Working Moms’ Quick Empanada Dinner

In my book, mixing savory ground beef with pastry dough is a definite “must try.”

Yes I’ve done shepherd’s pie, which is basically browned ground hamburger meat mixed with garlic, onions, carrots and celery put into a pie dish, topped with whipped mash potatoes, and baked until the top is golden brown. (Oh words don’t even describe how much I LOVE this dish!). But no matter how much I love mashed potatoes and the sheer comfort I feel when I eat them alone or with anything savory, they cannot beat the buttery, flaky savoriness of pastry dough.

So when I recently saw an empanada recipe using ground beef and puff pastry dough, I decided to use my standby mixture of browned ground beef, garlic, onions, celery and carrots and tuck it inside some pre-made, fluffy puff pastry dough for a quick and easy, all-in-one, no-utensils-needed dinner with the fam. And to my surprise, my little ones–now age nine and six–had second and third helpings!

Here is what I did to make individual-sized savory, ground beef empanadas. Yum!


  • 1 package of frozen puff pastry dough, thawed to room temperature
  • 1 pound of 85% lean ground beef
  •  3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3/4 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1 egg beaten with 2 tbsp. water
  •  1 tsp. dried basil
  • Seasoned salt and pepper

First, it is important to make sure your beef is cooked all the way through and browned up nicely to give it that good caramelized taste. Saute your ground beef on high heat and make sure to drain any excess liquid. Season with seasoned salt and pepper and add the garlic, onions and carrot. Cook until the carrot starts to soften. Add the celery and cook until softened a bit.

Next, add the tomato paste and water and stir the hamburger mixture. Place a lid on top of the pan and simmer mixture on low heat so that the veggies are all soft. Then remove the lid when the water has absorbed and cool the mixture to room temperature so that you don’t end up softening your pastry dough when you stuff it for your empanadas.

In the meantime, unroll the two sheets of puff pastry on a floured surface. Grab a bowl, mug or cup with about a four inch diameter. Use this as a cutter to cut out 12 rounds of the pastry.


Begin to wrap your empanadas by filling one side of the pastry round with about two tablespoons of the hamburger mixture. Then, grab a pastry brush or use your fingers to brush the egg mixture onto the edges of the dough that will be sealed together.

Fold the other side of the dough over the top of mixture and either press together with your fingers and fold bits of dough over itself in a “fan” style to seal or use a fork to press down on the two sides to cinch them together. Make sure there are no holes in the dough and that the sides are sealed all the way to avoid the hamburger oozing out of the sides.Then, brush all the little beauties with the beaten egg mixture so they bake up gorgeous and shiny.

Stuff all 12 empanadas and bake at 400 degrees on a foil-lined and greased baking sheet for about 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow for about one inch of space in between the little gems.

Allow the empanadas to cool and enjoy the crunchy, salty, savory yumminess!

And don’t forget, the mixture can be anything you want it to be–turkey, pork, sausage along with most veggies such as peas or corn. Just make sure that it’s not too watery. You can also make sweet empandas with canned cherry or apple pie filling to satisfy that sweet tooth! I’m even considering buffalo chicken and cheese-stuffed empanadas or queso-stuffed. Both a match made in heaven.

A Chance to Let Go In Colorado

Little did we know that a family vacation to Colorado in late August would actually give us the dose of “reality” all four of us needed! Although we have taken trips back to the Midwest to visit family, this trip was something different and the first of its kind for us!

We were fortunate that we could use my mother’s timeshare to exchange for a lakeside tri-level unit in Pagosa Springs Colorado, an hour outside of Durango. Our goal was to RELAX as much as possible. After all, I had just started a brand new public relations job in June, the kids were busy with their summer activities, and my husband had hardly taken any substantial time off in a year and a half.

It was time for downtime. And in my mind, that meant more time for cooking too. Fortunately, there was a fully-stocked kitchen in our room and we used everything that was available to us.

On the hour ride into Pagosa from Durango, we came across a country-style general grocery store–right out of the Old West. I went in alone and tried to select the essentials we would need over the next few days.

Of course fresh fruit was essential. I grabbed a pineapple, cantalope and some wonderful grapes. The veggies were a little sketchy but I found some great yellow squash. We were in the mood for steaks that night so I grabbed some rib eyes. I also grabbed some hamburger and thought, “a shepherd’s pie would be wonderful for tomorrow.” I made sure I had some onion, a bag of russets, butter and some sour cream for the ingredients of my pie–loving the idea of making mashed potatoes. One of my favorite things to eat on earth! The theme for this trip was comfort and simplicity.

When we finally arrived, it was heaven to look out over our small lakefront view, whip out some butter, throw it in a hot pan and sizzle those steaks while sauteeing some yellow squash on the side. We sat down–all four of us travel-worn but content–my husband opened some wine, we all breathed a sigh of relief, said a prayer and felt blessed that we were safe and sound in a world that belonged solely to us for an entire week. Simple as that.

If you would like to see the recipe for my shepherd’s pie, view this previous blog entry and enjoy!


Some Summer Steamer Clams for Supper

I’m not opposed to using frozen ingredients to make my life easier! Hey, I get the whole “Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee” concept. So when I saw frozen steamer clams at Trader Joe’s, I thought this could be good or really, really bad. Verdict was good! However, I thought, this was one of those cooking challenges that required the right technique for it to turn out just right. Clams are tricky. The shells can be sandy and gritty, making for a very unpleasant eating experience if the shells are used inside the actual dish. Also, the little critters can get overdone and too chewy and make you just want to spit out the whole mouthful.

So what I noticed was there were two ways listed on the package to actually heat the clams all the way through–in the microwave or using a pan. My plan was that I wanted to toss them in olive oil with a plentiful amount of basil from the monstrosity of a house plant that I’ve so carefully nurtured this summer and some cut-up tomatoes and garlic and serve it all over spaghetti. Simple. Classic. And most importantly, scrumptious! So I knew heating them in the pan before or during the sauteing process could be volatile. They could either not heat through evenly or they could get overcooked and be aesthetically terrible. So I decided on concentrating my fresh flavors of olive oil, basil and tomato in the pan, and to heat the steamer clams in the microwave–using the “steaming” method they listed on the package. Then I would toss them with the mixture in the pan at the last minute and mix the whole thing with the pasta. My only concern was: would there be enough liquid or broth to coat the pasta since I didn’t have any chicken broth? Well, I thought, I could always add some pasta water.

Basil plants kept indoors can be an endless source of inspiration for aromatic dishes. 

Here’s the ingredients I use for this dish:

-1 box of steamer clams from Trader Joe’s
-Three large roma tomatoes, seeded and cubed
-A huge hand full of basil leaves rolled up together lengthwise and cut into thin strips
-Three large cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
-2 tablespoons of good extra virgin olive oil
-3/4 pound of pasta

I start by boiling the water for the pasta and cooking until al dente. After sauteing the fresh ingredients together in the olive oil until just soft, I add my drained spaghetti to the mixture and toss. Then lastly, I add the microwave-steamed clams and toss everything together. Luckily, there is some clam broth left from the steaming process, giving me enough liquid to coat the pasta along with the olive oil. You can also add more olive oil at the end. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Wow, talk about the perfect combo for summertime. Light, fresh, perfectly-cooked little clams and a classic combo of tomatoes and basil to top the pasta. My recommendation for wine is a crisp pinot grigio. Manga!

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California Dreaming

All right, so a girl can dream. I don’t have the ingredients in the fridge for this dish today but if I were to go home right now, kick off my work shoes and have a little time to myself without the kids, I would make this…

Shepherd’s Pie!

Yum. Yum. Yum.

Something about the comfort of the ground beef browned up with a classic veggie combo of carrots, celery and onion, and the twice-baked-potato taste of the creamy mashed potatoes spread on on top of the beef mixture inside a pie dish just makes my mouth water! Especially on a “June Gloom” day like this. It’s June but it feels like winter here next to the Pacific Ocean in California. Comfort food is good on days like this. And once I get a hankering going on in my head I can’t stop obsessing over it. So, I’m using this blog as my vicarious, mental kitchen.


-Four russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
-1/4 cup of 2% milk
-1 tbsp. butter
-1 pound of 15% hamburger
-1 stalk of celery, chopped fine
-1 carrot, chopped fine
-Half of a brown onion, chopped fine
-1 clove of garlic, smashed and chopped
-Pinch of marjoram
-Salt & pepper
-1/4 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Toss in the potatoes and boil until tender. In the meantime, start browning hamburger and drain off excess water/oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add carrots and cook a couple of minutes. Add celery and onion and season again lightly with salt and pepper. When veggies are soft, add hamburger mixture to a glass pie dish that is sprayed lightly with oil spray. Drain cooked potatoes. Add milk and butter. Mash with a hand blender for smooth consistency and add enough salt to taste and white pepper, if you have it. Black pepper is fine too. When potatoes are creamy spread them over the hamburger mixture with a plastic spatula. Sprinkle cheddar cheese all over the top. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Let cool ten minutes. Slice into pie-like slices and serve. Kids might like it in a bowl with a spoon. Serve with a light salad on the side.

Oh, I’m telling you what! I could eat this for days. Luckily, today, I’m only dreaming and saving myself the calories. Instead tonight, I think I’m going the easy route: A little quality time with my husband and the kiddos, some spaghetti, canned sauce and steamed zucchini from the garden. Good times!