Until I moved into this neighborhood, I wasn’t a huge fan of Halloween – love Christmas, love Thanksgiving, but I considered Halloween to be one of the lesser holidays – like President’s Day. Of course, I only assigned it its second-class designation after I outgrew trick-or-treating. However, Halloween is a big event around here. In my old neighborhood, we were lucky to see two or three kids all night. This place is hoppin’. We get large gaggles of costumed candy beggars throughout the night. It’s fun and festive and I can’t imagine shutting the drapes, turning off the lights and not partaking.
It takes eight bags of candy to ensure I’ll have enough to last the night. Eight bags purchased the week before the actual holiday. Eight bags of Reese’s, Jr. Mints, Twix, Paydays and Almond Joys stashed in my pantry…texting me for a booty call each night until the 31st saying, “just eat a few of us; we’re fun sized; we won’t side-track your diet.” Yeah, right.
I have no will-power and the recent tightness of my jeans is a physical reminder of that fact. If there’s sinful food in my house, it goes in my mouth. Eight bags of my favorite candy is a feeding orgy I don’t want to participate in this year. So, as counter measures, I’m waiting until the very last second to buy candy. I also made these slightly sweet, salty, spicy almonds for my personal snacking pleasure, ensuring I keep my fingers out of the candy bowl.
I used the nuts and spices I had on hand, but feel free to substitute your favorites.
4 cups raw nuts (I used almonds)
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons assorted spices (I used 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice, ⅛ teaspoon cardamom and ⅛ teaspoon urfa chile for heat)
1 egg white, beaten
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and spices. In a large bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Add the nuts and spiced sugar to the egg whites and stir until nuts are evenly coated. Spread out the nuts on the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned.
2.Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt (if using) and allow the nuts cool on the baking sheet.
Frozen pie crust is cheating. In my book, taking a crust out of the package and filling it with a can of Comstock apple pie filling is not baking an apple pie. Call it ‘assembling’, but don’t call it ‘baking.’ Frozen phyllo (Filo) dough, conversely, is better from the box. I’d never be able to get handmade phyllo as uniformly thin as the prepackaged stuff. But, even prepackaged phyllo doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing.
The first time I tried cooking with prepackaged phyllo dough, I was in my 20’s and I was making a version of Beef Wellington. From 40 sheets of the tissue-thin dough, I managed to rescue eight sheets that made it into the oven. The rest of the phyllo fell apart, tore, or turned gummy and stuck together. I tossed away a crumpled ball of phyllo the size of a small cabbage.
Since then, I’ve learned a few tricks when working with phyllo. It just needs a little nurturing and patience and you’ll be rewarded with impressive results. Follow the thawing instructions exactly. Don’t rush the thaw or the dough may crack. Give yourself enough time for a complete thaw. Once it’s thawed, unroll it gently and completely and lay it flat (it’s usually rolled and folded), cover it with plastic wrap or waxed paper (I prefer waxed paper) and a damp towel (about as wet as a post-shower towel). This step keeps the dough from drying out. Don’t put the damp towel directly on the dough or it will turn into a gummy mess. Use dry hands, work with one sheet at a time and keep the rest covered. You may think it’s a hassle to keep uncovering the phyllo each time you want a new sheet, especially once you get in a rhythm, but this extra step keeps the phyllo in the perfect condition for culinary baking success.
Treat your phyllo right and you’ll be rewarded with a golden brown, shatteringly crisp, show-stopper of a pastry like this lamb pie.
Olive oil (I used a Meyer Lemon olive oil to brush the phyllo, but plain will work if you don’t have flavored oil)
To make the filling: Heat a bit of plain olive oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté onion until beginning to soften, 1-2 minutes. Add lamb, and sauté until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant and continue to sauté until mixture is browned and there are browned bits of meat and veggies on the bottom of the pan. Add spinach (un-drained), zest, smoked paprika and oregano. The water from the spinach will allow you to deglaze the pan and scrape up all those tasty browned bits on the bottom. Continue cooking until all the water has evaporated and the mixture looks dry and browned. Remove from the heat. Add cilantro, frozen peas, and black olives. Set aside to cool.
Once the meat mixture has cooled, season well with salt and pepper and add the beaten eggs. The eggs will help the meat mixture to hold together when the final pie is sliced. Adding the eggs once the mixture has cooled ensures they don’t scramble.
To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Unwrap phyllo and cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper and a damp towel so the phyllo doesn’t dry out. Once phyllo dries out or gets wet, it’s a bitch to work with. Brush the first sheet of phyllo with olive oil (this is where I used the flavored oil). Place the phyllo sheet, oil side up, in a 9” pie dish so that one half is covering the entire bottom of the dish and the rest of the phyllo sheet is hanging over the rim of the pan. Repeat this step 7 more times, rotating around the dish so that you end up with 8 layers of phyllo lining the bottom of the dish and the entire circumference of the dish has phyllo hanging over the rim. Fill the pie dish with the meat mixture, pressing down firmly and mounding it slightly in the center. Fold the overhanging phyllo around the meat, crumpling the phyllo and leaving the center open. Brush the crumpled phyllo top with oil. Baked for about 50 minutes or until the phyllo is very golden brown and crisp.
Let pie cool for 30-45 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm. The pie can be made ahead through step 3. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, in a 300⁰ F. oven for about 30 minutes.
Today is the first official day of my mid-life gap year. To start, I overslept and then failed to attend a 10:30 a.m. yoga class. Not an encouraging start to a year that’s supposed to change my life. I did, however, manage a walk around the neighborhood and took a shower. I remember reading somewhere that you should take a shower every day to avoid sinking into depression. Well, I managed that, at least. Also, there’s an electrician here repairing lighting issues I’ve been meaning to get to for a few years. All-in-all, not a bad first day.
This recipe is based on a goat cheese appetizer we devoured during an Innkeeper seminar last week in Asheville (Yes, I’m considering Innkeeping as my next adventure.)
Every Superhero has one great nemesis. Batman has Joker. Superman has Lex Luthor. My nemesis is named Inertia. Inertia convinces me to sleep an extra hour; she calls me to my comfy couch, and encourages me to get lost in formulaic television rather than creating something of my own. Inertia’s power frightens me. Without her, there’s no telling what I can do, yet I don’t know how to rid myself of her. This layoff has given me approximately 40 weeks to reinvent myself. 40 weeks seems like plenty of time, but not when Inertia sits at my left hand, whispering to me, “Tomorrow, tomorrow, start tomorrow.”
4 Large Brussels sprouts, cut in half and finely shredded (about 1 1/2 cups of leaves)
1/3 cup Canadian bacon, finely diced
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 1/3 cup All-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1/3 cup canola oil
3 Tablespoons plus 1 Tablespoon milk
Sauté onion in butter until beginning to soften. Add Brussels sprouts and bacon and continue cooking until onions are soft and golden. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt and thyme. Combine canola oil and 3 Tablespoons milk in a measuring cup. Pour oil mixture over flour mixture and mix well. Place dough between two sheets of waxed paper and roll into a 12” circle. Place on a sheet pan, remove waxed paper.
Spread filling on dough, leaving a ¾” border. Sprinkle filling with feta cheese. Brush border with remaining 1 Tablespoon milk, fold border towards center, just barely enclosing filling and pleating as you go. Brush top of dough with any remaining milk.
Bake galette 25-30 minutes until crust is golden brown.
“You’re HOW old?” They ask with such incredulity you would think I told them I have leprosy or I’m ½ human, ½ cyborg. “No, you’re lying. You can’t be.” Why would I lie about being old enough to be the grandmother of a 10 year old – and without the words “teenage mom” having passed anyone’s lips? After the initial shock wears off, I’m usually told that I look good for my age. The kiss of death – for my age, which really means I’m looking a bit haggard, but not when you consider I’m a woman of advanced years.
Yeah, I’m staring down a milestone birthday, deal with it. I have. Yes, of course I have regrets – I wish I had pursued my dreams earlier (or figured out what they were, for that matter), lived larger and bolder, loved with greater abandon, had the courage to make my mark on this world, balls to the wall. However, just because I’m no longer chugging up the hill, it doesn’t mean my life’s best parts are over. This is merely a new chapter, a new beginning and, this old dog’s looking for some new tricks.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 13×9 pan with cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine, onion, eggs, mint, oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg and cayenne, add bread crumbs and lamb. Season with salt and pepper and mix until combined. Shape into 16 torpedo-shaped meatballs. Dredge in flour and place in pan. Bake approximately 40 minutes, turning over after 20 minutes, until browned.
Meanwhile combine tomatoes, broth, tomato paste, garlic, orange zest and bay leaf in a large skillet. Heat on medium high until thickened. Add meatballs and simmer until meatballs absorb some of the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with parsley and serve with fried potatoes.