Category: Spinach

Get Me To The Greek – Spanakopita – Daring Kitchen

God Bless the Greeks.  They invented democracy, philosophy and some damn fine food.  Including fried cheese.  How good is that stuff?  You take cheese…which is one of my all time best ever foods to begin with…and fry it.  That;’s not even eleven.  That’s twelve! Possibly thirteen.  But, I digress, yeah, I know opening paragraph…and we’re already off track, because today we’re talking about the second wonder of the Greek cuisine pantheon…(or should that be Parthenon?) the cheese and spinach pie, also more formally known as the Spanakopita.

Spanakopita 1
Spanakopita 1

I live in Melbourne, which as anyone in Melbourne will tell you has the largest population of Greek people outside of Athens.  I have no idea if this is actually true or just one of those urban myths about the city you live in.  Regardless of numbers, there are a lot of Greek people and hence a lot of super delicious Greek food.  In fact, just as much as some families have the local Chinese or Indian restaurant, my family would go Greek.

No, not like that you bunch of perverts….I meant we would celebrate family occasions at the local  Greek restaurant.

Spanakopita Ingredients
Spanakopita Ingredients

Mind you, this did come after a debacle at the local Chinese.  You know the classic tale of the gauche family who drink the fingerbowls?  Not that old chestnut for my family.  No way.  Uh huh.

We’re a much classier lot.

So when, towards the end of our meal, the waiter delivered some small bowls of water to our table we dutifully dipped and dunked and positively soaked our fingers revelling in our (sub) urban/e sophistication.  He then reappeared with a plate of…I can best describe them as  caramel coated sweet dumplings.  The idea being that you dipped your caramel dumpling into the icy cold water thereby changing the caramel from a hot liquid to a crispy shell. We all looked to our now slightly grubby bowls of warmish water and the thought of dessert suddenly didn’t seem so good.

Now, I can’t speak a word of Mandarin, but believe me, that wasn’t a prerequisite to  understand what our waiter was muttering as he swished away the original bowls.  There is a certain tone people adopt when they say “You people are morons” that is pretty much universal.

We celebrated with Greek food from then on.

Spanakopita Ingredients - pre massage
Spanakopita Ingredients – pre massage

The February Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by Audax of Audax Artifex. The challenge brought us to Greece with a delicious, flaky spanakopita – a spinach pie in a phyllo pastry shell.  I had thought I was au fait with the cooking of this particular dish as it is something I make fairly regularly.  However Audax’s version had a few curve balls.

First there was massaging the ingredients.  It made me think about those Wagyu cows…

Spanakopita 2
Spanakopita 2

Then post the massage there was the squeeze….this was both kind of disgusting and a shit ton of fun.

Squeezing...kind of gross.
Squeezing…kind of gross.
Squeezed Spinach (and my abnormally large man hands)
Squeezed Spinach (and my abnormally large man hands)

Post the squeeze, you end up with two bowls.  Once containing a dry mixture, one containing a milky green liquid.

Post Squeeze Spanakopita
Post Squeeze Spanakopita

It is at this point that I would diverge from the recipe as given by Audax and add some more cheese into the dry mixture.  I don’t know what happened to the cheese but somewhere during the massage or the squeeze it kind of disappeared, leaving a less cheesy spanakopita than I  would normally have.  For me, it’s all about the cheese.

Anyhow, then you add some couscous to the liquid and let it soak it all up.  This is utter brilliance.  The couscous bulks up the mixture so you can have a higher pie and it stops the bottom pastry getting soggy.

Spinach Juice and Couscous
Spinach Juice and Couscous

Another brilliant idea?  Cutting the squares before baking.  Stroke of genius!

Pre-Baked Spanakopita
Pre-Baked Spanakopita

 

Spanakopita - hot from the oven
Spanakopita – hot from the oven

You can find the recipe here.

Huh, I just realised I’ve mentioned fried Greek cheese in at least two out of the last three posts.  I think my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

I’m going to be spending my week having at least one trip to the Paradise of Lindos to partake of some plate smashing, some haloumi and maybe even a little bit of this…

ZorbaZorba

Have a great week whatever you get up to!

Signature 1 Vintage Valentine Quick as Wink2

 

Goodness, Gracious, Great Balls of Rice? (Daring Kitchen Arancini)

Ever made food where just looking at it made you feel happy?

Spinach and Cheese Arancini
Spinach and Cheese Arancini

That’s how I felt with the December Daring Kitchen Challenge.  Just looking at these golden balls of goodness made me smile.

Yes, I did just say golden balls of goodness, and yes, I did have a little smirk as I did.

Sigh.

I so have the mind of a 12-year-old boy.  And you know what?  This whole post is full of stuff like that.

So, you know, take a moment….watch this clip from a British tv show called, I kid you not,  Golden Balls, which appears to be a game show version of the Prisoner’s dilemma.   (Yay, I knew that Philosophy major would come in handy one day!  Stay tuned, next week…Baking with Nietzsche…)

Anyway, marvel at the British nuttiness of it all and come back ready to talk about arancini….

Golden Balls

Ok, I’m ready.  Arancini.

January’s Daring Cooks’ challenge was a ball! The lovely Manu from Manu’s Menu brought our taste buds to the streets of Sicily and taught us her family tradition of making arancine – filled and fried balls of risotto. Delizioso!

These were super delizioso but believe me, you’re not making them in any sort of hurry.  These babies need some time and devotion to the cause.

First you’ve got to make:

The Risotto

Arancini Ingredients
Arancini Ingredients

I’ll put the full recipe at the end.  but this is actually a great risotto recipe.

What you end up with is this.  How gorgeous is this bright yellow?

This lovely sunshiney yellow is well on its way to becoming my favourite colour. And mmmmm…butter….

Saffron Risotto
Saffron Risotto

Then you lay it into a tray to cool and then you make…

Golden Balls o’ Sunshine…

Saffron Risotto Balls
Saffron Risotto Balls

And you know what?  You could stop right here and crumb these babies and they would be all kinds of delicious.  But in the daring kitchen, we’re turning that flavour experience up to 11.  Yeah.  EL-EV-EN.

Starting With:

The Bechamel

Wow.  has there ever been a bigger moment of cognitive dissonance?

Did you all just fist pump the air Eye of the Tiger style and then do a double take?

Bechamel?  WTF?  BlecHHHHHamel  more like.  Isn’t that the creepy white sauce that tastes like glue?

Bear with me..this one’s good.

You need to make it quite thick.

Bechamel Sauce
Bechamel Sauce

And finally:

The Filling

I chose to do a spinach and mozzarella filling.  The recipe has a meat ragu version and  a cheese version.

I didn’t get  a photo of the sauteed spinach.

But it looked like sauteed spinach.

Trust me.

Filling the Arancini 1
Filling the Arancini 1

You make a hole in the Risotto ball and add the filling ingredients – sauce, cheese, spinach.

And close.

Word to the wise.  Do the sauce first.  I’ll show you what happens in a moment if you try to do the sauce last…

Filling the Arancini 2
Filling the Arancini 2

One of these things does not quite belong…guess which one of these was the one where I put the sauce in last?

Filled Arancini
Filled Arancini

See what I mean about this being a labour of love?

It’s not all over yet folks, now you gotta egg them, crumb them and fry them up.

Bet you’re thinking you can sit down and have a quiet bottle of vino and some valium  now aren’t you?

Not so fast, Speedy.  These are fabulous and you could quite easily eat them as is.  Look at that oozy goodness….

Yep, oozy goodness from my golden balls…don’t roll your eyes…you were warned.

Spinach and Cheese Arancini 3
Spinach and Cheese Arancini 3

But remember when i said we were taking this up to eleven?

For eleven you need my spicy tomato relish (recipe below)

The arancini have a delightful crunch, then the aromatic risotto and the creamy cheesey garlicy goodness of the filling. The relish brings some heat and some tanginess. And that my friends is the five food groups covered.

Plus it has spinach so it’s good for you.

Like I said.  Eleven.

Spinach and Cheese Arancini with Tomato and Date Relish

Arancini recipe:

HERE

And just because I love you all, here’s the classic Spinal Tap clip about….

Eleven

Have a fabulous week,  And what ever you love doing – this week, take it to eleven!

Signature 1 Vintage Valentine Quick as Wink2

 

 

Retro Food For Modern Times: The Busy Woman’s Fish and Spinach Challenge

Most of the time, I can make a snap judgement as to how awful something will be just by reading the recipe.  Take, for instance, the Oyster Soup mentioned in the previous post.  I don’t actually have to taste it to know it will be repulsive.  I can mock a lot of things without having to hand over cash for the privilege.  Sometimes though, the line between good and evil is not so easily drawn.  So it was with the Busy Woman’s Cookbook recipe for Fish Fingers in Sauce Verte.

I have a soft spot for fish fingers.  They were a staple of my childhood and even now, particularly if I come home a bit boozy, fish fingers are a guilty pleasure of mine.  So, I wasn’t entirely averse to giving this recipe a try.

The result:

I had a dilemma with  how exactly to eat this though.  The recipe is not particularly helpful.  Serve sauce with fish fingers it says.  How?  I’d made two fish fingers so I tried it two ways.

Of the two, the dip was preferable as the slather made the crispy crumb coating on the fish fingers go soggy.  In all honesty though, selecting one of these as being better than the other  was a little bit like choosing between being punched or kicked in the face.  Given the choice, you may prefer one over the other but neither would always be a better option.

As mentioned, I was unsure about how the Fish Finger dish might turn out.  And the idea of the  challenge was born – put a  borderline  recipe up against one with similar ingredients that sounds ok.  Compare the two.

A search of my cookbooks lead me to a different fish with spinach sauce recipe  – Fish with Spinach Hollandaise –  from another AWW cookbook – The Best Seafood Recipes.

Incidentally, the Fish Finger with Sauce Verte recipe  did not make it into The Best Seafood Recipes.  Quelle surprise.  Also, I used salmon in my version of the Fish with Spinach Hollandaise sauce recipe,  because I had some in my freezer.

The result:

 I compared the two recipes  on 5 parameters: Taste, Ease of Cooking, Overall Look, Cost and Nutrition.

Taste

The retro food did not compare well.  The fault was in the Sauce Verte.  The next sentence is something I have never actually uttered before. Here goes.

It would have been better without the wine.

Wow.  I’m still here.  I thought for sure a bolt from the blue would have struck me down for so flagrantly defying my prevailing ethos.  The combination of wine and lemon made the sauce too sour,  a little bit bitter and combined with the spinach made my  teeth go a little furry.  It was not pleasant.  The wine would have been much better just being drunk, preferably in copious amounts prior to eating the Fish Fingers in Sauce Verte.

The other surprise was that the sugar in the Fish with Spinach Hollandaise really worked!  It somehow brightened the sauce up and I think also worked well with the toasted macadamias.  The nuts were great and added some crunchy texture into the modern dish.

Fish with Spinach Hollandaise won this round easily!

Ease of Cooking

One of the problems with cooking fish is that it can be hard to get it just right – ie not overcooked.  For that reason alone, the Fish Finger dish won this challenge.

They were both very quick, with the sauce being able to made whilst the fish was cooking.  One note though – the Fish Finger with Sauce Verte recipe states to cook the fish fingers for 20 minutes.  I cooked mine for under ten  and they were fine.

Look

Let’s start with the sauce.  Only one of these can really be called a sauce Verte.  The other is more of a Sauce Not So Verte.

Aesthetically, the Fish with Spinach Hollandaise was  far more pleasing to my eye.  I loved the combination of the bright green sauce and the pink salmon.  I thought this was a really pretty looking dish and it won this round hands down.

Cost

Fish Fingers and frozen spinach are cheap.  Salmon and macadamias are not.  Lets move on.

Nutritional Value

I’m not a nutritionist but I’m probably not wrong in suggesting that fresh salmon and spinach are better for you than frozen spinach and fish fingers.  I’d also hazard a guess that macadamias are more healthy than whatever the hell they crumb fish fingers with.   Even with the butter and sugar I think the modern version wins out.

The Busy Woman’s Fish Finger recipe did not fare as badly as I thought it would.  Personally  if I had to rank the parameters, I would probably place taste and nutritional value towards the top of the list but I also recognise that sometimes cheap and cheerful is exactly what you need.  Even under these circumstances I would not make the Sauce Verte again.  It was not good.   The remainder of the box of fish fingers is in my freezer and when the time is right will be eaten with this busy woman’s preferred combination of mayonnaise and tabasco!

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