Friday, March 9, 2012

Real Creamed Spinach. Really!

I can't say I ever ate creamed spinach as a kid. Or really as an adult. It just always seemed me. I love spinach-in salads and sauteed with garlic-but creamed? Blech! When I began my cooking job at the ranch, the freezer was stocked with quite a few boxes of Green Giant Creamed Spinach. I used them and bought more and now it is common to have it on the table there-especially at Thanksgiving. I tried it once and it wasn't terrible (not quite an endorsement, huh?), but I still preferred spinach sauteed with garlic. Until now. My garden is full of spinach and I've been looking for different ways to use it. Last week a recipe showed up by email and after some fiddling around it has become my very favorite use of spinach. So much so that we've eaten it twice in 2 days and the recipe that supposedly serves 4, leaves Scott and I wanting more. Here's how I make it:
Pick 12 cups of spinach (about 12 ounces)-or buy a 12 ounce bag of spinach-and remove the stems. I used all spinach the first time I made it, but today I used a mixture of spinach and chard.
Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium heat and add the greens. You can dump them in all at once if your skillet will hold them or wilt them in 2 batches.
Cook just until wilted and then transfer to a colander placed in the sink to drain.
Take 2 large peeled shallots and slice them thin.
Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in the skillet and saute the shallots over medium heat until they are soft.

Add a 1/4 teaspoon of salt and then pour in 1/3 cup of white wine. I use a St. Gen Sauvignon Blanc-Texas made, inexpensive and a perfectly good cooking wine.

Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the wine is all but evaporated. This only takes a minute or two. There will be a thin sheen of liquid in the pan, but not enough to puddle.
Lower heat to medium again and add 1/3 cup of heavy cream. Stir until the cream thickens a bit, another minute or so.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 2 or 3 grinds of pepper and some freshly grated nutmeg.
Throw the drained spinach back into the skillet and toss it around to mix thoroughly with the cream mixture.

Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons grated Parmesan or Emmenthaler cheese and serve!

Here's the recipe (adapted from a recipe from Fine Cooking):
Creamed Spinach with Shallots

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
12 oz. spinach (about 12 loosely packed cups)
2 medium shallots thinly sliced
1/3 cup white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan or Emmenthaler cheese

Melt 1 Tbs. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and cook just until wilted, about 2 minutes (you can do this in 2 batches if your skillet won't hold it all). Transfer to a colander in the sink.
Melt the remaining tablespoon butter over medium heat and then add the shallots. Cook until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the wine, raise the heat to medium high, and cook until almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Lower heat back to medium and add the cream. Simmer until it’s thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Season with 1/2 tsp. salt, 3 grinds of pepper, and the nutmeg. Stir in the spinach and toss it around to mix thoroughly with the cream mixture. Top with the cheese and serve!  
Makes 2 generous servings

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Homemade Almond Paste and The Garden Revisited

I love almonds. And I love anything made with them. Almond cake, almond cookies, almond paste. I make quite a few recipes that use almond paste and there have been times when our local grocery was out, as was my pantry. And really, a 7 ounce tube runs close to $6 and something in me (the cheapskate) cringed everytime I bought one. I've been making a new recipe that I so love. I think it is one of the best desserts I've ever eaten. It is called a Pithivier (pronounced P-T-V-A) and it is an almond dessert extraordinnaire! I saw it in Paris called a Galette des Rois,(click on this link for the most beautiful Pithivier I've ever seen. It was made by Tamami, a friend and fellow baker in London) but I believe at different times of the year, it is called different names (gotta' love the Parisians). The dessert consists of a puff pastry top and bottom filled with the most exquisite almond filling. An entire tube of almond paste goes into the filling. I've made a few of them and they are not inexpensive to make-especially because of the $6 tube of almond paste in the filling (we won't talk about the massive amounts of butter). So I went on a search for a better source for almond paste than my local grocery. I got the price down to about $4.85 for 7 ounces. But that still seemed crazy, I mean it is almonds and sugar, more or less. Well MORE I found out, but totally manageable to make at home with pretty simple ingredients. I made almost 4 pounds of almond paste from scratch this morning in less than 30 minutes. And it's good-I mean it's "cut off slices and snack on them all day" kinda' good. The ingredients:
Blanched almond flour, sugar, honey and almond extract. I forgot to put the sugar in the photograph. I found the almond flour online through a company called Honeyville. If you sign up for emails from then, you receive discount emails. Mostly 10% off. I bought 5 pounds of blanched almond flour for just over $30 including shipping. This is enough to make over 20 tubes (7 ounces each) of almond paste. Here's my recipe:


1 cup plus 3 Tablespoons sugar (250 grams)
1/4 cup honey
7 Tablespoons (a scant half cup) water
3 cups plus 3 Tablespoons blanched almond flour (500 grams)
1 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
about 2 teaspoons soft butter

Place the sugar, honey and water in a saucepan, mix well with a whisk and bring to a hard boil. Place the almond flour in the food processor. Remove the boiling sugar water mixture from the heat and, with the food processor running, slowly pour over the almond flour. Blend until smooth. Add the almond extract and blend again for another minute. You may have to scrape down the sides and push the paste around as it is quite stiff. Dump out onto your counter and grease your hands with the butter. Remember the almond paste will be fairly hot! Knead the almond paste until smooth and cooler-about 5 minutes.
Divide into ounces needed and wrap and store in the freezer. Makes 4-7 ounce "tubes" plus about 3-4 ounces more.
I know these measurements seem odd, but in my kitchen I weigh out ingredients, and usually in grams. My kitchen scale gets used most every day.
I noticed on the label of commercial almond paste there is no almond extract listed. Upon further research I discovered that a particular type of almond is used for almond paste-similar to bitter almonds. Very strong almond taste. I just added almond extract (also made from a variety of bitter almonds) to make up for using regular old almonds. So now my freezer is full of individual packages of homemade almond paste. I see Pithiviers in my future...

I read on Wunderground (weather mean you don't have a few different weather sites you check each day...really?) that rainfall amounts in Central Texas from December 2011 through February 2012 were in the top 10 since the late 1800's. I measured 12 full inches (my neighbor disputes this, but I think I get a bit extra each time it rains just 'cuz I'm a weather geek). My garden could feed a small country. Look at these pics compared to last month...
Native hollyhocks on the right, poppies and cilantro on the left.
Artichokes in the background, lettuces and chard in front.

Two different sugar molds with lettuces.I have started picking the outer leaves.
Mustard in bloom. The bees have been loving these tiny yellow flowers.
 Lily and I have been taking forays into the woods looking for morels. Even though we didn't have much cold this winter it was quite wet, so I'm hoping we'll have a small crop.

Nothing yet, but it is a few weeks early. It's just been so nice and warm, I thought they might pop out of the ground in response. We'll start hunting in earnest in a week or so, but for now it is nice to take walks with her. 
Enjoy these last few weeks of winter!