Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Step-by Step Lebanese Dessert & Holiday Album Favs!

What a busy time! With regret, my Thanksgiving weekend post didn't happen. I blame the Tryptophan - I didn't fully wake up until Dec. 3rd.  Anyway, Turkey Weekend was great fun! The festivities began with a pre-emptive strike against the impending T-day meal - Team Hamzeh was up early & ran/walked/strollered the 34th annual 5k/10k Dana Point Turkey Trot.  Go Team!  And then we ate and ate and ate...     

Along with the usual T-Day dishes, I made the 20 Ingredient Apple Pie featured on Splendid Table last year (& mentioned in my 2010 T-day blog).  My two cents: omit the raisins, berries, & use half the liquid. Although tasty, it works better as a crumble rather than a pie.  

In other weekend highlights, college football's cutest fan - Baby Tarek Hamzeh - emerged to root for UCLA in the annual rivalry game against USC.  Despite Tarek's vigorous 8-Claps and good vibrations, it was an unspectacular performance by my Bruins... Alright 'SC...Whatever. As optimistic Ella put it, UCLA has a better color scheme.  But we had a grand time trash talking, playing poker, & of course eating! Calories for all no matter which team you fancy!

On to Christmas!

To kick things off - The artistry of the only Christmas metal orchestra in the world - The Trans-Siberian Orchestra set to the work of Clark Griswold on Wheaties.  Check it out (again probably) - It's Creepy Meets Christmas...

Time to talk holiday music.  I like Christmas songs - maybe by January 2nd I am tired of them, but from Thanksgiving until then, I enjoy them.  My favorites are "Baby, It's Cold Outside," "Santa Baby", and "I'll Be Home For Christmas" (a sad tune, but lovely).  Two out of three of these tunes are on my favorite holiday album this year, She & Him's "A Very She & Him Christmas".  Now I know everyone is talking about Buble's "Christmas" and Bieber's "Mistletoe", but my indie rock sensibilities favor this duo's simple and clean interpretation of holiday classics.  Zooey Deschanel's soulful voice shines through backed elegantly by M. Ward's acoustic guitar.  I also like the track listing which includes lesser known Christmas songs like "Christmas Blues", "The Christmas Waltz", and "Christmas Day" mixed in with the popular favorites.  But for you all, I have selected a classic.  Enjoy Zooey and M. Ward's take on "The Christmas Song."

And because I love Zooey Deschanel (and to read a full post about her and other talented songstress, Ella G'Sell, click here), I had to include this clip from the BEST CHRISTMAS MOVIE OF THE PAST DECADE, ELF.  Zooey plays the part of the cute, but dry elfette that becomes Buddy's (Will Ferrell) love interest.  I remember the first time I saw this scene and thought to myself  "what a voice!"  And she and Buddy are singing one of my fav's, "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Watch it below, then watch ELF this holiday, and listen to "A Very She & Him Christmas".  You will be full of holiday merriment afterwards and will have a crazy desire for sugar, candy corn, and spaghetti.

Now on to my now next favorite holiday album - Pink Marini's "Joy To The World" - Aptly named as it pays tribute to Christmas on a global scale. Released in 2010, Joy To the World is a beautiful collection of holiday classics sung in 8 different languages from Chinese to Arabic! I bet lead vocalist, the beautiful and talented China Forbes likes Knafeh. Pink Martini make Christmas classics their own by providing a sultry world-music spin. In true Pink Martini style, the albums contains clever lyric additions and several guest vocalists. My favorite things about this album is that China Forbes actually wrote an original Christmas song - a rarity in the Christmas album marketplace. Below check out "A Snowglobe Christmas" written by China Forbes and "Silent Night" with verses in both German and Arabic.

And now the recipe! As some of you may know, I am Lebanese so it is my great pleasure to share a Lebanese dessert recipe that my mom has been making since I was a kid.
Many thanks to my Mom for her great help in making this post happen! Knafeh is a traditional crispy Lebanese dessert and is a combination of fillo dough with sweet cheese in the center. It's not too hard to make, although you will need to track down the ingredients. Luckily, there are Arabic, Persian, and Armenian stores all over the place now (Glendale, Westwood, Anaheim...) and some Whole Foods also carry these ingredients. Knafeh is great for entertaining all year round, but is particularly festive for the holidays because of the red and green toppings.

Lebanese Knafeh (serves 8)

Here is what you need:

-1 package Shredded Fillo Dough (found at Persian, Arabic, or Armenian food stores and Whole Foods)
-2 sticks unsweetened butter - melted
-1 Package of sweet cheese (also found at the above stores).  If you can't find this cheese, you might be able to use ricotta although I haven't tried it.


- Handful of raw unsalted ground pistachios

- Syrup - here is what you need and how you make the syrup:
     - 2 cups granulated white sugar,
     -1 cup water,
     -1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice (about half a medium sized lemon)
     -1 tablespoon Rose Water (Also found at ethnic markets and Whole Foods). 

Combine water and sugar, and bring to boil.  Then add the fresh lemon juice to the boiling sugar water mixture, and let boil for a couple more minutes.  To test if the mixture is ready, dip a spoon into the mixture and if it fully coats the spoon and drips off slowly, then its ready. Then add the rose water and remove from heat.  Let syrup cool completely at room temperature.

Here is what you do - in pictures!

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

Loosen up the shredded fillo and put it in your baking dish. Then shred the cheese into small pieces - you can use a food processor if you have one.

Add the warm melted butter to the fillo.
Use your hands and coat the fillo thoroughly with the butter - this is fun!

Set aside about 1/4 of the mixture which will be the top of the Knafeh and leave the rest in your baking dish. 

Spread the remaining 3/4 butter-coated fillo evenly throughout the dish.  Then sprinkle the cheese evenly over the fillo, but don't get too close to the edges or the cheese will melt over the sides.

Spread the remaining 1/4 of the fillo mixture over the top of the cheese.

Ultimately, the knafeh will need to be transferred to a serving platter so to make sure the knafeh will neatly fit in your serving platter, place your serving platter on top to measure it.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes.  The top should be golden brown and cheese should be melted.  Your kitchen will smell lovely at this point.

Immediately after removing the knafeh from the oven it needs to be transferred to a serving platter.  The easiest way to do this is to place your platter face down on top of the hot knafeh and flip it over.  It should come out easily into the serving tray.

Tadah! Immediately pour the cooled syrup over the hot knafeh which will keep it crispy.  Sprinkle pistachios to the top and if you have any red garnishes for Christmas - i.e. dollop of cherry glaze in the center, feel free to add it.  The traditional topping is candied orange blossoms but those are hard to come across.  We get them from Lebanon.

And the knafeh is ready to be served!  You will really impress your holiday guests this year with this dessert!  Who needs Gelsons!  

Wishing you all a restful and joyous holiday, and cheers to 2012! 
Catch you all next year.

Hugs and Kisses.


  1. I was sick of the Christmas carols by thanksgiving. And to top it off, I was again serenaded by Mariah Carey's creepy rendition of "All I want for Christmas" with Justin Beiber at a coffee shop in the Shanghai airport during 7 hour layover...on DEC 29! Btw, that dessert looks very similar to something we make also, although I'm digging the cool shape due the pan to pan transfer.

  2. What a Beautiful Post and you made it look like an easy recipe!