11 March, 2009

what to cook, and a new crush!

How do you get three people to eat a pound of spinach? Mix it with a ton of cheese, throw in a generous sprinkling of garlic and you're pretty much there. The only rule is that the cheese must be a melting kind, not a crumbling kind, although in a pinch I have to say I think most cheeses will melt. Last night's version used up the tail end of a Gruyere from our dinner with Vincent, and a large wedge of a Dutch Gouda from a wonderful cheese importer called UnieKaas, lovely and tart. And keep the name of the recipe simple.

Cheesy Spinach
(serves 4)

1 pound baby spinach, washed and spun dry (many bags of spinach are already thus)
2 tbsps butter
2 tsps flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup light cream or evaporated milk, perhaps a little more
1 cup grated cheese (Edam, Monterey Jack, Gouda, Gruyere, etc.)
celery salt to taste

Run the spinach in batches through the food processor until chopped fine, but not mushy. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large skillet and gently fry the flour until bubbly. Add garlic and gently fry until softened. Don't worry if the floury butter sticks to the skillet because you can scrape it off when you add the cream. Do so and stir until mixed. The cream will be absorbed right away, but do not fret. The texture of this dish all amalgamates gradually when the liquid from the spinach is released.

Add the cheese and the spinach to the skillet and begin gently stirring over low heat. Season with celery salt to your taste and stir gently until the mixture turns bright creamy green and the spinach is softly cooked.


Here is my dilemma: my daughter and I have incredibly high salt tolerance, but my husband does not. We all love the celery flavor imparted by celery salt. How to get enough celery flavor without getting too much salt? It is tricky. I may try celery leaves next time.

This dish will make anyone, even children, sit up and beg. It's an invention of mine that skips the typical baking step advised by many cheesy spinach recipes, and as a result I think more of the iron must be retained. With a huge pile of simply grilled baby lamb chops, or a slightly pink grilled pork tenderloin, or a roast chicken, you're good for dinner. If, however, you feel the need for a truly decadent potato dish, here's the one for you.

Aligot Gratin
(serves 6)

1 3/4 pounds baking potatoes
3 tbsps unsalted butter, room temperature
4 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup milk
1 pounds fresh mozzarella, chopped fine
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese

(optional topping)
2/3 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tbsps drained bottled horseradish

Peel and boil potatoes until cooked through and soft, about 40 minutes. Drain and mash with butter, garlic, milk and mozzarella over a low heat until the mozzarella melts into long elastic strands.

Either divide the aligot into six buttered 1-cup gratin dishes, or one large 6-cup gratin dish. Top with grated Pecorino. Bake at 350F (180 C) for 20 minutes, or add optional topping by whipping the heavy cream, mixing it with horseradish and spreading over the aligot. Put under a broiler until golden, about 4 minutes.


Because I was feeding a child who I guessed would not like horseradish, I left the topping out, but I can imagine that with the topping the dish would be even more interesting, and the perfect foil for beef.

Well, let's see, there was an adventure at Lost Property last week, involving an unusual bit of inventory. I let myself into the chilly room piled high with the usual unnamed gym kit, unnamed lacrosse sticks, swimming costumes, school diaries, geology textbooks and the like, only to find, lined up demurely on a shelf... not one, not two, not three or four, but FIVE good-sized foil-wrapped chocolate fish. Hmmm. As each girl came in looking for the stuff she had left randomly all throughout the school, I asked, "Did you happen to lose a chocolate fish?" The question was guaranteed to raise a smile! Would you turn in five chocolate fish to Lost Property if you found them? That takes real honesty. The week after next will feature the sale of unnamed Lost Property, which promises to be the social event of the term. Whether or not the fish are on offer remains to be seen.

Over the weekend I met up with my dear friend Jo for a spot of shopping in Islington. I know the powers that be are trying to squeeze out the small merchants of the back streets, in favor of more reliable (but much more boring) chains, but there are still intriguing bits and pieces to be had. I found a porcelain dish with a herring on the lid, nearly an exact replica to one given me by my friend Cynthia many, many years ago who suffered a fatal blow during one of our moves. So happy to have a Mr Herring back on the desk, holding paper clips! And a lovely silver brooch with a pony on it, for Avery. We had a credit crunch lunch at a crazy serves-everything vaguely European bistro and talked our heads off, then walked her to the Almeida in time for her to catch the matinee of Duet for One with Juliet Stevenson (she later reported that it's a tremendous production), and I made my way home, in my usual glow of post-Jo optimism. She is a lady to whom life has not always been kind or easy, and yet there is an irrepressible joy in her eyes and lilt in her voice that makes her a most inspiring and jolly companion. How I wish she lived in London and our get-togethers could be commonplace...

Oh, oh! I have a ticket, just for me, to see James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain! A week from today. Although my crush on dear James has abated somewhat, I have never seen him live and feel this could be very exciting. It's an American play so we'll see what sort of accent he manages. John flatly refused to go, even though it's about architecture; he's feeling credit crunchy and as such not in the mood to accompany me to a crushfest. It's a good thing I'm very secure and won't feel a fool all by myself. I will remember to report, so that you may go by yourself if it's worthwhile.

Last night found us at school to support one of Avery's classmates in quite a spectacular dance show, not something I would normally attend being the compleat Philistine when it comes to dance, but Avery really wanted to be there for her chum, so off we went. Why does even a dance performance that my child is not IN make me want to cry? It's in part the innocence of these girls, their energy and shiny hair and sweet smiles, and also a nostalgia for what John and I termed the Lost Commodity: youth! Avery's maths teacher came out for a much-anticipated turn as a tap dancer! Just priceless.

Today I've been wrestling all day with my recipe file, especially the ancient and hilarious recipes that I inherited from my dad's mother. I think I'll get a chapter of my cookbook out of these file cards, detailing recipes like Veal Scaloppini cooked in, I'm not making this up, Sprite. And a shrimp dish whose last instruction is "Try this by your swimming pool." I haven't the slightest idea what that even means. How about "Tuna Glop"? I know it's entirely possible that "glop" means something delicious in the original Swedish, but I'm afraid it's got hot tuna written all over it. Then there's a recipe from my Aunt Andrine termed succinctly "Rocks," which looks to be a type of very heavy cookie. The last instruction on that card is "Drop on a tin." And dump in the garbage, presumably. It is a lot of fun. But even a lot of fun makes for an exhausting day, and my head is spinning. Writing class beckons on Friday, so I've sent my piece off to my long-suffering classmates and now must decide what to cook for them when they come. I have about a thousand recipes on my desk for things involving a can of mushroom soup, so I know what's on my grocery list. Yum yum.

And, finally, it's official, I have a new crush! Are you all familiar with the Irish musician Damien Rice? He is divine. Broken-hearted, sexily unshaven, and even respectably aged, born in 1973. I discussed this last bit with Avery who agreed with me that there is something wrong with people having been born in the 1980s. "They're too old to be children, but too young to be truly adult," she opined, and I had to probe. "What makes someone truly adult?" I wondered. "Is it Daddy traveling all over the world and making decisions that cost or made people gatrillions of dollars when he was 22?" "No," she said, "that's not grownup." "Is it me writing a 400-page paper when I was 26?" Apparently not. A thorny problem to mull over, nibbling on an after-school snack for some days to come.

But I digress. My point is, you must listen to Damien Rice and join me in crush world. It's not that he's handsome, exactly, but his face is appropriately mournful and there is just nothing as wonderful as that Irish accent. I have high hopes that we'll get Avery off to Trinity College, Dublin, in about 6 years and when we visit, the accents will be all around.


The Language Prodigy (S.) said...

"They're too old to be children, but too young to be truly adult."

Wise words. That's exactly how I feel. (And yes, I was born in the 80s.)


Kristen In London said...

Oh, I hope you don't think I was being rude! It was a truly honest discussion... maybe that's how we all end up feeling about people a generation younger than we are. As cliched as it sounds, I didn't feel like a complete adult until I had a child of my own. Not that I recommend that as a method of growing up: rather drastic!

The Language Prodigy (S.) said...

No, not at all! Sorry if it came across that way. I actually think she was right because that's how I feel much of the time.

Kristen In London said...

ok, just feeling paranoid! I remember when I met my first student who had been born while Ronald Reagan was in his first term... I felt SO OLD.

Rosemary said...

Generally, if you give me a list of ingredients, I can imagine the taste of the resulting dish. With the aligot, not so much. I've been trying to figure the affect of horseradish on potatoes that are creamy. I just can't do it, not that it doesn't sound good, I just can't "taste" it. You may have to fix this for me the next time we're together Right now I"m on a beets tear, love 'em pickled, love 'em buttered, love 'em with a little goat cheese. It's all beets, all the time--at least this week!

John's Mom

Kristen In London said...

Well, it's a bit of a cheat, as I say, as I cooked it without the creamy horseradish on top because I was feeding Fifi. But I think it would be wonderful. Picture, let's see, picture an English Sunday Roast lunch with roast beef, mashed potatoes and horseradish sauce on the side? It's only a little leap from the roast potatoes they'd generally use... we'll make them when we're together next...