18 April 2011

Birthday Baklava

A few months before I turned 30, I made a list of "30 Things I Want to Do Before I Turn 30". I numbered to 30 down the page, carefully circling each number. I wrote a first entry: "Make Baklava".

I never wrote anything else on the list.

Dawn my 30th birthday. I haven't made baklava yet. I do have a recipe. And phyllo dough. What I don't have is pistachios and enough butter. I make a run to the store. I know I'm not going to get the baklava in the oven before 11:27 am (the time I was born). When I get home my husband is fiddling with the microwave--he's turned the clock back a few hours to give me more time to meet my goal. Sweet.

Another delay. I could only get pistachios in the shell. We spend about 10 minutes shelling 1 pound of nuts.

Yet another delay. No food processor to crush them in. I painstakingly clean out our coffee grinder and process the pistachios in miniscule batches until they're all chopped nicely. I add 1/2 cup sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon, and set them aside.

I melt a stick of butter with 1/4 cup canola oil.

Assembly time! The first five layers of phyllo dough get just butter brushed in between them. Then I start layering them with butter and nuts until I've used all but the last five layers. I don't trim the sheets, just alternate which side of the pan I fold the excess over on. The top five layers get just butter again.

Next I score the baklava into diamonds (and triangles at the edges), and sprinkle a little nut dust in the middle of each piece. As I'm doing this, I realize that the nuts will probably burn while baking and I should wait until after the syrup is poured on, but it's too late now.

The pan goes into the oven at 325F for one hour. While it bakes I prepare the syrup: 1/2 cup water with one cup sugar. Bring this mixture to a boil and boil, stirring, for 5 minutes. Let cool.

When the baklava finally comes out, the cooled syrup gets poured over it. I dust with some fresh pistachios. Viola! Birthday Baklava! Too bad I have to let it cool before tasting.

Cook's Word: This was actually fairly simple and fun to make. I might skip the pistachio shelling next time and just use walnuts, but for such a special occasion, I'm glad I chose the better nut. =) If you like a more syrup-y baklava, just increase the amount of syrup. The friend I got my recipe from prefers to use the proportions I've used here, and I think that's a good idea.

16 April 2011

Pi Day Remembered

I was at work on March 14 (3.14) when my co-worker comes in with a, "Happy Pi Day!" Mild panic. I'd forgotten all about Pi Day! I had no plans for a pi day dinner! Luckily my husband and I, along with Mom and sister had just canned cherry pie filling about a week prior. So. Cherry pie was definitely on the menu. I saw a friend and invited him to come share it with us later that evening. "Give me a call to confirm".

When I got home, I decided to do it up well, and have a main-course pie too. I scoured recipes and decided on a fish pie with mashed potato topping. Our friend called to confirm that he would come for pie, and I said he might as well join us for dinner too. As I closed the phone, I suddenly had a sneaking suspicion that I might already have other plans for the evening. I checked my calendar. Yikes! In less than an hour I was supposed to meet my sister-in-law for an outing. I reconciled myself to missing the dinner I was creating and went into high-gear production mode.

I called my husband to make sure he would be home in time to meet our friend and get the pies out of the oven. And I made him promise to leave me some leftovers.

I threw together the pies, got them in the oven, heated up some leftover chili for myself, and just had time to clean the table, brush my teeth, and say "hi" and "bye" to David before I had to go. Some Pi Day celebration! I guess the guys enjoyed dinner (David invited a third friend) because a lot of the food was gone when I got home (including 1/2 a carton of vanilla ice cream!).

Before turning in for the night, I had a bedtime snack of cherry pie.

Lavender Vanilla Soda

I was craving some soda a few weeks ago while doing some regular grocery shopping. Having agreed not to purchase items with high-fructose corn syrup in them, I was at a bit of a loss as to how to satisfy this craving. Then it came to me. Dry soda. We sell it at the restaurant I work at--a product developed by a pregnant lady to be able to enjoy a good tasting dinner beverage without feeding baby lots of sugar. I bought a bottle of club soda and determined to make my own.

I started with lavender, steeping 2 tsp. of the flowers in a cup of hot water.

When it had steeped for 10 minutes, I added 2 tsp. sugar, a pinch of salt, and a 1/4 tsp. of vanilla flavoring. Into the freezer for about 15 minutes to cool.

After chilling, I mixed the syrup with an equal amount of club soda, and that was it!

It could have been sweeter, less lavender-y and more vanilla-y. But overall I found it refreshing and simple to make. I tried adding whipped cream to make it like a cream soda, but found I didn't care for the effect.

Other flavor ideas: plain vanilla, orange, ginger, cherry . . . Got any to share?

St. Pat

A nod to our St. Patrick's Day feast this year. I did make a lovely Irish venison stew (with carrots, turnips, and potatoes) which stewed all day, cooled, and stewed again the next day. Loved the fresh rosemary! Served it up with some hot Irish soda bread and shamrock butter cookies (many of which I burnt--*sad face*).