Lamb Phyllo Pie

Lamb Filo Pie

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.

Lamb Phyllo (Filo) Pie

  • Servings: 4-6 as an entrée or 8 appetizers
  • Print


  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs. ground lamb (or beef)
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, diced
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed, but not drained
  • Zest of one orange
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • ½ bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup briny black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 8 sheets phyllo pastry
  • Olive oil (I used a Meyer Lemon olive oil to brush the phyllo, but plain will work if you don’t have flavored oil)


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Ben’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb Pie
I have a confession. I’ve never baked a strawberry rhubarb pie. Are you surprised? And if I’m being completely honest, until today, I’d never eaten one either. That’s a shame, I know now, since the strawberries’ sweetness marries quite perfectly with the tart rhubarb – and you can’t go wrong wrapping it all up in a flaky pastry crust (she says as she polishes off her second slice). I didn’t know. I blame this whole rhubarb ignorance tragedy on growing up in Southern California. Rhubarb needs a cold climate to grow, something not in abundance in the sunny state. Rhubarb pie isn’t that common here. Deep fried avocado on a stick? You bet! Rhubarb? Perhaps not. I also blame mom – I don’t think she was a fan of rhubarb, so it never graced our table.

My friend, Ben, recently declared it his favorite pie and asked me to make one a few months back. Frankly, I was a little daunted to work with rhubarb; hearing parts of it were poisonous. It’s actually quite straightforward – wash it, cut off the leaves (the poisonous part), trim the top and the bottom of the stalk to remove any dried, soggy or damaged bits and finally, on any larger stalks, remove any fibrous ribs with a paring knife (just like celery!).

Strawberries and Rhubarb – truly a quintessential combo. This first pie iteration was mine for testing, but needs no alterations. The next one is Ben’s.

Ben’s Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
  • Print
This crust is adapted from The Pioneer Woman and makes three thin crusts or two crusts with plenty of leftover dough for decorations (or a second crumb-topped pie).


  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup Crisco
  • 1 Egg, beaten
  • 5 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon white vinegar
  • 3 cups All-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ lbs. rhubarb, trimmed and cut into ½ inch thick slices (about 3 ½ cups)
  • 1 lbs. fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced (about 3 ½ cups)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup quick-cooking tapioca
  • ¼ cup panko crumbs
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water
  • 2 Tablespoons turbinado sugar (raw sugar) or white sugar


  1. Chill butter and Crisco until very cold by placing both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, combine egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl and set aside. Place flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Add butter and Crisco to flour and pulse on/off until mixture resembles course meal (you can also combine the flour and fats using a pastry blender if you don’t want to drag out your processor – more effort, less clean-up). Scrape mixture into a large bowl, add egg mixture, and stir until combined. Don’t overwork dough.
  2. Separate the dough into thirds (If you prefer a more substantial crust, separate in half) and roll into balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and freeze for about 15 to 20 minutes to chill. (If you will be storing the dough in the freezer for a longer period, form dough into a disk and seal in a Ziplock bag. Thaw 15 minutes before using).
  3. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a large bowl, combine rhubarb and strawberries and set aside. In a smaller bowl, combine sugars, zest, salt and tapioca. Set aside. (I keep sugar and fruit separate until the last minute to reduce the amount of accumulated juices)
  4. Preheat the oven to 400⁰. In between two sheets of waxed paper, roll out the bottom crust, starting at the center and working your way out into a 11” – 12” circle. Once the dough is the correct size, peel off the top layer of waxed paper and, using the bottom sheet, transfer the dough to a 9” pie pan. Flip the dough over, peel off the bottom sheet, and gently press the dough into the pan. Go around the pie pan tucking the dough to make a clean edge. Freeze until second crust is rolled out. Roll out the second crust into a 12” circle between two sheets of waxed paper and transfer to freezer until ready to use.
  5. Remove the bottom crust from the freezer. Sprinkle with panko crumbs (this helps avoid a soggy bottom crust). Combine reserved sugar/tapioca mixture with fruit, stir well, and mound filling inside bottom pie crust. Dot filling with bits of unsalted butter. Remove top crust from freezer. Peel off top sheet of waxed paper, flip crust on top of filling, and trim top pie dough so that overhang beyond the pie plate lip is only about 1/2-inch. Tuck rim of dough underneath itself and crimp decoratively. Cut a few decorative vents on top of pie. Transfer pie to a baking sheet and brush egg yolk mixture over dough and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce temperature to 350⁰ and bake for an additional 30 – 35 minutes, until the pie is golden and the juices bubble visibly. Transfer pie to wire rack to cool. While warm pie is heaven, it’s important to let the pie fully cool giving the tapioca time to do its work or you’ll have a flash flood of filling. When fully cool, the juices gel.

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Berry Almond Spoon Cake in a scalloped baking dish
It’s big. It’s frighteningly big – delivered on Monday by two terrifyingly loud men driving an enormous truck with the words “Sears” written on the outside. “Sears” must be another name for “Pit of Hell” because surely that’s where they came from. I shot under the bed as soon as they rumbled into the driveway, barely escaping with my life. They put that thing – that stacked, humongously large, mechanical thing, in the place my human mysteriously calls the “laundry room,” but has always been known to me as my dining room and bathroom. And now it’s the lair of that grotesque, murderous thing. I will not…I cannot…be in the same room with it. I am quite sure it would swallow me whole should I step within 10 feet of it – a little feline amuse bouche. After it arrived, I didn’t eat or pee for two days, fearing my demise, should I get too close. My human, anxious for my bladder’s capacity, finally moved my bathroom outside of that hideous thing’s striking distance, and not a moment too soon – I was pacing and loudly professing my need to relieve myself, like a pathetic dog at the back door. It’s humiliating to act like that, but necessary when your life’s genuinely at stake. She wasn’t so quick to move my meals to a new location. She thought she’d wear me down. Once I smelled chicken and gravy breakfast emanating from that hellacious pit, she believed I would venture forth, but I did not succumb. One glance at that looming thing and I’d dash to safety. My fear was stronger than her resolve and she finally moved my bowl from the view of that monstrous thing, concerned I’d collapse from my hunger strike. It’s been seven days now and I’ve gotten no closer to its den. My human has tried enticing me with my favorite treats scattered at the mouth of its lair, but I will not budge. I see through her ruse – while I’m innocently nibbling away at my “treaties,” that gruesome thing gobbles me up in its maw. Why my human wants me dead I can’t comprehend – I thought she loved me…she tells me so, anyway. I obviously can’t trust her – or that humongous thing. The world is a very scary place and I must be vigilantly cautious – or face an untimely death. For now, that monster hasn’t stirred from its lair and I feel safe here napping on the couch. I’m lucky to still be alive.

(If my cat, Wasabi, could talk).

Mixed Berry Spoon Cake

Rather than the traditional fruit compote spooned over pound cake, this recipe calls for spooning the pound cake on the fruit and baking both for a comforting treat.


  • 2 cup mixed berries (fresh or frozen, thawed)
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 egg
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 Tablespoons sliced almonds


  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰. Scatter berries in a small 4-cup baking dish. In a medium bowl, beat together butter and 3 Tablespoons sugar until light an fluffy. Beat in egg, salt and almond extract. Fold in flour.
  2. Dollop batter over top of berries. Sprinkle with remaining 1 Tablespoon sugar and sliced almonds. Bake for 30 minutes or until top is golden. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve warm, plain or with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Nectarines in Lemon Verbena Syrup

Nectarines in Lemon Verbena Syrup layered with cake croutons and whipped cream
Today, you get a rant and a recipe…

The Kafkaesque idiocy of city government is highlighted today as I run an errand I’ve been rightly avoiding for 14 years. I’m visiting City Hall to pick up guest parking permits, an easy sounding task. When I enter the drab 1960’s lobby, I grab a ticket from the machine (similar to what you do at the meat counter). There are only three people in front of me for parking permits – perhaps this will be easier than I imagined? I wait. And wait. And wait. While I wait, I wonder what government policy requires a homeowner to personally visit City Hall to obtain temporary parking permits. Americans bank online, pay property taxes online, buy and sell every commodity imaginable online and yet, I’m required to physically visit a building midday (which, if I was still working, would mean taking time off work). I don’t blame the city worker behind the counter for the molasses-slow process, although she’s admittedly moving at DMV employee speed. Each resident seems entirely confused by what they need, each carrying a large packet of information to the counter. This shouldn’t be this difficult. Finally, after 40 minutes of waiting, my number is called – “D2035 at Desk #19.” When I get to the counter, I’m asked to write down my name and address. I wonder what the city does with these handwritten forms. Transcribe them into electronic documents? Save them for seven years? Track permit request traffic flow? By this time, I just want to Kaizen the shit out of this place. Then, I’m asked for my driver’s license, a utility bill, and my car registration:

City Employee (Looking at his computer): “Who is Enrique?”

Me: “He was a previous owner (Who sold the house in 2001!)”

City Employee: “Who is John Woodman?”

Me: “He was the owner who sold the property to me (In 2003!)”

City Employee: “I can give you the temporary permits today, but next time, you need to bring in the Grant Deed to your property so we can update our records.”

So, City Hall needs a copy of my Grant Deed from 2003 (14 years ago!) to update their records so I can get temporary guest parking permits? Oh, and by the way, I need to go back in October to get a new set of permits for next year.

Don’t make me go back…please. Here’s an hour of my life I’m not getting back.  I hate pointless time-suck errands.  What a waste of an afternoon.  I need a sweet treat.  This recipe helps take me back to my happy place…

Nectarines in Lemon Verbena Syrup

I’ve been trying to use up summer’s plethora of nectarines and lemon verbena. This simple recipe is a favorite – the verbena syrup makes sliced fresh fruit special enough for company.


  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup lemon verbena leaves
  • 3-4 nectarines, sliced
  • garnishes if ice cream, whipped cream, cake or cookies


  1. To make the syrup, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved completely. Add lemon verbena leaves, stir well, cover and let steep for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Strain leaves from syrup.
  2. Drizzle nectarines with about ¼ cup of lemon verbena syrup. Serve nectarines and syrup with ice cream, whipped cream, or even pound cake croutons. Remaining syrup can be kept for a few weeks in the refrigerator. I use it in lemonade, ice tea, or drizzled over Greek yogurt.

Handmade Corn Tortillas

Handmade Corn Tortillas in a Cast Iron Skillet
Once you’ve eaten your first handmade tortilla, you’ll realize what you’ve been missing. The results are tender and slightly sweet and earthy. And once you realize how easy they are to make with the right equipment, you’ll never want store bought again. Although you can use a rolling pin, I think a tortilla press is essential to make the process go quickly. I keep a bag of masa harina in my kitchen so I always have the ingredients on hand. As a snack, I enjoy these tortillas warm and slathered with salted butter.

Handmade Corn Tortillas

Although you can use a rolling pin, I think a tortilla press is essential to make the process go quickly.


  • 1 cup masa harina (Available in most well-stocked markets. I use Maseca brand)
  • ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¾ cup hot tap water


  1. In a small bowl, mix the masa harina and the salt together. Pour in the water and stir to until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let rest for 15 minutes so the masa fully absorbs the water.
  2. While the dough rests, cut 10 pieces of parchment paper approximately 7.5” x 7.5”. (I re-use my parchment for more than one batch.) Roll the dough into 9 equally sized balls. If you are using a scale, each ball should weigh 1⅛ ounces.
  3. Place a piece of parchment on the bottom of the tortilla press. Place a dough ball in the middle and cover with a second piece of parchment. Close the press about ¾ of the way and then open the press (your tortilla should look slightly fat), flip the entire tortilla with parchment over and close the press completely. (I’ve found flipping the tortilla before closing the press completely results in an evenly flat tortilla). Peel the top parchment from the tortilla. Stack the tortilla and bottom parchment to the side. Continue pressing and stacking tortillas.
  4. Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Do NOT add oil to the pan. Carefully peel each tortilla from the bottom parchment by flipping the tortilla over into your hand and peeling off the parchment from the top. Gently place the tortilla into skillet. Depending on the size of your pan, you may be able to cook 2-4 tortilla at the same time. My 12” skillet holds three perfectly without touching.
  5. Cook for about 2 minutes per side until the edges begin to curl up and a few brown spots are visible on the bottom. (I find cooking tortillas is a lot like cooking pancakes – the first few don’t have the perfect texture/coloring, but things get better as you go along). The tortillas will be a little dryer than standard tortillas, but they will soften as they rest.
  6. Stack cooked tortillas on a plate and cover with the clean towel you used in step 2. This will keep the tortillas warm and the steam will help the tortillas to soften. Serve tortillas immediately. If you refrigerate them, they can be gently warmed in a damp paper towel in the microwave.