Monday, January 17, 2011

Quick & Easy Spinach Turnovers

After work last Friday I made a beeline for home. Nothing was going to divert me from the most direct route away from work to the refuge of my favorite chair, a glass of wine and a good book. I did not stop at the market, or even make the customary call to say I was on the way. If I had a plan for dinner, I don't remember it. Fend for yourself seemed like a good approach to the evening. As it turned out, company was coming for an impromptu happy hour. For some reason I cannot simply throw a bag of chips in a bowl and set it out. For one thing, I rarely have a bag of chips around -- they tend not to last long around here. But I did have a package of phyllo dough in the freezer and a fresh bag of spinach. That, along with a few staples and some dried spices, was sufficient to put together a quickie version of Spanokopita, or a spinach pie. In fact, these single serving editions had the advantage of being finger food. They also took only a fraction of the time the traditional dish takes. A variety of other fillings comes to mind, too.

They are best served at room temperature, or just slightly warmer. Leftovers make an easy lunch. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Jamaican Rice with Pigeon Peas and Cocunut Milk

When one of my many brothers recently married, I was asked to assist in planning the reception menu. While I was delighted to do this, it would not be right to leave out another of my many brothers, who happens to be an absolutely amazing chef and the host for the reception party. In fact, it seemed that in the case of this particular party we needed to include absolutely everyone in the planning. For a while it felt like "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and then I remembered that a lot of my life feels like that, except that we are Italian, not Greek. There are similarities.

The reception menu was truly a combined effort. I come from a large family, and everyone of us has lots of ideas, which we feel the need to express loudly and often. Do not misunderstand: this can be a very valuable tool in the right hands. With everyone donating ideas, it is not difficult to snatch up enough of them to put together a menu with an actual theme while giving everyone some say in the menu. That is exactly what happened when we put together this event. I really wish I had it on video. It would be an excellent demonstration of effective decision making amongst team members who have wildly varied ideas and only a ghost of a common theme: Hawaii.

And that, friends is how I come to offer you a recipe for Jamaican Rice with Pidgeon Peas. Hawaii is an island, Jamaica is an island, and my brother and new sister-in-law have visited both. 'Nuff said.

For many years I worked for a man from Jamaica whose wife was a wonderful cook. She made jerk chicken for my wedding a decade ago, and I always enjoyed her rice and peas. She didn't share recipes, but she did have occasion to eat my rice and peas and gave it her stamp of approval. Enjoy.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Stuffed Mushroom Trio

What could appeal more to the intuitive cook than an easy, attractive dish with practically limitless ingredient possibilities? Stuffed mushrooms were a delectable staple dish on my Italian grandmother's holiday table. They were always meatless, and always a special treat. Her mushrooms were the small ones, stuffed with a bread crumb and herb mixture, and meant as an accompaniment to the main courses. But the giant portabello mushroom caps available everywhere offer a variety of vegetarian and vegan main dish options. We filled these three with different ingredient combinations and made sure to include a vegan option, which turned out to be our favorite.

We actually made these mushrooms a few weeks ago, but never posted them simply because we didn't measure anything. That has made it very difficult to provide much more than a general idea of quantities, which is the way I frequently cook, anyway. I do understand that lots of people really want those specific details, so we'll do our best to provide some approximations. When it comes to filling the mushroom caps, though, just approach it with a sense of abandon. I mean, how can you really go wrong?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Citrus-y Ricotta Pancakes

Happy New Year!

The holidays are such interesting times when you look beyond the gifts and the big dinner with family. In this college town life is very different for one week each year, and today is the last day of that week. The students have gone home, so the town is a little empty, the traffic is lighter, everything seems a bit calmer and kind of slow, but in a relaxed and comfortable way. It's a rare opportunity to enjoy the moment or just take time to think without worrying too much about what needs to be done next. Maybe that's why we only consider our goals once a year, in the form of New Year resolutions. The rest of the year we are just too busy to do that kind of thinking.

This morning I have exactly two goals in mind: 1) try to put a little more "skinny" in the recipes; and 2) not to leave the house today. That means feeding us with ingredients on hand. It's a good way to use up items you bought for holiday cooking. The citrus-y pancakes may not exactly meet the intent of goal #1, but they fit #2 perfectly. We combined lemon and orange zest and juice in this batch, but lime or kumquat zest would work well, too. These are light, fragrant, moist pancakes. Serve with your favorite syrup, fruit, or my favorite -- a sprinkle of sugar and squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

This will make 12-14 pancakes using a 1/4 scoop of batter.

Ready to flip
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup ricotta cheese
2/3 cup milk
1 Tbs lemon/orange zest
1/2 t cinnamon
dash of nutmeg (optional)
1/2 T sugar

2 eggs, separated