Friday, October 3, 2008

Of course you like spinach!

The first time my parents visited me in my own, big-girl apartment I noticed my mother eyeing the cabinets. Go ahead and look, I told her, you probably already know what you won't find. That's right - no beets, no lima beans, no sauerkraut, no other intruments of torture from my youth.

But some of the foods I didn't like as a child, like spinach and sweet potatoes and green beans, just needed to be prepared differently for me to like them. I was in my twenties before I discovered that cooked spinach wasn't awful - at least not in Houston's spinach/artichoke dip. In fact, it's fabulous. [That is one of the few vegetables my Mom just can't stomach, so I never had it until after college.]

Since we've done a workweek's worth of entrees in the Learn To Cook/No-Fuss series, we're moving on to side dishes. Once you've mastered a few of these, you can toss out a confident "Can I bring a vegetable?" the next time you're invited to a dinner party. You can dazzle your in-laws or your co-workers - or whoever it behooves you to dazzle - with your simple, tasty side dishes. Or just plain put a dinner on the table that is the work of your own two hands transforming everyday foods into something terrific.

This week we're making Creamed-Spinach Gratin - the low-fat version. This is SO good with roasted chicken. I've been known to use the leftovers as a bread spread for a turkey sandwich, or stirred into hot rice for a variation on the side dish. This goes very well with meatloaf, too.

You'll need:

A 10-ounce bag of fresh spinach OR a box of frozen, chopped spinach (I use the frozen, but if you're pursuing a whole foods/granola/earthy vibe, rock on with the fresh spinach)
Tub-style light cream cheese. Yes, tub style. It matters.
Dried oregano - if you're buying it just for this recipe, you can go to the Hispanic section of the supermarket and get a small packet for less than a dollar - way less than the $4 or so if you get McCormick's
Fresh Parmesan cheese - cheaper if you buy a block then buy it shredded, but you're going to melt it in a seasoned dish so the taste difference between block and pre-shredded is minimal. DO NOT use that white sawdust in the green cardboard canister. The texture will be gritty, sandy, and all-around wrong.

The recipe calls for fresh tomato - it's optional and, if you choose to add it, grape or cherry tomatoes are probably a better bet at this time of year.

Breadcrumbs are also called for in the recipe, but I don't think it adds anything other than carbs. If you love a breadcrumb topping, go for it and I'll include the how-to in the recipe.

And to wrap up Iron Chef Week, when I got home from the gym yesterday Sweetie pretended to suddenly come up with the idea of burgers for dinner (he had one pre-made in the fridge, seaoned and everything). I had some of my confetti turkey burgers (recipe in an earlier month) in the freezer. We were out of frozen hamburger buns, so we had them au naturel. I sauteed some yellow squash with lemon & pepper for the vegetable.

Do I have enough gas to drive to a friend's house and not enough to drive to the supermarket? Apparently so. I'm a sucker for good food and good friends and a cute baby to cuddle, and tonight's invitation had all 3 (plus wine!). We grabbed Fat Matt's barbecue for the group and had a fun, laidback, detox-at-the-end-of-the-week evening. What greater show of friendship is there than for our host to say "I know we're all coming for the company, so let's just order out and be sure to do it together"?? Fabulous idea, good times.

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