Baklava

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Filo dough can be very intimidating to work with.  It’s hard to find, not used in American cuisine, and requires patience to handle.  We learned that filo dough originated in the kitchens of Topkapı Palace, where the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire once lived.  When people think of filo dough, most think of decadent sweets like baklava, but filo dough is also be used for savory snacks like borek (filo layered with spinach & feta).  We haven’t made borek yet, but trust us, it’ll be on the blog soon enough.

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Gate to Topkapi Palace

Naturally, when we started to make baklava, we had to call my father, Baba (Turkish for father), since he’s our resident Turkish food expert.  He loves the blog and hopefully will love the shout out as well.  He gave us some tips for how to make the best baklava possible and include how finely to grind the walnuts, how thick the walnut layer should be, and also that the best baklava sets for a couple days to really absorb all the sweet syrup.  Baba also shared a great story from when he was a child and my Babaanne (father’s mother = grandmother) would make baklava, she would have to lock the finished baklava in another room so my father and his siblings wouldn’t eat it all before it was perfectly set.  Of course, we had to try it as soon as we poured the syrup over it… but when we tried it again for breakfast the next day, we both agree that it only gets better as it sets for a day or two.

We hope you enjoy this decadently sweet treat, your sweet tooth will thank us.

 

Baklava

(Adapted from the cookbook Sultan’s Table, by Ozçan Ozan with tips from Selim’s father)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 3 cups + 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 cups (~300g) walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted, clarified butter
  • 40 sheets of filo dough (usually 2 packages)
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. (If you have clarified butter, melt the appropriate amount. If you only have regular butter, melt it in a saucepan and then skim off the foam and slowly pour the liquid into a bowl making sure to not transfer solid milk fats which are at the bottom.)
  3. Prepare the syrup: combine cold water and 3 1/2 cups of sugar in a medium saucepan. Boil for 5 minutes, then lower heat to a simmer. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
  4. Stir in the lemon juice and allow to cool.
  5. Meanwhile, combine walnuts and 2 tbsp sugar in food processor. Process until “medium” ground – don’t let it get too fine.
  6. Now brush the inside of a large cookie sheet with clarified butter.
  7. Place a sheet of filo dough in the pan. Brush with another little bit of clarified butter. Continue in this pattern until you’ve placed half of the sheets (~20) of filo dough in the pan.
  8. Now spread the walnut mixture onto the top layer of filo dough. Drizzle with more clarified butter.
  9. Return to the pattern of layering dough and clarified butter until you use all of the rest of the filo dough sheets. Brush the top layer and the edges with clarified butter.
  10. Take a very sharp knife and dip it into hot water. Slice down halfway through the height of the dough into the size and shape of baklava pieces you want at the end.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes in the center of the oven.
  12. Lower heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 20 minutes.
  13. Allow to sit for 10 minutes.
  14. Slice all the way through, along the lines you previously made.
  15. Pour the syrup over top, along the cut lines.
  16. Top with additional ground nuts if desired.

Sweet & Savory Cheese Ball

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In the last installation of What We Ate At Amy’s Graduation Party, I give you this interesting little cheese ball. I know cheese balls are kind of clichéd, standard party food, but that doesn’t mean they’re not delicious. I got trapped by this one (as usual) and stood there munching on it for longer than I should probably admit. I found this dish a little different and interesting because it is equally sweet and savory. As you’re tasting it, you notice the sweet first, then realize you’re also tasting a strong garlicky flavor. But it doesn’t clash in your mouth – it works perfectly!

I think this was the only dish at the party that wasn’t a tried & true family recipe. Mom had it at another party and asked for the recipe from her friend. She gave her a copy of a printed out recipe that’s called Mill Mountain Cheese Spread. For the life of me, I can’t figure out where that name came from or with whom the recipe originated. If you try to look up “mill mountain cheese spread” in quotations, Google tells you that there are ‘No results found.’ (And here I thought Google was invincible.) There is a place in Roanoke, Virginia called Mill Mountain – I’m guessing the recipe maybe came from some place near there? What I did find though via the nearly-invincible Google though, is a recipe with the exact same ingredients. The Taste of Home website has a recipe entitled French Quarter Cheese Spread, that they published in November/December issue of Simple & Delicious magazine. So we’ll give them credit, so as to give someone credit!

Sweet & Savory Cheese Ball

Ingredients: 
  • 8oz cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic, minced finely
  • 1 tbsp granulated onion
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp brown mustard
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
Instructions: 
  1. Let cream cheese sit out until it is soft.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the cream cheese with the garlic and onion.
  3. Once mixed together well, form into a ball with your hands. Place the cheese ball onto the dish you’re going to serve it on, which needs to have raised edges.
  4. Chill, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat on the stove.
  6. Once butter has melted, stir a few times to ensure the ingredients are combined. Then spoon over top of the cream cheese ball.
  7. Return dish to the refrigerator until just before time to serve.
  8. You can set this out ~15-20 minutes before your guests are arriving, so it returns to room temperature.
  9. Serve with crackers.

Herbed Shrimp Pasta Salad

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Given that my sister Amy was the center of attention for her own graduation celebration, she got to pick which dishes my mom made for the party. One of her absolute favorites is this pasta salad with shrimp. Pretty much any time Amy gets to pick, this is what she asks for. This family favorite comes from my aunt Townley, although she says she thinks she got it from a neighbor years ago. Isn’t that always how things like this work? We’ve always known it as ‘Townley’s Shrimp Pasta Salad,’ but she got it from the neighbor, who probably got it from someone else, and on and on. Maybe one day, Amy’s friends will know it as ‘Amy’s Shrimp Pasta Salad,’ since she’ll make it so many times. And maybe one of you will like it so much and go on to make it so many times that it because known as YOUR shrimp pasta salad!

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Herbed Shrimp Pasta Salad

Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb medium shell pasta
  • 1 lb baby shrimp
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • 2 tsp Old Bay seasoning
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 of an onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp oil
  • Salt & pepper as needed
Instructions: 
  1. Prepare the pasta according to instructions or however you normally do it.
  2. Drain the pasta, but while still hot, stir in the mayonnaise, dill, and Old Bay.
  3. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil. Once softened, add the garlic and onions into the pasta, along with the shrimp.
  4. Stir everything together and top with a salt and pepper to your liking.
  5. Refrigerate until serving.
Makes ~8-10 servings if using as a main dish for a luncheon or similar. Is plenty for way more guests than that if part of a potluck with other dishes like we did for the party!

Pinch of Crab Egg Dip

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Ok, bear with me now. I know this isn’t the first post where I’ve started with – “this sounds kind of weird, but I promise you it’s really good!” This is another one of those. I don’t know who originally thought, 💭Hmm… let me combine some eggs and crab and make a dip out of it, but I’m glad s/he did. My aunt Ann has made this dip for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always loved it. It’s super easy to throw together for a party and definitely something your guests probably haven’t eaten before. It’s a fairly mild dip, that will please most palates, provided they like crab/seafood. It’s delicious and addicting spread on crackers. I like it with a drop of hot sauce on top! Let us know what you think!

🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀  🦀

Pinch of Crab Egg Dip

Ingredients:
  • 9 eggs, hard-boiled
  • 3 6oz tins of crabmeat (obviously use fresh if you’re so inclined/budgeted)
  • 2 tbsp poppyseeds
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
Instructions: 
  1. Chop up the hardboiled eggs.
  2. Mix all of the ingredients together.
  3. Chill until serving. Serve with crackers.
I don’t really know how to describe portions of a dip. This makes the amount of dip pictured above, served at a large party.

Amy’s Graduation Party

Selim and I have been in Virginia for a great long weekend to celebrate my younger sister’s graduation from college. She’s the last of our family, youngest of the four siblings, to graduate college. Our day was filled with family & friends, pomp & circumstance, caps & gowns, diplomas & honors… and a college party. Amy’s housemates (all 9 of them!) threw a party for their families and then one for their friends afterwards.  Even with all the parents that were present for both parties, we were still the boring old couple, as there were parents partying hard and clearly reliving some good old college memories.  Flash forward to Sunday and our family is hosting a family graduation party.  Any time we get the family together there’s always the classic dips, spreads, salads, snacks, and drinks.  We’ll highlight some of the unique ones that we think you’ll like in the next few days.

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Try one of these:

Pinch of Crab Egg Dip

Herbed Shrimp Pasta Salad

Sweet & Savory Cheese Ball

Happy Graduation Amy!! 🎉🎉

 

Bright Lemon Chicken Soup

I’ve put off posting this recipe for almost a week now. Mostly because I’ve been busy with my current rotation and was feeling pretty uncreative. The creativity bug hasn’t bitten me in the meantime, but I didn’t want to forget this recipe because I really enjoyed it. The lemon makes a basic chicken soup just that much brighter and more enticing! Sorry for the lack of creative commentary 🙂

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Bright Lemon Chicken Soup

Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1 large lemon (zest & juice)
  • 8 cups of flavorful chicken stock
  • 2 large boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 (dry) cup pearl couscous
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Chives
Instructions:
  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Poach the chicken breasts for ~5 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in large pot. Once hot, cook onions in the hot oil. Top with a few turns of fresh black pepper and cook for 8-10 minute until soft and fragrant.
  3. Zest and juice the lemon. Add these to the pot, along with the stock and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer.
  4. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add these to the pot.
  5. Allow the soup to lightly simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring every once in awhile.
  6. Add the couscous to the pot. Increase the heat slightly. Couscous should be done after 6-8 minutes.
  7. When couscous is plump, remove from heat. Serve topped with a few snips of chives.

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette

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Once upon a time, I used to buy salad dressing in stores. But a few years ago, I realized how easy it is to make a vinaigrette at home. The greatest part of it for me is that I’m not committed to a single salad dressing until I finish the bottle. One night I’ll use a balsamic vinegar base and the next night I can go Asian with a rice wine vinegar base.  There are also some health benefits to making your own vinaigrette. (I’m not judging you for your store-bought salad dressing, promise. Even as I’m extolling the virtues of making my own, I still have a bottle of one of my faves – Trader Joe’s Sweet Onion & Bacon Vinaigrette – in the fridge. And don’t even get me started on their Champagne Vinaigrette – yummmmm! I’m just pointing out another good reason to try making your own!) Salad dressings are notorious for having significant amounts of salt and sugar. When you make your own, you control those levels! And obviously, you’re not adding any preservatives or anything to make it shelf stable. Since I’ve been playing around with making my own dressings, I’ve learned (or maybe just confirmed) one thing. I love vinegar! Standard vinaigrette recipes call for 3-4 parts oil to one part vinegar – I generally use less oil for each part vinegar. I hope you enjoy it my way! We used this raspberry mint vinaigrette tonight over a shaved vegetable salad, and it was delicious!

Raspberry Mint Vinaigrette

Ingredients: 
  • 1/2 cup raspberries
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp honey
  • 5 large mint leaves, chopped
  • 3 turns fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Puree the raspberries.
  2. Whisk together the pureed berries with the rest of the ingredients. {It’s that easy.}
Makes ~3/4 cup of dressing

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