Baklava

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I am so exciting to be blogging right now!  For Christmas, my sweet husband bought me a laptop!  I have been dreaming for years about being able to blog from my couch or kitchen table or even my bed instead of in our chilly office where our family PC currently sits.  I knew exactly what recipe I wanted to bring you first because I have been so anxious to share this recipe with you!  Prior to making Baklava myself, I always assumed that it would be extremely difficult and time-consuming to make.  I was so wrong!  I have made this recipe 2 or 3 times now and anyone who tastes it raves about it and can’t believe that I actually made it myself. It is such a beautiful, delicate treat and it really is not difficult! The hard part is already done for you (the phyllo dough). You just have to slap it in a pan with some butter, nuts, and cinnamon, pour a homemade syrup over the top and voila’! – crispy, chewy, sweet, nutty homemade Baklava.  Let’s get started!

Ingredients:

1 (16oz) package phyllo dough (also spelled fillo, filo or phylo)

1 lb chopped nuts

1 cup butter

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions:

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First, you are going to want to visit your local grocery store freezer section and pick up some Phyllo (sometimes spelled Filo or Fillo) Dough.  It should be in a long rectangular box somewhere near the Cool Whip.  Defrost the dough according to the package directions (in the fridge or on the counter).  It shouldn’t  take too long to defrost.  A pastry brush will also be a necessity for this recipe.

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Preheat your oven to 350F degrees.  Once defrosted, open the box and unroll the dough onto your counter or onto a cutting board.  The dough will be approximately twice as wide as you will need it to be, so you will want to use a sharp knife and cut the length of the rectangle in half, leaving you with two piles of dough that will fit perfectly into your 9×13 pan.  Keep the dough covered with a damp cloth throughout the assembly process so it doesn’t dry out.

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Next melt butter in a bowl.  Make sure you are using real butter, not margarine.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13 pan using your pastry brush.

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Place 2 sheets of phyllo dough down onto the buttered pan.  Butter the entire top sheet.  Place another 2 sheets of dough on top of the already buttered sheets.  Brush butter on top sheet.  Repeat this step until you have at least 8 sheets (4 layers of 2).

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Now you will want to place a mixture of nuts (I used pecans and almonds. Some other good choices are pistachios or walnuts.  Just don’t use peanuts!) into a food processor (if you don’t have one, hand chopping will work, it will just require that you chop them very finely).

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Stir in cinnamon.

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Sprinkle a light coating of nuts onto the top buttered layer of dough (approximately 1/4 cup)

Place another 2 sheets of dough over nuts and brush with butter.  Sprinkle with another layer of nuts. Repeat dough, butter, nuts for several more layers until you reach the desired thickness.  (Please keep in mind that you will need to save 6-8 sheets for the top layers that don’t contain nuts.  I also had approximately 8-10 sheets of dough left over that I cut in half again and used an 8×8 pan to make another small batch. Feel free to make it as thick as you want it).

Now layer 2 more sheets of dough then brush with butter 3-4 more times to make your top flaky layer.  Brush the top layer with butter.

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Using a sharp knife, cut all the way through the Baklava cutting it into triangles.  You can see I cut 4 long rows then cut diagonally and then diagonally again across to make smaller triangles.

Bake at 350 degrees 50 minutes until Baklava is golden and crisp.

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While the Baklava is baking, make your sauce/syrup.  Boil water and sugar until dissolved then add honey.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Add vanilla.

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Remove Baklava from the oven and immediately pour syrup over the top.  If you let it cool completely before removing from the pan, it will really stick.  So, when it is still a little warm and pliable, remove each triangle and place in a cupcake liner or parchment paper square.

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These make really great teacher gifts, or party hors d’oeuvres – IF you decide after eating one that you even want to share them.

I found this gem of a recipe on allrecipes.com by NEONWILLIE.

 

 

Baklava

  • Servings: 28-30
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients:

1 (16 oz) package Phyllo Dough

1 cup butter

1 lb chopped nuts

1 tsp cinnamon

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup honey

1 tsp vanilla

Directions:

  1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Thaw phyllo dough.  Remove from box and unroll.  Cut in half so that sheets will fit in a 9×13 pan.  Cover with a damp cloth during preparation so it won’t dry out
  2. Melt Butter.  Using a pastry brush, butter bottom and sides of  9×13 pan.  Place two sheets of dough flat into buttered pan.  Brush top sheet thoroughly with butter.  Now layer another 2 sheets and again brush with butter.  Do this until you have 8 sheets layered in the pan.
  3. Chop nuts finely in a food processor (or by hand).  Stir in cinnamon.  Sprinkle a layer of nuts onto top sheet of phyllo dough (approx. 1/4 cup).  4.  Top with 2 more sheets of dough, butter then sprinkle with nuts.  Repeat these steps several more times until you reach the desired thickness.
  4. Top with 2 sheets of dough.  Butter top then repeat this (with no nuts) 3 times until you have 6 sheets (3 layers) of dough on top.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut 4 long strips, then cut diagonally in both directions to make triangles.  Place in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes or until golden brown.
  6. While Baklava is baking, make your sauce.  Boil 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar until dissolved.  Add honey.  Simmer for 20 min.  Add vanilla.
  7. When baklava is done baking, remove from oven and pour sauce over the top.  Let cool almost completely then remove pieces with a stiff metal spatula while still slightly warm.   Place each individual piece into a cupcake wrapper or parchment square. Do not cover. You don’t want any moisture to build because it will change the flaky texture.  Enjoy!

 

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Asparagus, Tomato and Avocado Salad

This is such a beautiful, fresh, delicious salad.  I love the creaminess of the avocados mixed with the acidity of the tomatoes and the nuttiness of the asparagus, all with a tangy Dijon mustard dressing… mmmm…. so so good.

Ingredients:

1/2-1  lb asparagus (I only use 1/2 but original recipe calls for 1 lb)

1 large Haas avocado

1 pint cherry tomatoes (or any other small, colorful tomato, original recipe calls for 6 cups which is a little much for me.  I found 1 pt to be perfect but it’s up to you.  Maybe if they were fresh from my garden I would increase that amount)

Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp pepper

a dash of red wine vinegar (optional, I like the tanginess)

Directions:

Asparagus – Start by washing. Hold one spear of asparagus. Starting at the cut end, bend slightly until it snaps (should be about 2 inches or so above the cut).  This will eliminate the tough, woody section of the asparagus and leave you with the most tender part.  Now, lay your snapped asparagus alongside the rest of the bunch.  Cut the bunch even with your 1 snapped spear.

Place enough water  in a medium skillet to slightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Place spears in water and cover again.  Steam for 3-5 minutes or until your spears are tender but still firm.  I used very small spears and 3 minutes was perfect.  If you use the thicker spears you will need to increase that time.

Afer they reach the desired tenderness, drain and immediately submerge in cold water to stop the cooking process. Once chilled, drain on paper towels until dry.  Cut into bite-sized chunks (I quartered each spear).

Wash your tomatoes, drain thoroughly and place in medium-sized bowl with asparagus.

Mix all ingredients for dressing with a whisk or a small food processor. Pour over asparagus and tomatoes and toss.

Cut open avocado and de-seed (If you need tips on this, see 7-layer dip recipe). Run knife through avocado all the way to the peel making 1/2 inch squares (see picture above).  Run a large spoon between peel and flesh to remove the avocado.

Add avocado right before serving because it will be at its brightest color and flavor. Separate cubes with your fingers then toss slightly into salad.  The avocados break up very easily so you don’t want to be stirring very much.

This recipe does not fare well for left overs due to the avocado’s speedy oxidation, so if you don’t think you will be eating it all in one sitting, you may want to only mix  half the tomatoes and asparagus with half of the avocado and seal the other half of the avocado (with seed in tact) in a plastic bag. This way your avocado will still be fresh the next day for leftovers. 

Asparagus, Tomato and Avocado Salad

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

1/2-1  lb asparagus (I only use 1/2 but original recipe calls for 1 lb)

1 large Haas avocado

1 pint cherry tomatoes (or any other small, colorful tomato, original recipe calls for 6 cups which is a little much for me.  I found 1 pt to be perfect but it’s up to you.  Maybe if they were fresh from my garden I would increase that amount)

Dressing:

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp pepper

a dash of red wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Rinse asparagus.  Bend one spear slightly starting at the cut end until the asparagus snaps.  This will be a good indicator of where the woodiness ends and the tender asparagus begins. Line the other asparagus up and cut even with snapped spear.  Cut into bite sized pieces.
  2. Place enough water  in a medium skillet to slightly coat the bottom of the pan.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Place spears in water and cover again.  Steam for 3-5 minutes or until your spears are tender but still firm. Drain and drop into ice water to stop cooking process.  Drain well.
  3. Add tomatoes. (Do not add avocado until ready to serve)
  4. Combine dressing ingredients and blend in a food-processor or  blend well with a wisk.
  5. Pour dressing over asparagus and tomatoes.  Toss.
  6. Before serving, slice avocado in half, remove seed.  Slice lightly with a butter knife inside the peel into small squares.  Scoop out with a large spoon into salad. Toss gently.
  7. Serve

Back to the basics – Chicken and Bowties

I thought I would start with something simple to get us started.  This recipe was one of my favorites growing up and best of all, it is always a winner with the kids.

Ingredients:

2       large chicken breasts

1       can cream of chicken soup

1/3    cup diced red pepper

½- ¾ cup parmesan cheese, to taste

½      cup of peas (fresh or frozen)

1 ½   cups of milk (or 1 soup can full)

½      Tbsp olive oil

1       Tbsp butter or margarine

12     ounces bowtie pasta

garlic salt

black pepper

1 Tbsp Salt (for pasta water)

Directions:

Heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet. 

Pat chicken breasts dry with a paper towel. This will keep excess water from entering the pan and “boiling” your chicken. Cut chicken into small bite-size pieces. Sprinkle with garlic salt and pepper.

Dice your red pepper. Store the extra in your freezer (in a freezer Ziploc). I do this with green and red bell peppers as well as onions. This way they are readily available to you when you need a handful of them.

Now is a good time to fill your pot of water for your noodles and get it heating up.  Bowties always seem to take forever to cook. When water reaches a boil, add salt. It is important to add enough salt so that your water tastes like a broth, so don’t go skimpy here.  This will add so much flavor to your pasta. 

Heat pan over medium-high heat. Always remember when cooking meat to let your pan get hot before you put the meat in.  This will keep your meat from losing all of its juices and essentially boiling itself, leaving it flavorless and rubbery.  Also use a large enough pan so that when the meat is dropped into the pan, the temperature does not plummet.  Your pan should let out a good sizzle when the chicken is dropped in.  Spread the chicken out into one layer in the pan.  Do not stir until the meat is seared (browned) on the bottom-side.  This is especially true when you are cooking with a skillet that does not have a non-stick surface.  If you let it sear before turning it, you will not end up with your chicken super glued to the bottom of your pan.  Sprinkle red bell peppers over the top of the chicken after a minute or two when the pan has recovered its heat. Turn the chicken with a spatula and repeat the searing process on the other sides until the chicken is fully cooked. 

  

Reduce heat to low.  Add cream of chicken soup, milk and peas.  Stir together and return to heat.

Grate parmesan cheese.  Do not use the cheese in a can (save that for your pizza).  Try to always use freshly grated parmesan as it will have a much better flavor and texture.  It’s really not very expensive and it is very versitile for use in your other recipes.  You can also freeze the leftovers if you don’t think you will use them right away.

Add Cheese, garlic salt and pepper to taste (taste first then add salt). ALWAYS taste your dish and make sure it tastes delicious before you serve it.  This will save you from serving something bland or way too salty. 

Drain pasta and spoon 3/4 into pan containing chicken sauce. Stir until pasta is coated.  I generally leave about 1/4 of the noodles out so the dish is nice and creamy.  (Save them for later.)  

Enjoy!!!