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Slice of Life

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Maple syrup well worth price

For some reason most people associate the taste of maple syrup with fall and winter foods. That’s just wrong because maple syrup is harvested in early spring.

In parts of Indiana, Michigan and other northeastern America states, people right now are tapping (drilling a small hole in the tree), collecting the sap, boiling it down and producing maple syrup and then turning it into maple sugar, maple fudge, maple candy and lots of other yummy delicious maple treats.

Not all maple syrups are the same. In fact the different grades and colors available all taste slightly different. The earlier in the season you collect and process the sap, the lighter in color and flavor the maple syrup will be. As you get further into the tapping season, the syrup becomes darker and the maple syrup ends up with a deeper maple flavor.

Maple syrup is fine for months at room temperature if it’s in a sealed, unopened container. However, once you open the bottle, can, or in my perfect trip down memory lane, the Log Cabin, you need to refrigerate it.

Cooking with maple syrup is sort of like cooking with honey. However, because of its complex nature, you will need to adjust the recipe to accommodate its unique properties. Like honey it can be substituted for sugar. In baking, to replace 1 cup of sugar use 3/4 to 1 cup maple syrup and decrease the liquid required in the recipe by 2 to 3 tablespoons (there’s water in the syrup). Also add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (maple syrup is acidic and baking soda helps neutralize it and lets the batter rise properly). You don’t need to add the baking soda if the recipe includes buttermilk, sour cream or sour milk because these ingredients will do the same thing the baking soda will do.

One last maple syrup note: Maple syrup is expensive, but oh, so worth the price. A little goes a long way. So please don’t be cheap and buy those faux maple flavored “table syrups” and “pancake syrups” that sit right next to the real maple syrup. They are sugar, water, corn syrup and flavoring. Splurge a little and buy the real stuff.

Maple Pecan Chicken Strips

1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground pepper

1 egg

1/3 cup maple syrup

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into strips

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 tablespoon olive oil

In a bowl combine the pecans, flour, salt and pepper. In a bowl combine the egg and maple syrup and whisk to combine. Dip the chicken strips into the egg and maple syrup mixture and then roll the strips into the nut mixture. Heat a large skillet and add the oil and butter. Cook the coated chicken strips 8 to 10 minutes or until the strips are golden and the center is done. Serves 6.

Maple Cream Fruit Strudel

8 ounces cream or Neufchatel cheese, room temperature

1/2 cup pure maple syrup, divided

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon divided

2 cups tart apples, peeled and diced

1 cup pear, peeled and diced

3 tablespoons dried cherries

1 cup brown sugar, divided

Dash ground nutmeg

1 cup pecans, chopped

12 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if frozen

1 stick butter, melted

Preheat to 375 degrees. In a bowl combine the cream cheese, 1/4 cup maple syrup, honey and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon; mix until smooth. Set the mixture aside. In a large bowl combine the apples, pears, dried cherries, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecans. Mix to combine and set aside.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working with one phyllo sheet at a time (keeping the remaining sheets covered with a slightly damp towel) lay the first sheet of phyllo on the parchment paper. Brush some of the melted butter on top of the sheet. Gently lay another phyllo sheet on top of the first and brush more melted butter on top. Sprinkle the top of the sheet with 1 teaspoon brown sugar. Repeat the process (sugar every 2 sheets) until all the sheets are used.

Very gently spread the maple cream cheese mixture on one half of the top sheet of phyllo leaving 1 inch around the edges. Spoon the fruit mixture over the maple cream. Fold the edge of the stack over the fillings and then carefully roll up the phyllo into a log (like an egg roll) ending with the seam on the bottom. Brush the entire roll with the remaining melted butter and then sprinkle the top and sides with the remaining sugar. Cut several vent cuts in the top so the steam can escape. Bake until the phyllo is golden and the fruit is tender crunchy, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the strudel cool for about 45 minutes. When the strudel is totally cool, transfer it to a cutting board and cut into 8 to 10 slices on a diagonal. You can serve room temperature or reheat. Do not refrigerate, or the phyllo will get soggy. Serves 8.

Slice of Life is a food column that offers recipes, cooking advice and information on new food products. It appears Sundays. If you have a question about cooking or a food item, contact Eileen Goltz at ztlog@frontier.com or write The Journal Gazette, 600 W. Main St., Fort Wayne, IN 46802.

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