Toasted Coconut & Macadamia Nut Baklava with Persian Lime-Honey Syrup

It all started with a dream one night... I'm on a tropical island, the warm breeze gently lifts the wide brim of my sunhat as I lounge in dappled shade beneath the coconut trees.  Strangely, instead of sipping on the prerequisite tropical drink with an umbrella, I'm eating sticky, honey drenched baklava... yes, baklava.  Leave it to my dozing brain to come up with such an non sequitur.

In my attempt to rationalize this odd mash-up of food and locale, I decided that what I was really eating under those coconut trees was a tropical version of baklava complete with coconut, macadamia nuts, and hints of lime.

Toasted Coconut, Macadamia Nut & Persian Lime Baklava

1 pound package of phyllo dough, thawed and trimmed to fit a 9"x13" baking pan
1 cup raw, good quality local honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups + 1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 Persian limes zested
3 cups macadamia nuts
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
1 pinch of salt
1 cup extra virgin coconut oil

Preheat the oven to 350 F and set the rack to the middle position in the oven.

On a rimmed baking sheet, toast the macadamia nuts and coconut flakes for 5-7 minutes until just barely golden brown and fragrant.  Allow the nut-coconut mixture to cool, combine with 1/3 cup of sugar, pinch of salt, and finely chop in a food processor or by hand.

Heat the honey, remaining sugar, lime zest, and 2 cups of water over medium heat and bring to a simmer.  Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, strain, add the vanilla, and reserve.

Heat the coconut oil to bring it to a liquid state.

Cover the phyllo sheets with a slightly damp tea towel

Grease a 9"x13" baking pan with coconut oil.  

Begin assembling the baklava by layering 5 phyllo sheets, brushing each with coconut oil before covering with the next.  Add two tablespoons of the coconut/macadamia nut mixture, cover with two more sheets of phyllo, brushing each with coconut oil, and then another layer of coconut-macadamia nut mixture, and so on.  The last layer at the top should consist of 5 sheets of phyllo each brushed with coconut oil before layering on the next, including the final sheet on top.

With the sharpest knife in your possession, cut the pan into 2"x2" diamond or square shapes, being sure to cut firmly through to the bottom and all the way to the sides of the pan.

Bake the baklava for 35-40 minutes until deep golden brown and toasted.  Immediately pull from the oven and pour the reserved honey-lime syrup over the top of the still hot baklava.  Make sure to drench ever cut and corner of the pan evenly.

Allow to cool and serve sprinkled with addition toasted coconut, candied lime zest, and or macadamia nuts if desired.  

Traditional Portuguese Vinha D'Alhos AKA "Portuguese Carnitas"

You've probably heard of Mexican style carnitas, but have you heard of the flavor explosion that is Portuguese Carnitas (aka Vinha D'Alhos)?

One of the most obvious deviations from the process of making traditional carnitas, is that the preparation for Vinha D'Alhos calls for the cubed pork shoulder to take a dip for no less than four days in a spicy, vinegary, wine, olive oil, and garlic laden marinade of flavor-love. 

After the initial marinating, the rest of the process follows a fairly similar trajectory for making Mexican style carnitas.  However, I must confess, as much as I adore traditional carnitas, Vinha D'Alhos has been a game changer for me as the depth of flavor is spectacular.  As if that wasn't enough, this recipe has made me the popular kid among those in the know.  When I make it, I obtain a sort of rock star status, especially among my Portuguese friends who claim it's difficult to find anyone who knows the recipe.  They state that if their grandmother isn't making it, they're simply forced to suffer without it.

1 cup really good quality barrel aged red wine vinegar - Pinot Noir wine vinegar would be excellent
1 cup good quality dry white wine
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup (optional) UP Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/4 cup sweet or hot paprika (depending on how spicy you like it)
2 dried bay leaves torn
1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
fresh ground pepper to taste
3 Pounds boneless cubed pork shoulder cut in 1" cubes, trimmed of excess fat

Place all the ingredients except the bay leaves, 1/4 cup of olive oil, and pork in a blender or the bowl of a food processor.  Process until well combined.  In a large sealable container, place the pork and add the marinade and bay leaves to it.  Mix the pork with the marinade to coat well and refrigerate for 4 days.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Arrange the marinated pork cube in a single layer on a sheet pan.  Roast the pork in the upper part of the oven for 1 hour, flipping the pork after 1/2 hour so that all sides brown and caramelize.  Lower the heat to 350 F. and cover the pan with foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes until the pork is fork tender.

Optional Step - with the remaining 1/4 cup of UP Certified Extra Virgin Olive Oil, you can re-fry the pork.  This results in a mind-boggling and absolutely spectacular crispy-crust on the exterior of the pork that is akin crisp bacon.  However, the cracklings will have all the flavor of linguica.  To take it this extra step, add the drained, oven roasted pork to a pan with evoo set over medium-high heat.  Brown the pork in batches until crispy. <=== This is like insanity here, so be prepared for your reality to be forever altered. 

 Serve with crusty bread and/or mashed potatoes slathered with all the lovely pan juice.

Alternatively, (because this is summer after all) you can wrap the pork in foil and cook it over medium indirect heat on the grill.  Uncover the pork after 45 minutes and allow it to brown on all sides.

Serves 6-8 generously

Spicy Baklouti Chili Gumbo

1/2 pound smoked spicy sausage, such as Andouille sausage, cut into 1/2" slices
1/2 pound peeled, deveined shrimp
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 large celery rib, finely diced
1 green pepper, finely diced
1 red pepper finely diced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 green onions finely sliced
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 dried bay leaf
4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 large tomato diced
2 cups sliced okra (optional)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Baklouti Fused Chili Olive Oil
1/2 cup all purpose flour
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Rice to serve

In a large, heavy pot heat the Baklouti chili oil over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken with salt and pepper and brown on both sides.  Set the chicken aside and add the sausage to the pot.  Saute the sausage slices until browned, and set aside.

In the same pot, set over medium heat, add the flour to the oil and pan drippings stirring and scraping to incorporate.  Cook the flour over medium heat, stirring constantly for about 10 minutes until it turns a deep rich brown.  Be careful not to go overboard and cook it until it burns!

Add the remaining two tablespoons of Baklouti chili oil to the flour mixture along with the garlic, peppers, onion, celery, and okra.  Saute over medium low heat until the vegetables start to become tender, about 5 minutes.

Add the stock, tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce to the pot and stir to scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.  Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until  until the gumbo thickens.  Add the Chicken and sausage back to the pot.  Lower the heat and simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes. Add the shrimp during the last two minutes and cook through.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.   

To serve, ladle the gumbo over rice and top with the sliced green onion and chopped parsley.

Serves 6-8      

Traditional Style Oxtail in Clay Pot - Recipe to follow!

Zucchini Gingerbread with California Toasted Almond Oil

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 cup wholewheat flour
4 large eggs
2 cups freshly grated zucchini and/or carrots
1 cup California Toasted Almond Oil
1 cup molasses 
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated cane sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons dry ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease two standard loaf pans, or one 9"x13" pan.

Whisk the oil, molasses, sugars, eggs, and zucchini in a large bowl.  Whisk together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.  Add the dry to the wet ingredients and mix just until no dry spots of flour remain. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a wooden toothpick or skewer inserted in to the center comes out clean.  Cool and serve with whipped cream.

Shaved Fennel Salad with Milanese Gremolata Viniagrette


2 trimmed, thinly sliced fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
1 small finely minced garlic clove
4 tablespoons Ultra Premium Certified extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup finely shaved Pecorino Romano
3 Cups mixed baby greens such as arugula for presentation - optional


Place the shaved fennel in a resealable Ziplock bag or bowl large enough to hold it.  Thoroughly whisk together the Gremolata Olive Oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and chopped flat leaf parsley.  Pour over the fennel and toss to coat.  Marinate in the refrigerator for two hours.  In a bowl or large platter, arrange a bed of washed mixed baby greens.  Arrange the fennel over the greens, pouring any remaining dressing over the fennel and greens.  Sprinkle evenly with shaved Pecorino and fresh ground pepper.
 Serves 4-6 

Crab Stuffed Squash Blossoms Fried To A Delicate Crisp in UP EVOO

Oh yes...

Spring - it's an epic time in the kitchen namely because we have access to remarkable fleeting ingredients like green garlic, ramps, and squash blossoms.  This recipe harnesses several delightful seasonal ingredients and weaves them in to a flavorful and eye-catching culinary tapestry.

As complicated as it may look at the outset, there are really just a handful of ingredients that come together to make this dish shine, and as you would expect, olive oil is a among them.  

Ingredients For the Filling
1 small shallot chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon UP EVOO oil 
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup Mascarpone
1 large egg beaten
8 oz. jumbo lump crab meat (Dungeness, if you can get it), picked through for shells
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste

12 medium to large fresh zucchini squash blossoms 

For the Batter
1 cup seltzer water
1 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
a pinch of salt
UP EVOO for frying (I used the Hojiblanca from Melgarejo for this)
Combine the shallot, onion, olive oil, lemon juice, mascarpone, egg, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse a few times to finely chop the ingredients and combine.  Place the filling in a medium size bowl, and with the utmost of care, gently fold in the crab meat being very careful not to break it up too much.  Adjust the seasoning, cover, and refrigerate the filling for 1/2 hour.
In a shallow dish or bowl whisk together the seltzer water, flour, baking powder, and salt.
Heat 2 inches of UP EVOO up to 350 F. in a heavy bottom pot or pan. 
To Assemble
Make sure the blossoms are clean of debris.  Gently remove the flower stamens.  Using a spoon, gently fill each blossom with approximately 1 heaping tablespoon of chilled crab filling.  Gently twist the ends of the petals to seal.  Swirl each filled blossom in the batter rotating it in the same direction that you twisted the petals so as not to undo your blossom.  Place in the heated oil and fry each blossom for approximately 2 minutes, turning once until light golden brown on all sides.  
Remove the blossoms from the oil to a rack to drain.  Serve warm.   

Caramelized Wild Mushroom & Blue Cheese Flat Bread

I apologize in advance to all you "mushroom-haters" out there, but I'm squarely on "Team Mushroom", as if you couldn't tell.  Here I've layered copious amounts of glorious mushrooms upon even more mushrooms, with a gooey blue cheese.  The results are a simple yet supremely satisfying flat bread that begs to be served alongside a crisp, vibrant salad with a shot of acidity.

Flat Bread Dough

2 1/2 cups of AP unbleached flour
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons UP Certified Olio Nuovo Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 teaspoons active dry yeast 
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Mushroom Topping

1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons UP Certified Olio Nuovo Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 cups fresh sliced mushrooms such as Cremini, Shitake, Oyster, Porcnini, Chanterelle, etc.
sea salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste

To make the flat bread dough, mix together the olive oil, warm water, yeast, and sugar.  Allow to sit for five minutes to bloom. Blend the salt with the flour and mix with the wet ingredients to form a somewhat moist dough.

Knead the dough for about five minutes adding just a bit of flour if it becomes too sticky, until a smooth dough forms.  Divide in to two balls and set aside covered in a warm place to rise until doubled, for about 1 hour.

Meanwhile make the mushroom topping.  In a large saute pan heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt to taste.  Saute until they just begin to turn a light golden-brown color.  Add the sliced shallot and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes until the shallot is sweet, soft, and also gently caramelized.  Adjust seasoning as desired with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool while the dough rises.  Alternatively, you can use your bread machine or stand mixer to mix and knead the dough.

Preheat the oven to 450 F.

To assemble, roll each flat dough ball in to a very thin circle, approximately 8" in diameter. Place the rolled dough on to a sheet pan or pizza pan either greased with olive oil, lined with parchment, or dusted with cornmeal.

Arrange the caramelized mushroom-shallot mixture evenly over both pieces of dough.  Sprinkle each with equal portions of crumbled blue cheese, and another drizzle UP Certified Olio Nuovo Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and additional fresh ground pepper (if desired).  Slide the flat bread in to the preheated oven and bake for approximately 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and beginning to caramelize and the crust is golden brown and slightly puffed.  Rotate the flat bread half way through the cooking process to ensure that each cooks evenly.

Serves 4-6