Thursday, July 30, 2009

An Idiot's Guide to Baklava

Whenever there's a special event in my circle of family and friends, I'm usually asked to bring a dessert. Said dessert is almost always baklava.

I have to admit, I do make a kick-ass baklava. All those layers of buttery, walnut-y goodness, yum. And so decadent, people will be surprised you made it yourself. And I'm going to show you just how to do that.

Intimidated? Don't be. This recipe, my dear friends, is pretty much foolproof. Heck, even I got a great outcome my first time trying it out!

Oh, and a disclaimer/PSA: If you'd like to remain in ignorant bliss over just how fattening this dish is, this is not the post for you. Leave now and go eat a rice cake.

What You'll Need:

Simple Syrup
8-9 cups sugar
6 cups water

1 lb Chopped/Ground Walnuts
4 sticks (1 lb) unsallted butter, melted
1 twin-pack phyllo dough, unfrozen (if it's one long roll, get 2 packs)

What You'll Do:

First make simple syrup. Put sugar and water in a big pot on medium-high heat, add juice from half a lemon (to prevent stickiness). Squeeze half a lemon (or even all of it if you want--it helps prevent stickiness).

Stir until sugar is dissolved. Let it almost boil, then reduce to a simmer for a few hours or until mixture thickens or turns light amber.


Set up your workstation so you have the phyllo on one side and ingredients on the other.

Remember, you have to work quickly with phyllo dough or it will dry out.

If you have a twin pack, leave one in the fridge until you're done with the first roll.

And make sure it's fully defrosted or the sheets will stick together and shred.

Trim phyllo dough sheets to fit pan.

Grease bottom and sides of pan.

Lay down 1 layer of phyllo dough, and then brush butter over it.

Lay down 2 more layers, brush with butter. Repeat twice. By the end, you should have 7 sheets on your bottom layer.

Sprinkle walnuts and cinnamon over dough.

Lay down two sheets of dough, brush with butter, and two more, brush with butter (should have 4 total). Sprinkle walnuts and cinnamon. Repeat (4 sheets, fillings, 4 sheets, fillings) until you run out of something (usually it's the walnuts).

Remember though, keep at least 3 layers of phyllo dough that are intact (no holes, rips, etc) because those will be your top layers.

The top layer should have 6-7 sheets of phyllo dough, with butter on each sheet except the very top one.

Cut on a diagonal

Cut on the vertical. to make diamond shapes. You can also cut little squares, but I think these are much more fun.

Now, take the rest of the butter (should be at least 1 melted stick left), make sure it's liquidy/melted (if not, pop in microwave for a few secs), and pour over baklava.

Pour over baklava, use the brush to distribute evenly, making sure the entire surface and sides are covered in it.

Throw it in a 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes. DONT't BE AFRAID OF BURNING IT.

The bottom should look like this.

REALLY baking it allows the pastry to retain its crispiness.

When baklava and simple syrup completely cooled down (usually several hours) and pour over baklava until you can juuuuust see it filling the pan.

Leave overnight or a few hours, and then drain the extra syrup.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A little taste of Lebanon

During the summer, I like to make dishes that are light yet filling. One of my favorites is tabbouleh, a yummy grain salad that's perfect for warm weather.

Tabbouleh, according to Wikipedia (which, you know, is the benchmark when it comes to definitions) "is a Levantine Arad salad dish, often used as part of a mezze. Its primary ingredients are finely chopped parsley, bulgur, mint, tomato, scallion, herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and various seasonings."

Most tabbouleh you're probably used to has a bunch of crap in it, such as bell peppers, cucumbers and the aforementioned tomato. I don't put that much stuff in there. I guess it's because I'm used to my mom's tabbouleh (we call it kisir in Turkish), which I am about to share with you.

What You'll Need:

2 cups bulgur (cracked wheat). But make sure it's the "fine" kind, not coarse or your tabbouleh will be too starchy.
1 large diced onion (about 1.5-2 cups)
1 cup chopped scallions
1 cup chopped parsley (I use the curly kind but flat-leaf is ok too, if you want a milder flavor)
1-2 lemons
2 tablespoons tomato paste
About 2 cups shredded Romaine lettuce
Olive Oil
Salt, Pepper, Red (cayenne) Pepper
Boiling Water

What You'll Do:

Put bulgur in a medium to large bowl.

Pour 4 cups of boiling water in there. Cover and wait for the water to be absorbed.

While the bulgur absorbs the water, sautee onions in olive oil under medium-high heat.

When onions are caramelized/toasted, sprinkle a but with salt and papper, add tomato paste and mix.

Add mixture to bulgur (see how fluffy it is?)

Mix it up well

Add scallions

And parsley

And lettuce

Squeeze 1 lemon over it all

Add some salt and pepper, and a bit of olive oil.
Mix again.

And, if you have children bothering you, put those suckers to work!

Adjust seasonings to taste and add more lemon if necessary

Serve tabbouleh with/wrapped in romaine lettuce

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Reason #345 Why I Now Love Summer

I’ve always been ambivalent about the summer. After all, being a PhatKid does have its negative consequences, unless you’re one with an overactive metabolism. This PhatKid unfortunately cannot wear the itty bitty clothes that seem to be so ubiquitous in times of warmer weather. Well, except for that year or two when I was a glorious size 4 and ate like a rabbit.

But don’t feel for me. I’ve come to terms with the realization that I simply enjoy food too much and am too busy to hit the gym (I’m working on that one). And since having BabyPhat I can always say I’m still working off the baby fat, although, with him turning 2 in two months, I think the statute of limitations on that is quickly nearing expiration.

Anyway, back to summer. I love it now. I can do without the oppressive heat and humidity, but the positive aspects of the season far overshadow the negative. Summer, with all its outdoor fairs, concerts and festivals—not to mention the ability to have a frosty alcoholic beverage during daylight hours without looking like an alcoholic—is a prime PhatKid season. In fact, it comes in a close second to winter, when, of course, one can indulge in all sorts of food and drink in celebration of the holidays.

Since moving to Westchester, I’ve been able to be a PhatKid every weekend. In my part of town, it seems like there’s a fair or carnival or festival or—even better— a feast! every week, complete with games, rides and food. Glorious food. And since most of these events are in towns with large Italian populations, or at least, with a dominant roman catholic church, they center around Italian feasts.

Last night, we went to the Feast of St. Augustine at—where else—St. Augustine’s church. The first thing we did when we got there was grab dinner (you never eat before a feast). PapaPhat had a sausage, onions and pepper wedge (AKA hero/sub/grinder/sandwich) and I, MamaPhat, had a steak, onions and pepper wedge. BabyPhat had pizza, french fries and spaghetti and meatballs. Well, one huge meatball.

And then, the pièce de résistance of all of these festivals—fried dough. It has different names in various places, but in our neck of the woods, we call them zeppolis (since most feasts are Italian) or funnel cake. They’re not the same thing, though they are both fantastic.

Zeppolis are small balls of dough, or shaped like doughnuts, dropped into hot oil, fried, and served in a while paper bag with an ample amount of powdered sugar. When they give you the bag, you really want to close it up and give its contents a good shake or two to really get the sugar well distributed:

(sorry, the pictures I took came out blurry so you’ll have to make do with ones I found on Google)

Funnel cake, meanwhile, is basically batter that has been “funneled” directly into the hot oil. It’s usually served on a white paper plate with a generous sprinkling of powdered sugar. Can also be found at amusement parks:

Other favorites:
Snow Cones

Italian Ices
(Not the pre-packaged crap in a cup, though. It must be Rita’s or Uncle Louie G’s or similar)

Kettle Corn

Cotton Candy
(BabyPhat's Personal Fave)


Blooming Onion and Remoulade Sauce
(oh, drool...)

Caramel Apples
Candy apples are okay, but caramel is where it’s at. And if covered in nuts, even better.

Fresh-Squeezed Lemonade

And, a recent discovery:

I finally got myself to try one and damnit, I found out I really, really like them!
What’s not to like? Is it a meat? Is it starch? A meal? A snack? Savory? Who cares?!
It’s on a STICK, people!!

On that note, my next goal is to drag the PhatFamily to the NY State Fair. I don’t even know where or when it’s held, but we need to go. Because, well, there will be corn dogs...

Friday, July 24, 2009

I'm doing the world a public service. So consider this a PSA.

The world needs to know about Adrienne's Pizza Bar. Located on Stone Street in Lower Manhattan, nestled among several other restaurants, lies what's arguably the best pizza available Downtown, and even the whole borough of Manhattan.

Adrienne's specializes in grandma-style pies. Made on a large sheet pan, this sicilian-style (but thinner) pizza can easily feed 3-4 people. It costs $16.50 for a plain cheese, but toppings (if you chose any) add a few more bucks. Typically, when my friend M and I go to Adriennes, order a pie with 2 toppings (eggplant and mushroom) and have 2 glasses of wine for $33 each. And we both have leftovers to eat for lunch the next day.

Here is what we had yesterday:

And because my Blackberry takes horrible pictures, here are some more mouth-watering pictures from the web.

The best thing, though, is that during the spring and summer, all of the restaurants on Stone Street (named such because of its cobblestone walkway) set up outdoor seating. It's a little haven in the middle of the Financial District.