Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cherry Turnovers with Cream Cheese Crust

During a trip I took out to San Francisco last year, my friend Dana decided it would be fun to bake mini pies - basically because everything's cuter as a tiny version of itself. So we used glasses to cut circles from pre-made, generic pie dough, then filled and baked them in muffin tins. (This was an appropriate recourse as it turns out, since Dana evidently loves baking things in muffin tins.)

What interests me about the concept of the Mini Pie is a) the sheer cuteness and b) the portability. I never think I need a car in the city until the (not so infrequent) times I smush up a pie crust or a painstakingly decorated birthday cake because I leaned it too far one way or the other getting to and from the metro. So it seemed like a neat solution to make turnovers - little hand pies! And I was glad to learn that turnovers are indeed easy to transport, especially because of their firm structure. Just stack them in a tupperware container and cover each layer with wax paper and they shouldn't shift around.

I half-heartedly looked for fresh cherries to use in this recipe but couldn't find any, unsurprising since it's almost Halloween already. (The scary Giant at 9th and O didn't help, either.) I also find canned fruit filling absurdly bad. So in the end I used unsweetened frozen cherries, and the bag I bought ended up containing just about 2 1/2 cups. I also amended the recipe by increasing the sugar to 3 tablespoons and the cornstarch to two tablespoons. The amounts of lemon zest and juice suggested were perfect - added just the right level of tartness to the filling.

This dough is relatively easy to roll out and cut, too. The recipe suggests cutting the dough using a bowl with a 6" diameter, but I opted for a wide-mouthed wine glass with about a 4.5" diameter. I also only placed about a tablespoon and a half of the cherry filling into each pastry, which makes some sense since I cut smaller circles. As suggested I used parchment paper (always good to have around for baking), and this made for easy removal.

I'm definitely making some flavor of turnover the next time I need to transport a baked good. The crust in this recipe was also so outstanding that I'm going to use it as a base for a cherry pie (my dad's favorite) at Thanksgiving. I'm sure the pie will look gorgeous with a lattice crust and the egg wash/coarse sugar combination.

Using the changes I suggested and the smaller (4.5") diameter rim, this made about 11 turnovers.

Recipe from
Originally adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking

Cream Cheese Crust

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. granulated white sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 oz. package cold cream cheese, cut into tablespoons

pinch of salt

Cherry Filling
2 1/2 cups pitted & halved fresh cherries (I used frozen)
2 tbsp. white granulated sugar
1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt

Egg Wash
1 large egg yolk
2 tbsp. milk or cream

Coarse grain sugar

1. Put the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process for 10 seconds to blend. (Using an electric mixer in place of a food processor worked fine.)

2. Add the cold butter pieces and process for just a few seconds, until the mixture looks like crumbs. Add the cream cheese and pulse quickly until a clump of dough has formed. Turn the clump of dough onto wax paper and knead gently 2 to 3 times to bring dough together.

3. Flatten the dough into a 7x7" square. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes (up to 2 days).

4. Meanwhile, mix cherries with sugar, lemon zest & juice, cornstarch and salt; set aside.

5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 15×15" square. Use the top of a 6" diameter bowl as your cutter; re-roll scraps as necessary.

6. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. Place cut-out dough onto prepared baking sheets. On each square or circle, use a knife to make a light indent showing the halfway mark. (Make sure it’s just a line indentation & not cut all the way through.)

8. Spoon a couple of tablespoonfuls of the cherries onto each “half,” keeping it on one side of the dividing line and leaving a 1/4-inch border along the edge. Brush edges on the fruit side of the turnover with the prepared egg wash.

9. Carefully fold the other side over the fruit and use the tines of a fork to press the edges together and seal them. Move baking sheets to refrigerator and chill for about 20 minutes.

10. Preheat oven to 375°F. (Here the recipe suggests adjusting racks to top and bottom thirds of the oven. This burnt the bottoms of my first turnover batch, so I left the second batch on the top rack for a full 15 minutes.)

11. Brush the tops of the turnovers with egg wash and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. Use the tip of a paring knife to carefully cut three slits in the top of each turnover, allowing steam to escape during baking.

12. Bake turnovers on bottom and top third racks for 15 minutes. Then rotate the sheets and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.

13. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Tastes best served warm.

Yield: About 9

To re-heat, preheat oven to 375ºF and bake until warmed through - works great and takes only a few minutes.
Served with vanilla ice cream

Friday, October 15, 2010

Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Mozarella, Side Salad

Mark's iphone somehow takes better pictures than my camera..
I adapted this pan-fried gnocchi dish from a recipe I found in a One Pot cookbook that I picked up from (what I term) Virginia’s Walmart of thrift stores. These books are usually great - full of cheap, easy recipes that lend themselves to variation. 

Homemade gnocchi looks like a fun project that I intend to tackle one of these days, but it's definitely an arduous endeavor for a busy week. In any case the packaged gnocchi I picked up from Trader Joe's (only about $1.99) came out great. We had some problems with it sticking, but with the pan we were using this didn’t seem avoidable.

This dish is the best comfort food. It’s also easy to amend based on personal preference and whatever's readily on hand. The arugula and spinach can be switched out for more bitter greens like swiss chard, the chickpeas for cannellini beans, etc. It tasted great with the green salad below.

Feeds 5-6 ravenous individuals.


5 cloves chopped garlic
1 package gnocchi
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
4 cups arugula
2 cups chopped spinach
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can rinsed chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Several tablespoons olive oil


1.   Heat about 1 tbsp. oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add gnocchi and cook until plump and starting to brown. Transfer gnocchi to a bowl.
2.   Add more oil to the skillet and cook the onion over medium heat, stirring, for 2 minutes or until soft.
3.   Stir in garlic and 1/2 cup of water. Cover and cook until the onion is soft.
4.   Add the greens and cook until starting to wilt.
5.   Stir in the canned tomatoes, chickpeas, basil, salt and pepper and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the gnocchi and coat with the cheese. Cover and cook until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
6.   Serve piping hot.
Side Salad

This salad is a personal long-time favorite that holds some special meaning. Growing up, you know how that one friend’s house became your inevitable go-to for when all else failed?  Well my group of friends invariably ended up at our friend Sam's. Alongside other perks, including her enormous collection of CDs and hours upon hours of Donkey Kong, Sam’s mom is a fabulous cook. She’s also the type who makes nightly dinners for the family and hosts elaborate dinner parties for her friends, which is how I always envisioned myself to turn out.

Anyway, she knew I worshiped this salad and unfailingly offered me a bowl when she made it. I've been making variations of her recipe ever since the 9th or 10th grade - I guess that's about 10 years, give or take - and have yet to find it any less than amazing.


1 package spring mix salad greens
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 med. red onion, chopped
1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped
1 16 oz. jar sliced pepperoncini peppers, drained
4 tbsp. pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1.   Make the dressing: mix oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
2.   Coat the pine nuts very lightly and toast, either in a pan or toaster oven. Watch carefully as they brown very quickly.
3.   Combine all ingredients, including toasted pine nuts, in a large bowl. Pour the dressing over and toss until well combined.
4.   Serve immediately. Keeps well with the dressing for about half a day.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Spinach-Feta Frittata

I was ecstatic at having my first experience with a full kitchen outside of my parents' house, and remember feverishly searching for economical recipes that easily fed the four people in our dorm. This is when I happily learned that frittatas are the culinary equivalent of a garbage disposal, particularly great for vegetables on the verge of spoiling. This makes them both practical and inexpensive (given that you don't spring for triple creme brie or something), and on top of the short preparation time there's little need to plan ahead.

This recipe is the result of such an impromptu meal. I noticed half a carton of eggs and some mushrooms nearing their expiration dates - this signals Frittata Time! - and was able to find some leftover spinach and feta, then scavenge out an old can of tomatoes. But using good judgment you can switch these ingredients out with pretty much any vegetable or cheese.

Some tips I've picked up over time:

* As with omelets, blending the egg mixture until fluffy - preferably with an electric mixer - results in the ideal egg consistency. 

* The vegetable mixture needs to be drained well before adding the egg, particularly when using ingredients like tomatoes that have high water content.

* Most recipes suggest first cooking the frittata in a pan on the stove, then broiling in the oven. This usually works great but it's kind of superfluous, and because broiling burns the top so easily it requires extra watchfulness. My personal preference is to put the cooked vegetables into a dish, cover with the blended egg mixture and bake. Done and done.

1 can whole peeled tomatoes
1 small container mushrooms, washed and sliced
1/4 cup chopped (preferably fresh) basil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 eggs
3.5 oz. feta cheese (1 small container)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400º F.
2. Heat the onion and garlic over moderate heat until onion becomes soft, stirring occasionally.
3. While onion is cooking, put the eggs, cheese, salt and pepper into a medium bowl and blend with an electric mixer until fluffy.
4. Drain the tomatoes and slice them, or pulverize with clean hands. (I save the juice to use for pasta sauce, which incidentally makes a great complement to the frittata.)
5. Add the basil, mushrooms, spinach and tomatoes to the onion mixture. Add more oil if necessary. Cook until the mushrooms brown and spinach is slightly wilted, then remove from stove. Drain if needed.
6. Oil the bottom and sides of a 11 3/4 x 7 1/2 (or similar) baking dish and spread the vegetables evenly over the bottom.
7. Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the vegetables.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for approx. 15 minutes, though oven times vary widely. The frittata is done when the top solidifies and springs back when pressed with a spatula.
9. Allow 5-10 minutes to cool before eating.

Frittata keeps okay in the fridge for about a day, but beyond that the consistency starts to break down. (I'd guess it's still edible for a few days, but for me the sogginess triggers a sort of revulsion reflex that I just can't get over.)

Serve with a starchy dish like homefries.

Frittata/mashed sweet potatoes w/ sour cream & chives.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cinnamon (The Lesser) Babka

My friend Max and his roommates hosted a Russian-themed party at their house last weekend, and this prompted me to finally try baking babka. (Kindly overlook that babka is actually kind of a pan-Eastern European/Jewish thing, by the by.) I meant to take better pictures - I really did - but the bread was reduced to a fist-sized chunk over a bed of crumbs within the 2 or 3 minutes it took to say hello. Inebriated ingrates.

I faced this recipe with some trepidation given a recent series of bread-making endeavors where about 2 in 5 ended in utter failure. I've had a lot of trouble getting breads to rise, and all I can say that it is insanely frustrating to peek into the bowl hour after hour to find the same sad, heavy brick pasted to the bottom.

The babka did initially take a long time to rise, and because of resulting time constraints I skipped on proofing. But I let the dough sit for longer than the recipe states - 2 hours, 45 minutes - then heated in the oven for about 20 minutes at 150ºF, and this did the job well enough.

The "twist," which adds a really nice aesthetic touch, also looked intimidating. In reality braiding the dough was very easy following a good visual demo. I only regret that I didn't slice down to the very end of the loaf before braiding, which resulted in the "mutant bump" (so articulately dubbed by my friend Brian) jutting out of the side. But it's a great lesson for future reference.

In any case I do highly recommend this recipe, a brown sugar-cinammon spin-off of Peter Reinhart’s chocolate-cinammon babka printed in Artisan Breads Everyday. (Okay I adapted the directions from The Purple Foodie, but the book looks like a worthwhile investment.) The bread came out with a deep, buttery flavor looking like rigorous preparation went into it, when in fact it only required a lot of waiting.

I will definitely give this a retry, given that it's a "running errands, in and out" kind of day since - if I can just mention one more time - the rising process really tries my patience. Nutella-banana, I believe you are next...


2 tbsp instant yeast (1 package)
3/4 cup warm milk
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
3 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 cup butter

  1. Warm the milk in the microwave until tepid, about 35 seconds.
  2. Whisk the yeast into the milk and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter until smooth.
  4. Add the yolks to the bowl one at a time, mixing constantly for 30 seconds between each addition. Add the vanilla and mix until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the flour and salt and continue to mix until it comes together.
  6. Add the milk/yeast concoction and let it mix until it forms a soft dough.
  7. Knead by hand for 2-3 minutes, yielding a soft, supple dough.
  8. Let the dough rise for about 2 hours.
  9. For the filling: mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
  10. Once the dough has risen, roll it out into a sheet with a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. Make sure to keep it dusted well with flour at all times to avoid unnecessary sticking.
  11. Spread the cinammon filling over the dough.
  12. Roll the sheet of dough and then pinch the seams to seal it. Roll it to a length of about 24 inches.
  13. For the twist shape, cut the log down the middle lengthwise, making sure to keep the top end attached. (Don't be like me - cut it to the end!) Twist the two pieces over each other to form braids.
  14. Let the bread proof for 2 more hours. (As I mentioned, it's okay to skip this.)
  15. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove when golden brown. 

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Honey Almond Granola

 There are huge perks to making granola, besides it being stupid easy to throw together. Homemade granola is economical, it's easy to take on the go, and the freshness and just-right consistency make for an end product that's far tastier than anything out of a cereal box.

The basic ingredients are pretty common to have around the house, and you can easily personalize by adding your preferred nuts/seeds and dried fruit. (These are sold at reasonable prices in the bulk sections carried by most organic grocery stores. In DC I buy them at Yes! Organic Market, where the pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seed and fruit come to about $7.)

The real key to making quality granola is to watch it carefully while it's baking, because the stuff really wants to burn. Always place parchment paper on the bottom of the baking dish and butter or spray the paper on both sides. Start checking in sporadically about halfway through baking time, stirring to prevent over-browning.

3 1/2 cups rolled oats (not instant)
1/3 cup canola oil                                 
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup honey
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup flax seed
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
1 1/3 cups dried fruit - here, sweet cherries & cranberries
(I like the fruit spread out somewhat sparsely, but include up to a cup more.)


Preheat the oven to 375 °F. Butter or spray the bottom of a large baking dish (mine is 13"x 9"x2") and cover with parchment paper; butter or spray the top of the paper. Combine all ingredients except for the dried fruit and mix until combined. Spread evenly throughout the dish, then place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Begin checking on the granola about 10 minutes in. Stir around with a spatula, monitoring the color; remove from oven when golden brown (about 25 minutes). Allow to cool, then stir in the fruit.

Store the finished granola in an airtight container and keep in the freezer. (It tastes great frozen - even the fruit bits - and will stay good indefinitely.) Serve with milk or yogurt.

Yogurt parfait: A middling attempt.