Monthly Archives: May 2011

baklava – dairy & nut-free (vegan)

It’s perfect weather for a picnic! For a recent picnic, the theme for the food was “Mediterranean”. Since my usual role includes bringing desserts, I had picked out a recipe for some date-filled cookies.  Then the gauntlet was thrown with a casual comment about whether I could come up with a nut-free baklava.  Since I love a challenge, I accepted and dove into searching the web. The first few recipes I found for “nut free” baklava substitute sesame seeds or sunflower seeds for the nuts. Sounds yummy, but not going to work with the set of foods we need to avoid.  A little more searching led to this “Nut-free Fruity Baklava” recipe.  Tah dah!  A bit untraditional, but looked like some tasty flavor combinations.

The only tinkering I did with the ingredients was to substitute Earth Balance vegan buttery stick for the butter. The version here translates the instructions into U.S. English, including the measurements and cooking temperatures.

The results are very “baklava”. Flaky, sticky and slightly too sweet goodness. They got very positive reviews from all at the picnic, as well as the neighbors who are helping polish them off.

Oh – and the “trick” for working with phyllo dough is just to be patient and move slowly. The paper-thin dough does rip easily, but when I take my time things generally turn out okay. Read the package instructions for tips on how to handle the fragile dough. And remember that you need to plan ahead and leave enough time to fully defrost frozen phyllo dough before you start to assemble the baklava.

1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
3/4 cup currants (or you could probably use raisins)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 package phyllo dough (check the package instructions – needs to defrost before use!)
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, melted

1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated orange rind (I like to use a microplane)
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup cold water

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.
2) Place coconut and dried fruit in a food processor with a metal blade and process until finely chopped.  Transfer to a bowl, and stir in sugar and cinnamon.  (NOTE: The filling mixture can be made in advance. Store in an air-tight container.)
3) Butter the bottoms and sides of a 9×13 inch metal pan.
4) Gently unroll the defrosted phyllo dough.  See the package instructions for tips on how to work with phyllo.  It helps to keep the stack of phyllo dough covered with a damp towel to keep it from drying out and getting even more fragile.
5) Depending on the size of the phyllo dough you are working with, you may need to cut the stack of phyllo sheets in half to fit in your pan.  OR you can just fold the sheets in half as you go.  I folded and it worked well – plus it was easier to pick up and transfer the folded sheets without ripping them too much.
6) Brush 1 large sheet phyllo with melted margarine.  Fold sheet in half, then gently place into the pan.
7) Repeat with 3 or 4 more sheets of phyllo until you have a total of 8 or 10 layers.
8) Sprinkle the layers of phyllo with 1/2 cup of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
9) Brush 1 sheet phyllo with melted margarine.  Fold sheet in half, then layer on top of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
10) Sprinkle with about 3 tablespoons of the coconut and dried fruit mixture.
11) Repeat layers of phyllo brushed with melted margarine and the coconut and dried fruit mixture, ending with several layers of phyllo on top.  You may have extra phyllo – that’s okay.
12) Use a large, sharp knife to cut the baklava into squares or triangles.  I cut mine into fourths the long ways (cut in half then in half again), then cut across the short side of the pan to create squares approximately 2×2 inches.
13) Bake for 30 minutes.  Reduce the oven heat to 300°F.  Bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until golden.  My total baking time was a bit longer – about 50 minutes total.
14) While the baklava is in the oven, make the syrup.  Place honey, cinnamon, orange rind, sugar and 2/3 cup cold water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the syrup has slightly thickened.
15) Pour the hot syrup over hot baklava.  Cool in the pan, then re-cut the baklava along the same cuts that you previously made.

what CAN a child do in the kitchen?

Cooking with children.  Looking through our family pictures, we have a lot of pictures of our children cooking.  This partly reflects that it’s one of the few times they are sitting still long enough to actually take a picture, but also that cooking together is an activity that we do frequently that everyone enjoys.
Building on “Kids.  Food.  Cooking.”– based on what happens in our kitchen, here are some tasks that our children can help with at different ages.

First, some helpful equipment and prep work.  Have a sturdy step stool or other way the child can comfortably (and safely) reach the counter.  Extra measuring cups & spoons – ones with different colors for each measurement are nice so a child who can’t read but knows colors can use (or hand to you) the correct cup or spoon.  If you have more than one child, have enough bowls and mixing spoons so that EVERYONE can have a spoon to lick at the end.  Depending on the children, giving them their own bowls for mixing may reduce some of the jostling over taking turns and sharing.  Think through the recipe in advance to identify steps that children can help with (however small) and your cooking strategy.

18 months old (toddler)

Dump pre-measured ingredients into a bowl
Mix using a fork or a spoon
Shake – things like cinnamon, salt, other spices / seasonings
Mash a very ripe banana using a fork
Break cookies or crackers
Punch down yeast bread after rise (LOVES to do this!)
Pat / press cookie dough in to pan (such as for bar cookies)
Spread sauce for pizza
Sprinkle cheese
Scoop batter into pan (super messy but fun!)
Hold adult’s hand when using an electric mixer
Help put groceries away

When the toddler starts to throw his spoon on the floor and/or flour at his brother, I know he’s done and it’s time for diversionary tactics.  When possible, I set each kid up with their own work station at the table.  I like to use a cutting board for each child; it’s a good size and makes cleanup relatively easy.  Set the younger child up with their own materials, such as some cookie dough and various cookie cutters and other tools.  Let the younger child go for it with “making cookies”.   Odds are, none of the “cookies” that the toddler makes will actually be edible, but he’ll have a great time and hopefully let the older child actually make cookies without interfering too much.  When our toddler gets tired of this activity, he can usually be distracted with some other form of “helping”.  In our house, that’s giving him the swiffer and letting him “clean” the floors.

4.5 year old (preschooler)

All of the above, plus:

Help roll out cookie dough
Cut cookies using cookie cutters
Make balls of dough (cookies, bread, etc)
Shape cookies (such as press thumbprint into ball of cookie dough, then fill with jam)
Make snakes of dough
Braid bread dough
Measure dry ingredients (with some help)
Scoop batter into pan (muffins, cupcakes, etc.)
Decorate cupcakes / cakes
Cut soft foods using a table knife
Chop using a mezzaluna and wooden bowl

What are some of the things YOUR child does with you in your kitchen?