Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Spanako-Quesadillas (Spinach Pie Quesadillas)

There are times when a quick lunch or dinner is a must but that doesn't necessarily mean takeout or fast food needs to creep into our diet. The other night, I was all tapped out and as the kids had enjoyed a heavier lunch I wanted to make a rather light and quick dinner. Knowing that I had some spinach and some flour tortillas on hand, I thought, "Why not make some spinach quesadillas?"

I wasn't originally thinking I'd go with a Greek flavor profile, but the container of Feta was calling out to me much more emphatically than the block of cheddar and so my quesadillas quickly became an easy (you might call it lazy) though extremely tasty version of Spanakopita (traditional Greek spinach pie).

I quickly sauteed some chopped onions, scallions, garlic and spinach then tossed in some chopped parsley and fresh mint that's still growing in the garden. An egg, some crumbled Feta, a skillet, some flour tortillas ... and voila, Spanako-Quesadillas.

Make these as a light lunch or dinner; accompanied by a salad it's really all you'll need. Better yet, serve these as appetizers or quick finger foods when you're getting ready for a casual get-together with friends. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Spanako-Quesadillas (Spinach Pie Quesadillas)
(Makes about 5 or 6 quesadillas)

Olive oil
3 scallions, sliced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of ground nutmeg
4 cups fresh spinach or 1 small box frozen spinach
Small handful of parsley, finely chopped
A few mint leaves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 egg
Feta (add as much crumbled Feta as you like)
5 or 6 small to medium flour tortillas

Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and saute the onion, scallions and garlic until softened, about five minutes. Add the spinach and cook until wilted and heated through, about five minutes more. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, pepper, parsley and mint. Place mixture in bowl and let cool slightly. Stir in egg and feta and adjust seasonings if necessary.

Meanwhile, wipe out the skillet and heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Place one tortilla in the skillet and heat slightly. Add a few spoonfuls of the spinach mixture over HALF of the tortilla, then fold the empty half over the mixture and press down lightly. Cover the skillet and let cook for about five minutes; then uncover and turn your quesadilla carefully over. Cook a few minutes more. (Repeat with remaining tortillas and spinach mixture.)

Remove the quesadilla from the skillet, cut it in half or in thirds and serve warm.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cranberry Mavrodaphne Clafoutis

I've always wanted to make clafoutis but for some very, very odd reason haven't. I'm not sure why ... these little desserts are really quite simple and so versatile. A complement to any and all seasonal fruit, they are the perfect ending to a savory dinner or a sweet and simple addition to a friendly brunch.

Cranberries, fresh or dried, embody (at least for me) the spirit of fall. They're tart flavor and deep red hue just scream autumn. Simmered in wine and scented with cinnamon, they made the perfect base for these buttery clafoutis.

The Greek dessert wine Mavrodaphne is similar to port but sweeter and beautifully balanced the tartness of the cranberries here. Using the dried fruit made these clafoutis even simpler and though I loved every part of the dessert, I am looking forward to making clafoutis using fresh cranberries as well.

Cranberry Mavrodaphne Clafoutis
(Adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.com)

1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup Mavrodaphne
1/2 cup water
2 cinnamon sticks
3 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp sugar mixed with 1/8 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack placed in center of oven. Butter either one 8- to 9-inch baking dish or 6 to 8 ramekins.
In a small saucepan, simmer the cranberries, Mavrodaphne, water and cinnamon sticks uncovered until it's of a syrupy consistency. Pour the simmered fruit into the baking dish or ramekins and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, butter, sugar, flour, vanilla and salt until smooth and pour into the dish or ramekins. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over top and bake until puffed and set in center, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool the clafoutis briefly and serve.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onions over Polenta

It's been a while since I participated in the Leftover Queen's Royal Foodie Joust, but I'm back this month with an entry using each of the three chosen ingredients (orange colored squash/pumpkin; black tinted stout; sugar) and lots of Fall flair.

A heartwarming, soul-satisfying dish fit for Autumn is what I was going for here. So I took some flavorful butternut squash, soaked it in dark beer, coated it in brown sugar then browned it in some butter and roasted it with a bit of the beer til tender. Onions caramelized with the remaining beer joined the butternut squash atop a silky polenta.

Serve this as a side dish to grilled or roasted beef, veal or chicken; as a stand alone first course; or even a light main dish. I thought of adding some crispy bacon or pancetta but we'd had enough meat in our diet last week though either would add a great dimension of flavor to this dish though.

Now, if you're a food blogger and not yet a member of the Leftover Queen's Foodie Blogroll, head on over to Jenn's site and sign up now. You'll be part of a great community of bloggers, you'll enjoy some great contests and giveaways and you'll qualify to compete in the monthly Royal Foodie Joust.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onions over Polenta

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
1/2 bottle dark beer
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

For the Polenta:
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cornmeal for polenta
Dash of nutmeg
Pat of butter
1/4 cup grated parmesan

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place the butternut squash in a large bowl; add the beer and cayenne pepper and give it a good stir until all the pieces of squash are coated well. Let the butternut squash soak in the beer mixture for about 15 minutes.

As the polenta cooks, heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large oven-proof skillet. Place the brown sugar in a bowl and once the butter is heated well, take the butternut squash cubes straight from the beer, coat each piece well with brown sugar and add to the hot skillet. Brown all the butternut squash pieces evenly on all sides then add half the beer marinade to the skillet and place it in the oven to roast the squash until tender.

Meanwhile, begin the polenta by bringing the water, stock and salt to boil in a large saucepan. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal and cook the polenta over moderately low heat (at barely a boil), stirring quite frequently until thick and smooth, about 30 to 40 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and stir in the nutmeg, parmesan and butter. (Polenta will keep warm, covered, about 20 minutes. Stir well before serving.)

As the polenta cooks, in a skillet or saucepan, add the remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the sliced onions and cook 4 to 5 minutes until softened. Stir in the remaining beer and continue cooking the onions until golden and caramelized.

Spoon some polenta on the plate--or in a bowl--top with some caramelized onions and place a few pieces of butternut squash on top as well. Drizzle with any sauce from the roasted squash skillet and serve immediately.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Ricotta Pancakes with Fig Compote

This weekend we picked the last of the figs off of our fig trees and it's safe to say we're all "figged" out. Since early September we've been blessed with literally hundreds of sweet purple-fleshed figs and I've made everything from a Greek fig spoon sweet; to roasted figs stuffed with Gorgonzola and wrapped in prosciutto; to a cinnamon-spiced fig jam; to two large batches of vanilla-scented fig compote. Not to mention that we ate dozens of these little fruits as is.

On Sunday morning, I opened my fridge to see a half full (some might say half empty) container of ricotta on one shelf and a jar of fig compote on another. The kiddies asked for a batch of pancakes so it was only natural I whip up some ricotta pancakes and serve them with a spoonful of fig compote, right?

I've seen some ricotta pancake recipes call for separating the eggs, adding yolks to the initial batter, then whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks and folding those in as well. I have to admit, I think those steps are kind of unnecessary. Not that I've done any experiments to officially note any differences between either method, but I've always been left satisfied with the fluffy, light pancakes my simple whisking of all ingredients has yielded.

So here's my recipe for ricotta pancakes. I flavored this batch with a splash of my aunt's homemade vanilla but feel free to add either orange or lemon zest to perk these pancakes up as well.

Ricotta Pancakes with Fig Compote
Makes about 8 pancakes

1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1 cup ricotta
Butter (for coating griddle)
Fig compote (recipe below)

In a large bowl whisk the flour, baking powder and salt until well combined. Add the sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk and ricotta and whisk briefly (batter should be lumpy so don't over stir). Note: If the batter seems much too thick add a splash of milk to thin it out.

Heat a griddle or skillet over medium-high heat and once hot coat with a little butter. Drop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto the hot griddle and cook until small holes begin to form on top. Using a spatula, flip the pancake and cook just a couple minutes more until golden. Note: To keep other pancakes warm while making the rest, place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and heat in a 175-degree oven.

Serve pancakes with a spoonful of compote and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Fresh Fig Compote
Clean and dry about three cups of fresh small- to medium-size figs. Peel the figs carefully. Slice the figs in half and add to a saucepan along with 1/2 cup sugar and 2 cups water. Cook until the figs are really tender and reduced to a jam-like consistency. If needed, add a bit more water to continue cooking figs until tender.

Once done, remove pan from heat and stir in a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Let compote cool then spoon into sterilised jars; cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. Serve over pancakes, ice cream, yogurt or mascarpone cheese.