Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Theo the Greek's Spinach Pie

I am pleased to say that there was a specific request that this recipe make it into the blog, which validates it, at least in my mind.  Sometimes when I cook, especially when it's just for me, I have trouble gauging how good or how interesting things are.  Last Saturday night though I hosted 16 Williams Womens' Crew alums at my parents' apartment, so I had a whole host of people to cook for.  I prepared a mix of new and tried-and-true recipes.  This particular recipe was new to me, and comes from Table Talk, a cookbook written by Martha's Vineyard cafe owner Carol McManus.  I heard about it when she was interviewed on a local NPR talk show, where she made particular mention of the much-requested veggie burger recipe.  So I took the book out for the veggie burger recipe alone, (which, at least a year later, I have yet to make).  I also copied down a handful of other yummy sounding recipes, including this one for Spinach Pie, which I had completely forgotten about until I was poking around my computer the other day, looking for something completely unrelated.  It turned out to be so popular that several friends requested that the recipe appear on the blog, so they could make it, to.

Theo the Greek's Spinach Pie is essentially a quiche but with more veg and less egg, so you can pretend that it's healthier.  It's super easy, comes together in minutes and then, if you happen to be making this for a party and desperately need to shower, you have a whole 40 minutes while it bakes to pull yourself together!  The only thing you have to remember is to give yourself enough time to let your frozen spinach thaw, since man, that stuff is like a brick!  I left my spinach in the fridge for 26 hours beforehand, assuming it would thaw in there, but it didn't.  So I put it in a colander on a cookie sheet while my oven was preheating to help it along.  A little unconventional, I know, but the microwave was otherwise engaged.  And once it's thawed, you need to squeeze the heck out of that spinach.  It holds a lot of water!  I justsqueezed it in my hands, but if I had had some cheesecloth, I think the best way is to put it in a piece of cheesecloth, twist the corners together to make a pouch, then just squeeze, squeeze, squeeze.  You do dry out the spinach a little more though when you saute it for a few minutes with the garlic and tomatoes.  I tweaked a few of the ingredient quantities so that they correspond to standard packages, instead of (what seemed to me to be) arbitrary quantities.  But it's essentially all the same, plus or minus a few ounces of spinach and tomatoes.

Update 1/24/12: I revisted this recipe and played with it a little more.  Further tweaks and ideas can be found here.

Theo The Greek's Spinach Pie (Adapted from Table Talk by Carol McManus)
Serves 8 or so

* 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
* 3 Tablespoons olive oil
* 10 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and with liquid squeezed out
* 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, drained and chopped into large pieces (or the equivalent in fresh tomatoes, about 2 cups)
* 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
* 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
* 4 large or jumbo eggs, lightly whisked together
* 9 oz. feta cheese, crumbled into small pieces
* Basic pie crust for single pie (you can definitely use frozen here!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. In a frying pan, sauté garlic in olive oil over low heat for 2 minutes--keep an eye on it though.  It should get golden, but not burnt, or else it will just taste bitter.  Add defrosted spinach drained of liquid.  Sauté for 3 more minutes.  Add chopped tomatoes, pepper, and nutmeg, and sauté 2 more minutes.  Set vegetables aside to cool.

3. In a large bowl, whisk eggs.  Add cooled vegetables.  Fold in feta cheese, and pour into prepared pie crust.

4. Bake pie 35-40 minutes until firm in center.  Allow to cool for a few minutes before slicing and serving.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Apple Cake

I have to be honest with you, right now I'm struggling to say anything eloquent about this next recipe.  Not because it's not a fantastic recipe, because it is.  It is a 110% winner, I will make this thing again and again kind of a recipe.  I'm just totally wiped.  Staying up too late, getting up too early in the morning, lots of work and lots of excitement this weekend (Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston!) has more or less totally drained me of all energy, creative and otherwise.  But still, I have a little down time right now and I really and truly do want to tell you about this awesome apple cake that I'm kinda obsessed with right now.  

My friend Beth made this cake for our book club meeting a few weeks ago.  I thought the cake was delicious, and asked her to send me the recipe; when I opened the email, I was shocked to see that it came from Cooking Light.  Now, this shouldn't be such a surprise--I do subscribe to Cooking Light, always read it cover to cover, and often cook from it.  However, I don't often bake from it, since a few times I've had mixed results with the recipes (although twice I know the issues were due to my parents' manic, temperature-unstable oven.)  However, this cake was just so yummy, that I decided to make it for a party last night--margarine, fat-free cream cheese and all.  So, while I would never use margarine on my toast or fat free cream cheese on my bagels, mixed into the cake, it makes absolutely no difference.  The cake is so moist and tender, and absolutely packed with soft pieces of apple and delicately spiced with just the right amount of cinnamon.  It's a great dessert cake, but it's also "healthy" enough that it can can be enjoyed for breakfast (like I did today) or as an afternoon snack.

My only change to this otherwise perfect cake was to use even a little bit more apple than the recipe calls for--it says 3 cups chopped, which is 2 large apples.  I threw in another half an apple, just because I wanted the cake to have a little more bulk, because I was using a 9 inch pan instead of an 8 inch.  However, this is certainly not crucial.  I also used Cortland apples instead of Rome, because my grocery store didn't carry Romes, but I figured, Rome is in upstate New York, Cortland is in upstate New York, must be practically the same thing...  Actually, I never seem to remember anything about apple varieties other than the very commonplace ones, but I think the Cortlands seemed to work just fine.  According to Wikipedia Romes are a little tart and known as good baking apples, so I guess there's a reason they are suggested.  Ahh well, next time!  And while I didn't do this, I bet it would be fantastic with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, spiked with a little cinnamon and powdered sugar, or perhaps some brandy?  Ooh, possibilities....

Cinnamon-Apple Cake (From Cooking Light, October 1997)
Serves 12

* 1 3/4 cups sugar, divided
* 1/2 cup stick margarine, softened
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 6 ounces block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened (about 3/4 cup)
* 2 large eggs
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
* 3-4 cups chopped peeled Rome apple--1/2 inch dice or thereabouts (about 2 large apples)
* Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray and 8 inch springform pan with cooking spray and set aside.  If you want, you can line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper to make it very easy to slide off the base and onto a serving dish.

2.  In a large bowl Beat 1 1/2 cups of the sugar, margarine, vanilla, and cream cheese at medium speed of a mixer until well-blended (about 4 minutes). Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

3. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture, beating at low speed until just blended.

4. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and the cinnamon.  In a medium bowl, add 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon mixture to the apple pieces and toss to coat.  Fold the apples into the batter.

5. Pour batter into the 8-inch springform pan coated with cooking spray, smooth the top with a spatula, and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon mixture.

6. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan. Cool the cake completely on a wire rack.  (You can release the sides of the springform pan after it's been out of the oven for a few minutes to help it cool more quickly.)  Because this is a very moist cake, cut using a serrated knife.

Note: You can also make this cake in a 9-inch square cake pan or a 9-inch springform pan, just reduce the cooking time.  I would start checking the cake after an hour or so to prevent over-baking.

Enjoy this one, it's easier than pie and oh-so delicious!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Cake > Chili

**Photos coming soon**
So, remember how last month I said that I like cooking one thing, then eating it for several meals in a row?  I take that back.  At least for now.  Two and a half weeks ago I made a pot of vegetarian chili, and I have been eating it since then.  TWO AND A HALF WEEKS, PEOPLE!!!  Okay, well, I admit, I managed to eat out every night the entire week that I cooked it, so I didn't actually eat any for the first seven days.  But, I've been eating it since then, and enough is enough!  I thought it would be a bloggable recipe, but to be honest, I can't even tell you at this point if I even liked it or not.  So it's not making to blog cut.

What will make the cut are a few cakes that I kinda snuck in during those 2 weeks when I was supposed to be virtuously eating that pot of beans.  Yeah, a few of those nights I might have just had cake for dinner...probably another reason why that stupid chili lasted so long.

In honor of a couple of bourbon drinking friends who were leaving the island for the season, I made Orangette's Whiskey Soaked Chocolate Cake, which is a big winner in my book.  It's a dark chocolate cake, made doubly--no, triply--delicious because it has both espresso and booze (and lots and lots of it) to really amp up that chocolaty flavor.  I have been reading Ina Garten's cookbook Back To Basics this week, and in the introduction she talks about unlocking the flavors in ingredients to bring out their essence, about that extra "special element" that each recipe needs to elevate it from ordinary to extraordinary.  In one perfect example she writes: "Close your eyes the next time you teas a piece of chocolate cake; did it really taste like chocolate, or did the fudgey-looking icing just trick you into thinking it would taste like chocolate?  The best chocolate desserts have a depth of flavor that hits you in a few ways--both sweet and bitter, with a winey complexity."  Ahh, Ina.  So right.  Couldn't have put it better myself, even if I tried all day.  I have noticed that Ina often uses coffee and/or espresso and rum to make her chocolate desserts extra special, so I am sure that she would approve of this cake, with its espresso and whiskey (or bourbon).  The cake has a dense and fudgey texture that makes you just think "chocolate," but it also has enough booze to make your nostrils sting just a little, or at the very least, makes you open your eyes and say "wow."

The one question that I am still trying to figure out is what the best brand of booze to use?  Molly of Orangette says to use a brand that you would also drink, but not being a whiskey or bourbon drinker myself, that's sort of hard for me to pinpoint.  I can't remember what I used the first time I made the cake, the second time I used Old Grand Dad, because that's what my parents had around the house.  (Yes, this is an oft-repeated recipe.  That's how much I like it)  This time I used Jim Beam, because it's the only brand my local liquor store sells in smallish bottles, and I only had about $10 on me when I went to go buy it, thus, it was all I could afford.  And besides, I didn't want leftovers, because I wouldn't drink it if I had it.  Perhaps next time I make the cake I will split the batter in half and try two slightly higher end brands, and see what's best.  I mean, it's a rough job, but someone has to do it, right? 

Finally, it is important to note that this cake is even better after it's had at least 24 hours to sit around and let the flavors mellow and meld, so it's a perfect bake-ahead cake for a party.

Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Cake (From
Makes 1 Bundt cake or 2 loaf sized cakes

* 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
* 2 cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
* 5 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
* 2 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1 cup of your favorite whiskey or bourbon, plus more for soaking
* 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1/4 cup instant espresso granules
* 1 cup of boiling water
* 2 cups granulated sugar
* 3 large eggs at room temperature
* 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon baking soda
* Confectioners sugar for dusting, optional

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  Butter and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan or two 8-or 9-inch loaf pans, and set aside.

2.  Set up a double boiler--place a heatproof bowl over, but not touching, a saucepan of simmering, not boiling, water.  Break up the chocolate and put it in the bowl.  Stir occasionally until it melts, then remove from heat and let cool.

3. Put espresso and cocoa powders in a 2 cup capacity glass measuring cup and add enough boiling water so it reaches the 1 cup line, stir to dissolve.  Add 1 cup of whiskey or bourbon and salt, and set aside to cool.

4. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with a hand mixer until light and fluffy.  Add sugar, continue beating until well combined.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla extract, baking soda and melted chocolate.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is well combined.

5. With the mixer on low speed, beat in a third of the whiskey mixture (2/3 of a cup). When liquid is absorbed, beat in 1 cup flour. Add another 2/3 cup of the whiskey mixture, beating until absorbed, then add the 2nd cup of flour, beat, then end with the remaining whiskey mixture.  The batter with be very liquidy; don't worry--this is normal.  Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for a Bundt pan, or about 55 minutes for loaf pans.

6. Cool the cake, still in its pan, on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then turn out of its pan and sprinkle the warm cake with additional whiskey. (I did this by pouring a little bit into a teaspoon, and then shaking the teaspoon over the cake, using a few tablespoons in all.  If you wanted to be high-tech about it, a clean spray bottle would probably give nice, even results.  Next time...)  Cool completely before serving.  For bonus presentation points, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before serving.  Also fresh whipped cream, sweetened with a tiny bit of confectioners' sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract is a perfect accompaniment.  '


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Oatmeal Bread...Again

Without even realizing it, the next recipe I decided to tackle was a loaf of oatmeal sandwich bread.  You'd think I was on a quest to find the best oatmeal bread out there or something...but truthfully, I had completely forgotten that I made oatmeal sandwich bread 2 posts ago.  Probably because I was a slacker in September...sorry about that, guys.  I'll chalk it up to being in a new house, without my usual arsenal of cookware, and not having Erik to eat half of my culinary experiments.  (Erik has moved on to grad school, did I mention that?  I forget.  I'm now living in Hadwen House.  It is the first house I lived in on Nantucket, so it feels like everything is coming full circle). 

But anyway, back to the bread.  It is a loaf that I've had my eye on for a while now, first spotted on Brown Eyed Baker, though it comes courtesy of the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook.  Which is on my Christmas list, FYI.  Just in case you're planning ahead. 

For all intents and purposes, it is quite similar to the other oatmeal bread.  I suppose the major difference is that bread #1 was sweetened with molasses, while this bread is sweetened with honey, though a touch more of it, which results in a slightly sweeter bread that is lighter lighter in color.  And although the amount of oats used in both recipes is the same, I think bread #2 (the one I'm blogging about now) has a slightly nuttier, crunchier texture.  Perhaps because you let #1's dough sit and soften and absorb the liquids for a while before kneading?  I'm not sure.  But here's what I can say.  They're both delicious, and I will definitely make both again. 

But since we're on #2 right now, I will tell you what makes this particular recipe stand out: the ingredient amounts are in ounces!  This is great, because I can just pop my mixing bowl on my kitchen scale, and keep hitting "tare" as I add my ingredients.  This is especially fantastic with the honey--no sticky measuring cups for me!  The original recipe calls for instant yeast, which you can just mix in with the other dry ingredients, no proofing needed.  However, if you only have active dry on hand, as I did, reduce the amount of water that you mix into the oatmeal mixture by 1/4 cup, and then, while the oatmeal mixture is cooling, measure out 1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F), sprinkle the yeast on top, mix or swirl it, then let it proof for 5-10 minutes.  Your yeast should look creamy and have a few bubbles on the surface--if it looks like this, mix in into the oatmeal mixture, then add the dry ingredients.  If it doesn't look like this your yeast may be old, or your water too hot or too cold.  Either way, start again with fresh yeast, because if you mix in bad yeast your bread won't rise.  The other thing I would note is that  I needed to add a fair amount of flour as I kneaded this dough--it's quite sticky!  Michelle of BEB said that she added "a few extra tablespoons," but I think I added nearly a cup!  Either way, keep a measuring cup on hand that you can sprinkle from, so you don't need to dip your sticky doughy hands in your flour repeatedly.  So without further ado, the recipe:

Oatmeal Honey Sandwich Bread (From Brown Eyed Baker and King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking)
Makes 1 loaf

* 1¼ cups (10 ounces) boiling water
* 1 cup (3½ ounces) old-fashioned rolled oats
* 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
* 1½ teaspoons salt
* ¼ cup (3 ounces) honey
* 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
* 1-2/3 cups (7 ounces) all-purpose flour
* ¼ cup (1 ounce) nonfat dry milk
* 2 teaspoons instant yeast (If using active dry, look at instructions above)

1. Place the boiling water, oats, butter, salt and honey into a medium bowl, stir, and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

2.  Add remaining dry ingredients, stir until combined.  Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is soft and smooth.  

3.  Place dough in a greased bowl (cooking spray works well for this).  Rotate the bread around the bowl until it's lightly greased on all sides, then cover and put in a draft free place for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in bulk.

4. Lightly grease a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan.  Lightly grease a surface and your hands, and gently deflate your dough, shaping it into an 8 x 5 inch square while you do so.  Starting on the short side, roll the dough into a tight log.  (For a nice illustration of how this is supposed to look, check out Brown Eyed Baker.  My hands were too greasy to take my own pictures!)

5. When the dough is rolled into a log, pinch the seam and pinch the ends.  Roll the log back and forth a few times to ensure that it's of even thickness, not tapered at the ends.  Place the dough in your greased loaf pan, seam side down, and cover lightly with saran wrap.  Allow to rise for another hour to an hour and a half, until the bread is crowning over the top about an inch and a half.  When the bread is nearly there, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake for 45 minutes, tenting it with foil after 20 minutes so it doesn't over brown. 

6.  Cool the loaf for a few minutes in the pan before turning it out and cooling fully.  It will slice better if you allow the loaf cool completely before cutting in (bad Nantucket reference, sorry), but I understand completely if you can't wait to slather a slice with butter or jam and enjoy.  If you want bonus points for presentation, brush the top with melted butter and sprinkle with some more oats.  I used up all my oatmeal on this one, so I had to skip that step...

If anyone is inspired enough to bake both loaves, let me know which your favorite is--I can't decide for myself.  Either way you'll feel like a champ after you bake one of these easy and delicious loaves, which are excellent for toast and sandwiches.