Thursday, December 22, 2005

spinach & asiago strata

Last weekend, we went to see the mildly amusing new comedy The Family Stone. In one scene, Sarah Jessica Parker's character was fussily making a strata (one that later ends up on the floor and all over Ms. Parker), and I remembered that strata was something I enjoy that I haven't had for a couple years. Was it one of those trendy dishes that people used to make, or has it always been in style and I just forgot about it? I decided to make one-- my parents had arrived, I'm off from work, and it seemed like a festive thing for the holidays. Strata is a lot like quiche-- you can improvise a great deal around a basic recipe. You could add mushrooms or zucchini to your saute, or use different cheeses. I like it that this version is meatless, and also that it involves spinach, so at least you're doing something to offset all the cheese. It sits in the refrigerator all night, absorbing the eggs and milk, and when you bake it, it puffs up delightfully. I adapted this from a Gourmet recipe to make it, to my mind, slightly healthier.

Spinach & Asiago Cheese Strata
1 10 ounce package frozen chopped spinach
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 Tblsp. butter
1 Tblsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
7-8 cups French bread, chopped into 1 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated asiago cheese (or use whatever cheese you want)
3/4 cup finely grated pecorino romano (or parmesan)
2 1/4 cups lowfat milk
4 eggs
1 cup Egg Beaters egg substitute
2 Tblsp. Dijon mustard

Cook spinach in microwave for five minutes, squeeze out as much water as possible. Finely chop spinach. Meanwhile, saute onions in butter & olive oil mixture until soft. Add 1/2 tsp. of the salt salt, 1/4 of the pepper, and all the nutmeg. Add spinach, mix well, and remove from heat.

Spray a 3 quart gratin dish or casserole with cooking spray; layer 1/3 of the bread cubes on the bottom. (They may not cover the entire area.) Top with 1/3 of spinach mixture. Sprinkle with 1/3 of each cheese. (Strata! The word calls to mind rock layers, and geologic time.) Repeat layers two more times, ending with cheese.

In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, egg substitute, milk, mustard, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Pour over strata evenly, cover with plastic wrap, refrigerate overnight.

The next morning, remove strata from your refrigerator thirty minutes before you plan to start cooking it. Preheat oven to 350. After 30 minutes, place strata in middle of oven and bake for 45-55 minutes. Mine looked ready at 45 but was still wet in the center, so 55 was more like it. Serves about 8 people, or 6 very hungry ones...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

spinach-artichoke dip

Yay! Exams are finished, grading is done. Grading is the worst part of being a professor. Otherwise, I love teaching, even though it can be exhausting. But now I have some extra time in front of me, and I can work on other projects-- namely research, which is necessary for getting tenure. But hopefully cooking and the reading of lots of good fiction, too.

Spinach-Artichoke Dip is a good one to take to holiday parties, when there are often so many desserts that people need something savory. I've made it twice in the past week. This version has a bit of heat to it, and I like it that it's got both spinach AND artichokes, to make you feel as if you're doing something healthy. I lightened it too, by using fat-free sour cream and light mayonnaise. (There is also a more decadent adaptation, below). I'm sure it's good for you. ;)

Spinach-Artichoke Dip
1 10-ounce package chopped spinach
2 14 ounce cans quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 cup percorino romano cheese, grated
1 cup monterey jack cheese with jalapenos (if you don't like spicy, just use plain monterey jack)
Dash of nutmeg
Dash of red (cayenne) pepper
Dash of black pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Microwave spinach for 5 minutes, then drain well, squeezing out excess water (a salad spinner does a good job of this). In a food processor, chop up the artichoke hearts. In a large bowl, mix artichoke hearts and spinach with all other ingredients except monterey jack. Spread in a 9" baking dish and sprinkle monterey jack cheese on top. Bake at least 30 minutes, or slightly longer so that top is golden brown and bubbly. Serve with tortilla chips or pita chips.

*Slightly more decadent version: add another 3/4 cup monterey jack to the spinach-artichoke mixture itself, keeping the other 1 cup for spreading on top.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

back from DC

My trip to Washington, DC to give a paper at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association started with French ravioli smothered in gruyere (depicted here-- at DuPont Circle's Bistrot du Coin) and ended with a bad cranberry scone in the Washington National airport... In between were many delightful repasts, highlights of which included the Lebanese Taverna (in Woodley Park, where the conference was) and a trip to a new cafe in the neighborhood of Howard University, Busboys and Poets, where I had a tremendous burger with melted havarti and avocado. This was a neat cafe with high ceilings, lots of comfortable lounge chairs, and a bookstore that appeared to specialize in books about African-American history and architecture. There was a trip to the Love Cafe for cake from the Cake Love bakery and Moroccan mint tea. There was also the antipasto platter at Me & You, a Mediterranean-themed place in Georgetown.

There were also some not-so-exciting meals-- forgettable Thai, boring burritos. The Indian restaurants in the neighborhood of the conference (again, Woodley Park metro), were pretty bland affairs, but I was heartened when I returned home with two of my colleagues and, on the way home, had an excellent lunch with Nour & friends at a vegetarian Indian restaurant right here in Orlando called Woodlands. Crisp samosas with perfectly spicy potato and pea filling, creamy malai kofta, potato & cauliflower curry, spinach & paneer, and a luscious eggplant baigun bhartha. Excellent gulab jamun, doughnuts served in a hot syrup, (a contrast to the refrigerated, desiccated nightmare of the gulab jamun I'd had in DC). That had me feeling pretty good about central Florida, in addition to the fact that it was 75 degrees and sunny.

I was amused by the gingerbread house they were building in the lobby of the Marriott where the conference was held. I watched the hotel staff put up a giant plywood house and then glue what looked like cafeteria cookies and graham crackers to it little by little. You can see at the top the half-plywood, half-graham crackered house. The employees looked less-than-thrilled at having to complete this arduous task.

I'm going into exam/grading mode for a few days and there may be no food-related dispatches until I'm finished... but the semester is drawing to a close, which is a great feeling...