Thursday, 27 December 2012

Festive Filo

I think I've become a bit of a filo fanatic lately (filo pastry that is). There's so much to love about filo; you can fill it, top it, sandwich it. It has a fantastic texture too as it's so thin and crunchy once cooked. The thing I like most about it though is that, due to its versatility,  it's great to experiment with. You can take your favourite flavours and enjoy them together in a filo vehicle of choice ( a filo cup, cigar, boat, layers, dumpling etc).
This past month, it being party season and all, I've encountered quite a few filo recipes, all of which follow a similar structure to put together. I've tried mushrooms in bechamel sauce parcels, mushroom and spinach cups, cheese balls, baklava, strudel and the simplest yet most crowd pleasing, chocolate cigars! Filo is all the rage at parties so I decided to try my hand at a couple of sweet treats, perfect at this time of year.

Admittedly this first recipe is mainly my brothers invention (which is probably why it's so simple!) but it really hits the chocolate indulgence spot. I made them for my flat Christmas party and they disappeared pretty quickly!

Chocolate Cigars:

Filo pastry
nutella (or any chocolate spread you prefer)
melted butter

Simply brush a sheet of filo pastry using a pastry brush. Cut the sheet into strips according to the length you want your cigars to be. Spoon a line of nutella along one short edge of the strip and roll into a cigar shape. 
You can add chopped nuts or dried fruit for a little texture, or a splash of coffee or booze in the nutella for a more grown up version. However, there is nothing wrong with the original plain nutella, I mean it's nutella, you can't really go wrong!
Once rolled up, brush each cigar with a little more butter to ensure a golden finish. Line up the cigars on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and bake in a pre heated oven at 180°C for about ten minutes or until golden brown.
To serve, wait until cooled and dust with icing sugar. The simplest of treats but delicious all the same!

My next recipe involves a little more effort, but includes a generous amount of apples (which in my opinion makes it all the more worth it) and is a simple way to feed lots of people. 

Apple strudel (makes 1 strudel):

6 or7 eating apples of your choice (I used a mix of gala and pink lady apples, crisp and sweet apples are preferable to softer varieties)
a generous handful of dried cranberries
a generous handful of mixed dried fruits (dates, sultanas, apricots - whatever you like)
3 tbsp of chopped nuts (walnuts work well, as do almonds or pistachios . I used a mix of almonds and pistachios)
1 lemon (both it's zest and juice)
2 tsp cinnamon powder
a pinch of nutmeg
3 or 4 tbsp demerara sugar
6 sheets of filo pastry
100g melted butter

Peel and grate the apples. Add the zest and juice of the lemon to the apples (zest it first as this is easier to do with a whole lemon). Set aside. 
Next, brush 1 sheet of filo with butter, layer another on top and brush with butter. Sprinkle over some sugar and cinammon. Continue with another layer of buttered filo, every two sheets of filo add a sprinkle of sugar and cinnamon. (Note: you will not need all the sugar and cinnamon, you should have some left over)
Once all six sheets are piled on top of each other, spread the apple over the sheets. Squeeze out any excess liquid in the apples as you go. Now sprinkle over the remaining sugar and cinnamon plus the pinch of nutmeg. Sprinkle over the dried fruit and nuts, try to keep an even distribution of fruit and nuts across the pastry.
Carefully roll up the pastry like a Swiss roll. You do not need to roll it too tightly, but make sure the shape holds. Transfer the roll onto a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper brushed with butter. Finally, brush the top of the pastry roll with melted butter and sprinkle over some sugar and cinnamon. 
Bake in a pre heated oven at 180°C for at least 50 mins or until golden brown. It should take no longer than 1hr 5 mins. 

Enjoy warm with ice cream or custard, yum!

Until next time..

Easy Chinese Dumplings

Sometimes I just crave foods I've only ever eaten out in a restaurant. It's annoying because this means my craving can only be satisfied by actually going to the restaurant. This can prove problematic when it's summer and I no longer have the convenience of a student loan, the Bank of Dad is wearing thin, and I'm jobless. The worst is when I have a craving for something I am certain I could not even try to replicate at home. So when, earlier this summer, my mind became fixated with those dreamy, delicate, parcels of joy that are Chinese Dumplings, I was doomed. Or so I thought...
However a careful bit of research done in my eternity of spare time led me to discover that making Chinese Dumplings is actually very simple! No less than two store cupboard ingredients to make the pastry, not much kneading involved (something that has often put me off making home made bread and the like), and very little resting time which means these mini morsels of flavour can be ready to eat in no time at all.
Inevitably I endeavoured to try my hand at this tasty piece of Chinese artwork, deliciously satisfying my aching craving, saving myself a penny and being able to show off to family and friends. What's more is that instead of only getting about three or four dumplings of each filling, which is all you get in restaurants per portion (and obviously I'm too embarrassed to order the two or three portions I could easily eat), I can make as many of each filling as I like or more and store it in the freezer waiting for another bout "dumpling-craving-syndrome" to take over.

These were the end products. Slightly bigger and less artistic than anticipated but absolutely delicious all the same.

So here's how it's done.

For the pastry (this makes about 16 dumplings):

140g plain flour
125ml hot water (from the kettle)

Simply combine the water and flour in a bowl. Mix using a fork. Then, turn out on to a clean floured work surface and knead for about 8 minutes. 

Leave to rest covered with a damp teacloth for 20 minutes. (I used this resting time to prepare my filling.)
After the dough has rested, knead again for about 5 minutes. The dough should be easily malleable so the kneading won't strain your arm.
Roll out the dough into a long sausage and cut into 16 evenly sized pieces, again using a well floured work surface. Roll each piece into a round circle, fill with a mixture of your choice (about a teaspoon sized amount) and fold over into a crescent shape using a bit of water to stick the sides shut. Crimp the sides into an attractive fashion the best you can, and they're ready to cook! 

To cook simply steam in a steamer for about 3-5 minutes. To ensure the dumplings don't stick to the bottom of your steamer I advise placing each dumpling either on a piece or greaseproof paper or a lettuce leaf for authenticity. 

Serve with soy sauce topped with crunchy scatterings of spring onion to dip.

As I said, you can fill these dumplings with whatever takes your fancy. However, it is important the filling is not too wet else your dumplings will be hard to handle and end up a sloppy mess. Also, it is important to keep the filling small. Chop your ingredients as finely as you can manage. And lastly the filling must be tasty! After all the pastry is tasteless, you need something inside that will pack a punch.

Here's the filling I used:

1 carrot finely diced

3 spring onions finely chopped
1/2 a red pepper finely diced
7/8 green beans finely chopped
a few mushrooms
2 garlic cloves crushed
1 red chilli finely chopped (you can deseed the chilli to reduce the heat)
soy sauce
shaoxing rice wine vinegar
sesame oil

Heat a little oil in a pan. Get a good heat on the pan before adding the garlic and chilli. Fry for about a minute or so, then add the rest of the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to cook a little but not completely soften. Add about half a table spoon of the vinegar and a good splash soy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning (the soy acting as salt). Finish with a drizzle of sesame oil for the real Chinese restaurant taste. 

Let the mixture cool before filling the dumplings. If the mixture seems too wet, put it over a sieve and let some of the liquid drain out. 

So, it's as easy as that! And they're as delicious as the ones you buy in a restaurant. Craving = satisfied! 

Until next time...