Friday, February 3, 2012

Latch onto Leap Day & Face your phyllo fears

To the lady of the house: if you’re a practical gal and just “carded” your partner for last Valentine’s Day and he lavished you with bundles of roses, silky lingerie or a brand new red convertible—there’s still time to redeem yourself! Consider skipping Valentine's Day altogether because...lucky for you it’s a leap year and that makes upcoming Wednesday, February 29th 2012 “Leap Day”. The day some folk legends say ladies can make marriage proposals and I say, you can kiss and cheer up a sour puss Valentine! By the way, if the man refused the proposal he was forced to compensate the down-trodden wench with a kiss, £1 or a silk gown. Hmm, I wonder if the she could choose the kisser?

Well, Mademoiselle, if you’re still intent on proposing marriage and are at all superstitious, don’t marry in a leap year or you may wind up starring as a damsel-in-distress on the Dr. Phil Show. The Greeks believed that leap year marriages were doomed for failure. Fortunately, if your ancestors took their nuptials in 1700, 1800 or 1900, they escaped this nasty curse because years divisible by 100 are not leap years unless they are also divisible by 400. And, you guessed it Einstein, the year 2000 was a leap year. Please accept my belated best wishes if that was the year you and yours tied the knot. Take heart, folks who married in1600 also faced the same fate. So, any guesses on the next leap year ending in zero, divisible by 400? Congratulations if you answered 2400—sign up for Jeopardy and leave a warning note on the family tree!

Now, unless your sweetheart is a Nobel-winning math whiz, your exemplary multiplication skills are unlikely to exalt them to “I do” status. Instead, impress them with your culinary prowess. Simply marry easy-to-use phyllo pastry and with a few sweet or savoury fillings, roll or cut your creations into various shapes and say “YES” to marriage bliss!

If you’re still afraid of phyllo, follow these helpful tips before taking the leap.

  • Buy frozen phyllo dough in long rectangular boxes in the frozen food aisle at the grocery store. One 1 lb/500 g box contains 18-20 sheets pastry sheets. Folding and cutting instructions are in the box.
  • Thaw frozen dough in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Read the entire phyllo recipe before you begin.
  • Practice folding or rolling instructions with a cloth napkin, first.
  • Work fast with this pastry because it dries out quickly. Pretend you’re a surgeon: have fillings, tools and work surfaces prepared before you unwrap the pastry from the package.
  • DO NOT let phyllo sheets to be worked, dry out or get wet. Keep them well covered with a large sheet of plastic wrap and a very slightly dampened tea towel on top. (Large clear plastic lawn bags are great for this purpose!)
  • Unroll the sheets from the package. Very gently pull sheets apart. Using a soft pastry or paint brush, quickly brush each entire sheet, right out to all edges, with melted butter or oil.
  • Always cut pastry with a sharp serrated knife before baking. It will flake and crumble if you cut it after baking.

Easy Cinnamon Phyllo Cigars

Honest: They taste just like Baklava!

Makes about 20 rolls or cigars


½ cup chopped pistachios walnuts, and/or pecans

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

pinch of nutmeg

¼ cup melted butter

2 tbsp honey

8 phyllo pastry sheets

Toast chopped nuts at 350F for 5-7 minutes or until fragrant. Let cool. Mix together sugar, cinnamon; cloves, nutmeg and cooled nuts. Set aside. Mix melted butter with honey and blend well. Lay one sheet of phyllo on work surface. Brush completely with butter/honey mixture. Lay another sheet on top and brush again. Cut these 2 buttered sheets width wise into 5 even strips, about 3 ½” wide. Place 1 ½ tsp filling on one end and ½” from sides. Roll up, tucking in sides on the first and second turns. Seal with melted butter and place seam side down 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. (Covered prepared and unbaked rolls with a sheet of plastic.) Brush very lightly with remaining melted butter. During the last 5 min of baking, sprinkle remaining nut mixture over the centre of each roll. Bake in a 350F oven for 15 minutes until golden. (Watch carefully.)

Note: Any sweet or savoury filling can be used with this easy-to-assemble recipe.

Spinach and Feta Phyllo Triangles

Makes 50-60 (Great for a party or for lunch!)

1/2 cup minced onion

2 tbsp butter

1 10 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and well drained.

½ cup minced parsley

2 tbsp EACH minced dill and chives

¼ lb feta cheese, crumbled

2 eggs, beaten

1 pkg thawed phyllo pastry

Sauté onion in butter until soft. Combine with remaining ingredients. Set aside.

To assemble triangles:

Take out 4 sheets of phyllo pastry at a time, reroll and rewrap the rest and cover with a slightly dampened tea towel. Butter each of the 4 sheets and cut width wise into 10 strips. Place 1 ½ tsp of filling on the bottom of each strip. Take bottom left corner of pastry strip and fold to the right edge to create a triangle, then fold up and horizontally; continue folding and crossing over the pastry on itself in this triangular fashion until you have one final triangle pastry packet. Be careful no filling shows at tips of triangle. Tuck last fold under, sealing with melted butter. Place seam side down 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets and brush with melted butter. Never use so much butter that dough becomes soggy. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden. Watch carefully. Cool slightly before serving as filling stays very hot.

Pear Fig Phyllo Crisp

Serves 6-8

4 large pears cored and sliced

1/2 cup chopped figs or dates

2 tbsp Sambucca or orange liqueur (optional)

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp grated lemon rind

1 tbsp grated fresh ginger root or 1 tsp ground ginger

½ cup chopped hazelnuts or walnuts (optional)

¼ brown sugar

1 tbsp all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp cloves

pinch nutmeg

Phyllo topping:

3 tbsp melted butter

1 tbsp granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

4 sheets phyllo pastry

In a large mixing bowl, toss pears and figs with liqueur, lemon juice, rind and ginger. Sprinkle nuts over top and mix. Mix together sugar, flour, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg; sprinkle over pears and toss to mix. Spoon into a lightly buttered 2 litre 11x7” shallow baking dish.

For topping: Mix together sugar and cinnamon, set aside. Lay 4 sheets of phyllo pastry on dry work surface and cut in half with scissors. You now have 8 sheets. Working one sheet at a time (keeping others well covered with plastic wrap and dampened tea towel) brush one sheet lightly with butter. Place another sheet on top and brush with butter. Sprinkle with ¼ of cinnamon topping mixture. Repeat process 3 more times until all sheets and mixture are used up. Trim ¼” border from phyllo stack. Place on top of fruit; roll edges under and press into sides of pan. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut 3 diagonal slits in top of pastry and score pastry into 6 or 8 portions. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes until golden brown or pears are tender. Turn at halftime. (Apples are a good substitute for pears but leave out the ginger.)

Vegetarian Strudel

NOTE: This recipe makes TWO Phyllo pastry strudel logs and serves 6-8 people. Each serving is about 4 inches long. It can be prepared ahead of time and baked a few hours later.


2-3 heads of garlic (If you like a lot of garlic, use 3!)

1 medium onion cut into small cubes

2 carrots, cut into cubes

1 red or yellow pepper diced

1 250g celeriac, peeled and diced (This is a very ugly looking vegetable. It reminds me of Nanny McPhee. It looks like a rutabaga with warty veins. Despite its ugly appearance it adds wonderful flavour to soups and vegetarian dishes)

2 roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

(optional: add 1 parsnip cut into cubes or 1 cup cubed squash)

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

Pepper to taste

1 tbsp fresh rosemary or ½ tsp dried

1 tbsp fresh thyme or ½ tsp dried

2 cups pearl wheat*see Note below (look in the grains aisle of the grocery store for pearl wheat) or rice or quinoa - cooked

125 ml goat cheese

¼ cup fresh basil, chopped


10 sheets Phyllo Pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp water

½ cup dry breadcrumbs, seasoned with a pinch of thyme, oregano and basil

Preheat oven to 400F

Garlic- cut the top quarter off the head of each garlic. Wrap in foil and set aside. Place chopped carrots, parsnip, pepper, celeriac and tomatoes in a large bowl. Toss with oil, salt, pepper, rosemary, thyme. Line a large roasting pan with a rimmed edge, with parchment paper. Spread vegetable mixture evenly over the sheet.

Place the garlic and vegetables in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. Toss at 10 – 15 minute intervals. They are ready when slightly brown and garlic is soft when squeezed.

Place vegetables in a bowl and allow to cool. Squeeze garlic cloves out of skins and over the vegetables. Toss gently to mix. Add cooked pearl wheat, or rice or quinoa, goat cheese and basil. Add more seasoning if you wish.

Note: The trick with phyllo pastry is to work fast and to keep pastry to be worked, covered at all times, otherwise it will dry out and crumble. Cover the unworked pastry with a damp tea towel and a plastic layer over top.

Arrange two tea towels in a single layer on a work surface, like a counter or table top. Place a sheet of Phyllo on each tea towel. Brush each sheet, quickly, with olive oil and water mixture. Sprinkle breadcrumbs overtop. Repeat this process until you have 5 layers in each stack.

Place filling along the long edge of the each stack. Roll up jellyroll style. You can use the tea towel to help nudge the roll along.

Line a large flat baking sheet with parchment paper. Carefully transfer the rolls to the baking sheet. Slash through the top layers of Phyllo on the diagonal in 4-inch intervals to guide you for serving pieces. Brush each log with remaining oil mixture.

Bake in 400F degree oven for about 35-40 minutes until well browned and crisp.

To cook Pearl Wheat:

In a large saucepan, place 1 cup pearl wheat and about 5 cups water in pan. The wheat should be covered by about 3-4 inches of water. Bring to a boil and simmer very gently for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until wheat puffs up, is chewy and firm but not mushy. Drain in colander and allow to cool. You will have about 3 cups of cooked pear wheat when done. Freeze in one cup servings and use for soups or other vegetarian recipes.

Maple Baklava

(Note: have everything ready before you start)
1 1/2 cups pistachios or walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 c sugar
1 tsp t 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!