Empanadas #92

There was something about the turnip in my crisper drawer that spoke to me one day. It somehow begged to be roasted and stuffed into little dough pockets. And of course some diced ham seemed like a nice match too. Feeling like I needed something green to tuck in there too, frozen peas seemed easy. (Like “Samosas” according to my husband.)

So that is how these empanadas were created…

empanada

I bake mine but I can’t emphasize enough how delicious they would be/are deep fried!

Surprisingly easy, I prefer to roast rather than steam/boil my turnip. And yes that is some sweet potatoes on the pan too. I figure if I am roasting anyway why not throw some other stuff on there too. And I often roast the a day or two ahead when I have the time so these can come together quicker. Saute the onion and ham first to get a little more flavor and color on them. Be sure to let the filling cool before you stuff the dough rounds.

I usually use the larger “disco” dough rounds from brands like Goya or LeFey. These are found in the freezer section, perhaps in an ethnic foods part of the freezer. If you can’t find these you could definitely use some refrigerated dough product or if you are really ambitious maybe make your own. They are essentially just thin dough rounds that get stuffed, sealed and baked. Or Fried. Have I mentioned that these really are delicious deep-fried. Sadly (Insert sad sigh here) I never fry anything at home. I reserve fried treats to occasional indulges when out at restaurants. It’s the same with ice cream. (Another sad sigh here.)

ready-for-the-oven

bake at 375 degrees on parchment lined sheet pans for 20-30 mins until browned

These are great to make ahead and have around for parties, lunch/dinner on the go, or an office pot-luck. The only advantage to the non-fried version like these,  is they are good room temperature or warm and will re-heat easily and beautifully.

The Recipe:

dough rounds (10-15 of the larger 6″ +/-size or 20 of the smaller 4″+/- size) and it also depends on how full you fill each one…but the dough rounds can be frozen/re-frozen.

1 med turnip (couple pounds??) peeled, cut, roasted on  a sheet pan with a little oil oil, S&P at 400 degrees till tender and yummy. Mashed and cooled.

1/2 large sweet onion diced ( I used “Maui”)

1-2 cloves of garlic minced fine – more if you like

3/4 lb +/- diced cooked ham

2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp chili flakes

3/4-1 cup of frozen peas

Salt and pepper to taste and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to saute

Saute the onion garlic and ham in the Olive oil. Add the dry spices and stir for a minute or two. Add the frozen peas and stir a few more minutes. Take off heat and combine with the mashed turnip. Taste for seasoning. After the filling has cooled, spoon a few table spoons onto a dough round. Flap over the dough and use a little water on your finger on the outer edge to seal them shut. Now either use a fork along the edge or roll the edges onto themselves. Brush with melted butter or spray with butter spray and bake at 375 degrees on a parchment/silpat lined sheet in the preheated oven for 20-30 mins till puffed, golden brown and delicious. These freeze beautifully either stuffed and not baked off or baked and cooled.

See some of my other stuffed creations here, here and here!

Convenient Calzone

Sometimes you just have to use convenience foods to get it done!

lazy fried peppersAnd this time around I used one of my favorite convenience foods… a jar of “fried peppers” from Mancini packing company. A nice little new England company with another factory in Florida as well – you can read about their history here.

This little jar packs lots of flavor – sweet bell peppers sautéed in olive oil and packed into the jar. An open jar is like arriving at the sausage carts lining Yawkey Way at Fenway. Just add Sausage.

And that is what I did. I managed to work up the effort to cut up a few sweet Italian sausages ( or hot if you prefer) and a white onion and get those into a pan for some browning and precooking.

Actual cooking here folks!

Actual cooking here folks!

Add in the jar of fried peppers and honestly dinner is almost ready! Even if I happen to have some fresh sweet bell peppers in the fridge and was inclined to slice them up, the long cooking time and patience required to get that “fresh from the sausage cart” flavor was more than I had this day.

After the sausage and onions had some brown to them and the peppers were mixed in, I also added a small can of tomato sauce (another favorite convenience item of mine) and a heavy pinch of Italian seasoning with some salt and pepper.

I let the mixture cool a bit while I rolled out some pre-made pizza dough (you see the “convenience” theme here!) and laid half the dough as the bottom on a parchment lined sheet pan. Next I spread the somewhat cooled filling onto the dough – not quite to the edges – and put the top half on, rolling up and crimping the edges.

Feeling slightly more energetic, I sprinkled some shredded Parmesan cheese on top with a little dash of garlic powder to just give some extra zip to the top.

Into a preheated 425 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes or until the dough seems done and not overdone like mine.

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

20 mins to prep, 20 mins to cook and very little clean up!

This makes about 9-12 large squares on a “half” size sheet pan, depending on how thin you stretch the dough. This cuts better if it is allowed to cool a bit first. (A tricky subject around my house!)

Notes: leave the cheese off the top for dairy-free and use any kind of sausage you want, including turkey or even tofu. I won’t tell, if you don’t tell!

Devils on Horseback

There are many obscure food nicknames/references in the world but with advent of the internet most of the time the origins of these can be tracked down. Not as easy with “devils on horseback.”  Or “angels on horseback.”

Google it and you will find some stories about English pub snacks and horseback warriors wielding meat-covered shields. However these snacks got invented and why they have this name, I may never really know. But in the meantime I shall just make and eat dozens of them.

I can’t take credit for inventing this. I first heard about these from a friend and colleague at work . We carpool once a week and torture ourselves discussing food all the way home, hungry for dinner after the work day!

She had the pleasure of eating at the Chicago restaurant, “Avec that invented these.  As she described them to me,  I knew immediately that I would need to make these.

My variation of "devils on horse back"

My variation of “devils on horse back” – dates split and stuffed with a lardon of smoked Spanish Chorizo and wrapped in bacon. Smothered in a smoky tomato and red pepper sauce.


Production Notes

The rolled, stuffed dates bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 20-30 mins.

You can double roll them with bacon and if you do you may want to bake them on their end so all sides get a little crispy.

These could also be made with raw, uncooked Chorizo – just make sure to cook them long enough that they are done. Use a thermometer if need be to test for temperature.

The sauce is basically finely minced onion and garlic sautéed in a little olive oil, add a 7 ounce jar of roasted peppers diced up, a 15 ounce of diced tomatoes, some garlic powder, ground cumin and smoked hot paprika, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for 20-30 minutes on med-low. Taste for seasoning and add salt/pepper and a tiny bit of Agave to smooth it out. This makes plenty of sauce for the approximately 36 dates I made.

Scooby Snacks

Have you seen this new trend where 3 or 4 pictures give the whole recipe? Especially popular on Pinterest.

Well here is my version…

Any questions…

beauty shot

Production Notes

I used a smoked, fully cooked chorizo – but a raw version would work too – just make sure it cooks fully.

I also used a pre-made “crescent roll” dough that comes in a “blue can” – they have a seamless “1 piece” version but you could easily adapt this for the traditional crescent style. Or I guess if you are handy – make your own dough from scratch.

A layer of cream cheese or even just a sprinkle of Parmesan might have put these over the top – just sayin.

A “Green” Christmas

Veggies not money!

Holiday dinners like Christmas can be so full of heavy, rich dishes that I decided to take a really “light” approach with the salad course. Just fresh shaved greens – 3 kinds, all raw and lots of them! Plus some fresh grated raw turnip for a sweet-spicy crunch and some dried cranberries for a little color and sweetness.

Green Number one….

Thinly sliced Brussels sprouts.

Thinly sliced raw Brussels sprouts.

Green number two plus some orange…

sliced celery and shredded raw turnip

Sliced raw celery and shredded raw turnip – Celery is like “beginners fennel”

Green Number three…

Kale sent through the shredding disc on my cusinart

Kale sent through the shredding disc on my Cuisinart – I used “Curly kale” and took out the stems first!

All together now…

All mixed up with some dried cranberries

All mixed up with some dried cranberries

Dress this with a light lemon-garlic vinaigrette and enjoy a fresh start to a holiday feast!

Spicy Peppers

Spicy filling, sweet peppers!

Recently while visiting New Hampshire I acquired the most wonderful local goat cheese and the cutest mini sweet red peppers. (Thanks mom!)

After I got them home it occurred to me that with a little help from the basil and oregano lingering in my garden and a couple pantry ingredients I could have myself a nice little snack or game day party bites. GO RED SOX!!  So the “spice” in this case wasn’t from the peppers but the filling I made for them.

3 main ingredients

Little spicy bites!

pepper for sizeI mixed the goat cheese and chopped herbs with a healthy dose of seasoned salt, black pepper, plenty of spicy, red chili flakes, some dashes of hot sauce, dash of garlic powder and some EVO oil to thin the consistency and add flavor. I also added a very small amount of “half and half” (you could use milk or cream too) to make it more creamy and spreadable. The mixture becomes a wonderful mix of tang and spice!

Stuff it into peppers or dip into it with veggies or use as a sandwich spread!

If I wasn't so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!

What a perfect snack for the Red Sox game! (oh and if I wasn’t so lazy, I would have used a piping bag to neatly and prettily fill the peppers. But they tasted just a good stuffed all messy with a spoon!)

Carol’s Kielbasa Dinner

Maybe it’s the fall nip in the air here in New England. Maybe it was the fact that I had the ingredients hanging around the refrigerator. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to serve one of my many mustard selections I keep on hand. Whatever the reason…I found myself putting together a “kielbasa roast” for dinner one night.

Serve informally and rustic on a Dinner for two served on a rustic wood tray and whole gran mustard. Don't forget a great dark beer!
Served informally and rustic as a dinner for two on a wood tray with whole grain mustard. What could be more romantic than sharing/dipping chucks of meat and veggies! Don’t forget a great dark beer to go along.
This can also serve as party food – served barely warm or even room temperature – guests can grab and dip.

This simple dinner came together easily. I spread rough cut potatoes and chunks of raw onion on a sprayed foil-lined sheet pan. I used a little bit of olive oil to lightly coat everything and sprinkled my favorite all purpose roasting spice blend liberally on top. My choice of spice blend is something called “Northwoods Seasoning” from Penzeys, but you could use your favorite blend or even just a simple mix of seasoned salt, black pepper and ground cumin. Into a preheated hot 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes and then a quick toss and flip. Back into the oven for about 10 more minutes. Add the sliced kielbasa and green veggie of choice, cook another 10 minutes or so. Feel free to toss and moisten everything with a little more olive oil if needed along the way. But remember that the fatty meat will release some of its fat and flavor as it cooks.

Technique Notes:  The kielbasa is a fully cooked product so I am simply getting some color and flavor on it here. I cut my pieces about 1/2″ thick. Trying to keep a uniform cooking time. But I did give the potatoes and onions a head start as the potatoes need longer and the onions develop into a “caramelized” deliciousness. I choose a frozen Italian green beans because that is what I had hanging around in my freezer but I think florets of broccoli would be delicious here! Use your judgement with cooking time to get the level of brown crispness that you are looking for.

roasting sheet

On the roasting sheet – keep a close eye on things so they don’t overcook and be sure to toss and turn a few times. ( keep it “light’ if you must with a great quality turkey kielbasa)

Heirloom Pie

the stars

I recently acquired a small batch of heirloom tomatoes from the local farm stand and after thinking about BLTs and Panzanellas, I settled on pie. “Pizza Pie” that is! Basically a cross between a white pizza and a Margherita pizza, I piled on slices of the fresh tomato on top of a crisp thin crust, that had been spread liberally with a garlic- cheese white sauce.

Fresh basil snipped from my back yard pot, gave the pizza that undeniable flavor and freshness. A touch of sea salt and cracked black pepper were the only finishing touches. A drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil would also be a nice addition.

The White Sauce

I simply sautéed some finely minced garlic in butter until soft and very fragrant. At this point I decided to make a classic roux by adding some flour and browning it for a minute. But if you wanted to make this gluten-free (and use a gluten-free crust) you could skip ahead to adding some “half and half” then stirring in a slurry of arrowroot to thicken it. Add in some finely grated Parmesan cheese. Whisk and cook until desired thickness – you can add more milk/cream to thin or more cheese to thicken.

Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate any extra for up to 5 days.

(oh and yes it is yet another post about tomatoes!)

All Star Cookout

Recently I had a friend from grad school and her husband over for a cookout. They are from China and when they had us over, they gave us a full cultural experience. It was delicious and fun!

So I thought I would return the favor and have an “all American” cookout.  Featuring only “all-star” cookout items!

Cheeseburgers, hotdogs, chips and dip, deviled eggs, potato salad and for dessert… a toss-up between strawberry shortcake or apple pie!  Apple pie and ice cream won out.

even upside down - you just know this burger was delicious1

even upside down – you just know this burger was delicious!

Lettuce, tomato, Heinz 57…..you know the song! I put out all the burger fixin’s and let everybody build their own. But cheese was mandatory. Seriously who eats a burger without cheese?!

no cook out is complete without TWO kinds of chips!

TWO kinds of chips AND watermelon!

Everybody has their favorite potato salad recipe, but I went with a standard mix of mayonnaise, finely diced onion, seasoned salt, black pepper and a splash of vinegar and a couple of pinches of celery seed.

Devilishly delicious!

The secret is a little pickle juice!

I finally got to use my special deviled egg server. The thing that holds the eggs is actually filled with liquid – so you put it in the freezer until it is cold – it keeps the eggs cold while they are served!

It also has a cover so you can travel with it and the insert is reversible to accommodate veggies and dip too! It seemed like a great purchase at the time but I admit it is one of those gadgets that doesn’t get used too often! Also notice the use of paprika here…very 1970s!

You just can't beat pie and ice cream!

You just can’t beat pie and ice cream!

A little early in the season for apple pie but oh what a wonderful preview of fall – which is just around the corner now!

Chasing JoJos

Still trying to recreate the mythical JoJos of my youth.

If you haven’t had or heard of JoJos – you can read my last posting about them here or if that is too much clicking here is a short review…

Potatoes, scrubbed but skin on, cut length-wise, quarters and maybe quarters again. Coated in a delicious crispy coating, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

But these are not steak fries. They are JoJos – think “chicken fried potatoes.” Except the real ones are “broasted!”

But on this JoJo day I was inspired to make some crispy coated, oven-baked versions.

Mary was my husband’s uncle’s mother-in-law (better take a minute on that one) and she apparently made the best potatoes. One time last summer I actually had the pleasure of meeting her and of course I managed to work the topic into conversation and although no real recipe was given – I gleaned enough to get the idea that she was basically making an Italian oven-baked JoJo.

From what I could gather there was butter and lots of it. Some breadcrumbs. The seasoning – Italian blend in her case. And don’t “fahget the Paaaarmm Ma.” (That is Massachusetts vernacular for “don’t leave out the Parmesan cheese mom.”) And plenty of tossing and turning in the pan during cooking time.

So I blended up a mix of seasoned bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, some seasonings (mostly Italian in nature) that I annoyingly and uncharacteristically forgot to write down and tossed the raw potato wedges in hot melted butter before coating them in the breadcrumb mix and baking in a hot (400-425 degrees) oven. I tossed them carefully, several times, during cooking to ensure even crispy-ness and to make sure no butter got left behind in the pan. About a total of 30 mins +/- Basically until the thickest wedge is fork tender.

They were delicious!

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not "broasted!"

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not “broasted!”

An Unlikely Couple

Ketchup and ginger ale.

Who would have thought these would make such good companions. Not I.

So when my husband came home from work one day and told me that one of his coworkers made a pork roast marinated in nothing but ketchup and ginger ale, I felt sure he had misheard the lady. BUT a quick check of the internet (What did we do before Google?) told me that not only did he hear the lady correctly, but aprox 363,000 other people were on-board with this marriage of beverage and condiments.

So I whisked together 1 cup of each and marinated overnight a 3.5 lb +/- standard pork roast (butt or center cut, not tenderloin although I think that would be yummy but too fancy and lean.) I threw the pork and the marinade into an oven proof dish and into a preheated 375 degree oven.

I couldn’t resist deviating. I added 1 medium onion sliced around the roast for a yummy addition. The whole thing roasted for about 20 mins per pound and needed absolutely no attention. Easy AND delicious!

heading into the oven just out of the oven

… Before                                                                              …After

By the way – It seems the general consensus on the internet is to use this marriage of flavor for meatballs ( think “cocktail style”) and there was also a lot of chatter about beef brisket. Both of which would be delicious!  I personally think this would be absolutely great on pork chops, ham, Kielbasa, hotdogs, grilled chicken, shrimp, cardboard or maybe even a sneaker – it was just that delicious. Also I think this could easily be done in a slow-cooker.

Full Disclosure

Although I like to cook and eat organic, unprocessed and locally grown just as much as the next person – that is really isn’t the focus of my blog. So for the record I just used Heinz and Canada Dry (no diet).

Just keeping it real here in blog-land.

Served up with twice-baked ranch potatoes and balsamic rosemary braised Brussels and carrots!

Served up with twice-baked ranch potatoes and balsamic rosemary braised Brussels and carrots!

Holiday Snacking

I never met a cheese I didn’t like and of course we all know my obsession with Robusto. So it seems shocking that I would consider any other cheese. However, just before Christmas, when I was perusing the Whole Foods cheese department (okay you got me…I was actually eating them out of all their samples)- I was inspired to set up a little cheese board.

Anybody who has shopped there and spent any time in the cheese department may have seen a little basket tucked away by the olive bar full of cheese odds and ends. I love it because it is a great way to sample some pretty fancy cheeses without committing to a big expensive piece. On this day I struck gold with some fairly decent size pieces. I saw a plan for a forming.

I got a little fancy on the cheese board and offered the fig spread that is so good with cheese and crackers. And when I was over in produce they had the most beautiful little Satsuma Mandarins, so I peeled a few of those into a pretty dish and used some whole ones with their wonderful greens.

I didn’t worry about “pairing” my cheeses or complimenting flavors, I just went with what was in the basket of odds and ends. Oh, but I must confess, after eating an embarrassing amount of samples I did buy a full size wedge of the Parrano Gouda. It was the least I could do.  But no need to worry Robusto – you remain my first and true love!

Since I was only hosting a couple of folks – this and some homemade cheese straws were all that was needed to kick off dinner!

holiday snacks

A “Soup-er” Thanksgiving!

This year I decided to try my hand at soup. Not just any soup but “pumpkin bisque.”

Now I would love to tell you that I used a pumpkin grown right in my yard. All organic and local and freshly roasted in my oven the day before.

But the truth of the matter is that even though I did actually grow a little sugar pumpkin this year in my front yard. (This picture is really from my front yard!!) It was just too cute (and too small!) to really be cooked. Plus I really liked admiring my handiwork once I picked it and put it on the front steps for fall!

So I did what anybody in their right mind would do. I bought organic, 100% pure pumpkin in a can. And you know what…it was delicious!
In fact it was “Soup-er!”

After doing a little research on soups, I settled on a simple approach. Apples for sweetness and whole milk for creaminess. A little roasted garlic goes a long way towards giving a warm “undertone.” I also decided to get fancy and make my own little brown-butter croutons and some fried sage. (Which by the way was harvested from my back yard herb garden!) I served it with wedges of Parmesan-sage cornbread.

The Recipe

2 cans (15oz) 100% pumpkin puree

1 box (32oz) low-sodium vegetable broth

1 apple peeled, cored and finely chopped

2 tb butter

2 cups +/-whole milk (depends on how creamy you want it)

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 tb fresh sage, finely minced

1 or 2 small cloves of roasted garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Saute the apple, sage and ginger in the butter until the apples are soft and slightly caramelized. Maybe 4-5 mins. Add the pumpkin and kinda ‘toast” it for another minute or two. De-glaze the pan with the broth. Puree the soup in the pan with one of those immersible stick blenders. ( If you don’t have one – get one – they are worth it! or I suppose you could use a blender and transfer it back to the pot.) At this point I taste for seasoning adding salt/pepper and if you want it sweeter, add some apple sauce or apple cider. I also judge at this point if I want to serve this quantity. Since I was serving a small crowd, I actually removed half of this from the pan, cooled and froze it as a “soup starter” for another day. THEN I added the whole milk (1 to 2 cups) to the remainder of the soup to create a creamy bisque. I just added and stirred until it got to the consistency that was right for me. Now I let this simmer on very low, covered until time to serve. The soup starter in the freezer can just be defrosted another day, heated up and have the milk added at that time.

Hot Sauce And Cereal

Sounds weird, but not what you think…

Corn-flake fried chicken tenders flavored with Frank’s® Buffalo Wing Sauce!

Served with homemade diner style mac-n-cheese and bleu cheese dressing for dipping.

SO YUMMY if I say so myself!

The whole thing started with a stroll thru the hot sauce aisle  – that started an immediate craving for wings. But being a bit lazy I decided that I didn’t want to deal with bones. So as I picked up some chicken tenders, I thought about how I would get a crisp exterior on them before tossing them in the tasty mix of hot sauce and margarine. (That’s tradition, don’t mess with tradition.)

As I was putting a box of corn flakes in the cart, I noticed on the back they had printed their recipe for “corn-flake” fried chicken. (If you haven’t tried this kind of fried chicken, try it.) So it was fate. I knew exactly how I would make my crisp chicken tenders. Buffalo-style.

I marinated my tenders in a mix of milk, hot sauce, salt and pepper. I think an hour is a minimum and longer would be better. Buttermilk would be good too, instead of milk, but who has that lying around?

Crush up plenty of corn flake cereal. It is good to have most of it pretty small, like bread crumbs, to get good coverage. But you also want some not as finely crushed so you have all the texture of the “crevices.” Now set up your stations: flour* – egg – crushed cereal. (standard breading technique, ya’ll) Tip: Let them rest on the rack for a few if you plan on shallow or deep-frying, so the coating can really adhere.

I was baking these – so I sprayed my pan and the rack I would be baking on with non-stick spray. Lay the tenders carefully on and now spray those with some “spray butter.” (This is a great – but – chemical- laden product that I keep on hand for “healthy” un-frying in the oven – you can lightly drizzle the tenders with some melted, organic, low-sodium, butter instead) It is important that the coating on the tenders have some kind of “fat” moisture so they will crisp up in the oven.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30-40 mins depending on the size/thickness of your tenders. Watch carefully to be sure they don’t burn. Flip once if you dare – carefully – to crisp the other side. Drizzle with melted margarine-hot sauce mix and serve more on the side for dipping if you want.

The leftovers make spectacular sandwiches!!

Production Notes

The amounts I used…

2 lbs +/- boneless chicken tenders

1 cup milk

1/2 cup +/- hot sauce

*flour (or for gluten-free: use cornstarch or masa) for light dredging

1 egg

3 1/2 cups corn flake cereal (measured pre-crush)

Non-stick spray

“Spray butter”

For the sauce:

1 stick of margarine and 3/4 cup +/- hot sauce – melt together on low in sauce pan

Stuffed Three “Different” Ways

For anybody reading along, you might remember the trio of stuffed mushrooms I made back in April this year.

Well I made more than enough stuffing for the mushrooms that day and I froze the extra stuffing – thinking I would defrost and stuff more mushrooms at some point.

However I decided to use it up in other ways – mostly ones that involved puff pastry!!! Oh how I love anything stuffed into puff pastry! And some chicken. That was good too.

The Chicken -

Simply oil and season the chicken with your favorite spice blend, split it open and stuff, bake in preheated 375 degree oven until cooked through. (165 degrees on the thermometer) Serve with veggies and starch of choice.

The good stuff -

Simply roll out the two squares of puff pastry that come in the famous red box to make them just a bit larger and get rid of any seams. Fill each down the middle and flap the sides together.

If you leave the top open a bit as I did, then no need for vent holes. If you don’t, make vents. One style note – if you really seal the edges, especially the overlapped flaps than it makes a nicer presentation. The top one (creamed spinach filling) puffed WIDE open in the oven because it wasn’t secured enough. But really you could do this in any configuration you want: Individual size, round, square, whatever.

Be sure to let cool a bit before cutting or the filling will ooze out onto the pan!

Spana-what?

Spanakopita.

As a child growing up with a very progressive and adventurous mother, I assumed everybody was eating Spanakopita AKA “spinach pie”.  (I also assumed everybody was eating Tabbouleh too but that is another posting, for another day.)

What? You weren’t? Well you were missing out. This is probably where my insane love of Feta cheese started. And my love of  “Phyllo dough” sometimes spelled “Fillo.”  Since I am not Greek, I have no idea what is correct or not correct. But you can check it out here.

So when fate dealt me an excessive amount of spinach in my fridge, and of course I am never without a large supply of Feta, I immediately decided it was time to try my hand at making my own “spinach pie.” I had also recently watched an episode of “The Chew” where Michael Symon made it look so easy.

I have trouble following directions, so I had to tinker with the recipe.

I decided to add a sliced tomato!

And while I was adding tomatoes, why not throw in all the extra fresh basil leaves I still had? ( I can hear the Greek readers gasping right now!)

I didn’t have the fresh dill that most variations of the recipe called for, so I decided to use the dried dill that I had on hand. (more gasps) It worked great. To be honest in all my millions of times consuming Spanakopita, I had no idea dill was in it – but it definitely is. In fact,  I think that’s the “spana” in the “kopita!”

Just kidding.

Anyway, an hour later and more melted butter than I care to admit to, I had a beautiful pan of spinach, basil and tomato pie!

The Recipe

16 sheets of Phyllo dough – there is aprox 20 sheets in one of the two rolls that come in a 16oz box of Athens brand® – you may have mishaps or tear one – so the extra 4 sheets will come in handy – you could put an extra sheet in the middle or on top if you feel strongly about it, but not on the bottom or it will be too thick. Save the 2nd roll for another day. READ the box about storing and handling this delicate dough.

1 small onion finely diced – feel free to substitute garlic here or leave out the onion altogether. (you know who you are)

1 lb +/- fresh spinach leaves, de-stemed, washed and roughly chopped

2 Tb butter + 1 stick melted for brushing the layers of dough

2 cups (lightly packed) fresh basil leaves, no stems

1/4 cup fresh grated Romano cheese

1 Tb dried Dill

10 oz crumbled Feta cheese

1 medium tomato, thinly sliced

juice of half a lemon

Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven 375 degrees. Brush a 9×12 (or some size close) baking dish with some melted butter or cooking spray. Saute the onion in the 2 tb butter until soft. Add the spinach leaves turning to coat and cook. Add the basil leaves, continuing to coat and cook a couple of minutes more. Add dill. Turn off heat and let cool a bit. It is okay if there is “liquid” in the pan from the greens. Add both cheeses, lemon juice and pepper. Stir and taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Assembly: in the bottom of the baking dish – carefully layer 8 (no more – no less) sheets of Phyllo dough, brushing each sheet after it it’s laid down with copious amounts of melted butter. After the 8th sheet is down. Spread half of the filling evenly across. Now layer 4 (3 would be okay here) sheets of Phyllo dough with the melted butter on top of each. Spread the other half of the filling on top. Layer on the sliced tomatoes. Layer 4 more sheets of Phyllo dough with the melted butter treatment on each sheet.

Bake for 30-35 mins until top is golden brown and flaky. It will be REALLY hard to wait for it to cool but I HIGHLY recommend you wait until it is almost room temperature to cut it or it will fall apart. This is great served room temperature or cold from the refrigerator.

The Artichoke Experiment

The fact that they were huge and on-sale gave me some sort of false confidence that I actually knew how to cook them.

I decided to stuff them. Although undocumented, I have a vague memory of successfully preparing stuffed artichokes in the past. And I have certainly enjoyed eating many an artichoke heart. Usually from a jar.  So all things considered, I felt like enough of an expert.  I “nosed” around a few artichoke recipes to be sure and it was all as I suspected trim and remove the center choke, hold in lemon water till the last-minute. I did utilize the tip about “roasting-steaming” the stuffed artichokes in the water to save time/steps. Usually you steam first til tender than stuff and roast.

They took a LONG time to get tender – maybe it was the size? Maybe I should have steamed them traditionally first?

But the real challenge was cleaning them..Cleaning out the choke specifically. I should have steamed them, then removed the choke, then stuffed and roasted but I didn’t. I was determined to get that choke out first! I ended up splitting them in half !

There are some things in life that are just worth paying more for. De-veined shrimp, shelled walnuts, coconut flakes. And now I will add to this list: Artichokes.  Just waaaaaay easier to buy the hearts all ready to go (that’s the best part anyway) or eat your stuffed artichokes out at a restaurant where the labor charges are built-in.

The Recipe

I just used a fairly standard mix of crumbled sweet Italian sausage, finely diced onion, grated parm cheese, seasoned bread crumbs, melted butter and chopped fresh herbs.

As for technique…you are own your own here. I can’t help you.

Stuffed – Three Ways!

Inspiration comes in many forms. But for me it is usually roaming the aisles of the grocery store with no plan in mind.

That is when I saw the 40 oz (yup 2 1/2 lbs!) of giant stuffing size mushrooms on sale. I just knew immediately that I wanted to stuff them and not just one way. So I started gathering all the ingredients for stuffing these mushrooms in three different ways.

From left to right:

Ham & Swiss, Creamed Spinach, Italian Sausage & Peppers

Word to the wise… invite some friends over for a party because the 40 oz package was about 32 mushrooms. 32 HUGE mushrooms. You could probably freeze the stuffed, cooked mushrooms but we will just eat them over the next few days instead. Breakfast, lunch and dinner!

Production notes

No real recipe was used. I simply cleaned and de-stemmed the mushrooms, chopping the stems and using them in the stuffing for the sausage and the ham/swiss versions. I oiled them really well (use your favorite oil) and the pan they were baked on. I did whiz up a sleeve of Ritz crackers and that was split between the three mixtures before stuffing. I did freeze the extra stuffing.

Ham & Swiss: I sautéed (almost caramelized) a small amount of diced white onion in butter, added diced stems and ham, sautéed a bit more.  Let it cool, off the heat for a few and stirred in finely shredded swiss cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Sweet Sausage and Pepper: I took some sausage out of its casing, crumbled it and lightly browned it with some diced red, green & yellow sweet peppers , the diced mushroom stems and diced white onions. Turn off the heat and mix in a palm full of finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste and you are ready to stuff.

Creamed Spinach: Use your favorite recipe – maybe cut it in half if you are not doing so many mushrooms. But mine was basically sautéed onion in butter, add a pinch of nutmeg  and a bigger pinch of granulated garlic. Add some heavy cream and let simmer to reduce and thicken, add lots of finely grated Pecorino Romano and maybe a little of that swiss cheese. Add the fresh, washed, dried and torn up spinach. Cook awhile longer. Turn off the heat and while piping hot,  mix in the Ritz cracker crumb. Salt and pepper to taste. Let cool a bit and you are ready to stuff.

I baked all of them at the same time on a couple of sheet pans in a 400 degree preheated oven for 15-20 mins. I personally think they could have gone a tiny bit longer since these were huge mushrooms. Or maybe even pre-roasting them for a few minutes before stuffing could be an option. A drizzle of oil across the top of the stuffed mushrooms before putting them into bake will also keep things moist.

Do you think this is lucky? Like getting a double yolk egg?