Baklava

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Baklava! Yay! I love eating baklava and I decided to finally make a version of it myself this past Saturday night. Before I go any further, I would just like to say that while I generally love spending hours in the kitchen, baklava stresses me the eff out. Picture this scene… I have just begun layering my phyllo dough and I realize I forgot to have a damp towel to cover the sheets of dough waiting to be brushed and layered and that I would greatly benefit from a second wax paper workspace… “GARRICK! I need a second workspace and towels stat.” (audible yet unintelligible reply from Gar) “What!? I need help fast!” (audible unzipping noise) “Can it wait? I’m in my new sleeping bag,” says Gar. “Get out of the sleeping bag. I need your help. I don’t know why the hell your in your sleeping bag anyways.” “You don’t want to try out your new sleeping bag?” replies Gar in a surprised tone as he walks into the kitchen. In hindsight, in less than the time it took me to get his ass in the kitchen I could have washed my hands, made some damp paper towels, and gotten out some wax paper to create another area for me to lay phyllo dough on. They say hindsight is 20/20. By the way, bless Gar for trying out one of the new sleeping bags we got for camping almost immediately after coming home from work and then sleeping in it that night. How could I not love the shit out of him?

Back to Baklava, if you have never worked with Phyllo dough then read the directions on the box. It dries out quickly and each sheet needs to be brushed individually with oil or butter or margarine. I use a 50/50 unsalted butter and olive oil mix. I have read and seen different ways of brushing sheets quickly but I have not managed to execute these effectively. I find that I can brush it out relatively quickly by doing one sheet at a time. I brush one side of a sheet, flip it over on top of the stack, and brush the other side. I also use my fingers along with the brush in order to do all of this more quickly. When I move the top sheet that is brushed, I cover the stack completely with damp paper towels, sometimes beginning to brush the top as I’m covering.

First, I combined a 5.5 oz package of chopped walnuts and a 5.5 oz package of sliced almonds with about a tsp. of cinnamon and about 1/3 cup of panko breadcrumb for the nut layers. I chose to use almonds simply for the protein but I ended up loving the addition in both flavor and texture. I thought the sliced almonds would be a nice textural contrast to the walnuts. Next, I began layering the baklava in and 8″ x 8″ glass baking dish, reserving a small amount of the nut mixture for topping after it was baked and the syrup was applied. The layers were as follows: 4 sheets phyllo, 1/3 of nut mixture, 1 sheet phyllo, 1/3 nut mixture, 1 sheet phyllo, 1/3 of nut mixture, and 4 sheets phyllo. Before baking in a 350 degree oven for about one hour (or until golden), I cut into the baklava lengthwise and widthwise to make rectangular strips. In the meantime, I made a syrup by combining 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup honey, and about 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture was well combined an bubbling. I think that the amounts of sugar and honey one uses should really depend on your taste and how sweet you want this to turn out or how much you want to taste the honey. You just want your syrup to cover the top and surround the edges of all the pieces. Once the baklava came out of the oven, I poured the syrup over it and making sure I got it in all of the cuts and let it refrigerate overnight.

In conclusion, was the baklava worth the stress of making it? Absolutely. I even had a friend ask to pay me for another batch… very flattering.

Chicken Masala

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I love to make a chickpea masala. This time I added chicken after I pan-fried it. Some garlic naan and saffron jasmine rice accompanied the dish. I wish I could explain how to make this dish in a more helpful way but the truth is that I usually don’t make masala dishes the same way each time. I mean there are the usual suspects such as curry, garlic, turmeric, cumin, and tomato (either paste or fresh or both) but sometimes I’ll add other things, in this case, it was a bit of jarred tikka masala sauce and serrano peppers. I hope that helps.

Andersen’s Split Pea Soup

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Andersen’s is a very cool place along the central/southern Californian coast. They have a restaurant that is famous for (wait for it…..) split pea soup. I can attest that the food at their restaurant is pretty kick-ass. They also have a handful of random shops that sell anything from German pastries to Christmas ornaments to Elvis memorabilia. One of the last few times I was there, I got their “soup in a bag” kit which just includes a bag of split peas and their recipe on the back.

I knew that their recipe is vegetarian but I had a ham hock in the freezer leftover from Easter that I very happily acquired from my mom. I added the ham hock with all of the ingredients and followed directions but then something else happened. I got incredibly lazy and did not want to get my food mill with the very fine basket out. I decided, “eff it” I am just going to put all of this in a blender. So I did and it was still really, really good. I will say that when you taste Andersen’s soup just by itself, it does not have a sort of distinct mirepoix flavor like mine did (understandably so) but I totally loved it. If you ever see an Andersen’s, pull over… if not for the food then just to stare at some random stuff for a few minutes.

Stuff It

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One night, I decided I was bored of the several ways in which I generally make chicken breast so I decided to butterfly a whole breast and stuff it in a way I hadn’t done before. In the stuffing we have… spinach, caramelized onion, Greek yogurt, Feta cheese, and a little salt. I had never thought to use Greek yogurt for stuffing chicken breast until now but it kicked some major ass. It kept the stuffing moist and creamy yet held together very well after cooking. The texture of the spinach was nice and the feta was a nice salty bite amongst everything else, especially the subtle yogurt flavor. I paired the chicken with a bell pepper stuffed with a simple mushroom and onion (mostly mushroom) sauté topped with a little bit of shredded gouda. The first thing I did for this dish was caramelize some yellow onion and put half in a bowl for the stuffing and left half remaining in the pan which I used to make the mushroom mixture. I added my mushroom-stuffed bell peppers in a 350 degree oven. In the meantime, I heated 1 tbsp. of butter and 1 tbsp. of olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. I dusted salt and pepper all over my chicken breast, including the cavity, and stuffed it. Next, I browned the chicken on both sides (this took about 3 minutes on each side) and put it in the oven for about 10-15 minutes. The most important thing about this dish is not overcooking the chicken… it will not be very forgiving if cooked improperly. I actually checked the temperature of the thickest part of the breast outside of the oven to ensure it was right around 160 and then let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving. This was such an enjoyable meal.

Chocolate Meeting

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At work we have monthly meetings where lunch and, usually, some sort of sweet treat is provided. Every once and a while I have the desire and energy to make a dessert to bring. This time I decided to do a variety of chocolates. There is so much one can do with chocolate. Chocolate cups are a great opportunity to get creative and utilize random things in your fridge or pantry. I made a white chocolate with fresh raspberries, a milk peanut powder chocolate with fresh strawberries, a semi-sweet chocolate with unsweetened coconut and dehydrated banana (you may notice the banana from an earlier post), and a 60% cacao dark chocolate with heirloom popcorn made with olive oil and topped with sea salt. I brought 12 of each and displayed them on a pretty 3 tier tray. I totally forgot to take a picture (that would have been nice) but remembered just in time to take a shot of the leftovers. The chocolates were a big hit.

Dragon Fruit

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This fruit is so gorgeous in both appearance and flavor, it makes one wonder at nature for creating such a thing. The ranch I live on grows them but, considering that it’s a $1,000 fine to take fruit off the vine, I was happy to buy this relatively small to medium sized one for $8 to see what all of the fuss was about. Before eating the white flesh with a spoon I did a little research on the description of it’s flavor and found that the “cross between a kiwi and a pear” was not too far off base. I would add, however, that in taste it is more like a kiwi than a pear and in texture it is more like a pear than a kiwi. The little black seeds are a great textural element to the fruit. All and all, I would say the $8 was well worth it.

Classic Hummus

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1 can of garbanzo beans (15.5oz)

1/2 cup water

3 tbsp. tahini paste

2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp. olive oil

3 garlic cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. This hummus really shouldn’t be eaten until it has been left in the fridge for 24 hours. Once it has had time to hang out in the fridge, the garlic flavor mellows out  and the olive oil flavor is a bit more pronounced. I add some water to my hummus because I just feel like it is way too thick otherwise. Once refrigerated, the hummus will thicken a bit. If you are not a fan of garlic, reduce the amount of cloves to one. Also, if you have never purchased tahini before, most grocery stores carry it and it should be next to the peanut butter. I first constructed this recipe a handful of weeks ago and since then I have been making it in double batches for Gar and I. I’m usually dipping at least one carrot or pita chip in my quart-sized container of hummus each day.