What’s The Big Green Deal?

Spinach, that’s the big, green deal.Did you know that curly leaf, or savoy spinach almost went extinct?  With the advent of the triple-washed, bagged baby spinach the demand for it among the big produce companies pretty much disappeared.  The flavor is less mild, and all those nooks and crannies on the surface of the leaf makes it hard to thoroughly clean a product which already has a somewhat problematic reputation and history concerning sick-making microbes.But Petey and I both love a classic spinach salad: spinach, sliced button mushrooms, hard-cooked egg, shaved red onion (Petey’s a hold-the-onion man), crispy bacon shards drizzled with freshly made buttermilk ranch.

So, I almost always have some greens in the fridge.  But they go wonky quick, and when most leafy greens get past their prime, there isn’t much to do with them, other than adding them to the compost heap.  But spinach is different.  When I have spinach that’s too shop-worn for salad, I cook it, either sautéed or creamed. I put it into a large microwave safe bowl, cover it with a paper towel and nuke it until it’s completely wilted; somewhere between 2-4 minutes depending on how much I have.  Then I turn it out into a colander to drain and cool.

If I don’t plan on making it right away, I put it in a labeled, dated zip-top bag and freeze it.  If you’re not a big salad eater, you could also skip the whole fresh spinach step, and just buy it frozen. For both sautéed and creamed spinach, you start the same way: onions.  Put some butter or oil into a skillet and add chopped onions.  Season and cook until they begin to caramelize (the more color on the onions, the sweeter they’ll be, you choose).  Then add 2 cups of thawed, wilted spinach that you’ve squeezed most of the water from.  Season and add 10-12 gratings of fresh nutmeg.  For sautéed, let it cook until it’s mostly dry, and a little browned around the edges.  Take off the heat, add the juice of a lemon, check for seasoning, and serve.For creamed spinach:

Start like for sautéed, but after adding the spinach, add about 2/3 cup of 2% or skim milk and ¼ cup cream.  Season and add nutmeg, then stir in ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese (not the stuff in the green can).  Let it cook until the spinach is in a nice thick, creamy sauce (about 10 minutes on medium).Take it off the heat and stir in a couple of heaping tablespoons of whipped cream cheese (this will stabilize the sauce).  Then stir in the juice of a lemon.  Check for seasoning and serve as is, or over a baked russet or sweet potato.

Or.My new favorite thing is to use the creamed spinach in the place of pesto in pasta.  Cook the pasta while the spinach is cooking.  When the spinach is finished, and the cream cheese and lemon juice are stirred in, transfer the pasta into the spinach pan with a slotted spoon.  Don’t drain it, because you’ll then use enough of the pasta water to thin out the spinach, and starch in the water makes the sauce silky and it coats the pasta perfectly.  Then top with more parm.It’s really good, and frankly I’m not sure how this took so long to occur to someone who normally has at least seventy-five varieties of pasta in her kitchen at all times.

Next week I’ll tell you what I got up to tonight with a box of Costco mushrooms and a kitchen full of pasta.Thanks for your time.

Obey your mother


They still make them.  Who knew?

When I was a kid, there was a clothing line called Garanimals.  For fashion challenged folks, all you had to do was make sure the same animal was on the tags for both tops and bottoms.


Voila!  You had a matching outfit.  That’s flexibility.

Growing up in military families, every three years or so, Petey and I would be dropped into a new town and a new school, where with very infrequent exceptions, we knew nobody but our own families.

Within a few months or so, somehow, we made these places our home.  I honestly don’t know how we were able to keep doing it, over and over.  That’s adaptability.

Last week, talking about cream sauce, I mentioned a term; mother sauces.In classic French cooking, there are five mother sauces.  These are the Garanimals, the army brats of food.  With a familiarity of them, you can make just about any sauce for any dish you’d like.  They are the base for all that follows.

For each of the next five weeks, we’ll look at one sauce and talk about all the things you can do with them.

Since we’ve already started with cream sauce, we’ll just continue.

Known as béchamel, this is the one mother that most people, regardless of culinary ability, can make.  My Aunt Polly, who possesses something less than enthusiasm in the kitchen, actually makes a pretty delicious dish of creamed cauliflower (literally just béchamel over frozen cauliflower which has been microwaved).Just in case, here is the recipe again.

Classic White sauce (béchamel)

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

2 cups 2% milk

Salt & pepper

Put a saucepan on medium.  Melt butter and whisk in flour; this is a roux.  Let cook for a couple of minutes, then pour in milk.  Whisk constantly until it thickens and comes to a boil.  Season, taste, and season again.

Most of the time, I grate a bit of fresh nutmeg into the sauce.  It’s easy to go overboard, so I suggest no more than 15 gratings on a nutmeg grater or microplane.  I always use nutmeg in dark greens, and it’s wonderful with scalloped potatoes. For some really cozy, comforting scalloped potatoes, pour ½ cup of béchamel into greased casserole dish.  Thinly slice 5 cups of potatoes and layer them in the dish alternating with another cup of cream sauce.  Spread out the final half cup of béchamel on top and cover with foil.  Bake at 350 covered for 30 minutes, uncover, and bake for thirty more, or until browned and bubbly.

Mix some parmesan into some hot cream sauce, and stir into some spinach that you’ve wilted in the microwave and drained of liquid.  Either serve as is, or put under the broiler with another couple tablespoons of parmesan.  It’s as good as you’d get at the best of steak houses.

Our creamy white friend is also the base for cheese sauce.When making the white sauce, whisk in a teaspoon or so of mustard powder.  After it comes to a simmer, stir in a couple cups of your favorite melt-able cheese.  My mom, who makes the best baked macaroni and cheese, always uses Velveeta for about a third of the cheese.  This gives you creaminess that won’t separate while baking.  I’d use at least 2 batches for each pound of pasta.

Next week we’ll take a look at another pale sauce, Velouté, which is more a jumping off place than a stand-alone sauce.

Oh, but the places it jumps to.Thanks for your time.