Homemade Filo for Baklava and Apple Tart

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I became a mother almost two months ago and sometimes it still doesn’t feel like it’s real. It’s like how did I suddenly (though it wasn’t really) become a mother? Somehow, it feels like motherhood is something that has to be earned over a longer period of time, not something you can become in just one day when a baby is born. I’m not trying to discredit other mothers, by any means. We have certainly earned the title after carrying our babies in our bodies for 9+ months and going through childbirth, but somehow the title still feels strange. I’m sure it’s just like being married or changing your name in that it’s something that I will get used to over time.

I thought motherhood would make me a different person, but mostly I still feel the same except with a baby. Feeling the same is good of course, as I didn’t want to lose who I was, but I somehow expected this overwhelming feeling of a change in identity. Maybe that also develops over time as I will interact with the world and my baby as a mother.

Of course one of the things that makes me me is my love of food and cooking. In the first few weeks of motherhood I definitely did not have the time or energy to cook and I was grateful to the friends who brought us food and the meals I’d prepared ahead of time to stock our freezer. It was hard enough to remember to eat or find time to eat when my focus was on feeding my baby and getting enough sleep. In recent weeks I’ve felt myself getting back to normal with my desire to get my hands dirty in the kitchen coming on strong. For some reason this week that desire manifested itself in homemade filo/phyllo dough, which I used to make baklava and an apple tart. I enjoyed the process of making the filo dough, though it didn’t turn out as thin as I would have liked, and I was able to use some nuts that were past their “best by” date (they’re still good!)

The baklava I made was based on this recipe here and the apple tart one I made up with a sheet of leftover dough I had. It felt good to get in the kitchen again and create something with my hands, though it certainly wasn’t the same as it used to be. I made the recipe in steps over an afternoon, evening, and morning, with interruptions determined by a certain hungry baby. In the future, hopefully she’ll be helping me to cook.

Apple Filo Tart

4-6 sheets of filo dough, thawed if frozen*

1 large apple of your choice, peeled and diced

2 T. brown sugar

1 T. flour

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3-4 T. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Lay your sheets of filo dough on the parchment, brushing with butter every two layers or just on top if using homemade. In a medium bowl mix diced apple, sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Spread the apple mixture in a circle in the middle of your filo dough making sure that the apples are not piled on each other, though don’t be too picky about it. Gently fold the extra filo over the apple mixture and brush the top with butter. You may not use all of the butter.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes until lightly browned and crispy. Let cool and cut into slices.

*I used only one sheet of my homemade dough, though it was thicker than the store-bought kind.

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Saveur’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Most people won’t say no to chocolate chip cookies, whether overcooked or store-bought. Chocolate chip cookies are an American classic and definitely a recipe I have made and eaten thousands of times. Maybe the internet is to blame or maybe it’s just my curiosity for baking, but despite the number of times I’ve made the chewy, gooey hand-held dessert, I still sometimes feel the need to try a new recipe. Social media tends to make us feel pressured to constantly achieve bigger (or smaller) and better whether through our perfectly toned and tanned bodies, our flawlessly frosted cakes, or our carefully crafted home decor. Yes, your chocolate chip cookie recipe may already be amazing, but the lure of the internet will lead you to believe that this one is the best. Continue reading

Breakfast Berry Pie (gluten free!)

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For some reason last week I ended up eating a lot of pie. Monday I went to a movie with a friend and we followed it up with a delicious slice of pie at Pie Bar (the Ballard Bumble Berry Crumble is amazing!). Wednesday evening Sam and I took a mini vacation to Whidbey Island and ended our evening with a shared (and equally scrumptious) berry tart (basically an individual pie) at Christopher’s. Then the next day we stopped at Whidbey Pies for lunch and though we started with a savory pie for lunch, we also ended it, of course, with a slice of dessert pie. Continue reading

Homemade Pop-Tarts

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It’s probably a good thing that some of the kids in my fourth grade class have never eaten a Pop-Tart. I mean they aren’t exactly healthy and more importantly they are actually kinda dry and bland. You can totally make them way better yourself.

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Sure there’s a certain nostalgia to buying that familiar box of shiny, foil-wrapped “tarts” that keep forever. We ate them every now and then growing up, though of course Mom often bought the low-fat unfrosted kind, in which case… what’s the point? That crispy, crunch of dried frosting is part of what makes the Pop-Tart so delicious, and when you’re talking about a pastry, (whether processed or homemade) reducing the fat is the last thing that you need. In pastries, butter equates to flakey, melt-in-your-mouth texture so you don’t want to skimp on that. But of course there was that period of time when everything was offered in a low-fat version because that’s what was supposedly better for us. Anyway, I’m not a dietician.

I remember also eating Pop-Tarts sometimes in college. There was an on campus convenience store called “Mom’s” that sold them in two-packs. Being a newly independent adult who was busy with homework and probably eating mostly unhealthy foods, (especially those that might have been restricted as a child) I probably bought a few too many Pop-Tarts from Mom’s. That and pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…

I made Pop-Tarts with my fourth graders yesterday as part of a thing we do called, “Each One Teach One.” It’s basically an opportunity for kids to practice their presentation skills and teach the class about something that they love. As one of their teachers, I demonstrated mine yesterday by making Pop-Tarts. To save time we used store-bought pie dough. Then I did a demo of how to make homemade dough if you wanted to start from scratch.

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The purchased pie dough tarts were a grand success and I enjoyed the chance to share something I loved with the kids. Of course I ended up with the leftover dough I had showed them how to make so I decided to make it for myself at home… I didn’t get a picture of the ones made with the pie crust, but I can promise you they were not nearly as flakey as these guys. I mean check out those layers!

If you want to make it yourself, follow this recipe for homemade dough or this one for making it the easier (yet less tasty!) way. The first recipe uses a brown sugar cinnamon filling and the second uses a jam filling. I made both.

I had some extra dough leftover so I ended up making some C’s and S’s for fun. At first Sam thought the S was for him and asked, “Who’s the C for?” Ha!

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Warning! These are super rich and buttery and flakey! I made mine a little large and a sliver of one was plenty for me. These might make a super scrumptious dessert if left unfrosted (gasp!) and topped with ice cream.

Hope you go make some!

Family Recipe Rum Balls

Every year it’s the same. November begins and I think that maybe it’s time to start my Christmas shopping, but I don’t. Suddenly I am celebrating Thanksgiving, then December arrives with its daylight quickly dimming and the days ticking away like seconds on a stopwatch. Now here we are: one week until Christmas and I’ve barely started my Christmas shopping. Hello, my name is Erin and I am a procrastinator.

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Let’s forget the Christmas presents and stressful shopping that goes along with it. You know what I want for Christmas? I want to cozy up on a couch with my sisters and cousins and watch the old movies we used to make when we were too young to be embarrassed by ourselves. I want to bake gingerbread men and women with my mom and make funny scenes using them as the characters. I want to bite into homemade checkerboard cookies, eating each square separately, letting the buttery shards melt on my tongue. I want to sing Christmas songs around the piano, with my Dad playing the keys as we all belt out the songs. I want to wear fleece pants and slippers and curl up with a good book and a good cat (preferably one that doesn’t vomit regularly or wake me up in the middle of the night by pulling threads out of the nice curtains with her claws.) I want to watch White Christmas and have my sisters do a reprise performance of the “Sister, Sister” song from my wedding.

I am very lucky and grateful for the many wonderful people and comforts in my life. I would much rather have the simple gifts of time with people I love and time for the things that I love doing than any tangible presents that could be bought. If you haven’t bought me anything yet, don’t. Next year (maybe starting in October) I’m going to plan to do Christmas a little differently.

While I won’t be spending Christmas with my sisters and parents, I will still do many things on the aforementioned list. I will bake cookies, I will read books (good cat or not!), and I will leap around my living room while listening to Christmas songs. And since all of this list involves doing good for myself, I am also going to do good for others, including some volunteering and finding a way to help in Syria by donating to a reputable charity, as I am horrified by the news I see coming out of there.

I am also planning on taking some of my freshly baked cookies to the neighbors (checkerboards on the list!) I have our family’s favorite rum balls ready to add to the cookie platter. My mom always made these rum balls by the dozens for our family when I was growing up. I remember we ate them happily as kids, despite their strong rum-y taste (or perhaps because of it!). I am surely giving this recipe too late as the balls are best made ahead of time so that they can cure and really absorb the flavor of the rum, but perhaps you can make them now and save them for a New Year’s party. Mine have been ripening for about two weeks now, but I just haven’t gotten the chance to write about them yet!

Admittedly I have altered the recipe a little bit. I wavered between making the vanilla wafers from scratch and just buying them, but in the end, I decided that it was highly unnecessary to make them, and it would ruin the authenticity of the family recipe. I did, however, substitute honey for the corn syrup as I simply don’t use the stuff enough to really want to buy it. I figure that good family recipes are like a game of telephone, anyway. With each person you pass it along to the message changes just a little bit.

May your Christmas be full of comfort, joy, love, and all the things intangible and tangible that your heart desires. And may it also contain some rum balls!

 

Rum Balls

adapted from our family recipe collection

1 cup vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup powdered sugar + more for rolling

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1 1/2 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon light corn syrup or honey

2 Tablespoons cocoa powder

1/4 cup rum (pick one you would like to drink)*

Start by crushing vanilla wafers in a plastic bag using a rolling pin or pulse in the food processor until they are crumbly but not too fine of crumbs. Measure out a cup of the crumbs. Combine all remaining ingredients with the wafer crumbs in a medium sized bowl and mix together. Add more honey or powdered sugar depending on the consistency. You want it to be a dough that will hold together when rolled into a ball, but not too dry as the wafer crumbs will soak up some of the rum as they sit. Scoop into even golf-ball sized (or smaller) balls and roll in more powdered sugar to coat. Let sit in a well sealed container for at least a few days and up to several weeks before serving.

 

*They wouldn’t be rum balls of course, but if you really don’t like rum, I imagine these would be splendid with any other alcohol you like. I would think a Grand Marnier, Bailey’s, or Kahlua would be especially good, or even a whiskey of your choice.

 

 

Catching up on life and cooking…

Seattle summer happened a few months ago and it was beautiful – green, sunny, not too hot. Little humidity! I guess I got so caught up in it that I forgot to post on my blog! We also spent the summer house-hunting and now we are home owners! I guess I can blame that search for taking up a lot of our time. As usual though, I have done plenty of cooking and eating since the last time. Here’s a quick taste of just some of the things I’ve been cooking. (If you follow me on Instagram, however, you can keep up with my cooking and life a little more regularly – @erinthecooker)

Summer Berry Buckle (NYT), Blueberry and Peach Crisp, Black Bean Salad, and homemade Chocolate Cake with Raspberry Jam filling for a former co-worker.

Here’s a photo of our beautiful living room in our new house! (Don’t mind the Zappos box that I forgot to remove when taking the photo.) Don’t you love the orange front door?!

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I also made a Snickers pie (no Snickers actually in it, but rather a pie trying to imitate a giant Snickers!) It was rich, but it was a hit! I improvised the recipe off a Pinterest one I had saved months ago. The cake below is a chocolate stout cake.

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Having a house also means we now have a backyard and our very our own grill! We got to work right away grilling zucchini, chicken, and sausage. The photo on the right was a delicious Vietnamese-style noodle salad with grilled chicken. In the end, the recipe tasted very similar to one of our favorite Boston food trucks, Bon Me! Thanks again NYT Cooking!

Now that fall is upon us I’m looking forward to making some apple pie, pumpkin bread, and other cozy treats. Hopefully the next time you hear from me will be sooner rather than later!

Happy cooking!

Strawberry Queen of Heart Tarts

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Hello summer! I am so happy to see you! Spring and summer in Seattle have been beautiful with emerald-green lawns, colorful flowers of every variety, and warm temperatures. This past weekend got a little too hot though for a typical Seattle summer day. Temperatures reached 81 on Saturday and 92 yesterday, making our 4th floor, no A/C apartment pretty dang hot.

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In spite of the heat, I decided to turn on the oven and to make homemade pie crust (well not in that order).

Here’s a little summer advice for you: Do not make homemade pie crust on what is predicted to be the hottest day ever! Also don’t turn your oven on if you don’t have to!

Why shouldn’t you make pie crust on a hot day? The key to a good, flaky pie crust is cold fat (butter or shortening) and keeping it cold until it goes into the oven where it melts and creates pockets of air and thus flaky goodness. A hot kitchen (and hot hands) make keeping ingredients cold pretty difficult. I found myself popping my tarts in and out of the freezer at different stages to keep the butter from melting too early.

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But why was I making homemade pie crust in the first place? One of my friends was having an Alice and Wonderland themed engagement party over the weekend and I had to make something edible to fit the theme. Seeing the weather forecast, I told her I’d probably just make a salad to avoid using the oven. Yet the gorgeous, red strawberries grown right here in Washington were begging to be made into tarts and it seemed only fitting (and fun!) to make heart-shaped Queen of Heart Tarts.

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And because making one kind of tart is never enough (oh no, I always have to make it more complicated!) I made a savory asparagus tart too because, hello asparagus this time of year! For this tart I used puff pastry, because I had seen other recipes using puff pastry and it sounded oh so much simpler. In the end I was appreciative of the simplicity of the puff pastry compared to the pie crust, but in my opinion the pie crust tasted infinitely better!

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We had a wonderful celebration and kept cool in a lovely shady spot of the park. My friend was thrilled with the treats I brought and we ended up with a lovely Alice and Wonderland themed spread including: down the rabbit hole wraps (smoked salmon, herbed cream cheese, and cucumber), magic mushrooms (marinated mushrooms), mint tea (of course!) and a few other fun treats. They even had deck of card necklaces with different sayings on them from the book including “We’re all mad here!” I guess being crazy enough to bake on a hot day makes me fit right in!

Queen of Heart Tarts

2 pie crusts (homemade or store-bought)

2 cups diced strawberries

2-4 T. sugar (depending on how sweet your strawberries are)

2 T. cornstarch

lemon zest

1 egg, beaten

Roll out your pie crust into an even thickness of about 1/8 inch. Using a cookie cutter (or a stencil and a sharp knife) cut out heart shapes in your dough, as close together as possible. Re-rolling the scraps will overwork the dough and also make it start to soften and melt. (You can always bake the scraps with cinnamon and sugar and eat them as a treat!) Lay your cut-out hearts on a parchment lined sheet pan and put in the fridge while you cut up your strawberries.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Mix your diced strawberries, sugar, lemon zest, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Have your beaten egg ready as an egg wash for your tarts.

Remove the hearts from the fridge and top half of them with a small bit of strawberry mixture right in the center (do not overfill!). With the remaining hearts, gently place them on top of the strawberry filling and press around the edges to seal. Use floured fingers to keep your hands from sticking. Cut small slashes in the top of each heart and brush lightly with the egg wash.

Bake in the preheated oven for 18-20 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly. Let cool and enjoy!

Note: I made my strawberry filling before I had my hearts cut out and the filling got progressively juicy and soupy as it sat. I think if you wait til you’re ready to use it, you won’t end up with an overly juicy filling, which will just bleed out of your pies when you try and fill them and when you bake them if they aren’t sealed well.