Sunday, August 30, 2009

Creaming One's Jeans for: Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach is my most recent Mashed Potato Mountain.

You know, the thing you obsess over, making it again and again (per Close Encounters...), until you replicate that dancing sugarplum, Devil's Tower, or in my case, that souffle dish of piping hot, meltingly savory chopped spinach touched with just enough butter, onion, cream, and cheese, all browned against the edges of the baking dish and so ridiculously good that one side order is never, never enough?


But how to make this thing I hadn't had since sneaking into a Ruth's Chris steakhouse a few years ago with my brother to celebrate a special occasion?

( I try to eschew chains but sometimes I slip. And that Ruth's Chris creamed spinach, despite not technically being gratineed, is righteous, left.)

The Hunt for Green October
I looked through my mother's fairly amazing collection of local, spiral-bound Southern church cookbooks from the 50s to the 80s, but all I could find were weird spinach casseroles in which cream cheese figured prominently. (I'm sure they're divine, darlin, but not now, thank you.)

Then I snooped into my own contemporary cookbook collection. Not surprisingly, neither the Zuni Cafe cookbook nor Richard Olney's Simple French Food were packing.

Diana Kennedy's Cuisines of Mexico? Yes for ID'ing the chiles de chilaca growing in my garden that were supposed to be serranos and *so* aren't (but when I dry them they will be pasillas!), No for nailing down classic American steakhouse dishes.

So I hit the World Wide Internet Web. Peter Luger's? No recipe. Embarrasingly, Ruth's Chris had a recipe on their corporate website. I hit cut and paste. Epicurious had a few recipes from back issues of Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Cut, paste. The Food Network had an Emeril version which looked decent. OK. Getting somewhere. Common threads: onion, butter, cream, spinach. Still no cigar.

What about the blogs? Big Oven had a really good looking recipe, with all the bells and whistles: nutmeg, cayenne, parmesan, whoosh! But I was still missing the "baked" element -- all of these were in-the-pan or bowl preps. I wanted a gratin feeling with my classic creamed spinach.

Then I found The Good Home Cookbook, which really seemed to nail it down. My take on their recipe: follow the proportions only loosely, omit the garlic, add a touch of fresh nutmeg and cayenne, throw in some cream, and ultimately only use half the bechamel you've created so you have a critical mass of spinach (but still a totally decadent amount of creamed), and: fold in a few tablespoons of diced, aged white cheddar.

(Which leaves you a whole thinger of bechamel for the freezer! Booya!) I used a medium-sized bag of baby spinach (I know, weak) and a box of frozen spinach (weaker!!), but I'm too American to wash my own spinach, apparently.

Half an hour at 350-400 degrees and it's magic time.

I Cream, You Cream, We All Cream for...
JFYI, I had creamed spinach four times last week. IT WAS AWESOME!!!!

Thank you to my terrific stepmom Janice, who let me have her four terrific, individual serving size, boat-shaped, pleasantly olive green baking dishes at a recent garage sale for zero dollars and zero cents. I use those dishes all the time now!

[We'll have to use them for Mashed Potato Mountaining that Swiss chard gratin from the Gervais & Vine 3-course last month, no?]


bottom photo: TB

Friday, August 28, 2009

These Green Tomatoes Will Kill Your Cholesterol

Um, here's a real, real good reason to eat more green tomatoes. (Aside from the fact that fried -- or, more healthily, grilled [see recipe below] -- they are DELICIOUS.)

I noticed a piquant headline by my fave food science author, the legendary Harold McGee, whose New York Times column, The Curious Cook, continues to up the worth of the paper.

He's written a great piece on cooking with "poisonous" tomato leaves.

(Tweets are thus flying re: usage by the likes of chefs Grant Achatz and Heston Blumenthal, while bloggers seem befuddled and comment-leavers manage to bear an insight or two.)

Since green tomatoes are an epicurean staple in South Carolina (and readily available at the store) my southern friends -- like The Shop Tart*, who is as much a sl*t for my grilled green tomatoes as I am for her pan-fried crabcakes -- will appreciate this healthy tidbit.

From The Curious Cook by Harold McGee, The New York Times, July 28, 2009:
"There are significant quantities of tomatine in green tomato fruits, which people have long eaten fried and pickled. And tomatine appears to be a relatively benign alkaloid.

In 2000, Dr. Friedman and colleagues reported that when lab animals ingest tomatine, essentially all of it passes through the animal unabsorbed. The alkaloid apparently binds to cholesterol in the digestive system, and the combination is excreted ridding the body of both alkaloid and cholesterol. The researchers found that both tomatine-rich green tomatoes and purified tomatine lowered the levels of undesirable LDL cholesterol in animals."

Seriously, though. That is AWESOME. I have five green tomatoes in my fridge that I bought at the farmer's market the other day. I am so grilling their taut little green a*ses tomorrow.

Grilled Green Tomatoes
serves: your face
prep time: um, like, two seconds

2-4 green tomatoes (it's ok if they're turning a touch orange)
s & p
high temp oil
a grill that starts out crazy hot

(1.) Slice green tomatoes parallel to their equators (you know, as if their tops and bottoms were North and South Poles), making slices 3/4 inch thick. Don't lose the jelly and seeds!! 'Tis the tastiest part.  (2.) Liberally dress, brush, or spray the slices with a high-temp oil like peanut (best flavor), canola, grapeseed, vegetable, et al.  (3.) Scatter each side with good salt and freshly ground pepper. Maybe even a little sugar if you're feeling naughty. (4.) Grill on an insanely hot grill long enough to hash down some fancy grill marks, then bump the grill down to medium for a couple of minutes on each side til they soften and get all caramelized-y. Or whatever. You are a good cook. Grilling is not hard.

Eat em up! I like mine sprinkled with homemade gomasio (roasted sesame seeds + salt, ground up coarsely), but of course it's going to taste even better if you spoon some good pimiento cheese on it. (Duh.)

p.s. McGee's article continues to describe the use of tomato leaves in recipes, the best known being Paul Bertolli's from Cooking by Hand, 2003, although McGee trips down some delicious-sounding avenues involving dried tomato leaves, fish sauce and halibut. I want to eat that.

*You should bug The Shop Tart for her vidalia onion/squash/blue cheese quiche recipe, btw. Oh brother, that lil fashion plate can cooooooooooook.

photo: TB, from my favorite indoor farmstand, the Cayce Farmer's Market, where they actually sell sidemeat. For real.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mindblowing (Avocado-Shaped!) Summer Crab Salad

Um, this avocado-shaped crab/avo salad makes my head explode.

Here's the recipe (called Imitation of Nature) for this awesome sculptural crab and avocado salad (with a photo how-to!) from the obviously awesome blog LUXIRARE.

Thanks to my rad interior designer friend Fresh Pink for showing me this!