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03/21/2016

~It's Not Easy Being Green: Me & Creamed Spinach~

IMG_4102"Why can't you be more like your friend Melanie?", said the mothers of many of my childhood friends.  A long, long time ago, middle-class mothers all cooked, and, when you were invited to a friend's house after school, it was common practice to be asked to stay for the evening meal. Those were hospitable times, and, that was my life during the 1960's (age 5 thru 14).  If you are old enough to remember June Cleaver, Margaret Anderson and Donna Stone (Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best and Donna Reed), the image of each of those TV moms serving dinner to her family is etched in your black-and-white TV-watching memory.  Don't roll your eyes.

Back then, we kids knew what to expect, and, aside from the occasional casserole, bowl of soup or spaghetti and meatballs, dinner was typically meat, potatoes and a vegetable.  I'm not talking canned peas and corn here.  Green beans almondine (Audrey's mom w/brisket), candied carrots (Brenda's mom w/lamb chops), sauteed squash (Susie's mom w/fried chicken), roasted brussels sprouts (Karen's mom w/ham) and creamed spinach (Sally's mom w/steak) -- every friend's mother had her specialty, and, I liked them all.  I ate my vegetables.  My friends did not.

"Why can't you be more like your friend Melanie?"  It wasn't easy being me.

IMG_4100A bit about creamed spinach:  If vegetables enrobed in a seasoned cream sauce appeal to you, creamed spinach is a dish you are going to love.  As far as leafy greens go, spinach is one that has quite a bit of its own flavor.  That means, the key to a great creamed spinach recipe is not to overpower the sauce.  Stick to making a milk or cream-based sauce that starts with a butter and flour roux.  Versions containing tangy substitutes like sour cream, yogurt or cream cheese, are, excuse my French: nasty.  Save those add-ins for your spinach and artichoke dip.  One more note of disdain: Versions containing bacon or bacon fat.  It may come as a shock, but, not everything tastes better with bacon.

Into my adulthood and on my travels, I discovered creamed spinach to be a staple on the menus of many truck-stop-type diners and almost all upscale steakhouses.  It makes sense.  Diners specialize in hearty breakfasts and creamed spinach pairs well with many an egg dish.  If you've never tasted creamed spinach in conjunction with a rare- medium-rare double-cut prime rib or a thick flame-grilled steak, your carnivorous diet requires a reboot -- it's the best green vegetable concoction ever to be served with a slab of red meat since the caveman invented fire.

IMG_4008For the spinach:

2  9-10 ounce bags triple-washed, no preservatives, organic, ready-to-use spinach leaves

IMG_4014~ Step 1.  To prepare the ice bath (which will be used to shock the cooked spinach leaves), in a large bowl, place two trays of ice cubes and 6 cups of cold water.

IMG_4023 IMG_4020                                          ~ Step 2.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of IMG_4026water to a boil over high heat. Add all of the spinach leaves, all at once, to the water.  Cook until leaves are tender, wilted and bright green, 1 1/2 minutes.  Do not overcook.

IMG_4029 IMG_4032~ Step 3. Drain the spinach into a large colander and quickly rinse with cold water. Immediately transfer spinach to the ice bath and allow to remain there to chill down, 2-3 minutes.

~ Step 4.  Place 3-4 layers of paper towels on the countertop next to the bowl of iced spinach (a couple of kitchen towels may be substituted but paper towels work better).

IMG_4045 IMG_4036~ Step 5. Using a large slotted spoon or scoop, transfer the spinach leaves to the paper towels, allowing excess water to drain back into the bowl, spreading the leaves out across the surface of the paper towels as you work.

IMG_4055 IMG_4051~ Step 6. Cover the spinach leaves with a few more layers of paper towels and roll the whole "thing" up jelly-roll-style.

Gather the whole "thing" up, and, standing over the drain of your sink, squish the whole "thing" to remove almost all of the moisture from the spinach.  Add more paper towels to the outside of the "thing" if they start to break apart.

IMG_4062You will have 3 1/2-4 cups of squished spinach leaves.

IMG_4066~ Step 7. Remove the paper towels and place the spinach leaves in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 10 on-off pulses, chop the spinach.  Transfer chopped spinach to a bowl that has been lined with paper towels and set aside.

The spinach is finished.  To prepare the creamed spinach:

IMG_4072For the creamed spinach:

3 1/2-4  cups blanched, shocked, squished and chopped spinach leaves (from above)

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion

2  tablespoons minced garlic

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves 

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_4079 IMG_4081 IMG_4084 IMG_4087~Step 1.  Melt butter in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan over low heat.  Stirring constantly, add the flour, increase heat to a boil and cook until smooth, thickened and foamy, about 30 seconds. Lower heat to medium, add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring constantly, 3 1/2-4 minutes.

  IMG_4089 IMG_4091 IMG_4093 IMG_4096~Step 2.  Add and stir in the cream, followed by the ground cloves, nutmeg, sea salt and white pepper. Adjust heat to simmer until thickened, stirring constantly, about  3 1/2-4 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  Stir in the spinach and continue to cook until steaming, about 2 minutes.

Place a nice big scoop next to a perfectly-grilled steak...

IMG_4108... and don't wait one more minute to stick a fork in it!

IMG_4137It's Not Easy Being Green:  Creamed Spinach:  Recipe yields 3 1/2-4 cups of creamed spinach.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; paper towels; large slotted spoon or scoop; food processor; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon

IMG_2092Cook's Note:  While creamed spinach pairs wonderfully with any type of grilled steak, for an over-the-top alternative, try serving it with ~ Mel's Pan-Seared Crimini Crusted Sirloin Steaks ~.  You can find this very special recipe in Categories 3, 11, 21 or 26.  I promise you, this classic combo is an impressive meal your guests will never forget.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)

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