Tuesday, February 23, 2010

V-Day - The Ineffable Lightness of Spinach Leek Tart

The next Holiday Marathon starts this week. And here I am still catching up with Valentine's Day! Purim is this weekend - A complicated holiday that looks like something simple. It's also the starter's gun for Passover. Passover will have shades of the things that have completely derailed me since Thanksgiving. I am not going to repeat what I did at the High Holy Days however and I WILL finish posting the full V-Day Epic, before my personal trip into the Wonderland of Purim.

We are up to recipe #4 the Spinach Leek Tart, plus the mojitos

His final menu was

The links go to the recipes already written about in case you missed them and the tale of The Boy cooking a Valentine's day dinner for His Girl

So here is the story of the most romantic spinach dish I've ever participated in.

The Boy does not hate all green things, but he does have strong opinions about many of them. Most of those opinions can be compromised with Bernaise Sauce.

When he sat down to make the menu he had a mental list of His Girl's favorite things. Among her favorite things were spinach and mushrooms. He hates mushrooms. He really only likes spinach in a souffle. He showed me the page in the book. "I want to make this."

"Are you sure? Will you eat it? There's no point in making a meal for two people if you're not going to eat the most complicated dish in it."

"I think she'll like it, it's got all her favorite things so I'll eat it with her."

The boy is not one for flowery poetry or emo declarations from rooftops. He is the absolute opposite of drama.

He really loves His Girl. The proof is in the Tart.

The other thing I will point out is that his understanding of the interaction of different flavors is evident in his selection of this as the vegetable side dish for the meal. The chicken was going to be citrusy and tangy, the sweet potatoes would be "dark" and sweet. He had specifically chosen this side dish to compliment the other two without being too heavy. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. He's good at chemistry, he's been a bit of a foodie for the last couple of years and I suppose I'm just actually surprised that he's listened to us discuss the finer points of great meals and menu planning and absorbed it. Aren't we always just a little surprised when we discover our kids really listened to us after all? Or maybe it's just me.

Even though the whole meal was planned around the chicken; because he wanted to make her a meat meal, because you don't eat meat as often when you keep kosher, and even though the showstopper for V-Day is always supposed to be dessert, which was certainly epic, this part of the meal was truly his gift to her. From start to finish.

The Coffee Poppets had learned a love of mushrooms when we did the Longwood Gardens Mushroom Soup while on vacation. They popped right in when he decided to make this.


1 17 1/2 ounce package frozen puff pastry divided
2 large eggs divided
4 tablespoons margarine divided
3 garlic cloves minced
2 shallots, minced
4 oz or 1.5 cups of cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
1 tablespoon of Port, Maderia, sherry or other red wine
2 leeks, thinly sliced use white and pale green part only
1 10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon rosemary ( which reminds me - I have to buy more rosemary)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch of Kosher Salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons of bread crumbs

A brief digression about finding mushrooms in the lull between two storms

Let me just tell you that getting the ingredients was a saga. We had gotten a 2 foot snowstorm about a week before. The Tuesday before Valentines Day they were predicting another foot and a half to two feet. The Boy and I were originally thinking that we would make this for Friday night to test it, but we were pretty sure that there would be no going anywhere on Wednesday and Thursday. So we preemptively decided we were going to shop for everything on Tuesday. If we needed something really fresh everything would probably be operational by Sunday morning. I made the executive decision to shop while he was at school - lucky I did!

The one thing I've learned this year is that I live by the Mushroom Capital of the world. I try to buy my produce locally and luckily my local Acme uses many of the same suppliers as my local Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

The other thing I've learned is that in this area, which doesn't usually get a lot of snow, the hint of snow sends people stampeding to the nearest market to buy up milk, bread and eggs. I've never figured it out. I now have a standing assumption that when snow falls from the sky the locals ritually make french toast.

So I was a little concerned that I might have trouble finding eggs, but I was pretty sure that the rest of my ingredient list was going to be easy. The other reason I needed to go shopping ASAP is that the kosher stuff is not universally available in one place and sometimes you need to hit several places to get all the things you need. Whole Foods is great for vegan versions of things like the cream-cheese-that-isn't and stuff like that, so I figured I would pick up the mushrooms there.

The first thing that surprised me was that the Whole Foods was packed at 10 am on a Tuesday morning - were there really that many unemployed or SAHMs (or SAHDs, we're pretty liberal here) in the area with so much disposable income that they were getting their mandatory milk, bread and eggs at Whole Foods?

The strip mall was empty except for Whole-Food-going denizens who were parking all the way into the next "zone" for all the other stores and shlepping over to find carts. I was practically in a dazed state when a parking spot opened up between a cart stop and a row close to the door. I grabbed a cart and went in, completely focused on mushrooms.

The Mushroom Division at our whole foods is a connoisseurs delight. It's five rows high, it has eight standard varieties of mushrooms. Plus whatever the cool kids are buying that week. Loose. Prepackaged. Prepared mushroomy things you can just heat up. You half expect the Caterpillar from Alice to be smoking something herbal and looking at you smugly when you approach it.

It's the very first thing on the right hand side as you enter the store.

It was empty.

I had no idea that the shelves were green before that moment. Dark Green.

Irrational panic set in and I looked around the rest of the green grocer section. Packed, yes. Stripped bared like Mother Hubbard's pantry? Hell no. Except for the mushrooms. I found a guy with a green apron restocking something and fought my way through to him. There must have been an edge of hysteria in my voice, because he was uber calming as he explained that there had been interruptions in their mushroom deliveries because of the last storm and they were supposed to get some on Thursday but that was now looking very doubtful. There might be mushrooms on Saturday but they had just gotten a bunch in on Monday and well, I could see the vast yawning emptiness for myself.

OK, I thought, Why are people lying in wait and pouncing on mushroom deliveries at the Whole Foods? Maybe if you move upscale in our area people make mushroom omelets or mushroom quiches instead of french toast when it snows? Just in case the nice man made me a list of all the potential mushroom delivery dates and introduced me to the manager, who confided in me that she didn't really get it either. I was relieved to find out that vegans were not rushing the shelves for dairy free whipped creams and cream cheeses. All the rest of my vegetative needs were easily met.

I moved on to Trader Joe's. There I ran into a more localized phenomena. This particular storm was going to hit and possibly immobilize us for Wedsday and Thursday. Friday is when observant Jews prepare for Shabbat, so you have to get everything done before sundown, including the cooking. Which means a lot of Jewish cooks who usually have a few days to buy thing fresh before they have to make meals in advance were rushing the shelves for enough food to last them the entire week. They weren't going to be able to go shopping, regardless of the weather, until Sunday. Trader Joe's carries a lot of kosher items and is very popular with the local community. I was there to buy some back up frozen side dishes and dessert just in case something when terribly wrong with any of the recipes. I know they usually buy locally too, but I checked the mushrooms just in case. Devastated! Barren! Post apocalyptic! Except for three packages on the uppermost shelving with a tiny little old Jewish lady desperately trying to reach the shelf, which wouldn't have helped her because the three packages were deeply set toward the back of said shelf. She would have needed to grow about a foot and a half. And frankly Trader Joe's doesn't look like they keep the Caterpillar around with his size distorting 'shrooms.

The package she was reaching for was one with two large portobellos. Hamburger sized ones. Not what I needed, but I offered to get them for her and warned her there was a local run on mushrooms if she needed more. After all, I am a foot and a half taller than her - no 'shrooms needed. She just needed the one package. I got it down for her. Behind it, lo and behold were two 10 ounce packages of cremini mushrooms which apparently have recently become known as "baby portobellos" and so this package had both names.

I thanked the universe for the benefits of instant karma, assumed it had more to do with The Boy's karma than mine, and grabbed both packages chuckling madly to myself and going to checkout muttering "I'm rich! I'm a happy miser. . . . . "

Good thing too - all Acme had were button mushrooms - which you can use in a pinch but the flavor is different and lighter.

So now I know. If I need mushrooms before a snowstorm, I'm going out at dawn . . . . .

End of maniacal mushroom digression . . . .


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out each of the puff pastry sheets into a 10x10 inch square.

Uh yeah . . . we had made the Glazed Sweet Potatoes at the start of the day and had started defrosting the puff pastry sheets about two hours before we needed them. This is officially Not Enough Time.

So we took the sheets out and they had defrosted enough to make a kind of tent structure out of each of them and put them on the heated stove. We used the necessary defrosting time to prep all of the other ingredients. The Boy learned how to wash and slice leeks. It's a little like dissecting a frog. You remove wilted leaves, cut off the roots and make an incision lengthwise to separate it and rinse of sandy particles that may have settled in the layer. Leeks as we learned on the Longwood Garden's recipe are onionlike and we needed both googles and gloves. We may have had trouble with the mushrooms but Whole Foods leeks are powerful good.

The end results of thinly slicing the 2 leeks:

We saved the darker green parts to use in a chicken soup later that week.

Then we moved on to zesting the lemon. We needed a teaspoon of zest. I have a zester. Owning a zester is one of those moments when you realize you cook a lot more than the rest of your social circle, because if you don't have a zester you end up using the cheese grating side of your cheese grater, which becomes massively annoying when you do it with citrus fruit.

When you do it often enough that you are dancing with joy because you found a zester so now you won't need your grater and it's accompanying torn finger skin complete with instant addition of citrus acid, you have crossed a line. It's OK though, my friends still love me, as long as I invite them over for dinner.

So The Boy learned how to use a zester, now he will start his own kitchen someday and assume that a zester is a necessary thing, like a garlic press and and french press.

Zesting takes a long time.

The pastry thawed.

Place 1 puff pastry sheet on an un greased baking sheet.

I use Silpats for pastry now. Any pastry. It's a vast improvement and keeps the pastry fluffy and cleans up super quick. I use it for frozen pastry based snacks too. I have a silpat and a newer brand from Bed Bath and Beyond. Because you need separate ones for meat and dairy and they have two different colors that way. But I admit I think I slightly prefer the silpat for dairy baking anyway.

The writer of the recipe, Susie Fishbein, also recommends using parchment paper for easy clean up.

So you have one square puff pastry sheet spread out. You cut the other sheet into 8 one inch wide strips. Brush the edges of the flat sheet with cold water ( this recipe gave me an excuse to finally buy a silicone based pastry brush - which is also making my life better since all of my cheap paintbrushes that I'd been using before kept being used for poppet projects). Lay 4 of the strips around the edges to form a flat rim, like a picture frame. Brush this rim with cold water. Lay the other four strips on top of those to form a higher rim. Trim the corners as necessary so it is a neat square.

Beat 1 egg lightly and brush on the pastry frame. Prick the tart all over the bottom with a fork. Place in the oven about 7-10 minute until puffed and golden.

So we did that and then we discovered that when you make a 10 x 10 square and cut 8 one inch strips from it, you will always end up with extra dough. So The Boy and The Poppets had an idea:

Which they worked out while the tart was doing this;

You don't actually use the whole egg - you use about 2/3 of it. Put it aside. You'll need it later.

Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and the shallots (both of which the boy learned how to peel and mince while the tart was cooking) and saute 3-4 minutes until soft.

We had a slight mishap because he put the leeks in with the garlic and margarine and when he went to add the shallots he realized he shouldn't have them in yet. So he separated them as best he could - added another tablespoon of margarine and then added the shallots putting the partially cooked leeks to the side.

Then he got back to the core instructions.

Add the mushrooms and sauté 7-8 minutes or until they are soft, add the wine and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

We may have used slightly more mushrooms than technically needed. We revel in our hedonistic gluttonous use of mushrooms during The Great Mushroom Shortage of Twenty Ten. Mwahhhahhhahhahhahha . . .

He was very good at popping the mushroom stalks and he learned how to slice, but I finished up for speed's sake. He had already done a lot of knife work that day and we didn't want the shallots to overcook.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine - or in our case add another 2 tablespoons of margarine, which for us made 5 instead of 4. When it is melted add the leeks (Oh! That's where they come in!) and spinach and saute for about 10 minutes until the leeks are soft and shiny. So it was cool, they just had a 3 minute head start.

Add the chicken broth and simmer until the liquid is mostly evaporated ( this doesn't take nearly as long as you think it will so keep an eye on it.) Stir in the rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I taught him how to fling his dash of salt and pepper with panache. The hidden panache is a vital ingredient. In almost everything really, if you think about it.

Remove from heat.

Lightly beat the remaining egg and and combine it with any egg you might have put aside earlier - add it to the spinach-leek mixture, mixing well. Carefully spoon the mixture into the prebaked tart, keeping the rim clean.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs,

This is where he added the heart, and now you all know His Girl's first initial. He coated the heart lightly with only two coats of egg wash.

Now here's where the first lesson from when we started planning kicks in.

Bake for 15 mintues. Serve warm.

The tart was done except for the final baking- the Tangy citrus chicken was next, but it would take an hour and fifteen minutes to cook. The most important thing in planning a meal is to make sure that the food gets to the table all at the same temperature it's supposed to be served at. I'll discuss how we managed to oven settings when I write about the chicken recipe but the tart was set aside while the chicken was cooking.

During that time we mixed up the mojitos, hand muddling the fresh mint and determining that Sprite is way better in virgin mojitos than club soda. (So why is the rum always gone? Oh right - they're underage and possibly the Drunken Poppet got there first).

He taste tested it with the sweet potatoes and declared the mojitos the drink of choice to go with dinner and set up to figuring out the best way to serve it in a timely manner when he set the table.

Here is is sample:

Mojitos were the only thing he made that wasn't brand new for him. He developed his mojito making skills after sampling one when we saw Waiting for Godot. He does put together a classy drink. It's probably because he comes from a long line of bartenders.

When the tart was finished cooking it looked like this:

You'll have to read up on the final recipe to find out what happened with it.

But I defy any mushroom and spinach loving girl to find a more romantic pastry than this one.

In our side of the Looking Glass the Knave makes his own damn tarts.

The Red Queen approves.


Anonymous said...

Curiously I was going to make a similar recipe this week, but my local acme did not have puff pastry or Phyllo dough or anything else resembling those things. I was forced to abandon my efforts.

On a different note, the garlic press is the most useless kitchen gadget ever.

I'm not convinced about the zester either. I don't see why a Microplane wouldn't suffice.

Drinne said...

I had never seen a microplane before - now having googled it I like their "citrus tool". It looks more efficient than the zester I have.

I think I end up using my garlic press for a lot of off-label craft things since I usually end up dicing or mincing my garlic and I do that with a knife.

My mother was really the only semi-serious cook around me until I got much older and she went through a gadget phase after I had moved out. But growing up we were serious poor - so almost everything got done with knives, a sifter or a grater. Now she does almost everything with a mandolin. She swears by it but I'm not convinced it will do much more than take up space in my kitchen.

But every time I moved into a new house someone would give me a garlic press. So it is obviously one of the things you're supposed to have : ) The Boy will have one because of the extra : P The french press however lets you have coffee without having a coffe maker and without buying filters all the time. This is very important.

Kelly said...

I think I am going to make that tart next Friday.

Love the mushroom tale....its a good one :)

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of kitchen gadgets are really unnecessary if you have a decent set of knives. I think the gadget industry took a page from the collectible card game market and decided to put out new gadgets every year, from kiwi-peelers to pizza scissors to citrus wedgers. Now you have to buy the latest kitchen-gadget expansion to keep up with everyone else on the block!

A french press is ok though.

Anonymous said...

mmmm yum!

thanks for the comment - wedding is in april, bride says if she doesn't get picked she may want to hear your story (to feel better about it!) she may not find out until 3 weeks prior. :P

Drinne said...

Mine was on the Style Network, but I'm pretty sure anything short of Bridezilla's operates the same way.

Anonymous said...

That spinach and leek tart sounds lovely, even for a non-mushroom eater such as myself. The mushies might actually be manageable in this- as it is a texture and taste objection I have to them, but mixed with two of my favourite vegetables, I'm pretty sure I could manage the mushrooms.