It was my birthday last Sunday. A fact I’m sure anyone who knows me had to hear with nauseating frequency for the past month. I love birthdays, specifically my birthday. When asked as a child what my favorite holiday was I replied, “My birthday!” I was patiently told my birthday was not really a holiday. I patiently told them, “Ok.” (Even as a child I knew it is best not to contradict people who are clearly delusional.)
So, when it came time for party planning, I decided that pie was my dessert of choice, because very simply I like pie. I love pie. Cake is great, I do not mean to degrade its position as pastry of choice for this type of annual celebration. But I know how to make cake, and I don’t really know how to make pie; thus, I saw my birthday as an excellent opportunity to learn. This may seem counterintuitive, but recipe testing for an audience is quite thrilling.
But every time I mentioned my planned birthday pies, my friends asked skeptically, “You want to make your own birthday cake?”
Yes. Birthday pie….
What I was missing, my friend and collaborator Emily Marchand pointed out, is that “birthday-cake” (pie or otherwise) is not just a dessert; it is a sign of affection. Making your own empties out some of the meaning from this ritual offering. Birthday cakes are a signifier of the affection and thoughtfulness of those you have in your life.
My friends’ affection is mango-flavored, and is not something I could have replicated in my own oven.
Of course this is not to say that I did not get to recipe-test on my birthday. It is to say that food, like art, can be more than that which fills the empty belly or vacant wall space. Food, and art, can be acts of generosity.
Here is what I did make on my birthday:
Pork and Plantain Empanadas
1 pound pork butt or shoulder (this is a very small amount I picked up a slice of shoulder for roughly $2)
2 very ripe plantains
½ a 12 oz beer (whatever you happen to be drinking)
½ an onion
1-2 cloves of garlic
1 chipotle pepper
2 tbl pomegranate molasses (avalible at ethnic markets of various stripes. I promise you will thank me after you pick it up, it is so delicious it should be in everyone’s kitchen)
2 tbl soy sauce
2 t. smoked paprika
a pinch of Chinese five spice powder (a little goes a long way)
a pinch of fennel seeds
¼ t. Liquid Smoke (optional but very tasty, and like the molasses once you have it you will find things to slip it into)
1 tbl of brown sugar
1-2 oz feta cheese
¼ c finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 package of puff pastry defrosted (I use Pepperidge Farm brand, and always have good results)
Begin by preheating your oven to 250˚F, the name of the game while making the pork and plantain filling is low and slow. Roughly chop your plantains, jalapeños and onions and place them in a deep 9×13” glass baking dish. Place your slice of pork shoulder on top. In theory this recipe could be sized up and cooked in the Crockpot with a larger cut of pork, and used not just for empanadas but filling for sandwiches or tacos too.
In a medium-sized bowl mix together the base of the sauce, beer, with your flavorings, garlic, chipotle, pomegranate molasses, soy sauce, smoked paprika, Chinese five spice powder, fennel seeds (crushed slightly between your fingers as you drop them in), and brown sugar. Wisk to combine, and then pour the mixture over the pork and plantains. Give the whole thing a little massage to make sure everything is mingling properly, and pop in the oven for about 2 hours. The filling is ready when the pork shreds easily and the plantains are tender. Shred the pork and allow the filling to cool, while you set up the crust for the empanadas. The filling could be readied in advance up to this point and kept in the fridge for up to two days.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Remove the puff pastry from the wrappers, and working one sheet at a time slice into 9 squares per-sheet. This is very easy if you use the fold lines as guides. Wisk the one egg with 2 tablespoons of water to make a wash. You will use this to glue the edges together and make the top deliciously shiny and golden. Brush the egg wash onto two connecting edges of the puff pastry squares with a pastry brush, or your clean finger if you don’t have one.
Take the now cooled filling and stir in the cheeses. Plop the filling by rounded tablespoonful (here I mean a flatware tablespoon not the measuring tablespoon) onto the squares. Carefully fold over the puff pastry into neat triangles. You may mangle the first few, never fear just push the filling back in and persevere! Poke a tiny hole on the top center with the tip of your knife to allow steam to escape. Brush the tops with the same egg wash and place in to the oven on a sheet pan. Follow the same procedure for the second sheet of puff pastry and the rest of the filling. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown and puffed up.
I like to think of this as a BBQ filling as it is sweet, smoky, and spicy. But the slightly exotic flavors keep it from being mundane while not wholly unfamiliar. These puppies pair beautifully with a glass of Prickly Pear Punch.
Prickly Pear Punch
This punch was created with the lovely and skilled duo Emily Marchand and Sam Widaman, who are among many other things incredible mixologists. If you’ve never eaten a prickly pear before you’re in for a real treat. It is an incredible colour and tastes sort of like a tart refreshing banana.
Don’t be deceived by this cocktail, it will look like it belongs in Barbie’s hand on summer afternoon at her Dream-House. By which I mean to say it is pink. Really aggressively pink. And fruity… not too fruity though. But it packs a wallop, courtesy of two different kinds of alcohol. And while that may be in poor taste, I assure you this beverage is nothing but delicious.
5 prickly pears
1 bunch of mint
2/3 c of passion fruit juice
½ a bottle of gin
½ a bottle of vodka
limejuice to taste
While a juicer would probably make your life easier when making this cocktail it is not necessary. I will write the recipe assuming you are using the method we did, for which you will need a food processor and some cheesecloth.
Blend the prickly pear and strain through your cheesecloth into your pitcher. Prickly pear has a funny texture and will be very thick, not to worry it will thin down with all the other additions to the drink, and will just provide the cocktail with a rich body and satisfying mouth-feel. Rinse out your food processor and cheesecloth and repeat the procedure for the cucumber, jalapeños, mint, and passion fruit juice. These you can do all at once (and don’t just toss out the pulp from this straining, it is very flavorful and tastes great mixed into a salsa or a plain hummus). Taste the green mix and adjust before tossing it into the pitcher.
Next pour in your booze add some limejuice to taste. The drink will be very strong at this point, it is meant to be enjoyed over ice; but ice your cups and not the punch itself, otherwise by the end of the party you will wind up with a weak cocktail!
One last safety tip: keep an eye on the cocktail, because of the colour and the sweet flavor it make an excellent mask for lots of alcohol, and if your guests are anything like mine they may take it upon themselves to help out your brew with some extra infusions of courage. Enjoy responsibly.
Leaving you hungry- Elyse Reardon-Jung