Category Archives: recipes

Share Some Luck with Spinach Pie

By Mary Ann Ebner

There’s something organic about bring-a-dish gatherings with few rules to pull people together for musings on more than food. We all know someone who cringes at the mention of a potluck. He or she may avoid edible uncertainty, but that’s part of the point. Bringing something you love can spark fresh perspectives for companions.

The starting point, at a minimum, should be a dish that can be served on a plate and eaten with basic utensils. Even without rules, it’s unlikely everyone will bring their signature dessert, but worse things can happen besides a table loaded with sweets. There’s usually a taste or two for everyone, with a range of gluten-free, vegan and carnivorous recipes.

Years ago, when I worked at a campus radio station, it was announced that the year-end party would be a potluck. The general manager and engineer were full-time employees, but the rest of us were students with limited cash flow. We spent little time or money on cooking, and when we dined out it was usually at the Stagger Inn over pitchers of beer and platters of potato skins. That was high-end nutrition compared to the microwavable sandwiches peddled from campus vending machines.

As potluck day rolled around, our lack of money and cooking experience didn’t stop us from covering a couple of desks with an assortment of contributions. At least three salads turned up, along with a fruit pie that was probably stocked from the freezer section, although its creator chose not to say.

The fruit pie was popular, but the most sampled dish was a bowl of blackberry Jell-O. It wasn’t spiked (or so we were told) or topped with whipped cream but represented the willingness to take part without making a fuss over ingredients and temperatures.

Shared meals not only spread the work around but bring communities together — the best payoff. Fresh spinach is a reliable crowd pleaser and does its work in simple or lavish recipes. This variation of spanakopita is essentially spinach pie made with phyllo sheets, which are easy to use but require quick work to prevent them from becoming brittle. If you find a few triangles left over, wrap them up. They’ll taste even better the next day.

Potluck Spinach Pie

16 servings

3 eggs
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 small red onion, chopped
3 to 4 bunches fresh spinach, trimmed
1 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 cup roasted sunflower kernels
20 sheets phyllo pastry, thawed
3 tablespoons butter, melted
sea salt
black pepper

Lightly beat eggs with fork in mixing bowl, stir in ricotta and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Sauté onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add mushrooms. Cook over medium heat 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add to ricotta mixture.

Cook trimmed spinach in remaining olive oil until leaves wilt. Season with salt and pepper. Remove spinach from pan, drain and chop. Stir into ricotta mixture along with fresh parsley.

After all other ingredients are prepped, unroll phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap and a damp towel during assembly. Butter large baking pan and layer two sheets of phyllo dough over bottom of pan. Brush layer with butter and sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Repeat with three more layers. Spoon the spinach ricotta mixture over the top layer. Sprinkle with sunflower kernels. Cover with phyllo layer, brush with butter, sprinkle with sunflower seeds and repeat to use remainder of sheets. Brush top layer with butter. Using a serrated knife, cut into squares, then into triangles. Bake until golden, about 40 minutes.

First published at The Highlands Current

Cook On: 1 part chaos, 2 parts calm, text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

Choose your filling

minimized-hamantaschenHamantaschen are three-cornered treats stuffed with many favorites—prune, apricot, poppy seed or cream cheese fillings. The traditional pastries of Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of the villain Haman, taste great any time of year. Make hamantaschen and test a triangle or two before curious neighbors smell the delicious aroma and drop in with an appetite.

Wrap and Roll

Puffy golden egg rolls may top plates at all-you-can-manage buffets or come with beef and broccoli servings to go, but when we rely only on these sources, we’re missing out on a joyous do-it-yourself meal.

Takeout offers convenience on busy days, but cooking Chinese food at home can bring on even more flavor. As the Chinese New Year approaches, falling on Jan. 28 this year, make room for a meal of Chinese cuisine or at the very least a Chinese-American recipe without ready-to-eat containers.

For the last few years, it’s been my good fortune to attend festive gatherings to welcome the holiday. The menu typically includes two to three versions of stir-fry, steamed and fried rice, dumplings, tofu with sesame, wontons and those crunchy yet tender treats known to some as spring rolls and to others as egg rolls.

Though contemporary fans of Chinese food may use the terms interchangeably, my Chinese cooking inspiration refers to her family’s carefully wrapped creations as spring rolls. No Chinese New Year feast would be complete without them as a favorite side that can easily stand in as the main attraction.minimized-make-your-own-spring-rolls-copy

Unraised sheets of dough wrap around a filling of chopped vegetables like cabbage, carrots, onions, celery and mushrooms while some variations include mung bean threads and pork or shrimp.

Tradition holds that spring rolls shared among family and friends trace their origin to the Chinese New Year to signify the renewal of springtime based on the lunar calendar. The term egg roll may be accurate for thicker wrappers made with egg, popularized by restaurants beyond the Chinese mainland during the last century. Other Asian cuisines claim their own varieties, and whether you call them egg rolls or spring rolls or shape them more squarely than roundly, those who pause to argue about names or misnomers could turn to find the platter empty.

Fresh spring-roll skins prepared with flour, salt and water may taste best, but you’ll find me assembling spring rolls with wheat-based ready-made wrappers sold in packages of 20 to 25 pieces for around $2. Local markets stock super-thin wrappers that fry up lightly and crisply.

minimized-spring-roll-filling-copyWhen using even the best ingredients, this easy endeavor can flop without proper technique. For her fried spring rolls, my guide in all things Chinese raises the heat and stirs swiftly when cooking the filling. She generously fills the wrappers and recommends rolling them tightly not only to keep the filling in, but to keep the frying oil out. Though she teaches the study of Chinese language professionally, spending far more time in a classroom than a kitchen, she’s very much at home sharing the joy of spring roll preparation and appreciation.

Find a little happiness in the new moon with this simple recipe. Serve with citrus sauce or plum preserves.

Spring Rolls

Yield: about 20 spring rolls

1 pound ground pork
8 to 10 stalks scallions, chopped
1 medium-sized cabbage, shredded into small strips
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups mung bean vermicelli (rinsed, uncooked and cut with kitchen scissors into small pieces)
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 package 25-count spring roll wrappers (skins, shells)
canola or vegetable oil
1 to 2 beaten eggs for sealing wrappers

  1. Brown pork with scallions over medium heat. Add cabbage strips, stir and cook on high heat to warm through completely. Lower heat to medium, stir in carrots and cook additional 2 minutes. Add mung bean vermicelli and cook 1 to 2 minutes. Season with 1 half teaspoon salt and a few twists of pepper. Drain any excess liquid to minimize moisture. Cool cabbage mixture completely to prevent wrappers from breaking while filling.
  2. To fill and shape rolls, lay a small stack of skins on a work surface with one corner of the skin pointing to you. Spoon a thick row of filling across the base of top skin, below its center. Fold bottom corner up and over filling, hold firmly and fold over left and right corners to opposite sides in envelope style. Complete rolling and brush the final corner with egg. Fold corner over to seal.
  3. To fry, use a 12- to 14-inch pan that allows oil to cover bottom to a quarter inch. Bring oil to high temperature before adding spring rolls individually. Just as pan is full, turn the first one, and then one-by-one turn the others in the order they went into the oil. Once rolls have all been turned, remove them in the same order and place on a paper towel-lined plate to absorb excess oil, allowing space between each roll to preserve crispness. Serve whole or cut diagonally.

First published by The Highlands Current

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner

 

 

 

Too Good to Toss

Thanksgiving, with its signature feasts, is a fitting time to thank the farmers, bakers and specialty food producers who make it possible for us to find mounds of fresh vegetables, pastured poultry and cut-to-order domestic cheeses. While families and friends usher in the high season for sharing food and drinks, your to-do list should include a plan for leftovers. Finishing off the stuffing and sweet potatoes not only saves time and money but controls food waste. Ever slathered leftover sweet potatoes on corn tortillas to grill?

minimized-cranberry-sauce-compote-copySome food waste is unavoidable, but after the second or third day of overlooking leftovers in the refrigerator, options diminish. For those who eat turkey and welcome its protein value, eating the dark or white meat on Thanksgiving may be plenty, though some of us look forward to building a sandwich on toasty rye bread. To revive your leftovers, let them stand in for a breakfast change, like cranberry sauce compote, spiked with crunchy granola. Reserve potato peels for a vegetable stock and put the mashed potatoes to work in a classic dish.

With this year’s leftover turkey, I’m making a mashed potato dish that resembles shepherd’s pie and its close cousin, cottage pie. Traditionalists insist that only lamb can be used to make shepherd’s pie and beef is required for cottage pie. But whatever you want to call it, turkey works for me. In fact, this comfort dish can be made with fish or a mixture of lentils and crunchy carrots folded under the layer of potatoes.minimized-slice-of-leftovers-pie

Though this post-Thanksgiving mashup, which I call Gobbler Pie, may look like a shepherd’s pie, it takes on a character of its own with the help of blended spices and caramelized onions. If you can find a batch or grind your own, Lebanese seven-spice blend carries the pie across cultures.

To further prevent food waste and help alleviate hunger in the region, contact the Food Bank of the Hudson Valley (foodbankofhudsonvalley.org or 845-534-5344). It collects millions of pounds of food each year for distribution in Dutchess, Putnam and three other nearby counties.

Cranberry sauce compote

Serves 4

2 soft bananas
8 ounces plain yogurt
2 cups granola
leftover cranberry sauce (water, fresh cranberries, grated orange or lemon peel, sugar)
Blend bananas and yogurt. Layer yogurt, granola, cranberry sauce and more granola to enjoy the remains of fresh cranberry sauce.

Gobbler Pie

Serves 6

olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Lebanese seven-spice blend (a mixture of equal parts ground allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, nutmeg) or your own favorite spice blend
4 cups shredded turkey
mashed potatoes

Shake shredded turkey with spice blend and 1 tablespoon olive oil in plastic bag or covered bowl until evenly coated. Set spiced turkey aside. In large pan, cook onions with salt in olive oil over high heat. Stir continuously until onions turn brown in color. Add spiced turkey and warm through.

Spoon turkey and onion mixture into greased baking dish. Cover turkey layer with leftover mashed potatoes. Drizzle olive oil over potatoes. Bake 25 to 30 minutes at 375 degrees until the top begins to turn golden brown. Sprinkle top lightly with spice blend.

All-Purpose Pasta

Although average strands of spaghetti dressed with a homemade sauce typically fill the dinner plates at our house, there’s no argument that to appreciate the beauty of true noodles — prepared with eggs, flour and a little olive oil — you need fresh pasta.

For fine pasta selections, like the hand-rolled pasta at Manhattan restaurant Felidia, it’s hard to beat what culinary pros create with dough. It’s completely unlikely that the pasta from my own kitchen will ever measure up to the delicate egg pastas turned out at Felidia, but every now and then I attempt to roll my own dough.minimized-beating-eggs-in-bowl

Purchasing high-end dried pasta that’s perfect in flavor and texture is another option. A couple of weeks ago, my family dropped in at the newest location of Eataly, the gastronomic store, at 4 World Trade Center. Lidia Bastianich, who created Felidia, has a hand in Eataly, along with her son, Joe Bastianich, and chef Mario Batali. Besides its selection of fine pasta, Eataly includes a restaurant and gourmet marketplace stocked with spices, oils, olives, bread, cheeses, wine — anything imaginable to create an “Eatalian” dinner.

Shelf after shelf of perfectly packaged nests of noodles filled me up even before I tasted (and devoured) the agnolotti during dinner. Long pastas, short pastas, pastas for soup, little pillows of pasta and thick, ridged and hollow pastas were all within reach. It’s an inspirational place.

With so many shapes and sizes to choose from at groceries like Foodtown in Cold Spring — including selections of gluten-free rice- and corn-blended noodles — it’s convenient to buy ready-to-cook pasta. But making basic egg pasta dough isn’t all that taxing. It’s not essential, but a pasta-making machine might simplify the rolling and bring more fun to the task with its hand-cranking mechanism.

If you don’t have a machine, roll out dough by hand and slice pasta with a knife or pizza cutter. Rolling dough as paper-thin as possible results in beautiful ribbons, but appearance is not all that counts. The texture and width of a noodle determine what type of sauce pairs best with it.

For thoroughly indulgent egg pasta, use only egg yolks. Gather a couple of ingredients and a rolling pin and turn out fresh sheets of dough. My daily dining partners favor a thicker fettuccine-type noodle that holds up under a layer of stout red sauce. It tastes good any time, but especially on a dark winter’s day. This time of year, as colors change and autumn leaves fall, the pasta serves as a bed for a hearty mix of vegetables anchored by acorn squash. The real work comes with the squash, and once you’ve managed to peel its firm skin, you’ll probably find the pasta prep painless.

Sautéed Squash

1 large acorn squash, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, diced
½ sweet onion, diced
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
2 cups hominy, rinsed
⅓ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper to taste

Mix olive oil with spices over medium heat. Add onions, celery, carrots and squash. Cook until tender. Add hominy. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper. Serve over pasta.

Pasta Dough

Serves 4 to 6

2½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place flour in mixing bowl (if especially coordinated, pour the flour directly onto work surface) and create a well in the center. Crack eggs into the well and slowly beat eggs. Mix in olive oil and gradually work eggs into flour. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to moisten. Knead dough until smooth. Finish kneading on flat surface. Form a ball of dough, cover and let dough rest 30 minutes. Slice the dough into sections, dust with flour and, using a pasta machine, pass the sections through flat pasta rollers. Lightly flour pasta sections after each pass. Repeat, adjusting the width for a thinner sheet. Once desired thickness is reached, pass dough sheets through cutters. If hand-rolling, roll dough to thin consistency and cut into desired types.

Bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Drop pasta into water little by little and cook uncovered until pasta rises and floats. Test a noodle to make sure it’s tender and done before removing from the cooking pot. Toss with sauce, vegetables, or top with light butter and finish with freshly grated cheese.

Text and photos by Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

Chocolate Reserve

By Mary Ann Ebner

It often pays off to stash a little chocolate — and cocoa  — in the cupboard. The confectionery staples embellish everything and cool weather calls for cocoa.

To those who temper chocolate, temperature matters beyond the chocolate thermometer. As autumn arrives, chocolate delicacies hold up longer, while demand from chocolate lovers increases.

When temperatures dipped, Alps Sweet Shop stepped up chocolate production. The family business, which has locations in Beacon and Fishkill, has handcrafted small-batch fine confections for more than 90 years. It was founded by Peter Charkalis and today is run by his granddaughter, Sally Charkalis-Craft, and her husband, Terry Craft, a master chocolatier.

minimized-terry-craft-prepares-salted-caramel-copy

Terry Craft, master chocolatier and co-owner of Alps Sweet Shop, pours 110  pounds of salted caramel onto a cooling tray at their Beacon location. 

Customers streamed in to Beacon’s Main Street location last week to choose from sweets in cases brimming with chocolate-covered caramels, heaven-and-earth truffles, chocolate glace fruits, almond butter crunch and molded chocolates.

Terry Craft and his candy makers work year round but fall production keeps them in the kitchen even longer, stirring kettles bubbling with the likes of salted caramel and dark chocolate. He studied his craft in the U.S., Belgium, France, Canada and England, and although producing confections is labor intensive, he says he finds the work rewarding.

“It’s a feel-good type of business,” Craft said. “People are either coming in here to make themselves happy or to make someone else happy.”

The recipes haven’t changed since Peter Charkalis’s day, but the production methods have evolved from the days when every morsel was handmade. Sally’s mother, Mary Charkalis, recalled a turning point in 1968 when the shop bought its first piece of machinery, an enrober. Sally’s grandfather was not happy about the purchase, so her father waited until he was on vacation in Greece to have it delivered. (He eventually came around to appreciate its benefits.)

An enrober — which moves confections down a conveyor belt, along a cold plate to set the bottom and then through a curtain of chocolate for coating — still stands ready in the Beacon shop. Alps has since further modernized its methods by purchasing an automated candy wrapper and computerized molding equipment.

Like any connoisseur in matters of taste, Craft knows cocoa (or cacao, as it is more commonly known where it’s grown). He prefers a Criollo cocoa bean from Ecuador. The common Forastero bean is a close second but he says it doesn’t have the pronounced flavor. As a third option there’s the Trinitario, a hybrid of the Criollo and the Forastero.

“The best of the best [chocolatiers] can tell you while eating them not only what part of the world a bean is from but the region or plantation where they’re grown,” Craft said. “This particular plantation has a patented fermentation process and right now I have exclusive U.S. rights. These Ecuadorian Criollo beans are right off the plantation.” He cracked open a bean, removed the nib and gently crushed it.

“The nib is where the excitement starts,” he explained. “The nib is pressed and the cocoa butter is extracted and what’s left is called the chocolate liquor,” the paste that serves as the essential ingredient for chocolate. Craft sells the Ecuadorian product to restaurants and pastry chefs as well as a microbrewer. He also coats whole beans in organic chocolate and recently filled an order for 25,000.

“You can taste the earthiness, a savory touch, fruitiness and the soil of the region,” he said. “And the cocoa bean is off the charts with its flavonoids and high in vitamins and minerals.”

Savor a piece of gourmet chocolate or make the cake recipe here that calls for cocoa powder and bits of chocolate. Some chip chocolates have a high melting point, so a better choice is a premium chocolate like the break-up bars that Alps produces in milk, dark and organic white chocolate.minimized-chocolate-kahlua-cake-two

Fragrant cocoa powder, Kahlua and rich chocolate enhance this Bundt cake. 

Home cooks should be able to find small quantities of good cocoa at local markets. Natural unsweetened cocoa, non-alkalized, will be darker while alkalized will soften bitterness. Some cocoas may also affect rise and texture of a cake. This chocolate cake always pleases, thanks in part to flavorful chocolate, powerful cocoa and a dose of Kahlua.

Chocolate Kahlua Cake

1 ¼ cups sugar
1 ¾ cups flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
4 eggs, beaten
16 ounces sour cream
¾ cups canola oil
⅓ cup Kahlua
6 ounces chocolate, broken into small pieces

Glaze

2 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ cups Kahlua

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter Bundt pan and dust with cocoa. Mix flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add eggs, sour cream, oil and Kahlua. Stir thoroughly and fold in chocolate pieces. Pour batter into pan and bake 1 hour.

Whisk glaze ingredients and set aside.

Allow cake to cool, then invert. Pour glaze over cake and set 1 hour. Refrigerate if serving next day. Serve with fresh mint leaves.

Photos by M.A. Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current

Share an artichoke

Artichokes sprout a few thorns, but underneath all that armor, their tough leaves protect delicate creamy flesh.

Harvested before they blossom with spiky flowers, artichokes are actually unopened buds from a type of thistle plant. The plants produce clusters of large buds, not only tasty to eat but striking enough to use as a centerpiece. With many distant relatives in the daisy family of flowering plants, artichokes remind me of a stunning flower, the giant protea, with a cone-shaped appearance and tropical beauty. A bin of harvested artichoke globes draws more than a passing look at our local grocery store, but a field of green artichoke plants with thick stems shooting up several feet toward the California sky can stop traffic, or perhaps prompt drivers to slow down to admire roadside fields.

minimized-california-artichokesSometimes we all need to take a good look at what we’re cooking and eating. Driving along California’s Highway 1 through Castroville a few weeks ago, we stopped our car to check out the dreamy fields of artichoke plants. The small unincorporated town of Castroville touts itself as the world’s artichoke capital, rich in fertile farmland with a cool coastal climate ideal for growing the plants as well as other crops like lettuce and strawberries that flourish in the Salinas Valley. We’ve enjoyed sharing artichokes around our table since my husband and I lived not far from Castroville nearly 20 years ago. Seeing again one of our favorite foods ready for harvest in this small community that is the big-time producer of the plant reminded us why we appreciate artichokes so much. Working away through each layer of leaves to reach the prized heart allows time to linger over conversation.

I’ve found steaming rather than roasting or stuffing them the simplest way to celebrate a meal of artichokes, with one for each of us if they’re small, served up with a warm garlicky butter and toast. Prep includes nothing more than cutting off the stem and any tough lower leaves to flatten the bottom, trimming the thorniest top leaves with kitchen scissors, and placing them in a pot of salted water doused with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice. After 20 minutes of steaming, when leaves pull away easily, it’s dipping time. We peel off each leaf to eat them one by one, gently pulling leaves through teeth for the mini reward of a buttery bite of the underside of each leaf, and then carefully remove the fuzzy choke and slice up the meaty bottom for the long-awaited honors of its center.

Anyone in a hurry should be banned from the table when the meal includes whole steamed artichokes. A diner who moves too quickly on the heart is often rewarded with a forkful of hairy choke.

Artichokes enhance so many recipes. One of my favored sauces is an artichoke-mushroom medley made with heavy cream. Spinach and artichoke quiche never fails for brunch, and fried artichokes make their case as the perfect appetizer. A friend and I recently shared a fine plate of fried baby artichokes, — lightly crisped and served with a roasted garlic-olive tapenade aioli — on the open airy patio at The Roundhouse in Beacon. Steamed, marinated, pickled or fried, artichokes can go solo or harmonize to finish a dish. Nothing beats fresh, but even frozen, jarred or canned artichokes add a little extra bloom to a meal.minimized-steamed-artichokes

Steam your own to dip leaves in butter and slide across those teeth, toss marinated hearts in a leafy green salad or fry a batch of baby artichokes and savor them with garlic sauce.

Artichokes (Fried or Steamed)

Serves 4

4 medium artichokes

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup corn meal

1 cup bread crumbs

salt

pepper

1 cup olive oil

juice of half lemon (if needed)

Fried: Mix corn meal, bread crumbs, salt and pepper and set aside. Trim top and stem of artichoke with sharp knife. Peel away tough outer leaves to expose soft inner layers. Open the center using fingers to pull leaves apart and with a metal spoon remove fuzzy choke, or cut artichoke in half and spoon or cut away choke and surrounding purplish leaves. Cut in half again for quartered pieces. (If not using right away, place pieces in lemon water.) Dredge pieces in beaten eggs and dry mixture and fry in olive oil over medium heat until lightly golden. Remove fried pieces to paper towels to drain excess oil. Serve immediately.

Steamed: For the alternative steamed version, place cut pieces in a heavy pan with enough water to cover pan’s bottom below steamer basket. Steam 15 minutes until tender and serve with lemon wedges, garlic butter or aioli.

Aioli

(Makes 1 cup)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

3 egg yolks

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon boiling water

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon sriracha chili sauce (or any hot sauce)

½ teaspoon salt

Mix garlic and egg yolks in bowl with whisk. Add salt and boiling water and mix thoroughly. Gradually beat in olive oil. Mix in lemon juice, sriracha and salt. Serve with prepared artichokes.

By Mary Ann Ebner, first published by The Highlands Current