Sunday, February 6, 2011

Baklava

I remember when I lived in Dallas, TX as a little girl, my parents would take my brothers and I to Greek festivals where there was entertainment, folk dancing, music, and food. I’m not Greek, but it was a good cultural experience. My favorite thing at these Greek festivals was the baklava!

I decided to make my own baklava for dessert to follow my Greek dinner. Making baklava is not difficult, but takes quite a bit of time. The neat part about making baklava is that you can’t mess it up… it will taste amazing no matter what. So try it out for yourself! You can’t fail. The ingredients do the magic for you.



Baklava

1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
1 pound chopped nuts
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup water
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch pan

Chop nuts and toss with cinnamon. Set aside.

Unroll phyllo dough. Cover phyllo dough with a dampened but thoroughly squeezed out cloth to keep the dough from drying out as you work. Melt the remaining butter in a dish and use a brush to apply it from here on out.

Place two sheets of dough in pan, butter thoroughly. Repeat until you have 8 sheets layered.

Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of nut mixture on top. Top with 2 sheets of dough. Butter. Repeat as many times as you have ingredients for.

Finish off the baklava with 6-8 sheets of phyllo dough and nuts.

Using a sharp knife, cut diamond or square shapes all the way to the bottom of the pan.

Bake for 50 minutes or until baklava is golden and crisp.

Make the sauce while the baklava is baking. Boil sugar and water until sugar is melted. Add vanilla and honey. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

Remove baklava from the oven and immediately spoon sauce over it. Let cool. Enjoy! 

Greek Gods Yogurt

Oh my god. It's so good. You’ll feel like a god or goddess while eating this gourmet yogurt. So rich and creamy… it’s almost like dessert. I used the Hermes flavor (Hermes is the god of honey yogurt apparently...) to top a small bowl of lentils as a side to my Roasted Rack of Lamb recipe.


Hummus & Pita Bites

I was at Whole Foods looking for pita bread as an appetizer to serve with hummus for my Greek dinner when I saw Pita Bites. Pita Bites are the cutest little pita breads you ever saw. They are bite size (hence the name), and therefore perfect to serve with hummus as an appetizer. I toasted mine and then served them on a dish strategically surrounding Greek hummus (that I also purchased from Whole Foods). Everyone remarked on how cute they were! So, if you want to be cute, get some Pita Bites to go with your hummus!


Greek Salad

This salad is a Mediterranean classic that I used as a side with my Roasted Rack of Lamb recipe. The lemon juice in the recipe really freshens up the dish and gives a traditional salad a delightful change.


Greek Salad

2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
2 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into ½ inch cubes
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped parsley
1 1/3 cups drained and pitted kalamata olives
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup lemon juice
1 ½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound feta cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss it all together and enjoy!

Roasted Rack of Lamb

On my drives to work in the morning I enjoy listening to lectures on CD. I just finished a series of 24 lectures on Classical Mythology by Professor Elizabeth Vandiver. I enjoyed these lectures so much I decided to compliment them with a classical Greek dinner.

I knew right away that the main dish would have to be a rack of lamb.

My first time tasting a rack of lamb was the summer of 2010 when I was in Victoria on a vacation with my boyfriend at the time. It was our last weekend together before he would leave the U.S. to go back to Israel to attend graduate school (we had met at UW the year before). We went out to eat at Pagliacci’s on Broad Street. I remember I ordered the cordon bleu and he ordered lamb. The cordon bleu was rich and flavorful, but terribly heavy on my stomach. And after a full day of exploring Victoria’s best bars and pubs, my stomach was not agreeing with the cheesy-meaty meal. Yonatan offered me some of his lamb and I remember being hesitant to try it because I’d never eaten lamb before. But after I tasted it, I wished that I had ordered it! It was SO good! And it didn’t taste heavy at all. It was SO savory and delicious.

Well a year and a half later, I decided to make some of my own. And it was just as good or better than my memories of the lamb I tried at Pagliacci’s that summer!
I served the Roasted Rack of Lamb with a Greek Salad, Greek hummus & Pita Bites, Greek Yogurt, and Baklava.



Roasted Rack of Lamb

2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 rack of lamb

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Move oven rack to the center position.

Combine garlic, rosemary, slat, pepper, and 2 tablespoons olive oil in a bowl. Set aside.

Season the rack all over with salt and pepper. Heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large ovenproof skillet over high heat. Sear rack of lamb for 1 to 2 minutes on all sides. Set aside for a few minutes. Brush rack of lamb with the garlic mixture. Cover ends of the bones with foil to prevent charring.

Arrange the rack bone side down in the skillet. Roast the lamb in the preheated oven for 18-25 minutes. Check the temperature of the lamb with a meat thermometer to make sure it is as done as you would like it before removing it from the heat. Let the rack rest for 5-7 minutes.

*NOTE: Allow internal temperature to be 5-10 degrees less than you like because the meat will continue to cook while it sits.
Bloody rare: 115-125 degrees F
Rare: 125-130 degrees F
Medium rare: 130-140 degrees F
Medium: 140-150 degrees F

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fried Banana Dessert

A traditional Thai treat. I tried this dessert once before at the Zao Noodle Bar in Seattle.  I wanted to try making it myself to go with my Thai Chicken Thighs recipe and was surprised to find how simple it is to make! The clean up was the most time-consuming part of this dessert for me... getting a pan completely clean after frying oil in it can be difficult!



Fried Banana Dessert

6-8 teaspoon all purpose flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 egg beaten
½ cup milk
1 pinch of salt
4 medium bananas
oil for frying

Mix together the flour, sugar, egg, milk, and salt to make a smooth batter. Add the milk sparingly while stirring continuously so that no lumps are formed and the batter retains a thick consistency. Do not add more milk than needed. Set the batter aside for 40-45 minutes.

Peel the bananas and slice each one in whatever shape you prefer. Dip the banana pieces into the batter and shallow fry in hot oil for a few minutes or until golden brown. (It helps to use tongs when maneuvering the banana in and out of the hot oil).

Drain quickly on a paper towel. I served mine with French vanilla ice cream and drizzled chocolate syrup.  

Thai Chicken Thighs

This recipe is absolutely sensational. I am a huge sucker for Thai food. I’ve never actually been to Thailand before but this recipe has a definite Thai restaurant flavorful authenticity to it. And I’m all for a simple, slow cooked, Crockpot concoctions.  I’ve prepared this meal multiple times for dinner parties, family, romantic dinners for two, and just for myself! Every person who has tried this recipe remarks on how tender the chicken is… how it just “falls off the bone.” And everyone is deeply impressed. The secret: the Crockpot!  Enjoy!


Thai Chicken Thighs
From “Betty Crocker’s Slow Cooker Cookbook”

8-12 chicken thighs, skin removed
¾ cup salsa (hot recommended
¼ cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon grated fresh gingerroot
¼ cup chopped peanuts
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Place the chicken thighs in a 3 ½ - 6 quart slow cooker. Mix the remaining ingredients, except the peanuts and cilantro, and pour over the chicken thighs.

Cover and cook on low heat for approximately 8 hours or until chicken thighs are cooked through and tender.

Remove chicken from the slow cooker with a slotted spoon and place on a serving platter.

Remove fat from the sauce remaining in the slow cooker. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Sprinkle peanuts and cilantro over the top and serve with Coconut Rice and Cucumber Vinaigrette.

Coconut Rice

1 can of coconut milk
2 cups of brown rice

Use one can of coconut milk in the liquid called for to cook 2 cups of brown rice. Follow the rice directions on the box.

Cucumber Vinaigrette

1 cucumber
rice wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Peel and slice the cucumber into thin slices. Sprinkle with rice wine vinegar (let soak for a few minutes before serving) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

Mushroom Coconut Soup

My mom posted this recipe on her blog about two years ago. She recommended it to me when I was planning on having a dinner party with some friends. It went great as an appetizer! It makes 4 very small servings. So if you are planning on a larger crowd, make sure to add to the recipe accordingly. I think it goes great as an appetizer to my Thai Chicken Thighs since it has an exotic flavor similar to Tom Yum soup. But whatever the occasion, anyone who loves a good mushroom will be drooling over this exquisite soup! 


Mushroom Coconut Soup
adapted from a recipe in "Table for Two: French Recipes for Romantic Dining"

1 lb. white mushrooms, thick slices
1 or 2 shallots, finely chopped
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup vegetable (or chicken) broth
1 14 oz. can coconut milk
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan gently sauté the shallots in butter over medium low heat until soft, approximately 2 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté another 5 minutes.

Add the broth and heat to boiling. Simmer and reduce, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and simmer over low heat, 8-10 minutes, to allow flavors to blend.

Stir in cilantro, if desired. Top with freshly ground pepper.

Makes 4 small servings.