Archive for March, 2010

HOT SPINACH DIP

We’ve all had good spinach dip. A little sour cream, a little cheese, some thawed frozen spinach and you’re in business. It’s the type of party dish you throw out on a table with a few crackers, maybe some slices of toasted baguette, and it’s guaranteed to be gobbled up in a matter of minutes. You may be used to seeing it served cold or at room temperature on most occasions, but those of us who take our dips seriously know that there is nothing quite like a hot version.

Somewhere between a french onion dip and everybody’s favorite green side dish, creamed spinach, this warm rendition satisfies in ways a cold version simply cannot. Just think — all those wonderful, rich flavors that are usually muted by the frosty interior of your refrigerator come alive when warmed through in the oven. Creamy, gooey and indulgent, this spinach dip is guaranteed to become one of your new favorite appetizers. Serve it to guests or bring it to your next potluck, but whatever you do, beware: I’ve seen a small group of people easily polish this off, so it may be worth doubling if you’re serving it for a party.

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SPINACH, FETA & KALAMATA OLIVE STROMBOLI

I should start by saying that I’d never actually eaten stromboli before making this recipe.  After seeing a rendition on TV, I set out to make one in the style of Stuff Yer Face in New Brunswick, New Jersey.  Where most versions seem to be rolled into a pinwheel-like log, this version is more like a burrito — er, Hot Pocket.  Not quite a pizza, almost like a calzone, stromboli seemed like a perfect hand-held version of one of my favorite foods.  Then again, I’m the kind of person who likes to fold my pizza slices in half before biting into them — there’s just something so satisfying about biting into gooey cheese surrounded by crisp then chewy dough.

Sure enough, the ‘boli satisfied this particular craving. Cheesy, salty with tart feta cheese, chalk full of wilted spinach and steaming hot, if you even kind of like pizza (and who doesn’t?), then you’re going to like biting into one of these. Plus, if you have the dough on hand already, they’re easy enough to put together for a lazy weeknight dinner.

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THE RHODIE

I love a good cocktail.  Trouble is, it’s not always easy to find one.  While there are now countless artisanal bars serving drinks of all varieties, both modern and old, the reality is that you can’t expect to find an outstanding cocktail at an average bar.  Take for example the classic, whiskey sour.  Order one up at your local neighborhood dive and your guaranteed to be poured  a neon yellow concoction topped with an equally garish maraschino cherry.  Odds are it will taste comparable to battery acid with a look and viscosity of Lysol – yes, I despise sours mix that much.  Having endured my fair share of hangovers at the hands of these sickly sweet spirits, I’ve come to believe that that stuff might just be worse for you than the booze in the glass.

Enter, the Rhodie.  A refreshing take on the old standby, but without a drop of sours mix in sight.  Here, quality bourbon is shaken with fresh lemonade, tart Meyer lemon juice and a splash of grade-A maple syrup for a concoction that delivers all the sweet/sour qualities of the original.  Served up and free of any of those formaldehyde cherries, the Rhodie is a pure expression of bright, refreshing lemon on a background of sweet, caramelized bourbon and maple syrup.  One sip and you’ll have a hard time going out for drinks ever again.

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FALAFEL SANDWICH

To round out my week of Middle Eastern cuisine, I present to you a vehicle for all those tasty homemade recipes — the falafel sandwich.  This is the kind of sandwich that makes me feel like maybe, just maybe, I could be a vegetarian.  Afterall, with a sandwich as filling and flavorful as this one, who needs meat?  With mixed baby greens, crunchy cabbage and carrots, this version is everything but authentic.

Admittedly, I don’t typically order the falafel sandwich — I prefer a loaded schawerma wrap most days — but that’s because most places serve their sandwiches with some wilted iceberg lettuce, chunks of flavorless tomatoes and the withered tennis balls they call falafel. As it turns out a good falafel sandwich is its own kind of wonderful, and as is the case with many things, all the much better when you’re the one deciding what goes into it.

I knew I wanted something a bit brighter than usual; something that included textures and flavors that would enhance the soft, savory falafel. The combination listed below promises balanced bites — the pepper and pickled turnips add a tangy kick, the cabbage and carrots the right kind of crunch and the tahini sauce and baba ganoush are creamy and bold without overwhelming the flavor of the falafels themselves — but feel free to throw in tomato, eggplant, Middle Eastern pickles or any other additions you think would be good. And if you come up with an inspired combination, don’t forget to share your secrets in the comments.

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FALAFEL WITH TAHINI SAUCE

Looking for good falafel in San Francisco can leave one feeling like Goldilocks.  In a town with so few options to choose from, compared to a city like New York, finding real, quality falafel around here can be hit or miss.  Oftentimes too dry, frequently too large and almost always too dense, my misadventures in the quest for the perfect fritter have lead me to create a recipe that produces perfectly light, moist and delicious falafel every time.  In Goldilocks’ words, these are just right.

Dehydrated chickpeas are soaked overnight and ground with onions, parsley and garlic then seasoned with aromatic spices before being fried to a rich, golden brown. Top with a drizzle of garlic and lemon spiked tahini sauce and you have a version that I’d bet rivals some of the best you’ve ever bought.

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