Spanakopita Pie (with or without lamb)

Thanks to Costco, I had 2.5 pounds of spinach, and two 16-ounce blocks of feta in my fridge. And all I could think was SPANAKOPITA. But really, who has the time to layer phyllo dough? Instead, I came up with more of a casserole dish. The bottom is rice, with a nice brown crust thanks to the inclusion of plain yogurt, and the top is a thick layer of the filling in a spanakopita because really, that’s the best part. And in the one I made, there’s an intervening layer of ground lamb in half, for the meat eaters in my house.

Here’s what you need:

For the rice crust:

2 cups of dry rice (I did basmati)

1 cup Greek yogurt

1 glug olive oil

salt to taste

For the spinach layer:

1 yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

1 tablespoon olive oil

salt & pepper

about 2 pounds of spinach

1 block of feta (mine was 16 ounces)

the equivalent of 1.5 to 2 bunches of the following fresh herbs: cilantro, parsley, and dill, chopped well with the stems

2 eggs

For the lamb layer (if you want it):

1/2 yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound ground lamb

salt & pepper

For the top of the pie: 1/2 cup parmesan cheese or mozzarella cheese (optional)

Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. For the rice crust: Cook the rice per the directions or in a rice cooker. Then, in a cast iron skillet, mix together the rice, yogurt, olive oil, and salt. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed. Spread the rice in a nice layer in the bottom of the skillet and pat down.

3. For the spinach layer:

a. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat, and add the onions and garlic. Cook until they start to become fragrant and slightly translucent, a few minutes.

b. In batches, add the spinach to the onion mixture. Toss around with tongs until the spinach wilts. Then transfer to a large bowl, leaving any excess liquid in the pan. Continue until all the spinach is cooked. Make sure all the spinach and onions go in the bowl, and toss the excess liquid.

c. Add the feta and herbs to the bowl. Stir well together. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as needed. (You probably won’t need much because the feta is nice and salty.)

d. Add the eggs to the spinach, and stir to combine.

4. For the lamb layer:

a. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium/high heat, and add the onions and garlic. Season with salt. Cook until they start to become fragrant and slightly translucent, a few minutes.

b. Add the lamb to the pan, increase to high heat, and cook, breaking up the lamb, until it is cooked through.

5. To make the pie:

a. If you are doing a lamb layer, spread the lamb evenly over the rice.

b. Then, spread the spinach evenly over the rice and/or lamb.

c. Sprinkle the top with the parmesan cheese, and cover tightly with foil.

d. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

e. Uncover, and bake in the oven another 30 minutes.

Enjoy!

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Oven-Roasted Tomato and Feta Pasta

I came across this recipe in a roundabout way, even though it took most of the rest of the world by storm. On a quarterly basis, the CEO of our company holds an update meeting. At the end, he and other execs were asked about something fun they’ve been doing. He mentioned trying new recipes with his family at home, and that his daughter recently cooked the TikTok pasta that made it impossible to find feta. I had no idea what he meant, but did some research, and discovered an oven-roasted feta and tomato pasta recipe. I played with it a bit, made it last night, and could not stop eating it.

Here’s what you need:

4-6 cups cherry tomatoes, or mini heirlooms, halved

2-3 shallots, peeled and quartered, or, 1/4 yellow onion, cut in a few pieces

5 cloves garlic, peeled and slightly smashed with the flat side of a knife

1/2 cup good or decent olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

one block of feta (I used a 16 ounce piece of the Tnuva feta sold at Costco in double packs)

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 pound pasta, cooked al dente, plus 1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Optional: fresh basil, lemon zest

Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2. In a skillet, combine the tomatoes, shallot/onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and most of the olive oil. Stir to combine. Place the block of feta on top, then drizzle the remaining olive oil on the feta. Sprinkle the basil over the feta and tomatoes.

3. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, turning at 20 minutes, until tomatoes are bubbly and feta is turning golden brown.

4. In the meantime, cook your pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.

5. When the tomatoes/feta are done cooking, remove the skillet from the oven and lightly break up the feta with a spoon. Add the reserved pasta water and pasta to the feta/tomato mixture, and stir to combine. Top with fresh basil, or stir in some lemon zest, or just enjoy as is.

Enjoy!

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Cheesy Leek Rice

Recipe adapted from Taste.

Here’s what you need:

3-4 large leeks

2 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 1/4 cup paella rice, or, risotto rice (aka Arborio)

1/2 cup white wine

4 cups broth or stock

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, or other herb of your choice (optional)

3 cups shredded gouda, fontina, gruyere, or a combination

4 eggs (or 2 whole eggs and two egg whites)

salt and pepper

Here’s what you do:

1. Trim the ends off the leeks. Remove any not great outer leaves. Then, cut the leeks in half, separating green from white. Starting with the green ends, cut in half lengthwise, and then cut into 1/4 inch half moons. Submerse in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes to allow all the grit to fall away.

2. In an ovenproof pot with a lid, melt the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Drain the green leek pieces and add them to the pot, season with salt, cover, and allow to cook for five minutes.

3. While the green leeks are cooking, prep the whites the same way. (Cut in half lengthwise, then in 1/4 in pieces, then soak in water.)

4. Add the white leek pieces to the green, stir, re-cover the pot, and cook another 5 minutes.

5. Remove the lid, turn the heat to high, and continue to cook until most of the leeks’ water has evaporated. Add the rice, and stir, allowing to toast for 1-3 minutes.

6. Add the wine, stir, and allow to simmer for a minute or two.

7. Add the broth/stock and herbs (if using), stir, cover and bring to a simmer. Turn down the heat to maintain the simmer. Keep the pot covered, and cook about 5-7 minutes, until most broth has been absorbed.

8. Stir in 2 cups of the cheese. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

9. Then, beat the eggs, and quickly pour about 1/5 of the egg volume into a little well before it closes in on itself again. Turn down the heat, cover the pan, and allow to continue cooking until eggs are set and liquid absorbed (about 10 minutes).

10. Turn the broiler to high. Uncover, sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top of the rice, and place the pan in the broiler about 5 minutes, checking ever minute or two.

When the top is bubbly and browning, remove and enjoy!

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The Best Pesto

When I saw basil at Trader Joe’s, I grabbed two packages knowing I could make some pesto. I found this recipe on Food52, and agree, it is the best pesto recipe.

Here’s what you need:

10 tablespoons good olive oil, divided

1/4 cup raw pine nuts

1 garlic clove, grated

1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano, or grana padano, or other good parmesan-type cheese

3/4 teaspoon salt

5 cups loosely-packed basil leaves (about 4-6 ounces)

Here’s what you do:

1. Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl.

2. Toast the pine nuts: In a small pan, combine 4 tablespoons olive oil and the pine nuts over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally, until the pine nuts turn golden. Note that crossing over from raw to golden can happen quickly, so watch carefully. (The recipe I followed said this would take 3-5 minutes, but I found it took more like 7-10 minutes.) When toasted, pour the nuts and oil into the sieve and allow to cool.

3. Make the pesto: In a food processor, combine the nuts and their oil, the remaining oil, the garlic, cheese and salt. Pulse until coarsely chopped, scraping down as needed. Add the basil leaves, and pulse until pesto is smooth (scraping as needed). Store in an airtight container or freeze.

Enjoy!

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French Onion Beef Soup with Vietnamese Aromatics and Noodles

I didn’t want to like the results of this recipe because it required a fair amount of work. But, it yielded a lot of soup, and it was so tasty, that I decided I had to like it. Adapted from Bon Appetit.

Here’s what you need:

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 pounds pot roast, or beef chuck roast, or brisket, or another cut that has a good amount of fat to break down during the slow cooking process

8 garlic cloves, peeled

4 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and cut into chunks

6 scallions, cut into large pieces

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup soy sauce

11.5 cups water

2 teaspoons Chinese five spice

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon ground cinamon

3 tablespoons butter

5 pounds onions, mixture of sweet and yellow

1 package mushrooms, sliced

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

8-16 oz. cooked noodles (ramen, or pappardelle, or even fettucine)

Here’s what you do:

1. Cut the beef into 2-3 inch cubes, removing any tough parts or large chunks of fat. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot. Season the beef with salt, and cook until browned, about 10-15 minutes.

2. Remove the beef from the pot. Pour out the excess fat. Add the second tablespoon of olive oil, and then cook the garlic, ginger and green onions until fragrant and browning, about 2-3 minutes. Add the spices and cook another minute.

3. Add the wine to the pan, scrape up any bits, and allow to cook for a few minutes.

4. Add the beef back to the pot. Add the soy sauce and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until meat is falling apart, about 1.5 to 2 hours.

5. In the meantime, make the onions. Thinly slice the onions. In a large pot, heat the butter over high heat until foaming. Add the onions and season with salt. Cook, stirring often, for 15 minutes, until they start to turn slightly golden. Reduce the heat to medium-high, stirring occassionaly, until they are brown and soft (about 45 minutes). Turn off the heat.

6. When the beef is finished cooking, remove from the pot and spread out until cool enough to handle.

7. Run the broth through a fine mesh strainer. Discard any solids, and add the broth to the onion pot.

8. Shred the beef with your hands, removing any tough or fatty pieces, and add to the pot.

9. Add the mushrooms to the pot. Bring the soup to a boil, then turn down to a simmer for about 30 minutes.

10. Stir in the rice wine vinegar. Add extra salt and pepper as needed. Serve in a bowl with noodles and freshly sliced scallions.

Enjoy!

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Baked Manicotti

This was my post-Passover feast. I really couldn’t stop eating it. So simple but so delicious. Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated.

Here’s what you need:

For the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 garlic cloves, minced or crushed

Two 28-oz cans diced or whole tomatos

1 medium carrot, peeled and grated (optional)

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

salt & pepper to taste

For the cheese filling:

One 15-oz container of ricotta cheese

1/2 of a 15-oz container cottage cheese

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella

2 cups (4 ounces) Parmesan cheese

2 eggs

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

+ 16 no-boil lasagna noodles

Here’s what you do:

1. Make the sauce:

a. In a pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant and turning light brown, about 2 minutes.

b. In the meantime, pulse each can of tomatoes a few times in the blender or food processor. Then, add to the garlic.

c. Add the carrot (if using), the sugar, the dried herbs, and salt and pepper, and bring to a simmer. Cook about 15 minutes.

2. Prepare the noodles: Pour boiling water into a 9×13 inch pan, and submerge the noodles, one at a time. Add additional water if noodles are not fully covered. Soak for about 5 minutes, until noodles are pliable. Then remove, one at a time, separating with the tip of a knife, and lay out on a large towel to dry.

3. Make the cheese filling: Combine the ricotta, cottage cheese, half the mozzarella, half the parmesan, the eggs, the herbs, and the salt and pepper. Stir to combine.

4. Assemble and bake the manicotti:

a. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

b. Spread about 1.5 cups of the sauce evenly over the bottom of your 9×13 inch pan.

c. Spread 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture evenly onto the bottom three-quarters of each noodle, roll each into a tube, and place each roll into the pan seam side down. All sixteen of the rolls will perfectly fit snugly in the pan.

d. Top the rolls with the remaining sauce, making sure all pasta is covered.

e. Cover tightly with foil, and bake about 40 minutes, rotating halfway through.

f. Remove from the oven, remove the foil, and turn your broiler to high.

g. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the top of the manicotti. Place under the broiler about 2-4 minutes, until cheese is brown and bubbly (but watch carefully because this can move fast, and the pan may need to be rotated several times).

Remove from the oven and enjoy!

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Roasted Miso Eggplant (aka Dengaku)

I bought three eggplants last week, and everytime I looked at them, I thought about this amazing roasted eggplant with a thick, miso sauce I ate with my uncle at least 20 years ago. I slightly altered the miso sauce recipe from my Soba Noodle Salad, and roasted the eggplant with the sauce on top. The result was soft, scoopable eggplant with a sweet, savory sauce. I mixed it with rice for a delicious meal.

Here’s what you need:

3 medium eggplants, halved

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup Mirin

4 tablespoons miso paste (I had red, so that’s what I used)

3 tablespoons sugar

freshly grated ginger

4 tablespoons peanut butter

4 tablespoons sesame oil

Here’s what you do:

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

2. Slice the eggplants in half. Then, score the inner side of each half with a diamond shape. Pour the olive oil on a large sheet pan, and use the skin side of one of the eggplants to spread it around. Place the eggplants, skin side up, on the pan, and roast for 20 minutes.

3. In the meantime, prepare the sauce. Heat the mirin over high heat until the alcohol boils off, about 1 minute. Turn down the heat, and whisk in the miso. Turn up the heat again, add the sugar, and cook until slightly bubbly and thickened (a few minutes).

4. Remove sauce from the heat and stir in the grated ginger. Then, stir in the peanut butter and sesame oil.

5. Remove the eggplants from the oven, and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees. Flip the eggplants so they are skin side down, and spread a generous scoop of the miso sauce over the top of each one. (You will use almost all of it.) Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes.

6. Remove the eggplants from the oven, and turn down the temperature to 325 degrees. Squish the sauce into the eggplant a bit (and add more if you see any empty spots). Return to the oven and bake another 15 minutes.

7. Remove from the oven, and enjoy with a spoon, or mashed into rice, or with a fork and knife!

Enjoy!

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Apple Cake that is sweet yet spicy, zesty yet bland, tart yet un-tart

Last Rosh Hashanah, Simon’s NY cousins sent him this great chapter book called “Once Upon An Apple Cake: A Rosh Hashanah Story.” It’s about a 10-year old girl trying to figure out the secret ingredient in her Zadie’s famous Rosh Hashanah apple cake while he convalesces in the hospital after a fall. It’s a fun and funny story, with a recipe at the end. Recently, we’ve read the chapter book several times (because that’s how 5-year old’s roll when it comes to variety), and finally decided to make (our version of) the apple cake. Survey says: absolutely delicious (buuut, maybe not sweet yet spicy, zesty yet bland, tart yet un-tart).

Here’s what you need:

2 sticks butter, softened

2 cups sugar (I did 1.5 white sugar and 1/2 cup coconut sugar, because I had it, but that isn’t necessary)

3 eggs

3 cups flour

1.5 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped (about 3 medium to large apples)

Here’s what you do:

1. Grease a Bundt pan and preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one by one, to combine.

3. In a second bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture gradually, along with the cinnamon. Mix to combine.

4. Gently fold the apples into the batter. Spread the batter in the Bundt pan.

5. Bake for 1.5 hours. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Then remove from the pan.

Enjoy!

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Jap Chae

If you’ve ever eaten Korean food, you’ve probably enjoyed the delicious side of glass noodles, slippery and sesame-flavored, studded with sautéed veggies. It’s one of my favorites, and after I bought the “Lucky Peach Presents: 101 Easy Asian Recipes” cookbook, I had a recipe to try. I made this yesterday, altered it a bit, and wow. Delicious!

Here’s what you need:

10 ounces sweet potato/cellophane noodles (I bought mine on Amazon)

3 tablespoons neutral oil (safflower, vegetable, grapeseed), divided

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 bell pepper, thinly sliced

salt & pepper

2-3 medium carrots, peeled and julienned (or at least cut into long rectangular pieces)

8 oz shitake mushrooms, sliced

1 bunch scallions, cut into 1 inch pieces

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup mirin

1/2 cup soy sauce

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons sesame oil and 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds OR 4 teaspoons sesame oil (I didn’t have sesame seeds, so just did all sesame oil, and it was great)

Here’s what you do:

1. Boil a pot of water. Prepare an ice bath. Cook the noodles according to the package instructions. Drain. Plunge in the ice bath. Drain again. Place in a large bowl.

2. In a sauté pan over medium heat, add 2 tablespoons of the oil, red onion and bell pepper, and cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.

3. Season the onions/peppers with salt and pepper. Then add the remaining tablespoon of oil, the carrots, mushrooms, scallions and garlic, and cook until all veggies are softened and slightly golden, about ten minutes.

4. Pour the veggies into the noodle bowl. Then pour the mirin into the pan to deglaze and boil off the alcohol, about 3 minutes. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Combine for one minute, then remove from heat.

5. Pour the sauce over the noodles, add the sesame seeds (if using), and stir to combine.

Allow to cool slightly and then enjoy!

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Spaghetti alla ceci, aglio y olio (or just Fancy-Tasting Pantry Pasta)

Last night I was craving some flavorful, fancy-tasting pasta (probably because I’ve been marking interesting recipes in an Italian cookbook), but didn’t have man fresh ingredients. So, I came up with this recipe that’s heavy on stuff-on-hand, and it was so delicious. Think creamy olive oil and garlic meets alfredo, but without all the fat, and plus protein.

Here’s what you need:

12 ounces spaghetti (or any other pasta of your choice)

1/4 cup olive oil (quality helps, but doesn’t have to be fancy)

6 large garlic cloves (or the equivalent if using smaller ones), sliced

1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1.5 cups milk, divided (I used 2%)

1.5 cups shredded parmesan, or Romano, or grana padano, or whatever you have that’s similar

generous salt and pepper to taste

Here’s what you do:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over low heat. Add the garlic. Turn up the heat a bit until you see the garlic begin to sizzle a little. Then turn back down and allow the garlic to cook. Make sure the heat doesn’t get too high or the garlic might burn. Stir occasionally.

2. Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. When finished, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water, then drain and rinse the pasta and place it in a large bowl (or back into the pot you cooked it in, to cut down on cleaning).

3. Add half a cup of milk plus the garbanzo beans to a blender or food processor. Blend until smoothish.

4. Once the garlic has softened and turned slightly browned (about 15 minutes, but taste if softened to your liking), stir the garbanzo bean mixture into the pan. Then add the reserved pasta water. Turn up the heat, and stir to combine. Next, add the remaining milk, and the cheese. Season generously with salt and pepper, and allow to cook until warmed through and the cheese is melty, about 4 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce over the pasta and mix to combine. Taste and add additional salt and pepper as needed, and more cheese if needed.

(And I probably don’t need to mention that the variations are endless. I had some fresh parsley from my dad’s garden, so I threw some in. Basil would be great too. Or some chopped up tomatoes. Some chicken or sausage…)

Enjoy!

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