The Emerald City

Vegetarian pescaterian month is in full swing; in fact, I have officially made it halfway through a meatless month! I won’t go as far as to say it’s been easy, but I am alive. I’ve got a vegetarian feast planned for the end of the month as a celebration and a bon voyage to days without pork shoulder, veal chops, and steak. So no, I have not had some weird epiphany that cows should roam freely instead of being branded, slaughtered, and sold to the butcher at the store. Therefore, the week following, which just happens to be the weekend of our 4 year wedding anniversary (4!! years!!), I’m thinking meatfest is warranted, unless Hubs has other dinner plans in his bottomless bag of tricks.

That said, “market season” finally coming to fruition could not have come at a better time than this past weekend. Green City Market shed it’s cement floors and heat lamps and sashayed on down to the south end of Lincoln Park for it’s first Saturday outdoor market. Reusable bags in hand and smile on face, down the yellow brick road I went.

Expectedly so, GCM was jam-packed, literally. But in addition to all the jam and preserves (as well as the throngs of fresh produce seekers), tables were stocked with bails of asparagus, rhubarb, and potted herbs. Some were saddened by the lack of fruit and other vegetables, clearly ignorant of the true purpose of a farmers’ market; these same people likely consider farmers’ markets to be similar to dog parks, or great places to take those double strollers that take up a 4-lane highway. Me? I was perfectly satisfied, as I was finally able to pick up some asparagus from around these parts, and I am way behind on planting herbs, not to mention my grocery list required basil to be purchased anyway.

Fresh potted basil in hand, I finally decided it was time to bust out this phyllo pizza that’d been patiently waiting in my recipe stack since last summer. It is certainly one of those recipes that you kick yourself for holding out on; the light crunch of the phyllo makes this an extra-special perfect-for-spring/summer-pizza, and the ease of making it doesn’t hurt. Plus, this phyllo dough had been falling out of my freezer since earlier this year when the other half of the box was used for Moroccan pie. I was getting tired of picking it up from the floor every time it fell out of my stupidly narrow side-by-side, and making this pizza was far better than tossing the phyllo into the garbage, just to save myself from having my first panic attack.

Given the light nature of this “pizza”, a side dish was inevitable, and for that, asparagus fit the bill. Rather than cooking it, I tried out a raw salad version, as raw veggie salads seem to be the hype this month. By using one of the cheeses from the pizza in the vinaigrette of the salad, the two dishes worked nicely together and with that – dinner was done.

What’s your favorite asparagus preparation? I’ll take ’em grilled any day.

Phyllo Pizza w/ Feta, Basil, & Tomatoes
Adapted from Cooking Light, July 2009; serves 2-4

printable version

ingredients
1/2  c mozzarella cheese, finely chopped
1/2  c feta cheese, finely crumbled
1/4  c grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1  T chopped fresh thyme
1/4  t kosher salt
1/8  t freshly ground black pepper
10  (18 x 14–inch) sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed
Cooking spray
2  plum (Roma) tomatoes, thinly sliced
1/3  c green onions, thinly sliced
1/4  c fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

instructions
preheat oven to 375 F.

combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl.

cut phyllo sheets in half crosswise. working with 1 phyllo sheet half at a time (cover remaining dough to keep from drying), place phyllo sheet on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. spray with cooking spray. repeat with 2 more layers of phyllo. sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. repeat layers 5 times and top with remaining 2 phyllo sheets. coat top phyllo sheet with cooking spray; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cheese mixture. pat tomato slices with a paper towel, and arrange tomato on top of cheese, leaving a 1-inch border. sprinkle with onions and the remaining tablespoons cheese mixture. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. sprinkle with basil leaves.

Shaved Raw Asparagus Salad w/ Parmesan Vinaigrette
Adapted from Food & Wine, April 2010; serves 4

printable version

ingredients
2 lbs large (fatty) asparagus
1 c grated Parmesan cheese
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 T warm water
1/4 c evoo
salt and pepper

instructions
using a vegetable peeler, shave the asparagus into long, thin strips and transfer to a large bowl.

in a small bowl, mix the Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, water and olive oil. add to the asparagus and toss to coat. season with salt and pepper and serve.

Will Work for Baklava

homemade baklava

Earlier this year I left my first job out of grad school. My profession initially appealed to me as a result of its many subspecialties, and I loved knowing I could change from working in pediatric genetics to adult cancer genetics any time I chose, providing there was a job opening, of course. Leaving my previous position was a long and grueling process, and although I love my new job, (did I mention I work normal hours and still get my clinic notes finished?) I have to be honest – I think about those people every day and miss them immensely. Most of them.

You know what else I’ll miss? That honkin’ box that arrived in our suite every Christmas from Harry and David. Sure, the box had great pears and chocolate-covered blueberries, but it also had one of the sweetest of all sweets. Baklava. Had I not shared an office in a tiny pediatric clinic, I swear I would have squirreled away the entire lot. And maybe some of those blueberries too.

toasted hazelnuts


I won’t lie. When I saw a recipe for baklava in a recent Food & Wine magazine, I immediately took a little stroll down memory lane and thought of that lovely box. I thought of all the ways I adored baklava and its’ crunchy, rich, chewy and almost-too-sweet-for-even-a-sweet-tooth-like-me self. I could almost taste it and couldn’t wait until December. Until I realized that part of leaving that job included leaving baklava. That made me very sad.


chocolate baklava mixture


Then I got a bit frightened. And by his point I was sweating and shaking just thinking about the stuff. I looked like Jason Patric in Rush. I was also a little frantic just thinking about making this delicacy, but I knew at this point there was no turning back. I’d already crossed the line and geez Louise that’s a line you can’t back-cross. Not when baklava is right around the corner. And so I set up my baklava-making station and to work I went.


making baklava


It’s not that I’m terrified of phyllo dough. I’d used it a few times. In fact, one of Chris’ favorite dishes is a Morroccan pie made with a phyllo crust. It’s just that my memory of baklava was held in such high esteem and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to satisfy that pedestaled taste.

baklava triangles


But by golly. Need I say more? I mean, just look at it.


chocolate hazelnut baklava


Chocolate-Hazelnut Baklava
Adapted from Food & Wine, July 2009; makes 24 pieces



As if baklava weren’t good enough the classical way, this recipe has chocolate in it. Eeep!! And rather than the traditional (just ask my buddy J Simps) pistachio filling, this uses hazelnuts. I’m willing to bet you could substitute any nutty combo although I’ve thought long and hard and just can’t think of a better choice. But maybe hazelnuts aren’t your bag.


ps: baklava freezes like a dream. Just wrap it up and stow it away. I took some out over Labor Day weekend and it was good as new.


ingredients
1 lb hazelnuts
12 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 2/3 cups sugar
2 T cinnamon, divided
1 lb phyllo dough, thawed and ready to use
2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups honey


instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread nuts on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes, until skins are blistered; let cool for a few. Transfer to kitchen towel and rub off the skins, then transfer to food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Note: the de-skinning might take a while, so sit down for it 😉

  2. Add chocolate, 2/3 c of sugar, and 1 1/2 T cinnamon to processor and pulse until finely chopped and of equal consistency.

  3. Unwrap phyllo and cover with sheet of plastic wrap. Generously butter a 9×13 metal baking pan. Butter and stack 8 sheets of phyllo. Note: it’s ok if some break during this. You’ll use most of the sheets but if some are just horrendously broken, discard it. You have to move fast with the phyllo and keep it covered when you aren’t using it. Trim the edges of the phyllo so they don’t stick together (just a tad). Ease stack into the pan (there will be overlap). Sprinkle about 2 cups of filling over phyllo. Butter and stack 2 more sheets; fold them in half cross-wise and place over filling (should fit perfectly into pan). Sprinkle another 2 cups of filling. Butter and stack 2 more and repeat with folding and filling. Butter and stack 3 sheets and fold crosswise over filling. Fold in overhang from bottom layer and brush generously with butter. Cut into 12 squares, then cut each in half to make 24 triangles.

  4. Bake baklava 25 minutes, then lower temp to 300 F and bake for 50 more. Will be golden.

  5. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, bring water, honey, sugar and 1/2 T cinnamon to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for ~10 minutes. Immediately ladle hot syrup over hot baklava (right when it comes out of the oven) and let stand until completely cool, at least 4 hours but preferably overnight. It does not need to be refrigerated.