Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All Was Not Lost. Or, Fancy Creamed Spinach

Oh, goodness.

What can I say about this spinach?

Simply saying it was "good" or "delicious" or even "heavenly" wouldn't remotely convey exactly what it took to get it from stovetop to camera to computer to blog. No, no, it just wouldn't do.

Here's the thing: Let's say you found this delicious recipe that you'd been dying to make, but didn't ever find the right time to, and then, *insert Emeril Lagasse ultra-patented exclamation here* !, you finally found the time! You bought the perfect rye bread (you bake-your-own-bread-o'-phobe, you), discovered the perfect omelet creating technique (thank you, Alton Brown), and hunkered down for an hour or so and cheffed up what could possibly be your greatest food blog entry subject yet (it's your second one- people will forgive you).

Great, right?

'Cept for when the camera has sucked the life-pulse out of every battery IN THE HOUSE after you've taken a mere three pictures and then shuts off to a blank screen, creamed spinach never to be seen by human eyes again. Batteries go flying, spinach sits cold and uneaten, and your fiancé wonders why, oh WHY, didn't you just get Taco Bell?

Fear not, though! For among those scant three photographs, a leader has emerged! Well, at least a semi-workable photo that kinda-sorta will pass. Even so! It seems that all that work will at least finally pay off- the creamed spinach will indeed see sunlight!

This recipe comes from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which instantly became my cooking oracle when it was second-handed to me years ago (I admire this woman so much that one time last summer I wrote her a fangirl-style "I love you so much!" email... surprisingly enough, she never wrote back). With a couple tweaks (the addition of slivered garlic and pan-fried onions), it makes for a gratifying, comforting meal when paired with a simple omelet with chives and butter and thick, hearty rye bread.

You'll Need:

1/4 to 1/2 cup cream
3 garlic cloves, slivered (or as many as you want)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch spinach, rinsed (but not dried) and stems removed
2 tsp butter or olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper
grated fresh nutmeg

For the Creamed Spinach:

1) Fry the onion in a little olive oil until the edges brown, about 8 minutes. Add the cream and the garlic and heat until bubbles form on the surface. Turn off the heat and set aside.

2) Heat a large skillet on medium-high, then add the spinach (hopefully water will still be clinging to the leaves). Cook 3-5 minutes, until bright green and wilted, turning occasionally. Rinse spinach in cold water to stop the cooking, squeeze out excess water, and finely chop.

3) Melt the butter in the skillet, add the spinach, and cook until butter is absorbed. Pour the cream over the spinach and simmer until thickened slightly.

4) Add salt, freshly ground pepper, and a little fresh grated nutmeg.

I served mine with Alton Brown's 3-egg omelet topped with chives and butter (if you haven't figured out a perfect omelet technique yet, I highly recommend his) and thick, buttered rye bread. You can garnish with toasted almonds or sesame seeds.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Strawberries and Cream, Modified.

I actually started this post, "Omigod, omigod, omigod, it's strawberry season!" but decided that taking a more subtle tack would be a better approach to my first blog entry EVAR.

That said, I would like to say that the sentiment of the aforementioned "omigods" is quite tangibly there, as strawberries have been, since the dawning of time (or, at least the mid-eighties), my absolute, hands-down, all-time favorite food, thereby making it an appropriate pick for my maiden post.

This dish seems quite ordinary, but when made well, it is absolutely delicious and refreshing. Some people might balk at the idea of using plain white bread in a recipe, but I say the cheaper the better (this particular loaf cost $0.88). The bread, when toasted, adopts a light, airy texture. I choose to lightly (very lightly, I say) dust the sliced strawberries with sugar and leave them in the fridge for at least a day to kind of leach some of the juice out and sweeten the berries, but you can leave them be and just slice them right before serving. Adding a little fresh ground pepper at the end really brings up the spicier notes in the strawberries.

You'll Need:

1 or 2 cups strawberries, sliced
4 slices white bread (toasted just before serving)
Cream Cheese Mousse
fresh ground pepper, to taste

For the Cream Cheese Mouse:

3/4 c crème fraîche* or whipping cream (not heavy)
8 ounces cream cheese
2 tbsp honey

1) Whip the crème fraîche until stiff and scrape into a separate bowl. In the same bowl, beat together the cream cheese and honey until combined. Stir in a quarter of the crème fraîche and beat until smooth, then add in the remaining crème fraîche. Combine until mostly smooth (don't be too concerned about small lumps of cream cheese; it adds a nice toothsome texture that I like).

2) Eating this stuff can go two ways: you can serve it immediately, on toasted white bread with the strawberries and black pepper for a softer texture, or you can line a colander with damp cheesecloth, scrape the cheese in, tie up the sides of the cheesecloth, and set the whole thing in a bowl in your fridge overnight. The milk solids will separate slightly, leaving a firmer texture. Either way is fine.

* A note on crème fraîche: This recipe would be fine, I'm sure, with plain whipping cream, but it would lack the pizzazz that crème fraîche so easily brings. Storebought is fine, but making it at home is simple and cheap. Mix together 2 tbs buttermilk with 1 cup whipping cream, set in a nice draft-free place (a jar with a lid would be spectacular) for 14 hours to overnight, then stir until thick and refrigerate.