Sunday, November 25, 2012

Spanikopa Casserole

This year's antidote to turkey is spanikopa. 

This wonderful puff of a spinach-cheese casserole is easy to make since the sheets of filo are quite forgiving to even the sloppiest layering.  It always looks pretty and can be prepared and baked ahead then reheated or enjoyed at room temperature. A great alternative to quiche at a brunch, it also serves as a side dish for grilled meats and fish.  It is vegetarian-approved and with a side salad plenty filling. Single servings freeze well and reheat quickly for a quick save for dinner or lunch. 

Spanikopa Casserole
Serves 6-8
6 oz feta cheese (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
10-oz package frozen spinach (defrosted, drained)
1 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2-1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 teaspoon olive oil or spray oil
1/2 package frozen filo sheets (16 sheets), defrosted
4 oz melted butter

  1. Preheat oven to 350˚.
  2. In a medium bowl mix together feta, ricotta, defrosted and well drained spinach, dill, pepper and salt.  If your feta is very salty, you may want to use only a little bit of salt. Taste the mixture before adding the raw egg.  
  3. Crack egg into mixture and stir to combine well.  
  4. To assemble casserole. wipe a 9 X 13 baking pan with a bit of olive oil or spray oil.  Open defrosted filo package and roll out sheets.  Immediately place sheets on a plastic wrap- or wax paper-lined baking sheet, cover with more plastic or wax paper and a damp dish towel.  This will keep the filo sheets flexible while you work with them.  
  5. Have ready a pastry brush and the melted butter in a small bowl.  Place a single filo sheet on a large cutting board or other clean surface in front of you and lightly brush it with butter.  Transfer the sheet to the prepared baking pan. The sheet will come up the sides a bit. This is fine since it will help to form the outer crust. Continue to butter and transfer filo sheets until you have eight layers. If the sheet dries and bit and breaks, simply butter it and layer it in place.  Any “wounds” will heal during baking. 
  6. Spoon out the spinach-cheese mixture over the buttered filo sheets and smooth out the top to form an even layer.  
  7. Butter and layer eight more filo sheets, folding over or cutting away any excess than hangs over pan.  With a sharp knife, lightly score through a 2-3 top layers of filo at 3-4 inch intervals to create a wide diagonal pattern.  
  8. Bake spanikopa for 30-35 minutes, uncovered,  until pastry is nicely browned and spinach filling is slightly puffed indicating that egg is cooked.  Cool about 10 minutes before slicing. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sweet Potato Puffs

It’s hard to beat plain baked sweet potatoes.  We like them best with a dab of butter, a sprinkle of salt and a robust grind of black pepper.  For Thanksgiving, sweet potatoes often get a bit too gussied up for us with their marshmallow poof hair-do.  This year I looked for common ground so that diners could dress up their serving with some brown sugar and nuts or leave plain and simple.

I like the result not only because it is light but also because it preserves the natural sweetness of a baked and slightly caramelized sweet potato.   And there was an unexpected bonus.  These can be made ahead, even frozen, and warmed in the oven or microwave at serving time.  And, for those who are looking for the marshmallows, it’s fine to toss a few on top of the puffs for a final blast in the oven.

Sweet Potato Puffs
  • Bake enough sweet potatoes for each diner plus 1-2 extra.  If they are very large, you might not need the extras.  (Preheat oven to 400˚F. Place some aluminum foil on the lowest oven rack.  Prick the skin on the top side of each sweet potato. Place potatoes on the rack above the foiled rack.  Bake at 400˚F for 30-45 minutes until potatoes are quite soft.  Cool before proceeding with puff recipe.  OK to bake potatoes a day ahead.)
  • Cut each cooked sweet potato in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a large bowl. Using a fork, lightly mash the potatoes.
  • Preheat oven to 400˚F.
  • For every 2 cups of baked sweet potato, add:
2 tablespoons Mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese)
1 tablespoon dark rum
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 whole egg
  • If the sweet potato jackets are in good shape, you can fill them with the sweet potato puff filling or make individual servings in buttered ramekins.  If using the jackets, place each portion on a lightly oiled pie plate for baking.  The mixture can also be placed in one large or a few smaller buttered, baking dishes.  
  • Bake at 400˚F for 20-30 minutes, depending on the size of your vessel.  Remove and serve immediately or allow to cool completely and store refrigerated or frozen until ready to eat.
  • Defrost frozen puffs before reheating.  Reheat in the microwave on medium until heated through (2-3 minutes) or in a 325˚F oven for 25-30 minutes.  
 Toppings that can be added at the table or during the last few minutes in the oven include brown sugar and pecans, marshmallows, salted peanuts, toasted coconut or a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maque Choux

That's French for Native American corn as interpreted along Cajun byways as far as any one can make out.  Its also a great side dish for Thanksgiving or Fall meals that blends native ingredients and know how with ingredients and techniques brought to our continent from the 'old world.' 

Every family has a few “obligatory” items  at holiday dinners but as more of us explore varied diets, its nice to mix up the menu and audition some newcomers.   Even if you’ve never had maque choux, you have probably had a corn salad dish derived from this hot combo hatched in Cajun country.

My friend Pam, who brought this colorful side dish to a recent fall party where we were guests, told me that every recipe she found for the dish was different.  Good evidence that the dish has traveled well and adapted to available ingredients.  In fact, Pam herself substituted red for the green pepper and yellow corn for shoepeg.  Everything else she had on hand.  No andouille sausage?  Try chorizo or bacon.  Leave it out for a vegetarian version. 

Maque Choux
This recipe was a prize winner in the December 2001 issue of Southern Living.  Use it your base recipe and add, subtract and substitute as suits your guests.

1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups frozen shoepeg corn, thawed
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 pound andouille sausage, cooked and diced
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

  1. Sauté onion and bell pepper in hot oil in a large skillet over medium heat 8 minutes or until tender. 
  2. Add corn, tomato, and sausage; cook, stirring often, 15 minutes. 
  3. Stir in green onions, salt, and pepper; cook 5 minutes.

This dish comes together quickly.  In fact, this is one of those dishes that can be prepped ahead of time and cooked while the turkey rests before carving.  It can also be made in advance and reheated. 

Thanks Pam!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Clam-Stuffed Mushrooms

Sometimes you want stuffed clams but the amount of breading holds you back.  This recipe for clams stuffed in mushroom caps with garlic, oregano and red pepper can satisfy your craving.  And if you want to add a few breadcrumbs sprinkled on top with the Parmesan cheese, you’ll hear no argument from this household.  Either way the dish is fit for company.

Clam Stuffed Mushrooms
12 mushroom caps (baby bella or button)
1 can clams, drained (reserve juice)
2 T cream cheese
2 T diced red pepper
2 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Preheat oven to 400˚F while you prepare the mushrooms.  Line a small baking sheet with tin foil.  
  2. Clean off any dirt from the mushrooms using a light touch with a paper towel or a mushroom brush.  
  3. Chop the clams a bit more finely that they come from the can so that they pack well into the mushrooms.  
  4. In a small bowl mix together the cream cheese with red pepper, green onions, garlic and herbs.  Stir in the clams. Moisten with clam juice as needed.  The mixture should hold together.  
  5. Divide clam mixture among mushroom, mounding each cap with filling.  Sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese over each stuffed cap.  
  6. Bake for 12-15 minutes until mushrooms are cooked and cheese is melted.  Serve hot. 

Your Own Dried Parsley

Drying your own herbs is no big deal. Next time you buy a big bunch of fresh parsley for a specific dish, take half and dry it.  You will notice right away that it is greener than what you normally purchase.  
Here’s how:
Wash the parsley and pick out any dead leaves or damaged stems.  Roll in a paper towel to dry.
When dry, tie stems together with kitchen twine (cotton) leaving one long end so that you will be able to hang the herb with the leaves facing downwards.  Hang the herbs out of direct sunlight in a dry spot that gets a little ventilation. 
If you do not have a convenient rafter or empty closet rod, tie the long end of the string to a dowel (or ruler) and place the stick on a shelf, nestled between a few books in a little traveled area of the house. 
Check the herbs as they dry (a few days depending on room temperature) and when leaves are dry store the bundle in a paper bag or pull dried leaves from the stem and store in a small airtight bottle. 

When using dried herbs, always allow time for the herb to absorb moisture to develop fullest flavor.  Use dried parsley in pasta sauces, potato salad, egg dishes, meatloaf and even cottage cheese. 

Note: This is the first blog post following Sandy, the storm that hit the east coast at the close of October, 2012.  This entry was planned a few weeks ago and today it seems odd to write about the joys of a simple appetizer while we wait to have power restored to all affected areas and hope for viable recovery for the most hard hit among us.  This blog's purpose is to make suggestions on how to eat more pure foods within our fast paced food environment.  The ability to prepare healthy food as well as to obtain it is part of the solution to feeding our country better. During the power outage we were grateful to have healthy fresh food on hand, a well-stocked pantry and the skills to cook on a camp stove.  Helping out a nearby shelter last week, we met people who were not so lucky.  At these times, we are reminded that to sit with one another at the table is warming and nourishing as well.