Tag Archives: kitchen

From the recipe files: Lebanese Baklawa

Every year we attend the Master’s Swim Team holiday party and every year I wonder what to bring to a gathering of healthy eaters looking to treat themselves after a year of nutritious meals and regular exercise. This year we’re bringing my friend Leesa’s mother’s Lebanese baklawa. I learned this recipe in her kitchen and have never written it out. It had been handed down through oral tradition in her family and she had me repeat the steps back to her as we worked – rapping me gently on the hand with a wooden spoon when I stumbled over the details.

Baklawa baclava

If you’ve made “baclava” from the package directions on the box of phyllo dough this version is going to be so much easier! On the other hand, Leesa’s mom was adamant about a few things:

  • If you’re thinking about using anything but walnuts stop right there. Pistachios are fine, pecans are delicious, but they don’t make baklawa – only walnuts will do.
  • Ditto adding chocolate, dried fruit, coffee, or hazelnut liqueur; just say no.
  • Don’t skimp on the butter. Limit yourself to just one piece of the finished product if you must, but use the amount specified. Angels in heaven will be lining up for the leftovers.

Ingredients: a 10 x 13 pan, 1 package phyllo dough; Filling: 3 C walnuts, 1/2 C sugar, 1 C butter: Syrup: 1 C sugar, 1 C honey, 1/2 C water, 1 Tbs lemon juice, 1 tsp rose water

rosewater, honey, butter, phyllo

The phyllo layers are probably in your grocer’s freezer. They need to be fully defrosted for this recipe so leave them in the refrigerator for a day if you have time. If not, open the box and remove the two plastic-sealed rolls of dough and leave them out on the counter. In a warm kitchen they should be thawed in an hour. Don’t open the plastic until right before you need them; the dough dries out very quickly.

Melt the butter over a low flame and keep warm once melted. Preheat the oven to 350.

Make the syrup by boiling the water, honey, and 1 C of sugar together until the sugar melts and the honey is thoroughly combined, about 10 minutes at a simmer. When cool, add the lemon juice and rosewater. Orange blossom water will do in a pinch, but rosewater does add a characteristic flavor; you could try a little vanilla as a substitute.

While the syrup is cooking, toast the walnuts. I like to do this in an uncovered skillet on top of the stove, but you could spread them on a cookie sheet and put them in the preheating oven. Keep an eye on them – a little burnt is fine but blackened is not. Leesa’s mom liked them quite toasty and said it gave the dish a “grown-up” flavor. Allow them to cool just a bit and then put them in a food processor with the 1/2 cup sugar. Pulse about 10 times to get them finely chopped – big pieces will interfere with cutting the fragile dough layers into serving pieces, but you don’t want to go too far and make walnut butter either.

Now we’re ready to construct the baklawa, and here’s where the Lebanese method diverges from the traditional Greek dish. Brush your 10 x 13 pan with butter. Dampen a dish towel and have it ready. Open one plastic packet of phyllo and unroll it on the plastic it’s wrapped in, then immediately drape the towel over it to prevent drying. Lay two leaves in the bottom of the pan. Are they a little too long? If so, cut a strip off the leaves that are still under the towel with kitchen shears (you can ignore the layers already in the pan).

Pick up about half the remaining layers (still working with only one of the plastic rolls of phyllo) and lay them in the pan. There’s no need to be precise about how many layers are in each step. Brush with butter and spread half the walnut mixture on top. Drape the remaining stack of phyllo from that first package over the nuts, brush with butter, and add the rest of the walnuts. Open the other roll of phyllo, cut to fit if necessary, and drape the whole thing over the nut layer.

Now take your sharpest, most evil kitchen knife, and cut four times lengthwise down the pan. You can (gently) hold down the down with one hand as you go, and try your best to get through all the layers to the bottom without disturbing the top layer too much. This is how the rest of the butter, and eventually the honey and rosewater syrup, are going to travel through every single delicious nook and cranny (مكان إختباء). Now cut through on the diagonal until the entire pan is criss-crossed into rough diamond shaped pieces.

Check the pan of butter to be sure it is still liquid and heat it up again if a firm surface has formed. Pour the butter evenly over the dish, making sure the edges are filled in. Place the pan in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes until browned.

Place the pan on a cooling rack or trivet and pour the syrup over it, trying to distribute it over the whole surface. Don’t worry about this too much – it’s going to spread through the layers by itself. Let the pan sit and soak, uncovered or loosely covered with waxed paper, for several hours or overnight. There will be a few small, oddly shaped pieces around the edges – those are for the cook and their assistants.

baklawa backlava

It’s traditional to cut the pieces out of the pan and place them in small, individual paper servers. I use cupcake liners. Arrange them in a starburst pattern on a large platter and you’re ready for the potluck. This recipe makes about 30 pieces.

The dish keeps for a week, loosely covered, at room temperature. I’ve never had it around long enough to see if it kept well refrigerated.

 

Irish Soda Bread

Next Sunday is St. Patrick’s Day, and in keeping with the season I’ve made a huge round loaf of Irish Soda Bread. Note the sorrel leaves just popping up to the right of the bread – early in this year of no winter.

Soda bread and sorrel leaves

There are probably as many variations of this recipe as there are descendants of Old Eire. My mother’s Irish Soda Bread was dry and crumbly and very, very white. Mine is tan (1 C of whole wheat flour) and quite moist; my mother’s recipe didn’t list any butter and mine requires 1/2 a cup -more if you’re feeling celebratory. I’m sure Great-great grandmother Bell’s differed from both of ours, back in Co. Cork.

All versions have a few items in common: raisins, caraway seeds, buttermilk and baking (or bread) soda. Something else – most of these recipes call for 5 C of flour and a cup of sugar. That’s a big batch of quick bread! I use a 12″ cast iron fricasse pot with 4″ sides and you’ll need something like that unless you divide the dough into two parts, which will bake nicely in nine or ten inch pie plates.

4 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted (see below)
2 1/2 cups raisins, 1/2 C orange juice, 3 Tbs whiskey
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350°F. Use a heavy ovenproof 10- to 12-inch-diameter skillet with at least 2- to 2 1/2-inch-high sides. Melt the butter in the skillet and then turn the heat off (this butters the skillet nicely while providing melted butter for the recipe).

Put the raisins in a small sauce pan with the orange juice and whiskey (optional, but very nice). Bring the mixture to a boil then turn off the heat and let them soak while you make the dough.

In a large bowl, whisk first 5 ingredients to blend. Stir in the butter, using fingertips, rub in until coarse crumbs form. Stir in raisins and caraway seeds. Whisk buttermilk and egg in medium bowl to blend. Add to dough; using wooden spoon, stir just until well incorporated.

d'oh

Transfer dough to prepared skillet; smooth top, mounding slightly in center.  Bake until bread is cooked through and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool bread in skillet 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.

This bread is wonderful fresh from the oven with butter, as a side for beef stew, and even better the next day toasted with Dundee marmalade.

Buttermilk Bread

We had two versions of buttermilk bread – seeded and unseeded – for our New Year’s dinner of roasted vegetables and cabbage-apple slaw last week. I promised our friend and dinner-guest S.P. the recipe, and now that it has been a week and I need a break from taking down the Christmas tree, here you go!

This recipe is adapted from Laurel Robertson’s “Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book” published in 1984 by the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation. As you might expect it’s a very calming, basic cookbook full of clunky woodcut illustrations and comprehensive descriptions of the rising process. I might not have purchased this book (perhaps thinking I knew enough about the basics) but then I inherited it from my father-in-law who was an engineer and appreciated this level of detail. Now I have to admit that some of my favorites have at least started with the incredibly in-depth instructions from Laurel’s Kitchen.

Buttermilk Bread (APo’s abbreviated version)

1 Tbs SAF instant yeast *, 5 1/2 (or a little more) C all purpose flour, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar

1 C very hot water,  and 1 1/4 C well-shaken cold buttermilk

4 Tbs softened butter, 2 Tbs olive oil

Using the “bread blade”, combine 5 C of flour and the rest of the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the liquid and pulse until mostly mixed, add the butter in chunks. Add the remaining 1/2 C to C of flour if necessary and process/knead until smooth and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl – about 45 seconds in my machine.

Dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead just a few turns, form into a ball. Add the olive oil to a large bowl and drop the dough in, rotating it so the oiled surface is on top. Cover with plastic wrap or a plate and a dish towel. This dough tends to be soft and sticky and will stick to a dry dishcloth draped over it. Let it rise in a warm place for an hour and a half.

If you have time for a second rise, flatten the dough slightly and let it rise again for about 45 minutes. If not, press it flat (sprinkle with sesame seeds or a seed mixture if you like) and divide into two. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then shape it into two rounds and place in pie plates. These rounds make very good dinner bread. Let the dough rise again in the pans, another hour if you have time.

Bake the rounds in preheated 325 F degree oven for nearly an hour. The crust will be brown but not hard, and the bread has a wonderful fine texture. Brush with more butter if desired.

This recipe makes excellent rolls and breadsticks. Bake the breadsticks at the same temperature and amount of time for maximum crunchiness. It keeps well, too, as Laurel Robertson points out, “when hidden”.

If you can manage to have enough for leftovers, this is our favorite bread for croutons, homemade bread crumbs, and “Toad in the Hole”.

*If using regular yeast, use 1/4 C of water at lukewarm to proof first, then proceed with the recipe as written.

Spritz!

Spritz cookies with a 60's influence, FTW.Spritz cookies are a wonderful tradition this time of year, and an easy treat once you have the little machine that squeezes the dough out in shapes. I have an old copper and aluminum Mirro cookie press, which I guess is not available any more. There are battery powered versions on the market for those of you who need to make these cookies by the gross, I guess? The rest of us mortals should buy the ubiquitous screw-down cylinders and save our money for all that butter we’ll be using in the basic recipe.

1 C unsalted butter softened, or melted and cooled; 3/4 C sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1/2 tsp almond extract, 2 1/4 C white flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp baking powder.

Cream the butter and sugar well, beat in egg and extracts. Gradually blend in dry ingredients. Fill cookie press and form on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 37 degrees 10 – 12 minutes. Yields @ 60 cookies.

A few hints:

  • Don’t chill the dough. The cold dough will be harder to push through the die and won’t stick as well to the cookie sheet, but
  • DO chill the cookies once they are shaped on the cookie sheet. The shapes will hold up better in the oven.
  • Avoid handling the dough. It will soften almost immediately in the heat of your hands. If you need to scrape the sides of the barrel or clean residue off to change dies (and you will), use a spatula or a kitchen knife.
  • If you use food coloring don’t color the dough all at once. Instead, fill the press canister with plain dough and add a few drops of color near the top. As you press cookies out, add more plain dough and then more food coloring. Better than tie-dye, and makes the dough less “stiff” than mixing it in.

Serious cookies

Today I took off from work – somehow a day off is even better when it’s a really bad idea – and made cookies. I did errands, cleaned the house, visited my mother, cleaned the house some more, put up the tree, and made cookies. That last item is the important part, because these are serious cookies – you need the whole day.

I lived in Philadelphia in the 70’s and had a wide selection of part time jobs while I went to art school. Around Christmas-time I worked evenings at an Italian bakery that had plaster models of fantastical wedding cakes in the windows and specialized in traditional, labor-intensive treats for the holidays. We made anise biscotti and weird sponge cakes filled with lemon cream, almond crescents, white fruit cakes studded with golden raisins and sprinkled with gold leaf, but mostly we made seven-layer-cookies. Pink, white and green almond cake layers with apricot filling and a chocolate frosting on both sides, we made them in huge sheet pans, sold them all to happy housewives the next day and spent the night making more. I know all about how to make them in a bakery , with a walk-in freezer and professional ovens, but I’d never thought of making them at home until I read this post at SmittenKitchen.

I love this site and I’ve found that I can completely trust her work. So – hop right over there and read the recipe, study the comments, and then take tomorrow off to make cookies! Let me know how it goes.

One hint that’s not on SK’s list – at the bakery we added a 1/2 tsp of baking powder to the batter, and were free to add a Tbs (or more, if the ovens were blasting heat) of cream to the colored divisions right before laying them out in the pan. Both additions made the batter easier to spread in a thin, even layer. As a bonus, here’s a pic of the pink layer (colored with Ameri-Color Super Red gel paste) cooling on the table. Doesn’t that look like a fun way to spend an afternoon?

OMG PINK

PS Because I just posted this and someone is already asking, the other cookies on the plate (equally delicious and a lot easier) are Excalibur cookies from Food from the Field’s blog. Great stuff!

Windfall

Last Friday I picked apples at an abandoned homestead on my commute home from work.

The tree is big by Maine standards, about 40′ tall and 20′ around. Deer have pruned the branches back to 5′ above the ground by eating all the fruit they can reach. I used my walking stick to knock down enough to fill a canvas tote – about 15 lbs. of hard red, conical apples with minimal insect damage and no fungus. I haven’t looked up the variety yet, but the combination of large tree with that shape fruit hanging on a  tree past first frost is fairly uncommon and I should be able to find it in my loaner copy of “Apples of Maine”. Thanks, Agnes!

We don’t eat much jelly and jam, and space is scarce in the chest freezer downstairs. When the grapes came in (and in, and in some more) I made quarts of thick, sweet grape juice concentrate and we used that up very quickly indeed. I’d never made apple juice but honestly, how hard could it be?

You can see where this is going, right? I followed the directions in the Blue Book; cutting the stem and blossom ends off the fruit and then coarsely chopping the rest. I added a pint of water and a little lemon juice and cooked the apples down to “mushy”. Then the recipe says to drain the mush through a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth and after an hour I had about half a cup of juice. Very nice juice, but half a cup seemed unrewarding. Compared to the huge amount of apples in the strainer, ti also seemed stingy. I added more water, switched to a colander instead of cheesecloth, and generally made everything in the kitchen sticky sweet with apple residue and got 4 quarts of very thin applesauce for my trouble. Again, very tasty (those are good apples) and a pretty color, but not what I had in mind.

I think the next painting I sell will turn into a steam juicer.

 

 

Peach pie

Ripe summer peaches need a strong pie crust. Even with the advantage of tapioca and an egg white finish, peaches right off the tree are too juicy to be contained in a thin, dry pastry that might be perfectly suitable for winter apples. Someday I’ll have an outdoor wood-fired oven  and then during the long, slow cool-down of a bread fire I’m going to dry some peaches and make pie with the soft, withered fruit. I bet that will be outstanding.

For the crust: put 4 C white flour, 2 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, and 1/2 tsp baking powder in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1 C cold unsalted butter (two sticks) cut into 1/2″ pieces, pulse just until there aren’t any large chunks. Mix 1/2 C very cold water with 2 tsp of good quality cider vinegar and add to the processor bowl by tablespoonfuls as you pulse. You want the pastry to just begin clumping together, but not be totally wet.

Dump the contents of the bowl out onto a large piece of wax paper. The dough will be crumbly and not entirely cohesive. Push it together using the ends of the sheet of wax paper. Cut the lump of crust in half with a bowl scraper or a large knife, pile one half on top of the other and squish them gently together. As you do this a few times the crumbs at the edge will gradually be incorporated and the crust will have lovely layers, like danish pastry. Cut the lump almost in  half once more (you want one piece slightly larger to be the bottom crust, the top will use less), wrap each piece in some waxed paper, put both pieces into a plastic bag and refrigerate for half an hour, or overnight.The vinegar and baking powder make a very soft, resilient crust that rolls out beautifully and doesn’t crack or develop holes where the fruit pokes up.

Now go pick some peaches.

I confess that while my pantry is stuffed with wonderful cookbooks full of pie recipes, including handwritten ones from family members, the only recipe I use for fruit pie is the one on the back of the Minute tapioca box. It works every time, adds nothing objectionable to the basic fruit and pastry, and is incredibly easy – what more could one ask? I’m also fond of the idiosyncrasies. The box lists instructions for apple (sliced), blueberry, cherry, peach (sliced), and strawberry rhubarb. Did someone, somewhere, put whole apples or peaches in a pie?

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Separate an egg and pour the white into a small dish or a coffee mug.

Following the instructions for peach pie, add 1/4 C tapioca, 3/4 C sugar and 1 Tbs lemon juice to 4 C of (sliced) peaches. Mix gently and let stand for 15 minutes while you roll out the crust. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a dishtowel because fruit flies will arrive out of nowhere to have some of this stuff.

Retrieve the dough from the fridge. If it’s very hard, give it a minute to soften slightly. Roll it out fit it to the pie plate, being careful not to stretch the dough. Cut the excess off the edge with a pair of kitchen shears, and make a pie tail with the “leavings” that you wish you could mail to the Boy who is at university. Sadly, it doesn’t travel well.

If your peaches are really juicy, pour about 1/4 C of liquid off before you dump the fruit into the bottom crust. Dot with a Tbs of butter cut into small pieces. Brush egg white on the edges of the bottom crust and gently lay the top crust over it. Again, try not to tug or pull on the dough. Trim the edges close to the pie plate again with shears. Press all around the pie with a sharp-tined fork to seal. Cut a few holes in the top crust and brush all over with egg white. Sprinkle a tsp of sugar over the top for a slightly crunchier crust.

Bake the pie at 400 F for about 50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and fruit juice is bubbling in the vents. If the pie tail is small you may have to take it out at 45 minutes.

Eat pie.

Haole curry

I know, it’s a bad word. Or not bad exactly, Haole  simply means “white” on the Island. White, and foreign in your skin and habits. I learned to make this dish from a Hawaian roomie and she called it Haole curry because it’s not particularly authentic: coconut milk from a tin instead of ladled out of the 55 gallon drum in back of her mother’s restaurant, and green curry from a can instead of mashing chilies, lemongrass and galangal with a mortar and pestle. Nevertheless, it’s cheap, easy, and we ate a lot of it back in art school. Heck, we eat a lot of it now – still a fan of cheap and easy. Thanks, Lilith!

Haole Curry – this is the “green” version:

Buy a can of coconut milk (splurge and get the organic variety – it’s a higher quality) and a jar of green curry. I’ll assume you also have fish sauce and brown sugar in  your cupboard? Steam green beans, snow peas, broccoli, or a combination of your choosing – you’ll need about 2 cups of assorted veggies in small pieces. Carrot slices are nice sometimes, and if you want to go really crazy you could sautee some diced red pepper. The idea is to have a pile of cooked veggies cut up and ready to go. Drain a package of extra firm tofu and cut into cubes. Make a pot of rice.

Now dump the can of coconut milk into a large sauce pan. Add 3 Tbs brown sugar, 3 Tbs fish sauce, and between 1/2 and 1 tsp green curry and whisk until the lumps in the brown sugar and coconut milk smooth out. I use the larger amount but I started my son out on 1/4 tsp.  Heat gently – it doesn’t need to boil.  Add the tofu and veggies, and as soon as the mixture is hot enough for you it’s ready to eat.

Garnish with chopped peanuts, diced scallion or green onion, and chopped Thai basil. I’m growing Thai basil for the first time this year and am planning have it be a regular in the garden going forward. It’s a pretty little plant with yellow-green leaves and bright purple blossoms, hardy and extremely drought tolerant.  The curry is delightful with a couple of aromatic leaves sliced thin and sprinkled on the mix.

Spaetzle, new and improved!

I would have thought it would be difficult to improve spaetzle. Flour, eggs, milk, maybe some herbs, definitely a few Tbs. of butter, press through a colander with the back of a wooden spoon over a pot of boiling water and presto – dinner! Then my friend Susan presented me with a spaetzle-maker, and suddenly spaetzle was even easier. Neater! More uniform! Honestly, it’s a grand day when you come across a well-designed kitchen utensil.

Earlier this week I came across a recipe for spaetzle that used ground pepitas (pumpkin seeds) as part of the dry ingredients. They add some protein to the dish and offset all those carbs and it sounded pretty tasty, too. Tonight we had speatzle with pepitas with a little bit of very good Parmesean grated on top, and a huge green salad (because every meal has to include a large green salad at this point because we’re drowning in lettuce).

Pepita Spaetzle

4 servings as a main dish

1/2 C pepitas, @ 3 C all purpose flour, 3 eggs, 1 C milk, 1 tsp sea salt, herbs

In a food processor, pulse the pepitas and 1 C of  flour until finely ground. Empty the mixture into a large bowl with 2 C of flour. Add chopped herbs if desired: chives, summer savory, parsley and thyme work well. Whisk the eggs and salt in a small bowl with the milk, make a well in the dry ingredients and add the liquid, stir. The mixture should be cohesive, thick and springy. If it’s not, add a little more flour, up to 1/2 a cup. Allow the batter to rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes or store up to 1 day in the refrigerator.

Bring a large pot of salted water to full boil. Rest the spaetzle maker across the top of the pot and load the square container with batter. Move the container on its track back and forth until nearly empty, refill and repeat quickly until the batter is used up. Stir the spaetzle gently and cook for @ 3 minutes.

Ladle the spaetzle on to a wire rack over a clean towel to drain. You could use a pasta board or a dishtowel, or just decant them into a colander. Add 4 Tbs of butter to a large frying pan and cook the drained spaetzle briefly, just enough to coat them and heat through. Sometimes I sautee 1/4 cup of diced red onion in the pan first.

Serve with grated cheese, a German white wine, and a green salad. Thanks, Susan!

 

Angelica

Angelica, known in my grandmother’s garden as “Holy Ghost”, is a tall biennial plant with large lobed leaves, greenish white flowers, and fluted stems.

The stems are traditionally candied and used like citron in breads and holiday cakes. Angelica is a very generous plant, seeding itself all around my garden. I’ve always wanted to take advantage of this abundance and candy some myself. Last fall I took the time to research recipes and found that the stems are harvested in the spring, when they are still bright green and tender.

Last week I picked a plastic grocery bag of stems, or about 2 lbs. I trimmed off the leaves and cut the stems in random lengths as none of the recipes I read seemed to specify size. They didn’t specify much of anything, actually, and differed wildly on how long to cook the raw plant material, how to dry it, and what it should look like when finished. I’ve simplified the process because no way am I boiling anything in sugar syrup for four days, and my adaption seems to have worked just fine.

Make a 2:1 sugar syrup by mixing 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, bring to a boil and stir until dissolved. Dump the stems into the syrup and simmer for 20 minutes. Allow the mixture to cool and set for 24 hours. I let it go from one night to the next.

Remove stems from syrup and allow to drain on a rack. I used a cookie rack with a pan underneath. I dried the stems in a very slow oven (250 degrees) for a few hours. It rained for almost the entire month of April here, and the drying part might work for you without an oven if the weather cooperates.

When the stems were solid and cooled, but still tacky, I put them in a ziplock bag of granulated sugar and left them overnight to soak up as much as possible. Then I stuffed them into canning jars, where they look pretty cool – all bright green and shiny. I have two jars in a canning cupboard and one in the freezer, to see which one preserves the color and texture best.  I’m going to try out a recipe next week, and I’ll let you know how it goes.