Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with A Beet and Apple Salad

I was going to try and make a challah bread recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but then I realized that I don't know how to bake at altitude, so I abandoned that idea. Here in the Mile High City (my new adopted hometown), certain adaptations have to be made when baking because the altitude interferes with leavening. There is a book called Pie in the Sky, and it's supposed to help you navigate through these baking concerns. Unfortunately, my copy hasn't arrived yet. I heard rumors that Hungarian flour helps with the altitude problem, but I don't really know much about it. So before I delve into baking here in Denver, I'm going to get more informed. 
That leaves me with a vexing question: What will I make for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which starts this week?
In addition to consuming tons and tons of challah bread, there is also a custom to eat apples. More specificially, apples that are dipped in honey-- which symbolizes the desire of adherents to have a sweet New Year. I came across this recipe for Beet & Apple Salad and decided to give it a try.
The recipe is a creation of George Mendes who was named one of the country's top chefs by Food & Wine Magazine. I like the idea of using apples this way...and it will do the trick while I figure out how to get this challah bread going. There's also horseradish in the vinaigrette and that works with the holiday too. 
I also plan on making a Honey-Spice Cake (Lekach) but that will have to wait until my new Bundt Cake Pan arrives.  Hopefully, it will come sometime real soon or I'll be making the cake for the solar new year!
In the meantime, shana tova u'mitukah!
Beet and Apple Salad (Courtesy of George Mendes, by way of Food & Wine Magazine)
4 large beets (2 1/2 pounds)
5 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (I used slightly less, opting for 2 tablespoons instead.)
1/3 cup salted pistachios, chopped
1 green apple, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a baking dish, lightly drizzle the beets and thyme with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast until the beets are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool, then peel the beets and cut them into 3/4-inch dice.
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of oil until emulsified. Add the horseradish and season with salt and pepper; toss with the beets and pistachios (I dressed the beets, but there was LOTS of left over dressing.  Just store it and use it again!)  Transfer the beets to a platter, top with the apple and serve.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Moosewood's Spanakopita

Spanakopita: spinach, cheese, and filo dough flakiness. I love it. It's the kind of thing I could eat for lunch and dinner- on the very same day. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, spinach pie would be in the running. I think you get the picture. I'm pretty serious about this dish.
I've made spanakopita (Greek spinach pie) many times before (and I usually serve it with a homemade tzatziki sauce). I thought my go-to recipe was pretty good, but then I tasted this Moosewood recipe and thought it was perfect.
I first tasted the Moosewood version at a going-away party some friends threw for us right before we left Brooklyn. The party was held in a penthouse apartment overlooking Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park. The views were spectacular and you could see the city skyline and the New York Harbor from the roof deck. There were lots of friends sharing stories and yes, I shed a few tears that night. It was a wonderful way to spend the evening- and it was bittersweet to be leaving such great people, but also really exciting to be relocating and trying something new in Denver, Colorado.
The food was incredible at that little gathering. There was pasta, cheese, salads and this spinach pie. Our friend Kathryn also made an amazing devil's food cake soaked with salted caramel, layered with whipped chocolate ganache and frosted with a classic French buttercream (holy delicious!). But I'm not really a baker so I knew there was no way I was going to be able to make the aforementioned cake.  I was confident, however, that I could make the spinach pie, so I asked Beth for the recipe and she passed it on. 

I decided to make this spanakopita for my son's second birthday party. I thought long and hard about the menu for our little soireé and decided on the following: 
Chips and dips (including an artichoke yogurt dip and a mild salsa)
Traditional Baked Ziti
Fresh Corn Salad (I got the corn from the Highlands farmers market) and

This pie is not hard to make, but chopping 2 1/2 pounds of spinach does take some time. One of our friends asked me, "Did you use frozen spinach?" "No." I said, thinking of the mounds of spinach I had chopped the day before. 

But then I made this pie again- like I said, I'm addicted. I used some leftover fresh spinach and several boxes of frozen organic spinach (which happened to be on sale). The verdict? Both ways were equally delicious, I have to admit. So do as you wish. I don't want to offend any purists out there, but frozen spinach is perfectly fine for this recipe and cuts down on all that chopping. Though I tend to favor fresh produce (which helps support my local farmers market too), for this recipe you can really go either way. If you just don't feel like hacking up tons of greens, fret not! 

You can buy good quality frozen filo dough (phyllo dough) at most supermarkets in the frozen section near the pastry shells- just don't forget to take it out of the freezer when you start prepping. It must be completely thawed otherwise it will break and flake and, well, just become a mess. You want the sheets to be malleable and in-tact.  
You can make this a day or two in advance. Keep it uncooked, covered and refrigerated until you want to serve it. Then put it in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 45 minutes.

Enjoy this recipe. And trust me, this spanakopita is worthy of the (Greek) Gods...
Spanakopita (Courtesy of The Moosewood Cookbook, adapted ever-so-slightly)
Yields: About 8 servings
2 Tbs olive oil 
2 cups minced onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
2.5 lbs fresh spinach, stemmed and finely chopped (or 2.5 lbs frozen organic spinach)
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs flour
2 to 3 cups (packed) crumbled feta cheese (about 1 lb)
1 1/4 cup cottage or pot cheese
Black pepper, to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil, for the filo
1 lb filo pastry leaves (approx 20 leaves) -- thoroughly defrosted 
Preheat oven to 375 F. Oil a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.
Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a dutch oven. Add onion, salt, and herbs, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens. Add spinach, turn up the heat, and cook, stirring, until the spinach wilts (5 to 8 minutes). Stir in the garlic.
Sprinkle in the flour, stir, and cook over medium heat 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from heat.
Mix in the cheeses. Taste to correct seasonings, adding lots of black pepper (and some salt).
Place a sheet of filo in the oiled pan, letting the pastry edges climb up the sides. Brush lightly with oil, and add another sheet. Keep going until you have a pile of 8 oiled sheets. Add half the filling, spreading it to the edges, then repeat with 8 more sheets of oiled filo, followed by the remaining filling. Layer the rest of the filo over the filling, brushing oil in between. Oil the top, tuck in the edges, and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes or until golden and crispy. Cut into squares and serve hot or warm. {Note: After making this recipe several times, I think the best results were obtained when the pie was baked for 30 minutes COVERED and then an additional 5 minutes UNCOVERED. The filling was much creamier and the top was not quite as dark. I recommend doing it this way.}  
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