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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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.

 

 

Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

IMG_1597These are not oreos.

These are buttery chocolate shortbreads smashed together with a sweetened thick icing.

IMG_1582The ingredient list is short (and sweet!) You probably already have everything at home to make them. Well, except the cake flour, but I didn’t let that stop me!

IMG_1585Sticky chocolate dough. Don’t add more flour to make it better. Stick it in the fridge. Let that softened butter firm up again.

IMG_1586I used a wedding gift champagne glass as my cookie cutter. That’s because I’m creative. Also I do not own a round cookie cutter. Doesn’t a round cookie cutter just seem unnecessary and boring?

IMG_1589Freshly baked below! (No rising involved so they don’t look that different from the unbaked above)IMG_1591Sandwich them together. Eat a few. Dip in milk if desired.

IMG_1598Wrap up for a friend.

IMG_1599Stamp it with your seal. Let them know: I made these, people!

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Better-than-Oreo Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

adapted from the Totally Chocolate Cookbook

Chocolate Shortbread

2 sticks butter, softened (I used one salted, one unsalted and it was perfect)

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

1 tsp. vanilla

1+1/2 cups cake flour OR 1 cup + 2 T. all purpose flour AND 2 T. cornstarch (I used the cornstarch)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

1/4 tsp. salt

Filling

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1+2/3 cup powdered sugar

2 T. milk or heavy cream

pinch of salt

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the cookies, beat butter with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Add sugar and vanilla and mix in. In a separate bowl combine flour, cocoa powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture to butter mixture and mix until there are no streaks of white. Do not over mix. If it is sticky (which it should be) wrap in plastic wrap in a flattened disc and refrigerate until somewhat firm – 30 minutes to an hour.

Divide the dough in half and keep one half in the fridge while you roll out the other. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and roll until 1/4 inch thick. Be sure to check the dough as you are rolling it out to make sure it isn’t sticking. Flip over and re-flour as necessary. Cut out rounds of dough (about 2 inches) using a cookie cutter, drinking glass, or champagne glass (if you’re feeling fancy). It is very helpful to flour your cookie cutter every few cookies so the dough doesn’t get stuck. Space the cookies apart about a 1/2 inch on an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet. Be careful transferring them as the dough is fragile. I used a thin metal spatula to keep from crushing the edges. Refrigerate the cookies on the sheet until firm again, while you finish rolling out the rest of the dough (10 minutes should be about right). Re-roll scraps and use as much as possible without overworking the dough.

With the cookie sheets of cookie rounds still in the fridge, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When preheated, remove the cookie sheets from the fridge and bake the cookies for 18-20 minutes, switching racks and rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking. Cookies should be slightly firm to the touch. Be careful not to over cook them. Since they are already dark, it can be hard to see if they’re done by their color. Let cool and prepare the filling.

For the filling beat the shortening with an electric mixer to loosen it up. Add sugar and half the milk, beating to incorporate. Add remaining ingredients and stir until smooth.

To frost, dab a spoonful of the filling on the bottom of a cooled cookie. Top with another cookie and gently wiggle and smoosh it to distribute the frosting evenly or just spread it on one cookie evenly before putting the second cookie on top. Repeat with remaining cookies. Enjoy with milk. I found this made just the right amount of filling for my cookies, but it depends how much you put on and how many cookies you end up with. You can always measure out the filling and divide it exactly between the cookies.

Makes about 36 sandwichesIMG_1595

As a side note: I decided to get rid of the post numbering. Does anyone really care how many “posts” I’ve written? Probably not. If you do, let me know 🙂 Thanks for reading as always.

Post 123 – Frosted Peanut Butter Bars and Jam Crescent Cookies

Do you ever have cookie expectations? You know, you see this delicious recipe in a magazine or a cookbook (or let’s face it – these days it’s on Pinterest!) and you have a certain idea of what it will taste like and look like. And then you make it and it’s not quite what you wanted, but it’s still a cookie.

IMG_1545That’s kind of what happened with these peanut butter cookie bars. I mean they were sweetened peanut butter cookies with peanut butter frosting, BUT they were soft and cakey instead of hard and chewy like I was expecting. Expectations can ruin everything. I made these cookies, excited to see the results and then when I took a bite, it just wasn’t what I expected! I will admit I may have halved the recipe (though not all ingredients) and probably didn’t bake them quite long enough, so maybe I have no one to blame but myself.

IMG_1528Nonetheless these cookies check another cookbook off my Cookbook Challenge. Who knows where I got this recipe booklet called Bar Cookie BONANZA! but I certainly had a hard time picking out which recipe to make. It’s an older book, the kind without all the pretty food photos enticing you to try a recipe. Instead it has simple instructions and titles that require you to actually read the pages as you’re flipping. Oh reading recipes… who does that?

Just kidding – I do 🙂

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IMG_1541While I was making peanut butter cookies I figured why not make a jam cookie as well to go alongside it. These simple Jam Crescent Cookies come from another similar cookie booklet simply called Cookies! I’m assuming these two booklets were stuck into my collection at some point in my move to Boston by my mother. Just what I need – more cookie recipes!

IMG_1532These cookies start with what is essentially a cream cheese pie dough. It has a tiny bit of liquid and you will think no way this recipe is right, but if you use your hands you can bring this dough together. The dough is then chilled, like pie dough, to allow the fat to get cold again and then rolled out, filled with jam and sprinkled with sugar. Essentially you have simple (and mini) cookie-pies or even Pop-Tarts!

IMG_1542IMG_1544These guys can hold a lot less jam than you think. It oozes out with just a hint too much!

IMG_1549Bake them, sprinkle with powdered sugar, let cool slightly (that jam can burn your tongue – don’t say I didn’t warn you!) and enjoy! Pair with a Frosted Peanut Butter Bar and it’s like a really sweet (in both senses of the word, Sam) PB&J sandwich.

Bon appetit!

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Frosted Peanut Butter Bars

1/2 cup peanut butter, (at room temperature if you keep yours in the fridge)

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

Combine peanut butter and butter until creamy. Add sugars, beating well. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt. Spread in a greased, 13x9x2 inch pan and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or until firm and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool and frost with the recipe below.

Frosting

1/2 cup peanut butter

2+1/2 cups powdered sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cup milk

Beat all ingredients until smooth. Spread on cooled bars.

Jam Crescent Cookies

2 cups flour

1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted (plus some for dusting)

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup salted butter (or unsalted plus 1/4 tsp. salt) – COLD

1 T. milk (yes that’s it!)

your choice of fruit preserves in some unknown quantity

In a large bowl, combine the flour and sugar and cut in the cream cheese and butter until you have coarse looking crumbs. Add the milk, mix well though do not over mix. Press the dough into a smooth ball (with your hands is best). Flatten dough slightly, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate it for several hours or longer, though you make need to leave it out at room temperature for 10 minutes or so before rolling it out if you do.

Preheat oven to 350. Divide the dough into 2 pieces and roll each half out carefully into a rectangle. Cut the dough into roughly similar size squares (the recipe recommends 3-inch). Put 1 tsp. (or less!) of preserves slightly off center. Fold over the dough to enclose the preserves and form a triangle (see photos above). Roll dough toward the point and smooth and seal the edges. Bend in ends of dough to give a crescent effect.*

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until light brown. Remove and cool. Dust lightly with more powdered sugar.

*Without a final photo, some of these instructions were lost on me, but I’m including them for your benefit, in case you’re smarter than I am!

Post 121 – Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Remember that ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie topped with vanilla ice cream at Blue Dragon?

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Well it was heavenly. Divine. I was tempted to come home and make one myself. Nonetheless I don’t have a personal cookie sized cast iron pan (and I know I would eat way too much of a 10″ pan myself!) so I made regular chocolate chip cookies instead. Well, not entirely regular I’ll admit, but nothing crazy. As part of the continuation of my Cookbook Challenge I decided to try a new technique in making chocolate chip cookies. My godmother gifted me Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Dessert cookbook long ago and I have made some recipes out of there – such as these beautiful checkerboard cookies – though I still hadn’t ticked it off my list for my Cookbook Challenge. Continue reading

Post 105 – Snowflake Cookies and Bacon Fat Gingersnaps

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With all of this snow falling here in the Northeast I’ve had several of my relatives checking in with me to see how we’re holding up. Are you guys buried in snow? Are you staying warm? Do you have enough food? Do we have enough food? Ha! In my house we always have enough food.

These snow storms have generally caused a decrease in productivity here in Boston as public transit has been shut down for full days more than once, businesses have had to close, and schools have racked up snow days to make up in the warm months of summer. For me, it has been a very productive time.

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There is something about being stuck inside with white flakes falling down that makes you get down to business (or makes you start to go crazy!) For me that has meant making significant progress on a quilt I started probably fifteen years ago (no joke) and baking and cooking many of the delicious recipes I’ve been wanting to make. It has also meant being continually well-stocked on all types of food – breakfast, dinner, dessert.

As I mentioned in my last post I’ve made Cincinnati Chili, Cinnamon Swirl Bread, and Homemade Hamburger Buns. During storm #3 I made bacon fat gingersnaps. This recipe was a combination of looking-for-an-excuse-to-make-cookies-of-any-kind and wanting-to-use-up-the-bacon-grease-in-the-fridge. (I’ve told you before about my obsession with using things up). I found it in the New York Times cooking section and had been eying it for what felt like forever. So I made a small batch.

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The cookies turned out savory, ginger-spicy, and salty – a little too salty, we decided after a few cookies (and I even reduced the salt it called for!) Always looking to improve rather than waste, I decided if they were too salty then they needed more sweet to balance. So I sandwiched them together with a maple butter cream frosting. They were better… I mean I ate them! Next time we’ll try again with less salt.

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Post storm #4 I opted for some snowflake sugar cookies. To be honest I felt quite sugared-out for the moment thanks to a delicious Valentine’s day chocolate mousse my husband made for me and the salted caramels he bought me, but I had an ulterior motive. After six official snow days (plus the weekends) I had still not gathered the courage to meet my neighbors across the hall, something I’d been telling myself to do for weeks. With encouragement from others, I decided making snow-themed cookies was a perfect way to introduce myself and break the ice (haha, pun totally not intended).

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I baked a small batch of cookies, cooled and frosted them (barely making it by using up the last crumbs of powdered sugar) and knocked on their door, my heart beating. No answer.

Unfortunately, my great cookie act of kindness mission did not succeed. I made Sam take the cookies to work today because I know they would enjoy them there, having made the cookies with the intention of not eating them myself. I will have to try the neighbors another time.

This recipe is my favorite sugar cookie recipe lately. It makes soft, lightly-colored cookies that roll out beautifully. Be warned that if you use a snowflake cookie cutter, they can be a little fragile with the points. I hope you make some cookies for your neighbors or at least make friends with them. We never know when we might need a friend nearby.

 

Erin’s Favorite Sugar Cookies

(apologies to my grandma’s recipe, which I know is the favorite for a few in my family)

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Cookbook

2/3 cup (almost 11 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 egg, room temperature

1 T. milk, room temperature (I often forget to leave this out to “warm” up)

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Add granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt and beat for a minute or two until light and fluffy, scraping the sides every now and then. Add the egg, milk and vanilla and beat to incorporate. Add flour and beat or fold in with a spatula. If the dough is too soft or sticky, divide it in half, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Otherwise continue by rolling out your cookies on a floured surface, making sure to keep the thickness consistent. Transfer cookies to a parchment lined sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes, depending on softness of cookies you desire and the thickness you’ve rolled. They should be lightly colored and slightly soft to the touch. Cool and frost with your favorite homemade frosting.

IMG_0567Share with a neighbor or a friend. Stay warm!

Post 96 – Raw Vegan Carrot Cake

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I don’t know about you, but I have been eating way too much sugar lately. WAY too much. Like I went to a holiday party today and saw cupcakes and wasn’t even interested. Cupcakes! This time of year often becomes all about sweets – Christmas cookies, chocolate candies, gingerbread men, parties and hot cocoa and everything sugary sweet.

I love sweets. I have a great big, dangerous sweet tooth (teeth?) that keeps me going back for dessert again and again, but sometimes even I get fed up with all of the ultra sweet options. Sometimes I just simply want something sweet, but not too sweet. Something that won’t make me feel sick later.

Enter Raw Vegan Carrot Cake.

I want to tell you all the things it is, but I also don’t want to give you the wrong impression. Yes it is gluten free, refined sugar free, dairy free, and raw, but I am not one to boast a bunch of labels just to impress you. It may be free of a lot of things, but it is also full of a lot of things – flavor, texture, sweetness, crunch (flavorful, textureful, sweetful, crunchful?) Anyway, let me introduce you.

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Fresh carrots, Medjool dates, almond meal, unsweetened coconut, and cinnamon. It’s that simple.

Pulse all of it in a food processor until it comes together and voila.

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You should get a nice sticky, but not gooey texture that you can shape with your hand. You might find you need to break up the carrots and dates a little first and then knead it all together, but this will depend on the strength of your food processor. Then once it’s done you shape it into whatever you want (see the “layers” below). You can even make a delicious frosting or just decorate it with coconut.

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I also decided to make it into carrot cake snack bites or for the sophisticated carrot cake truffles. Now don’t you feel fancy?

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Enjoy the holidays!

Vegan Carrot Cake Bites

adapted from MindBodyGreen

1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 cup pitted and halved dates, about 10

3/4 cup almond meal

1/4 cup unsweetened dessicated coconut

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

additional coconut and pecans for decorating (optional)

Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until it holds together. Shape into layers or truffles as desired. If making layers, use the icing recipe below. Refrigerate for best results.

Easy Coconut Icing

(I have made this before with much success but I have never measured – oops! Do it to taste and keep in mind that the icing will harden a lot in the fridge. You can use the following measurements and go from there.)

1/4 cup coconut oil

2 T. raw honey (or maple syrup for vegans)

Mix coconut oil and honey (microwave for 10 seconds at a time if the coconut oil is cold). Taste and adjust as desired. Spread on your carrot cake and refrigerate until semi firm.