Monday, May 19, 2008

Baklava and Raspberry Streusel Bars - A Teacher Appreciation Luncheon

Every year, the parents of the kids that attend middle school are asked to commit to volunteering for the school in some capacity. Now, I'm not one of those moms that jumps at the chance to be a "room mom" and only occasionally will I volunteer to go on field trips, but I do welcome the opportunity to bake for the two bake sales and the teacher appreciation luncheon. We all have our strengths and weaknesses... Well, I was notified last week that the coordinators needed desserts for the luncheon today. I put some thought into what I'd make and decided on Raspberry Streusel Bars and Baklava. I chose Baklava because it's another Greek recipe I've been wanting to try to make - and it makes quite a bit. It was time consuming, but well worth it! I decided on the Raspberry Streusel Bars because I needed something wonderful and fast (since it was now the morning of the luncheon since I had spent the day yesterday with the Baklava!). Of course, I forgot that I ran out of rolled oats last week, but I called a friend, exchanged some oatmeal for a slice of baklava, and got the goodies to the luncheon on time! Both recipes were absolutely delicious! Thank you teachers!

Raspberry Streusel Bars
from Cook's Illustrated, Published September 1, 2005
Makes twenty-four 2-inch squares

This recipe can be made in a standing mixer or a food processor. Frozen raspberries can be substituted for fresh; be sure to defrost them before combining with the raspberry preserves. If your fresh raspberries are very tart, add only 1 or 2 teaspoons of lemon juice to the filling. The bars are best eaten the day they are baked but can be kept in an airtight container for up to 3 days (the crust and streusel will soften slightly with storage).

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
2/3 cup granulated sugar (about 4 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon table salt
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks) plus 2 tablespoons, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened to cool room temperature
1/4 cup packed brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces), light or dark
1/2 cup rolled oats (1 1/2 ounces), old-fashioned
1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces), chopped fine
3/4 cup rasberry preserves (8 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cup fresh raspberries (3 1/2 ounces)
1 tablespoon lemon juice from 1 lemon

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut 18-inch length foil and fold lengthwise to 8-inch width. Fit foil into length of 13 by 9-inch baking dish, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; allow excess to overhang pan edges. Cut 14-inch length foil and fit into width of baking pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. (If using extra-wide foil, fold second sheet lengthwise to 12-inch width.) Spray foil-lined pan with nonstick cooking spray.

2. In bowl of standing mixer fitted with flat beater, mix flour, granulated sugar, and salt at low speed until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine on low, add 16 tablespoons butter one piece at a time; then continue mixing on low until mixture resembles damp sand, 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. (If using food processor, process flour, granulated sugar, and salt until combined, about 5 seconds. Scatter 16 tablespoons butter pieces over flour mixture and pulse until mixture resembles damp sand, about twenty 1-second pulses.)

3. Measure 1 1/4 cups flour mixture into medium bowl and set aside; distribute remaining flour mixture evenly in bottom of prepared baking pan. Using hands or flat-bottomed measuring cup, firmly press mixture into even layer to form bottom crust. Bake until edges begin to brown, 14 to 18 minutes.

4. While crust is baking, add brown sugar, oats, and nuts to reserved flour mixture; toss to combine. Work in remaining 2 tablespoons butter by rubbing mixture between fingers until butter is fully incorporated. Pinch mixture with fingers to create hazelnut-sized clumps; set streusel aside.

5. Combine preserves, raspberries, and lemon juice in small bowl; mash with fork until combined but some berry pieces remain.

6. Spread filling evenly over hot crust; sprinkle streusel topping evenly over filling (do not press streusel into filling). Return pan to oven and bake until topping is deep golden brown and filling is bubbling, 22 to 25 minutes. Cool to room temperature on wire rack, 1 to 2 hours; remove from baking pan by lifting foil extensions. Using chef's knife, cut into squares and serve.

For the Baklava, I used the techniques from the latest Fine Cooking Magazine and adjusted it to use almonds and walnuts instead of pistachios and added honey to the syrup.

Classic Baklava
by Cindy Mushet for Fine Cooking Magazine
Yields about 30 pieces
1-lb. “twin pack” phyllo dough (two 8-oz. packs, each containing about twenty 9x14-inch sheets)

For the filling:
1 lb. unsalted shelled pistachios or almonds, preferably raw
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom

10 oz. (1-1/4 cups) unsalted butter

For the syrup:
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 tsp. orange flower water (optional; see our ingredient profile for more information)
Thaw the phyllo overnight in the refrigerator. Then put the phyllo box on the counter to come to room temperature, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.
Make the filling:
Put the pistachios, sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom in a food processor. Process until the nuts are finely chopped (the largest should be the size of small dried lentils), 15 to 20 seconds. Set aside.
Assemble the baklava:
Unfold one pack of the phyllo sheets and stack them so that they lie flat on your work surface. Cover the top with plastic wrap, letting some excess plastic fall over all four edges. Dampen and wring out a kitchen towel and drape it on top of the plastic wrap; this will hold the plastic in place and prevent the phyllo from drying out.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan. Brush the bottom of a 9x13-inch metal pan (preferably with straight sides and a light-color interior to prevent overbrowning on the edges) with some of the butter. Remove a sheet of phyllo from the stack, re-cover the rest (be sure to cover the remaining sheets each time you remove a new one), and put the sheet in the bottom of the pan.
Brush the sheet with some of the melted butter but don’t soak the phyllo (remember, you’ll have about 40 layers of buttered phyllo by the time you’re done). Repeat until you have layered and buttered about half the sheets from the first pack—about 10 sheets in all. If your pan has slightly angled sides, arrange the sheets so the excess falls on the same side of the pan and cut the extra off every few layers with a paring knife.
Sprinkle about one-third of the filling evenly over the phyllo.
Repeat layering and buttering the remaining sheets from the first pack and sprinkle on another third of the filling. Open, unfold, and cover the second pack of phyllo. Layer and butter it as described above, sprinkling the remaining filling after layering about half the phyllo, and ending with a final layer of phyllo (you may not need all of the butter). Cover loosely and put the pan of baklava in the freezer for 30 minutes (this makes it much easier to cut the pastry).
Bake the baklava:
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.
Before baking, use a thin, sharp knife (I prefer serrated) and a gentle sawing motion to cut the baklava on the diagonal at 11/2-inch intervals in a diamond pattern. Try not to compress the pastry by pressing down on it with one hand while cutting with the other. Not only are you cutting serving portions, you are also cutting pathways for the flavored syrup to permeate the pastry, so be sure to cut the pastry all the way to the bottom of the pan. If you have an electric carving knife, this is the perfect time to use it.
Bake the baklava until golden, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely. If making one of the variations below, run a knife along the cut lines. (Both variations contain sticky ingredients that can seal the cuts shut during baking, making it difficult for the syrup to be absorbed evenly.)
Make the syrup:
Put the sugar and 2/3 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is clear, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange flower water (if using).
Pour the syrup evenly over the entire surface of the baklava, allowing it to run down into the cut marks and along the sides of the pan. Allow the baklava to cool to room temperature before serving.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Greek Salad

The summer following my junior year of college, I took the trip of a lifetime and traveled all through Europe with 3 friends. We were gone for 3 1/2 weeks, stayed in youth hostels, and traveled by Eurail with about all we owned on our backs.

We toured Amsterdam, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Greece. We visited the Anne Frank House, climbed the hill to the castle Neuschwanstein, took a cruise down the Rhine River, saw The Vatican, and Michelangelo's David. We even took the touristy yet beautiful Sound of Music Tour in Salzburg. In Heidelberg, Germany is where I first experienced Marzipan (covered in chocolate) and it remains one of my favorite confections - so much so that I named my blog after the yummy sweetened almond paste!

By the time we got to Greece (our last stop before returning home), we were "all toured out" and exhausted. All we wanted to do was relax on the beach, never mind that we were blocks away from the ruins of The Parthenon. I have barely any pictures from Greece in my photo album, but the memories that stay in my mind from Athens have to do with the food. In Greece, I tasted the most delicious Greek food. In particular, I remember the rice pudding and the greatest Greek Salad I have ever tasted. It could be that it was in Europe that my love affair with food started. I have yet to find the recipe for rice pudding that takes me back there (I'm still searching), but I have found a terrific recipe for Greek Salad. (I only omit the green peppers). I made it the other night with chicken I had marinated briefly in some of the dressing and grilled. εύγευστος! (Delicious!)

Greek Salad
From Food Network Kitchens
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt plus more to taste
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Greek
2 teaspoons minced fresh oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head romaine lettuce (about 1 pound), trimmed of tough stems and torn into bite-sized pieces
6 ounces calamata olives, about 1 cup
1/2 pound Feta cheese, crumbled
1 English (seedless) cucumber, trimmed, cut into 1 inch chunks
12 ounces vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved
1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch wedges, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes and drained
1 green pepper, trimmed, seeded, and diced
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, salt, and oil. Stir in the oregano and pepper to taste. Set aside.

When ready to serve: In a large bowl lightly toss the lettuce with some of the dressing. Divide the lettuce among 4 salad bowls. Scatter the olives, cheese, cucumber, tomatoes, onion, and peppers over the top of the greens. Serve and pass the remaining dressing at the table.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Don't you just love Spring? This is a picture of one of my rhubarb plants which comes out of the ground every Spring. When my mom and dad moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania, they gave away their rhubarb plants to me and my brothers. Rhubarb requires a dormant period when the ground is frozen, so it doesn't do very well in warmer climates. I figure this plant has to be at least 25 years old and is still producing fabulously. Over the years, I have found that people either love it or they hate it. Fortunately, my family loves it. I usually make my mom's signature Rhubarb Custard Pie or my new favorite, Rhubarb Raspberry Pie (which I'll have to post about later), but last week I made a Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp since I had the ingredients on hand and it comes together quickly. The fruit looked great all by itself sprinkled with sugar.

I used the topping recipe from Heidi at 101cookbooks. You can count on Heidi to substitute more healthful ingredients in a recipe and it still tastes great. This recipe uses white whole wheat flour and oats for a healthful whole grain topping, and yogurt in place of some, but not all, of the butter. You can substitute just about any fruit you have on hand. But don't expect it to be around long...

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Milan Cookies

What a busy time of year this is - soccer, chorus concerts, baseball, and birthdays. (This is why my blog posts have been few and short!) Last week though, the girlfriends managed to get together for a coffee date/playdate. These cookies were a huge hit. I was looking for a recipe to use up some egg whites I had left over and I found Gale Gand's Milan Cookies. You can check out the recipe here. Gale uses citrus flavors in her recipe, but I'm a big fan of Pepperidge Farm's Mint Milanos, so I substituted vanilla in the cookies and peppermint extract in the chocolate filling. Scrumptious!

Milan Cookies
Recipe courtesy Gale Gand
Serves: about 3 dozen cookies
·12 tablespoons butter, softened
·2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
·7/8 cup egg whites (from about 6 eggs)
·2 tablespoons vanilla extract
·2 tablespoons lemon extract
·1 1/2 cups flour
·Cookie filling, recipe follows
Cookie filling:
·1/2 cup heavy cream
·8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
·1 orange, zested
Cream the butter with a paddle attachment then mix in the sugar. Add the egg whites gradually and then mix in the vanilla and lemon extracts. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. With a small (1/4-inch) plain tip, pipe 1-inch sections of batter onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, spacing them 2 inches apart as they spread. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or until light golden brown around the edges. Let cool on the pan.
Cookie Filling: In a small saucepan over medium flame, scald cream. Pour hot cream over chocolate in a bowl. Whisk to melt chocolate, add zest and blend well. Set aside to cool (the mixture will thicken as it cools). Spread a thin amount of the filling onto the flat side of a cookie while the filling is still soft and press the flat side of a second cookie on top. Repeat with the remainder of the cookies.


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