kruizing with kikukat

Monday, June 14, 2010


My pal Kendra has been by my side a lot these past few days.  I paid for one cat, but it feels like I have seven cats.  Wherever I go, Kendra is right there.  If I go outside to check on Rain and Sammy, Kendra is in some window sill along the way.  She just celebrated her 2nd birthday last month.  How time flies!  But sometimes, its seems like it doesn't go by fast enough.  For example, the past four days have been dragging on and on. 

Since I was under house arrest (self-imposed for good reasons) for about a week, I decided to console myself by having my kind of comfort foods:  strawberry shortcake, grilled cheese sandwich, stir fried bell peppers, MCD cheeseburgers & fries (no mustard on the cheeseburger!), baklava, etc.  I also chased most foods with some coconut M & Ms, and washed everything down with diet Coke.  Sounds like the makings of a good belly ache!  Well, I didn't eat all of that at the same time.  I was holed up for a while.

Okay, I'll admit it.  I have a major sweet tooth.  I love sweets:  candy, cookies, cakes, desserts, seeds, you name it.  I have been known to eat only part of my dinner, just to get to order dessert.  Sorry, mom, but its true.  Yes, I know, you feel its a reflection upon you and dad not teaching me right, but I think at my age, people just blame me.  I already went on and on about what strawberry shortcake is and is not, so I'm going to devote this blog to my other sweet fix:  baklava.

Back in the old days when the  Sampan buses roamed the local roads, the only place you could get baklava was at Robert's Bakery on the fringe of downtown Hilo.  I remember three kinds they served:  chocolate, queen & diamond.  The chocolate baklava was a short roll of fillo.  I can't say much more because I never had it, but I'll venture there must've been chocolate somewhere in the roll.  The queen baklava was an open square of fillo.  The center was cut in a cross shape, revealing a mound of golden brown pecan filling underneath.  Again, I can't say much more because I never had it.  The diamond baklava was my normal selection on rare occasions my parents went to Robert's Bakery.  It didn't appear "fussy" like the other varieties, and the nut layer was neatly protected by the fillo layers.  It also seemed like the best choice to recreate at home.

When I started baking in high school, the idea of working with fillo was rather daunting.  I pored through mom's cookbook collection, searching for a simple baklava recipe which did not require individual sheet buttering.  I managed to find a fairly simple recipe, where the fillo is divided in half, with the sugared-nut layer smack in the middle.  While it was good enough, it certainly wasn't great.  In retrospect, it looked rather primitive, rather than dainty and delicate.

A few years ago, a coworker shared a tray of baklava.  The pieces were cut in delicate diamond shapes.  The taste was almost magical.  I say "almost" because I'm certain she used walnuts, rather than pecans.  I asked her for the recipe, with the intention of trying the recipe with pecans.  She politely declined to share the recipe, but did offer a tip for cutting the pieces:  use a sharp paring knife.

In my own way of dealing with rejection, I went home and consoled myself, looking through cookbooks for a kick-ass baklava recipe that wouldn't take too much effort (or too much sugar/nuts) to make.  I came across a recipe which called for buttering every 3rd sheet.  That was something I could do!  Over the years, I've made this recipe several times, sometimes with pecans and sometimes with mac nuts, but never with walnuts.  Although it calls for roughly half the sugar of other recipes, my sweet tooth is well-appeased.  And although my coworker refused to share her recipe, her tip of using a sharp paring knife to cut the fillo has been invaluable!

Now that I'm just about free to leave the safety of my house/car, I'm thinking that being confined wasn't all that bad.  I had Kendra's company 24/7, got to eat whatever I wanted, and  had a damn good excuse not to hit the treadmill (couldn't break a sweat).  On the other hand, it will certainly be nice not to be limited to places with drive-thru windows.  I think Kendra might be a little tired of smelling the golden arches food anyway.

click on recipe title for printable recipe

1 box fillo, thawed overnight (at least) in fridge
1/2 lb. melted butter
1 c sugar, divided
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 c finely chopped nuts (pecans, mac nuts)
1/4 c water
1 tbsp lemon juice

Unfold fillo and cut in half (short length).  Wrap in waxed paper to keep from drying out.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease a jelly roll pan.  Combine 1/2 c sugar, cinnamon, and chopped nuts in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Place 3 sheets of fillo in pan and brush with butter.  Repeat until 15 sheets are stacked.  Sprinkle half of nut mixture evenly over top sheet.  Repeat process for next 15 sheets, buttering every 3rd sheet.  Sprinkle remaining nut mixture evenly over top sheet.  Continue stacking remaining fillo over nut mixture, buttering every 3rd sheet.  Using a SHARP PARING KNIFE, cut lengthwise into 6 or 7 rows, then diagonally, creating diamond shapes.  Bake for 1 hour.  While baklava is baking, boil 1/2 c sugar, water and lemon juice until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Spoon over baklava as soon as baklava comes out of the oven. 

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