So my dad and I are extremely weird people, but often that weirdness just makes life better. Take today for example – I was stopping by the grocery store and talking to my dad on the phone about what I should buy and cook. I wanted to make a non-dessert Christmas recipe. My dad, completely joking, said I should make a Christmas tree out of spinach. Naturally, I stopped (literally just stood there) and started thinking about the logistics of that idea. Then I had it! What if I cut pastry dough or puff pastry into the shape of a Christmas tree and put spinach on it? I told my dad and he said he was thinking the same thing (while I was pondering the logistics of a spinach tree so was he). Thus out of an odd-ball comment, a great idea was born!
So how does one make a spinach Christmas tree? Well, for the base, you make pie crust dough. 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup salted butter, some cold water (just enough to bring the dough together). I’ve written on making pie crust dough about a dozen times so yeah, just be cautious and slow and it’ll be fine. Roll out half the dough into a largish rectangle, and cut it roughly into Christmas tree shaped. Place on a baking tray.
Now that you have the base, you need toppings. First, of course, is a layer of spinach all over the tree branches. Then kalamata olives for the tree trunk (and sprinkled elsewhere). Add some chopped garlic and crumbled feta cheese (for snow!) I suppose goat cheese would work too, but I had feta so I went with that. Bake at 400 for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is turning brown.
The result was amazing. So yummy, especially with the pie crust base. Also the branches break off really easy into pieces to eat. You could almost make it as a finger food at a holiday party. Of course, you should serve this with red wine, so you get the red and green color combination going. Weird ideas triumph again! This is why cooking, at the end of the day, is all about experimentation. Also, for other Christmas tree related weirdness, there is this. And, if you are frustrated by the capitalist consumerism of Christmas, there is this song. And if you don’t celebrate Christmas because you aren’t Christian, no worries. The vast majority of Christmas stuff, including the Christmas tree, is totally ripped off of European pagans so it hardly counts as religious.
Well, that’s a complete a total lie – I hate the cold. I blame growing up in California, but I’ve been living on the East Coast for most of the past 7 years so it’s probably my own fault I haven’t adapted. But the cold does give a solid reason for making warming casseroles and stews. At the grocery store this past week I impulsively bought turnips and then had to figure out what to do with them. After looking at a few recipes and debating their merits, I decided on my own personal variation of Shepard’s Pie.
For the topping: peel and chop a large potato. Boil in slated water until soft. Mash with 1 tablespoon milk, 1 tablespoon butter, and a pinch of salt. There are potato mashers out there – but you can use a fork. In fact, that’s a good way to see if the potatoes are really done. If they can’t be mashed with a fork, they aren’t done cooking.
For the filling: Chop up veggies! The beauty of something like shepard’s pie is you can literally adjust the veggies to whatever you want. I used carrots, butternut squash, and, of course, turnips. In a large sauce pan (that’s important) saute onion and garlic, when they are about done, add 2 pinches of dried thyme, some chopped sage, and the chopped veggies. Coat the veggies with the mixture, and then add 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (see told you using a large sauce pan was important). Add a bay leaf, and simmer for 15ish minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Pour off most of the excess liquid (leave a little). Pour the veggies into a pan/casserole dish/pie plate. Top with the mashed potatoes and bake for a while. Either until the potatoes are browning or you get too hungry from them smell and say “damnit – I’m eating it now.” For the record that is exactly what I did.
This recipe was delicious. And economical. And makes you feel good about yourself cause its pretty damn healthy. Also – it can very easily be made vegan, if you want. And reheats well for a healthy lunch the next day. But most importantly it was delicious. Sage and thyme make an excellent pair for winter casseroles. I will say though, you should probably wait until the mashed potatoes are a bit browner than I did when you make it. Finally, song obsessions of the week: an amazing version of “Little Drummer Boy” which was one of my least favorite Christmas songs until this version, and “Bohemian like You” by the Dandy Warhols.
Story time: For some reason, I got it into my head that I should make latkes. But not normal ones, multi-vegetable latkes and then sweet potato latkes. Then I added bringing a friend to help me eat the latkes. After that, I added normal latkes because what if the other ones were bad – I can’t serve my friend untested recipes. This all ended with the inevitable and totally awesome concept of “lets invite some of my other friends and have a party!” And thus, an awesome latke party was born. My friends, tunes, wine, and three completely untested recipes – two of which I was making up as I went.
Normal latkes: This recipe was adapted from Fanny Farmers cookbook – a ridiculously old-school Americana cookbook that is amazing. It has everything. Peel and shred two Russet potatoes. Add 1 medium leek, thinly sliced, salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons of flour. Beat one egg and add it to the mixture. Heat vegetable oil in a frying pan. Pu about 1/3 cup of the potato mixture into the frying pan and pat into a pancake. Fry, and stick onto paper towels.
Veggie one: I mentioned that I wanted to make veggie latkes to one of my friends who is also a vegetarian, and she suggested carrot and zucchini. It was a good suggestion. Shred 2 medium zucchini and 2 large carrots, add 1 1/2 tsp of cumin (or really to taste), 2 tablespoons of flour, salt, and a beaten egg. Fry.
Sweet potato: Same basic recipe as the other ones, just with one large sweet potato and 1 1/2 tsp nutmeg.
The result – all of them were delicious. Well – that was the general consensus, and all of them were eaten, but it was a party. Lots of red wine (rioja, malbec, and beaujolais) was also consumed so no promises. While food processors make shedding veggies easier, especially in large quantities, you can totally do it just with a standard hand-grater. I also learned that frying things in multiple pans with bare feet is not really the best life choice. Latkes can be served with applesauce, sour cream, or, if you want to be ridiculously American, ketchup. Finally, song obsession of the week: an acapella version of Jai Ho.