Quick Creamed Spinach Soup For a Last Minute Dinner

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Does this ever happen to you? You’ve planned a gourmet dinner for the evening (ok, semi-gourmet) and, just when you think you’ve got enough time and everything is under control, something seriously breaks your pace- a stove that needs to be calibrated, a husband coming home earlier than anticipated, meat that isn’t completely defrosted, or a recipe you’ve just read to the end and realized you need two hours to cook instead of one?

Well, most people would only be afflicted with one of these problems per dinner drama, but last night, I had all of them to deal with. My Navarin Pantier (Lamb Stew with Spring Vegetables) was my recipe project of the day, another of Julia Child’s delights I was trying to master. (No wonder the cookbook it comes from is called Mastering the Art of French Cooking).

I made the fatal flaw Julia always warned about in her TV episodes of The French Chef: “Read the recipe before you begin to cook”. Well, I thought I did, but in reality I’d only read half– the part where she tells you to cook the lamb for an hour. The next page is where she tells you, “Regulate heat so liquid simmers slowly and steadily for about an hour longer….”

I had no ‘Plan B’, knew my husband was famished, and I had very few exciting ingredients in the house to play with.

Taking one look around my fridge and counter, I had to think quick about what I could do with apples, cheese, spinach, onions, tomato paste, odd pieces of cheese, and various experimental jars of homemade creme fraiche. It was like playing ‘Iron Chef’ against myself.

Ok, it has to be soup and salad tonight. Soups without pasta, rice, potatoes or meat are usually not hearty enough to fill a hungry stomach, but I knew if I made a simple soup with creme fraiche added, we could eat it with hearty bread and a salad, which would be perfect for the late dinner we would have.

I decided on a Creamed Spinach Soup made by sauteeing onions in butter and olive oil and adding tomato paste and water to fill half the pan. I let it cook till it came to a boil. I then added spinach and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, just enough time for me to cut the cheese and peel and slice the green apple for my salad. I left the slices to soak in cold water until I was done so they wouldn’t brown.

I returned to my soup and tickled it with my handy immersion blender- a tool every soup maker should have, in my opinion. I blended a little at at a time, until the entire pan was a creamier version of the original. I let it simmer for a minute or two, then added 2 heaping tablespoons of my homemade creme fraiche, stirring it in until all of the whiteness of the creme disappeared. Two minutes later, I was satisfied that it was finally a creamed spinach soup.

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Returning to my salad, I rinsed and drained the baby greens then gave them a whirl in my other kitchen favorite- my salad spinner. I dried the greens with a paper towel and laid them gently in a bowl, added rough cubes of white cheddar and slices of the green apples I’d cut earlier. Later they were dressed in a simple mix of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and apple cider vinegar.

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Copyright 2009 My Halal Kitchen

Sitting down to a simple, quick dinner of Creamed Spinach Soup, Greens Salad with Apples and White Cheddar and a hearty slice of flame-warmed pita bread was a great end to the drama that plagued my kitchen only about a half an hour earlier.

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Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 9:19 am  Comments (12)  
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Brunch is Served

This site has been officially moved to a new domain, http://www.myhalalkitchen.com. Please visit there to see what’s cooking!

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Every weekend morning I have the same dilemma- make a quick and usual breakfast, or make it an occasion by serving special foods that are timely to prepare but sure to please.

The need-to-please disease I have tells me that small breakfasts should induce guilt. But what if I could serve a sizeable breakfast without all the struggle and extra time in the morning? I didn’t want to just put any old leftovers together- that would be a bit too obvious….

Luckily my husband isn’t a picky guy and doesn’t snub food the same way I would if I didn’t like it, which actually made me want to do a nice thing- not take up too much time in the kitchen (which throws off our entire schedule entirely), without skimping on the food, either.

I decided to serve up eggs baked in ramekins, a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese, a mixed salad, and sliced grapefruit. Not too fancy, but just enough to please, I hoped.

I prepared the baked eggs or ‘Oeufs en Cocotte‘, according to the base of a recipe I saw on a Julia Child French Chef episode. I changed some things to make each dish of two eggs baked in a ramekin then set in hot water to our own liking: Mine was mixed with leftover homemade buttermilk dressing and on my husband’s I poured a simple, plain leftover tomato sauce (see details below). After about fifteen minutes of baking in the oven, they were done. In the meantime, I was able to set the table and prepare the next dishes.

The savory pastry is a favorite in our home, mainly because the smell of baked phyllo puts me in a wonderful mood. Based on a combination of a recipe for Turkish borek from my dearest friend, Inci, and a Greek recipe for spanakopita handed down loosely to me from my cousin’s Yaya (grandmother), I have finally found a recipe that works for us. This one was prepared yesterday, but we really couldn’t finish it last night. It was too hot to eat and this is one dish where patience allows you to enjoy it more. The cheese has time to set and the dough is not as flimsy when it’s cooled. Today three pieces were reheated in the microwave for about two minutes and resulted in a perfect, warm taste. The cheese was set and the spinach had time to mingle with it, just enough time to complement each other nicely (recipe below).

The salad was super easy. In my conscious effort to eat up the largest carton of mixed organic greens possibly for sale at Costco, I decided now was a perfect time to eat it up- and give my husband an excuse to eat something green. Just throw the greens in a large bowl, top with sliced tomatoes and drizzle the mix with olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried parsley flakes. Voila! It’s done.

I almost forgot to mention the proud addition I just had to put on the table- a small bowl of my homemade crème fraiche, which I had been experimenting with all week. Until I get it perfect, I suggest you just buy the best one on the market today: the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Crème Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s stores or online at: http://butterandcheese.net/cremeFraiche.html

The last addition was the plate of peeled and sliced grapefruit, a great way to end the meal and clean the palate after all the dairy at the table. The important thing to remember about grapefruit is that if it’s peeled properly, you won’t taste any bitterness; instead it will taste sweet and refreshing. It’s a bit of work, but don’t have it any other way.

Brunch was prepared and served today within a half an hour. It was delicious, healthy and very pleasing to both of us. There were no excuses left for today’s schedule to go awry. Uh oh, what have I started?

Please see recipe information for Buttermilk Dressing, Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte), and Savory Spinach Pastry:

Buttermilk Dressing (by Tierra Miguel Farm, which I found in the book Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living, p. 118)

Ingredients:
2 C buttermilk
1 whole hard-boiled egg
¾ cup olive oil
10 sprigs parsley
5 sprigs celery leaves (optional)
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
1 handful of any fresh green herbs on hand, such as sorrel, nettle, watercress, or cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method:
Mix buttermilk, egg, oil, parsley, celery leaves, garlic, scallions, and herbs in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 to 8 servings of dressed salad.

Resource:
Heron, Katrina, Ed. with a foreword by Alice Waters. Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living. New York: Rodale Books, 2008.

Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte) can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Fortieth Anniversary Edition, Volume One, pages 123-124. It was written by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. 2001.

Savory Spinach Pastry
You will need:
One package of phyllo dough
1lb. bag of frozen spinach
1 lb. feta cheese
2 eggs
approximately ½ cup each of olive oil and cold milk, mixed together in a cup
large rectangular pyrex dish
black seeds or sesame seeds to taste

Buy one package of phyllo dough typically used to prepare baklava. When the dough is cold, but not frozen, open it up to its full length. Lay the dough down so that it looks rectangular. With kitchen shears or scissors, cut the dough in half vertically. Reserve half in the fridge to keep cold and keep the other half out to prepare on your counter.

Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ the bottom of your pyrex dish with a mixture of ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup milk (this should be in a cup next to you as you work). Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of it, then continue to paint each sheet one by one until you have finished this half of the dough.

Mix the feta cheese, eggs and frozen spinach in a bowl until well mixed. Pour on top of the phyllo dough you have painted in the pyrex dish. Pat the mixture down so it lies flat.

Bring out the cold dough from your fridge and continue to pain each layer individually until you are finished. Paint the very last layer generously and then add either sesame seeds or black seeds, but not both.

Bake in a 375 degrees oven for approximately 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Allow to cool before eating.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are entirely based on my own personal tastes, which may obviously be different for others who try the same product(s). The reviewer also declares that she has not received any monetary or non-monetary compensation from the restaurant or food product company for writing this review.

Copyright © 2009 My Halal Kitchen. All rights reserved. The information contained in this blog may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of My Halal Kitchen.

Breakfast to Go

In a rush to get out the door in the morning, it’s often difficult to make something portable, easy to handle and tasty, all in one. I came up with this very simple and quick breakfast sandwich and would like to share it with you busy (or not so busy) folks out there.

Here’s what you need (per person):

  • 2 bread slices- any of your favorite. I choose Trader Joe’s Italian Loaf, which arrives pre-cut
  • 2 small pats of softened, real butter for each slice of bread (no margarine, please!!)
  • 1-2 tsps. creme fraiche (French style cultured cream) for each slice of bread. I like to use Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s Creme Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s
  • 2 Tb. of your favorite jam for each slice of bread. I love the Organic, Reduced Sugar Raspberry Preserves sold at Trader Joe’s

Preparation:

Toast your bread, or warm to preference. Then, spread the softened butter on each slice of bread, followed by the creme fraiche and then finally the jam or preserves you’ve chosen. It’s that simple!

I love to pair this breakfast with a homemade cup of cappuccino made my way. Here’s what you need:

  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend Medium Dark Roast, Sweet Caramel Flavor, Medium Body Coffee. It comes whole bean in a 14 oz. container.
  • Whole milk
  • a pinch of ground cinnamon
  • organic raw cane sugar, to taste.

Preparation:

Grind the coffee in a coffee grinder. If you have whole cinnamon, just put about 1/2 cinnamon stick in the coffee grinder at the same time so the flavors mix well.  The amount of ground coffee that you put in your coffee maker depends upon the size of your coffee maker and the amount of coffee you would like to prepare. While my coffee is heating up, I put my milk in the microwave (1/3 of the coffee cup I’m going to drink out of). When both the coffee and milk are done, I add about 2 tsps. of sugar and enjoy it with my breakfast, nice and warm.

Resources:

As you can see, I am a fan of Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of healthy food choices with fewer and less complicated ingredients in their products than I have found elsewhere. Their prices are not unreasonable and often times cheaper than the large supermarkets in my area. Their excellent customer service should not go unnoticed- it really is the best around. Here’s how you can find a Trader Joe’s in your area:

http://www.traderjoes.com/locations.asp

If you’d like to order creme fraiche from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company, visit their website. You can also see that this product is kosher-certified and their site has a downloadable pdf document you can view as proof. It also lists eight other products that are kosher, which should reassure us that there are no pork by-products in these items:

http://butterandcheese.net/cremeFraiche.html

If you’d like to read more about Fair Trade and Fair Trade coffee specifically, please see this website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade

http://coffeeonlinemagazine.com/buying-fair-trade-coffee-why-its-important-where-to-get-it/

And, as always, please let me know how you’ve enjoyed this post.

Asalaamu’laikum!