Christmas Mash-Up

Mashed potatoes are not my specialty. They are more than just “not my specialty” – they are my arch nemesis! I just can’t seem to master them. They usually come out gluey or lumpy or both all at the same time!

I think making mashed potatoes are a lesson in patience (which I am short on) and require some amount of technical ability.  You need to put the peeled (patience needed) potatoes into the big pot of cold water and bring it all up to boil together (more patience) for the potatoes to cook evenly. You really should warm up whatever dairy product you are adding – milk, cream etc. Don’t over mash and make sure you season liberally.

For Christmas lunch – I decided to be patient with my mashed potatoes and I was rewarded with lovely, creamy, perfect mashed potatoes!

And then I added a few things…

Some roasted garlic cloves. Some grated Parmesan cheese…Some chopped spinach. Yup, chopped spinach. I thought the chopped spinach would be a fun “mash-up.” Like having creamed spinach and garlic mashed altogether.

While my mother and I thought it was tasty, my husband did not!  Weird because cooked spinach is one of the few veggies he really likes and he likes mashed potatoes very much. So what’s not to love about mixing the two?

Ingredient list to fill a 9×13 baking dish

5 lbs Yukon gold potatoes – peeled and cut into similar sized pieces.

3-6 large garlic cloves – roasted and mashed

1 box of chopped spinach ( 9 oz +/-) defrosted and squeezed of excess water.

1/2 stick salted butter

1 cup whole milk – warmed

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tb “Better Life Foods” Depot spice ( or more to taste)

Ground black pepper and additional salt to taste

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A Match Made In Heaven

Name two things that are just destined to go together and I bet spinach and eggs would not be on the top of your list. But I often put these two together, in fact I almost always pair them up unless I am doing a straight up fried egg. (and even then a fried egg on a bed of wilted spinach would be great!)

Some classic pairings include:

spinach omelets

spinach salad with hard-boiled eggs

spinach frittata

scrambled eggs with spinach and Parmesan cheese

baked eggs in creamed spinach

There are probably more.

Here is one I made recently….

sliced

Spinach, potato and sweet onion frittata.

I happened to have some extra baked potatoes (because when I fire up the oven to bake two, I bake four.) and adding these in gives this frittata some “heft.” And my husband is more likely to eat it if it’s packing some “heft” in lieu of “meat.” 🙂

Production Notes:

Be sure to spray your pan liberally with cooking spray, and I use a large pat of butter as well, heat till bubbly on the cooktop and layer in the potatoes, onions, spinach and S &P to taste. Once that gets going, I pour in 6 eggs (+/- depending on pan size) that have been whisked with a little bit of (1/2 cup?) of whole milk or cream or half-n-half or whatever you have on hand. Add a little optional crumbled cheese (sharp cheddar or feta is nice) and some dried thyme and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven (right in the same oven proof skillet you started with on the cooktop) till firm and starting to brown and pull away from edges. (30 mins +/-)

Notice I am NOT using a non-stick pan… I am not afraid.

 

 

 

“Hakuna Frittata”

Loosely translates to “no worries egg dish”

Although a frittata IS an easy egg dish and a great way to use up whatever is hanging around your kitchen, for us, making one instantly has us singing tunes from “The Lion King.”    As in “Hakuna Frittata” – corny right?

(Kinda of like when I make “empanadas” and we sing the song “Desparado!”)

Anyway this one started out because I had a bag of spinach hanging around needing to be used up and some of the baby gold potatoes.

spinachin the pan

So I sliced up the baby gold potatoes (about a 1/4″ thick) and layered them in a well-sprayed, oven proof 10″ saute pan with some butter on med heat to start softening while I prepped (de-stem the spinach, crack eggs and pour cream) the other stuff. Turn the heat off and add all the goodies in first on top of the potatoes:

1/2 of an 8oz bag of spinach (raw), about 4 oz. crumbled feta, about 8 sundried tomatoes chopped small, plenty of salt and pepper, a shake of garlic powder for a little “warmth.”

And than the liquids get poured carefully over this – I used about a cup of “half and half” ( I was out of milk) and 8 large eggs. Make sure you whisk the eggs and cream (or milk) together first. A little more salt and pepper on top.

ready for the oven

Pop this into a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 mins or until the middle is set and fluffy. Kinda like this….

out of the oven

Now be patient and let it cool a bit – this is best served, and slices cleaner, if you let it cool significantly. This frittata is filling and satisfying, yet deceiving in that it is light. But it is by no means “diet food.” My husband loved it and that is saying a lot since he doesn’t eat anything that might seem at all like “diet food.”

Might I suggest a glass of wine and some crusty warm bread with this?

have a slice

Dinner BEFORE Breakfast

Ask anybody.

I am not a morning person. Never was. Never will be.

BUT the other morning I found myself up and out of the house very early in order to drop my husband off at work on time. After I dropped him off I found myself with some time to spare before heading to my work.  (What is that you say?…head into to my work early… surely you jest?! LOL!)  So I headed back home with my thoughts solely focused on breakfast, a cat nap and coffee before it was time for me to depart to the coal mines. But as I drove, my thoughts turned to dinner plans for the night.  As I pulled in the driveway I knew I had a plan. A “cabinet stew” of ingredients that were hanging around, needing to be used up.

45 mins later….

…one cup of coffee, one casserole prepped and in the fridge awaiting a dinner re-heat, dishes done and oh yeah, some breakfast!

Now if only I wasn’t going to be late to work…

Ham and spinach macaroni and cheese.

The Recipe

1 box (16oz) elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained

1 pkg (8-10 oz) “ready-to-go” spinach leaves. (I just opened the bag – you can wash again if you want)

1 cup +/- diced cooked ham (leave it off for the vegetarians!)

1 cup +/- Shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1 small onion finely diced

1 clove garlic finely minced

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp flour

2 cups +/- milk

1/2 Tsp ground nutmeg

5 oz crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (you know – the little “tub”)

Salt and pepper to taste

Grated Parmesan cheese for topping – a little or lot – your preference

Soften the onions and garlic in the butter. Add the nutmeg to toast for a minute. Add the flour to make a traditional roux. Add the milk slowly while whisking to make a thick white sauce. Turn off heat. Stir in Monterey Jack cheese. Taste and add salt/pepper as desired. Meanwhile in a large oiled baking dish combine the spinach, noodles , ham and Gorgonzola cheese. (This works much better if you commit to a large mixing bowl first and then pour it in the baking dish. If you do as I did and NOT use a mixing bowl ’cause you are lazy… then add the spinach in first with the HOT, cooked noodles on top of the spinach to kind wilt it down and make enough room to stir in the ham and Gorgonzola.) Pour the white sauce over the top. Stir to combine. Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until time to “bake off” as the pro’s say.

When the time arrives… Bake covered with foil in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 mins. (if you put it in straight from the fridge you may need to go longer or hotter) Uncover, add grated Parmesan cheese across top and bake 15 mins more till hot and bubbly.

Makes way too much for two people so invite 4-6 friends over to share.

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.

Midweek “Put-Together”

In the spirit of Cabinet Stew and my continued obsession with meatballs, I threw together this dinner one night using things from the freezer and the fridge. My husband deemed it good enough to be repeated someday and so here it is…

And here is what’s in it….

About a dozen tiny meatballs that I made a bunch of one day and froze for times just like this. I reheat them in a covered dish in a 350 degree oven because we don’t own a microwave (GASP!) but you could use yours. A good quality packaged brand would probably work too but then again if you are reading this it means you enjoy cooking and wouldn’t dream of buying pre-made anything.

Boil a box of your favorite pasta – use a big chunky one like penne, rigatoni,etc. I used about 3/4 of the cooked pasta. Tip: lightly oil and store the rest of the cooked pasta for another meal or you can even freeze it for about a month. It will be fine and defrost in no time for a quick meal or add-in to soups and stews.

1/2 a bag (maybe 4oz?) of pre-washed baby spinach. I threw this into the very-hot, “just drained” cooked pasta so the spinach would cook a bit. If you like your spinach cooked a bit more you could probably steam it in the microwave, but I wouldn’t know how.

Before I started any of the above I took a minute to mix together 10-12 oz of sour cream (lowfat works, I used it.) 1/3 cup grated romano cheese, 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/2 tsp sweet/smoky paprika, pinch each salt and black pepper. I let the chill come off the sour cream while heating the meatballs and boiling the pasta.

So mix the spinach with the hot cooked pasta, add the sour cream mix and add a couple of tablespoons of butter if you want it a little richer. Add the hot meatballs, toss gently and serve it up with salt and pepper to taste.

Classic with a Twist

Shepard’s pie was a staple growing up. In fact while some would claim macaroni and cheese as their childhood comfort food, I would actually say this was my favorite childhood comfort food. And still is today. And of course the school lunch program had it at least once a week.

If you are not familiar with “shepard’s pie” perhaps you would recognize it by some of its other names; “Chinese pie” or “cottage pie.”

Whatever you call it there are basic characterizations: meat on the bottom, veggie in the middle and mashed potato topping. A fine casserole indeed.

You can read a cute blog entry about it here and also there is a good classic recipe shown as well. (Although I never put peas in mine and never eat it with ketchup.)

The other night I made this classic with a twist.

In true cabinet stew mentality I was using up what I had in the fridge, freezer and cabinets. So that turned out to be some Italian “pepper and onions” sausage, frozen spinach and potatoes.

I baked the potatoes in the morning while I was doing other things so I could just peel and mash later. Easy and I hate peeling and boiling potatoes for mashed!

Although I took the spinach out and let it sit to defrost in a strainer earlier in the day, I didn’t really make too much effort there. A good mash with a spoon before I used it to get some of the water out.

When dinner time came around all I did was slip the sausage out of their casing and brown them in a pan. They already had tons of seasoning and fat so that was easy too.

Layer the browned, crumbled sausage down first. Mix the spinach with a little salt, pepper, grated nutmeg and grated Romano (just because I am a cheese freak) and layer that on top of the meat. Then I mashed my potatoes with melted butter, warm milk , salt and pepper and layered that on top. A dusting of paprika (traditional) and more grated Romano. (not as traditional)

30 mins in a 350 degree oven and we had a quick, delicious, classic casserole with a twist or maybe just a cabinet stew!