Mexican Style Sweet Empanadas~ Pineapple Apple- Toasted Coconut

You know the term “If it’s not broken, why fix it”? For many years I enjoyed the luxury of my Mom’s homemade Mexican style empanadas. Filled with pumpkin, pineapple and cajeta (dulce de leche). I know the dough recipe had few ingredients and that it had the texture of a more dense version of pie dough. By the time I wanted to learn her recipe, I had married and moved a thousand miles away. Mom had recipes written down, but finding them was a different task all together. My first attempts at re-creating her version was not the best. Then for many years I was preparing empanadas with a recipe my tia from Mexico shared with us. One of the main ingredients was beer?  And why not beer? Beer is great for baking breads, why not an empanada. At first I strictly used that recipe for savory empanadas. Then one day I just went for it and prepared a batch of beer dough and filled it with freshly sliced fruit, dark chocolate chips and dulce de leche caramel. Wow! For a few years I became an expert at that recipe filling it with all kinds of fillings, both sweet and savory. I think that it works for both as I  only use a light beer in the dough recipe so it’s not too strong once  baked.

Mexican style sweet empanadas filled with pineapple, apple and toasted coconut. Just add coffee or tea!
Mexican style sweet empanadas filled with pineapple, apple and toasted coconut. Just add coffee or tea!

By 2009, I had lost both of my parents and with that the hopes of having my Mom show me how she prepared her recipe hands on.  In 2011 I was blessed with a return trip to Monterrey, Mexico to visit family. And fortunate for me, I am blessed to still have my Mom’s sisters, three of which live in Monterrey and can bake like nobody’s business! Lol! While I was there I stayed with my tia Miné and we spent many hours cooking together. It was because of those times, that I am no longer afraid to cook using my pressure cooker, ha, ha, ha! I love it! My tia prepared a batch of sweet empanadas with that dough, that dough recipe that I so longed for and wanted to learn all about it. And I did. I came home from Mexico, just off the plane, jet lagged and all and no sooner got back into my kitchen and prepared some empanadas with what I had learned. My tia’s measurements, much like my Mom’s were never quite exact, old school cooking at it’s best! So, as I went along, I experimented with the recipe now and them. I was always happy with the results after baking the empanadas, but the dough itself just was not that easy to work with when filling and sealing.

Fresh fruit filling prepared from scratch
Fresh fruit filling prepared from scratch

Finally, just a few weeks ago, I experimenting one more time. This is it! I love the results of this dough. You still have to be gentle when handling it, but it works much better. I had less cracks while it was baking and they stayed intact. I make it sound like all the other tries simply fell apart, lol! They didn’t, but they just did not look as nice as my tia’s empanadas. They were beautiful even before I baked them.

I was never completely convinced about the empanada dough recipe I had learned a couple of years back, so I kept trying until I found one that I was very happy with!
I was never completely convinced about the empanada dough recipe I had learned a couple of years back, so I kept trying until I developed one that I was very happy with!

Revised Empanada Dough Recipe

*For Sweet Baked Empanadas

Ingredients

3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
~~~~
1/2 tsp. salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup shortening
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup water
1/2 cup fine sugar
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

You will also need
3 cups of filling. It should be thick and not runny at all.
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

This is my newest mix for empanada filling. Fresh pineapple, tart apples and toasted unsweetened coconut. Tasty!!
This is my newest mix for empanada filling. Fresh pineapple, tart apples and toasted unsweetened coconut. Tasty!!

Pineapple, Apple and Toasted Coconut Filling

4 cups pineapple, finely diced
2 cups tart apple, finely diced
1 cup brown sugar or piloncillo
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon apple pie spice
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
* make a slurry of cornstarch and water. Mix until smooth.

Directions For Filling

Add all of the ingredients to a skillet, minus the cornstarch and water. Heat to medium. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and continue cooking for a good 40 to 50 minutes. Taste for sugar along the way. Once it has broken down and reduced, whisk in the cornstarch slurry. Cook for 5 more minutes.  You know your filling is thick enough when you can run a spatula down the center of pan and it stays on either side of pan without running back to the middle. Remove from heat and let cool. This recipe is enough for about 40 small empanadas more or less. Freeze leftover filling in a heavy freezer bag.

*You can use this same formula to make the filling using a variety of fresh fruits, such as mango, pears, blueberries, raspberries….. You can search my blog for different variations to empanada recipes.

I really enjoy mixing in different fruits to create a new flavor.
I really enjoy mixing in different fruits to create a new flavor. Pineapple, Apple and Toasted Coconut.

 

I thank God for giving me the opportunity to visit with my family in Mexico a few years back. I was able to re-discover some of my Mom's recipes which are family recipes.
I thank God for giving me the opportunity to visit with my family in Mexico a few years back. I was able to re-discover some of my Mom’s recipes which are family recipes.

Directions For Empanada Dough

1. Sift the flour with baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Add 1 cup shortening and work in with hands or pastry cutter until you have small crumbles.

2. Heat the water for 3 minutes in the microwave. Add the sugar and anise seeds, stir until sugar has dissolved. To the flour mixture, mix in the egg until well incorporated. Gradually add in the water mixture  a little at a time until dough forms. You may not end up using all of the water. If it seems too dry, add a little more water as you knead dough for 5 minutes.

3. When ready, roll 24 dough balls. Place in bowl or on a plate, cover and let set for 30 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with foil or parchment paper. Line a tortilla presse with a plastic storgae bag, cut down to size.

5. Before pressing dough ball, knead it for about 30 seconds and shape it back into a flat disc. Press one disc at a time to a 3 1/2 to 4 in circle. The edges will look slightly jagged. Fill with  about 2 tablespoons of filling. Fold over, pinch edge and fold over. Do not over fill.  Do this all the way over the opening to seal. Bake for 30 minutes, then place under broiler to brown the tops a little. Just about 1 minute. Remove from oven and let cool for 1 minute. While they are still warm, gently dredge through cinnamon/sugar mix. Yields 24 small empanadas.

This version of dough was alittle easier to work with as far as molding and sealing the edges.
This version of dough was alittle easier to work with as far as molding and sealing the edges.

Lasagna~Lasaña Prepared Two Ways With Oven Ready Pasta

I live in a great area for delicious Italian food. Just about on every corner you will find a family owned Italian pizza place or full menu Italian restaurant. My first attempts at preparing lasagna were with the dry noodles that had to be boiled first. Not the most fun experience, lol! Then I tried the no boil noodles. Not very memorable to say the least. Recently while at my favorite market, I came across these packages of fresh, oven ready lasagna sheets. I could not pass them up as they were priced very reasonable. I had in mind a few different sauces I wanted to test out as well. So, first you want to decide on a sauce recipe for your lasagna. If you have the time, I suggest preparing your sauce one to two days ahead. The flavors will improve as it sits. Then pick your baking dish. I would suggest a deep dish pan for best results. This is only if you want to add several layers to your lasagna. Other pans that work well are loaf pans. This way you could make a few smaller portioned lasagna. It makes it much easier to freeze for a later time and easier to defrost as well. In my experience in lasagna making, it’s best to have extra sauce and extra cheese. Nobody want a dry lasagna and you could always serve the extra sauce on the side or ladle some over the top when ready to serve.

 

Tomato Red Pepper  Sauce

Tomato Red Pepper Sauce. Great for any pasta recipe or add more broth for a tasty soup!
Tomato Red Pepper Sauce. Great for any pasta recipe or add more broth for a tasty soup!

Olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, diced
4 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet basil
2 cans whole tomatoes (28 oz)
1/2 cup parmesan or cotija cheese, finely grated

Directions

1. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil to large pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, garlic and bell pepper. Season lightly with salt and pepper and saute for 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Add 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes(or to taste), oregano and sweet basil. Saute for 1 minutes. Add the whole tomatoes with juice. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.

3. Using a hand held mixer or the blender, blend all of the ingredients until there are no more chunks. Continue cooking for another 20 minutes, adding more salt to taste and other seasonings if you like. Add the cheese, if using the last few minutes. Yields about 8 cups of sauce.

 

Light Version of Bechamel

A lighter Version of Bechamel Sauce. Add shredded cheese while still warm for a cheesy pasta dish!
A lighter Version of Bechamel Sauce. Add shredded cheese while still warm for a cheesy pasta dish!

8 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 tablespoons all purpose flour
8 cups 2% milk at room temperature
1/4 cup chicken base (this is optional, but adds a little more flavor)
1/2 teaspon white pepper
1/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste

*For a more traditional version, omit the chicken base and use heavy cream or whole milk instead of 2%. Any chef would discourage using lowfat milk, but my sauce was still smooth and extra creamy!

Directions

1. Add the butter to a large pot and heat to medium. As soon as the butter melts, whisk in the flour until smooth. Continue to whisk, so it does not burn, for 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Gradually whisk in the milk. Add the chicken base, pepper and nutmeg. Continue cooking on medium/low until sauce becomes thick and creamy. Do not let it boil. Taste for salt. Yields 8 cups.

 

Fire Roasted Mexican Meat Sauce

Mexican Meat Sauce.
Mexican Meat Sauce.

Olive oil
1 small sweet onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 poblano, diced
1 serrano or jalapeño, minced
3 tablespoons flour
3 oz. tomato paste
14 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes
3 cups water
3 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of clove
salt to taste
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound lean ground beef

Directions

1. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large pot and heat to medium. Add the onions, garlic, poblano and serrano pepper. Season lightly with salt and pepper and saute for 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Add the flour, tomato paste and fire roasted tomatoes. Stir well to combine and cook for 2 minutes. Add all of of the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Using a wooden spoon, break down the beef and it cooks. Cook at a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Yields about 6 cups.

 

Spinach Artichoke Filling

This recipe for Spinach and Artichoke can be used with the tomato base sauce as well as the bechamel sauce.
This recipe for Spinach and Artichoke can be used with the tomato base sauce as well as the bechamel sauce.

Olive oil
1 small sweet onion, diced
4 to 5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large pickled jalapeño, minced
16 oz frozen spinach leaves (Defrost and squeeze out excess water)
14 oz can artichokes,drained and chopped small
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

Directions

1. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to skillet and heat to medium. Add the onions, garlic and pickled jalapeño. Season lightly with salt and pepper and saute for 6 to 8 minutes.

2. Add all of the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Cook until excess liquid reduces. Taste for salt. Yields about 4 cups

Try a few different cheese varieties to add more flavor.
Try a few different cheese varieties to add more flavor. Mozzarella, Cotija or Parmesan and a Tomato Basil Cheddar

 

Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna with Bechamel Sauce

Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna Prepared with Bechamel Sauce
Spinach and Artichoke Lasagna Prepared with Bechamel Sauce
Sometimes I think it's easier building smaller pans of lasagna. This way you can share with friends, a dish to pass or for storing in the freezer.
Sometimes I think it’s easier building smaller pans of lasagna. This way you can share with friends, a dish to pass or for storing in the freezer.

6 to 8 pasta sheets (5X10)
1 recipe for bechamel sauce
1 recipe for spinach artichoke filling
4 cups of shredded or grated cheese mix
* I used a combination of mozzarella, Parmesan and tomato basil cheddar. Shredded them and mixed it myself
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon flour
*A small deep, disposable lasagna pan works best for 4 layers. I used 2 smaller pans and cut the sheets down to size. I only used 5 sheets.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Depending on the size of pan you will be using, you may have to cut the sheets to fit pan. In a bowl, combine all the cheese, oregano, red pepper flakes and flour. Toss to combine and set aside.

3. To start, layer some sauce on the bottom. Add pasta sheets to fit. Add a thin layer of spinach mix and a layer of cheese mixture. Repeat the layers until you fill the pan, more or less or until you run out of ingredients, ha ha! You should always end with cheese as the top layer.

4. Cover with foil and place pan on baking sheet lined with more foil. Bake for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, under the broiler for the last minute to brown the top. Remove from oven and let rest fro 30 minutes before slicing. Yields 8 servings.

This was my taste testing piece of lasagna...someone had to do it.
This was my taste testing piece of lasagna…someone had to do it.

 

Fire Roasted Mexican Meat Sauce Lasagna~Lasagna with a Mexican Twist

A meat sauce with Mexican flavors to spice up your lasagna recipe.
A meat sauce with Mexican flavors to spice up your lasagna recipe.
I am so happy I stumbled upon these fresh, oven ready pasta sheets. I will never think twice about preparing lasagna again!
I am so happy I stumbled upon these fresh, oven ready pasta sheets. I will never think twice about preparing lasagna again!

You Will Need
1 recipe for Mexican Meat Sauce
5 to 6 oven ready lasagna sheets (5X10)
1 cup chihuahua or mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup pepperjack, shredded
1/2 cup cotija or parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon crushed oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley or cilantro
8X8 pan, but  a small, deep, disposable lasagna pan would work better.

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a bowl, combine all the cheese, oregano, red pepper flakes and flour. Toss to combine and set aside.

2. To the pan, you will add the ingredients in this order to begin. 1. sauce, 2. pasta, 3. cheese. If using the parsley or cilantro, spinkle a little on top of each cheese layer.

3. Then another layer of pasta, sauce and cheese. Repeat 2 more times, ending with cheese on top. You want to add thin layers of meat sauce and cheese so the lasagna does not end up too tall for pan. This is why I say a deep dish disposable pan would work best.

4. Cover with foil, place on baking sheet lined with foil and bake on middle rack for 1 hour. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes, the last minute under the broiler. Remove from oven and let set and cool slightly for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Tips~ Whichever pan you use, you will probably have to cut the sheets to fit. I happened to have a vintage Pyrex pan that was exactly the right size for pasta sheets and only had room for 4 sheets.

And if you have a few leftover pasta sheets and ingredients why not try some…

Lasagna Roll Ups

Love the idea of rolling the ingredients in the pasta sheets. You need alot less sauce for this version.
Love the idea of rolling the ingredients in the pasta sheets. You need alot less sauce for this version.
Lasagna Roll Ups Make a Great Dinner For Two!
Lasagna Roll Ups Make a Great Dinner For Two!

I had leftovermexican meat sauce, so I took 2 pasta sheets and filled each sheet with a layer of sauce to cover surface. Add cheese and gently roll up like a cigar. Place in a baking dish lined with sauce and cover with more sauce and cheese. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Broil for a minute to brown the top. Yields 2 servings.