Friday, 17 September 2010

Say Cheese! Bean and Cheese Empanadas and Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

And why is that, do you think? Since starting forging with my sister-in-cheese Heather, I have been struck by how simple yet complex the art and craft of cheese-making is. The subtle variations that turn your milk into one kind of cheese or another; the variations according to milk; the roles of time, pressure, and salt. If cheese is milk's leap to immortality, then I am happy to be a part of the process. 

This week our cooking club's theme is Say Cheese! I vacillated between doing something savoury or sweet. In the end I did both. You can never have too much of a good thing.  

Bean and Cheese Empanadas
adapted from Mark Bittman's Best Recipes in the World

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more
1/2 cup masa harina
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons lard
2 1/2 cups cooked and well-seasoned beans (I used Pinto beans)
2 cups grated or crumbled queso fresco, Monterey Jack, or coltija cheese
Mix of finely chopped red onion, jalapeno, red pepper, and cilantro
1/4 cup milk

1. Mix the flour, masa harina, baking powder, and salt together in the food processor and process for about 5 seconds. With the machine running, add the 1/2 cup lard and process for 10 seconds. Then, with the machine running, add about 1/2 cup cold water, just enough for the dough to form a ball. Don't add more water than necessary; the dough should be fairly dry. Knead by hand until smooth, just a minute or so.

2. Divide into 12 pieces, roll into balls, and wrap in plastic or cover with a damp towel and let rest for at least 20 minutes. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight; be sure to let it come to room temperature before proceeding.) On a well-floured surface, roll each piece into a 6-inch circle, adding flour as necessary.

3. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Place a couple of tablespoons of the beans in the center of each circle of dough, followed by a sprinkling of cheese and veggies, then fold each circle over, seal the seam with a few drops of water and press with the tines of a fork to close. Put on an ungreased baking sheet and brush lightly with milk. Bake until the dough is golden brown and hot, and about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

Mmm, cheesy beany goodness!
And of course you need cheese for dessert....
Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart!

Sweet Tart Crust
adapted from Mark Bittman, HTCEV

½ cup ground almonds
¾ cup flour
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
10 tbsp butter, in 20 pieces, frozen
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp ice water, more if necessary

Pulse dry ingredients in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until the size of small peas. Add yolk and water. Pulse until it becomes a mass of tiny dough balls. Remove, push together into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for ½ hour. 
Roll out on floured surface, press into 9 inch tart pan and chill for another 20 minutes while the oven preheats to 425°F. Blind bake for 10 minutes (with buttered foil and pie weights) and then remove the foil and weights, and bake another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Cool thoroughly.

Strawberry Cream Cheese Tart
adapted from Mark Bittman, HTCEV

Now  that you have your cool tart shell ready, all you have to do is whip a room temperature 8 oz brick of (real) cream cheese, with a dollop of yogurt, ½ tsp vanilla extract and 1 Tbsp superfine sugar. When whipped to satisfaction, mound and spread out into shell, top with halved strawberries and glaze with warmed apricot preserves. (Strained or thinned, if necessary.) Chill and serve.