Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hungarian Sour Cherry Strudel

When you see a plate of delicate and light cherry know Spring is here! South Florida, we are now experiencing the most beautiful spring weather any state in the U.S. can experience. Although most of your northerners have the unusual early spring weather that you probably have not witnessed in years...or maybe not at all! Fresh cherries are very hard to find these days, and they are extremely expensive if you do find them, and not so sweet!

I love cherries, and especially in desserts. Cherry pie has to be my favorite pies of them all, but I cannot, and will not use the ooey-goeey cherry pie filling loaded with sugar, color, and corn sweetener...although (never say, never) because the famous cherry pie "filling and topping" looks so darn pretty on top of our ever so famous Philadelphia Cheese cakes! In this particular brand of canned is all natural sour cherries in their own juice, and you only need to sweeten, and thicken the cherries for this amazing Hungarian Cherry Strudel!
You'll probably ask..."what makes it Hungarian?" and my answer would be the method of layering this delicate phyllo...or fillo, (which ever way you write or pronounce it)...I don't know of any other nationality that layers each and every layer (6) all together, with ground almonds, or walnuts, mixed together with fine plain bread crumbs, and sugar combined, that also goes into the plain sour cherries. You save the juice of the cherries to color your Easter eggs with...all natural!
I remember from my childhood, how my grandmother used to make her own strudel dough (phyllo) rolling the delicate dough on a huge table lined with floured table cloth, and just keep going around in a circle, gathering the dough until it's paper thin, and working with it quickly, so it doesn't dry out. Well, now you have the convenience of buying this fabulous dough, pre-packed, in the freezer section of your local grocery super market!

It just irritates me when you serve a nice plate of a classic European dessert...and immediately you get your first comment of "I don't like the powdered sugar on the top"...well, in this case, why not make half with, and the other half without the powdery sugar on the top?...I like to make everybody happy, so I do it that way! The following recipe...from memory, will let you make 2 nice generous rolls, and you can leave one without the sugar on the top!

Hungarian Sour Cherry Strudel
my own recipe

2- 14 1/2 ounce cans of pitted Sour Cherries in their own natural juice (not cherry pie filling)
2 cups of fine ground breadcrumbs
2 cups of ground almonds, (ground walnuts is good too)
2 cups of cane sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2- portions of 6 layers of phyllo-fillo dough
(defrost dough in fridge, the day before)
8 Tbsp. (1 stick unsalted butter melted)

Even though it says's really sour, and the label says: in water, but it has really dark cherry liquid, which you will want to save, for another use!

Drain the liquid from the cherries, and add the cherries into a medium size bowl.
First, mix the above mentioned bread crumbs, ground almonds, and 1 cup of sugar in a separate bowl.
From the mixture, add 1 cup to the cherries, and add an additional 1 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and carefully stir together...set aside.

I purchase my Fillo pastry sheets in a Middle Eastern market, but they are sold in supermarkets with a different brand, and could be labeled, as PHYLLO, and not Fillo...same thing!

You have to work with the pastry sheets quickly, because they dry out fast. Any unused sheets, as you're working with them should be covered with  wet sheets of paper towel, or damp dish towel.
Take your firs 6 sheets of the pastry dough, and layer them one at a time.
First, take a fine brush, and dip into the melted butter that you have prepared in a small bowl. Don't over saturate the dough layers, just dab them a little here, and there, sprinkle with about a tablespoon of the mixed bread crumbs, sugar, and ground walnuts combination, not too much just scatter them around.

Do this same method, on every sheet, layering them as shown. (some sheets may tear, break, but it's OK, still use them).

When you get to the 6th layer, do the same by drizzling, with butter, and the combo of the crumbs, and almonds, and sugar.
Spoon half the portion of the cherries, not quite to the end of the roll...the long end, leaving at least a 2 inch border on each end. Carefully roll up in jelly roll style, tuck the ends in. Lastly, drizzle the last portion of the butter, and crumb mixture.

On a parchment lined baking sheet, (actually you have to be layering all this on the parchment lined baking sheet, so you don't have to transfer the dough)

In a preheated 400 degrees F. oven, bake for 25- 35 minutes, depending how hot your oven is. Remove...DO NOT slice immediately, wait for it to cool a little and for the filling to set, Carefully slice about 2 to 3 inches, with a sharp serrated knife. You can repeat the second portion, or save for another time (use within 2 days) I made 2 portions, one with, and one without powder (icing sugar) on the top.
Note: you have to work fast with the Phyllo, and also carefully, because the dough is very delicate.
Also, you can use different fillings, and make several different sweet, or savory things with this amazing Fillo!
This particular brand is a GREEK brand, and I will be making my favorite SPANAKOPITA...spinach pie, the next time!
Points value: 8 per serving
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup

This is the last of my "cure for all" healthy, spicy, and super colorful dishes for my long lasting illness. Today is a new day, and the start of Spring...although in South Florida we have exceptional and gorgeous weather all year round. As I was browsing through the March issue of Family Circle, when I spotted this soup, knowing that I have all the ingredients, and I do love spicy, I said "this one is for me!"
If you love fresh herbs, this is a "must" soup for you to try! Fresh mint, and fresh cilantro, not only adorn the beauty of the amazing soup, but the refreshing and spicy flavor will blow you away!

Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup
from Family Circle magazine; March 2012 

2 cans (14 1/2 ounces each) reduced sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup shredded carrots, (I used matchstick cut sizes)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red hot pepper seeded, and thinly sliced (optional)
1 Tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons Asian hot sauce (such as Sriracha)
6 ounces rice noodles (such as Thai Kitchen Stir-Fry Rice Noodles)
1/4 cup mint leaves
1/4 cup cilantro leaves

In a large pot, bring chicken broth and 1 1/2 cups water to a boil. Add chicken, and simmer for 3 minutes. Add carrots, snow peas, and ginger; simmer 3 minutes.

Stir in scallion, soy sauce, lime juice and hot sauce.

Meanwhile, boil rice noodles for 6 minutes. Drain.

Divide cooked noodles among four bowls. Spoon an equal amount of soup into each bowl of noodles. Scatter mint and cilantro over each dish and serve immediately.
Points value: 10

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner?...or Dinner for Breakfast!

When you finally feel a sigh of relief that you are on the "mend" again, you can just sit back...relax, and thank God you are "alive and kicking!"...seriously, this is how I'm feeling all this last few days of this week. Actually having more energy, and planning to making more effort to get more work some spring cleaning,  organizing, and plan more exciting healthy menus, and keep concentrating on staying healthy, and on track with my Weight Watchers program.
I have not had any strength or energy making anything after the Spicy Thai Squid project, so last evening I decided to check for all the available stuff I had in my fridge to concoct some healthy dinner. I always have plenty of eggs on hand, fresh veggies and fresh herbs that need to be used up. Also found a nice portion of perfectly cut little veggies, potatoes, zucchini, onion, and I decided to make a Ranch Style egg with my last can of Red Gold petite diced tomatoes. I have to be honest it was fast, easy, and very delicious. You should try it sometimes...have it both ways, breakfast, or dinner, use whatever you have leftover in the fridge...break an egg or two over the vegetables, let it cook for a few minutes, and dinner is served! I did not serve this over tortilla shells, to save on points. Potatoes served as "starch."

Ranch Style Eggs- (Huevos Rancheros)
my own creation

A good portion of leftover cooked potatoes, cooked vegetables, even rice, or pasta will do!
2 cups leftover diced, cooked vegetable
1 cup diced canned, or fresh tomatoes
herbs, such as fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro
seasoning of your choice. ( I used cayenne pepper, garlic salt, cumin, and few drops of hot sauce)
Reheat vegetable in a work or a large nonstick skillet, add the tomatoes, and spices, and heat to a boil.

In a small dish, break an egg into it...

Carefully slide it onto the cooked veggies, make a little well and let it cook until you see the white form.
Adjust seasoning, and sprinkle with your favorite herbs.

You can serve it over tortilla shell but can eat it with a slice of toast, as well!
Points value: 5

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spicy Thai Squid (Calamari) Salad

When it comes to being sick, I'm the worst person that I know, and even; the worst "patient" that I know! My family can't stand to be around me, I'm so grouchy, irritable, and miserable! Yes, it's all true!...sad to say, but it is!
Last Sunday, the day of my previous post with my simple but yummy almond cookies, I had the craving for something spicy, light, and healthy. I could have easily ordered a take-out fresh squid salad and perhaps some Pad Thai pasta from our local Thai restaurant that has been around for years, but oh no! I had a better idea...I will make my own Squid Salad!
When you are sick with a horrible flu that came back smack you over the head with even a harder blow, and give you a humongous headache, and have every bone in your body aching, even the hair strands on the top of your head aching, the last thing you want to do is to defrost a 2 pound bag of frozen baby squid, clean them and cut them...cook them, and make yourself the most delicious squid salad you ever had in your life...well, THAT'S ALL WORTH IT!
Our local seafood markets are usually closed on Sunday, but knowing that our beloved favorite Publix supermarket carries everything, and has the best seafood department as well, I decided to shop for my squid salad ingredients...everything fresh! Unfortunately they only sell squid frozen in a 2 pound package, which was fine with me. Paying $14.99 for 2 lbs of Calamari, even if frozen, is still better than ordering a squid (calamari) salad which is barely enough for 2 and paying $13.99 for it and get aggravated because they put the dressing on it in advance and the salad gets wilted by swimming in the dressing...I do love the

Thai spicy dressing...although, not overpowering my salad! I already had some fresh veggies from Whole Foods, and the organic fresh ginger, so I was all set for my project...sick-and-all, just eagerly wanting to eat fresh spicy squid salad! All I needed, was a little creativity, which I still had the "spark"...and a beautiful salad was created...I felt a whole lot better after that, and since then!

Linking to: Full Plate Thursday @ Miz Helen's Country Cottage
                Thursday Favorite Thing Blog Hop @ Katherines Corner

Spicy Thai Squid (Calamari) Salad
my own creation

1 lb. cleaned squid
1 bunch of loosely packed fresh mint
1 bunch of loosely packed fresh cilantro
1 bunch scallion, cleaned, and sliced diagonal into
about 2 inch pieces
2 medium carrots cleaned, and shredded
about 5 thin slices of peeled, fresh sliced  ginger
1 lime cut into quarters
1 bag of ready cut, pre-washed mixed salad

For the Dressing:

1/4 cup Asian Fish Sauce
1/4 cup Thai Style Chili Sauce
juice of 1 lime
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

If you can't find 1 lb. squid, you will have to get the 2 lb. frozen package, and cut open, empty, and will have to defrost the entire thing in cold running water (don't worry, you will be using up the entire thing)

A bit of a job, but so well worth it. After squid has defrosted, clean the entire inside body, by pulling out the little plastic part that is inside, and dispose of it. Also, save the tentacles, try not to rip them...leaving it intact.
Slice the squid across, into little rings,drop them all in a medium pot of boiling water, bring to not boil for more than about 1 or 2 minutes, or it will get rubbery!

Strain in a colander with cold water, and clean the little white particles from them. Set aside, and continue with the salad.

Very important: you have to set up your "mi sen plaz"...all your ingredients in a row, just like this. Your grated carrots, your chopped cilantro, the sliced scallions, I added with some fresh chopped mint, your dressing, combining them with the fresh ginger slices, and of course your cut limes.

This is the Thai Style Chili Sauce I used, along with the Thai Seasoned Fish Sauce.

At this point, you can just enjoy your salad without the lettuce, just with the mentioned ingredients.

You can individually set up your own salad by using the ingredients, including the dressing, and stretch it even further with the healthy delicious salad.

By adding the lettuce a little more dressing to toss, you have a full satisfying, healthy and delicious.
Points value: 4

BTW- I spent about $36.00 which seemed expensive, but not, when this generously served 4. The leftovers were separately saved for appetizer to share with family, the next day! I still have plenty of vegetables leftover, and the sauces as well!
Incidentally, I have lost an additional now, I'm down 15 lbs. total since I started back in the first week of January of this year!

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Almond Cookies

I've been down-and-out with the flu for at least one month now, which seemed to have gone after finally 3 weeks, and I was so glad that I finally got a little relief from the sneezing and coughing...then one week ago, I woke up with my throat on fire, sneezing and coughing once more again, this time even worse. I finally gave in and went to see my doctor, and he prescribed antibiotic this time. Finally, I'm getting better now...well enough, that I just had to make something sweet, but not too sweet, so my perfect stand-by Almond Cookies always come to my rescue!
I practically have this simple recipe memorized, but could not find my handwritten recipe from over 20yrs ago, so I had to consult online, only to find the exact recipe that I used to have. Funny...even if I would have found my recipe, there wouldn't be a source on it, which we did not include in the past when we copied recipes by hand.
These lovely light as a "feather" cookies, do not even need baking powder, or baking soda, a light crispiness on the outside, and soft as a "pillow" on the inside. You really do not need to buy a large bag of whole almonds, just get the sliced ones which you can grind in a small processor, and use some sliced ones...I generously sprinkled the top of my cookies just before I baked them.

Almond Cookies
adapted from all

1/2 cup unsalted butter softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
(you can use 2 teaspoons Amaretto liqueur
 instead of the vanilla, and the almond extract)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C)

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the extracts, or if you're using Amaretto beat that into the mixture. Beat in half the amount of the ground almond. Gradually mix in the flour and the rest of the ground almonds.

Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart, on parchment lined baking pan. Bake 5-8 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cookies are lightly colored. Do not bake longer than 8 minutes...they brown very quickly.
Point value: 2 pr. cookie

Serves about 24 cookies. An extremely easy recipe...if you love almonds, you will love these perfect little cookies!
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Farfalle Pasta with Cream, Salmon, and Peas

I've been making this delicious pasta since the nineties but cannot remember the original source...I just know that it's absolutely divine! The only difference is, that I cut down on the butter and the heavy cream used in this dish to lighten it up a bit. There are other similar pasta dishes out there but with the smoked salmon, instead of the fresh and they don't use the petite frozen peas, or garnish it with dill. The fresh salmon gives it a lighter taste where you don't get that "smoky" aftertaste from the smoked salmon.
This beautiful dish represent Spring, it is also linked to #greenslove @ Mis Pensamientos and will be honoring St. Patrick's Day...although it's far from being an Irish dish, but at least it's green!

Farfalle Pasta with Cream, Salmon, and Peas
my own creation

12 ounces  (1 1/2 pound) Farfalle Pasta
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
juice of one fresh lemon
1/2 pound fresh salmon with skin on
2 Tbsp. sliced thin scallions (green part only)
2 Tbsp. fresh dill snipped with kitchen shears
sea salt, and freshly ground pepper

Boil pasta in a large pot, less than al-dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup. In a large wok or skillet, saute shallots till soft and wilted. Add the wine and cook down until almost evaporated. Add cream, and bring to a boil.Add the peas, and just let it cook for a minute or two in the cream. In the meantime bake, or cook in a skillet the salmon piece adding the 1 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle a little sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.Cook for about 8 minutes (will be cooking for an addition 2 minutes combined in the pasta)

Add pasta to cream mixture, along with the lemon juice, lemon zest. With a fork flake the salmon in small pieces off from the skin, and add to the pasta mixture. Add the scallions, 1 Tbsp. of the fresh dill, and add the reserved pasta water, if needed. Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and pepper.You can also drizzle a little bit of the extra virgin olive oil on top.
Serves 4

May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, tea beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.
`Irish Blessing
Happy St. Patrick's Day!
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

My Haphazard Weight Watchers Challah

My attempt at making Challah bread would be best if I could call out for my deceased female members of my family on my mother's side. Each and every member of my family made the best Challah bread, not just for the Sabbath on Friday...which was never really explained to me when I was a young child, but for other Jewish holiday traditions as well.

I never had to make my own Challah bread all theses years, up until the late nineties after my last aunt passed away...then, the tradition was broken. I was way too busy working days, at an affluent Jewish Country Club and 3 nights a week working for a mega wealthy household in Palm Beach as a Private Chef. Good thing I didn't have to do any bread baking...that would require a "separate position!"...end of that story!
If any one should doubt what this bread is all about, here's a little history behind it!

The braided challah, which is made with eggs, is the Jewish Sabbath‑and‑holiday bread. It is surrounded by folklore and tradition and loaded with symbolism. On festive occasions a blessing is said over two loaves, symbolizing the two portions of the manna that was distributed on Fridays to the children of Israel during their Exodus from Egypt. The breads are covered on the table by a decorative challah cover or a white napkin, which represents the dew that collected on the manna in the morning. Poppy and sesame seeds sprinkled on the bread also symbolize the manna that fell from heaven. 

Challah is made in various sizes and shapes, all of which have a meaning.
Braided ones, which may have three, four, or six strands, are the most common, and because they look like arms intertwined, symbolize love.

 Three braids symbolize truth, peace, and justice.

 Twelve humps from two small or one large braided bread recall the miracle of the 12 loaves for the 12 tribes of Israel. Round loaves, “where there is no beginning and no end,” are baked for Rosh Hashanah to symbolize continuity. Ladder and hand shapes are served at the meal before the fast of Yom Kippur—the ladder signifying that we should ascend to great heights, the hand that we may be inscribed for a good year. On Purim, small triangular loaves symbolize Haman’s ears; at Shavuot, two oblongs side by side represent the Tablets of the Law. The bulkah is a segmented rectangular challah.

Sweet challahs with honey or raisins are baked during the festive season to bring joy and happiness.

The name “challah” is derived from the Hebrew word used for “portion” in the Biblical commandment “of the first of your dough you shall give unto the Lord a portion for a gift throughout your generations.

Linking to: Full Plate Thursday @ Miz Helen's Country Cottage 

from the Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook

1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cups + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 envelope active dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
2 teaspoon corn oil
2 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg white, beaten with 1 Tbsp. water
(I used one whole egg, beaten with ! Tbsp. water)
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds

In a small bowl, combine the water and 1 Tbsp. of the flour; sprinkle with the yeast. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the egg and oil.

In a food processor, combine the remaining flour, the sugar, and salt. With the machine running, scrape the yeast mixture through the feed tube until the dough just forms a ball. Knead the dough by pulsing until it is smooth and elastic, about 30 times.

Spray a large bow with nonstick spray: place dough in the bowl. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm draft free place
until it double in volume, about 1 hour. Punch down the
dough; lightly sprinkle a work surface with flour.

 Divide into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece between your palms.

Roll into an 18-inch rope between the palm of your hands.

Pinch ropes together at one end, and braid loosely.

Be sure to braid the three ropes loosely to allow room for the dough to rise the second time.
Cover loosely with a plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, draft-free place until double in volume, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. 175 C. Brush the loaf with half of the egg white. Bake about 20 seen in the photo...after 20 minutes. Brush with remaining egg white, and sprinkle with the poppy seeds, if you're using poppy seeds.

Bake until loaf sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom 10-15 minutes longer. Remove fro the baking sheet and cool completely on a rack.
Points value: 2

Note: this is an excellent small loaf of bread to bake, if you're not planning to make 2 loaves. 1 1/2 cups of flour, is such a small amount, compared to 3 to 5 cups used when baking breads. Simple and easy, just need practice with the braiding!

Not much to say about my weekend indulges...I practically ate the entire little loaf of bread by myself, before I got to share it with my family. Although, I did manage to lose 1 more pound...Total: 14lbs, and still going!

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