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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!

Last weekend my body rested supine on a couch in front of the TV set, while the Food Network stole my whole attention. Suddenly, a chilling flashback kidnapped my thoughts and flew them to Poland; back to my childhood days filled with crepes and potato pancakes. The massive craving that arose during that memory trip was so overpowering that I instantaneously scraped myself off of the couch, and marched into the kitchen in a sleepwalking manner.

25 minutes later, stop watch in hand, I had immerged carrying a plate stacked with 5 perfect crepes and a freshly made “jam” for the topping. Now, I use quotation marks for a reason. Here’s what happened. I had nothing to smear on my crepes, and after a quick scan of the kitchen countertop and the inside of the refrigerator, all I found quasi-suitable was a couple of green apples and a carrot. Into the food processor they went, along with a tsp of vanilla extract, 1 tbsp of cane sugar, 3 grains of salt and a dash of cinnamon.

Agi smile

I gave it a good whipping for 1-2 minutes, which resulted in a bowl of an apple-carrot mousse. I spread a spoonful of the goods on a crepe, rolled it up, and bit on one end. The taste was… pleasant, however ever so slightly too RAW for what I consider comfort food. Hence, I decided to make my own jam for the next batch of crepes, whenever the mood strikes again.

Let’s get started. Crepes are as complicated to make as scrambled eggs. It’s really silly easy. Traditionally the batter calls for milk, flour and eggs with a pinch of salt and sugar. (My twist on the traditional crepes recipe is almond milk and whole-wheat flour.) After mixing together all ingredients it should have a consistency of a thick liquid. Then, using either the blender it was mixed in or simply a small ladle, pour a small amount on a hot skillet greased with a touch of cooking oil. Make sure a thin layer of the batter covers the whole surface of the skillet by tilting it in all directions. After all, you want a perfectly round crepe, don’t you? Give it a minute or two, until the batter sets, and flip it over with a spatula. You want both sides lightly browned.

The following proportions should allow for 10-12 Crepes: eggs

– 2 eggs

– 1+1/4 cup of whole wheat flour

– 1 cup of almond milk (unsweetened)

– a pinch of sea salt

– 2 tsp of raw cane sugar

To make my Strawberry-Mango Jam with a secret ingredient I used:

– 2 lbs of fresh strawberries (remember to wash’em and remove the stems!)

– 4 ripe mangoes (mine were so ripe, they were on sale – yay!)

– 1 orange

– 1 lemon

– 1/2 cup of raw cane sugar

– 4-5 cloves

– 1 tsp of cinnamon

– and a good pinch of my secret ingredient – cayenne pepper (AHA!)

Quarter strawberries, dice mangoes, toss into a non-stick pan and set over a medium-high heat. Add sugar, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon. Zest the lemon and the orange, juice the same lemon (removing all seeds), and add all to the pot. Peel the orange like an apple, including the pith, and cut out the sections in between the see-through membranes. Throw the orange slices into the pot with the rest of the strawberry-mango potion. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. At this point your kitchen will start to fill with this ambrosial fruity fragrance that will make your knees wiggle. Compose yourself and let the jam cook for a couple of hours, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat and rest overnight. Cook for another hour the following day, until it’s thick and heavenly delightful. Grab a few clean glass jars with dry lids, and fill them with jam while still steaming hot (BE CAREFUL!!!), twist the lid on tight, and put aside to cool. Store in a pantry for future breakfast toasts, Sunday morning crepes, or an occasional spoonful of paradise in the PM hours…

Jam in jars

I hope the Agi-Crepes and Strawberry-Mango Jam will keep your hands full till tomorrow, when I’ll deliver the second part of the SKILLET FEST – the Potato Pancakes along with my version of Tzatziki Sauce.

Oh, I’m hungry! Bye, bye.

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