Friday, December 9, 2011

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)

Bacon Date Empanadas

This morning when I walked out the door, there was snow on the ground!!!  We've had a couple of flurries so far, but nothing that stuck.  I love the first snow that sticks!  It makes me want food that sticks... to my ribs, that is.

Har har har.

The brand of creativity in the kitchen changes when the temperature drops, from "What am I going to do with all this fresh produce?" to "What else can you do with meat and potatoes?"  It's dark by the time I get home (actually, by the time I leave my office at 4:30), and I'm just not motivated to do little grocery shops as often as I am in the summer.  The past couple of nights, I've just started pulling things out of my fridge and freezer, and seeing what comes of it.  Leftover soup, crackers and cheese?  Perfect.  Leftover roast chicken + leftover quinoa + frozen peas and green beans + carrots, ginger, garlic, and soy sauce + an egg = Chicken Fried Quinoa.  Genius.

Last night, I was staring at this giant tub of dates that's in the fridge.  I got them at Costco a couple of weeks ago, as a challenge to myself.  It's like Iron Chef - the secret ingredient is... DATES!

Have you ever had bacon-wrapped dates?  They are amazing.  There's nothing else to them!  Wrap bacon around a date.  Bake it.  How about Larabars?  Are you shocked that there's nothing else in most of them besides dates and nuts?  They taste like candy!

To tell you the truth, I've never had a traditional empanada.  Apparently they have olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs in the filling.  That didn't sound particularly appetizing to me, so this recipe is my take.

Beef Empanadas

Beef Empanadas (aka Cowboy Pockets)

For the dough:

3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup rye flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 cup butter, cold and cut into smallish pieces OR frozen and grated using a food processor
2 eggs, lightly beaten with 2/3 cup cold water
2 tablespoons white vinegar

Sift together flours and salt.  If using cold (not frozen) butter, blend it into the flour using a pastry blender or your fingers, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, with some pea-sized pieces remaining.  If using frozen, grated butter, simply stir into the flour (it's like magic).  Using a fork, stir in eggs, water and vinegar just until the dough forms a shaggy mass and holds somewhat together.  Add a few more drops of water if needed.  Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a couple of times to form a cohesive ball.  Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a flat rectangle.  Wrap separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling:

3 slices bacon, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef (not too lean! I used 85% lean)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
10 dates, chopped

In a large heavy skillet, saute bacon until crisp.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.  Do not discard bacon fat.  Add onion and carrot to drippings, and saute until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.  Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.  Add beef, breaking it up as it browns with the back of a wooden spoon.  Season with salt, pepper, cumin, smoked paprika, and thyme, and cook until evenly browned, about 5 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and dates, stir to combine, and cook until liquid is reduced but still moist, about 5 more minutes.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed, and stir in reserved bacon.  Transfer to a plate and allow to cool slightly.

To make the empanadas:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove dough from the refrigerator one half at a time.  Cut each half into 6 equal pieces.  On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter.  Spoon about 3 tablespoons of filling into the center of the circle.  Moisten the edges with a little bit of water, and fold over to form a semi-circle.  Crimp edges with a fork.  Brush tops lightly with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a splash of water) and score with a sharp knife.  Continue with remaining dough and filling.  Bake about 25 minutes, until golden.  Allow to cool slightly.  Serve with sour cream.

Note: to make ahead (or eat later), prepare empanadas (do not bake), and then freeze on baking sheets.  Remove and bake as needed!  Homemade hot pockets!

Yield: 1 dozen empanadas

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