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Baklava

December 24, 2010
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I do not love overly sweet things. I will scrape off most of the frosting on my slices of cake and I don’t usually care for sugary candy. Chocolate is exempt, of course, and I will readily eat anything with chocolate (unless it’s frosting). And I also like my coffee creamy and with extra sugar; I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I can appreciate it black but I will forgo the sugar before the milk. Yet, for all that sugar makes my teeth ache, I love, with an unhealthy passion, baklava. In my mind, it is somehow different from other desserts.

Maybe it’s the nuts and their crunchy-then-smooth texture in your mouth. Or the phyllo dough with its ability to be airy and light yet crisp at the same time. Or the honey, scented with cinnamon and orange to balance the natural saltiness of the walnuts and almonds. Or maybe it’s all of these perfect components layered together into an even more perfect whole.

This recipe is surprisingly easy, though perhaps a bit laborious. The ingredients are straightforward but the assembly takes some time. If you’ve never seen phyllo dough before, imagine something along the lines of tissue paper, delicate and almost transparent. Each layer, and I mean each individual sheet of phyllo dough, is hand-laid into the pan and brushed with clarified butter. The nice thing, though, is if the dough tears, you can’t tell because it is all kept together by the heavenly syrup. I admit, the hardest part of this recipe is letting the baklava sit overnight undisturbed and uneaten!

Baklava

Baklava

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Stuffed Tomatoes

December 13, 2010

It’s been awhile since I’ve done anything culinarily resourceful. Back in college, when I was craving a little bit of home away from home and grandmother’s and mom’s delicious home cooked dishes, I started experimenting a lot with Asian flavors. A lot of research and phone calls home helped get me on the right track to recreating some dishes from childhood. There were many successes and thankfully fewer failures.

One success was a recipe for wontons, a dish my family never really made but I still enjoyed when we went out to eat. I recently rediscovered the recipe and made a huge batch of them to freeze for a quick dinner when I’m too tired to make anything elaborate. In making them, I had some leftover filling and in an inspired moment threw this dish together.

It’s nothing original and in fact, it’s one of my favorite dishes growing up. The inspiration came not from the creation of this dish but from me putting two and two together and realizing that I now don’t have to call home for recipes but can attempt to make the flavors and textures of home just from memory. Mom and grandmother taught me well! Or, at least, fed me well.

My favorite thing about this recipe is the contrast between the sweet and sour tomato sauce and the spicy, meaty filling. As the tomato cooks down it develops a rich tangy flavor that complements the shrimp and pork. So comforting over a bowl of jasmine rice!

Stuffed Tomatoes

Stuffed Tomatoes

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Tomato Sauce

October 27, 2010

All my life, I have always thought that pasta sauce came from a jar. I never gave a second thought to ever making something like tomato sauce at home. Even in college, when pressed for money, I found making my own sauce a bit daunting. I mean, why bother when I can go to the supermarket, buy a jar, and have it ready to eat in just a few minutes?

But as I am trying to be more aware of what I eat, and especially after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, a great book that details our tenable relationship with the foods we eat, the idea of making as much of my foods as I can has become not only more important to me but in fact, necessary. And what is better to start weaning myself away from processed foods with than the most ubiquitous one of all, tomato sauce.

This recipe is wonderful. The tomato sauce is rich in what else, but tomato flavor with a subtle sweet and sourness that cannot be replicated when preservatives and artificial flavors are added. The stuff found on the shelves of the supermarket pales in comparison with its overly sour and salted taste. The cinnamon and nutmeg in this recipe adds that peculiar flavor that enhances the honey-sweetened sauce. While I’ve only made this recipe in small batches, it would definitely be worth it to jar some myself!

Pasta & Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce

Pasta & Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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Banana Muffins with Coffee

October 18, 2010

I never tire of a good banana muffin. They are probably my favorite thing to bake; easy and tasty, and such a good way to get rid of browning bananas. It makes me feel economical when mashing up those bananas that would have gotten thrown into the garbage anyways. And this particular recipe calls for a splash of the day’s coffee, and when do I not have just that little bit of old coffee left in the pot from the morning? There’s nothing better than a recipe that uses up what you already have!

Economy aside though, this banana muffin recipe is fantastic. It’s almost better than my beloved banana crunch muffin recipe from Ina Garten, if not a very close second. It is moist and dense, whereas Garten’s muffins are a bit on the lighter side. There’s also just that very subtle darker taste from the tablespoon of coffee that makes the banana flavor stand out. I also liked the method for combining the ingredients in this particular recipe; it makes for a smoother baking experience. As guilty as I feel buying bananas, I may have to buy them more often now just to make these muffins.

Banana Muffins with Coffee

Banana Muffins with Coffee

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Kimchi Fried Rice

October 16, 2010

Some of my favorite and most delicious meals have been ones that were impromptu. There’s something about digging through the refrigerator for whatever might still be edible or recreating leftovers rather than pushing a grocery cart down the aisle for ingredients that makes whatever I cook up more satisfying. Maybe it has something to do with knowing I’m not being wasteful with ingredients, time, and money. Or maybe it’s the inspiration of the moment that makes the food taste better.  Or maybe it’s because I’m usually just really hungry — who knows!

Regardless of the reason, there are definitely some ingredients that are handy to have around for these very situations when you’re either too tired or hungry to go shopping or think too much about what you’re going to make. My list of essential ingredients runs long but I can tell you at the top of it are eggs, green onions, and kimchi — all three used to make this kimchi friend rice, or kimchi bokkeumbap.

With a bit more of a kick than regular fried rice, courtesy of the kimchi, this dish really hits the spot on those days when you’re too tired to venture out to the grocery store but still want something delicious. I had all of these ingredients in my refrigerator. I added some porkchops my grandma had cooked for me and after the rice was done I had dinner in about ten minutes. After being slightly fried, the rice develops a chewy texture that helps enhance the salty and spicy flavor of the kimchi and pork. And the fried egg on top? Well, what more do I have to say?

 

Kimchi Fried Rice

Kimchi Fried Rice

 

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Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

October 10, 2010

Fall is more than just a season. It’s colors, flavors, and smells: bright oranges and deep reds; fragrant cinnamon and mulled spices; and the dry smell of leaves and the brisk coolness in the air. The arrival of fall, sometimes steadily as September rolls into October or just suddenly as I go from wearing shorts and sandals one day to sweaters and scarfs the next, brings with it a sense of excitement, almost like a renewal. Maybe because I still relate fall to starting school or perhaps it’s because of the deluge of holidays, but this season brings with it a rush of things to do and prepare for.

And what more than apples before the pumpkins start showing up on stoops to remind us that fall is here? This is a great recipe for after-visiting the apple orchard. My housemates and I went to a farm about three weeks ago while on a retreat in West Virginia and, for some reason, we all picked half a peck of apples each. Between the seven of us, the house was full of apples. We made apple pie, applesauce, and snacked on apples between meals yet there are still bags of apples strewn about the house.

One of my housemates used her apples to make these apple muffins which come from a cookbook that her college community compiles every year from student, staff, and alum contributions of recipes. After trying one of the muffins, I knew I had to make them again and get the recipe. These muffins are light and not overly sweet with just a hint of sugar and cinnamon. The little bits of apple suspended in the dough and the baked-on brown sugar on top makes for a wonderfully autumn-inspired treat.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

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Pound Cake

October 3, 2010

When I was younger, I remember going to the convenience store down the street from our house to buy sweets with my grandfather. To this day, there are two things that I always look for when I’m at a gas station or corner store: coconut cream pie and pound cake. Two guilty pleasures that are inextricably reminiscent and nostalgic of my grandfather and my childhood.

My grandfather has the worst sweet tooth; spoonfuls of sugar in his tea and limeade, creamy and rich coconut macaroons that’s little else than sweetened condensed milk, and buttery pound cake are just a few of his favorite things. I can’t say that none of that didn’t rub off a little on me. If my grandfather hadn’t shared his syrupy sweet coconut cream pies or densely sugary pound cakes with me, I wouldn’t have such a great appreciation for all the other sweet treats like cookies, cakes, and other baked goods.

Pound cake is a classic though. I remember my grandfather buying them in those individually sealed cellophane bags; a thick, moist, and oddly pale golden slice of pound cake between the two of us. I just love the simplicity and versatility of a good pound cake. Its sweetness, complemented by strong notes of vanilla, makes it the perfect treat with a handful of fresh berries and whipped cream, or just plain by itself. While this recipe doesn’t quite cut it in terms of a moist cake or buttery and vanilla sweetness, it’s still a little slice of childhood for me.

Pound Cake

Pound Cake

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