Spinach

I think we are now safely past the spinach stage in our CSA season. So, now seems like the perfect time to talk about spinach, since I am not spending all my time cooking and freezing it.

First, a little background: we are on the CSA roster for Britt Farms, and we get a box of produce each week. We never know what we’re going to get until the day of the pick-up, but there’s always some fruit and lots of vegetables. Despite being a family of five, we still just get the small box, because our kids still largely subsist on macaroni and chicken, with vegetables added in as flavoring or discussion pieces. My husband and I make it our goal to eat all of the food before it spoils, and this year we are probably doing our best yet. I think I’ve had to throw out half a head each of cabbage and lettuce, plus a beet or two. We also haven’t had to given anything away yet. It helps that we’ve been doing this for about four years, so we now know many ways to cook most of the vegetables we get, and I also know how to save some of them for later use.

Which brings us back to spinach. Everyone in our family actually seems to like spinach just fine, but we just don’t eat it in quantities. It’s a pain to wash, it goes bad quickly, and I never used it fast enough.

Now, however, I use the “wash, steam, and freeze” method of spinach preparation. I wash the whole bag at once (which takes a good half-hour, but it won’t take that much less time for less spinach, so you may as well do the whole bag), steam it in batches, then freeze the batches (making sure to label them with both contents and date) for later use.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Clean out the sink–both sides if you have a double sink.
  2. Plug up one side of the sink and run a good inch of water into it while you start to add the spinach.
  3. Pull spinach leaves off the steams and add to the water to soak. Discard stems. Make sure to occasionally swish the spinach around in the water and/or spray it with your sprayer.
  4. Once all the leaves are in, move spinach over to the other side of the sink or into a bowl or colander. Rinse out the side that you’ve just used.
  5. Repeat soaking the spinach at least once.
  6. Steam the spinach for about 3-5 minutes (2-3 if you’ve already got the water boiling)–try to get it cooked without the color turning dark. If your steamer or pot isn’t big enough to do all the spinach at once, you can do it in batches.
  7. Use tongs to transfer the spinach into quart size freezer bags (pre-labeled makes life easier, or else use freezer tape to label them). Let the spinach cool before you seal the bags and put them in the freezer.
  8. Voila! You have lots of spinach ready to use when you want.

This method works for any greens (not so much cabbage and lettuce, at least not that I’m aware). I am particularly fond of doing this with collards and freezing them in tiny batches, so that I can hide them in things (none of us likes collards).

Here are some of the things I use the pre-cooked spinach in:

  • Risotto
  • Lasagna
  • Mexican lasagna
  • Quiche
  • Omelets
  • Chili
  • Spinach and potato soup
  • And, our new achievement this year, spinach pasta:

    Spinach pasta

    Ta-da!

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Cookbook Recommendation: Cheap, Fast, Good

I would say that I like to cook in the same way that I like to do laundry: as chores go, neither is terribly onerous, I get a certain satisfaction when I do them well, and I occasionally enjoy the work itself. However, I’m not a passionate cook, nor am I a brilliant one.

That’s why I like this cookbook so much.

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Cheap. Fast. Good! by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross, 2005

My mom gave this to me as a gift several years ago, buying it off-hand because she thought it looked interesting. It has become one of the cookbooks I go to most regularly, and I have learned a lot about cooking from it.

The premise is just what the title states: the authors tried to put their heads together and formulate a collection of recipes designed to feed families economically, conveniently, and healthfully. In addition to the recipes, there are features about how to shop frugally, how to get out of a take-out/eat-out mindset, how to use up certain ingredients (a whole ham, the backyard garden/CSA bounty), and how make such decisions as whether your time or your money is more valuable on a given day.

I love using this book because it didn’t just give a basic recipe, but the directions demonstrated how to make the recipe most efficiently, which is something I badly needed help with. I now roll my eyes when I see recipes that call for all the ingredients already chopped, because they are cheating on the time estimates they give! Simple things like heating the oil while you start chopping onions, then adding onions (or other ingredients) to the pan as you chop, can save a good amount of time. I also like that many of the recipes discuss how to substitute less expensive ingredients or just what you happen to have on hand.

It’s not perfect–some of the recipes rely on batch ingredients that you have to prepare first, and while many of them have a substitution available if you haven’t or don’t want to make the whole batch, not all of them do. Also, because I liked this cookbook so much, I specifically asked for Desperation Dinners by the same authors, but I didn’t like that book nearly as much–it relied much more heavily on convenience foods, and not convenience foods that my family tends to have in our kitchen. Cheap. Fast. Good! does NOT rely overly on convenience foods, and even has suggestions for making your own batches of cut veggies, buying large cuts of meat and what to do with them, and otherwise using real food.

I learned how to make a good pie crust from this book, and I use many of the recipes regularly. I think it’s perfect for those cooks who face the daily task of feeding your family without wanting to spend all day on the task. Many of the recipes are very kid-friendly, and those that are less so have suggestions for variations to make them palatable to the under-20 set. The book is listed for about $12 on Amazon, but my public library has 4 copies available, so yours may have it, too.

To finish up, here are some of my favorite recipes from the book: Summer Stew, Orange Marmelade-Glazed Chicken over Rice, Grown-up Sweet and Sour Chicken, Good Ol’ Beans and Rice, Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce, Fresh Corn and Tomato Salad, Southern Buttermilk Pie, and Ron’s Favorite Sweet Potato Pie.

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

A good friend made some delicious oatmeal cinnamon-chip cookies for us recently, and when I asked how to make them, she explained that the cinnamon chips she used are only available at the winter holidays–so she stocks up then, and saves them to bake with all year.

I do not have any cinnamon chips or, apparently, patience to wait until Thanksgiving, but I really liked the cookies and wanted to try to make something similar–not least because oatmeal cookies aren’t usually my favorite. I feel like they need something in them, but I don’t really like raisins, Craisins are fairly expensive, and if I’m going to put chocolate chips in a cookie, I’d just as soon make regular chocolate chip cookies. We did have some butterscotch chips on hand, so I used a basic oatmeal cookie recipe, doubled the amount of cinnamon, and included the butterscotch chips. The result, while not identical to the cinnamon chip cookies, was quite excellent.

The base recipe is “Classic Oatmeal Cookies,” from Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Cookies, 2003. Here is the recipe with my modifications:

3/4 cup of butter, softened

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla (or 1/2 teaspoon ground vanilla bean)

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup butterscotch chips

  1. In a large mixing bowl beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.
  2. Add next six ingredients and beat until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
  3. Beat in eggs and vanilla until combined.
  4. Use a spoon to mix in the flour and the oats. Stir until well combined.
  5. Stir in butterscotch chips.
  6. Drop dough by rounded teaspoons 2 inches apart onto an ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 375° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are golden.
  7. Cool on cookie sheet for 1 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and let cool.

 

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