Monday, June 27, 2011

Baking Baklava

Every now and again The Distracted Cook decides that a challenge thrown down by The Daring Baker just has to be mastered! And this time....

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge.  Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I have always loved eating Baklava and have never really thought about making it. And certainly not making it from scratch - that is, making my own phyllo dough.  So, this was an adventure to be sure!

First there is that paper thin dough that has to be made. If you have ever worked with phyllo dough that you find in the freezer section at the grocery store, you already know what I was thinking. NO WAY! But after reading through Erica's challenge it looked as if there might be a way.

The four ingredients weren't anything special and in fact I'll bet that you have them in your pantry right now.
After combing them and mixing and kneading I ended up with a ball of dough that looked just about like what Erica had in her picture. Success! 

Erica very cutely tells us to take the dough out of the mixer bowl and THROW it on the counter and continue kneading for a few more minutes. And we get to SLAM it down a few more times just so we feel good. I am not sure what it does to the dough, but it certainly does make it fun.

After kneading the dough I put a very thin coating of vegetable oil on it and wrapped it up tight in plastic wrap and let it sit there for a couple of hours.

Then next part of the recipe is where it got to be really fun ( or aggravating) and I was so involved with rolling the dough into those really, really thin rounds that I forgot to take pictures! Yes, that's right - I flat out forgot what i was doing -- right a blog post while cooking!

I had already made my filling so I was ready to layer the phyllo dough. Melted butter, phyllo dough, melted butter, phyllo dough and a few more times like that and then a layer of the nut filling. After doing this a few more times I discovered that I did not have near enough layers of the dough to make this recipe. So I just did what The Distracted Cook always does in situations like this : punt!  My Baklava does NOT look like it should for many reasons, the most important being that I ended up with a nut layer and not a dough layer.

But it looked far too good to pitch to the animals outside the kitchen, so I baked it and poured the honey syrup over it and let it sit overnight. I did cheat a bit and try a taste last night and you know what? It is great. Despite too few layers and the nuts on top, it is delicious! And I am going to try it again and this time, I will make 3 times the dough recipe and maybe, just maybe, it will be perfect! If you want to try your hand at this great challenge and recipe, visit The Daring Kitchen and give it try. And while you are there, sign up to join us each month as we accept the challenge!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Potato Salad Heaven!

Potato Salad!  What could be better to start off the holiday week-end than Potato Salad? A Daring Cook challenge to come up with a new, better, BEST, healthy potato salad recipe that's what. Of course, almost everyone's Mama or Granmama has the best recipe already. So off with the Chef's hats and on with the thinking caps.What is it about potato salad that we all love so much? How can we make that different, but healthy and still good? The Distracted Cook decided to sit down and study this question before grabbing the potatoes out of the pantry.

Jami Sorrento was our June Daring Cooks hostess and she chose to challenge us to celebrate the humble spud by making a delicious and healthy potato salad. The Daring Cooks Potato Salad Challenge was sponsored by the nice people at the United States Potato Board, who awarded prizes to the top 3 most creative and healthy potato salads. A medium-size (5.3 ounce) potato has 110 calories, no fat, no cholesterol, no sodium and includes nearly half your daily value of vitamin C and has more potassium than a banana!  

So first things first - what about the potato? We'll worry about the salad part later. A trip to the farmers marketomorrow will be the first step in rounding up a good assortment of potatoes for this experimental salad. Hmm....maybe even some sweet potato can go in here. Or mashed potato? or French fried potatoes? Really, the sky is the limit. Maybe we can try  few different versions of potato salad and have a family taste-off to see which one wins. 

Into the pot go the potatoes - I ended up using "new" potatoes because I like the way they work best. No peeling, no cutting up, just toss them into the water! Now I know why the professional photographers tell us not to try to shoot something with steam! But you get the idea --- potatoes in a pot of hot water just waiting to be tipped out and drained, like this:

Did you notice that ear of corn in there? While thinking about a "new" potato salad,  I thought about a salad that would have all the best Spring things in it. What could be better than a Crawfish Boil Potato Salad that incorporates all the great things we eat at a crawfish boil? So into the pot for the potatoes went some Crab Boil which is what we use to boil crawfish. Crawfish boil is a mixture of ground black,tabasco and cayenne peppers and other strong spices. When we boil the crawfish we almost always throw some potatoes and corn in there too, as well as some hot dogs, sausages, and an artichoke or two.

And so the idea of this potato salad was born. Potatoes, fresh boiled corn that has been cut off the cob, some boiled crawfish and we are in business. This is what the crawfish look like after they have been peeled - or just out of the bag if you buy them already peeled at the grocery. I don't know how healthy they are, but they sure are good!

And this is what I ended up with after the addition of some chopped onion and a mayonnaise/yogurt based dressing. Would I make this again - probably not. Was it good? Sort of. Was it worth it? Definitely ... this is the way you discover great new things! And you discover some that are not so great. Like this salad.

I made another version of the salad using "olive salad" as the dressing and it was better. Olive salad is the wonderful chopped green olive, pickled carrot and celery, olive oil, and capers and other secret ingredients that you find stuffed into your muffaletas. Much better than version one, and I am not sure why. The olive oil based dressing might have been more healthy, and it had the "secret" ingredient taste that keeps you guessing where you had it before.

So, take this challenge yourself.  It is not too late! And if you want to join us next time around just hop on over to The Daring Kitchen and sign up for the fun! See you there.