Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maple Syrup Baklava - Let the Springing begin!

For some reason, when I hear George Harrison's tune "Here Comes the Sun" I am reminded of maple syrup season in the Ottawa Valley. The early morning sun is creeping over the horizon, zigzagging its way through a hilly grove of maple trees standing in a bed of melting snow. A hollow pinging sound echoes throughout the forest as maple sap drips from tree trunks into large aluminum pails.  Alas, winter is over and it's maple syrup season. Time for a batch of my East-meets-West Maple Baklava!

I developed this recipe a few years ago when I happily discovered that I had an abundance of maple syrup AND a lot of phyllo pastry on hand. I also discovered that phyllo is kind of impatient, just like me. It demands that you work quickly and efficiently to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out. I suggest you pretend you are a dentist or surgeon and prepare all of your tools and ingredients in advance so they are ready to go for the final pastry assembly. In addition, keep the phyllo sheets that are to be worked, covered with a damp tea towel or plastic bag to prevent the pastry sheets from drying out and tearing. Until next time.....happy baking! And remember, phyllo doesn't bite. Honest!

NOTE: See more of my phyllo pastry tips below the Maple Baklava recipe.

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!

Phyllo tips:

  • 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.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Ye Don't Say--Salmon for a St. Patrick’s Day Feast?

If St. Patrick’s Day finds you waxing poetic, blazing a warpath to find your only green cable-knit sweater and yearning for a splendid Irish dish—other than stew—for your green day feast—be  brave—think pink. Think salmon! Whistle the Irish Spring tune and follow in the footsteps of Finn mac Cumhail, mythical Irish warrior turned poet. Legend has it, he was given the poetic gifts of magic, insight and the power of words—all from eating the Salmon of Knowledge from the Boyne River. And writing poetry was the ideal protective leisure pursuit for a warrior in those days because poets in Celtic society were considered sacred, mystical beings to be protected from harm or death at all costs.

Manly yes, but I like it too. Whether or not you’re an aspiring warrior or poet virtuoso it’s never too late to begin reaping the many great health benefits from salmon; longevity being one of them.  Chocked full of Omega-3 DHA and EPA fats found in fish oil, vitamins A, C (both powerful antioxidants) and E as well as niacin and riboflavin, salmon is credited with lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke, Alzheimer’s, eye disorders and cancer. To fully benefit from salmon’s “good fat” qualities, always broil, bake or grill it—avoid frying it.

As the Irish say, “Long life to you!”  Fight the good fight, try these tasty salmon recipes and dream big. Perhaps mid-life will see you celebrating your 60th birthday in Ireland dining on salmon, rooming at an ex-warrior’s Bed and Breakfast and penning insightful poetry by candlelight in the wee hours of darkness.

To get you started, here are a few unromantic but cold hard facts for buying and cooking salmon:
·        Choose fresh fillets over frozen whenever possible.
·        Pick tailpiece fillets—they’re sweet and lean.
·        Flesh should be thick, firm, moist and bright in colour.
·        Before cooking, rinse in cold water. Thoroughly pat dry.
·        Cook for 10 minutes per inch (measure at its thickest part) or more to taste at 400F-425F.
·        Done when juices run clear; flesh is opaque, slightly moist and flakes easily.

Salmon with Maple-Nut Crust

1 large tail piece of salmon
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup chopped almonds, pecans or shelled pistachios

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil. Wash and dry salmon with paper towel and place skin side down on the sheet. Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper. Mix together syrup, curry and mustard. Chop up or crush nuts. Preheat oven to 425F. Spoon half of maple syrup mixture over fillets then sprinkle with nuts. Spoon remaining maple mixture over nuts. Cover the areas of the sheet that don't have fish on them with tin foil pieces. This keeps the oil from splattering and burning. Bake in centre of oven at 425F for 35 min.


Sweet n’ Feisty Lime Salmon

¼ cup frozen lime juice concentrate
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey
3 tbsp rum, sambucca or tequila (optional)
1 large (2-3 lb) fillet of salmon (skin on)
1 tsp dried dill
Spoon frozen juice into a measuring cup and stir until a little slushy. In a separate bowl, mix together maple syrup and rum and add thawed lime concentrate. Rinse salmon under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with tin foil and place the salmon skin side down, touching foil, flesh side up. Using a pastry brush, paint ¾ of the lime mixture on the salmon. Sprinkle with dill.  Let stand for 15-20 minutes. Cover the exposed areas of the cookie sheet (outside the sides of salmon) with strips of foil to prevent burning. Bake in preheated 425F oven on the middle rack for 25 minutes. Transfer salmon (with skin on) to a large platter and drizzle reserved juice mixture on top. Scatter lime and lemon slices around the salmon on the edges of the platter and garnish with a few sprigs of dill if you wish. With a large spatula lift fish fillet from skin and serve.

Elegant Dill-Parsley Salmon Loaf

2 cups fresh cooked or tinned salmon, flaked
2 tbsp lemon juice
¾ tsp salt
2 green onions, chopped
2 cups soft breadcrumbs
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup light mayonnaise
¼ cup whole milk
For Dill-Parsley Sauce:
Mix together:
¾ cup low-fat plain yogurt
2 tbsp fresh dill, chopped (save a few sprigs for garnish)
2 tbsp parsley, chopped

¼ cup capers (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350F. In a bowl combine all ingredients. Pour into a spray-greased 6 cup (1.5L) loaf pan or bundt pan. Bake for 35 minutes until golden on top. Unmold the loaf and slice. Place slices on serving plates, drizzle with sauce. Place a dill sprig on each serving and scatter 4-6 capers over top. Serves 4-6.

Dilly n’ Caper Smoked Salmon Salad

2 tbsp light mayonnaise
2 tbsp plain yogurt
2 tsp white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 small garlic clove minced
1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
1 tbsp fresh parsley chopped

½ cup chopped red onion
12 slices (about 8 oz) smoked salmon, cut into thin strips or leftover cooked salmon
2 tbsp capers (bottled is fine)
6-8 cups mixed spring greens or watercress, washed and loosely torn into pieces
½ cup Pumpernickel or Sourdough croutons (optional)

Whisk together mayonnaise and yogurt, vinegar, dill, parsley and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Pour over greens and toss to mix. Sprinkle red onion and capers over top and toss gently. Place salmon strips over top and toss very gently. Serve with Pumpernickel or Sourdough bread croutons if you wish.