Have you ever had one of those moments where you finally get what all the fuss is about? I happened to me when I heard Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” the first time I caught a wave on a surfboard, and with a swallow of cognac from a 150 year old distillery near my father-in-law’s family home. For years, I hadn’t understood why people obsessed over Adele, surfing, or any alcohol in the whisky-burbon-scotch-cognac family, and then, in an instant, I did.
This dish was my moment with spinach. I like spinach, and I eat plenty of it in salads or mixed in with a variety of rice and pasta dishes, but I had never thought of it as much of a star player on its own. Spinach is just not that interesting of a flavor, right? Boy, was I wrong. In this dish, the flavor of spinach becomes strong and deeply verdant; the leaves around the edges of the pan crisp up and mix with crisped cheese to make little spinach nachos; the soft velvet texture of spinach is offset by breadcrumbs; this dish is spinach, seriously good. Not that we have a cultural obsession with spinach, but maybe we should. Maybe if we all ate this dish, we’d have a unanimous A-ha moment about just how good this little green leaf can taste.
Filed under Food, Science!
I am not terribly fussy about food, in general. I like good quality food, but that is different than being all delicate about it. Seeds in the orange juice? Not a problem. Peel on the fruit, preferred. Peel on the potatoes preferred, for that matter. A bit of shell in the egg? Not going to worry about it (unless you’ve come over for brunch, in which case I will make one or two attempts to remove it). Antithetically to this kitchen attitude and behavior, I spent much of my youth working in the kitchen of a restaurant – a Tea Room, it was called, even – which served quite fussy food to grey-haired ladies. We’re talking cucumber sandwiches, petite aspics, lemon tartelettes. We’re talking we had to remove the crispy rib of a lettuce leaf before turning it to salad, because the crispy bit might be offensive. It’s a good life practice to occasionally have to behave in exactly the opposite way you’re inclined; keeps you flexible, and teaches you to be cognizant of a world unlike yours, in which people prefer their eggs without a little crunch of shell.
In this salad, I applied some of my old Tea Room training to prepare the grapefruit in the manner we used to for Sunday fruit salad. This technique removes most of the peel, pith, and the membrane that divides each section. It leaves only the most delicate part of the fruit. Can I tell you something? After preparing the perfect little sections, I ate the remains of the membranous de-sectioned fruit.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Do all kids make breakfast for their moms on Mother’s Day? I think they should. Every year, I served my mom scrambled eggs, since that was the only dish I knew how to make. Also, every year my dad and I would go to the florist to buy her a bouquet and (for some reason) a mug that would say something like “World’s Best Mom” or “Love you, Mother” I believe my mom has since “lost” many of these gifts (I would have, too), but if you search her cupboards, you can still find a number of ceramic cups extolling her virtues as a parent, not that they’re wrong.
Mom, you are probably the most generous, and at the same time strongest, people I know; I think this is a rare combination of virtues. I admire that you live out these virtues through your actions, as you are not one for hyperbole (understatement of the year!). Among the many gifts you’ve given me is my love of the beach, and a fair dose of bravery in the cold Pacific Ocean. I remember swimming out beyond the surf zone with you, feeling at once terrified by our distance from the shore, and reassured by your huge smile and joy of treading a little puddle worth of the largest body of water in the world. I wish we lived in the same town so I could make you a nice breakfast.
I admit it. I did it. After four nights of mustering the impressive strength to eat real food for dinner despite Gilles being away (which required the difficult tasks of either walking to friends’ houses to eat the dinners they prepared or reheating leftovers), I caved. I ate cereal for dinner. On Thursday. Yes, I did.
Which meant that I couldn’t eat cereal for dinner on Friday. Well, I could, but my self-respect was requesting something more.
Broccoli, crisped. Rice, made into a savory pudding. Together. Here it is.
French is a useful language if you want to cast your subject in a more flattering light. Does someone you know have a small chin? They’re not ‘weak-jawed’ in French, but rather they have a ‘fleeting chin,’ a menton fuyant, making them sound like someone who just has a really fun face. It is just as effective to use a French term in English to make something sound like it has more style or class (e.g., cachet) than it does: is something rather unrefined or primitive? Sure, in English you could say it is ‘rustic’ or ‘provincial,’ but if you bust out some French, you could call it ‘rustique’ or ‘provençal,’ which sounds much nicer.
So, enter the remarkably stylish potato
casserole gratin. Notably, not potatoes’o’gratin, as I thought they were called when I was young (and thus assumed this was a traditional Irish recipe), but potatoes au gratin.
Take note! A gratin does not have to be heavy with cream, butter, and cheese. Here, I use low-fat milk, just a bit of fat which you could exclude, and only a sprinkling of cheese. Plus, we’re adding spinach. This dish feels luxurious and rich, but is actually rather healthy, depending on how you feel about potatoes!
I’m always surprised by how much I enjoy cabbage. I remember when I was a kid, I had a Sesame Street book that was meant to be read along with an interactive tape player. One one page of the book, Snuffleupagus would tell you that cabbage was his favorite food, and then he would ask if YOU liked cabbage.
I would press no.
And then Snuffleupagus would make a very sad noise, and say something like “Oh, well… more for me, I suppose.”
Eventually, I started to press Yes I like cabbage just so I would hear happy Snuffleupagus.
To this day, I still think that I don’t really like cabbage. Then I eat it and remember that I think cabbage is pretty good. Somewhere, a muppet is happy.
It’s Friday. Let’s make a salad.
You were thinking more burgers and beer? I was thinking the same thing.
If you change your mind, this salad could make you forget about burgers. It is hearty and satisfying.
If you want to dream about cooking this rainy weekend, what about pastry? Or knish? Tonight, I’m going to learn how to make knish. Tomorrow, I’ll let you know how it goes.
But for now, the salad.