Sunday, March 27, 2011

Maple Syrup Baklava: East meets West

Having had a fantastic time at the Log Farm Sugarbush yesterday--complete with a pancake breakfast and maple taffy--I thought this would be an opportune time to republish my maple syrup post.....and stick up for the National Research Council of Canada too! It is the maple syrup of Canadian Institutions and more than just the "pretty face" behind the 1 pm time signal. Check out this post for my delicious Maple Baklava concoction and to find what the NRC discovered about maple sap and non-allergenic surgical stitches....
If the baffling bond between pancakes, biodegradable plastics and surgical stitches kept you awake for hours last night, here’s a tip. Tonight, skip the sheep-counting routine and picture yourself in mid-March, Ottawa Valley, amidst a grove of mighty, multi-tasking maple trees. Yes, it’s maple syrup season and maple sap is your connector! Being a Canuck you already know: it takes about 40 litres of sap to make one litre of syrup, that maple syrup contains minerals, antioxidants and fewer calories than corn syrup and honey, that—best of all—maple syrup packs a well-placed flavour punch to pancakes, appetizers, entrées, salads, and desserts. But did you also know it may soon be used in making eco-friendly plastic packaging and containers?

About two years ago, an ingenious Montreal-based, NRC scientist heard Quebec had a 27 million kilogram surplus of maple sap—a big, sticky problem! Tapping his resourceful mind he asked how the sap could be put to use in creating natural polymers to make biodegradable plastic—something he was already researching. Eureka, he discovered maple sap has the precise sugar-combo needed for producing biodegradable plastics. Mmmm, and it gets sweeter. Maple sap also turned out to be non-toxic and ideal for making human-friendly medical things that involve plastics like surgical stitches and patches for slow-release medications. But the really sweet deal? Maple sap is also a cheap, self-renewing, readily available resource; easy to tap and ready to use in its liquid form, unlike corn and sugar cane which must first be boiled into a liquid state before they can be used in plastic production—an expensive and time-consuming process for plastic manufacturers.

Now, who said, money never grows on trees? Kiss that notion goodbye. Hug, love and preserve a maple tree today. It could be the eco-friendly and renewable Canada savings bond you’ve been seeking for you and your future earthlings. In the interim, visit your local maple sugar bush, stockpile the liquid gold and indulge yourself in these maple syrup recipes. Sweet dreams and Bon Appétit!

Maple Baklava
(Note: have everything ready before you start)
1 1/2 cups pistachios or walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 pkg phyllo dough (in pastry section of frozen foods) thawed
1 c melted butter

2 1/4 c pure maple syrup, heated
¼ cup water
1 ½ tsp lemon juice
1 ½ tsp lemon or orange rind grated
2 tbsp chopped nuts

Combine nuts, sugar, and spices. Brush a 9x13" baking pan with butter. Lay thawed pastry on table or large, work surface. Cover sheets to be worked with a plastic bag and damp towel until you’re ready to use them. Cut all sheets from the pkg in half width wise. Set aside 10 to work with and cover remaining pastry. Brush a sheet of pastry with butter and then layer in pan, do this with 10 sheets. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets in pan, top with 1/3 nut mixture. Butter and layer 7 more sheets and rest of nuts. Top with 16 more buttered phyllo sheets and brush with remaining butter. Important: With a very sharp, serrated knife, score and cut through the layers of pastry into 1 1/2" squares. (It will crumble to pieces if you cut it after it’s baked.) Bake at 350F for 15 min, then 325F for another 30-35 min, or until a rich golden brown. (Keep an eye on the edges for burning.) During the last 20 minutes of baking, in a saucepan mix together syrup, water, lemon and rind. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and let simmer for 10-15 min, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. When baklava is done, immediately pour the very warm syrup mixture evenly overtop. Sprinkle 2 tbsp chopped nuts overtop. Cool in the pan for at least 4 hours and enjoy!

Maple Dijon Salad Dressing
1 1/2 tbsp olive Oil
1 1/2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp maple Syrup
Salt and pepper to taste
Blend all ingredients in a small bowl and pour over greens. (Dresses about 5 cups of greens). Try adding these topping variations to your salad: toasted walnuts, feta or blue cheese, dried cranberries or thin slices of apple or pear.

Maple syrup barbecue sauce
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup ketchup
2 tsp grated lemon rind, optional
1 cup onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered. Store in refrigerator for up to one month. Makes about 4 cups. Use on your favourite meat. (Excellent on pork back ribs.) For oven or barbecue.

Ballpark Maple-Baked Pop Corn
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 cup butter
2 cups packed brown sugar or pure maple sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup unpopped corn (to make 6 cups popped corn)
Heat oven to 250F. Place popped corn into lightly buttered bowl. In a medium saucepan (with high enough sides to avoid hot spills) melt butter, add maple syrup, brown sugar and salt. Gently boil without stirring for about 5 minutes, watch carefully! Remove from heat. Stir in baking soda and vanilla. Pour gradually over popped corn and mix well. Turn into large roasting pan; bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Maple-Nut Canadian Cheese Log Appetizer
You can make this ahead and freeze it, allowing it to thaw in the fridge overnight.
1 pkg cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups finely grated Old Cheddar Cheese
4 tbsp maple syrup, divided
1/2 cup toasted, finely chopped pecans
Blend cheeses with 2 tbsp maple syrup. Chill until firm in plastic wrap, about 1 hr. Using plastic wrap, shape the cheese mixture into a rectangle block. Place block on wax paper and brush with remaining 2 tbsp syrup. On another sheet of wax paper, place chopped pecans and roll the block in the nuts to coat all sides. Wrap nut-covered log in this wax paper and refrigerate for 2-3 hours (or freeze and thaw for a few hours in the refrigerator). Serve with crackers.