Monday, June 27, 2011

Daring to do it: Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

The Daring Baker's monthly challenge is announced to the participants on the first of every month. This month was no exception. (Duh.) So on June 1st I see that the challenge will be to make homemade baklava, including homemade phyllo dough. Wow. That sounded kind of intense under normal circumstances. But factoring in the whole baby-is-due-in-a-week thing made it a little more intimidating. Flash forward three days. Baby is here! Yes, Baby Girl was born on the 4th, and we are so in love with her. Big Sister (previously called Little Girl, now we are going to have to play with the names!) wants to hug her, hold her, help her all the time. But with a two year old and a newborn, finding time to make multi-step desserts is a little hard. What's a mom/Daring Baker to do? Break it down and do one step at a time.

I started with the dough for the phyllo dough. I knew I could make it and put it in the fridge, so I didn't feel pressured with that step. The dough came together beautifully. I was really impressed! Into the refrigerator it went. I thought it would be there overnight. Two nights tops. Well, it had to sit a little longer until I had the chance to use it... Suffice it to say, this dough keeps well in the fridge!

Next step - rolling the dough. If you have ever used phyllo, you know that it is paper thin sheets. I never thought I would have to roll dough that thin! While time consuming, this wasn't actually as difficult as I feared it would be. True, it was a lot of rolling to get enough sheets for a pan of baklava, and yes it was kind of frustrating that the thinner the dough got the more fragile and prone to ripping it got... but the dough was satiny smooth to roll, and it was the kind of thing that gave a real sense of accomplishment! After flouring each sheet generously and layering waxed paper between each one, I again put everything into the fridge, this time for a real overnight for assembly the next day.
Traditional baklava filling consists mainly of nuts. I did not stay traditional. I started with walnuts and a few almonds, but then used graham crackers to fill out the crunchy filling. I don't know why I did this, I guess I just didn't want this to be so overwhelmingly nutty... The filling was "seasoned" with brown sugar and cinnamon, then we were just about ready to get to work. Baklava requires a lot of butter as it is assembled. I, of course, used margarine, but that seemed to work fine for me. Butter the pan. Add a sheet of phyllo. More butter. Another sheet. More butter... While not as time consuming as rolling the dough, this was a little... tedious. But I had my trusted kitchen helper with me, which always makes things more interesting! As I layered in the first round of the nut filling I decided to go with an idea I had been kicking around. I added golden raisins to each filling layer of my baklava. Again, not exactly traditional, but it just sounded good to me. Lots of layers of phyllo, butter, crunchy filling and raisins later, the baklava was ready to go into the oven.

The final element for the baklava was the syrup. Once cooked, the pastry is doused with a honey based syrup which infuses the whole thing with both moisture and flavor. Instead of using the given recipe, I used this one from Lemon, Vanilla and Honey Baklava. My amendments to the recipe were to use half brown sugar, added a vanilla bean and the grated lemon rind in addition to the juice. The biggest problem with the syrup was that the given recipe is for a 9 x 13 pan, and I made a 9 x 9 pan... There was a bit too much syrup... Oops... So my baklava was swimming a little bit.

And the finished product? Well, everyone who tried it loved it. Everyone. None of us was able to eat just one piece. While there were leftovers, they didn't last very long! Everyone was a bit doubtful when I told them about the graham crackers in the filling, but we all agreed that it tempered town the nuttiness without taking anything away from the dish.
This was a fabulous challenge. It really was Daring, making phyllo from scratch! Erica, thank you so much for giving me the chance to do this! It never would have occurred to me to make phyllo sheets. Will I do it again? Possibly, but not until my girls are older than two years and newborn! Will I make baklava again (with store-bought phyllo)? Yes, yes, yes!!

If you are interested in trying this for yourself, here is the recipe Erica provided. And if you want to be amazed, look here to see what my fellow Daring Bakers created!!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Daring to do it: Potato Salad

uI promise, there are lots of things going on here other than Daring Kitchen challenges... But time has been kind of hard to capture, and keeping up with posting has been less than easy... I hope to get back into the swing soon, but you never know... Especially because there are now two little ones in the house to play with!

This month's Daring Cook's Challenge was a little different than usual. It was, like the edible containers challenge, a contest, which is fine, I guess... I never cook or bake to win prizes, though, so I sort of ignored that aspect.

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!

I love potatoes. A lot. So this was a challenge that I thought would offer endless possibilities to me. And, in some ways it did. But, as I mentioned above, things have gotten a little hectic around here, and the birth of our new Little Girl (there will be an update one of these days!) took precedence over even my favorite food, the potato.
I made two different potato salads this month. I will give brief descriptions of each and show you the pictures, but this post will be a bit briefer, as you never know when a newborn is going to need you!

Potato Salad #1: Empty the Fridge!
This was a very basic salad - boiled russet potatoes and pretty much any vegetable I could find. Only the potatoes were cooked, everything else was raw to maintain color, freshness and texture. I used: broccoli, carrots, snow peas, sugar snap peas, sweet onion and zucchini. To dress the salad I simply used balsamic vinegar, tossed in while the potatoes were still warm. As I said - pretty basic. Yummy, though. Sometimes things are best kept simple, don't you think?

Potato Salad #2: Roasted Potato Salad with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Having made a raw salad, I wanted to also make a warm, cooked one. I love roasted potatoes anyway, so this was pretty much a natural for me.
I started by roasting my potatoes with onions and garlic. To that I added any other vegetable I could think of: red pepper, green pepper, yellow squash, celery... I think that was it! I also added some cooked white beans, for flavor, texture and protein. To all of that I then added some Italian herbed sun dried tomatoes. Everything went (back) into the oven to heat through, then the whole thing was dressed with white wine vinegar and some additional Italian seasonings.

Thank you, Jami, for giving me an extra opportunity to play with one of my favorite foods! It certainly was fun to see the amazing variations which our Daring Cooks around the world came up with. I am definitely going to have to try some of those!

If you like potatoes half as much as I do, do yourself a favor and look here to see what my fellow Cooks made!