Empanada Party

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What: I decided to bring the spirit of Latin America into my kitchen by making traditional Argentine empanadas with three different casings: Plantain, home-made pastry and shop bought puff pastry.

 

 

Empanadas 1: Plantain

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After making my first empanadas in the Amazon Rainforest I wanted to use the same recipe at home using plantain, which we managed to buy from our local ASDA.

Firstly you peel the plantain (we used 3 plantain and it made 4 large empanadas casings) and chop it into chunks before bringing some salted water to the boil and boiling for around 20-30mins. Check to ensure the plantain is soft with a fork or knife. Then we left the plantain off the heat but still in the pan with the hot water with the lid on. This is because the plantain needs to stay warm whilst the fillings are being prepared.

Empanada 2: Home-made pastry

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Possibly the simplest pastry to make by yourself. To make around 4-5 large empanadas I used 200grams of plan flour with one stick (about 1cm thick) of unsalted butter, one medium egg and a splash of water. You can use a food processor to mix, I used my hands, only out of preference so that I could feel how sticky the dough was, remember to add a dash of extra flour if it’s too wet. The dough was then rolled into a ball, flattened slightly and then wrapped in grease proof paper and popped in the fridge for 30mins – this time period coincided nicely with the cooking of the plantain.

Empanada 3: Shop-bought puff pastry

This doesn’t really need an introduction, just open the pack and unroll!

Whilst the pastry was cooling and the plantain was cooking we created two different fillings.

Filling 1: Traditional Argentine Beef

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I was slightly dubious about this filling as it included olives and hardboiled egg but stick with it!

We made far too much filling for 6 empanadas however:

400gramms of minced meat (we used beef), 1 x large onion sliced, half a veg stock cube, handful of spring onion finally sliced, 2 x hard-boiled eggs cubed, handful of pitted black olives halved, cumin & hot paprika to taste

Start of with sautéing the onions, crumble over the stock cube, add the meat and brown, then finally add the spices, olives and egg, mix together, then bring off the heat and put in a container in the fridge to cool.

Filling 2: Cheese and Spinach

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Very simple, we mixed half a bag of grated mozzarella with half a bag of grated mild cheddar cheese, then wilted a bag of fresh spinach and sautéed one small red onion. Mixed the lot together and then again put it in the fridge to cool down.

NB: Now is the time to pre-heat your over to 200°C/400°F or Gas Mark6.

BUILDING THE EMPANADAS!

Empanada 1: Plantain

Drain the plantain, it should still be pretty warm, pour into a bowl and mash with one egg yolk and half a stick of butter. The texture of the plantain dough will be quite sticky.

Tear a piece of cling film big enough to be able to form your empanada. Get a smallish piece of the plantain dough and squash it with a bowl between the cling film. Peel back the cling film and add a spoonful of filling, then use the cling film to fold over the plantain dough forming a casing. Use the rim of a bowl to roll around the edges to seal. Place on baking tray ready to bake, you can also fry if you prefer.

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Empanada 2 & 3: Home-made and short bought pastry

Roll out each of the pastry, using a knife cut a med-large circle depending on how large you’d like your empanadas. Put a spoonful of filling in the centre and then fold over the dough to form a pocket. Seal the edge using the prongs of a fork. If you like, wash the empanada with egg yolk.

 

 

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Once all your empanadas are ready and on the baking tray, place at the top of your pre-heated over for approx 20-25minutes basically when the dough is golden.

To accompany the empanadas I made a quick tomato salsa: quarter 2 fresh tomatoes, one garlic clove, half a red onion, fresh parsley and a splash of white wine vinegar and olive oil, into a food processor and blitz until a chunky salsa consistence.

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Let the empanadas cool – we should really have invited people over to share as we had baked 20 empanadas between two of us, suffice to say not so much a party as an all you can eat buffet.

Results

1st place: Home-made pastry – crispy and delicious the pastry was lovely and light.

2nd place: Plantain – great flavour but the had got a little soggy due to the filling, probably better to fry them quickly rather than bake.

3rd place: Shop bought puff pastry – it was delicious but not really an empanada in my opinion more like a pasty.

If this recipe makes no sense but you like what you hear then just buy some traditional empanadas from here – they’re delicious!

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The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P.S. Duffy

Cartographer of No Man's Land

Title: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land

Author: P.S. Duffy

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Myrmidon

Publication date: 2014

Paperback: 384 pages

Why did I chose to read this book? I felt it was apt to read a WW1 fiction novel on the centenary of WW1

Where to read this book? In the newly opened grounds of the Imperial War Museum, London (or IWM North in Greater Manchester.

Review

Set between Canada and the trenches of the First World War’s front line we meet Angus MacGrath and his family. When his beloved brother-in-law, Ebbin goes missing along the French front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist father’s upbringing to join the war, find him and bring him home. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly into the visceral shock of trench battle. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in their small, Canadian fishing village torn by grief and naivety.

The story is narrated by two voices; that of Angus and the other of his son Simon, presumably to provide a deeper insight into the experiences of WW1 both on the battlefield and on the Home Front. To an extent it does succeed, unfortunately I wasn’t wholly convinced and found myself swiftly flicking though Simon’s fourteen year old monologues to get back to the gritty front line with Angus.

The chapters from Angus are alive with real emotion, detail and strength of character. The camaraderie of the Canadian troops and Angus’ search for Ebbin are engaging and brutal. The passages that are devoted to the preparations for the assault on Vimy Ridge, that carry through to the men going over the top are poignant and unrelenting. Studying this period of history, I already knew much of the content, but the focus on the Canadian troops was a new angle and this was of much interest.

However, Simon’s accounts and experiences are dull and lifeless. I was irritated by him and also his mother. A highlight came in the descriptions of how, as the war continued, hostilities rose towards a German teacher, a feeling that grew exponentially and without basis. This was the only strong element that I enjoyed from these chapters.

At the beginning you’re given to believe that the search for Ebbin will be the central focus. However, as the story advances, it’s clear that Ebbin is the spark that lights the fuse to discovering Angus’s story. Ebbin is actually used as a very effective tool to give an insight into the minds of the men on the front line and the issues surrounding morale amongst the troops.

The ending was disappointing. It tailed off and was one of those books that I actually turned the page expecting more but was faced with a blank sheet of paper. I felt like Duffy had got to the end exhausted and given up.

Overall, it was okay. The story offers a smattering of insight and I did enjoy Angus’s voice – it’s just a pity that that comprised only 50% of the book.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

Blindness by José Saramago

Blindness

Title: Blindness

Author: José Saramago, translated by Giovanni Pontiero.

Genre: Dystopian Fiction

Publisher: Vintage, Penguin Random House.

Publication date: Vintage editions 4th April 2013 (originally 1995)

Paperback: 320 pages

Where to read this book? I love Portugal and it was in a bookshop in Lisbon where I discovered this book, so if you can, read it in Portugal. If not then anywhere beautiful and outdoors, the contents are extremely claustrophobic.

Refreshments: This story doesn’t inspire eating. However, to get through it you may want to sit down with a stiff drink, when in Lisbon I discovered they make the best G&T’s so that was my tipple of choice.

Review

A driver waiting at the traffic lights goes blind. An opthamologist tries to diagnose his distinctive white blindness, but is affected before he can read the textbooks. It becomes a contagion, spreading throughout the city. Trying to stem the epidemic, the authorities herd the afflicted into a mental asylum where the wards are terrorised by blind thugs. And when fire destroys the asylum, the inmates burst forth and the last links with a supposedly civilised society are snapped.

No food, no water, no government, no obligation, no order. This is not anarchy, this is blindness.

The speed in which the story descends into a dark and chilling account of basic human instinct and survival of the fittest mentality was surprisingly and extremely disturbing. This book is not for the faint hearted.

Blindness spreads like a plague and the governments’ response is to remove and contain those afflicted. Rounded up and placed in an old psychiatric institution that is guarded by the army the individuals suffer the inhumanity that only real fear inspires.

As a reader we follow the original group of about eight individuals, including the first blind man and his wife, his eye doctor and his wife and those present that day in the same doctors surgery. It is through the doctors wife, whose eyesight is the only to remain in tact for reasons we can assume is due to her unwavering commitment to stay with her husband, that we are offered a portal into the descent into utter chaos.

During the beginning of their process of internment I was angry at the government who all but abandon them to a fate worse than death, broadcasting rules over a loud-speaker every day. Reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984, they are advised that no one is there to help. It is during these first days that the human spirit endures and bonds are formed as a hierarchy is established amongst the blind formed on their individual strengths.

One of the lasting and more poignant relationships is between a blind old man and a beautiful young blind girl, lessons of superficiality are key in this sub plot.

As you are lead into the second half of the book you realise the shift in gear, this is not for the faint hearted. In fact it should come with a warning. The emergence of an alpha male sect as the institution becomes overburdened is amongst the darkest and most disturbing reflection of humanity. We, as a reader, are presented with the stark reality and truth of people’s ability to act, in the grossest possible way, to a fellow human being when one thinks they cannot be seen or identified.

This is one of the best books I’ve read. At times it wasn’t easy to read and sometimes it was the stuff of nightmares but it was definitely worth it and I will certainly be seeking out more translated works of José Saramago.

Rating: 10 out of 10

Friday Steak Night at Gillrays

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Where? Gillrays Steakhouse & Bar, within the London Marriott County Hall Hotel.

When? Friday 4th July 2014

Cuisine: English

Ambience: Traditional, formal setting akin to an ‘old boys’ club. Due to a private function taking over the regular dining room we were dining in one of the smaller rooms whose lounge seats were not designed for eating in comfort. However, this room did boast lovely views of the sun setting over Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament across the South Bank.

Service: Informative but neither attentive nor interested, this could have been because of the private event (although it should be noted this hadn’t started at our time of eating). Our drinks took approximately 20 minutes to arrive and that was after a couple of nudges, the complimentary appetisers arrived at the same time as the starters so the table was overwhelmed and the bill once requested assumed the ‘optional service’ was being paid. Overall the service was lacking the personal touch that other similar establishments pride themselves on.

Food: I had made the reservation after seeing that Gillrays were trying out their ‘summer market’ menu: 2 courses and a cocktail for £20. This for London is a bargain plus it was located conveniently for mine and my dining partners’ offices for a post Friday meal.

Appetiser: Yorkshire pudding with cheese

Complimentary and completely bizarre this sizeable and cold Yorkshire Pudding contained a lump of cheese that had the texture and taste of leftover melted cheese from an old piece of toast, this was served with a pot of herb mayonnaise. Unfathomable, unpalatable and offensive to someone from Yorkshire. NEXT

Starter: Corn-crusted Devonshire sardines with warm heritage tomatoes & grilled sourdough

A beautiful plate of food and a decent number (3) of sardines to accompany the (3) pieces of sourdough. However, trying to eat it served in a bowl proved rather more difficult, a plate would have been preferable. The sardines were tasty yet dry, the sourdough again dry but this was to be expected and improved with the application of the aforementioned herb mayonnaise, the tomatoes added a hint of sweetness and much-needed juice. An average dish.

Main: Char Grilled Rump Steak (rare) with triple cooked chips, grilled mushrooms & vine tomatoes and Béarnaise sauce (on the side)

The steak, slightly over-cooked, was delicious, meaty, full-of-flavour and very little fat – the fat there was was both juicy and crispy – the chips were equally tasty, fat and crispy with an ingrained saltiness. The tomato and mushroom were mere window dressing and not worth note. However and also thankfully, I managed to prevent my dining partner from throwing the sauce over her dish before tasting, something she will forever be in my debt. It was horrible. Neon yellow, overly rich, gluey and cloying it would have completely overwhelmed the plate. Instead we were served our own personal pot of Heinz mayonnaise and ketchup and I was presented with a selection of mustards, a much more appetising option.

The desserts were not offered to us again at the end of the meal, although a brief glance at the beginning of the meal told me that I wouldn’t have actually desired one anyway.

Drink: The cocktail was gin, Prosecco and a choice of either passionfruit or cranberry juice. We both opted for passionfruit which was extremely refreshing. I wasn’t sure what happened if you didn’t like gin.

Aside from the cocktail we stuck to tap water, which was cold and served with lemon. They do boast an extensive drinks menu, although we didn’t peruse, as instead of being offered a traditional menu (it should be noted here I love perusing menus!) we were given a tablet to scroll through – this didn’t suit the style and ambience of the restaurant and was an off-putting medium especially after spending all day in front of a computer.

Repeater? Maybe. The main course was a hit everything else in terms of food and service was lacking. On leaving we got a glimpse of the ‘real’ restaurant so it might be worth another try when a private dining event is not taking place.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Taste the menu for yourself by booking here.