Thursday, October 08, 2009
Posted by Jamie
MEET MR. PERSNICKETY
Oh, happy the parent who has children who eat everything. Happy eaters are a joy to behold, watching as they merrily lick beaters and agree to taste test all cooking adventures. Pure pleasure is the child who digs the serving spoon into the bowl and piles it high on his/her plate, no matter that he/she has never eaten it before. Garlic, eggplant, carrots, mascarpone cream, preserved lemons or pumpkin desserts don’t lead to wrinkled brows, turned up noses and groans of disgust, but rather interest, excitement and licked lips.
Clement was – and is – this kind of child. Maybe he was influenced by my diet when I was pregnant, a diet consisting of the savory and the spicy, couscous and tagines, stews and seafood creoles, the intense flavor seeping through my body to him, a baby growing into my adventurous tastebuds. Or maybe it is due to the fact that from the moment he could open his tiny mouth we would offer him tastes of everything soft and smooth, from fresh goat cheese to chocolate pudding, just a tad on the tip of our pinkie finger, enough to get a reaction. And the reaction was always one of pure pleasure. By the time he could sit in a high chair, he loved sucking on lemon slices or biting into cloves of garlic, he would suck down baby spoonfuls of everything that we cooked or baked for ourselves, a foodie in the making.
And he always loved everything, cheeses, from the mild to the strong, exotic food from any culture, vegetables one and all, desserts both child-oriented and adult.
And then came Simon. Ah, what do the experts say about this? This second pregnancy was punctuated by American fast food cravings and plates piled high with brownies. The tiny taste tests were mostly abandoned when he was a tot. And one day, out of the blue, he pressed his lovely pink lips together, crossed his baby arms and refused what was on the end of the fork. And life was never the same. Here was a child, adorable, sweet and mild-tempered, a child who simply said “no” to food, no to anything flavorful, anything out of the ordinary, his version of ordinary. Years followed, years of eating pasta in bianco or white rice, plain grilled fish drizzled with the smallest amount of olive oil, plain chocolate cake with a smattering of powdered sugar, simple, tiny cheese ravioli in brodo, chicken broth. Fruit he loved, almost all fruit, so mealtimes usually found Clem with a plateful of vegetables in front of him and Simon with a bowl of sliced strawberries and banana, grapes and cubes of apples or pears, anything to get the maximum mix of vitamins.
As he’s grown, Mr. Persnickety, as I call him, has continued to eat simply, from pasta with red sauce to plates of white rice or unadorned couscous grains, spurning the fragrant, delicious veal blanquette or the lamb tagine that are served as the main course alongside these simple grains. He is wary of meat, dissecting it so minutely that it would make a forensic scientist proud, slicing off even the tiniest hint of fat. Vegetables get the old heave ho and most of what I cook is insulted with a “Oh, not that! Disgusting!” Fried foods and pizza, peanut butter or grilled cheese sandwiches, hamburgers and fries all pass with a thumbs up and desserts are limited to brownies and chocolate chip cookies, the most simple of chocolate cake or coffee cake with streusel. Simon was never so simple.
So how do we, the parent of the picky eater, how do we get our little darlings to eat anything healthy, anything vegetable, anything new? It becomes a game, a test: how to we package eggplant or spinach, fish or pumpkin in such a way that will actually have them eating it? Do we cook and serve them a separate meal or do we let them go hungry if they turn up their nose at what we have placed on the table? Or do we try and imagine dishes that may please, dishes that blend the loved with the hated in such a way that the persnickety child will finally put a forkful in his/her mouth and taste and maybe, just maybe, give a gentle shrug of the shoulders and say “it’s not bad”? And clean their plate. And make the foodie parent happy for one more meal. This is an ongoing project for me and I hope to be able, over the course of time and through my posts, I hope to be able to share some of these tasty dishes, successful meals, and there are indeed a few, with you.
Greek-Inspired Spinach and Feta Triangles are easy to put together, if just a tad bit time consuming because of the phyllo/filo dough, and something that even my spinach-hating son, my finicky eater, will eat with pleasure (although he would never admit to the pleasure). I have made this at one time or another in one large baking dish, the filling sandwiched in between layers of filo dough, but wrapped in individual triangles makes it more fun to eat. Crunchy, buttery and delicious, chock full of feta cheese, add pine nuts or even chopped walnuts if you dare, this is a treat that everyone loves. It can be made in advance and stored in the fridge covered well with plastic wrap, just baking before serving.
GREEK-STYLE SPINACH-FETA TRIANGLES
1 1/2 lbs (800 g) fresh spinach, well-cleaned and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups (235 g - one package) feta cheese, drained and crumbled
1/2 cup (60 g) grated parmesan cheese, fresh when possible
3 large eggs, lightly beaten (if you make this in pie form, use 4 eggs)
2 Tbs chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt to taste
1/2 lb (250 g, about 20 sheets) filo dough, thawed if frozen - if you make these 6 large triangles, you will need 12 sheets
Melted butter for the filo
Wash the spinach leaves, shake off excess water and put into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Steam the spinach until wilted, then pour into a colander to drain. Allow to cool until easy to handle. Press out all the excess water you can with your hands, then gather up the cooked spinach and place in the center of a clean but old cloth dishtowel. Wrap or roll up the spinach in the towel and squeeze for all you are worth, squeezing out as much water as possible. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop.
Put the chopped spinach in a mixing bowl, add the crumbled feta and parmesan cheeses, the chopped mint, nutmeg and salt and a good grinding of pepper (when adding salt, do so sparingly; remember that the feta is salty). Blend well. Now beat the eggs until well blended and stir them into the spinach-cheese mixture.
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Now - the filo triangles. As you use each sheet of filo, keep the rest of the sheets covered with a just-damp towel so they don't dry out.
Melt the butter and allow to cool a bit.
Lay out the first sheet of filo with the wider length side to side, left to right. Brush the sheet quickly with butter. Lay a second sheet on top of the first and brush with butter. Repeat with a third sheet. With a very sharp knife, carefully slice from top to bottom into three equal strips. This will make the first three triangles.
Divide the spinach mixture into 6 (like I did here) or more parts depending on whether you want to make more or less triangles.* Scoop up one quantity and place it on the edge of the first strip of filo closest to you. Now, to form a triangle, lift up the bottom edge and bring the right bottom corner up towards the left edge (side), lining up the bottom and side edges to form a triangle. Holding this in place, use your free fingers to push the spinach mixture so it fills the triangle shape. Lift this up and fold upwards and continue folding until you have only about an inch of filo dough at the top. Brush this with butter to moisten, fold it over and seal your triangle "package". Place the triangle on a parchment-lined or buttered baking sheet, sealed side down.
Continue until you have made three triangles with the first three sheets of buttered filo. Repeat the process with three more buttered sheets and the rest of the spinach mixture. You now have 6 large triangles on your baking sheet. The triangles can be made ahead up to this point. Cover them well with plastic wrap and put into the fridge until ready to bake.
Brush the surface of each of the triangles with more melted butter. Bake for 15 minutes until golden.
* You can make this as one large pie, layering 8 - 10 of the buttered filo sheets in a buttered baking dish (the size of the dish depends on how thick you like the filling to be), spreading the spinach mixture evenly, then layering and buttering 8 - 10 more filo sheets on top. Bake until golden. Or you can make many more smaller triangles by cutting the filo dough either width- or length-wise into narrower strips.
Serve large triangles for lunch or dinner with a salad or smaller triangles as finger food.
This post was written by JAMIE
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