Category Archives: Spinach

Why cook anything else?

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Photography by Sam Armocido

I blame bacon. Amish bacon.

You see, until last week, I was living in a beautiful fantasy world where people came to my Eastern Market demos each week to taste new, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients. We were learning new foods, new recipes and new techniques together. But it was all a lie.

One of my farmers, Dan, picked up four pounds of bacon during his weekly run into Lancaster County, PA. “Fry it up at the end of your demo,” he asked, so he and his staff could eat it for lunch between slices of bread with fresh baby arugula. I got more attention and more questions during 20 minutes of frying bacon then I had throughout three hours of strawberry soup, spinach salad and fiddlehead ferns. Most of them were, “Is that bacon?”

But, Mom and Dad didn’t raise a quitter. So sorry folks, you’re just going to have to suffer through asparagus soup with mushroom spaetzle this week. As my Dad used to tell me, “People in hell want ice water.” And, apparently, bacon.

Spinach With Spicy Bacon Vinaigrette

This is not the salad to use baby spinach for. The hot vinaigrette will wilt it right down into soup. Buy grown-up spinach with good substance to the leaves. Yum! No Cabernet Sauvignon jam in the fridge, bust out just about any jam with this salad from tart beach plum or cherry to acidic orange marmalade.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red onion cut in thin slices
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other tart jam
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup Sherry or Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
  • Ground Habañero chile or cayenne pepper
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1 pound grown-up Spinach, de-ribbed

*You can find Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar at Washington, DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Stop by or order online. I love it and easily go through a bottle a month.

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a 10” skillet over medium-high heat. Brown bacon and remove with a slotted spoon, leaving behind rendered fat.
  • Add diced onion, reduce heat to medium and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add Cabernet Sauvignon jam and mustard and cook, stirring, until jam liquifies and liquid reduces by half.
  • Add vinegar and whisk until vinaigrette comes together and thickens.
  • Season vinaigrette to taste with salt, pepper and Habañero or other hot chile powder.
  • Toss spinach, sliced onion and oranges with vinaigrette and serve. If you want this to look extra special for guests, dress the onions and orange sections in a separate bowl and plate on top of the dressed spinach.

 

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Trust.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

During my Eastern Market cooking demos, I am often asked, “Do you only cook with organic ingredients?”

The answer? “No.” I prefer organic, but I put my full faith in farmers. The reality is that raising and selecting healthy food is more complicated than a single factor, like organic. There are highly toxic organic pest and disease controls. And who has certified the food to be organic, the USDA? Those standards are too broad to be meaningful, and don’t cover important health and flavor factors like soil nutrition, cultivar selection and harvest and storage practices.

Develop relationships with farmers and their food. Ask them where it was grown*. If it tastes amazing when you bring it home, go back to them and buy more. If you’ve never been to the market before, watch the locals.

At the end of the day, I trust that they are experts in growing healthy and flavorful food. Like electricity or aspirin, some chemical pest and disease controls are okay, used properly. That’s part of the expertise of farming.

My farmers sell me and my family the same food they serve their own families. Their livelihood depends on being able to look me in the eye, confident I will return healthy and happy the following week.

So, when Marvin at Long Meadow Farms told me his Gold Rush apples had stored well over the winter, that they were nice and crisp, despite wrinkled skins, I trusted him. And they were delicious.

*Sometimes I hear people complain that farmers sell produce they didn’t grow themselves. Farmers are often part of local agricultural communities. They have friends and neighbors who grow great food too. Growing everything yourself isn’t a pre-requisite for being a great purveyor of delicious, healthy farm-fresh produce.

Golden Apple Oyster Mushroom Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs butter
  • 2 cups chopped Oyster mushrooms
  • 2 tbs brandy
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/3 cup Blackberry Balsamic or balsamic vinegar*
  • 1/4 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cup Koroneiko or another high- quality, light, grassy olive oil*
  • 1 pound baby spinach
  • 2 Gold Rush or other golden apples cut in matchsticks

*Blackberry Balsamic vinegar and Koroneiko olive oil are available in Washington, DC or online from Sapore Oil and Vinegar.

Directions:

  • Melt butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté until softened.
  • Deglaze pan with brandy. Cook until evaporated and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • While mushrooms cook, whisk together shallot, Blackberry Balsamic vinegar, mustard and honey with a pinch each of salt and pepper.
  • When mushrooms finish, whisk oil into vinegar mixture. Taste with spinach and adjust seasoning.
  • Lightly dress spinach and top with mushrooms and apples.

Building a pantry.

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Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

My love for cooking began, like so many long relationships, with a heated, passionate affair. I poured through cookbooks, unable to sate my newfound desire. Each new recipe, each new ingredient was a was an adventure I never knew existed. Like many affairs, it was also expensive.

Each new recipe required new oils, new spices. Each bottle of sherry vinegar, jar of cardamom and bag of arborio rice was another dollar (or $11) out of my pinched wallet. My mother, ever practical, suggested cooking with the ingredients I already had. Willful and young, I ignored her.

Eventually, I built a pantry. Using only a tablespoon per dish, that $10 bottle of walnut oil was on handwhen I needed it to toss with arugula and bleu cheese.

Getting a pantry started can seem daunting, and pricey. You can either dip a toe in the water, or jump off the deep end (which is exactly where my mother thought I had gone off). Either way, one day you will open your cupboard, delightfully surprised, and find everything right there.

Curried Fingerling Potatoes

There are a lot of ingredients here. Most of them are spices and they all go in the pan at once, simple and straightforward.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs ghee* or butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic. minced
  • 1 tbs mustard seed
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 cups quartered fingerling potatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock or Indian stock (see below)
  • 4-5 cups loose baby spinach
  • 1 tbs Chile Oil*
  • Sherry vinegar*

*Ghee is Indian clarified butter. Find it with international ingredients or other oils and cooking fats. We opened up our Sapore Oil and Vinegar cupboard, and used Merken Chile oil and Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar.

Directions:

  • Melt 2 tbs ghee in a 3 quart sauté pan. Add onion and cook until edges brown. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
  • Add mustard and cumin seed. Cook for 2 minutes until mustard seeds begin to pop. Add remaining spices and cook for 30 seconds longer.
  • Add potatoes and stir through with spices and onion.
  • Add stock, stir and cover. Cook 15 minutes until the center of the potatoes is still firm when pierced with a knife. Uncover and cook until sauce is reduced to a thin sauce.
  • Add spinach and cover for 2 minutes.
  • Remove top, stir through wilted spinach.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, chile oil and sherry vinegar.

Indian Stock

This special stock adds additional richness to Indian-flavored dishes. You could also use it for soup with the addition of lightly browned pieces of carrot, potato and chicken.

Ingredients:
2 tbs ghee or butter
1 carrot, roughly chopped
3 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
1 cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves

Directions:

  • Melt ghee in a stock pot over medium-high heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and leek and cook until browned.
  • Add cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. Cook for 1 minute more and fill with 8 cups water.
  • Simmer for 40 minutes and strain solids reserving stock.

Surprise!

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Easter EggWhen I was four or five we had a jellybean hunt instead of an Easter egg hunt. File that away for later.

At the age of fourteen, on the Saturday before Easter, I snuck out of the house at 10pm, after everyone had gone to bed, and rode my bike down the hill to the local Dairy Mart. I purchased four dozen eggs, several dying kits and one package of those plastic, shrink-wrap collars that cling to the egg when submerged in boiling water.

Back home at 11:00PM I hardboiled and decorated each of the 48 eggs. They were dyed brightly, names added with the clear, wax crayon, and the Paas stickers, including the turtle and the little, golden cross, placed carefully.

Well past midnight I snuck quietly out into the backyard and hid each of the 48 eggs before creeping up to my third floor bedroom and drifting off to sleep, smiling, knowing I would wake to greet my family with this wonderful surprise.

I rose Easter Sunday about 1 hour after my dad, who was up early to let the dogs out. I came down and announced, beaming, the prior night’s mischief. Dad, looking worried, walked me out into the yard. “Do you remember,” he said, “when we had the jellybean hunt for Easter?”

“Of course,” I replied. It had seemed so different and magic at the time.

“We had planned an outdoor Easter egg hunt that year too, but when we let the dogs out, they ate each and everyone of the eggs. I suspect they did the same thing this morning.”

Sure enough, the eggs were gone. Every one of them. All that was left were pieces of shell and the chewed plastic shrink-wraps. Dad and I walked back inside, and he let me help hide the two dozen eggs we had decorated as a family the afternoon before.

NOTE: For those of you worries about the dogs, our two labs were just fine, despite looking a bit smug that morning.

Spinach Frittata

Spinach FrittataIngredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound spinach leaves, stemmed
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp cream
  • 1/2 tsp
  • nutmeg
  • cayenne
  • white pepper

Directions:

  • Warm oil over medium heat in a 12″ skillet. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add spinach to pan and cook until wilted and most of the water has evaporated. About 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove spinach to cutting board and chop finely.
  • Whisk together eggs, and cream. Season with salt, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch each of nutmeg and cayenne.
  • Return pan to medium heat and melt butter, swirling to coat the bottom and edges of the pan.
  • Sprinkle the spinach over the bottom of the pan, and gently pour the eggs over the top. If the eggs don’t spread evenly over the pan, gently tip the pan to distribute.
  • Now, stop messing with the eggs. Don’t stir them. Cover the pan with a lid and let them sit for 5 minutes or so. Take a quick look, and if they are nearly set, move a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan to loosen the frittata. Return the cover and cook until the eggs on top are set.
  • Once finished, remove from heat and loosen the frittata with a rubber spatula and slide it onto a cutting board or serving plate. If it feels like it won’t loosen from the pan, cut it into wedges or squares and remove it piece by piece. Either way, it tastes awesome!