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.
Lentils, with a shape somewhat resembling coins, are symbols of riches and prosperity in Italy. After eight long years, we have finally sold my childhood home this week. What better way to celebrate this little boon than with these symbols of financial good fortune?
Rather than the golden-egg-laying goose the house was expected to be, it morphed into an albatross that created unanticipated familial stress over the last eight years. My oldest sibling wanted to sell immediately, during the real estate collapse, while another mentioned keeping it for 45 years. I managed, surprisingly, to remain neutral over most of the years (caught up in my own personal turmoil, I suppose) until last year – then my exasperation bubbled up, boiled over. Get me out of here – I want to take my share and run! Trouble with the tenants, damage to the property, lawsuits and disagreements between us brought me to the verge of walking away. This house and all its complications was my last fetter to my siblings. Now, no longer financially shackled, I can, should I chose to, slip away never to be found again. Not that I want to, but there’s something liberating in realizing that I could.
Tonight, before I celebrate with my lentil salad, I say thank you to my mom and dad for making this financial provision. I am grateful for this good fortune and I hope to use my portion in a manner that will make them proud.
1 large or two small carrots, shredded (about 1 cup)
⅓ cup onion, chopped
¼ head cabbage, shredded (about 3 cups)
½ cup Feta cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, thyme, garlic, sugar and Dijon. Add olive oil in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Set dressing aside.
Cook lentils according to package directions.
While lentils are cooking, in a medium size skillet over high heat, sauté corn, red pepper, carrot and onion until softened and onions are translucent. Do not brown.
Place cabbage in a large bowl. Drain lentils. Cover cabbage with warm lentils and sautéed vegetables to help soften cabbage. While salad is still warm, fold in dressing and feta cheese. Cover salad and let rest for 30 minutes at room temperature to allow flavors to meld. Before serving, season with salt and pepper.
Taking a gap year, after 15 years of working, is not all TV binge-watching, fun adventures and contemplating your next big life move. More time spent at home – especially during the daylight hours – means you quickly begin to notice the many signs of deferred maintenance and upkeep – from broken light switch covers to dusty baseboards. In particular, I began to notice a refrigerator that was in need of a top to bottom purge and scrub down. This recipe was the result of my need to clean up a long-neglected condiment shelf and a half-used tube of lemongrass paste near its expiration date. I prefer fresh lemongrass, but the paste works in a pinch and lasts much longer.
I created this recipe to use up some soon-to-expire lemongrass paste, but the flavorful dish is so easy to make, that it’s sure to make a reappearance on my dinner table.
1 lb. shrimp (peeled and deveined)
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tablespoon lemongrass paste
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 ½ teaspoon sambal olek (or sriracha)
Zest and juice of ½ lime or lemon
Pinch a salt
Cooked jasmine rice
Sauté shrimp in a large skillet with a bit of oil until beginning to turn pink, but not fully cooked. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside.
Add coconut milk and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add lemongrass paste, garlic, sambal olek, lime (or lemon) zest and juice, and salt to pan. Stir all ingredients to combine and cook 2-3 minutes until mixture has reduced enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Return shrimp and any accumulated juices to pan and finish cooking until shrimp is pink and opaque. Serve shrimp and sauce with hot, cooked jasmine rice.
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup masa flour
4 large eggs
2 cups BBQ pulled pork (I used Trader Joe’s, but you can also make your own)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine water, milk, butter and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a full boil. Add masa all at once and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture pulls away for the side of the pan. Continue to cook and stir the mixture for about 1 more minute.
Cool mixture by running side of pan under faucet until mixture is room temperature. Beat in one egg at a time using the wooden spoon, making sure dough is smooth before adding the next egg. Beat the dough until smooth and shiny.
Spread 1/3rd of dough on the bottom of a 8” square pan. Layer with pulled pork and cover with remaining 2/3rd of dough. Bake for 30-40 minutes until pie is slightly golden and bubbling around edges.
When cooking in a secluded cabin in the woods, a chef must be content with improvisation. This dish began as chicken pot pie, but upon discovering that a fully stocked cabin kitchen doesn’t necessarily include an oven-proof baking dish, I resolved to switch pot pie for a stove-top version of chicken and dumplings. Without the essential baking powder in my limited pantry, the dumplings posed another problem. My culinary training to the rescue – milk, check. Butter, check. Flour and salt, check. Eggs, check. Pate a choux dumplings! The resulting dish is rich, satisfying, homey, and the perfect accompaniment to a stay in a cozy cabin.
Simmer together milk, butter and salt until butter is fully melted, but mixture has not come to a boil. Add ½ cup flour and stir until flour is fully incorporated and dough pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool dough in pan by running the sides of the pan under cold water. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in Parmesan. Set aside. Heat a small saucepan with 2 cups water until boiling.
Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sauté chicken in a bit of oil in a large skillet until brown and cooked through. Remove chicken and add celery, carrot, and onion. Sauté until softened. Add mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms have softened. Add peas and cook until vegetables are beginning to brown. Add vegetables to chicken. Add a bit more oil to pan and add 2 Tablespoons flour. Stir until flour is golden brown and bubbly. Add broth and cook until slightly thickened. Return chicken, vegetables and accumulated juices to skillet, reduce heat and simmer until heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, drop small teaspoons of dough into boiling water. Remove dumplings when they have risen to the top of the water. Drain on paper towels. To serve, ladle chicken into bowls and garnish with two or three warm dumplings.
My cozy cabin in the Oak Creek forest – Butterfly Garden Inn