Spinach artichoke gratin


Do you really need another Spinach artichoke dip? You do when it is this good. Not so over-stuffed with cheese to turn it into rubber and not so heavy with mayonnaise that it is greasy or separates when reheated, yet still very flavorful and just creamy enough

This bakes up more like a gratin so I recommend slicing up a baguette and schmearing the slices with the gratin rather than trying to drag a tortilla chip through it

For a hint of heat, offer up a selection of favorite hot sauces and let guests help themselves

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
2 large cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and finely minced
9 – 11 ounce box/bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry (see Note)
14 ounce can whole artichoke hearts in water, drained, roughly chopped (see Note 2)
8 ounce block cream cheese, ART*
1/3 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1 fresh nutmeg, for grating
1 cup packed grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 18 inch long French sourdough baguette, for service

Place a half sheet pan on the rack below the rack on which the gratin will bake

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, stir in onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir garlic into the onions and slide the pan off the heat and allow to cool slightly

In a large bowl, stir together the onions, spinach, artichokes, cream cheese, mayonnaise, half the Gruyere, the 1/3 cup of Parmesan and salt, freshly milled pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste until very well combined

Mix the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan together

Spoon the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate then smooth into an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Gruyere-Parmesan

Bake until hot and bubbling and the edges turn golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes (to further brown the top run the gratin under the broiler until the desired color is reached, watching it carefully)

Serve Spinach artichoke gratin with sliced sourdough baguette and palate knives for spreading

Note: Not every box of frozen spinach is the same weight. That can vary by brand and even within brand. Be sure to check that you have a box (or bag) that is at least 9 ounces but no more than 11

Note 2: I believe artichoke hearts in water in cans have more flavor than frozen artichokes but aren’t so saturated in a piquant dressing like the bottled ones. I buy the 14 ounce cans based on price, which can vary. Sometimes the whole large artichokes are less expensive than the smaller ones, sometimes they aren’t. Of course the smaller whole artichokes don’t need to be chopped as much. For processing the larger ones, I slice in half the long way then cut each half into thirds the short way. I want my guests know they are in the gratin so I don’t chop them too finely. Don’t buy chopped artichoke hearts because you never know what you might end up with

*Having the cream cheese ART – At Room Temperature – will make it easy to stir it into the other ingredients

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Thanksgiving 2016

I have been hosting Thanksgiving dinner ever since I moved to Chicago. In the beginning my roommates and I all chipped in with preparing the annual dinner (why did the oven always seem to break on Thanksgiving morning?) Once I moved out I started hosting for the other folks, like me, whose job or other commitments prevented them from taking any more time off than just the holiday. After a few years those commitments went away and I was able to take that time off and concentrate more time on planning the annual dinner. My guest list was now filled with friends and it wasn’t long before I started to think beyond the traditional dinner of turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes … and while I do love that tradition and that traditional food, I tend to think non-traditional even if I do serve turkey. Instead of a whole bird I might do something like Braised Turkey Thighs, a nice option especially when all of my guests prefer dark meat. I start by thinking of a theme, like “Modern Scandinavian” or “Pub Crawl”, and build my menu around that. I serve my dinners restaurant style, as opposed to buffet or family-style and take on almost all of the cooking. Friends are typically tasked with ordering the flowers or bringing the booze. I don’t typically reveal the theme, instead I hope that my friends feel the warmth and appreciation of the gathering and love the food for what it is: a reflection of my affection for cooking and for them.

Vintner & vintage of Champagne and wines yet to be determined

Champagne toast
Duck breast rumaki, uncured wild Cherrywood bacon

Amuse bouche
Caesar salad, Parmesan tuile, garlic-butter crouton
Continue Champagne

Prawn bisque, spicy oyster crackers

Main & sides
Prime rib au jus, 3 sauces
Gratin of spinach
Thrice-baked potatoes
Fried onion ‘cake’ with spicy barbecue aioli
Duck fat popovers, butter

Fallen chocolate cake, glazing sugar, pomegranate redux
Coffee: Peet’s Italian roast

Trio of handmade Martha Washington candies
Cognac: Grand Marnier 100 year old cuvee

Recipe of the week: Black bean chili

Delicious, easy to make … and vegetarian to boot

4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
2 medium onion, finely chopped
One 4 ounce can diced green chilies
2 teaspoon chili powder (make sure it is fresh)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed, Mexican preferably
1 1/2 teaspoons dried cumin
29 ounces canned fire roasted diced tomatoes, with juices
30 ounces canned black beans, drained and rinsed

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Place garlic cloves in an oven proof dish with the 1 tablespoon olive oil, pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, and roast 30 minutes

Remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle. Slip cloves from skins, mash into a paste, adding the oil and salt and pepper from the dish

Heat a large saucepan over medium high heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion and season lightly with salt, stir to gloss and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft. Add a touch of water to prevent the onions from taking on too much color during cooking

Add the roasted garlic to the pan, and then everything else but the beans and mix thoroughly. Heat to a boil over medium heat, reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes

Add the beans; mix well and heat thoroughly, 20 minutes

Serve with Sourdough cornbread