Apple Pie Empanadas

I hope everyone had a wonderful FROZEN Valentines weekend! And a Happy Presidents Day to you, on yet ANOTHER frozen day. I don’t know about anyone else, but COVID, coupled with arctic weather conditions is enough to make anyone go stir crazy. I find that all I’ve been doing is BAKING, EATING, more BAKING and EATING, well, OK, truth be told, I do also try to paint here and there (if you get bored enough during these dire living conditions, you can check out some of them on my Instagram page.). If you’ve scrolled through my site, you may have noticed lots and lots of baking posts. HA. Yes, that is how bad it has been.

All thing considered, it truly is not all that bad. I appreciate all this time I get to spend at home, with no social obligations, traffic, or crowds, and getting to focus on all my hobbies. I’ve never had this much time to paint, garden, bake, cook, walk my two precious puppies, read, binge-watch shows…and share all the recipes I’ve been testing out since March 2020!

I am a huge fan of old-fashioned apple pies. No bells and whistles, just the delish dichotomy of sweet-salty with a touch of tart, wrapped in flakey dough. What’s even better is making them into little pockets that are freezer-friendly and great for when we can all finally get together again and have friends and family over! The photos you see here are empanadas made with whole wheat flour. I try to be healthy. 😉 I’ll post again when I make a more keto-friendly empanada. I found some recipes that use almond flour, which sounds promising to me! I also made savory empanada with a black-bean and veggie sautĂ© (black beans, kale, arugula, yellow onion, celery, garlic, purple cabbage).

Apple Pie Filling

  • 3 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoons light brown sugar, packede
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 of a large lemon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoon cornstarch

Instructions

  1. In a large pot, thoroughly coat the apples with lemon juice. Add sugar, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt.
  2. In a medium pot, melt butter over medium heat.  Add apple mixture and coat with melted butter.
  3. Cover lid, allow to simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, so that the mix doesn’t stick to the pot.
  4. Remove from heat and transfer to heatproof bowl.
  5. Set aside as you make the empanada dough.
  6. Be sure the apple filling has cooled to room temperature when it’s time to start making the empanadas.

Dough Ingredients

Makes about 8 large empanadas

  • 2 1/4 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) very cold butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes ~ I LOVE Kerry Gold unsalted butter. Add another stick of butter if you want this extra flaky.
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 2 tablespoons organic milk
  • 1 tablespoon distilled vinegar
  • 1 glass of ice water ~ you will only use 1/3 cup

Instructions

  1. Sift flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add butter and blend with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps.
  3. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork.
  4. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated. Your dough will look shaggy.
  5. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Do not overmix and over knead.
  6. Form dough into a flat rectangle and chill, wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

Form Empanadas

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Position an oven rack at the top.
  2. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Gently roll out the dough into a log. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces and form each into a ball. I find that it’s easier to roll the dough ball on a hard surface, using the center of my palm. They do not have to be perfect.
  4. >Roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 8″ circle. Keep remaining pieces covered with a cheesecloth, chilled if possible.
  5. Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons filling to the center and fold dough in half, enclosing filling.
  6. Press edges together with your finger tips, press a fork around edges to seal.
  7. Transfer empanada to a large freezer-proof plate. Repeat to make the remaining 7 empanadas.
  8. Freeze until just firm, about 15-20 minutes.
  9. Lightly brush empanadas with some of egg wash and bake until golden, about 25 minutes.
  10. Transfer empanadas to a rack to cool at least 5 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature with some hot tea. YUM!

Sprouting and Growing Scallions

luluesque-sprout scallions

 

If you compost, you’re probably in the habit of automatically chucking all your kitchen scraps into a temporary bin on the countertop, then later dumping the contents in your backyard compost heap. Well, it is a new year, why not add another “RE-” to your lifestyle, after all, you are already REusing, REcycling, REpurposing, REducing, etc. Now, try RE-sprouting some produce!

How to Choose

I recommend buying organic scallions when possible, which is good for the soil AND soul. Also, because we plan on investing in them, we want to start with quality produce. When choosing scallions, be sure to pull more towards the back of the selection, as stockers are supposed to pull/push older produce to the front. You want the color to be a bright or darker green. Do not buy yellowing or wilting scallions.

How to Root

Go about your cooking adventures…

  1. Wash the scallions thoroughly to remove any soil/grit
  2. Remove any yellowing or wilted leaves
  3. Cut the scallions with a sharp knife, leaving about 1″ of green in tact
  4. Fill a small glass, jar, or mug with distilled water. Clean rain water is the best choice as it provides fresh water Mother Nature has already injected with nutrients. If all you have it tap water, that works just fine.
  5. Fill just enough water to cover the white part of the scallions
  6. Do not fill all the way up
  7. Change the water out every other day
  8. Do not overcrowd the scallions. Give them ample room to breathe. Overcrowding and not changing out the water regularly will promote rot and a foul odor.

Sunlight and Planting

Set the scallions on an east-facing windowsill so they get lots of bright morning and afternoon sun, without all the heat. I’m in the southern part of America so south-facing windows during winter are also a good option. They get PLENTY of warm, bright sun, but there are some days I feel like even the winter sun is a bit too much for them. 

Another alternative is to plant your scallions directly into the garden bed. I have done precisely that with about five bunches organic scallions (YES, we eat loads of scallions in our household 🙂 ). They are their happiest in a sunny spot. They rarely require watering during the winter months since precipitation and humidity are higher, coupled with less heat.

  1. Use an old butterknife, inserting directly into the ground about 5″ deep
  2. Gently wiggle the knife in a circular motion 3-5 times, to make the planting hole bigger.
  3. Pour a little of rainwater info the hole.
  4. Insert the scallion, one per hole, until it covers the white part completely
  5. Loosely sprinkle some soil around the base

When to Harvest

Scallions are like many other herbs and vegetables. The more you cut, the more they grow, and the healthier they are. Scallions grow FAST. They can start to sprout within hours after you harvest. It’s Spour how low or high on the scallion you cut. They will grow back regardless. Enjoy! Try this method with other veggies as well! I have also planted leeks and chives that have roots left on them. A friend was able to stick collard stems into the ground and VOILA, she is now on season #2 of collards. 🙂

Kuretake Gansai Tambi Japanese Watercolors – Product Review

I have been painting for most of my life, using mostly watercolors and acrylics. I had not used watercolors regularly since my fine-arts days (ahem, way back in college) but rediscovered my love for the medium again, so I started to paint almost daily on some occasions. I bought my Lukas Aquarelle Studio 12-Color Set travel kit way back in mid-2015 and was packing them for local and international trips. The smaller case and pans (5/8″ wide x 3/4″ high) are a convenient size and will even fit inside my purse—fantastic for long layovers or even flights! I still use the set to this day and the pans are surprisingly still 90% full, aside from a few colors that I guess I used a lot of. My Lukas professional watercolor set did and still do a wonderful job…but I was ready for the next big step in investing in medium that I know I am quite enamored with.

What Are Kuretake Gansai Tambi

I did extensive research for the style of watercolors I wanted. The key-points I had in mind are quality, rich, vibrant, high-pigmentation, and large palette. I was thrilled when I found this. I will warn you there are quite a few companies (especially if you shop on Amazon) that will mislead you with their marketing schemes, making you believe what you’re about to purchase are true Japanese watercolors. Just be sure to read the reviews; never just “trust a label.” That said, the Kuretake Gansai Tambi are indeed true traditional Japanese watercolors. 

  • Kuretake – A Japanese company that was founded in 1902, and specialized in ink manufacturing at the time. They now offer a variety of quality arts and crafts products for both hobbyists and professionals.
  • Gansai – Japanese word meaning “vibrance”
  • Tambi – Japanese word meaning “aesthetic”

Characteristics

Why Japanese watercolors? Well, for starters, they have different characteristics and qualities than their “western counterparts.” The Kuretake description for their Gansai Tambi states “By using original colors instead of mixing with other colors, the colors obtain a higher brilliance.” It’s true. These highly pigmented colors are intended for solo-use, meaning you apply a clean brush to each pan and clean the brush again before selecting another color. Other artists have stated that mixing the colors tended to create muddy colors. We don’t want that! I chose to not test that because I don’t to “contaminate” my beautiful colors. Haha. The western watercolors seem lighter, more translucent. The idea with western colors is you buy a few essential colors and mix them to achieve a vast array of colors. That’s easier said than done for anyone you as attempted this. Mixing colors to achieve a purple or green that is just the right hue and depth is hard! And if you don’t mix enough, good luck reproducing the exact color the next time around!

Each set comes with a small printed pamphlet with the colors and corresponding numbers and Japanese, along with Chinese, names. 

  • colors are deceivingly different in hue, saturation, and opacity when dry and wet
  • creamy, smooth texture
  • highly-pigmented
  • vibrant, brilliant
  • a little goes a long way – some colors require very little water to achieve saturation – view the subtleties here
  • easy lift 

COST and QUANTITY

I bought my beautiful 36-colors, the largest set available, on February 01, 2021. The cost was $33.99, including local sales tax and free shipping, so that would total $36.79 for 36 high-quality colors, which is quite a good investment! I have seen the same sets go for $60 at some art supply shops…don’t worry, I did not unknowingly purchase a “knock off.”

The palette pans are the largest I’ve seen thus far when shopping for watercolors. The pans measure about 2″ wide and 1″ high. Each are replaceable and can be purchased separately.

Do and Do NoT

DO

  • paint on the inside of lid so that you know how each color appears on paper, compared to dry-in-pan
  • always use clean brush for reactivating each color
  • wait for the paints to dry completely before storing
  • always put the plastic cover back on the paints
  • always store the paints flat/horizontally; I like to secure mine with a thick rubber band or elastic hairband (this is better option)
  • use all the colors available in the palette
  • store in a cool, dry place
  • HAVE FUN! 🙂

DO NOT

  • mix the colors – they will likely become muddy
  • not use the same cup of water for numerous brush cleanings, as the muddy water will likely transfer to your painting
  • set in direct sunlight or extreme weather conditions

Über Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

I don’t even recall how many failed attempts I’ve had in all my years of baking and searching for the “Ultimate Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie.” I eventually—I am ashamed to admit this—bought store-bought baked cookies (always a great disappointment) or the Pillsbury or Tollhouse packages that you just pop in the oven. Folks, I am happy to say my search is over and this recipe is JUST.SO.DARN.DELISH. to not share it with the world…and *SHHH*, this stays between us “health nuts” and adults…I am using organic whole wheat flour! YES. Mwahahahahaha -insert purple smiley devil face emoji-.

INGREDIENTS

Makes about 12 large cookies.

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 TSP sea salt
  • 1/2 cup (one 4oz stick) unsalted butter ~ soft, room temperature (iIMPORTANT: NOT hot or melted)
  • 1 large free range organic egg
  • 1 TSP vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups organic whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 TSP baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cup (12oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Leave the wrapped butter in a dish, at room temperature, for a few hours.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, and soft butter, until you get a smooth light yellow paste.
  3. Whisk in the egg and vanilla.
  4. Sift in the flour and baking soda, then very gently fold the mixture with a spatula. Do not overmix the dough, as this will result in cakey cookies. 
  5. Fold in the chips and gently distribute evenly with a spatula. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat oven to 350ÂșF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  7. Scoop out 12 cookie dough balls and place them on parchment, allowing about 4″ between each cookie and 2″ from the edges.
  8. Bake for about 12 minutes or until the edges start to turn light golden brown.
  9. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes before serving with a nice tall glass of cold milk OR a cup of hot tea. ENJOY!

Turkish Yogurt Flatbread/Naan

I am kicking myself for not making homemade yogurt flatbread way earlier in my culinary life! I guess most foreign dishes and foods seem mysterious until you get into the nitty gritty and TRY it at least once in your own kitchen. Well, folks, let me tell you, this isn’t that bad! LOL.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 Œ cups filtered warm water
  • 1 packet active dried yeast
  • 1 TBSP sugar
  • Ÿ cup Greek yogurt
  • 2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 TBSP seasalt
  • 3 Ÿ cups all-purpose flour
  • Œ cup flat leaf parsley ~ finely chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Combine the yeast, sugar, and water into a mixing bowl and stir well. Cover the bowl with a cheesecloth or breathable cotton kitchen towel; set it in a warm place for 5-10 minutes to activate the yeast (mixture will be become foamy and bubbly).
  2. Gently whisk in Greek yogurt, olive oil, and sea salt. Add flour and parsley. Gently mix with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  3. Flour surface of a large chopping block or kitchen counter. Turn dough onto surface and knead for 3-4 minutes. The dough should no longer be sticky and should spring back when lightly pressed. Sprinkle dough with more flour as necessary to achieve desired texture.
  4. Divide dough into equal pieces, then cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rest for 15 minutes.
  5. Heat sauce pan to medium-low heat.
  6. Roll the dough balls to desired thickness and size with a rolling pin (mine is about 5-7″ wide). Lightly brush the dough surface with olive oil. Cook the flatbread oil side down, about 1-1.5 minutes, or until the surface is covered with bubbles and turns golden in spots.
  7. Flip the bread, lightly oil the surface and cook oil side down until golden.
  8. Serve with soups, curries, a dollop of sour cream, or just eat them on their own as a yummy snack!

Cassava Cake

What’s in a Name?
Cassava is a starchy root vegetable or tuber native to South America. It’s a flowering plant that belongs in the spurge family called Euphorbiaceae (or Euphorbia for short) and can grow to 10 feet tall. It’s a staple consumed by many in developing countries.
  • Cassava is also called
    • yuca (pronounced yoo-cah): it is not the same as yucca (note: two C’s / pronounced yuh-kah). Yucca is the spiky ornamental plant you see in arid landscapes and deserts.
    • manioc
    • macaxeira
    • mandioca
    • aipim
    • andagbeli
    • Brazilian arrowroot
    • tapioca plant
    • and sweet potato tree
  • Nigeria is the world’s largest produce of cassava.
  • Brazilian Farofa or Portugese Farinha de Mandioca: a traditional side dish made from cassava flour and is toasted
  • West African Garri: A light snack made from cassava flour and is fermented and then fried in oil.
  • It used to make tapioca flour and pearls

Filipino Dessert

All those FUN, educational facts aside, cassava, when grated, makes a gluten-free flour that can then be turned into delicious cake! This is a traditional Filipino recipe with a little added protein (by way of peeled split mung beans). I made cassava cake about 10+ years ago but cannot remember where I put the recipe, so off on an interwebs-expedition I went. I found three that I liked and blended the ingredients and quantities, because like Goldilocks, I need the texture, sweetness, etc. to be JUUUST RIGHT. 😉

—— ♄ ——

INGREDIENTS

  • Two 1 lb bags frozen grated cassava ~ thawed, strained of all liquid
  • One 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
  • One 14 oz can coconut cream
  • 6 oz dry peeled, split mung beans
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • Pinch sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Thaw the cassava packets. Place contents in a mesh strainer and lightly rinse under running water. Strain cassava of all liquid and set aside.
  2. Wash and clean the mung beans until the water becomes clear. Strain. Soak in hot filtered water for about 30 minutes. Add beans and water to a pot and bring to rolling boil for about 3 minutes. Reduce heat and allow to simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes or until beans are soft. Purée to smooth yellow paste.
  3. Preheat oven 350°F.
  4. Grease 9×13 glass baking dish with butter.
  5. Whisk ingredients together in a bowl ~ your batter should be runny. Pour batter into baking dish.
  6. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes on the center rack until the edges and top are a light golden brown. An inserted fork should come out clean.
  7. Allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve chilled or room temp, drizzled with condensed milk.

Orange Creamsicle Cheesecake (NY Style)

One of my absolute favorite desserts ever since I discovered its existence in college (YES, can you believe my mom never baked cheesecake for us?!) is NEW YORK STYLE CHEESECAKE. Yum, yum, and YUM.  I remember my first few cheesecake flops years ago. The process seemed so daunting and foreign to me. Fast forward many moons and seasons…I now know why my cheesecake endeavors all tasted like “quichecakes” rather than cheesecake. Meh, live and learn. 🙂

I found a recipe on the side of a bulk cheesecake box purchased from Costco and thought I’d give it a try. I thought it was perfectly creamy and easy. The following recipe is the one I modified ~ making a crustless cheesecake, with a hint of lemon. If you’d like to try the original recipe found on the box, scroll all the way to the bottom. 

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 (8 ounce) packages full fat cream cheese ~ room temperature
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 TSP salt
  • 2 TBSP+ orange zest ~ adding more is better!
  • 1 TBSP lemon zest

Instructions

  1. Wrap outside of 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil to make it waterproof.
  2. In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese. Add sugar and mix.
  3. Scrape down the bowl; add Greek yogurt, mixing thoroughly.
  4. Add eggs to mixer one at a time, mixing thoroughly on low speed.
  5. Scrape down the bowl add salt and lemon zest.
  6. Mix on low until well combined.
  7. Pour cheesecake batter into pan.
  8. Bake in a water bath at 325°F for 60-90 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Original “New York Style Cheesecake” Recipe

CRUST

  • 1 cup graham crackers crumbs
  • 2 1/2 TBSP unsalted butter. ~ melted
  • 1 1/2 TBSP sugar

FILLING

  • 6 (8 ounces) packages full fat cream cheese ~ room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 7 eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 TSP salt
  • 2 TBSP lemon zest

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Wrap outside of 9-inch springform pan with aluminum foil to make it waterproof.
  2. Butter the bottom of pan.
  3. In mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and sugar and mix well. Press into bottom of pan.
  4. In a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese. Add sugar and mix.
  5. Scrape down the bowl; add sour cream, mixing thoroughly.
  6. Add eggs to mixer one at a time, mixing thoroughly on low speed.
  7. Scrape down the bowl add rest of ingredients.
  8. Mix on low until well combined.
  9. Pour cheesecake batter into pan.
  10. Bake in a water bath at 325°F for 60-90 minutes until the cake sets.
  11. Remove from oven and chill completely before serving.

Buckwheat Groats

Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum) is a grain, often mistaken for containing gluten due to its name, buckwheat. In fact, buckwheat is not a wheat at all, which come from grass plants like other cereal grains. Buckwheat is a flowering, broadleaf annual related to sorrel, knotweed, and rhubarb. The buckwheat we consume are seeds from that plant. It’s packed with a variety of nutrients necessary if you’re on a vegan/vegetarian diet. Medical News Today states one cup of cooked buckwheat groats contains:

  • 5.68 g protein
  • 1.04 g  fat
  • 33.5 g carbohydrate
  • 4.5 g fiber
  • 148 milligrams (mg) potassium
  • 118 mg phosphorous
  • 86 mg magnesium
  • 12 mg calcium
  • 1.34 mg iron

If you’d like to learn more about buckwheat or how to grow your own crop, check out Grow Journey.

HOW TO COOK BUCKWHEAT GROATS

  • 1 cup organic raw buckwheat
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1/2 TSP sea salt
  • 1 TBSP chopped parsley (Curley or flat leaf)

Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant Veggie Stew

I grew up eating lots of eggplant, thanks to my parents’ prolific organic home “Garden of Eatin’!” A dear friend of mine, a sweet Greek lady by the name of Vicki, introduced me to eggplant tomato stew years ago and I loved it from the start! She passed away at a very young age late November 2019, just days shy of her December birthday. I cannot find the recipe Vicki gave me, but I was able to modify this recipe from memory, and the help of similar recipes I found online. I hope you enjoy it!
NOTE: The stew tastes much better the following day, if you can refrigerate it overnight. Otherwise, allow a few hours before serving warm, and garnished with fresh chopped parsley. I serve this with toasted or pan-friend polenta cakes.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 large eggplants ~ peeled alternately lengthways (leave skin on every other section), sliced in halves or quarters, tops removed
  • 2 large red bell peppers ~ sliced in halves, tops and seeds removed
  • 2 large zucchinis ~ slided in halves, tops removed
  • 1 large yellow onion ~ peeled, diced
  • 3-4 organic roma tomatoes ~ cut into chunks
  • 1 can (16 ounce) garbanzo beans ~ rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (28 ounce) stewed organic tomatoes
  • 1 container (32 ounce) broth ~ I use vegetable
  • olive oil
  • sea salt ~ to taste
    fresh ground black pepper ~ to taste
    pinch cane sugar
  • fresh thyme
  • fresh oregano
  • fresh curly parsley ~ I like a giant handful of parsley (even before chopping)

 

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Roast the eggplant, bells, and zucchini on the top rack at 450°F for 10 minutes each side. When they are done, set aside for a few minutes to cool down.
  2. While the veggies roast, heat some oil in a large stainless steel pot and sauté the onions until golden and aromatic. Cut the roasted veggies into chunks. If still warm, hold them with tongs in one hand, and cut with the other.
  3. Add the broth, garbanzo, roasted veggies, fresh and stewed tomatoes, and 3/4 of the chopped parsley, into the pot. Bring it to a boil for about 2 minutes.
  4. Lower heat, season to taste, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes with lid slightly askew.
  5. Remove from burner. Serve warm, garnished with freshly chopped parsley, with a side of polenta cakes.