Cooking The Hunger Games: District 11’s Crescent Moon Rolls with Sesame Seeds and Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums


The Hunger Games? Nope, don’t want to read it. Isn’t that for 14-year old girls?”

“You read Harry Potter!”

It’s true. I read every single Harry Potter book, but this wasn’t Harry Potter. That was about wizards, and good and evil, and growing up, and friendship, and butter beer! This was probably some kind of Twilight spin-off full of conflicted teenagers whining about how they shouldn’t be in love with vampires and werewolves.

“No, really” Joseph insisted, “You should read it.”

“Oh, yeah? What’s it about?”

“Well, it’s about this girl . . . And she hunts . . .”

It wasn’t the most persuasive thing he could have said, but Joseph must have been sure that once the seed was planted in my mind, curiosity would get the better of me.

The next time I saw him, I told Joseph that it was completely his fault that I went to bed at 4:45 AM and was raccoon-eyed and foggy-minded for the rest of the day.

“Ha ha!” he said, “You read The Hunger Games, didn’t you!”

I did. I read it cover to cover. In one night. Straight through.

And I loved it. I was completely hooked.

Yes, The Hunger Games series is clearly Young Adult Fiction. As befits the genre, sometimes the books can be a little repetitive (okay! I thought by Chapter 3 of the first book, I get it! She hunts!). They are also fast-paced and packed full of action. The narratives are straightforward, and the books are emotional and plot-driven. It’s the world from the perspective of kids.

But just because the target audience of The Hunger Games is young, doesn’t mean that any of the books in the series are simplistic. In fact, what makes the books so good is how they use food to illustrate complex ideas and to represent the complicated relationships between different characters, different people, and different social classes. I’ve even read some other things about how the story can be read as an allegory for our current food system and its potential unsustainability, how Katniss herself can be seen as a model of locavorism as a girl who is forced outside of her manufactured food system in order to survive, and how hunting, foraging and sometimes going without — as Katniss does — is a healthier model of eating than what is offered by the super-sized Capitol (thanks, Charlene!).

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For those of you who haven’t read the books, maybe a brief overview is necessary:

The Hunger Games takes place in a postapocalyptic future in roughly what is used to be North America. Now known as the dystopian Panem, the state is divided into 13 districts — one of which was annihilated after fomenting rebellion, leaving 12 under the rule of the Capitol. As a means to control the remaining districts, the Hunger Games were created as annual televised event reminding everyone of the power that the Capitol holds over them. Participation is mandatory and each year, each district must send one boy and one girl between the ages of 12-18 to participate in a gladiatorial-like game set in an artificially constructed arena that may or may not kill them if their fellow gladiators — called tributes — don’t get to them first. There can only be one survivor, and the child who manages to be survive earns precious food and oil for their starving district.

The book’s main protagonist is a 16-year old girl from Panem’s poorest district, District 12. Her name is Katniss Everdeen and, as explained so well by Joseph, she is a hunter. More than a hunter though, she is a survivor: tough, capable, resourceful, skilled, and lethal . . . to animals (but as another character points out, are kids really that different?). The story is told from her point of view, and hardly a page goes by without the mention of food.

Food is everywhere in The Hunger Games. It is what everyone in every district outside of the Capitol is obsessed with because just about everyone outside of the Capitol is starving. The decadent Capitol produces nothing. It is reliant on the outlying districts to provide everything from its food to its fuel to its manufactured goods. However, the Capitol’s citizens want for nothing, and what the districts produce is never meant for their own consumption.

Not only is this power dynamic illustrated through the difference between the kinds of food eaten in the Capitol (rich, elegant, sophisticated, refined, and luxurious) and what is eaten in the districts (rough, unrefined foods like ration grains, or things that people eat out of desperation like the pine wood and wild dog), but in sheer quantity as well. People in the Capitol have so much to eat (and eat so much it) that they enjoy making themselves sick just so they can empty their stomachs and continue eating more. This would be inconceivable to people in districts who have never had enough to eat.

If this all sounds very Roman to you, it is pretty obvious that author Suzanne Collins intends it to be. From the idea of a gladiatorial fight to the finish, or to the use of food as a way to symbolize the contrast between the decadence of the Haves in the Capitol and the Have-Nots in the districts, Rome overshadows everything in the series. Characters have Roman names (Seneca, Cato, Cinna, Plutarch). Even the name Panem derives itself, not from Pan-American, but from the Latin phrase panem et circenses which means bread and circuses — the Roman means of appeasing and controlling populations through food and entertainment.

Speaking of bread, every single district has its own, from the rough drop biscuits of District 12, to the ultra-refined rolls of the Capitol. Bread — like all food in The Hunger Games — is used to communicate all kinds of relationships. For example, when Katniss and her fellow tribute from District 12, Peeta Mellark, are transported to the Capitol for training before the games, every table is set to include a basket of bread with representative loaves from each of the 12 districts and from the Capitol. The inclusion of the Capitol’s bread is a symbolic reminder of its power and superiority among those rougher, unsophisticated loaves.

As you can see, there is a lot in the book to think about.

You probably also guessed that I had been very anxiously awaiting the The Hunger Games movie that just came out last week. I was so excited about it that I cooked a Hunger Games feast using recipes from, or adapted from The Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook by Emily Ansara Baines before dragging my friends to the midnight IMAX showing of the film.

What did we eat? A “Caesar” salad consisting of chopped Romaine lettuce simply dressed in a lemon juice vinaigrette with lots of grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. It was meant to be a nod to The Hunger Games‘s Roman roots even though Caesar salad has nothing to do with Rome (it was invented in Mexico by a guy named Caesar).

District 11’s Crescent Moon Rolls with Sesame Seeds, because how could a Hunger Games-themed dinner not include bread? Especially this bread, as those of you who have read the books know.

Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums, the name says it all. But read further along to hear more about that story!

And Rum-macerated Strawberries with Prim’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream, which was simply quartered strawberries tossed in sugar, a sprinkle of salt, and a few splashes of rum, served over goat’s milk ice cream.

It was so much fun. I can’t wait to do this for the second movie!

District 11’s Crescent Moon Rolls with Sesame Seeds

Ingredients:

2 .25-ounce packages of dry active yeast

3/4 cup of warm water (about 110°)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of white sugar

Salt

2 eggs

3/4 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature (divided into 1/2 cup and 1/4 cup)

2 cups of all-purpose flour

2 cups of whole wheat flour

For the egg wash:

1 egg

1 tablespoon of milk

2 tablespoons of sesame seeds

How to prepare:

1. Sift together the two flours into a large bowl.

2. In another large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Using an electric mixer, add the sugar, the salt, 2 eggs, 1/2 cup of butter, and half of the flour mixture to the dissolved yeast. Beat everything together until it is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat everything together until it is smooth again.

3. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, knead the dough for about ten minutes. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it, and let it rise in a warm place until the dough has almost doubled in size. This can take anywhere between 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

4. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough and divide it roughly in half. Shape each half into a ball and roll each ball out into a 12-inch circle. Use a butter knife to spread half of the remaining 1/4 cup of butter evenly across the circle. Sprinkle with salt. Using a pizza cutter, cut each circle into 8 wedges. Starting at the wide end, roll each wedge up towards its point. Arrange the rolls, point-side down, about an inch apart from each other on the baking sheet. At this point, you can curve the ends inward to make more of a crescent shape. You may need to use more than one baking sheet. Cover the rolls again and let them rise until they are almost doubled, between 90 minutes to 2 hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 375°.

6. When the rolls have doubled again in size, brush them with an egg wash made from one beaten egg and a tablespoon of milk. Sprinkle each roll with sesame seeds. Bake the rolls in the over for about 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums:

Out of all the dishes from the Capitol that Katniss eats during her training for the games, it is this stew that leaves the greatest impression on her. However, the stew kind of sounds better in concept than execution for the following reason:

If you ask for dried plums at the market, you will likely be pointed in the direction of the prunes. Because dried plums are a fancy way of saying prunes without the stigma associated to the word “prunes.”

Kind of how all bourbon is whisky, but not all whisky is bourbon, all prunes are plums, but not all plums are prunes. Prune plums are generally the plum variety that is almost always dried before eating.

And this recipe called for 5 cups of them. 5 cups of prunes.

Let us consider this for a moment:

For those of you who haven’t read the book, or are currently in the process of reading it, I apologize in advance if I give away a little bit of the story to you.

You know that when Katniss and Peeta are in the cave? When they’re starving the in the cave and they get sent a large tureen of this stew from their sponsors? I don’t know about you, but if I were Haymitch, I wouldn’t send my tributes a big pot of steaming lamb and prunes. Not a good idea.

I would send them something else, like that creamy chicken dish with oranges or some cookies. Because if the whole goal is to not get killed in the arena, I would try my best to not put my tributes in the position to literally be caught with their pants down.

Seriously. Not to be crude or anything, but I strongly think that this recipe should be renamed Katniss’s Favorite Natural Laxative with Stewed Lamb.

It was tasty, but I feel like it is my duty to warn you if you attempt this at home — especially if there are leftovers.

Despite halving the amounts of almost all the recipe’s ingredients (the original called for a insane 5 pounds of lamb), there was still so much stew that it completely filled up a 5-quart Dutch oven to the rim. I had to transfer the stew to an 8-quart stew pot, but even then, the pot was uncomfortably full. What would have happened if I made the recipe exactly as specified? Would I have had to have used a swimming pool?

Even after feeding myself and my friends, I was still left with unholy amounts of stew — enough to soften the stool of a small Roman army.

So if I were you, I would go ahead and halve the recipe again one step further.

Ingredients:

2 to 2 1/2 pounds of lamb stew meat

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons of olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 of water

4 cups of beef stock

2 teaspoons of white sugar

3 teaspoons of brown sugar

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into large dice

2 small zucchini, cut into large dice

3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cubed

5 cups of pitted prunes

2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, finely chopped

3 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 teaspoons of fresh basil, finely chopped

2 teaspoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped

1 cup of dry ginger ale

How to prepare:

1. In a large mixing bowl, generously season the lamb with salt and pepper. Toss the meat to coat it evenly with the seasoning.

2. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Sear the lamb cubes on all sides, working in batches if you need to. Remove the lamb to a large stew pot or a lidded casserole.

3. Spoon off all the fat except for about a tablespoon. Add the onion to the pan. Sauté it until it just begins to turn translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté everything together until the onion begins to turn golden. Carefully add about 1/2 cup of water to the pan. Cook to reduce the liquid by half. As the liquid reduces, gently scrape the bottom of the pan to release and dissolve the fond. Add the garlic-onion mixture to the lamb.

4. Dissolve the two sugars in the beef stock and add it to the lamb. The liquid should cover it completely. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and simmer the lamb for about an hour.

5. Add the vegetables, the prunes, the herbs, and the ginger ale to the pot. Cover the stew again and simmer it for about 30-45 minutes more. You may need to add more water or stock if the stew looks too thick. The meat should be falling apart, and the vegetables should be tender when the stew is done. Adjust the seasoning and serve.

Stay Tuned: Coolcookstyle cooks The Hunger Games


I love The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Love them.

Love them so much that I dragged my friends to the midnight IMAX show last night following a Hunger Games-themed dinner cooked by yours truly from recipes from the Unofficial Hunger Games Cookbook!

No, I am not a 14 year old girl 😉

In all honesty, the book is all about interesting food topics: locavorism, foraging, food as metaphor, the symbolic and cultural value of food, historical food, food as communication, what it means to be hungry, to improvise, to remember. It’s about decadence and poverty.

And there wasn’t enough food in the movie. Which is a crying shame.

More details to follow, but just to peak your interest, the evening’s menu was:

“Caesar” salad
District 11 Crescent Moon Rolls with Sesame Seeds
Katniss’s Favorite Lamb Stew with Dried Plums
Rum-macerated Strawberries with Prim’s Goat’s Milk Ice Cream

Stay tuned!

(especially because that stew called for 5 cups of prunes)

Mexican-Style Slow Cooked Pork from The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià


For years I have been both intrigued and repelled by the family meal, the meal cooked just for the restaurant staff to eat before service. Intrigued, obviously, because I have always wondered what the staff is eating without me. Repelled because, quite frankly, I have heard some awful stories about family meals being a way to unload unsaleable garbage onto servers and dishwashers. Many times it sounds like prison food without the cable TV. Or school lunches without Jamie Oliver. In a Washington Post article published a few years back, writer Matt Bonesteel reported that chef Bill Fuller used to make family meals out of “squash guts,” ostensibly the “remnants of yellow squash and zucchini that had had their yellow and green exteriors shaved off with a mandoline for vegetable spaghetti.”

“When the dishwashers stop eating it,” Fuller said, “It’s time to not serve it anymore.”

Having never worked in a restaurant myself, I can only speculate that some family meals are very nice, and some are as revolting as the ones shown on thisfamilymealsucks. True, some restaurants feed their staffs by having them order off the menu. (Now that sounds great!) However, in the case of many notable restaurants, it seems very unlikely that staff members are given free rein to have as much foie gras and caviar bubbles as they want. As put in the introduction to Ferran Adrià‘s newish book The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, “You might assume that the staff would eat the same food as the guests, but they don’t. In fact, people are often surprised when we tell them that we eat ordinary food.”

Note that he says “ordinary food,” not garbage, as it really should be in the restaurant’s best interest to keep their workers happy by feeding them well.

Also note that “ordinary food” coming out of elBulli‘s kitchen is more than likely extraordinary food for simple, common folk like you and me.

Restaurant family meals, good or bad, all seem to share two things: they are extremely economical, and they are meant to feed a crowd. This might explain why all the recipes in The Family Meal have the ingredients listed in a conversion table that allows you to adjust the recipe for parties of 2, 6, 20, and 75.

This recipe is adapted from Adrià’s in a few ways: I added garlic (weirdly missing), adjusted the amount of achiote paste (the original calls for 6 1/4 ounces, which is just a freakishly unappealing amount of annatto), and changed the cooking time and temperature (the book calls for 2 1/2 pounds of pork shoulder to be cooked at 400° for over 4 hours — not appealing either given I wouldn’t cook a 20+ pound turkey for that long).

The pork — even with less achiote and less time in the oven at a lower temperature — still turned out full and flavorful. It fell apart in a satisfying mess while I was shredding it with two forks. A sloppy, fatty, tangy yum-yum of a mess.

As for economical? Pork shoulder is a relatively inexpensive cut. You probably have the rest of the ingredients lying around the house, except for maybe the achiote paste.

Achiote paste can sometimes be found in the “ethnic” food aisle here in the US. Mine was only $0.99 at the Mexican grocery (slightly more expensive online). You can also make your own fairly easily.

(Man, I’m starting to feel like Frugal Feeding over here with all this talk of dollars and cents!)

I served the pork with some homemade guacamole and some fresh, juicy lime wedges on the side. Neither were suggested by the original recipe, I suspect out of respect for the bottom line. I can imagine fresh limes and avocados for 75 hungry staff members to be beyond the budget at ol’ elBulli.

But that doesn’t mean that you should hold back! Creamy avocado is a terrific, nay sinful counterpoint to rich and citrusy pork.

All in all, this was a meal that was far from ordinary!

Ingredients:

1 3-pound boneless pork shoulder, tied

1 cup of orange juice

2 large pinches of oregano

2 large pinches of cumin

3.5 ounces of achiote paste

2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 medium white onion, roughly chopped

Salt and pepper

1 small red onion, sliced

Cilantro for garnish

24 6-inch corn tortillas

Fresh guacamole

Lime wedges

Special equipment:

A handheld immersion stick blender

How to prepare:

1. To make the marinade, combine the orange juice, the cumin, the oregano, the achiote paste, the apple cider vinegar and the garlic in a deep bowl. Using a handheld immersion blender, whizz all the ingredients together until the marinade is smooth and creamy.

2. Using the point of a small paring knife, deeply prick the meat all over so that the marinade can penetrate it. Season the pork well with salt and pepper.

3. Line a baking dish with a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Place the meat in the middle of it and bring up the sides to create a well. Carefully pour the marinade over the pork. Scatter the onions over the top. Fold the foil over the meat to make a tight parcel. You might need to use a second piece of aluminum foil to make sure the pork is completely covered. The most important thing is that you seal all of the edges well so that no steam can escape. Let the meat marinate for about 30-40 minutes on the countertop, or up to 12 hours in the refrigerator.

4. Preheat the oven to 350°. Roast the pork for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. After you remove the pork from the oven, let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before carefully opening the aluminum foil.

5. While the pork is resting, warm or toast the tortillas on both sides in a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Nestle the tortillas in between a napkin on a warmed plate while you finish the rest.

6. Remove the pork to a cutting board and remove all the strings. Use two forks to gently shred the pork. Pile the shredded pork in a large bowl or dish. Skim as much fat from the surface of the saucy cooking liquid as possible, and spoon as much of it as you want over the pork. Scatter some red onion slices over the top, along with some sprigs of cilantro.

To assemble, pile a good amount of pork onto a warm tortilla. Top it with some of the remaining red onion, a dollop of guacamole and a spritz of lime juice.

The Daring Kitchen March Cooks’ Challenge: Braised Short Ribs with Braised Root Vegetables


For last month’s Daring Kitchen Cooks’ Challenge, Lis and Audax Artifex (whose parents must be congratulated for giving him the best name on the planet) gave us a very technical challenge and dared us to make patties.

This month, Carol from Newfoundland, Canada, has given us another technical challenge: braising.

When most people consider braising, they think of tougher cuts of meat that generally have a lot of muscle or connective tissue — think lamb shanks, oxtails, short ribs, or stew beef. Braising is a very easy way to cook these economical cuts of meat, transforming them into meals that are the embodiment of pure comfort and elemental nourishment.

Braising can also be used for certain kinds of vegetables — carrots, celery and parsnips, for example — that take a long time to cook to mouthwatering tenderness.

To attain braised perfection, you really only need three things:

1. Low and steady heat
2. Liquid
3. Time.

In Carol’s challenge PDF, she gave us several recipes for ideas, including one for braised short ribs from Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman’s recipe jazzes up short ribs with a snazzy gremolata. However, whenever I think of braised short ribs, I think of the traditional French bonne femme: pure, simple, and uncomplicated . . .

. . . which is of course why I chose a recipe from Thomas Keller‘s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook — ha ha! there goes the uncomplicated bit!

Reproduced in Food and Wine Magazine, this recipe from Keller and his brother Joseph is really quite simple. Though there seem to be like a lot of steps, they are all dead easy. The difficulty comes in just waiting to eat as your house fills with the wonderful smells of braised meat. The absolute most difficult thing is delaying gratification for a day, if you can, in order to be able to remove the fat rendered from the ribs and deepen the flavors of the braise.

I can only say that though it is hard, waiting is not impossible so long as you chant like a mantra, “It will be better tomorrow, it will be better tomorrow”!

And order a pizza 😉

A big thank you to Carol for the great challenge! I encourage everyone to take a look at her challenge PDF. She includes so many more ideas for braising (fennel, duck, pork belly and oxtail), and it is a great way to learn more about braising!

Blog-checking lines: 
The March, 2012 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Carol, a/k/a Poisonive – and she challenged us all to learn the art of Braising! Carol focused on Michael Ruhlman’s technique and shared with us some of his expertise from his book “Ruhlman’s Twenty”.

Special equipment:

2 large Zip-loc bags

A large Dutch oven with a lid, or any enameled cast-iron casserole

(please do note though that if you do not have an enameled cast-iron pot, it is still possible to braise. Keller’s recipe calls for the short ribs to be braised in a either a large baking dish or roasting pan covered tightly with aluminum foil)

Ingredients:

4 beef short ribs (about 2 pounds)

1 bottle of full-bodied red wine like a Côtes du Rhône, minus one glass (because I drank that)

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 large leek, white and tender green parts only, roughly chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

4 sprigs of parsley

2 sprigs of thyme

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour for dredging

2 tablespoons of vegetable oil

3 cups of veal stock (or one 1.5 ounce package of demi-glace + 3 cups of water)

2 tablespoons of grainy Dijon mustard

1 bunch of baby carrots, peeled

1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

1 cup of chicken stock

2 tablespoons of butter

How to prepare:

1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, bring the wine to boil over medium-high heat. Remove the wine from the heat and add the vegetables, the parsley, the thyme and the bay leaf. Cover the saucepan and let the marinade cool completely.

2. When the marinade has cooled, season the short ribs with salt and pepper and arrange them in a single layer in a large Zip-loc bag. You may want to double up the Zip-loc bags, just in case they leak. Pour the marinade over the ribs. Squeeze any air out of the bags and seal them. Let the ribs marinate in the refrigerator overnight, turning the bag over every once in a while to make sure that the ribs marinate evenly.

3. Preheat the oven to 300°. Remove the short ribs from the marinade. Strain the marinade, and reserve the liquid and the vegetables in separate bowls. In a large skillet, heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil until almost smoking. Dredge the ribs in flour, knocking off any excess, and add them to the skillet. Brown them over medium-high heat on all sides, about 4 minutes per side. Arrange them in a single layer in the bottom of a large Dutch oven.

4. Spoon off all but 1 tablespoon of fat. Add the strained vegetables and cook them until they begin to brown. Add them to the short ribs. Tip the reserved liquid to the skillet and bring it to a boil. Pour the hot liquid, along with the stock, over the ribs and the vegetables. Cover the pot with its lid and bake the ribs for about 3 hours. The meat should be very tender and almost falling off the bone.

If proceeding to step 5a, leave the oven on. Turn the oven off if proceeding to step 5b.

5a. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Skim off as much fat as you can from the surface of the cooking juices. Bring the liquid to boil over medium-high heat until it has reduced to about two cups of sauce. Whisk in two tablespoons of grainy mustard. Adjust the seasoning. Return the meat to the pot, cover, and bake for another 30 minutes.

5b. Braised short ribs are notorious having a deep layer of rendered fat floating on top of the braising liquid. If you can delay gratification for one day, let the ribs cool in their braising liquid overnight in the refrigerator. Remove and discard the layer of solidified fat from the top before preparing the ribs to be reheated. The beauty of this is that it easily allows you to get rid of all that fat. Secondly, as with all stews and braises, flavors meld together and become richer the longer the stew or the braise has to sit.

So by waiting, not only will your braise not be swimming in grease, but it will have more depth of flavor. Good things come to those who wait!

After removing the top layer of solidified fat, let the short ribs return to almost room temperature before preheating your oven to 300°. Scoop out the short ribs and transfer them to a large bowl as you finish the sauce. Set the Dutch oven with the braising liquid over medium-high heat. Reduce the liquid until you have about 2 cups of sauce. Whisk in two tablespoons of coarse mustard. Adjust the seasoning. Add the short ribs back to the sauce, cover the Dutch oven with its lid, and bake everything in the oven for about 30 minutes.

6. In the meanwhile, prepare your root vegetables. In a large deep-sided skillet, arrange the parsnips, the baby carrots and the turnips in an even layer. Add the chicken stock and the butter to the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and bring the liquid up to a lively simmer. Reduce the temperature to low and cover the skillet. Cook the vegetables until they are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove them from the braising liquid with a slotted spoon.

Let the short ribs cool slightly before serving them with the braised vegetables.

Simple Roast Chicken and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Parmesan Rice with Buttered Almonds and Fresh Oregano


The past few weeks have been insane schedule-wise. First of all, I had a slew of administrative concerns that needed to be sorted out. Never fun. Secondly, I had to take a Foreign Language Proficiency Exam. In Spanish.

I don’t speak Spanish.

So why did I have to take it? Well, long story short, for my degree, I basically needed to show that I can do research in a language other than my native one if necessary. Since I am in a French department, French doesn’t count even though it is not my native language. English doesn’t count either because it actually is my native language.

Yes, I agree; it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me either that I had to pick something else.

What is really embarrassing is that I have actually known about this requirement for years. Why did I put it off for so long? Well, it kept getting superseded by more pressing things like students who needed final grades, or coursework that needed to be completed. Silly things like that!

I think that I also had these pleasant daydreams of jetting off to Buenos Aires to learn Spanish while sucking down copious amounts of Malbec. Or learning Spanish in Madrid with a dictionary in one hand and a tapas in the other. Or going to Lima and eating chifa until I exploded. You get the idea.

In any case, it just got to the point where I couldn’t avoid it anymore.

And that is how I found myself in a situation where I had to teach myself advanced-level Spanish in three weeks!

To those who say that Spanish is “easier,” I say that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

I have spent many, many, many years teaching French to undergrads. That is a lot of experience breaking language down into manageable chunks and patterns. Believe me when I say that, comparatively, Spanish has a lot more verb forms than French does. It also has more than one verb for “to be,” a crazy, confusing thing called the “a personal,” and imperfect past, past perfect and future subjunctive tenses that actually get used.

I would guess that people say that Spanish is easier for two primary reasons: Americans tend to have more exposure to Spanish than any other foreign language, and Spanish-speakers, in general, seem to be much more tolerant of badly-spoken Spanish than French or Italian speakers are of badly-spoken French or Italian.

Needless to say, I was so stressed out I wasn’t eating very well. However, at a certain point last week, I just couldn’t take it anymore. My body would not accept any more slices of pizza,  any more handfuls of almonds, or any more weird juice drinks in an effort to have my fruit and vegetables in a speedy, non-chewable way.

I just had to cook something. It had to be warm and comforting. It had to be interesting too, but in as fuss-free a way as possible.

A roast chicken fit the bill beautifully. Trussed tight, massaged with butter, and showered with salt and pepper is all the effort needed to turn out a beautifully golden bird.

But woman cannot live by poultry alone!

So I paired it with this fantastic Parmesan rice recipe that I adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi — which was equally as easy to make, as well as being elegant to look at and eat. Is the dish Middle Eastern-inspired? Persian? Moorish? Italian? Turkish? Who the heck knows, but it was delicious.

As for the exam, I hope that I passed! I find out in 4-6 weeks. Fingers crossed that I don’t have to take the gosh darned thing again!

Ingredients:

5 tablespoons of butter (divided into 2 tablespoons, and 3 tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups of basmati rice

3 cups of water

Salt and white pepper

1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

1/2 cup of raw slivered almonds

The juice of 2 lemons

1 tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves

Sumac (optional)

How to prepare:

1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat. Toss the rice in the melted butter until the individual grains become translucent. Add 3 cups of water and a good pinch of salt. Raise the heat to medium-high, and bring the rice to a boil uncovered. Cover the pan, and lower the heat about as low as it can go. Cook the rice until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

2. When the rice is done, fluff it with a fork. Evenly sprinkle the rice with the cheese and stir everything together. The Parmesan should be evenly distributed throughout the rice. Adjust the seasoning with salt and white pepper. Cover the rice again while you prepare the almonds.

3. In a small frying pan, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter over medium to medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, add the almonds. Turn the almonds in the foamy butter until they begin to brown and turn golden. Remove the pan from the heat. VERY CAREFULLY add the lemon juice by pouring it over the back of a wooden spoon into the almonds. Stir in the oregano leaves. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Mound the Parmesan rice in a large dish. Spoon out the almonds and pour the sauce evenly over the rice. Sprinkle with sumac and serve with roast chicken.

For the Roast Chicken:

This is not a recipe per se, but more like a set of guidelines that I have used over the years for cooking perfect poultry.

1. Buy the best bird you can find. Organic, all-natural, free-range, no hormones or antibiotics, humanely-raised and processed if you can.

2. Take your chicken out of the fridge about 30 minutes to an hour before you want to cook. Your bird should be on the cool to touch (like the cooler side of room temperature), but not refrigerator cold.

3. Dry your bird throughly with paper towels, inside and out. Let it sit on the countertop uncovered. The dryer the skin, the crispier the chicken.

4. Pre-heat your oven to 425-450°. Give yourself some time for the oven to come up to temperature. This generally takes 15-20 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes depending on your oven.

5. No stuffing. This is the secret to perfect chicken. I find that by the time the stuffing is done cooking, you have overcooked your lovely bird. I like just a few things in my chicken: one lemon (cut into wedges if your chicken is small), one onion, a few cloves of garlic and fresh thyme. If it’s Meyer lemon season, please do use one of those.

6. Use the best butter or olive oil. In Nigella Lawson’s cookbook, How to be a Domestic Goddess, she writes that when roasting chickens, you should anoint your chicken with the highest quality butter or olive oil the same way you might apply very expensive hand cream. I always liked that image.

7. Truss your bird tight. Like a compact little football. I really do think it helps your bird cook more evenly. Moreover, chicken just looks better without its legs all akimbo.

8. Season liberally. In his Bouchon cookbook, Thomas Keller writes that he never butters his bird because the moisture in the butter creates steam that will ruin the integrity of the skin’s crispiness.

I’ve never found that to be the case.

I did once try Keller’s approach sans butter and found the skin to still be tasty, but less glossy and appealing overall. I do like his salting technique though: “I like to rain the salt over the bird so that it has a nice uniform coating that will result in a crisp, salty, flavorful skin (about 1 tablespoon). When it’s cooked, you should still be able to make out the salt baked onto the crisp skin. Season to taste with pepper.”

So by all means, hold your hand high and shower that bird with seasoning!

9. 20-20-20-15 or 15-15-15-15. I don’t always follow this but when I do, I like the results. Inspired by Patricia Wells’s Roast Lemon Chicken recipe in her Paris Cookbook, I start the bird in a super hot oven on one side. After twenty minutes (or 15 if the chicken is small), I turn it on the other side for another twenty. After that, I drop the oven temperature to 375°. I turn the chicken breast-side up for yet another twenty minutes — a total of 1 hour.  I continue roasting it until the chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165°. When the chicken is done, the juices should run clear when you pierce the thickest point of the thigh with a paring knife or skewer.

Sometimes, I will just put the chicken in breast-side up at 425-450° for about half and hour to 40 minutes before dropping the temperature to 375° for the remainder of the time. I know it sounds weird, but I think you can start to smell when you should turn down the heat. I find the results to be almost as good.

10. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-30 minutes before carving. Such an important step and essential for serving a juicy bird. Plus, you don’t risk burning your fingers!

Tips:

No basting.

A top-knotch carving knife is always an asset in the kitchen.

Keep the carcass and the juices! They are worth their weight in gold.

The Daring Kitchen February Cooks’ Challenge: Patties


Last month, when I opened up the Daring Kitchen‘s Chefs’ Challenge for February, I remember thinking, “Oh. Patties.”

As you can surmise, my initial enthusiasm was less than palpable.

It was a long PDF too, delving somewhat into the history of the patty:

“Irish chef Patrick ‘Patty’ Seedhouse is said to have come up with the original concept and term as we know it today with his first production of burgers utilizing steamed meat pattys – the pattys were ‘packed and patted down,’ and called pattys for short, in order to shape a flattened disc that would enflame with juices once steamed.”

And offering a somewhat of a basic definition:

“Technically patties are flattened discs of ingredients held together by (added) binders (usually eggs, flour or breadcrumbs) usually coated in breadcrumbs (or flour) then fried (and sometime baked).”

I would hesitate to say that anyone “invented” the patty. Flattened discs of pan-fried food seem to be commonly found everywhere, and I imagine that the technique goes as far back to when humans started smushing things together to eat. Maybe it didn’t get codified until much later, but I’m not sure that really matters much as this is the case for a lot of foods.

What kept my attention was that the hosts of this month’s challenge, Lisa and Audax, went into great detail about the technical aspects of patties, providing a kind of matrix for making them:

Main ingredient(s): some kind of ground protein (meat, poultry, seafood, beans or nuts) and/or vegetables.

Binders: eggs, flour, breadcrumbs (fresh or packaged), bran, tofu, mashed potatoes or any kind of mashed vegetable or legume.

Moisteners: water, milk, sour cream, mayonnaise, sauces, mustard, chopped spinach, shredded carrots or zucchini, shredded apples, anything that would add extra moisture if needed.

Technique: shallow pan-frying or baking.

Frying fat: butter, rice bran oil, canola, olive oil, ghee, or any other kind of oil with a relatively high smoking point.

Can you believe that I am such a food nerd that it was actually the 3.5 single-spaced pages of technical patty construction talk that sold me on the idea?

And as tempting (and easy) it would have been to have come up with a recipe on my own — ideas that I had? shrimp, chili pepper, and cilantro patties with some kind of scotch bonnet relish, or something Cantonese-ish like shrimp, corn, and egg whites — the fact is that I have been so overwhelmed with work and school lately that I haven’t had much time to devote to fun things like cooking challenges.

So, dear Readers, please do forgive my inability to milk any extra creative juice out of my brain right now!

These wonderful little quinoa patties are from Heidi Swanson‘s Super Natural Everyday cookbook. They are great for lunch or a light supper. I only made half of the recipe because I just had a cup and a half of leftover quinoa, but you should certainly make the full recipe by doubling the amounts that I list below. The patties keep exceptionally well, and reheat easily in the oven.

One thing I learned from the challenge? My strong suspicion that my stove sits on uneven flooring is once and for all confirmed: all the oil slid to one side of the cast-iron pan while cooking, resulting in patties that were darker on one side than the other.

As soon as I get the time, I’m going to get in there and stick some little wooden wedges under the stove to even it out.

Thank you again Lis and Audax for the technical exercise and great challenge.

And isn’t Audax just the best name ever?

Mandatory blog-checking lines: 

The Daring Cooks’ February 2012 challenge was hosted by Audax & Lis and they chose to present Patties for their ease of construction, ingredients and deliciousness! We were given several recipes, and learned the different types of binders and cooking methods to produce our own tasty patties!

Ingredients for Heidi Swanson’s Little Quinoa Patties:

1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa (you might also use leftover cooked bulgur wheat, millet, rice, or lentils)

2 eggs

Salt

2 tablespoons of chives, chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

3 tablespoons of freshly grated Parmesan

1 fat garlic clove, very finely chopped

About 1/2 cup of Panko breadcrumbs, plus more if needed

1-2 tablespoons of olive oil or clarified butter

Special equipment:

A 3-inch ring mold

A cast-iron skillet

A lid to fit the skillet

How to prepare:

1. In a large bowl, combine the quinoa and the eggs together with a good pinch of salt. Add the chives, the onion, the Parmesan, and the garlic. Stir in the Panko, and let the mixture sit for a few minutes so that the breadcrumbs can absorb some of the moisture.

2. After a few minutes, you should be able to easily shape the mixture. If it seems a little wet, you can add more Panko to firm up the mixture. Conversely, if you find the mixture too dry, you can add a little water to loosen it up.

Swanson recommends erring on the moist side so that the patties won’t be overly dry — which is what I would recommend as well. As I left the quinoa mixture on the moist side, I found that it was easier to use a ring mold to make the patties instead of using my hands to shape them.

Set a ring mold on a plate and fill it with about three heaping spoonfuls of the quinoa mixture. Spread the mixture out evenly in the mold. Lightly compress each one by pressing on the top of the patty with the bottom of a spoon. Carefully remove the mold. Continue until you have used up all of the quinoa mixture. You should have about 6-7 patties total (or about 12 if you make the full recipe).

3. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until it begins to shimmer slightly. Using a thin, flexible spatula, carefully transfer the patties to the skillet. You should be able to fit in all six with a little room in-between each one. Cover the skillet and let the patties cook for about 7-10 minutes. The bottoms should be deeply browned, but not burnt. Carefully flip the patties and cook them on the other side for about 7 more minutes. When both side are evenly colored, transfer the patties to a paper towel-lined plate.

Serve warm with a nice green salad.

Anthony Bourdain’s Mushroom Soup from the Les Halles Cookbook


I am always puzzled when I see bloggers declaim against those who try out and post recipes from other sources. It just feels kind of snobbish to me. Most, if not all food people read recipes. Food people tend to read a lot of recipes. Food people tend to own a lot of cookbooks too. A lot of food people also watch a lot of food TV.

This is not uncommon, and it strikes me as strangely inauthentic when people deny it. Furthermore, what’s so bad about it? Trying recipes from other people is a good way to learn different cooking techniques. Blogging about your experience lets others learn from you, just like you learned from them. Don’t you like the feeling that you are joining and contributing to the larger conversation? I do.

Also, there are a lot of recipes out there. What’s wrong with bringing some of those to the attention of another audience? I mean, don’t go out and plagiarize. Don’t pass off recipes that are not yours as your own. But why look down on people who properly attribute and discuss their results?

We all blog and write because we generally want to share our knowledge and experience. I personally would be thrilled if someone made and wrote about something that I posted so long as they did it respectfully — and I think that most bloggers would be pretty darn chuffed too.

Yeah, I know. I just used a British-ism.

More importantly, if you are trying your hand at writing recipes, looking at other sources is a great way to learn how to order ingredients and write directions in a way that is clear, concise, and consistent. Recipe writing is like any other kind of writing: you get better the more you do it, and the more you read.

To those who think that their recipes are completely original, well, please excuse my bluntness, but hardly any recipes are really original nowadays unless you are some molecular gastronomist making perfectly good food into weird foamy, jellied things.

Furthermore, no one I know who cooks ever sticks to any recipe as published anyway. I’ll confess: most of the time, I don’t. I’ll breezily skim the ingredients list, and cockily cook them in the order and manner that I feel works best, passing on anything that sounds untasty to me, and adding anything that I feel was an egregious omission.

How’s that for food snobbery?

For example, I remember the first time that I read this recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook. I remember poo-pooing Anthony Bourdain‘s admonition to blend carefully. I cavalierly shrugged off his archly written, “Do I have to remind you to do this in stages, with the blender’s lid firmly held down, and with the weight of your body keeping that thing from flying off and allowing boiling hot mushroom purée to erupt all over your kitchen?

Pshaw, I remember thinking. Not quite hogwash, but I had blended tons of thick soups, all at once without incident. I certainly wasn’t going to alter my MO now.

Then I remember the blender’s lid flying off — just like TV Tony said it would — and the kitchen being sprayed with hot soup and spongy bits of mushroom.

I remember having to google, “martha stewart how to clean hot mushroom soup off the ceiling.”

After cleaning everything up, I made a mental note to always read recipes straight through before cooking, and always respect any warnings the recipe writer may give.

I learned the messy way that recipe writers do not write warnings for their benefit, but ours. If Bourdain was making a point to tell me to keep a tight lock on the blender, it’s because he very likely sprayed his kitchen with mushroom soup too, cursing the other cookbook writer who failed to mention in their recipe to keep a hold on the blender lid while blending.

If you love mushrooms, this soup is not only super easy, but very, very delicious. The original recipe calls for onions, but I always prefer the ultimate combo of butter, shallots, and booze — which is one of the ways I adapted his recipe. Be sure to use a good sherry, not a cooking sherry for the soup. If you have time, you can roast a couple shitake mushrooms in the oven for garnish. I accidentally left mine in the oven for too long, ending up with mushroom chips that taste (amazingly) just like bacon. No complaints here!

I also use an immersion blender now, so no more flying blender lids for me!

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons of butter

2 shallots, thinly sliced

14-15 ounces of mixed mushrooms (you can even use all white button mushrooms if you want), cleaned, trimmed, and sliced

4 cups of chicken stock

2-3 sprigs of thyme

2 ounces of good quality sherry (I used a dry oloroso)

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, melt two tablespoons of the butter with a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and thyme. Keep track of how many sprigs of thyme you add so you know how many stems you need to remove before puréeing the soup. Sauté the shallots until they begin to turn translucent.

2. Add the mushrooms and the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Let the mixture sweat for about 6-8 minutes. The mushrooms should begin to give up most of their liquid at this point. Be careful to not let the shallots brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock, and bring everything up to a boil. Reduce the temperature, and simmer the soup covered for about an hour.

3. After an hour, remove the stems of the thyme sprigs. Using an immersion blender, carefully purée the soup. Adjust the seasoning. Bring the soup back up to a simmer and mix in the sherry. You want to just simmer the soup long enough enough to cook off the alcohol in the sherry. Serve immediately with some good bread.

Warm Wilted Kale Salad with Red Quinoa and Candied Delicata Squash


In Britain, there is a variety of kale called “Hungry Gap,” named after that period at the end of winter and in the beginning spring when there is little in the way of fresh produce.

Here in the Northeast, we are in the Hungry Gap, but sadly there is no local kale yet. When one begins to tire of tubers, squash and bulbs, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and buy other things, even if they come from far away.

As leafy greens go, kale is fairly hearty. It can hold up to heat — both in terms of temperature and strong flavors. Kale is a great addition to winter salads, providing a bright and cleanly bitter counterpoint to warmed grains and roasted squashes.

Ingredients:

1 delicata squash, seeded and cut into small dice

1/4 cup of packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1/3 cup of pumpkin seeds, shelled

1 large bunch of lacinato kale, ribs removed and leaves cut into 1-inch pieces

1 cup of red quinoa, uncooked

The juice and zest of one lemon

2 tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil (or olive oil)

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°.

2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar, the balsamic vinegar and the delicata squash. Drizzle it with olive oil, sprinkle it with salt, and toss everything together until the squash is evenly coated with the balsamic-olive-oil-sugar mixture. Spread the squash out in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Roast it until it just begins to soften and the edges begin to caramelize, about 15-17 minutes. Spread the pumpkin seeds over the top of the squash, and continue to roast everything for about 2-3 minutes more. When the pumpkin seeds are nicely toasted, transfer everything to a large bowl.

3. Rinse the quinoa if needed. In a separate saucepan, combine the quinoa with about two cups of water and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Simmer the quinoa over low heat until all the water is absorbed, and the quinoa is tender. Fluff it with a fork when it is done.

4. In the meanwhile, wilt (or steam) the kale in a separate pan. When the kale is wilted, remove it to a colander. Once the kale is cool enough to handle, gently press as much liquid as you can out of the leaves without squeezing them.

5. Add the kale and the quinoa to the candied squash. Toss the salad together with two tablespoons of pumpkin seed oil and the juice and zest of one lemon. Adjust the seasoning. Before serving, grate a nice fluffy mound of Parmesan cheese on top.

Dean & Deluca’s Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup with Yogurt and Lemon


Lentil soups are great this time of year when the season is lean, and fresh local produce consists mostly of tubers and squash. Lentils are extremely economical. Added bonuses: they cook up quickly, and have a wholesome, delicious nuttiness.

This soup is adapted from one in the Dean and Deluca Cookbook. If you keep the spices and lentils on hand, you can quickly pull it together after school or work.

Start to finish, the soup should take you about 30 minutes to make.

Actually, it will take you about 20 minutes (I added an extra 10 minutes for you to enjoy a glass of wine).

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon of butter

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons of ground coriander

1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon of mustard powder

9 ounces of red lentils

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock + 1 cup of water

The juice and the zest of one lemon

1 cup of whole milk Greek yogurt, divided

1/4 cup of fresh parsley, chopped

Aleppo pepper for garnish (you can also use sweet paprika as a substitution)

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, melt together the butter and the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook it until it begins to turn translucent. Add the spices to the onions, stirring frequently to make sure that the spices toast, but do not burn. Continue to cook the onion until it begins to turn golden.

2. Toss the lentils with the onions and the spices. Add the stock, the extra cup of water, and a heavy pinch of salt. Bring everything to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer the lentils until they are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Once the lentils are tender, add the lemon zest and half of the yogurt to the soup. Continue to simmer everything together until the consistency is nice and smooth. Adjust the seasoning.

3. In a small bowl, combine the remaining yogurt with the lemon juice and the parsley. Stir everything together until the consistency is smooth and silky.

4. Ladle the soup into bowls. Top each serving with a swirl of the yogurt mixture and a sprinkle of Aleppo pepper.

Individual Beef and Green Herb Pies with Yeasted Whole Wheat Crust


This recipe finds its origins in another recipe from Deborah Madison. As some of you know, when I was a vegetarian, I cooked my way through her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I learned so much from that book: how to prep, how to cook vegetables (trickier, I think, than meat), how to not be afraid of trying things I had never eaten before (cardoons? sorrel anyone?), and how to improvise (the most important lesson of all).

In 2001, the Times released a collection of recipes gathered from its most popular chef contributors, including Madison. The Chefs of the Times is a great cookbook to have, not just because the dishes are all terrific, but because each one is prefaced by a short introduction in which the chefs talk about how they got to the final versions of the recipes found in the book, from inspiration to execution.

It was here that I found Madison’s interpretation of the traditional Tuscan torta d’erbe. A torta d’erbe is, in essence, a very rustic dish normally comprising of whatever greens or vegetables you have one hand, bound together with beaten eggs, ricotta, and/or parmesan, and baked in a pastry crust.

Madison does a different take on the traditional pastry by cutting the amount of fat in the dough, and using yeast to lighten it and make it flaky. In the published recipe, she had you make a covered pie in a tart tin. However, when I started making it, I would just divide the dough in two and make a great big free-form tart.

Now I go one step further and made individual hand pies. I also use just olive oil for the crust (instead of butter, or a mixture of butter and olive oil), and do a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour.

These hand pies are the year’s real first stab at something a little healthier to eat. They are full of good things that are good for you.

To turn the recipe back into a vegetarian one, simply omit the ground beef, and double the amount of ricotta. In either case, if you would like to make the pies a little richer, you can add about 3 ounces of grated parmesan, or crumbled feta cheese to the filling.

Ingredients:

1 package of active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1 cup of warm whole milk

Salt

3 eggs

8 tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of all-purpose flour

2 cups of whole wheat flour

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound of very lean ground beef

1 cup of fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup of fresh dill, chopped

1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped

2 bunches (about 6 cups) of spinach, roughly chopped

1 bunch of trimmed chard (about 3 cups), roughly chopped

1/2 a cup of whole-milk ricotta

The zest of one lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare:

1. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the warm milk and the sugar.

2. In a large bowl, mix the 2 flours together with a hefty pinch of salt. Make a well in the center of the flour for the olive oil and just one of the eggs. Using your hands, combine the flour with the oil and the egg until the mixture is nice and crumbly. Add the yeast-milk mixture all at once, and knead the dough together by hand until it is relatively smooth. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm, dark place for about an hour.

3. In the meantime, sauté the onion in a large skillet with a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat until it is no longer opaque. Once the onion begins to turn golden, crumble the ground beef into the skillet. Cook the meat until it is no longer pink. When the ground beef begins to brown, add the herbs to it. Continue to cook everything until most of the water has evaporated. The herbs should be softened, but still bright. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat mixture to large bowl, leaving behind as much liquid as possible. If there seems to be a lot of liquid, drain the beef mixture as best as you can. Adjust the seasoning.

4. To the same skillet, add the spinach. Cook it over medium heat until it wilts. Remove it to a colander. Repeat the process with the chard. When the spinach and the chard are cool enough to handle, use your hands to press as much liquid as possible out of the leaves to remove the moisture.

5. Combine the meat and herb mixture, the wilted greens, the lemon zest, the ricotta and one egg. Adjust the seasoning, and divide the mixture into 8 equal parts.

6. Preheat the oven to 375°.

7. When the dough is ready, divide it into 8 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball. Flatten out each ball of dough with your hands before rolling it out into a round about to an 1/8th of an inch thick, and about 6 to 7 inches in diameter. You can do this on a lightly floured surface if needed, but because of the olive oil, the dough shouldn’t be very sticky. Mound a portion of filling in the center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling, making a half-moon shape. Lightly press the air out of the filling as you seal the pie around its edges. Trim the pie so that there is about a half-inch border all the way around. Use the tines of a fork to make impressions around the pie. Cut three even slits into the top. Repeat these steps for the remaining 7 pies.

8. Evenly position the hand pies on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You may need more than one baking sheet. Beat the last remaining egg. Using a pastry brush, gently brush each pie with the beaten egg. Bake the pies for about 35 minutes.

Serve hot, room temperature, or cold.