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Archive for December, 2008


Baklava with Mom

Thank you for all the Christmas wishes – I wish everyone happy eating and the very best for 2009!  My Christmas food coma lasted slightly longer than I anticipated with all the leftovers we have had at my house. In all seriousness, my mom went into full-on Arabic mode and cooked enough food to feed a medium-sized Army; needless to say it was more than enough for the 20 guests we had at our house.

I contributed a humble tray of baklava, which I’m posting about today. But, before I forget, I want to give props to Marianna who correctly named the famous Lebanese singer on my computer screen in my stuffed grape leaves post: Najwa Karam. I have some Middle Eastern goodies that I’ll be sending your way once I fly back home.

The two Greek Pete’s must forgive me when I say this, but Middle Eastern baklava is the best I’ve had. It might be because I grew up hooked on the countless trays my grandmother would whip up in her kitchen for parties, birthdays or when she knew her grandson was visiting – I’m not sure. Don’t get me wrong though, I’m not one to turn down a good serving of the Greek kind either!

old school scale: 1/2 kg walnuts

My mom has had this scale for longer than I can remember. It’s seen better days, yes, but it never lets her down. Oh, and mise en place you ask? I was already pushing it with my camera and asking to take photos of every step. 

mom brushed each layer with clarified butter

This is probably one of the most crucial steps for a good baklava, Greek or Middle Eastern. You want to use clarified butter to avoid the butter from burning in the oven and you also want to make sure to brush each layer liberally to achieve maximum crispiness.

my job was to sprinkle the chopped walnuts

The walnuts must be fresh for making baklava. Taste the nuts before you use them and chuck them if they’re rancid or stale. You also want to make sure you use fresh ground cinnamon for the filling. These little components is what makes for a good baklava. 

slice before you bake

Since the layers will be too crispy when the the baklava comes out of the oven, you want to slice it before you bake it. This will also help the baklava absorb the syrup once it’s finished baking.

cool syrup on hot baklava

This syrup, called عطر (a’ater) or شيرة (sheera), must be at room temperature and poured over the baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven. Alternatively, you can let your baklava come to room temperature and douse it with hot syrup, but I find the first way to be more convenient.

Baklava (بقلاوة)

After you pour the syrup over the baklava and allow the whole thing come to room temperature, sprinkle each piece with bright green ground pistachios and enjoy! الف هنا و عافية (bon appetit in Arabic)

QUESTION: I have a morning show appearance coming up and cannot choose between this baklava and this Middle Eastern almond drink I blogged about before. Which would you choose for a 3-minute demo? I’d love to hear what you think!

Middle Eastern Baklava

approx 24-32 servings

Components

  • 1 lb phyllo dough
  • 3 cups walnuts, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup butter, clarified
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • syrup
  • pistachios for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
  2. Pulse the nuts, cinnamon & sugar in a food processor until you reach a slightly coarse consistency. 
  3. With a pastry brush begin by brushing the bottom of a 9X13 pan.
  4. Layer 8 sheets of phyllo dough, making sure to brush butter between each one.
  5. Spread half of the nut mixture.
  6. Layer 4 more sheets of phyllo dough.
  7. Spread the remaining half of the nut mixture.
  8. Top with the remaining 12 sheets of phyllo, making sure to brush the top layer with butter as well.
  9. Slice the baklava into small diamonds (approx 24-32).
  10. Bake for at least 2 hours until slightly golden brown on top.
  11. Pour cooled syrup over the baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven and allow to come to room temperature again before serving. 

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syrup

approx 3/4 cups

Components

  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 strip of orange peel (optional)

Putting them all together

  1. Bring ingredients to a simmer over medium heat.
  2. Continue cooking over low heat until mixture becomes syrupy (approximately 10 minutes).
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

note: Syrup can be made days in advance and stored in an airtight container.

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Olive Juice!  Once I wake up from my food coma tomorrow I will get around to posting about the baklava my mom and I made for our Christmas party. For now, though, I’ll leave you with this photo I took earlier today.

Merry Christmas

best wishes, 

Tony

A Holiday Brie from Mr. Man

I know it’s been a while and I’m sorry, really. Luckily, though, I don’t have a laundry list of excuses for you – just one: I got a new job. On weekends I get paid to sell cheese at Whole Foods; yes, you read correctly, PAID to be at Whole Foods.

Many families bring their children along and encourage them to try different cheeses. I think that’s great! One family has the most adorable child that always calls me Mr. Man. Every weekend his parents greet me at the cheese counter and I give them the low down on all the new and interesting cheeses we carry. Once they make their selection and are ready to go, the little kid always yells, “bye, Mr. Man!” This weekend I shared this brie recipe with them and thought it would be appropriate to share here, as well.

I understand the holiday season is here and everyone is up to their necks in shopping, cleaning, traveling – the works. You won’t need any measuring spoons, fancy equipment or unusual ingredients for this one – just garlic, honey, a wheel of brie and preferably a warm baguette. 

mise en place

I make this brie all the time for dinner parties and it has never let me down – never. My good friends Marilyn and Diane are huge fans of this appetizer and it always makes me happy to hear their success with this recipe.

slathered in garlic

We’re off to a good start with the garlic. You want to smash it really finely with the side of your knife so as to create a smooth paste. A sprinkling of salt helps with this process. Once this bakes covered by a layer of honey, the garlic will roast and caramelize.

healthy squeeze of honey

Now comes the sweet part. You’ll want to coat your garlic-covered brie with your favorite honey and don’t skimp either. Any excess honey will drizzle down to the bottom of your ramekin while baking and form a nice sauce for later.

stringy brie

As difficult as it may be, let your brie cool for about 5-7 minutes once it comes out of the oven. Otherwise you’ll end up with a pool of brie and miss out on the stringiness. Remember that warm baguette? This is where it would come in handy.

sweet & savory brie

Don’t forget to scoop out some of the liquid honey sauce that settles at the bottom of the ramekin.

Happy Holidays!

Baked Brie

approx 8 servings

Components

  • 1 wheel of brie
  • 3-4 cloves, garlic
  • honey
  • 1 warm baguette

Putting them all together

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Smash garlic into a smooth paste using the side of your knife and some salt. The salt will help brake down the garlic even more.
  3. Spread the garlic over the brie and cover with honey.
  4. Bake in a slightly larger ramekin for 15-20 minutes and enjoy with warm bread.

note: You don’t want to use your fanciest brie for this recipe. A standard, good-quality brie works just fine.

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This is how I roll

With winter quickly approaching, everything gets pushed off to the back burner. Getting out of bed, hopping out of the shower – the basic tasks that were once a drag begin to feel even more impossible. I had originally intended on writing this post last night, but I failed. I was laying in bed, snuggled under my warm blankets with my powerbook perched over a pillow, typing away. The arrangement seemed perfect… except, I woke up the next morning to the annoying sound of my alarm, my laptop around my arm and a blog post that was complete rubbish. Needless to say, I’m writing at my desk today. 

Stuffed grape leaves were a treat growing up. Mom, grandmas, and aunts would always gather around the same square table, each with their own pile of grape leaves to roll, while my cousins and I ran around getting into all sorts of trouble. When we were exhausted we would offer the grown ups our finest grape rolling services, but they always kindly declined. The adults sometimes handed us a few leaves to entertain ourselves with; but beyond that we were instructed to play more in order to get hungry and eat more later on. If you’re familiar with Middle Easterners, or most Mediterranean cultures for that matter, you’ll notice that the more you eat, the happier mom is, and the better off you are. 

This past weekend I decided to make mom proud and make my own stuffed grape leaves. They’re different from the Greek or Turkish dolmas in that these are thinner and are served hot after slowly simmering in a garlic-lemon broth. They’re a staple in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan and have different names depending on where you’re from: يبرق (yabraq)، ورق عنب (waraq a’nib)، ورق عريش (waraq a’reesh) are some of the more common ones.

mise en place

Traditionally you won’t find pork chops used in this recipe. Instead, lamb chops or beef ribs are used to keep the stuffed leaves from burning. I couldn’t find beef ribs and the lamb chops looked kind of shady, so I opted for the pork chops.

just keep rolling, just keep rolling

Rolling the grape leaves is where some technique is involved. It takes time to get used to, but you’ll have plenty of tries to perfect your skills. The trick is not to roll them too tight (or you end up with a dry dish) and not to roll them too loose (or the broth floods the leaves and you end up with mush).

halfway there

Although this amount is certainly child’s play  for a veteran cook like my grandma, it was a major feat for a newbie like me. Luckily for me though, I had my mac and the wonders of youtube to get me through the mission. **Bonus for whoever can name that very famous Lebanese singer that is on my computer screen. 

you can never have to much garlic

Another important part of the dish is aligning the rolled grape leaves into the pot. This will ensure even cooking and safe unveiling when you go to flip the pot after cooking. Once you line the bottom with the meat and any leftover/torn up grape leaves, you want to carefully position your rolled leaves in a circular fashion. I suggest positioning them in the 3-6-9-12 (clock) position first and start filling in the gaps accordingly. Halfway through you’ll want to throw in the garlic cloves that will become soft and sweet after cooking. 

yabraq (يبرق)

At the end, your hard work doesn’t go unrewarded. This, my friends, is what it’s all about. صحة و هنا … saha w hana (bon appetit in Arabic).

Stuffed Grape Leaves

approx 6 servings

Components

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb rice
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb of grape leaves
  • pork or beef ribs
  • salt, to taste
  • 2 tsp allspice
  • 15-25 cloves of garlic (to taste)
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 3 cups water

Putting them all together

  1. Soak rice in water for 10-15 minutes, then drain water.
  2. Mix rice, ground beef, olive oil, salt, pepper and allspice together until well mixed.
  3. Fill and roll all the grape leaves with the meat mixture as displayed in the picture.
  4. Season the pork or beef ribs with salt and allspice.
  5. Line the bottom of a large pot with the meat, followed by any unused/torn up grape leaves – this prevents the rolled leaves from burning.
  6. Carefully align half the grape leaves on top in a circular fashion.
  7. Distribute garlic cloves over the top.
  8. Finish layering the rest of the rolled grape leaves.
  9. Mix the lemon juice and water with some salt and pepper to make the “broth.” 
  10. Pour the broth over the grape leaves, making sure the liquid reaches the top layer of the grape leaves. 
  11. Cover with a medium plate and bring to a boil. 
  12. Once at a boil, cover the pot with a lid (leave the medium plate inside to serve as a weight) and cook on the lowest heat for 1 and 1/2 hours.
  13. Turn off the heat and drain the broth.
  14. Flip the cooked leaves onto a large decorative platter and enjoy.

note: You can find grape leaves at any Middle Eastern market and some specialty supermarkets.

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