More-with-Less Empanadas

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mexican Turnovers

Enough with the excerpts from eighteenth century French satirical novels. Give me something I can use.

Okay, here’s a recipe.

These are not healthy at all but they are extremely tasty and very cheap and a good way to use up little bits of things that would otherwise get thrown away.

I usually make the sweet version with cream cheese and jam, but sometimes I make a savory version with ground beef or refried beans and whatever else I have lying around.

Yesterday, I made some with ground beef, onion, celery, pickled jalapenos, and a little bit of cheddar cheese. For spices, I added salt, pepper, paprika, and chili powder.

They were the bomb.

And when I say little bits of things, I mean little bits — you use just a tablespoon or two of filling in each empanada, so you can take literally a few tablespoons of celery and onion, half an ounce of cheese, and a quarter pound of ground beef and get eight or ten empanadas out of it. And you can definitely use things that are not in tip-top shape, once you mix it all up and add spices and wrap it in dough, many potential problems seem to disappear.

So these are great to make if you have stuff that seems like not enough to do anything with, or that is on its last legs, but that you don’t want to throw away. (Or that I don’t want to throw away, at least; I never want to throw anything away.) They’re also very portable, so that’s good too.

Just chop everything up into little bitty pieces, saute in a pan with a little fat, then wrap it inside the dough and bake (or fry … though I always bake these, it’s easier and they’re already pretty low on the health scale, it doesn’t seem like we need to make them worse by deep-frying.)

from the More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre

Sift together in a bowl
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

Cut in
1/2 cup shortening

1/3 cup cold milk

Stir into a ball, handling like pie crust. Roll out thin and cut in 4″ rounds or squares. Place a spoonful of filling on one half of a round. Fold over, moisten edges, and press firmly so they seal. Deep fry, or bake 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees.

For sweet turnovers, add 2 Tbsp sugar to dry ingredients while making dough. Fill with 3 oz. cream cheese blended with 3 Tbsp fruit preserves, or simply with shredded cheese. Sprinkle fried empanadas with confectioners sugar.

[Note: you can adjust the amount of shortening and liquid as needed. I think I used 5 or 6 Tbsp of shortening instead of the full half cup, that seemed like a lot, and it seemed like I needed more than 1/3 of a cup of milk. Basically it’s like making biscuits, you just need everything to hold together so you can roll out.]

The Best of All Possible Worlds

Monday, March 21, 2011

So I put up that post about bento where I said I feel like I was Japanese in a past life, and then Japan was devastated by a natural disaster and I felt like I should put up something telling people how they could help. But I wasn’t exactly sure how people could help and then got caught up in other things and didn’t get anything written. Then I read that the Japanese government and the Japanese Red Cross weren’t accepting outside help, they were relying on internal resources to deal with the situation. Because they’re Japanese and part of the Japanese culture is to be self-reliant.

Most of the media attention has been focused on everything going on with the nuclear reactor, but I did hear a few stories about earthquake and tsunami survivors, one of which talked about how orderly the shelters were, with shoes lined up outside, and in another (or possibly the same) story, the reporter talked about the incongruity of a woman at the shelter, surrounded by utter destruction for miles and miles, separating trash from recyclables and focusing very hard on making sure everything was sorted properly.

All of which made me feel even more Japanese.

This is definitely what I would do if everything I ever had had been destroyed: I would not accept help from anyone, I would take my shoes off before going inside, and I would make sure the trash was separated.

But my heart breaks for those who lost so much, especially older people, many of whom reportedly kept their savings in their houses, so they literally lost everything, their money as well as all their possessions, along with, in many cases, children and other family members.

It’s so sad.

And it makes you think about how everything you have could be gone at any moment.

It also reminded me of Candide, which I may have read in high school but definitely read in college, and then re-read a few years ago, and I suppose it depends on how you feel about satire, but I for one think it’s completely brilliant. Because so many horrible things happen, every page has three horrible things on it, yet Pangloss the philosopher keeps insisting that we are living in the best of all possible worlds, how could anything be otherwise.

There are many parts I love, though I think my favorite is when Candide ends up in Eldorado, the long-rumored paradise, where there are no wars, no prisons, everyone always has enough to eat, and everyone is rich and happy. But he decides he needs to return to Europe, because if they stay in Eldorado they’ll just be like everyone else, but if they go back, they’ll be richer than kings.

As Candide’s manservant Cacambo notes, “a man who has traveled always enjoys coming home to show off and tell impressive stories about the things he has seen abroad.”

So the two fortunate men decided to be fortunate no longer: they asked His Majesty permission to leave.

What the earthquake and tsunami in Japan made me think of was the scene in the beginning of the book, inspired by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 and subsequent fire that destroyed most of the city.

(This scene is between when Candide and Pangloss and their benefactor James the Anabaptist are shipwrecked — and James the Anabaptist dies after rescuing a sailor who then proceeds to watch the Anabaptist drown without lifting a finger — and when Candide and Pangloss are burned at the stake by the Inquisitors. “After the earthquake had destroyed three-quarters of Lisbon, the wise men of the country could think of no more effective way of avoiding total ruin than giving the populace a fine auto-da-fé.”)

They had scarcely set foot in the city, mourning the death of their benefactor, when they felt the earth tremble beneath them. The sea boiled up in the harbor and smashed the vessels lying at anchor. Whirlwinds of flame and ashes covered the streets and squares, houses collapsed, roofs were thrown onto foundations and the foundations crumbled; thirty thousand inhabitants of all ages and both sexes were crushed beneath the ruins.

The sailor whistled, swore and said, “I’ll get something out of this.”

“What can be the sufficient reason for this phenomenon?” said Pangloss.

“This is the end of the world!” cried Candide.

The sailor immediately rushed into the midst of the wreckage, braved death to find money, found some, took it with him, got drunk and, after sobering up a little, bought the favors of the first willing girl he met in the ruins of the destroyed houses, amid the dead and dying. But Pangloss pulled him by the sleeve and said to him, “You’re behaving badly, my friend: you’re not respecting universal reason, you’ve chosen a bad time for this.”

“By the blood of Christ! I’m a sailor and I was born in Batavia: I’ve walked on the crucifix four times during four stays in Japan — you’ve come to the right man with your universal reason.”

Candide had been wounded by several splinters of stone. He was lying in the street, covered with rubble. He said to Pangloss, “Alas! Get me some wine and oil: I’m dying.”

“This earthquake is nothing new,” replied Pangloss. “The town of Lima in America felt the same shocks last year. Same cause, same effects; there is surely a vein of sulphur running underground from Lima to Lisbon.”

“Nothing is more likely,” said Candide, “but in the name of God, bring me some oil and wine!”

“What do you mean, likely?” retorted the philosopher. “I maintain that the fact is demonstrated.”

Candide lost consciousness, and Pangloss brought him a little water from a nearby fountain.

The next day, having found a little food as they slipped through the ruins, they recovered some of their strength. Then they worked like the others to help those inhabitants who had escaped death. Some of the citizens they assisted gave them as good a dinner as was possible in such a disaster. The meal was sad, it is true. The hosts wet their bread with their tears, but Pangloss comforted them by assuring them that things could not have been otherwise: “For,” he said, “all is for the best. For if there’s a volcano in Lisbon, it couldn’t be anywhere else. For it’s impossible for things not to be where they are. For all is well.”

I think one of the reasons I like Candide is because you tend to get caught up in awful things, thinking that everything is worse than ever. But in fact things have always been terrible, just in a different way. Plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose.

And at least the Inquisition is over.

But none of that helps anyone in Japan, so my heart still breaks for them.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

I think I was Japanese in a past life.

I have a friend who lived in Japan for a while and then worked as a translator and went back and forth a lot, and whenever she tells me about some Japanese thing she thinks I’ll like, I always think it’s the coolest thing.

A while back she sent me a link to Just Bento, a website about Japanese boxed meals called bento, and reading it made me wish I had a job so I could take my lunch somewhere in a little box like that.

One of the things that most Americans eat a lot of that I don’t rely on much is sandwiches, because I think sandwiches are generally not cost-effective. I think you can make it work if you grow vegetables and make your own bread, and use things like hummus that can be made cheaply. But deli meats are expensive — not to mention really high in sodium — and good bread and cheese also tend to be not cheap. (Basically, good bread is not cheap and cheap bread is not good.)

Peanut butter and jelly is the cheapest sandwich you’re going to find, but even that costs more than leftovers. Also PB&J has an image problem because of its popularity among the preschool set. Though I never let that stop me, it’s still my favorite sandwich.

It’s been so long since I worked in an office that I don’t actually remember what I used to take, though I think I’d eat soup or leftovers usually. The reason I like the bento idea is because it’s basically leftovers, but it’s packaged in a way that makes it easy to transport and eat, and it’s so … cute! and organized! … that it seems especially appealing. (I was talking to a friend about this and she said it reminded her of the Molly Ringwald character in The Breakfast Club, pulling out her sushi. I suspect that reference will resonate with some demographics more than others.)

It also has a built-in portion control, and seems like a great approach if you’re trying to lose weight. There are a few good posts on the site about estimating calories per meal and different strategies for packing a lower calorie versus a higher calorie box.

One thing I found really interesting was the comment about trying to limit salty foods. This is something I discovered through a brief stint with the Rice Diet, that reducing or eliminating sodium does much to eliminate food cravings. I think it’s interesting that the Japanese have a word for salty things that means basically “makes you eat more.”

You should also watch out for the salt content in prepared foods like pickles and furikake. Salt doesn’t make you ‘fat’ per se, but high salt items in your bento will make you want more rice. In fact, things like pickles are intended to make you consume more rice (the phrase used is gohan ga susumu, “rice goes more”).

But anyway, it seems to me that you can do this totally cost-effectively — rice is one of the cheapest things around, and many of the options are things like lightly cooked vegetables or pickles that you don’t need a lot of. Also it totally fits in with my approach of making things and putting the extra in the freezer and then using that later. So you have a lot to work with without having to do a lot of extra work.

So if you’re looking for good lunch options for taking things to work, check out the Just Bento site.

And I would definitely do this if I ever left my house.