square, you need the empanadas, the filling, with a spoon to measure it out, a small bowl of water, a cloth to wipe the workspace and your fingers, a fork to crimp the seal, and a lined baking tray to receive the finished pastries, ready for baking. I use a silpat sheet in the baking tray, because the empanadas don’t stick to it, and it cleans up easily after the inevitable in-oven leakage. The finger that wets the dough has to not have filling on it. The workspace needs to be dry when you put a pastry round on it.

There is a tension in making empanadas between the quite reasonable wish for more goodies, and the desire P1000931not to have the patries burst open in the oven. For my 4″ empanadas, a heaped tablespoon is about enough. You place an empanada round on your workspace, add the filling, and push it into itself, back from the edge. Wet a finger in the bowl of water and use it to dampen all the way around the rim. Fold the top over the filling, trying not to let filling get into the seal area. Press down on the rim with the back of the fork to seal the join. Be scrupulous in making sure the entire edge is crimped.


Pierce the top with the fork, and load the empanada onto the baking tray. When the tray is full, brush them with beaten egg and bake at 350F for 10-20 minutes, until well browned, but watch for the bottoms burning.


There are at least as many sauce recipes as there are filling recipes. Anything that goes with the filling works.  For these shrimp empanadas I made a spicy tomato and red bell pepper sauce, similar to a typical seafood cocktail sauce, as well as a classic chimichurri.

Now to the recipes.

Empanada DoughUntitled

3 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter cut into 12 pieces
1 egg
4-5 tbsp iced water

Place the flour and salt in a food processor and whirr to mix.

Add the butter, egg and 4 tbsp water. Process just until a clumpy dough forms. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to several days. (In the freezer, it will keep indefinitely. Thaw for a couple of hours in the fridge before using.)

Roll out into a thin sheet and cut into rounds about 4″ in diameter. Stack between circles of parchment paper. Cover with a damp cloth if you are using them straight away, or wrap in plastic and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Shrimp Empanada Filling

1 onion
2 garlic cloves
half a bunch flat leaf parsley
14oz can of whole tomatoes
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or hot paprika
1 tsp vinegar
1/4 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

Chop the onion finely and saute it until soft but not browned. Add the finely chopped garlic and cook another minute or so. Reach into the can of tomatoes with scissors and chop them up. Add to the onion and garlic and stir well. Chop up any big bits of tomatoes with the scissors. Add the sugar and vinegar and taste for salt.

Simmer until the onion does not taste raw and the sauce is thickened. This is where you can balance out the sauce flavor to taste with sweet/sour/salty and hot.

Meanwhile cut the shrimp down the vein and then across the body. When the sauce is ready, add the shrimp, turn the heat off, cover, and let the mixture sit until the shrimp is cooked, stirring a couple of times. Stir in the parsley.

Turn the mixture out onto a plate to cool, then transfer to a chopping board and further mince to reduce the size of the pieces to about 1/4″.

Tomato bell pepper Dipping Sauce

1 cup tomato ketchup
1 (7oz) jar of roasted red peppers, drained
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/2 – 1 tsp drained prepared horseradish

Blend the ingredients. Add salt to taste.

Chimichurri sauce

1 cup packed flat leaf Italian parsley
1/2 cup packed cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp crushed Aleppo pepper
1/2 tsp cumin

Blend all the ingredients. Add salt to taste.



This month our book club discussed a book by a Russian author, so we decided on a Russian menu. Our host made Circassian chicken. Something like this, I guess, so it turns out to be more Turkish than Russian, but we all enjoyed it. Another member brought blinis with caviar and sour cream. I decided on Borscht as the quintessential Russian dish.

Like many folk recipes, Borscht is more a technique than a single recipe. I did some research and pulled together what I think was the best of them. It certainly was delicious, and you make it in a single pot, which is always a plus.

Start by making beef broth from some short ribs and canned beef (or chicken) broth. Begin by browning the ribs.


Then in go the usual aromatics, as well as spices, herbs, and, of course, anchovies.


Simmer this for 2-3 hours until the meat is almost falling off the bone. Skim the froth periodically to keep the broth reasonably clear.


Remove the meat and let it cool. Discard the vegetables. Strain the broth through cheesecloth, let it stand until cool, then defat it.

Meanwhile, grate the beets and carrots, finely chop the onions and potatoes, slice the leeks and cabbage, and make up a cheesecloth sachet of herbs and spices.  The vegetables are sautéed in batches, and then all united back in the pot to cook for an hour.


Remove the sachet, stir in the now chopped meat. Warm through and serve with a dollop of sour cream and a sprig of dill.


Based mostly on a recipe by Natasha of

Serving: 8-10


3 lb Beef short ribs
2 onions, quartered
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 3” lengths
3 sticks celery, cut into 3” lengths
1 head garlic, cut through the middle
2 bay leaves
3 anchovies, chopped
8 cups beef stock


1/2 tablespoon juniper berries
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 dill sprigs
2 oregano sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
Wrap in cheesecloth and tie with string


4 large or 6 medium beets, washed, peeled and grated in a food processor
A healthy glug of red wine
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (I used verjus, because I had some)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 carrots, grated
2 leeks, sliced into half moons
2 large or 3 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped into ½” pieces
½ head of small cabbage, cored and sliced in a food processor
2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
2 bay leaves
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper

Garnish: Sour cream and fresh sprigs of dill.


Make the Stock

Salt the ribs, brown them in batches in a Dutch oven and remove to a plate. Add onion, carrots and celery and deglaze the pot with a splash of red wine. Add garlic, anchovies, bay leaves and stock and bring to a boil. Return the ribs to the pot. Cover and simmer over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, removing foam, until the meat is very tender (2-3 hours).

Remove and cool the ribs. Strain the broth through a cheesecloth sieve and defat it. Discard the vegetables and bones. Chop the meat into ½” dice, discarding big lumps of fat and connective tissue. Wipe out the Dutch oven.

Make the Soup

Sauté grated beets in the Dutch oven for 5 minutes with a little oil and a splash of vinegar, then reduce heat to med/low and add 1 tbsp sugar and 2 tbsp tomato paste. Sauté until starting to soften, stirring occasionally (~10 min). Remove to a plate.

In the same Dutch oven, sauté onion in 1 tbsp butter until transparent. Add leeks and grated carrot and sauté until softened (~5 min). Remove to the same plate.

Sauté the cabbage in 1 tbsp butter in the Dutch oven until it wilts. Add the tomatoes and wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add the stock. Add the herb-spice sachet, the cooked vegetables and the potatoes. Add more stock or water if necessary.

Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 1 hour. Remove the sachet. Stir in the vinegar and the chopped beef, and warm through. Check the seasoning.

Serve hot with fresh sprigs of dill and a dollop of sour cream.

Baked Sausage Pasta


Well I confess I lifted this one pretty directly from Smitten Kitchen. I was looking for some easy to make comfort food and came across this recipe. It took about an hour and a half from start to table. The deliciousness comes from sausage, mozzarella and Pec-Rom cheese. The virtuousness comes from the broccolini.


I was lucky enough to find a really good Italian pork sausage with fennel seed at Sonoma Market, which also had brocollini (also called broccoli rabe), to my surprise. You can substitute broccoli if you can’t find broccolini. The quality of the sausage is paramount, so it’s worth taking some time to find something better than the cooked pre-packs in the deli section.

The whole thing is very simple to make, so I’ll cut straight to the recipe.

Baked Pasta with Sausage and Broccolini

1lb chunky pasta. I used a mix, but anything with lots of edges works.
1lb sweet Italian sausage, skins removed
1 lb broccolini or broccoli, cut into 2″ lengths
1 cup finely grated Pecorino-Romano
6 oz dry mozzarella chopped into 3/4 inch cubes
2 cups full fat milk
4 tbsp unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
Fresh grated nutmeg

Set the oven to 400F.

Cook the pasta in salted water, according to the directions on the pack, and add the broccolini 5 minutes before the end of cooking. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

At the same time, cook the Italian sausage in a little oil, breaking it up and browning it. Transfer to the bowl with the pasta. Add the mozzarella and half the pec-rom, mix well, and pour into a greased casserole dish.

Melt the butter in the sausage pot and whisk in the flour. Cook for about a minute and then whisk in the milk, gradually at first. Add the garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cook on low, whisking often for about 10 minutes.

Check the seasonings, and then pour over the pasta mixture in the casserole dish. Sprinkle the rest of the pec-rom over the top.

Bake uncovered about 20 minutes, until the points are starting to brown. Switch on the broiler, and , watching carefully, allow the points to brown deeply.

Serve at once. This freezes well – reheat in a 300F oven.

Lamb Tagine

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Some people say there are only three basic categories of cuisine in the world, French, Chinese and Moroccan. Tagine is both the name of a class of Moroccan stews and the pot they are traditionally made in. We planned a celebratory dinner for our ceramics teacher, Tony Wise. (You can see his cooking and eating web site at So to make it more special, he made the tagines above that I used to make the dinner.

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Here we are outside the Sonoma Community Center, where he is Artist in Residence. (He’s the young good looking one.) He chose a fine red clay and paid special attention to compressing the clay during building to help make it withstand the thermal shocks of cooking. As you will see, the tagine went over an open flame, so it is quite robust. All the same, with ceramic cooking ware like this you need to avoid abrupt thermal shocks. I started the heating with the tagine on top of a fry pan to get it to warm up evenly. As usual with stews, I made it the day before, so to reheat it, I let it warm up to room temperature for an hour, and then put it in a cold oven, so it could heat slowly.

Also, you have to understand that the clay is porous. When you wash it, never use detergent or soap that would soak into the clay. Dry it in the oven for at least an hour at 300F, until you can no longer see condensation, or you risk mold growing on the damp clay.

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Moroccan tagines combine spices like cinnamon, cloves and cumin with dried fruits; in this case raisins and apricots. I started by browning the lamb in a frypan, because I wanted high heat to get a good fond going, and I was not sure I could do that in the ceramic tagine. I may have been wrong there, but I didn’t want to break it during first use.

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Once the lamb was browned I deglazed the pan with some red wine and saved it for later. Then it was the turn of the ceramic tagine on the stove top to fry the onions.

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In went the spices, tomatoes, stock and the lamb. I put it into a 275F oven for about 3 hours, then I added the fruit, made a little roux with the flour and stirred that in, and left it in the oven for another hour. Once it was cooled to about room temperature I put it in the fridge until the next day. There was no need to defat because I aggressively trim the lamb of visible fat. I served it with saffron rice, fruited couscous, and spiced carrots. There was not a scrap left.

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Moroccan Lamb Tagine

2 teaspoons ras-el-hanout*
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
½ cup red wine
1 can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
up to 3 cups chicken stock
3 lb boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/4 cups raisins
1 1/4 cups whole blanched almonds
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs flour
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Saute lamb in batches until brown. Set aside. Deglaze the pan with the red wine and then add ras-el-hanout, salt, pepper, ginger, saffron, tomatoes. Stir in the lamb, onion, garlic, cinnamon stick and enough stock to cover the lamb and bake at 275, covered, until lamb is very tender, about 2 hours.
Mix the flour with a little butter and stir it in, followed by raisins, almonds, honey, and ground cinnamon and continue to cook, covered, until meat is very tender, about an hour more.
Toast the almonds and sprinkle them over the top.

* Ras-Al_hanout is a blend of spices. The blend varies quite a lot. If you can’t find ready blended ras-al-hanout in a middle eastern store, you can make it yourself.  This is a typical recipe.

1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
I teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Provencal Beef Stew

I forgot to take pictures as I made this beef stew for our book club meeting. But here is my friend Heidi showing the finished product off for the camera.

beef stew

Like any beef stew, it is baked low and slow. I cooked it at 275 for 3 hours, left it to cool overnight, defatted it and cooked it again with the potatoes added for another 2 hours. The secret to beef stew is to add enough umami that it tastes very meaty. The sources in this recipe are: the browned beef itself, anchovies, mushrooms, and salt pork. Browning is critical. When I made a similar recipe for my widower father he was amazed that it was not gray. It turns out my mother used to just throw everything in the pot, including the stock and then put it in the oven. Please don’t do that!

I’m not sure where this recipe originated, but it has gone through a few transformations, anyway.

Provencal Beef Stew


3/4     ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
3 lbs    boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1½ inch chunks
1 1/2  teaspoons table salt
1          teaspoon ground black pepper
4          tablespoons olive oil
5          ounces salt pork, cut into 4 large pieces
4          large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch rounds (about 2 cups)
2          medium onions, halved and cut into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 4 cups)
4          medium cloves garlic sliced thin
2          tablespoons tomato paste
2          tablespoons all-purpose flour
1          bottle red wine (I prefer Zinfandel)
1          cup low-sodium chicken broth
1          cup niçoise olives, pitted and drained well
4          anchovy fillets , minced (about 1 teaspoon)
5          sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine
2          bay leaves
3          medium potatoes cut into chunks
1          can (14 1/2 ounces) whole tomatoes, drained and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2          zucchini
1          cup frozen peas
2          tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves

lemon juice


Cover mushrooms with 1 cup boiling water. When cool, lift mushrooms from liquid with fork and chop into 1/2-inch pieces (you should have about 4 tablespoons). Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer lined with a paper towel. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position; heat oven to 275 degrees. Dry beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Brown well in batches, using another tablespoon of oil for each batch. Be careful not to burn the fond. Transfer meat to a bowl as it is browned.

Reduce heat to medium and add carrots, onions, garlic, and tomato paste to now-empty pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until light brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Add wine, scraping pan bottom to loosen browned bits. Add salt pork, beef and any juices in bowl. Add enough broth to cover the beef. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to full simmer. Add mushrooms and their liquid, 1/2 cup olives, anchovies, thyme, and bay, distributing evenly and arranging beef so it is completely covered by liquid; cover partially and place in oven. Cook until fork inserted in beef meets little resistance (meat should not be falling apart), 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Discard salt pork, thyme, and bay leaves. Allow to stand until cool then refrigerate overnight. Defat using a spoon to scoop the fat off the surface. Add potatoes, tomatoes, zucchini, peas and remaining 1/2 cup olives. Bake another 1 – 2 hours uncovered at 275.  Stir in parsley and lemon juice to taste.

Caprese Salad with Cranberry Beans

I used to travel a lot to Munich on business. After the thrill of the first schweinhaxen wore off (a shank of pork baked to a crisp skin, served on a board with a knife stuck in it) I was soon searching for the kind of California-Mediterranean food that I love. Caprese salad was my savior: tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic vinegar and oil, hopefully served with crusty bread.

I found myself making this salad last weekend, using heirloom tomatoes from Paul’s Patch in Sonoma, Italian buffalo mozzarella from Sonoma Market, and home-grown basil. While I was at the market I saw fresh cranberry beans, so I added them for protein and general deliciousness. It made a perfect lunch with frozen pita bread that I had made last week, thawed, and then warmed in a toaster.

This is a simple salad, so the quality of all the ingredients comes through strongly. You need the best of everything to make it really work. This is why I use buffalo mozzarella at 4 times the price of local mozzarella, and only make it when I can get ripe heirloom tomatoes.

Caprese and beans

Caprese Salad

Serves 2 with leftover beans.

2-4 heirloom tomatoes, depending on their size. I like to get different colors.
4 oz buffalo mozzarella
Your best aged balsamic vinegar. It should be sweet and syrupy.
Your best olive oil

Core and slice the tomatoes and slice the mozzarella. Pull the basil leaves off the stems. Assemble the salad by laying down a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella and one or two basil leaves. Repeat this pattern until you run out of ingredients. I like to curl the salad around a circular plate. Grind salt and pepper generously over the salad. With your thumb over the mouths of the bottles, sprinkle with balsamic then oil.

Cranberry beans

About a pound of fresh cranberry beans
1 whole peeled shallot
1 peeled carrot
1 stick celery
Flat leaf parsley

Shell the beans and boil them in well-salted water with the vegetables for about 20 minutes, until they are not mealy and the skins are not tough. However, they should not cook so much that they rupture. Drain, discard the vegetables, dry the beans in a dishcloth, and toss with with oil, fleur de sel and chopped parsley. Ladle the beans into the middle of the salad.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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Our film group meets once a month to talk about our chosen film. The host provides the entree and the rest of us bring contributions, agreed ahead of time. Maybe it is a gourmet food club with the excuse of film. We often wonder.

This month our host was the regular provider of dessert. She would be distracted by the entree, so I jumped in to fill the gap. Why? After all, we hardly ever eat desserts. But some months ago we sowed a rhubarb plant, which survived, even though it was somewhat neglected. Then I noticed lately that there were real usable stalks on it. And just down the road from us is an organic, picked-today strawberry stand, so I volunteered for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.

This pie has two challenges: (1) like any pie: the crust, and (2) the very wet filling.

Problemo Numero Uno. I pinged my circle for help, and in the end I chose my favorite dough, the Cook’s Illustrated Vodka Pastry Dough. Their argument is that you need moisture to make dough, but water encourages gluten, which can become tough, so they replace half the water with vodka. Of course all the water and all the alcohol boil off during baking.

So far so good, but as I began to roll out the very sticky pastry into 9″ circles as instructed, I realized I had 12″ pie dished, so I had to roll the pastry very thin between sheets of parchment paper. I was terrified that the thin pastry would just disintegrate when I came to cut it.

Problem 2. Both rhubarb and strawberries are very wet fruit. There is a risk that all this water will overwhelm the bottom crust and we’ll end up with slimy uncooked wet dough. Not nice. Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen studied this problem and determined that Quick Cooking Tapioca was the best way to soak up all the moisture. The results showed she was right.

The pie was spectacular. Even the lower crust was crisp. There was a perfect balance of acid and sweetness. The filling held together and didn’t puddle. Everyone at the film club meeting, even those on diets, devoured the pie. This was all that was left.

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I could take up baking if everything turned out this well.

Vodka Pie Crust


Makes one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2cup (7 oz)  cold vegetable shortening, cut into pieces
1/4 cup ice-cold water3
1/4 cup ice-cold water


Process 1½ cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous and dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds. Add remaining cup of flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. With blender running, pour in vodka and water. Pulse until dough sticks together. Turn out dough and gently roll into a rough cylinder. Cut off 1/3  and flatten each section into a disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.


Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

3/4  lb rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1 1/2  lb strawberries, hulled and halved
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk blended with 1 teaspoon water


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a well-floured counter, or between sheets of parchment, roll the big section of pie dough into a circle and transfer to the pie plate.

Stir together rhubarb, strawberries, sugars, lemon, salt and tapioca in a large bowl. Mound filling inside bottom pie crust and dot with bits of unsalted butter. Roll smaller section of pie dough into a circle and layer it over the pie filling. Crimp the edges and cut decorative slits into the top.

Brush egg yolk mixture over pie. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Put pie plate on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 25 to 30 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly.

Transfer pie to wire rack to cool for at least two hours.

Baking High Hydration Bread

cropped-basic-bread-copy.jpg I promised I would write about high hydration bread when I had the pix, so here we go.  If you want to skip all the description, the recipe is at the bottom of the post. Hydration refers to the amount of water in the bread as a ratio to the amount of flour, by weight. So 75% hydration dough has 3/4 as much water as flour. That’s what I am making, based on a recipe from my new fave bread book, “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish. Why high-hydration? It’s what creates that amazing open texture because the dough is so wet, the yeast can blow it up into bubbles with CO2. Also, you can do the whole mixing process by hand without serious exertion. There is no way to knead this dough. The process starts with a pre-ferment, meaning we mix some water flour and yeast and let it ferment for a while before we make the dough. This gets you a lot of the complexity of sourdough without the hassle of keeping a culture alive. Half the weight of this bread comes from the pre-ferment, so even though the terminology talks about pre-ferment and dough, it’s really just a 2-3 day process to make the bread. Because the pre-ferment is wet, it’s called a poolish. (I would call a dry pre-ferment a biga, though the words are used loosely.) The poolish is made from 500g bread flour (I use King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill), 500g warm water(about 85F) and 1/8 tsp instant yeast. I don’t weigh the yeast because my scale is not accurate for such a small amount. Mix this by hand in a plastic tub at dinner time and leave overnight. Here is is next morning, risen to about triple its original size. 2014-09-05 08.09.02By about 9:00am next day it’s time to make the bread dough. We start with another 500g of flour. The original recipe was for all bread flour, but lately I’ve been adding durum flour to make it a more creamy color, spelt flour for additional taste and whole wheat flour for texture and color. The proportions are flexible. Last time I used 250g bread flour, 100g wholemeal flour, 100g of King Arthur Flour Ancient Grains (30% each amaranth, millet and sorghum plus 10% quinoa) and 50g spelt flour. To this we add 21 g salt, another 2/4 tsp yeast. The easiest way to get the poolish out is to pour the 275g quite warm water at 104F around the edge of the poolish then pour the whole mess into the flour.

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Now mix by hand until no longer lumpy. The technique is a mixture of scooping from underneath and folding, combined with pinching into lumps by clenching part of the fist. Its very messy. Forkin says you can wet your hand to stop it sticking, but you have to get so down and dirty with the mixing that I don’t find this helps much. I mix with my right hand and periodically use my left hand as a squeegee to get the dough off the right. The great thing about mixing by hand is that you can feel when you have achieve a well mixed dough. It will be pretty shaggy and stickily unmanageable still but it won’t be lumpy. The downside is that with hairy hands and arms like mine, I am finding little pieces of dough stuck to myself for hours. 2014-09-05 08.18.22 Use a dough scraper to clean up the sides of the tub, label a point that represents a tripling in volume, and put the tub in a warm place.

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During the first hour and half, you need to do 3 – 4 turns. To do a turn, you wet your hand, reach under the dough, grab a section and lift it up as far as it will go without tearing, then slap it down across the dough mass. I find it works better to dig into the dough with the side of the hand rather than the fingertips. Rotate the tub, wet your hand again, and repeat this half a dozen times to create a good mixing. As the dough matures you can feel and see it becoming much more elastic. I stop folding once the dough feels like proper bread dough – smooth and elastic. Then it just sits, and yeast works its magic for about 3-4 hours. Time to form the loaves. This dough is really wet. Once you coax it out of the tub onto a floured counter, it sits like a quivering blob.

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Make a line of flour across it and cut it in half with a bench knife. Taking each half in turn, flour the top and encourage into a ball shape. Forkin’s technique is to surround it with both hand and drag it towards you over a relatively flourless part of the board, rotate and repeat until the surface has a little tautness and the seams have sealed up.

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I proof the bread in baskets lined with cotton and dusted with rice flour, bread pretty side down, covered with oiled plastic wrap. Alternatively, you can put them in the fridge in a plastic bag sprayed inside with oil, and bake them the next day, straight from the fridge. This gives you more schedule flexibility and adds even more flavor. I let them proof until they just overfill the baskets about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, depending on the air temperature. Once this happens, put one in the fridge to retard it while you bake the other. You need to preheat the oven to 475F about an hour before this, so you have to pay some attention.

I bake the loaves in an iron pot. Forkin recommends a Le Crueset, but I think he’s crazy – it requires too much handling of the dough, and I’m sure I would burn my hands on the side of the pot while placing the dough. Cast iron at 475F is pretty unforgiving on human flesh. The iron pot is like an iron casserole with an iron frypan for a lid. You put the loaf in the lid and put the pot over the top. That way you have a low-rim container to deal with, not a tall casserole pot.

To transfer the loaves to the pot, cut a circle of parchment paper the size of a dinner plate Leave a big tab in one place. Put the paper on the plate and invert it onto the loaf. Pick up the loaf in its basket, plate and paper and invert the while thing. Now you can carefully lift off the basket to leave the loaf sitting on the parchment on the plate. I dust off any excess flour at this point. Place the plate so the loaf is correctly placed relative to the pot, tilt the edge of the plate down, hold the loaf in place with the tab on the parchment paper, and gently slide the plate away, letting the loaf settle into the pot. Now put the pot together and place it in the 475F oven.

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Beware: most oven mitts start to break down over 400F. Silicon will melt onto your fingers, transferring a lot of heat to your hand. I got kevlar gloves from amazon that I use only for bread. Welding gloves are another option.

After 5 minutes turn the oven down to 450, and after another 15 minutes take the lid off the pot. Leave the lid in the oven do it doesn’t cool down. Bake another 15 minutes, then crack the oven door open with a wooden spoon and bake another 5 minutes until well browned.

You need to reheat the oven and pot before doing the other loaf.

basic bread   I usually cut the loaves in half and freeze them that way. Thawed, they make spectacular crunchy toast. Putting more than just butter on them seems a shame, as they have a tremendous depth of flavor.

The Recipe


Make this at 6:00 pm to be ready for the following 9:00am.

500g bread flour
500 g water at 80F
1/8 tsp yeast


Mix. Turn 3-4 times in the first 90 minutes. Stand until tripled. Form into loaves. Proof at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Bake at 475F for 5 minutes, 450F for 15 minutes. Remove the lid and bake 15 minutes. Crack the oven door and bake for 5 minutes.

250g bread flour
250g other flours
275g water at 104F
21g salt
3/4 tsp yeast





Syllabification: ril·lettes


Pâté made of minced pork or other light meat, seasoned and combined with fat.

I signed up for appetizers for a small 4th of July dinner party at a friend’s house. Then the guest list grew. To a total of 24 people. So I had to rethink my original plan.

Last summer I made pork rillettes after having some at another friend’s house party, so I thought I’d do them again. This is the fattiest way of serving pork I know, but somehow it works as a kind of country pâté, made with plenty of salt and served at room temperature or a little cooler on crackers or cripsbreads with mustard and pickled red onions on the side.

First the meat. The pork is slow braised for a couple of hours, so you want cuts rich in connective tissue. Fat is a big part of the appeal so cuts that might give you pause for a dish to be served for dinner have their place here. I chose pork shoulder and ribs.

The Meat

This is about 1 1/2 lbs of pork shoulder and 3 country style pork ribs, about a pound. They get chopped roughly and seasoned with quite a lot of salt.

Meat, chopped

Step one is to brown the meat in batches in a big heavy pot, to create a fond, render some of the fat, and make the meat tastier (thank you Louis-Camille Maillard, about whom more here). I started things off with a little bacon fat.

The meat starts to cook

It took four batches. It’s critical to keep the temperature right while you do this. Too cool and the meat doesn’t brown properly. Too hot and the fond burns. It should bubble and burble along. If you see traces of blackening, turn it down and swish everything around to even out the temperature. This is one of those times when you are so glad you bought a spatter screen.

Browned meat

I was pretty happy with this fond          Fond

Purists make rillettes with pork alone, but I think there is a lot to be said for making the flavors more complex with the usual aromatic suspects: leeks, shallots, carrots, celery, garlic. I just pulled the carrots from the garden which is why they are not market-perfect. There are some bay leaves, pepper corns, cloves and thyme there too. They get bundled into a cheesecloth package.

The AromaticsAromatics and herbs ready to go

There’s no need to chop carefully, since everything is going to disintegrate anyway. That is, except the carrots. I pull them out later so the orange is not a distraction in the finished rillettes. (Next time I might chop them bigger to make that task a little easier, though it wasn’t too much of a chore.)

In go the aromatics. I always add a splash of white wine to help deglaze the pot. You just want to cook until the shallot softens and goes transparent.

Aromatics softening

Back goes the meat, a splash of Pastis, and a 1/2 a cup of chicken stock.

Sidebar: Pastis is the generic name for aniseed flavored aperitifs. Pernod is the most common, but I found the Marseilles specialty, Ricard. I am sure I know this from film noir, so it felt more decadent. I was in Paris once with a bunch of software engineers, and ordered Pernod as an aperitif, to everyone’s astonishment. It’s one of those drinks that turns cloudy when you add water and it tastes of licorice.

PastisReady to braise

Bring the pork back to the boil, and then it goes into a long slow oven

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This low temp reduces most of the sinew down to gelatin and collagen and dissolves the bonds that hold the meat strands together. Don’t skimp on this. 3 hours is a good guess. You want all the meat to be meltingly tender. Better to do an extra half hour than not be sure. Stir every 20 minutes or so.

Next time I would put a round of parchment paper over the mixture and then seal the pot with foil. Why? Because it keeps in the juices until you are ready to boil them off.

Now you can take a break, or, as I did, make salmon rillettes.

Time passes. Mountains rise, mountains crumble. Finally the pork is cooked. Let it cool: the next step is best done with your hands.

Some pour off fat at this point under the guise of possibly adding it back later. To them I say, be brave. This is not diet food.

Pull out the sachet and the carrot. You coud leave the carrot in to provide a visual texture. If that is your wish, then take it out, finely chop it and add it back.

Pick through the pork by hand, discarding bone, gristle, and lumps of gelatinous stuff. There isn’t much.

Clean the pork

Now we need to create texture. I thought a food processor would produce paste, so I used a pastry cutter. It didn’t work. Pulse it in the food processor for a few seconds.

Press the rillettes down into some containers. You want to push out the air, and level the surface better than this. (I fixed it later.) The back of a serving spoon is good for this. We’re eating these in a couple of days. If you’re keeping it longer, pack it into sterilized mason jars and store it in the fridge.

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Here it is with the duck fat cap.

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Take this off before serving or people get anxious. Close to room temp is best for eating.

Bubbly Bread

There is something primal about making and serving bread. The fact that you can control the transformation from dry ingredients to the living breathing thing that will become what you want is incredible. Then in the fire it emerges as bread with crust and crumb and texture. Serve it with butter or oil for dipping alongside dinner, toasted to a brittle and delicate crisp for breakfast, perhaps topped with a poached egg, make sandwiches to take on a picnic.

This is a teaser post. I really want to write about bread but I don’t have the step by step pix yet.

For a couple of years I have been perfecting a dense loaf full of seeds and goodness that my wife calls a meal in a slice. It is solid enough that it broke the gear box of my top end Kitchen Aid stand mixer twice, and I had to buy a Hobart commercial mixer. Here’s how it looks fresh out of the oven. 2014-02-21 13.36.38

But what secretly fascinates me is high-hydration breads made in the Tartine style: very wet, made in a tub, folded not kneaded, and by hand, cooked almost to burning. I ate Tartine sourdough bread in restaurants, and enjoyed its almost charred crisp crust and highly textured interior, but I truly fell in love with this bread when I read Tad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book and, following their instructions, was able to bake their bread quite successfully at home. This was my first experience with high hydration doughs.

But I found that maintaining a sourdough levain when you only bake bread once every couple of weeks is way too much hassle. I was discarding more flour than I was using. I started wondering how to use a pre-ferment instead of the sourdough. I actually began to do arithmetic with baker’s percentages,when, luckily for me and for you, gentle reader,  I found that people a lot more knowledgeable than I had written books about it.

I came across Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible” then “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish. They focus on making breads with pre-ferments that sit out or in the fridge overnight. This slow fermentation creates lots of flavor compounds in the same way that sourdough does, but different compounds.  The taste is not identical to sourdough, but I’m not trying to imitate sourdough. The goal is to use clever techniques to make great bread without excessive effort.

One of the better things about the Tartine technique is that you do the whole thing by hand in a plastic tub, so you have only one thing to clean. That is apart from many hairs on your hands and wrists, which, no matter how well you clean yourself, will collect tiny pellets of dough to be picked off later, when hard.

This dough is like no other material I have ever encountered. As you dig your wet hand into it, drag out a lobe and slap it back over the other side, it feels nothing like a classical stand mixer bread dough. The dough is so delicate and filled with gas and yet so malleable. When I was forming the dough into loaves, it jiggled.

Here’s a finished product made from the Forkish book. You can see the characteristic big holes. It shows a remarkable amount of oven spring, even after I had to maul it because it stuck to the proofing basket. (Much more flour next time. When I watched Ken’s videos I realized he uses a LOT more flour than I did, in general). But  the mishap created an interesting gnarled exterior, and it has gorgeous color, gorgeous texture, fabulous flavor, perfect as toast. Next time a little durum flour for the creamy color. basic bread copy
More on this soon.