Here's a question for you. Do you find it difficult to talk about food and cooking to your non-foodie friends? I find it nearly impossible. In fact, it's about as awkward as talking about politics and/or religion.
Here are just a few of the conversations that I've had lately.
Friend A: "Kim, what did you have for lunch today?"
Me: "Spinach and Carrot Ramekins."
Friend A: "What the hell did you just say? Can't you just eat a sandwich like a normal person?"
Friend B: "So, do you cook every night?"
Me: "No. Tonight I'm just making frozen pizzas and salad from a bag."
Friend B: (in a very accusatory tone) "Okay, so are you saying that frozen pizza and salad from a bag is not cooking? Because if that's the case then I guess you're telling me that I never cook. Is that what you're telling me?"
Me: "Well, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm making pizza and salad, but I'm not really cooking anything." (this conversation ended badly)
Friend C: "Hey Kim, I'm on my way to the mall. Wanna come?"
Me: "I can't. My oven's preheating and I'm in the middle of pureeing carrots and baking veggie ramekins."
Friend C: (big pause) Um, okay....I'm sorry. Did you just say no to the mall?"
All these conversations happened just this week. I'm beginning to think that I speak another language or something. Anyway, I thought I would share for several reasons. First and foremost, I know you will all understand. Secondly, it's actually pretty funny. And lastly, I have a feeling that some of you, if not all of you, have had similar conversations at one point or another.
I chose these spinach and carrot ramekins because I've never really made anything quite like them before. You basically make a carrot puree and add bechamel sauce and Parmesan cheese to it. Then you blanch spinach, chop it, add bechamel, and more Parmesan cheese. Lightly beaten egg is added to both the spinach and carrot mixture and the ramekins bake for about 45 minutes in a bain marie. The preparation is a little bit fussy, but the end product is really pretty and definitely makes for a fun and unique main course with a nice salad on the side.
Little Spinach and Carrot Ramekins
Adapted from Apples for Jam by Tessa Kiros
Tessa says, "I use little individual ramekins (about 2-1/2 inches wide at the top, 1-1/2 inches across the bottom, and 1-1/2 inches high). They look good in this size and are perfect servings for all-size humans. These are baked in a bain marie so they stay beautifully moist."
4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
5 cups loosely packed spinach leaves
4-1/2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/3 cups milk, warmed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly ground nutmeg
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350F and butter ten little 1/2 cup ramekins. Cook the carrots in boiling salted water until they are soft. Lift them out with a slotted spoon, puree, and put into a bowl. Add the spinach to the boiling carrot water, and blanch for a few minutes until it is all wilted and soft. Drain, leave until it has cooled enough to handle, and then squeeze out all the excess water. Chop up finely and put in a separate bowl.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then begin adding the warm milk. It will be immediately absorbed, so work quickly, whisking with one hand while adding ladlefuls of milk with the other. When the sauce seems to be smooth and not too stiff, add salt, pepper, and a grating of nutmeg, and continue cooking, even after it comes to a boil, for 5 minutes or so, mixing all the time. It should be a very thick and smooth sauce.
Pour off any water that has collected in the bottom of the carrot bowl, then mix in 10 tablespoons of the bechamel along with half of the Parmesan. Stir the rest of the bechamel and Parmesan into the spinach. Taste each bowl, adding extra salt, pepper, or nutmeg if you think it's needed. Add half the beaten eggs to each bowl, and mix them in well.
Divide the spinach mixture among the ramekins. Rap them firmly on the table to flatten the mixture, then divide the carrot puree among the ramekins. The mixture should just fill the molds.
Put the ramekins in a roasting pan and add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the side of the molds. Move the pan to the oven and bake for about 45 minutes, or until the molds are puffed, golden, and firm. turn the oven off and leave the pan in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the pan, run a knife around the rims then turn them out onto plates.
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So, how about you? Have you had any interesting or awkward conversations about food or cooking lately?