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Last month, when done with all my catering events, I found myself surrounded by an ocean of leftover fresh spinach. I had bought so much of it, turned out, I could fill the bath tub with all that green and sprinkle some more on the floor leading to our bedroom instead of rose petals. Talking about a healthy sex life!
However, since we were to leave first thing the following morning for our Christmas pilgrimage to East Texas, I was left with no choice other than to blanch the green entity in batches and freeze for later. The later came as soon as we returned to LA, when I opened the freezer and an avalanche of frosty green bricks fell out on my feet.
WHAT IN THE WORLD AM I TO DO WITH ALL THIS?
And the cooking fest began. First was Sautéed Spinach With Toasted Pistachios to accompany my Stuffed Chicken Thighs Wrapped in Bacon. (Thank you my buddy Gordon Ramsay for this decadent idea!) Next, I mixed the spinach, having thawed it out earlier (duh!), with shallots, garlic, and ricotta cheese thus turning it into a creamy filling for my Faux Ravioli (the same way I made them here). I made so much of it actually, I later used some of the mixture on Whole Wheat Crepes, folded them in four, and pan fried them into perfectly crispy Sides for my Beet Soup. A bunch of friends that came over for dinner that night saved me from devouring the entire pile by myself, the suckers were that good.
My favorite spinach transformation, however, was the dish I am about to describe, wherein the title-artichokes finally come to play their role.
If you’re one of those people that would die for a dip of an artichoke dip, but every time you allow yourself to indulge you feel awfully guilty, here comes your savior.
With the ever reliable help of my ordinary suspects–pancetta and frozen green peas–that are always in stock in my kitchen, plus a handful of frozen artichoke hearts, shallot, pistachios, tablespoon of mascarpone, salt and pepper, I was able to bring this goodness to life and declare THE END OF THE CALORIE-DENSE AND SOUL-POLLUTING ARTICHOKE DIP ERA.
The dish was ready in 15 minutes, since I was of such mind clarity to let the spinach thaw out the night before in the refrigerator. In a tiny drizzle of blended oil I sautéed some shallots first, added thinly sliced garlic and pancetta. When the fat rendered, I added pistachios, and a bunch of frozen peas and artichokes. Salt and pepper were not forgotten either. Over a slow heat, and under a lid, the veggies came to their senses and asked for Mr. Spinach to join his buddies. Another three minutes of that cuddle party and I was ready to finish the dish with a touch of mascarpone that gently spread its sweet and creamy arms all over the green meadow in the pan. Fold it once, twice, aaaand hop into a bowl. Believe it or not, that was my dinner, and I was fully satiated and content.
Try it. Let’s make the other cheesy and heavy dip retire already. Comfort foods are good especially when they are good for us. And they are good indeed. Oh, how good they are, I tell ya!
People often ask me what my favorite dish is. I think it would be wiser and more efficient to name the few things I care nothing about, like shrimp and other crustacean. It’s not to say I won’t ever like those, but I am yet to have the shell fish served in a way that will blow my mind. Otherwise, please don’t even waste my time.
The things I can eat into infinity, on the other hand, are EGGS. Be those Sunny-side-ups with runny yolk oozing over my lunch toast or fingerling potatoes in my Salad Nicoise. Be those Poached Eggs served over Mashed Rutabaga & Celeriac. Simply hard-boiled eggs chopped and mixed with tuna and pickles that make perfectly creamy and scrumptious filling for sandwiches. An old fashioned Scramble with the volume turned up never gets old. I’ll take my eggs any time of the day, any day of the week. Alas, a lazy Sunday morning and an eggstra decadent meal are a match made in heaven.
This past weekend, I served FRITTATA with Baby Spinach, Green Apples, Goat Cheese and Pancetta. To call it a decadent meal would be offensive. It was magical…
With the first taste that reached my mouth the seat underneath my firm ass-cheeks mysteriously turned into a plush throne covered with red velvet. My hand dropped onto the massive oak table under the weight of a silver fork I never saw before in my life. Little bells rang above my head, stars dust sparkled in the air, and suddenly my left hand was lifting a heavy, silver chalice embellished with precious stones and golden rims. Then I looked down…
Here’s the thing. The last time I saw myself in the mirror before heading to the kitchen to make breakfast I was wearing a see-through tank top and skimpy boy shorts that I like to parade in on Sunday mornings. Now my negligee was replaced with a tight bustier and delicate chiffon gown with mother-of-pearl buttons running up from the waist up to my throat glands. I was astonished. It was the state of the art tailoring bearing trade marks of a royal craftsman. My jaw elegantly fainted and dropped like an autumn leaf to the plate.
The plate! The plate with my SPINACH-APPLE FRITTATA which in fact was the source of all the wicked abracadabra playing out in front of our eyes!
It would be rude and selfish of me not to share this dish with you for the experience is out of this world, I tell ya. The perks, beyond the above described ones, are:
1. It’s easy to make.
2. One batch can last for a few meals that can be stored in a refrigerator for 2 days, or even frozen to be enjoyed later.
3. It’s as versatile as scrambled eggs–you can put in it whatever your soul desires and make it anew every time.
4. You can serve it fresh and hot at home for Sunday breakfast, or pack it for lunch to go on Monday.
5. It’s made of EGGS!
6. It has magical powers…
There are several “proven” methods of making a frittata, and I’ve tried them all. You’ll need a cast-iron skillet (or any other oven proof one) and a 500° hot oven.
Depending on the size of your skillet, you’ll need 6, 10 or even 12 eggs. For my 12″ pan I usually go with 10 organic and free range eggs. Also, peel an apple of your choice (I like the tart ones), quarter, core it and thinly slice. Beat all of the eggs in a bowl, add 2-3 tbsp of heavy cream, and season with salt and pepper. If you like, add chopped chives, or a pinch of chili pepper, or a teaspoon of dry oregano. It’s your dish.
Heat the skillet on the stove top, add a touch of olive oil and butter together, and add diced pancetta. When some of the fat has rendered, tip the apples in and toss them about. Sprinkle a touch of sea salt all over to help the apples sweat and thus get softer. Next, pour the egg mixture in and reduce the heat to medium low. Crumble cold goat cheese all over your dish, add a big handful of fresh spinach, and help it incorporate evenly across the dish.
Using a soft spatula lift the edges of the frittata along the sides of the skillet allowing the still loose eggs from the top to drip underneath the set layer. Make sure nothing sticks. Grate a handful of Fontina cheese all over the surface, drizzle with olive oil and turn off the heat. Place your skillet inside the hot oven for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and eggs set.
Remove the pan from the oven, let it cool for 5 minutes, cut in wedges and serve with a side of green salad and toasted baguette. Watch the frock on your bod turn into a royal gown, and a pumpkin coach park outside your window
I know. I know! It’s been too long. You must be thinking that since The Food Network has launched its daughter program, appropriately called The Cooking Channel, I must have gotten lost between the folds of my couch, sitting with my nose glued to the TV 24/7.
I wish! But somebody has got to pay her bills, plus Cosmo’s mani and pedi ain’t cheap. His favorite nail polish is Bulgarian Rose by the way. Don’t ask me where he got that from.
Less than two weeks ago I announced the start of my very own LUNCH DELIVERY SERVICES here, in Los Angeles. Guess what. It’s HAPPENING! I’ve been busy menu planning, then designing labels, then shopping for containers, then grocery shopping, then cooking, and delivering at last. Breathe in, breathe out.
I was also clear-minded enough to snap a few photos in all that chaos. Just imagine me with a chef’s knife in one hand chopping cucumbers, my toes holding tight a wooden spatula and stirring soup in the pot, while my jaws clenched on the camera and took some shots.
As a result of the madness, I was able to produce this CRUNCHY RED QUINOA SALAD with a Medley of Vegetables and BASIL VINAIGRETTE. Also, I made this refreshing FRUITS SALAD sprinkled with Orange Juice and MINT CHIFFONADE.
One of the meals on my Menu for this week is this delicious and healthy PAN-SEARED TUNA Over the Bed of SPINACH with Gorgonzola, Pecans and Cranberries, dressed with POMEGRANATE VINAIGRETTE.
Speaking of dressings, there’s nothing easier than making one. The most basic one is simply oil (olive) and acid (e.g. vinegar, acidic juice) in 3:1 ratio with a pinch of salt and pepper. You can get fancier than that just by adding a touch of a healthy sweetener (e.g. honey), maybe a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, or cucumber (as an emulsifier), whip it together, and just like that you have made yourself a perfectly wonderful vinaigrette.
Once you get the basics, then you’ll want to explore other flavor combinations and possibilities. One of my favorite dressings that I make for our meal ALL THE TIME is Basil Vinaigrette. To make it yourself, follow the steps described above and add a bunch of fresh basil leaves to your blender. WHIZZ. WHIZZ. Done.
Store-bought dressings are full of fat, sugar, and preservatives. Save yourself money and that unnecessary inch on your waist just by switching to home-made goods like the ones seen above. You’ll satisfy your palette. You’ll exercise your creative muscle. You’ll be healthier and closer to Nature with each bite. And it takes 2 minutes to make it, from scratch.
Go for it. Try this at home!
Don’t be hatin’, but I’m here only for a minute. This pre-Christmas bustle is not a relaxing time, oh no. Not only is there a list of people to be gifted, and consequently a list of gifts to be found, packed, shipped, sneaked and hidden, delivered and stored under that Christmas Tree, but also there are parties to attend, parties to be thrown, delicacies to be baked, Ho Ho Ho’s to be wished, cards to be sent…. Oh, brother!
That’s the closest I’ve ever been to Santa, or His helper. Only when I squeezed myself into that naughty costume did I feel the magic! It’s a photo from a Halloween Party we held a couple of years ago that I dug out for your entertainment today.
Now back to business. In the continued series of light and balanced dinner ideas for the time between all the diet-busting holidays, I propose a fillet of GRILLED SALMON OVER A BED OF SPINACH. Not only is this obviously healthy, but also it’s highly satisfying on multiple levels. It’s a surprisingly filling dinner, that fills your mouth with bliss and – to quote Mick Jagger himself – SATISFACTION!
Grab yourself a bag of baby spinach and empty it into a bowl. Drizzle with a DRESSING of your choice, por exemplo:
- 1 part of red wine vinegar
- 3 parts of walnut oil
- 1 tsp of Dijon mustard
- 1 finely chopped shallot
- 1 tbsp of honey
- big pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Whisk it together, until the mixture is emulsified into a delicious VINAIGRETTE. Drizzle the nectar over the green, now crumble small pieces of goat cheese all over. Feel free to add dried cranberries and chopped and toasted pecans or simply diced beet (previously cooked). Mix the salad together while your fillet of salmon is grilling cheerfully on a hot grilling pan or an outdoor grill (if you’re blessed with one). Remember to season your fish evenly on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. It’s OK to sprinkle some dry herbs over the flesh, like thyme or marjoram for that extra layer of flavor.
When ready, place the salmon over the bed of spinach salad, and wait no longer for the first satisfying bite.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must retire to the kitchen to fix a treat for the Christmas Tea Party I’m attending this afternoon. Good Day Everybody!
Hurry! Hurry before the summer really is just a sweet, sunny memory. . The scorching heat is behind us, true, but if you open your windows, spread your arms wide and look up, your face will still get a big fat lick of energy from our Brightest Star. Hurry!
As October makes itself more at home with each passing day, there are also fewer varieties of sweet luscious fruits at the Farmers Market to be found. Bummer. Even though I’m bursting with fruit flavors for all the fall apples and pears, I wish I could somehow capture the sweet joy of peaches we devoured this past season.
If you HURRY, you may still be able to grab a few juicy peachy balls from the last supplies of an orchard. And while you’re there browsing the stands of fresh, organic produce from your local farmer (hats off for the love he delivers in those crates and boxes), snatch a bag of iron and calcium rich spinach, a couple of pinkish shallots and run home to check your stock of pine nuts.
I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
As I’m pondering how to segue from the tour at the local Farmer’s Market to your kitchen, Cosmo checks on me occasionally (You know, the usual editing stuff – typos, orthography, syntax – he’s alert!) from his office.
I won’t beat around the bush any longer. Today we’re making a Spinach and Grilled Peach Salad. Empty your shopping tote and align the following suspects on your kitchen counter:
- 2 Peaches
- Spinach (6 oz. bag, more or less)
- 1/2 cup of toasted pine nuts
- 3 slices of pancetta
- White Balsamic Vinegar
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Shallot (the rest you can keep for later)
- Salt + Pepper
How do you like the ingredients so far? Can you put it all together into a perfect salad just using your imagination? Can you taste the sweetness mixed with salty bites of Italian bacon, all wrapped in a smooth symphony of White Balsamic Vinaigrette? No? Then go ahead and grab yourself a grilling pan and heat it up, while you seed your peaches and give each one a wedgie – eight to ten per fruit, to be precise.
You also need your nuts toasted, and for such a small amount, I wouldn’t bother the old fat oven if I were you. Just spread the pignoli flat on a sheet pan of your toaster oven, or – if there’s a lack of such – use your loyal buddy, the frying pan. It will take circa 5 minutes (maybe 7, but that’s pushing) and only 2-3 on the pan for the guys to be all tanned and happy. The minute you smell your nuts, it’s time to get them out. (I can see where your mind is heading. Do NOT even go there!)
Your grilling pan surely is scorching hot by now – a perfect surface for the slices of pancetta. Let the fat melt away while the bacon gets crispy. Next, remove the brittle slices and set on a paper towel to get rid of the extra grease and let the guys chill.
Onto the same pan, throw the wedges of your fruit and spread in one layer. Let them sit flat for a couple of minutes until the heat breaks the body and you see grill marks on one side. Flip each one over and give it another 2 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and set the peaches aside to cool as well.
Before you relocate everybody into a bowl, you want to shake up the vinaigrette first. Mix two parts of olive oil with one part of white balsamic vinegar, add a finally chopped shallot, big pinch of salt, a smaller pinch of black pepper, and whip it good. Better even – drop the potion into a blender, and let it take a ride on a rollercoaster.
Bowling time! Into a glass bowl, toss the spinach, drizzle with just a touch of your vinaigrette, and mix until the greenery is all coated and smiling brightly. Now gently place pieces of grilled peaches on top, sprinkle with crushed chunks of cooled pancetta, bring in the pine nuts, and sprinkle all with another few drops of the White Balsamic Vinaigrette. Like a gentleman, toss everybody around, carefully, softly, easy…
The salad is ready. Picture time! Enjoy the view, as it won’t last long after you dive with your fork for the first taste. Do you get it now? The sweet and savory fixed together in the mist of sweet and tart vinaigrette…Mmm.
Are you hungry yet?