Spinach Squares

spinach squares // sweetsonian

spinach squares // sweetsonian

Yesterday was — well, I’m pretty darn sure — the best day of my life. A coworker hooked me up with one of the much-coveted White House tour tickets. Being the first day the White House has reopened its tours since sequestration’s budget cuts took place back in January. So it was a pretty exciting day, for anyone who was able to finally get a tour, and for the people who work at the White House.

We were held up in the East Room for what felt like forever when a friend commented on one of my Instagrams about POTUS and FLOTUS surprising everyone on the tours, so as you can imagine, my heart started racing. What would I say? Was it true? Would they still be there?

spinach squares // sweetsonian

spinach squares // sweetsonian

 

The secret service closed the doors to the Green room right when we were about to go through, which put us in front of the line for the next group. And once the doors reopened and we were shuffled through, I was greeted by none other than Michelle Obama herself, in all of her glowing glory. That woman is pretty in photos, but hot damn, she is 43290423 times prettier in person.

Anyway, being from Los Angeles, I’ve met my fair share of celebrities, but Michelle takes the cake.

I. Was. Starstruck. Especially when she greeted us with a big smile and a “HIIII! Welcome to my house!” Cue Sunny jumping all over her and my coworker. I, naturally, beelined to Bo, who was sitting a few feet away, simply panting and rolling his eyes at Sunny, who was literally leaping and bounding from the visitors, to the First Lady, to the people behind the cameras. I pet Bo for as long as I could, which was apparently too long, because Secret Service basically escorted me out.

My heart was racing for at least 30 minutes after that. Marissa and I proceeded to jump up and down and scream on the White House driveway.

Seriously, best day of my life, and those dogs are the fluffiest dogs in the world. So. Effing. Cute.

spinach squares // sweetsonian

spinach squares // sweetsonian

spinach squares // sweetsonian

This recipe comes from a friend and owner of yet another unbelievably adorable Portuguese water dog — Ollie. Maybe someday, Michelle will read this and schedule a play date for Ollie and Sunny. They’d make a darling couple.

Spinach squares, after the jump.

Continue reading “Spinach Squares”

Spinach and Eggplant Gratin

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Nothing makes me miss having a garden like eggplant does. Last summer, and the summer before it, I had a few eggplant seedlings that just exploded in the July heat — it was always fun to grill homegrown eggplant and squash with the roommates and friends at our summer barbecues!

Eggplant is one of my go-to dishes for dinners and work lunches — it’s relatively cheap, you can find it at every grocery story, and it makes a great pasta substitute when you’re craving lasagna, but cutting back on carbs.

Anyway, lots of photos, light on words, today.

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Cheese

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Spinach and Eggplant Gratin Continue reading “Spinach and Eggplant Gratin”

Roasted butternut squash, penne, and pistachio pesto

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Last weekend, I took a fairly impromptu trip to Miami.

It’s a place I had been meaning to visit, and there’s just something about February that makes me want a break. I love the winter, but a nice warm weekend is a treat a girl needs.

So I left work a little early on a Friday, trained up to Baltimore, and hopped on a quick little flight to the F-L-L. Dave, a friend I’ve known since our debate club days at different high schools, picked me up from the airport, and brought me straight to Little Havana.

*Swoon*

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It wasn’t long before I found myself booking flights back to Miami. In fact, it wasn’t more than a few hours after I landed in Florida.

We went to a great little hostel on Miami Beach named the Broken Shaker — an old hotel with a laid back, twinkle light-entranced pool and outdoor hangout area. The cocktails were perfect. The bartender even gave us one for free, which didn’t happen very often to the two guys that were showing me around town. Anyway, around 3 AM, I found myself just basking in the cool seventy degree Miami breeze. There was a little bit of salsa dancing on a street corner, and just being able to wear my neon yellow shorts put me in a mood that I almost didn’t recognize on myself.

And right about then, I decided. Yes, Dave, I’ll be back here for your birthday. Four weeks away? No problem.

I pulled up the Kayak app on my iPhone and booked the flights right then and there.

It wasn’t entirely an “Oh my god I drunkenly booked a vacation” moment the next morning, because I was only a gin-and-ginger or three in, and I remembered making the decision very clearly. But I did wake up laughing, and checked my email to find that the timestamp actually read 3:48 AM.

I really don’t have a problem with going back to Miami. I actually can’t wait. I even left my heels there, knowing that I could just retrieve them in a month.

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Roasted butternut squash, penne, and pistachio pesto, adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen

Ingredients:
One large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tsp. olive oil or melted coconut oil
Paprika to taste
Salt
Grated nutmeg
8 oz. penne pasta
(About) 3 cups chopped spinach

Pistachio pesto:
1-2 cloves garlic
Zest and juice of one lime
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
1 serrano chile, with seeds according to how spicy you like them
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup basil and spinach (I used a mix of both)
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and boil water in a large saucepan. Season the water with salt.

On a large rimmed baking sheet (maybe two), drizzle olive oil over the butternut squash, and toss with paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Using a pastry brush, coat each piece to make sure everything gets a little bit of seasoning. Bake for about 30 minutes until the edges are brown (or black – I like them a little charred).

Cook your pasta. Al dente is good.

In a food processor, combine the garlic, lemon zest and juice, pulsing a few times. Then, add the serrano, pistachios, herbs, and cheese. Drizzle olive oil through the oil dropper as the processor is chopping, and grind in salt and pepper as necessary.

In your large saucepan, combine your pesto, some of the pasta water, and spinach. When entirely mixed, add in your pasta.

Serve with fresh parmesan cheese. Hold on to winter, but just enough to enjoy this seasonal dish, because spring will be here before we know it.

Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Tart

or How I taught my friends to stop freaking out and love running in the cold.

Have I ever told you that I started a running club?  I don’t think I have — so, for your information, I did.  And it’s fabulous.

At the cookie rager, a couple of friends expressed their interest in running, but also a fear of pain and suffering.  We established a weekly running club, which meets on Monday evenings for an easy jog around Washington, and ends with a Sweetsonian dinner — called Monday Rundays.  Oh, and it’s ladies only.  Very important.

It’s happened a few times now, with the holidays interrupting a few weeks — travel schedules, abhorrent weather, etc.  In my opinion, it’s a great way to start off each week: one easy run. Add girlish chatter, a smidgeon of complaints, and a slew of sarcasm.  Within thirty minutes, I have a dinner party of women (girls?) who had no idea that they could be hooked on running.  I only know they are hooked because Rachel skipped the run tonight (so lame, I know) and came to dinner feeling so guilty and lazy that she pledged not to skip out on our run again.

I usually put the girls to work as space permits in the closet that is disguised as my kitchen, and we normally assemble a very healthy runner’s dinner — high in protein, low in complex carbs.

I would never in my life make this — this beautiful tart — after a run.  What a waste!  No way.  I would only make this dish on a day of complete lethargy and indulgence.  A day filled with shopping, sleeping, and probably (obviously) gluttony.

But anyway, days like that balance out the other days in my life, most of which are spent training for half marathons.  And speaking of, tomorrow is day three of training.  Good-bye, gluttony :(

WHAT YOU NEED:


for the crust (makes about 2 6-inch tarts):
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
6 tablespoons butter, cold and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 teaspoons cold water


for caramelized onion the filling:
1 or 2 medium-sized onions
enough goat cheese to fill your tart mold


for the spinach quiche:
2 eggs
150 mL of milk (I didn’t try to convert the European measurements)
1 small onion, finely diced
a generous handful of fresh spinach, chopped finely
sprinkles of cheddar or goat cheese
salt and pepper to taste

WHAT TO DO:

To make the crust, simply combine all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse-grind until finely mixed, and the dough begins to form a ball.  Then, remove the dough, knead in any straggling pieces, and roll to your desired thickness.  I prefer a very thin crust, usually about 1/8 of an inch.  After rolling, transfer to your tart dish, fork the base to prevent bubbles, and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.

For the caramelized onion and goat cheese tarts, first slice the onions as thinly as possible.  Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil into a wide, shallow pan, and sautee the onions until soft.  Add one minced clove of garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Cook on low for about twenty minutes, stirring frequently.  Some people like to add a little sugar to speed the caramelization, but I prefer my onions as savory as possible — there’s enough sugar in them to begin with!  When your onions are fairly transparent and a deep brown color, you’ll know you’re done.

crumble the goat cheese in your tarts, and top with the hot caramelized onions.  I let them sit in the oven at 350 degrees for another ten minutes — it added a little bit of color to the crust and melted the goat cheese to better mold into the tart.

For the quiche, first whip the eggs and milk in a medium mixing bowl.  Then, sautee the onion in a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Add the spinach, and remove from heat after spinach has completely collapsed — 30 seconds to one minute.  Combine with the egg and milk mixture, and pour into your half-cooked tart crust.  Bake the quiche at 300 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes.

Creamy Spinach Vodka Sauce and Sautéed Chicken

I spent the past few days at the beach — happily so, since Washington has proven unable to supply weather suitable to foster my addiction to running (see previous beach running entry here).  It was beautiful, active, and as expected, it brought back my memories of growing up in sunny Southern California.  It’s funny, really — I truly believe I’m a rare breed of the East coast girl who accidentally grew up surrounded by the beach bum culture that California breeds.  I wouldn’t have my upbringing any other way —  I lived on the beach for a couple of wonderful years.  Sometimes I catch myself feeling out of place, particularly in the deep south or more commonly in Virginia, but I remember the weather and the politics and the history and the creativity that oozes out of every street corner on this coast, and then I feel at home.  And I remember that I found myself, and my ability to channel my own creativity through writing and food, upon moving to this coast.
The beach, naturally, reminds me of living in Santa Barbara.  For a year, my dorm friends and I ate dorm food and wore bikinis to class and ran to the goleta pier on a daily basis.  We had family dinners at a round table surrounded by glass windows as the sun set across campus, and we smuggled nalgene bottles filled with cranberry juice and backpacks stuffed to the brim with fruit for snacks the following day.  And then we finished our first year, and some moved into houses and apartments on the oceanside cliffs of Isla Vista, and our family dinners continued, oftentimes evolving into family brunches — the key factors included good food, music, and company.  And then I left that beachside paradise for a university that was closer to home and better for my interests and degree, but I found myself returning to those same friends, for family dinners and brunches (in different houses), where my transition to adult life began.  Point being, I am writing this under a beach umbrella from my iPhone; the setting, as unsatisfying as it is compared to my Isla Vista beach, makes me remember how wonderful UCSB appealed to my senses. Even a small, smelly, overpopulated beach can make me feel slightly closer to what I called home for decades.
I don’t mean to offend any East Coasters, but the beaches just don’t compare. It’s like comparing plain, canned tomatoes to a homemade mushroom and spinach vodka reduction, poured over freshly browned organic chicken breast slices. I may be an East coast girl these days, but I will always be a Gaucho at heart. Well, I’m a Bruin for athletics and academics, but for natural aesthetics and appreciation for small communities, I revert to my Gaucho past. But I guess what this weekend came down to is the fact that I’m just a beach snob.

WHAT YOU NEED:

2 chicken breasts, sliced into tenders
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sized onion
2 to 3 cups fresh spinach (or mushrooms, both work wonders)
1 cup tomatoes (I used small heirlooms from my garden)
3/4 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
WHAT TO DO:
First, slice the chicken breasts into tenders, about 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick. Pat them dry with paper towels (wet chicken tends not to brown). Heat a skillet over a low flame and sautee the garlic and onions. Add the chicken tenders, and let them cook until browned on both sides. If you are having trouble browning the chicken, brush a little bit of all-purpose flour on each slice, which will encourage better browning. After the chicken is finished, remove from the skillet and cover.
With the garlic and onions still in the skillet, dice or slice the tomatoes according to your preference and add them to the other ingredients. If you are using mushrooms, add them now. If you use spinach, let the tomatoes cook down for about 10 minutes. Then, add the vodka and let simmer for another minute or so. Then, add the spinach, stirring until it collapses. Drizzle olive oil if necessary. When the sauce forms a nice texture, remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream. Serve over chicken, and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

BASIC SPINACH PESTO

As promised.

Last night, I ran out of my basic pesto. I know, it’s a grievous event. And then, I realized that I only have half the amount of basil that I’d normally use. So I rummaged around my refrigerator, and found a package of spinach in the bottom drawer–luckily, also, because it was probably on the verge of rotting. Pesto-ing the spinach would save it. I tend to freeze half of my pesto batch anyway (and you should too, it keeps very well). Otherwise, I’m fairly capable of finding other people to share the pesto with.

Eat, and you shall never buy lazy-man’s pesto again.

WHAT YOU NEED:
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup spinach leaves
~1/2 cup olive oil
~1/2 cup parmesan cheese
~1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts, or almonds… it depends on your preference)
2-4 peeled, chopped garlic cloves
Optional:
More garlic (yum!)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes OR red or yellow bell peppers
(or some combination of the two. Let your taste buds and experimentation guide your pesto adventures).
In the food processor, chop the garlic, nuts, basil, and spinach. Once it has reached a fine and consistent texture, add the parmesan cheese, then slowly add olive oil as the machine is grinding. Food processors almost always have a little hole on the lid, designed specifically for adding oil to things like this. It regulates the rate at which things are added to what’s being chopped/ground. After the olive oil is added, with the food processor off, take some sort of utensil and scrape the sides of the container down to help mix everything in. Then, let the food processor work its magic for 1-2 minutes. Your pesto should be amazing by then.