Saturday, July 24, 2010

Kickin it With Caprese - Heirloom Insalata Caprese

Nothing too earth shaking this evening. Just a few Heirloom grape tomatoes and some Basil. Though I did find a new kind of Buffalo cheese. Ya learn something new every day. I had never heard of Quadrello di Bufala, and here I thought the only thing they made with buffalo milk was mozzarella. Go figure. :)

The cheese itself was quite delicious. Hailing from Lombardy, it's a washed-rind semi-soft like Taleggio; the resemblance in uncanny. Though it sports a rich & sweet milky flavor. An interesting alternative to the normal Mozzarella di Bufala I would use in Caprese.

Heirloom Insalata Salad

There really isn't a recipe cause Caprese is what you make of it.

Some Tomatoes, sliced in half in this case.

Add as much torn basil as you like, cube your Mozzarella di Bufala or Quadrello di Bufala and add it to the mix. (I used about 4 oz of Cheese and 1 pint or 1 lb of grape tomatoes.)

Drizzle the whole thing with salt, Pepper and Good Extra Virgin Olive oil, then toss.


Dinner is Served!


Friday, July 23, 2010

You Catch More Aunts with Honey - Baklava

My aunts have been visiting over the last week. One from Texas and one from Seattle. It's been awesome seeing them after being in SoCal for so long. Somehow in our conversations, Greek food came up. As it turns out, both of my aunts are crazy for Greek food. So tomorrow I am preparing a Greek'ish Feast of things like Spanakopita, Hummus, Sopa Avgo Lemono and Kibbeh. But one should ALWAYS prepare a dessert.

Thus, Baklava arrived on the menu. Normally, I make this around the Holiday Season, but I had too many things on my plate last year. So it's the perfect time to finally get down to making a big pan. I find that I ALWAYS need to make a big pan of it, for it seems to disappear as if by magic.

The real secret to Baklava is speed. The ingredient list is actually fairly simple... nuts, a little sugar, spices and filo dough... all held together with a TON of butter... Then soaked in honey syrup. Easy... Lemme show ya.... You'll see...


3 Cups Walnuts
2 Cups Almonds
1 Cup Pistachios
4 TB Granulated Sugar
4 tsp Cinnamon
2 tsp Mace
1 tsp Ground Cardamom
1/2 tsp Coriander
1/4 tsp Ground Cloves
2 tsp dried Orange Zest
2 lbs Filo (The Filo I buy contains 22 sheets per lb, so 44 sheets total)
1 lb Unsalted Butter
1 half-Sheet Jelly Roll Pan (it's the same size as the Filo)
1 large Pastry Brush

Honey-Lemon Sauce
1 1/2 cups Orange blossom Honey
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1 cup Water
1 TB Orange Blossom Water
1 tsp Rose Water

Grind all nuts and place in a medium sized bowl, add sugar, spices and zest.

OK, now is when I let you in on a little secret ingredient of mine. I did not place this in the ingredient list because they can be a little hard to find, and Baklava is just as good without them. I am referring to this.....

1 tsp Ground Rose Hips. (Just a little something extra)

After you have combined all your ingredients in the bowl, you have 2 options..... Stir with a spoon....

or cover with a lid, or plastic wrap with a rubber band to secure it, and shake the bejeezus out of it.

There, see? Filling is all done.

OK, let's set up the assembly station......
Melt Butter in a sauce pan or in a measuring cup in the microwave and grab a pastry brush. The bigger the better. It will allow you to apply butter to the 'leaves' at greater speed, thus reducing the possibility of the dough leaves drying out. (it takes 10 minutes to assemble Baklava)

Remove the Filo from the refrigerator and grab the half-sheet pan, set butter to the side of the pan then unwrap your Filo and unroll onto work surface.

Brush Pan with a little butter

Then lay down the first sheet,

brush with butter and lay down the second sheet....

Continue this until you have laid down 15 sheets.

Spread 1/2 of the nut mixture over the 15th sheet and drizzle with butter from the pastry brush.

Brush your next sheet on the stack, then lay it over (Butter side down) this will adhere it to the nut mixture a little better.

Brush the side facing up and lay down your next sheet, continue brushing with butter and laying down more sheets until you lay down another 12 sheets. (you will have to open your second roll of Filo to finish this off)

Spread the remaining nut mixture and drizzle with a little butter.

Again, butter your next Filo sheet, lay it (butter side down) and brush the up facing side too.

Continue laying sheets with butter until you run out of Filo sheets. (about 17 sheets)

Using a VERY sharp knife, score your baklava by cutting 1/2 way through it (not all the way) I like to use a diamond pattern, but square is fine too.

Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes, then remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 30 minutes before starting the syrup.

Lemon Honey Syrup

Pour Honey, Lemon Juice and Water into a large sauce pan (honey foams when boiling)

Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes until reduced to about 2 3/4 cups of liquid.

Seriously, watch for boil over... If the foaming gets too high, simply remove from the heat momentarily until the foam subsides...

Then return to the heat and continue reducing.

After the syrup has been reduced enough, remove from the heat and let cool slightly.
Add the Orange Blossom Water and Rose Water, stirring to combine.

Place syrup in a container you can easily pour from.

Pour hot syrup over the cooled Baklava.

Allow 30 minutes to 1 hour for the syrup to be absorbed by the pastry, then cut all the way through with a sharp knife.

Serve to your aunts with a fresh flower. (aunts like flowers) :)

MMMMM Flaky Goodness.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ad 'Meyer' ing Ice - Meyer Lemon Drop

I suppose there are some things that are unavoidable. Taxes, car problems, & death are usually on the top of everyone's list, but I am speaking of the less tragic things. Like getting a bad hair cut, stubbing your toe when getting out of the shower or burning yourself on the stove. You know at some point it's gonna happen. Not that it's REALLY that big of a deal, but they are all unavoidable consequences of everyday living. So too is that fact that at some point, your gonna have to be served an alcoholic beverage in the infamous shee shee poo poo "cocktail glass".

Is there anything that could possibly be of a worse accident fostering design?

Seriously, it's like a miniature shallow bowl, balanced precariously on the end of a thin stem which is then filled to capacity with liquid, trusting surface tension to hold the contents in place, and indiscriminately handed to a customer who, unless it's the first one, has been imbibing a reflex dampening beverage. It's like flat out asking, "Please, allow me to dump this beverage down my front side" (sigh) Unavoidable...

Personally, I avoid such drinks that require the use of above said glass. Nope, no Cosmopolitan, Manhattan or Matadors for me. Nuh uh. However, there are 2 exceptions to this rule. Mainly because of the aromatic experience, which is what the glass is really designed for... (wet shirt aside) direct the aromas of the drink towards your nose, creating a pleasing quaffing experience for your nasal passages. The 2 cocktails of which I speak are those citron laced classics known as the Side Car and the Lemon Drop.

I am going to focus on the Lemon Drop right now, because I am still trying to hunt down a good Armagnac for the side car (it can be made with bourbon, but it's best with Armagnac).

When I say Lemon Drop, I am not referring to the "shot" that has become popular of late. Though the preparation for that can range from a shot of Absolute Citron with a sugar coated lemon wedge to an actual mixed shot of Vodka and Sour mix (ick) with sugar on the rim of the shot glass. The actual cocktail is an inspired concoction for those in love with all things lemon, being modeled after the Old-Fashioned lemon drop candies, thus the combination of crystalline sugar and the intense lemon flavor. The only thing that can improve on the original is if you can get your hands on a precious Meyer Lemon.

The vodka I prefer for this is "Level", by the makers of Absolut, though it is distilled differently. I tend to avoid the prefab "infused" vodkas, because I don't really think they add any particularly stellar qualities in mixed drinks. OK, maybe the Absolut Peppar when preparing a Bloody Mary, but that is still pushing it. (Belvedere is better anyway) Level has subtle citrus & spice notes all on it's own without following the "Infusion trend", thus allowing it to truly stand out amongst other vodkas. Give it a go, you won't be disappointed.

Meyer Lemon Drop

1 Cocktail Glass (4 1/4 - 5 oz - Not the 10-12 oz over-sized ones)
1 Meyer Lemon Wedge (to rub on the rim, and to garnish)
Sugar on a plate, for rimming
2 oz Level Vodka
2 oz Meyer Lemon Juice
3/4 tsp Sugar (with regular lemon juice use 1 tsp)

Grab one of those dangerous cocktail glasses and place 2 TB of sugar on a plate.

Rub the rim VERY lightly with the wedge of lemon, don't get it too wet or you will have a gloppy mess on the rim.

Turn the glass upside down and set the rim into the sugar on the plate.

Voila, a perfect sugar rim.

Squeeze your Lemon juice and filter out the seeds (Meyer lemons have A LOT of seeds)

Place ice in glass part of the shaker

Add 3/4 tsp Sugar

Pour Meyer Lemon Juice over the sugar.

Then add Level Vodka. (preferably kept in the freezer, so it's nice and syrupy)

Pour into the metal shaker.

Shake vigorously.

Strain carefully, into your cocktail glass.

Garnish with a lemon wedge.

Lift the drink and experience the sweet/sour hit of the sugar, the floral smell of Meyer Lemon juice mixed with alluring citrus and exotic spices. mmmmm This is what a cocktail glass is for, with each sip, your nose goes deep into the glass.... breathing deep of the vibrant aroma.

And the best part, is that there is a luscious wedge of Meyer Lemon to consume at the end,

to cleanse the palate.

Cin Cin!!