Monthly Archives: February 2010

Hazelnut-Almond Baklava & Baklava Ice Cream

When I worked at my dad’s office in California, there was a really funny, really helpful guy named Kevin whose wife Jennifer made baklava during Christmastime. One bite and I was hooked. I really wanted to know how to make it so naturally I asked if they gave out the recipe. Kevin’s response was, “You only get the recipe when you marry into the family.” Which of course led me to ask if there were any single guys in Jennifer’s family. (Nope.)

So when I mulled and mulled and mulled over the idea of hazelnut baklava, I turned to Alton Brown. When it comes to certain things, there is a guru, sage, or personified encyclopedia to consult. For carpentry, it’s my grandpa and his groups of friends. Ask them about any kind of mitered joint and they’ll tell you the best tool to use (including brand), whether glue alone will hold it or if you need wood screws. They’ll all bicker and then offer up tools to borrow and then tell you a big ole story while you drink coffee that faintly and sweetly smells like sawdust. When it comes to carpentry, ask “What would Grandpa do?”

But with cooking, you can ask one of three choices. Obviously, Saint Julia knows all. “What would Julia do?” Then of course you might want more scientific explanation. In that case, look no further than Alton Brown. He and Ree from the pioneer are my ideal, dream neighbors after all. “What would Alton do?” Then, if you are Chad, or if you just plain agree that Wolfgang Puck is delightful and talented and just plain awesome, ask “What would Wolfgang do?” (Ask that in German if you can.)

So, not having any evidence that Saint Julia made Greek pastries, I looked to my would-be (if ever possible) neighbor. I tweaked some parts of his recipe, halved the syrup, and used some of the finished product to incorporate into vanilla ice cream. How this idea never occurred to me before trying it at Trojan Horse of Bloomington, I will never know. But seriously. Do it.

2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground allspice
9 oz almonds (toasted, unsalted)
9 oz hazelnuts (toasted)
2/3 C sugar
1 C water in a bowl
1/2 lb phyllo dough, thawed
1 stick butter, unsalted

3/4 C honey
3/4 C water
3/4 C sugar
1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (use real ones)
a couple inches of fresh orange peel

Preheat the oven to 350. Turn on some music or some bad reality television (or maybe put on Everybody’s Fine if you want to cry your eyes out) and grab 10 butter knives or spoons from the drawer. You’ll see why in a minutes. Fetch a 9×13 pan, roll out the thawed phyllo dough, and cut it to fit the bottom of the pan. Throw the stick of butter in a little sauce pan over medium heat just to melt through or nuke it in a microwave-safe bowl. Toast the almonds and hazelnuts in a stainless steel skillet over medium-low heat (I only toasted the hazelnuts because my almonds were already done). Don’t let them burn. It happens in a heartbeat. Now toss all those almonds and hazelnuts in a food processor (or do it in batches if you have a mini-prep blender like I do). When they are finely chopped, pour into a medium bowl and add sugar and spices and stir well. Now form the assembly line. You will have the bowl of nuts and sugar, a small bowl of water, the trimmed sheets of phyllo dough, the bowl of melted butter (at least we know Saint Julia would approve!), two pastry brushes (one for butter and one for water) and another spot for the knives or forks.

Start with one layer of butter brushed on the bottom of the pan. Add a layer of phyllo and press out any bubbles with your fingers. Add butter again then phyllo. Continue until you have 10 sheets of phyllo layered. Remember how I told you to grab all those knives? Here’s why: do you find when you have to measure and count that you lose track and can’t remember how many cups of flour you added to your yeast roll dough? Push all the knives to one side and for every layer of phyllo you apply, move one to the other side. This way you can make fun of the Real Housewives while you cook and not loose count. Or if you have 10 things that would be more fun to count, use those. GI Joes?

Now, when you have just a layer of phyllo on top and no butter on it, add one third of the nut/sugar mixture. Now sprinkle on water using a pastry brush or alternatively you can put the water in a spray bottle. Now you will add phyllo then butter then phyllo again for another 6 sheets of phyllo. Pour on another third of the nut/sugar mixture, then layer 6 more sheets of phyllo and butter. Pour over the remaining nut/sugar mixture and top with the remaining 8 sheets of phyllo and butter. Bake for 30 minutes at 350. Let cool 10 minutes before cutting into small squares. While cooling, make the syrup. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan until sugar is dissolved and all is combined. After baklava is cut into squares, pour on the syrup and bake for another 30 minutes.

Let cool completely before placing squares in small candy or mini-muffin cups. To make baklava ice cream, chop some baklava and stir into softened vanilla ice cream.


Orange Lentil Soup: The Fat-free Foodgasm

I love lentil soup. I love it with a passion. When I worked at a Turkish restaurant a while back, I fell HARD for a lentil soup with basil and red pepper. It was so flavorful and, amazingly, it was super healthy. I would eat it for breakfast when I showed up in the morning. I would eat it whenever I got hungry. I took leftover soup home in a big takeaway container. The big soup warmer smelled amazing and was like a magnet drawing me over. The soup was slightly watery in the morning and thick and hearty at night.  I begged and begged for the recipe but never got it. I did however, pick up a couple important ingredients. That was enough for a base idea and from there, I added carrots, eliminated a few other things, and just tried to wing it. And good Lord. It is so good. The lentils break down to form a creamy base with chunks of sweet carrots and intense red pepper and basil flavors.

1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp olive or vegetable oil
2 Tbsp red pepper paste
1 minced shallot or onion
2 finely diced carrots
1 3/4 C red split lentils
at least 6 C water
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried basil
2 large fresh basil leaves
bouillon to taste
1 Tbsp salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
sprinkle of fresh lemon juice (opt)

Preheat your oven to 300 and soak the lentils in a couple cups of water while you chop the veggies and assemble the other ingredients. Grab a big ole honkin’ Dutch oven. If you don’t have one, go to TJ Maxx and get one. Or I guess use a stock pot. But it’s best to use something oven-proof so friend a neighbor or call your mom. Oh and not registering for one when you get married is a bad decision (ahem, Meredith and Danny). OR you can go all cook-while-you’re-at-work-or-the-movies-or-shopping and do the WHOLE thing in a slow-cooker. Slow-cooker friendly!

But they’re adorable so I won’t give ’em a hard time.

Throw that teensy amount of olive oil in a pan over medium heat, followed by the garlic and the red pepper paste. About that red pepper paste…

This is an ingredient common to a lot of Middle Eastern cuisines. Like sour cherries, hazelnut spread, and halva (be still my heart), it’s an inherently Turkish ingredient that is found in the cuisines of the neighboring countries. And it has the power to transform a dish from ho-hum to incredibly flavorful. Look for red pepper paste at Turkish or other international markets. If you absolutely can’t find it or you just don’t feel like finding it, your soup will suffer, but you can replace with tomato paste and add a diced red pepper. But really. The red pepper paste rocks.

Back to the soup! When the garlic is sauteed and stirred in with the red pepper paste, add the chopped carrots and shallots (or onions). Then quickly add the lentils and all the water. Throw in the dried herbs and fresh basil. If you want, add some chicken bouillon paste or break up a cube into the soup. Bring this to a boil and then stir well. Cover with the lid and place the whole thing in the oven for 30 minutes. At this point you might find that the soup is too chunky. Feel free to add water as you see fit. I like chunky, hearty soups-almost purees-for the most part but you can add lots of water if you want it thinner.

Turn off the heat and stick the soup back in the oven for 30 minutes so the lentil get completely soft. When you open the lid after that last 30 minutes, the smell and the awesome will hit you in the fact like Mike Tyson. Eat a (cooled) spoonful and you will be hooked. And then you’ll remember that it’s fat free. And then you’ll want to hug me.

I’m in Bloomington. Come find me. =)

Army Care Packages & Magic-Magic Bars

I am frequently faced with the task of making food to be sent by plane, car, or mail. Having spoiled my California co-workers with strawberry-chocolate scones and multitudes of cookies and cupcakes, I was asked to send goodies along with my brothers and dad when they came to Indiana for a visit last Easter. The dilemma of making sendable food was made more difficult withthe addition of my Uncle Steve whose powerful and insatiable sweet tooth is talked about in hushed, reverent tones across the San Diego area. Baked goods and sweets of any kind are not safe in his presence. That weekend I supplied myself with extra candy for the candy bowls, made cinnamon crusted nutmeg muffins to be eaten with strawberries for a quick Easter breakfast, and called on my most sendable standby recipes to be packaged and hauled off.

That weekend I created my extra magic magic bars. Magic-Magic Bars. They’ve been called orgasmic. So when my super cute roommate wanted to send a care package to her husband, they immediately sprang to mind. She wanted to learn how to make granola bars and maybe try her hand at caramels, but I needed to make something too and without question, dear Danny would make friends with these goodies to hare. I mean Lt. Dan. That’s his name now. He’s important and probably decent at shrimping. But way cuter.
(Photo by Geyer Photography)
Wouldja believe that strappin’ young man and that cute lil lady are hitched? Oh, to be young and in love…Oh wait! I am. Hehe. Got carried away there.
Make these magic bars. Maybe make a double batch. Send these to someone you love who is far away and unhuggable. Send them to your people serving overseas. Send them love and food because Lord knows that crap they’re eating isn’t nearly deserving of their hard work and patriotism. Or send them to your kids in college. Dorm food sucks and even if you’re sending care packages every week, they could use another. I never got one living in the dorms. *sniff* So send them one for my sake.
I have always followed the Joy of Baking recipe and instructions, but it’s pretty much the same everywhere you look.
1 stick melted, unsalted butter
1 1/2 C crushed up graham crackers
1 1/2 C shredded coconut
3/4 C chocolate chips
1 C crushed mini pretzels (twisted or sticks)
1/3 C crushed pecans
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 325. Stir together the grahams and butter and press firmly into the bottom of a 9×9 pan. Sprinkle the coconut over top, followed by the chocolate chips and then the mini-pretzel/pecan mixture. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the whole pan and bake for 25 mins at 325.

IF sending by mail or plane, wrap first in cling wrap, then tuck into zip-top bags. Air is your worst enemy in these situations. Steal a sturdy box from your office or Starbucks or McDonalds (people rave about their boxes) and pack tightly. Got room? Send our boys and girls some hot sauce packets, barbeque sauces, and their favorite candies. I’ve been told hot sauce is neccessary for most Army food. Don’t skimp because they’ll share with buddies. Add a note, a kiss, and safe wishes.

Bacon Flatbread

Chad and I were watching the Food Network when we saw a bacon flatbread and immediately thought it sounded like the best idea since…bacon. So I promptly sent him to the store and got working on the bread and compote.

Flatbread recipe adapted from Smittenkitchen rosemary flatbread recipe and inspired by the House Smoked Bacon Flatbread at Nopa Restaurant (560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117, 415-864-8643) as featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Foodnetwork

8 strips of thick-cut pepper bacon

Garlic and Shallot Compote
8 Strips of thick, pepper bacon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium shallot, minced
2 Tbsp butter
big pinch of salt
big heaping Tbsp brown sugar
big glug white wine
2/3 tsp finely chopped rosemary

1 3/4 C AP flour
1 Tbsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 C water
1/3 C olive oil

2 Tbsp heavy cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder

sprinkle of parmesan cheese

Melt butter in a small saucepan and add garlic and the shallot. Add a pinch of salt, a big tablespoon of brown sugar, a glug of white wine, and the chopped rosemary. Stir well and let bubble over medium heat. Preheat oven to 425°F. Place a rack on a baking sheet and lay the bacon strips on it. Cook 15 minutes before cutting into pieces. Really, really, really try not to eat it all up while you…

Turn the oven up to 450°F. Stir the flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl. Make a small well in the center and add water and olive oil. Stir together until the dough combines. Knead well on a floured surface. Line a baking sheet with parchment and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle salt on the surface before spreading out the flatbread dough. Use a spoon to spread the garlic compote over the dough, covering evenly. Place the bacon pieces over the dough and pop in the oven for 10 minutes or until crispy. When flatbread is removed from the oven, immediately drizzle with the garlic crema and top with parmesan cheese. Slice into pieces and eat with anything. This flatbread is good with soup, morning, salad, or more bacon flatbread.

Leek, Mushroom, and Bacon Quiche

My mother had cooking phases during my life. When I was really little, she made vegetarian everything. We filled colorful plates and bowls with vegetable-laden pastas, chilies, stratas, and her super-cinnamon-y coffee cake. When I think back to those days, I wish I had staked my claim then and there on those dishes to use for my kids someday. Eating anything out of a shocking yellow bowl or a vivid orange plate is fun. They would totally eat their vegetables!

During her second marriage there were clear plates and meatloafs. There were STUFFED BELL PEPPERS (ick) and gravy-topped pork chops. But during my early childhood, there were bright melamine dishes. And there were quiches.

One of my favorite fillings for quiche is the rag-tag team of leek, mushroom, and parmesan. Want it to be substantial enough for dinner? Just add potato! Want a boy to eat it? One word: BACON. With enough bacon, my man will eat anything. Armed with this knowledge, I set out to make my first quiche all by myself. I turned to Saint Julia for the crust recipe because I rarely trust myself to stray far from tradition on things like crusts.

The versatility and leftover-friendliness of quiches comes from the freedom to fill them however you want. So if you are missing an egg or are just short on milk, no problem. And if you adore scallions or can’t find good leeks, swap out as you please. If you’re a vegetarian (Hi Mom!), omit the bacon. Trust me, there’s plenty of flavor without it. Tell me your combos in the contents!

Crust (adapted from Julia Child and modified only slightly because it IS Julia Child)
1 1/4 C AP flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
3 Tbsp ice cold water
You should know that I have a big ole honkin’ tart pan. Like, who am I? Why did I think I needed this? But at the same time it works well for me as I’m not huge on crusts and prefer a larger ratio of filling. Deb at smittenkitchen used this same Julia crust for her leek and port mushroom quiche and apparently wanted a different ratio too. So modify your crust as you see fit.

Preheat your oven to 400. Dig out your food processor and dump in the flour, salt, and sugar. Pulse to combine. Add cubes of butter straight from the freezer. It will look very loose, but don’t worry that’s what the water is for! If your processor has a feed tube, pour the water through while it is running. Otherwise, add in small doses and pulse until the dough holds just together. The amount of water you need will depend on the humidity, how you measured your flour, and what you ate for breakfast that morning. Okay maybe not that last one. Chill the dough for an hour or so before quickly rolling it out on a floured surface and gently working it into the tart pan. For my dough, I can just barely get even coverage and that’s fine with me. Line it with foil and pierce holes all over with a fork. Place pie weights or dry beans in the foil and blind bake for 8 to 9 minutes. When done, lower the baking temperature to 375.

3 red potatoes, boiled and sliced
6 slices bacon (use whichever you like best, but we like turkey bacon for this)
1 leek, cleaned and chopped
1 lb white or baby portobello mushrooms, sliced
2 tsp butter
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper
4 eggs
2/3 C milk
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground pepper

Fry up the bacon until crispy in a large saucepan. Set aside. Saute the leek in melted butter and leftover bacon fat over medium heat. When they are translucent and fragrant, sprinkle in salt and pepper and add sliced mushrooms. The mushrooms don’t need to cook too much, just absorb excess fat and heat through. When they are finished, set aside.

Now whisk together eggs and milk. Add salt, pepper, and leek and mushroom mixture. At this point you’ll want to lay the slices of potato on the bottom of the tart pan. Try to get even coverage. Now crumble bacon into the bowl and stir together. Pour into the tart crust and top with parmesan shavings. I use about a fourth of a cup but it’s up to you. Bake for 20-35 minutes. I know it’s a large gap in cooking time, but your tart pan might be way smaller or way deeper than the one I use so these things will vary. You might also find it works better to lower the temperature if your tart pan is deep.

It smells so good, is healthy, and reminds me of my childhood and my mama. Sigh.

And then my boyfriend put hot sauce on it.

Fragrant, Spicy, Authentic Chai Tea

So many people love chai nowadays. Years ago you had to visit Indian restaurants to find it. Now it’s one of the most popular drinks at Starbucks. And if you’re craving chai really badly, Starbucks will suffice. But once you’ve had authentic Indian chai, you’ll taste the difference between the fresh ground spices and “chai syrup.” Blech. Okay, not blech. It’s chai tasting stuff. But it’s not THIS. A long time ago my friend and her mother taught me how to make authentic chai tea. This is their recipe times 5.

2 C filtered water
5 Tbsp black tea
5 Tbsp sugar
5 whole peppercorns
5 whole cloves
5 whole cardamom pods (or 1.5 tsp ground cardamom)
1.5 tsp ground ginger
2 C milk

For chai you need cardamom. Car-da-mom. Say it. It sounds earthy and aromatic. You need cardamom and cloves and peppercorns and spicy ginger.

Heat water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add tea and spices and stir well. Omit the ginger—since it is not fresh, it is best to add after the tea has brewed and strained. Dump in the sugar. A good rule of thumb is equal parts tea to sugar, but it depends on your tastes. There is no perfect time to brew the tea because it depends on temperature and your stove and blah blah blah. Instead, look at the color of the liquid in a spoon. It should look like this and smell like tea!

When ready, pour through a sieve into a bottle. I used a really pretty wine bottle. Repurpose! Woo! Press leaves to get out all the liquid. Quickly add ground ginger to the brewed tea and stir well. You can stop now and keep the tea without milk in it, or you can add heated or chilled milk immediately. I use equal parts milk and water but that’s all up to you. My friend’s grandfather prefers less milk so don’t feel like you’re sacrificing authenticity here, y’all.

And oh my, when you taste it…will you ever be a believer in real chai tea. Serve it hot with frothy milk or serve chilled over ice. Either way, you’ll taste such complexity of flavor, such earthy spiciness and such sweetness.

Mmmmm. Starbucks who?