Thursday, August 31, 2017

Individual Empanada Tartas

When I first posted my recipe for Empanada Tartas, I had no idea it would be so popular! Not only is it a delicious dish, but I think a lot of people watched the episode on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and wanted to know how to make the giant empanada.

We have made the Empanada Tartas for so many different occasions. It is the perfect weeknight dinner along with a salad or side dish. It is also great for a party.

This time, we wanted to try to make individual empanadas, and we were so pleased with how they turned out! You get the same delicious flavor, but all in a neat little package. I think these would work really well at a dinner party as an appetizer.

The beauty is that you can use whatever you want in the filling. You must use cream cheese - it adds the perfect tang and creaminess. Goat cheese would work equally well. After that, you can just stuff them with your favorite cooked vegetables. Just make sure not to use anything too wet since it would make the whole thing soggy. I really like putting a slice of roasted sweet potato or butternut squash on top of the cream cheese, and then piling whatever vegetables I have in my fridge on top. Onions, mushrooms and peppers are a great combo. In the pictures below, I sauteed some onions, brussels sprouts and corn. See the original post for more ideas and instructions.

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter
1 large egg
1/3 cup ice water
1 tbsp distilled white vinegar

~4 tbsp cream cheese (whipped or brick-style) - goat cheese could also be substituted
~ 1 1/2 cups cooked vegetables (see above)

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tbsp water

In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Cut the butter into cubes and add to the bowl. Using your hands (or a pastry blender or two knives), work the butter into the flour until you have small pieces/ribbons of butter that are no larger than the size of a pea. Put the whole bowl in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes to keep it cold.

In a small bowl, mix together the egg, water and vinegar.

Pull out your bowl from the fridge/freezer and add the egg mixture to the flour mixture. Use a fork or spoon to gently mix together until there are no visibly wet areas. Use your hands to help form it into a ball. It will seem like there is too much flour - that is okay!

Lay out a piece of plastic wrap onto your counter and dump the contents of the bowl on it. Use the plastic wrap to help guide the dough into a disc - it helps to act as a shield so it won't stick to your hands, and will help some of the excess flour adhere to the dough. Wrap the disc well with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 1-1.5 hours.

At this point you can roast up some veggies, if you don't have them already. Make sure you let them cool completely before adding to the dough.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Lightly flour a large work surface. (I like to use this pastry mat, since it has measurements on it.) Once the dough has been chilled, set it out and divide it into 12 equal portions. I like to use a food scale to make sure they are all equal in size, but you can definitely estimate it. The easiest way to do it by hand is to divide it in half, divide each of those portions in half, and then divide each of those into 3. Making small divisions feels a lot easier.

Keeping the rest of the dough portions covered with plastic wrap or a clean towel, roll out each one until it is a 5 inch circle about 1/8 inch thick. It doesn't have to be a perfect circle, but it does help if it is symmetrical since you will be folding it over.

Put ~1 tsp of cream cheese on one side of the dough, then top with ~1.5-2 tbsp of your veggies.

Carefully stretch the other side of the dough over it to close. Crimp the edges closed - you want to make sure it is sealed really well so nothing leaks out. Transfer to your parchment paper-lined baking tray, and repeat with the remaining 11 pieces of dough. Put 6 empanadas on each tray.

* If at any point the dough starts to feel too warm/soft, put it back in the fridge. The entire tray can even be kept in the fridge while you are working on them. You don't want the butter to melt out before baking, so keeping everything cold is essential.*

Brush the top of the empanadas with your egg wash. Bake until golden brown and flaky, for about 25 minutes. Make sure to switch positions of the baking trays halfway through. I like to swap from top to bottom racks, and to also rotate each pan 180 degrees.

Let cool for 5 minutes before eating.

These are best right out of the oven. If you are reheating them I find it works best to microwave for a short amount of time, just to warm (15-45 seconds, depending on how many you are heating at once) and then put them in the oven or toaster oven to crisp up. Keep leftovers in the refrigerator. 

Disclosure - I have included affiliate links in this post. If you buy any of the products I recommend on Amazon, I get a tiny tiny percentage of the sale, but it's still the same price for you

Friday, August 18, 2017

Date and Pecan Bars

I'm always looking for a healthy snack to get me through the afternoon slump. These bars are perfect. They are slightly sweet, full of fiber and protein, and are incredibly portable. I have traveled with these by car and by plane (and back) and they are super sturdy.

It takes a little while to cut up all of the dates, I won't lie about that. It's worth it in the end! You can also buy them pre-chopped, but they are more moist when you buy them whole. You can let them sit in the rum, stirring them occasionally, for up to 4 hours. If you don't want to use rum, feel free to use water or coffee.

Toasting the pecans is a step that I highly recommend you do. I prefer to buy my nuts raw, so I can toast them or add salt as needed. In this case, it is best to toast them prior to adding them to the bars. When making something like granola, they get toasted while everything else is cooking, so it is much better to use them while still raw.

Date and Pecan Bars
Adapted from Brown Eyed Baker
Yield: 16 2x2-inch bars

8 oz dates (pitted), diced
1 1/2 tbsp dark rum (or water or coffee)
1 cup chopped pecans
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp hot water (from the tap is fine)
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp table salt

Put the dates in a medium bowl and pour the rum on top. Stirring from time to time, let them sit for at least an hour, and up to 4 hours.

Line a 8x8 or 9x9 inch pyrex baking pan with foil and lightly spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread out pecans in an even layer on a small baking sheet. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until slightly darker and become fragrant. Keep an eye on them - they can burn quickly! Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the eggs and sugar until well combined. Add the vanilla, butter and hot water, mixing quickly so the eggs don't cook.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Add to the egg mixture and stir together gently until mostly combined. Add in the dates (and any extra liquid) and pecans, and fold everything until it is all evenly distributed. It will seem like you have too many dates and pecans for the amount of batter. I promise it will all bake up perfectly!

Pour into the prepared pan and level it off. It is very thick and sticky, so you will have to push it into the corners.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean when put in the center. Let cool for 10-15 minutes in the pan, then remove it (using the foil to help lift) and let cool completely on a cooling rack. Wait until they have cooled completely to cut into 2x2 inch squares.

Store for up to 3 days at room temperature, and for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. They can be frozen for longer storage. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

My Journey Through Exercise

For anyone who is new to the blog, or who read the blog several years ago, they might be wondering where the "working out" part of the blog is! After several long breaks from blogging I have put up several posts lately, but all have been on the "eating in" side of things. While it may be hard to imagine now, I used to post a lot of exercise posts!

I have tried doing a little bit of everything - circuits with free weights, body-weight spartacus-style workouts, tabatas, kettle bells, rock climbing, and lots and lots of running! Some of my posts were even pretty popular - I have a running graphic that has been pinned over 2,000 times and the post itself has also been read over 2,000 times.

In the several years since all of this activity, my workouts have ebbed and flowed. I spent a lot of time training for a few races, and during that time focused 100% on running. My body wasn't the biggest fan, and it led to a long period of complete stagnancy. I did not want to exercise, and I certainly did not want to run.

I spent a lot of time here

I got married last year, and spent the 8 months prior to the wedding trying to get back into a healthy routine. I was  successful, and I was proud of how I looked on my wedding day. I did a combination of jogging and high-intensity interval training. It was mostly fun, but after almost a year of working out because I felt like I had to, I gladly took a long break post-wedding.

Yoga was something I had an off and on relationship with. When I was a graduate student at the University of Virginia, I took yoga classes for the first time ever. I had an amazing instructor and from time to time I would go to her class once a week. During busy times, and once I moved to Connecticut, my yoga practice came to an abrupt halt. I was never a strong or talented yogi, and finding new classes seemed like something I didn't want to deal with.

A few months after the wedding, my husband gifted me a subscription for online yoga classes. It is probably one of the best gifts he has ever given me. I think I was at a point where I didn't want to do workouts of the intensity I had done previously. I needed something that would shape my body as well as soothe my mind. With access to over 1000 videos taught by 50 different instructors, I can find whatever it is I need at the moment I am looking. I have also found that the variety of classes and instructors has made my practice stronger. Everyone learns in a different way, and the combination of tips and suggestions that each of them give has provided a stronger connection to each of the poses, and makes me feel like I am getting more out of each individual class.

I am certainly not being paid to promote the website that I use, and I think there are a lot of different options out there that are equally great. I have been using My Yoga Works, and I know my husband got a big discount on the subscription through Living Social or Groupon. I think that it makes a great gift, either for someone you love, or better yet, for yourself! If you belong to a gym, check out their class schedule. You might find something that you love, that you never would have thought to try out.

I am also not suggesting that anyone do yoga and only yoga. This is what is making me happy right now, and I figure that is pretty important. I am also doing a lot of walking and hiking, since it's a fun way to get some exercise while also exploring and having a lot of fun.

A few of our favorite spots in Connecticut

Hiking in North Carolina

I am including some of my more popular exercise posts below, in case anyone wants to revisit them (or see them for the first time).

Happy workouts everyone! Just remember:

Popular Running Posts:

Kettle Bells:


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Roasted Eggplant and Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Almonds and Goat Cheese

I keep buying eggplant at my local farmers market because it is only $1 for a giant eggplant. Then it sits in my refrigerator for a week while I try to come up with the next recipe to make with it. First, I made Smitten Kitchen's Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella. It was fantastic and I had it for lunch every day for well over a week.

I wanted to try something different this week, and I came across a recipe for Roasted Eggplant Salad with Smoked Almonds and Goat Cheese on The Kitchn. I thought it sounded really tasty, but I wanted to make some changes, highlighted below.

The dish turned out so well! It tastes incredible! It is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, creamy and crunchy, silky and chewy. I had made it up for my lunch for the week, but I kept on walking by and sneaking tastes. As soon as I made it I decided I needed to get another eggplant at the next farmers market, just to make it again. I have now made it two times in the past week, and it is my new favorite lunch.

  • I thought that 1/3 cup of olive oil sounded high, and reduced it to 3 tablespoons while keeping everything else the same. 
  • I didn't have any fresh garlic so I used jarred crushed garlic, around 1.5 tsp of it. 
  • I took a trick from the recipe from last week, and I salted the chopped eggplant heavily and let it sit in a colander for 20-30 minutes while preparing the rest of the ingredients. Then, I rinsed and dried it well. This helps reduce some of the water content so it roasts more evenly. It is also probably why it took less time for mine to roast (noted below). 
  • My gigantic eggplant was 1.5 lbs so I used 1/2 lb of cauliflower. I think the two vegetables work really well together once roasted, plus it was another thing I got at the farmers market! If you don't like cauliflower or would prefer to only use eggplant, then use 2 lbs of just eggplant and it will be just as delicious.
  • I did not have smoked almonds so I used raw almonds that I then chopped and toasted in a 350 F oven for ~8 minutes
  • I don't love parsley, and never have it on hand, so I omitted it. I did not miss it. 
  • The green onions are not optional - they add such a nice flavor to the whole dish that I think you must include them. I mixed them into the dish instead of sprinkling on top, mostly because I misread the recipe, but I'm glad I did - you can taste them in every bite.
    Pro tip - after you use the green part, stick the white part (the root) in some water and they will continue to grow! 
  • My lemon was giant (yes, also from the farmers market) so I only needed 1/2 of it to get 2 tbsp of juice
  • If you don't have fresh lemon juice, you can use bottled lemon juice (this is what is pictured below)
  • I roasted the eggplant for less time than suggested since I didn't want it to completely fall apart while mixing everything. I roasted the eggplant for 25 minutes, stirring it after the first 15 minutes. I roasted the cauliflower for 35 minutes, stirring after the first 15 minutes and again at the 25 minute mark. 
  • I wanted to bulk this up a little to make it heartier as a meal. I cooked some pearled farro and mixed it in. Note that farro cooks differently if it is pearled, semi-pearled, or not pearled at all (I forget what it is actually called then). Mine is pearled and cooks in 15 minutes. I think it is easiest to cook farro just like pasta - to throw it in salted boiling water and cook until al dente, then drain. If you don't have farro, feel free to add in some brown rice or your favorite whole grain. 
  • I really liked the creaminess from the goat cheese, so I mixed all of it in while the dish was still warm and it mostly melted. If you would prefer separate crumbles, then wait until everything has cooled to add, or crumble some on top while you are eating. 
Roasted Eggplant and Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Almonds and Goat Cheese
Adapted from The Kitchn
Serves 4

1 1/2 lbs eggplant (2 small or 1 really big one)
Kosher salt
1/2 lb cauliflower
1/2 cup raw almonds (untoasted and unsalted)
1/2 cup pearled farro
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp honey
4 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1.5-2 tsp of the jarred stuff)
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions/green onions, green tops only
2 oz goat cheese

Preheat your oven to 400 F. If you also have a toaster oven, preheat that to 350 F. Line two large baking sheets and one small baking sheet with foil.

Cut up the eggplant in a 1 inch dice. Add to a colander, either set in the sink or over a large bowl, and sprinkle with kosher salt generously in multiple layers. Let the eggplant drain a little while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients.

Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized florets. I like small pieces because you increase the surface area (more browning) and it is easier to eat.

Roughly chop the nuts. If you have a toaster oven, roast at 350 F for 8-10 minutes, or until golden brown. Keep a close eye on them since they can burn very quickly! If you don't have a toaster oven, then start off with your regular oven at 350 F and cook them in there. Once the nuts are done, set them aside to cool. If you used your regular oven, turn it up to 400 F.

Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add your farro, and cook according to package instructions. If you are using pearled farro like I did, it should cook in about 15 minutes. Semi-pearled will take longer, and whole farro (not pearled at all) will take the longest. Once it has finished cooking, dump it into a separate colander to drain.

In a small bowl, add the olive oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Whisk thoroughly to combine.

Rinse off the eggplant and then pat dry with paper towels. Add to a large bowl, and pour the marinade over it. Toss well, and then quickly transfer the coated eggplant to one of your prepared baking sheets. If you leave the eggplant in the marinade for too long, it will soak up all of it, leaving none for your cauliflower.

Next toss the cauliflower in the remaining marinade, and pour that on the second large baking sheet. Put both baking sheets in the oven. After 15 minutes, stir everything very well. Put the baking sheets back in for an additional 10 minutes. At this point, the eggplant should be done (golden brown and soft without being completely collapsed). Stir the cauliflower well and put in for an additional 10 minutes, or until soft and caramelized.

Now it's time to mix everything together. Add your farro, eggplant and cauliflower to your large bowl (use the same one you tossed the veggies in before cooking). Pour the lemon juice and soy sauce over them, and toss gently. Add in the green onions, toasted almonds, and goat cheese and toss again to distribute all of the ingredients.

Either enjoy immediately, or let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator. This is best served warm, and reheats well in the microwave.

Wondering what the white stuff is on the fork?
That would be the last bit of goat cheese, scraped out of its package.
We really like goat cheese in my house