Greetings from Florida!
The weather is grubby, the condo is amaze-balls, and the adventures are just beginning over yonder in the Sunshine State. I’m sitting here in this spacious dining room with two suitcases’ worth of kitchenware sprawled over the counters, yet instead of thinking about the World Championships, all I can dream about are Disney World, Harry Potter, and endless days of buffets. Don’t worry, though! I’ve been practicing loads–not with baklava, mind you, which takes over an hour to prepare (though it’s much easier to make than you would think), but with a few special dishes that I’m excited to prepare for an actual panel of judges on Thursday. The two sort-of-secret recipes have gone through four rounds of revisions over the past few weeks (with my own friends, as well as the entire astronomy department–thank you, Anson and everybody!), so we’re keeping our fingers crossed–but all in all I’m here to have a good time, and that’s that. Wish me luck!
In related news, I love traveling on my own. I love the feeling of connecting with random (non-creepy) strangers who just want to chat in unobtrusive ways with you. On the first leg of my flight to Houston, I ended up seated next to a guy from Birmingham who was on his way home after a 4-month stint in LA with his firm. The next three hours flew by in a blur of increasing laughter and genuine interest, as well as a corresponding decrease in inhibition. We chatted about our families and sibs; stereotypes about Californians and Southerners, respectively; our work and school; our life goals (we’re both the same age); our travels and dreams for traveling even more. By the time our plane was about to descend, we had even had the one conversation that (to me) is a marker of a real connection: our least favorite imaginable death scenario.
Sidebar: For the record, mine is being thrown into a pit of flesh-eating insects. His was being buried alive–a solid choice, much better than the usual “drowning” response–though after sharing, we agreed that being buried alive in a pit of said insects would probably be the worst case scenario.
Gotta love teamwork! Gotta love random conversations, too.
I’m a bit short on energy and time here these days, so I’ll keep this post short & sweet–but if you’re dreaming about making your own baklava, this really is the recipe for you. It’s much less of a fancy shmancy deal than I anticipated–as long as you keep your phyllo dough covered so that it doesn’t dry it, you really shouldn’t have an issue with making this lovely dessert.
I should know–food competitor or not, trust me: if I can make baklava, so can you!
Don’t miss the instructions below!
- 1 (16 ounce) package phyllo dough
- 1 pound chopped nuts (I used almonds and walnuts)
- 1 1/2 cups butter, melted
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup honey
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking pan and set aside.
- Unroll phyllo dough and cover with a damp cloth to keep the dough from drying out as you work. Combine nuts and cinnamon in a bowl; set aside.
- Carefully pull out two sheets of phyllo dough and place them on the bottom of the prepared pan. (This step depends on the size of your sheets--if your sheets fit the 9x13-inch pan perfectly without any cutting, then use two sheets. If your sheets are double the size of the pan, then use just one sheet folded in half.) Brush a thin layer of melted butter on the top sheet, then place another two sheets on top. Butter that as well. Repeat dough-and-butter two more times, then sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of nuts on top of the 8th sheet.
- Next, layer on two sheets of dough. Brush butter on top, then sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of nuts. Repeat until you have 6 sheets of dough remaining. Place on two sheets, then brush with butter. Repeat until you have finished all of your dough.
- Use a sharp knife to cut diamond shapes almost all the way down to the bottom of the pan. Bake for 50 minutes, until baklava is golden and crispy on top.
- Meanwhile, make your simple honey syrup. Bring water and sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add vanilla and honey, then simmer for 15-20 minutes.
- Remove baklava from oven and pour syrup on top. Finish cutting the diamond shapes down to the very bottom of the pan. Allow baklava to cool before serving! Store any leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the fridge.