Curious Cook: Popeye would approve


Last week, I had an awful day. Cruelty is the worst, but when it comes from someone you didn’t think was capable of it, it breaks you a bit and shakes the earth upon which you stand.

By the time I got home, I was wishing my mom was visiting so that I could put my head in her lap and sob.

Luckily, a friend was visiting who talked me down and I felt much better. I’d invited her for dinner, and by the time I was able to cook, it was late and we were both starving. I was going to make something that was pretty labor-intensive and took a while to prepare.

Change of plans, obvi. So, I went freezer spelunking and found a bag from Trader Joe’s. It was fettuccine with mushrooms and a light sauce. It’s delicious, but it’s really a side dish and not enough for supper for two women who’d just successfully finessed 83 crises.

In the fridge, I had some shredded white meat chicken — score!

But I wanted to add some actual veggies, so I grabbed a big bag of spinach that was on the verge of being on the verge (you know; not rotten, but not quite right—and I know, I went to school with a kid like that).

I tossed the bag of pasta into a skillet along with the whole bag of greens. I knew they would cook down to a very little bit, even though in the pan at first they dwarfed the pasta by about nine to one.

I cooked the pasta according to directions but left out the recommended water. All that space that raw spinach takes up is just water.

When the pasta was cooked, the spinach was perfect. I added a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream to extend the sauce and when it was hot, added the chicken to heat through but not get dry and stringy.

It was delicious, there was plenty, and it was comfort food without too much guilt (hey us hungry women think about nutrition, too).

Yesterday at work I kept thinking about dinner. I decided to make orzo, a rice-shaped pasta that I love and The Kid hates (it’s a texture thing), and mix it with another frozen bag from Trader Joe’s.

This was elote.

Elote is Mexican street corn. The ear’s put on a stick and roasted in the husk so that the kernels get all charred and extra sweet. Then the husk is taken down to use like a hilt, and the corn is rolled in mayonnaise with a bunch of lime in it and sprinkled liberally with chili powder and cotija cheese, kind of a cross between goat cheese and Parmesan.

Well, my culinary crush Trader Joe made elote, but off the kernel, and in a bag, frozen and just waiting to be devoured. I knew that delicious, unctuous corn and pasta would be both delicious and for me, the texture would be awesome.

But of course, it was also as healthy for me as a big bowl of blue box mac with a handful of corn thrown in — not very. Then I remembered the second bag of spinach.

So, this time I wilted the spinach in the microwave before adding it. The pasta and the corn get ready (but in separate vessels) in about the same amount of time, so I nuked the spinach earlier. Later it would be ready for me and cool enough to handle. I squeezed out as much water as possible and gave it a rough chop before throwing it in the skillet of corn where I had also added the drained orzo.

So, if you have an overindulgent or just plain boring dish and the odd bag of greens (not just spinach) that is on the verge of being on the verge, think about using it to add texture, flavor, color, and enough iron to beat up a cartoon bully.

Sautéed Garlic Spinach

1 large bag of raw greens per diner, roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic per bag of spinach, roughly chopped

1/2 tablespoon of any type of cooking oil you have per bag

Splash of water per bag

Freshly cracked black pepper to taste

More kosher salt than you think you’ll need

In a very large pot with a lid (with spinach for a crowd you may need two pots to fit in all the raw greens) heat oil on medium-low. Add chopped garlic and cook until the garlic is fragrant and has softened, but not browned.

Add the spinach to pot and add a splash of water per bag. Cover and cook for about two or three minutes or until the spinach has begun wilting and released some liquid (the water will stop the garlic from browning or burning).

Cook, uncovered until the spinach has cooked down and almost all the liquid has cooked out.

Season with salt and pepper and remember, greens need a lot of salt so add and taste, add and taste until it’s right.

Serves one per bag.


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