Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mexican Thanksgiving, and I didn't even cook a thing!

I have the Best, Friends. Ever.


Anyone who knows me understands that my favorite day of the year is the day that I get to throw a monster-sized dinner party that is an ethnic interpretation of Thanksgiving Dinner. It's always the sunday before Thanksgiving. This year, with having a kitchen that's torn apart, less furniture than normal, and a cross-state move to Richmond just five days later, I couldn't pull it off. Being a realist is hard.

I was really devastated about this. Tradition is tradition. And while I'm always up for change, some things, like "Thanksgiving with Friends" remains sacred.

Luckily, my kind-hearted and thoughtful besties in DC knew this and made sure Thanksgiving with Friends happened in spite of the circumstances. They told me to arrive at 4:00 p.m. ready for a walking tour and suggested I bring a camera. "Sweet!! A scavenger hunt!!" is what I thought.

However, when I walked into Nancy's apartment an entire Mexican thanksgiving spread awaited. There were appetizers (an herbed goat cheese, guacamole, homemade pita chips, crudites, veggie quesadillas), Sangria, and a beautiful table complete with menus and chili pepper floral display. I was beyond touched.

We ate:

Ensalada Yucatan (greens with avocado, grapefruit and a ginger/coriander dressing that I implore Meredith to post here)

A Jalepeno Cornbread Pudding

Roasted Turkey Enchiladas

Slow-cooked black beans over corn and cilantro rice

Shrimp Gazpacho

Spicy Chipotle Sweet Potatoes


Not only did I roll out the door warm, glowing and satisfied; I was inspired. And as a group we decided that Thanksgiving with Friends would go on next year. Perhaps it would happen another weekend, but it will always happen.

Ladies, thank you for making my last week in DC so special and memorable. I love you dearly.

I can take not one ounce of credit for these sweet potatoes. But major props to La Nance for turning out a miracle of texture and flavor for even people who don't generally like sweet potatoes (me, included).
Chipotle Sweet Potato Potatoes

2 cups heavy cream (oohhh, so THAT's how they were so delish)
2 red jalapeno peppers
1 teaspoon ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato sauce
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 1/8-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In small bowl, mix finely diced jalapenos, chili powder, vinegar and tomato sauceWhisk together cream and chipotle mixture until smooth. In a 9 by 9-inch casserole dish, arrange the potatoes in even layers. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the cream mixture and season with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining potatoes, cream, and salt and pepper to form 10 layers.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hortopita- For Sober People Only

Saveur's August/September issue was all about Greece and it's diverse regional culinary heritage. I read it cover to cover for a month straight as a bed time story. The articles read like fairytales: exciting, exotic, heart-warming. They didn't just feature recipes. They featured someone's YaYa collecting wild nettles in the springtime and fisherman chasing giant octupuses on cerulean sea. I was inspired to empty my piggy bank to see if there was enough for a plane ticket to Lemnos immedietly. Alas, I would have to settle for bringing Greece to me.

One recipe in particular caught my eye as a challenge: a pie of greens with phyllo dough made from scratch! You can make phyllo from scratch? And the recipe calls for VODKA and SODA? I was so giddy with the prospect of my new project that I went out, bought all of the necessary furnishments for hortopita and chopped my way through the afternoon in anticipation of a Sunday full of culinary domination. I was going to rule that phyllo dough. I was going to whip it into shape. To celebrate, I poured myself a little vodka/soda cocktail and headed out with friends for a Saturday night.

The next morning found me asking “What. The. Hell. Happened?” Is that pizza crust from me? Did I make macaroni and cheese at some point? Did I DRUNK TWEET? I wanted an aspirin and a bagel. And my mommy. And there was just no way I was about to embark on a Greek journey of making paper-thin sheets of pastry in a manner that required me to open the vodka bottle. I hightailed it (ok, maybe I walked very slowly) to Whole Foods and purchased a large Vitamin Water and frozen phyllo. Had I not chopped and prepped everything the day before, I would have spent the rest of the day on the couch watching the entire Batman series.

Here's a link to Saveur's instructions for making homemade phyllo, you sober show-off, you.

If you enjoy the bittersweet chew of kale or chard, you'll love this recipe. It's essentially the same as spinach spanakopita, but with a deeper, earthier flavor and more fibrous texture. It's a lovely autumn counterpart to the springy bright spinach version. I left the ribs on the chard to impart a surprising crunch in a few of the pockets. Oh, and I didn't have the correct pan for hortopita, so I wrapped them up just like spanakopita.

A word on the fat: Saveur's version calls for only olive oil. But I doubted the ability of the olive oil to gloss the outside of the pastry with that caramel-brown buttery crunch. Plus, I love butter. So I used olive oil on the first three sheets of phyllo and butter on the outside of the wrapped-up pastry. They browned beautifully, but the filling seemed lighter.

2 tablespoons olive oil plus approximately 1/2 cup for brushing on the dough
2 tablespoons melted non-salted butter
8 scallions, minced
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs. mixture of swiss chard and/or rainbow kale
12 ounces greek feta, crumbled
salt and pepper
1 cup each:
  • fresh dill
  • fresh mint
  • fresh parsley

Give the phyllo several hours to thaw. Keep it in the box until you are ready to use it. When you take it out, carefully unroll and cover it with a damp towel at all times you aren't using it.

Mince garlic and scallions and set aside. Wash, drain and chop chard/kale. I put about a cup of the chard/kale into a food processor for a fine texture and left the rest roughly chopped. Wash drain and food process the dill, mint and parsley together.

Heat the 2 tablesoons of olive oil in a large skillet until hot. Saute the garlic and scallions until transluscent, then turn down the heat. Add all of the chard/kale and saute until completely wilted (you might have to add a few tablespoons water now and then and cover the skillet). Shut off the heat. Add in the fresh herbs, salt and fresh ground pepper and stir it all together to let the ambient heat of the greens invite the herbs to mingle their flavors. Let cool for 15 minutes, then add the crumbled feta. Let it cool to room temperature.

Lay one sheet of phyllo on the counter and brush it with olive oil. Lay another sheet on that and brush again with olive oil. Repeat until you have 4 sheets of phyllo. Brush the top of the final sheet with butter and cut into 4 strips. At the top of each strip, place about 1.5 tablespoons filling. Take the outermost corner of the strip and fold it diagonally over the dollop of filling. Continue folding diagonally. Here's an excellent illustration. When done folding, brush the outside of the triangle with melted butter.

At this point, you can put the pockets on a cookie sheet so they aren't touching and put them in the freezer. When they're totally frozen through, layer them in a tupperware and separate the layers with wax paper. They freeze beautifully and I take them out 2 or three at a time to stick in the oven for dinner.

If you're ready to make them, heat the oven to 350. Lay them on a cookie sheet and let them bake for about 15 minutes. Flip them over and let them bake another 10 or until nicely browned on each side. They will be HOT in the take care (and patience) when biting in.

Someday, I'll be sure to make phyllo from scratch. Obviously, I'll celebrate with the vodka and soda after the deed is done. Oops.