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My portable spinach pies are easy to make, healthy, and travel quite well.Yep, not the best picture. Took it with my BBerry on an overcast day. I'll try to swap it out with a beauty shot of the pies very soon.

Sometimes recipes come together in the oddest ways. And so it goes with my Portable Spinach Pies. I’ve made spinach pies before, but never really committed to making them a staple of my cooking repertoire. I have no idea why, now that I’ve made them again. They’re delicious, nutritious, and highly portable. Bonus: They taste great at any temperature: hot, warm, and even cold.

Maybe it was the Phyllo Factor that kept me away so long? Or the simple fear of the unknown? Before we get into the recipe itself, here’s a quick slide show of a recent day trip I took to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. What does this have to do with spinach pies? Well, spinach pies were my lunch that day. In fact, the very spinach pie recipe I’m sharing with you. Please forgive the fact that some of the pics have captions and others don’t. I’m still learning how to work this cool new WordPress slideshow feature.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Those scenes were lovely, weren’t they? Ok, now back to cooking:

So I made and odd and wonderful time-saving discovery when making this pie. The first time I made the filling, I was going out of my way to saute plenty of onions and the perfect amount of garlic, to spice it “just” so, adding fresh lemon zest, and so on. I kept having to taste and adjust the seasoning. Was it good? Yes, it actually was, but it wasn’t quite perfect.

The second time I made the pies, I was super short on time–needed to leave within the hour. By this point, I had a pretty good idea of what the pie needed to have inside to taste good. But I didn’t have time to zest a lemon, to snip sun-dried tomatoes into bits, or to play around with getting the spices just right. In other words, this is what everyday life is like for a lot of us.

All of a sudden, I remembered that I had some fresh homemade salsa in the fridge that I’d made earlier in the week.  I thought, “I wonder if it would work? After all, it has onions, garlic, cumin, lemon, and even tomato. Yeah, there’s some cilantro in there, but not that much. Uhhhh, what time is it? Uh ok, wow, I gotta get outta here. Let’s just do this and pray.” So that’s exactly what happened.

I threw in a few spoonfuls of the salsa, along with some Arabic Spice Mixture, a few bits of chopped black olives, and sauteed it all together, adjusting the salt and pepper as it cooked. Bingo! It was perfect and took less than five minutes. The tomatoes added a richness to the pie, but you’d never know they’re in there unless you made them yourselves. The cilantro didn’t overpower. And the beautiful flavors of the onion and garlic were liberated the second they hit the hot olive oil. Luckily I’d made the salsa mild, so the jalapeno pepper taste didn’t even register. Amazing stuff!

Sometimes stumbled-upon shortcuts are just okay. I can honestly say this shortcut improved the recipe significantly.

So while it might seem tedious to make a fresh salsa just to use a few spoons of it in a spinach pie, please flip that script and think of it in a more positive light. The salsa is so excellent in many other contexts: as a snack, as topped for veggies and/or meats, mixed into beans as they simmer. Basically it’s magic, because it boosts and rounds out the flavor of pretty much anything it touches.  So we’ll start with that salsa recipe, then move on to the pie.


Magical Mild Homemade Salsa

1 28 ounce can of whole tomatoes and juice

1 medium onion, cut into large chunks

4-6 large garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half

1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed

1/2 cup cilantro leaves (or parsley leaves if you have the “I hate cilantro” gene)

Juice of one lime or lemon

Dash of cumin (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Add all ingredients to a blender or food processor and pulse once. (Resist the urge to just let it rip and whip all of the ingredients together at once). Pulse one or two more times (or more if preferred) to get desired consistency. I like my salsas to have quite a bit of chunkiness to them, but you may prefer a smoother blend. Either way works.

Highly Portable Spinach Pies

Ingredients:

Olive oil

1 pound bag of frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess water

1 tablespoon of Arabic Spice Blend ( or a few dashes of whatever spices you like, such as cumin, coriander, etc)

1/2 tablespoon fenugreek powder

1/4 cup fresh homemade salsa (recipe above)

3-4 Tablespoons of black olives cut into chunks (optional)

2-3 sundried tomatoes, snipped into bits (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 275 F. Then start with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil. Heat it over medium heat in a large skillet or saute pan. Once the oil is shimmery and a drop of water skitters across its surface easily, add the spinach. (If you feel you need more oil, add it as needed).

2. As spinach sautes, keep it moving with your cooking tongs or a wooden spoon. Add the spices to the spinach. Stir and cook for 30 seconds to one minute, until spices’ aroma begins to bloom. Then add in the salsa, sundried tomato piece, and the olive chunks. Cook for one minute more.

3. Remove the filling from the heat and let it cool as you prep the phyllo dough.

4. Wrap 2-3 tablespoons of spinach mixture  in 2-3 sheets of phyllo dough. I like to wrap mine like burritos–I place the filling in the middle, fold the short edges upwards on each side, then wrap the rest of the dough around the pie. Click here for some visuals.

5. Place pies, seam side down,  in a well-oiled baking sheet. Slather the top of pies with olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, flipping once. Pies should be light golden brown when removed from the pan. The low heat is a key element of this recipe, so please don’t blast that oven to save time. It doesn’t work. I know; I’ve tried.

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Chin up, darling, and no tears over that messed up cake. A broken chocolate cake shouldn't be tossed into the trash, or even to the birds. Make a gorgeous and delicious chocolate trifle instead. Ok, guys, stop laughing at the oh-so-professional studio background I've got goin' here 😉

Oh dear. A kitchen mishap. Big plans to bake a chocolatey, decadent, gorgeous birthday cake for a loved one. Said cake recipe was new to me and untested in my kitchen.

A vertical view of this layered beauty. Layers of goodies abound.

Plus, I was having a bit of a trying day. Not to get all “Like Water for Chocolate” on you guys here, but I find cooking when I’m sad often leads to mishaps. Long story short, the cake fell to pieces when I tried to invert the layers out of the pans. Whoops.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always said that if something like this were ever to happen to me, I’d salvage the situation by making a trifle. And part of me has longed to make a trifle, but not yet found quite the right occasion/excuse to do so.

Quickie behind-the-scenes self portrait. Ooops, kept the flash on. Well, today's entry is all about mistakes, right?

Now, apparently that day had come, whether I was ready for it or not. Had I willed this into being? Obviously, all of my preaching to my Yoga students about going with the flow was coming home to roost with yours truly. This just might have been a test. Okay, let’s do this, then!

Luckily, no one was expecting a picture perfect cake anyways, so the incident wasn’t a big deal, except in my mind. The trifle was creamy, fun and festive dessert, and crisis was averted. No tears were shed.

The lesson here? I think it’s don’t cry over  broken cakes, my friends. It’s generally not worth it. And there’s always tomorrow, or some alternative iteration of a recipe to save the day right now.

Here's another behind-the-scenes self-portrait. Hee hee, I'm feeling silly now.

Accidental Chocolate Cherry Trifle

Ingredients:

1 to 2 layers of chocolate cake, cut into large chunks (or one small pound cake loaf, in chunks)

1/2 cup of sour cherry jam

1/4 cup dried sour cherries

6 ounces chocolate chips or chunks (bittersweet or semisweet)

3/4 cup coconut milk

1 teaspoon each vanilla extract and almond extract

2 tablespoons almond slivers (toasting optional)

For garnish: white chocolate bits and dark chocolate bits

Directions:

1. Make vegan ganache. Warm coconut milk over low heat. Don’t boil. As milk heats, place chocolate bits in a heat resistant bowl. Slowly pour warmed milk over chocolate chunks, stirring frequently until smooth. Add in vanilla and almond extracts and stir again. Allow ganache to cool and thicken slightly.

2. In a see through dessert glass or jar, spoon in some cherry jam. Top with a layer of cake, then a layer of chocolate ganache, then some dried cherries. Repeat layers, ending with a dollop of ganache. Garnish this with white and dark chocolate curls (Make the curls with a veggie peeler). Put some dried sour cherries on top if you want.

3. Enjoy, and no tears, love. Act like this was the dessert you meant to make, and no one will be any the wiser 😉

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Biscotti with a Persian flair. Pistachios, dried cranberries, and cardamom. Recipe to follow later this week.

In the foreground is another Persianized biscotti flavor: Sour Cherry and Almond biscotti. Both recipes are vegan and will be posted soon 🙂

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First a rose, then scroll down for a video of me showing you how to make chocolate dipped figs and dates. Easy, quick, and on the healthy side.

The Grand Finale is to our West of Persia Chocolate Week is finally here. My gift to you? Video!

Yep, it’s video of today’s recipe, Chocolate Dipped Dates and Figs. Of all of the chocolate recipes I’ve featured this week, this is the easiest, fastest, and perhaps the healthiest. Please note that while I do use the microwave in this video, and am indeed squatting by it in the screen shot below (LOL!) I no longer use it at home. (This video was shot a while back). Why do I now skip the micro? Health reasons. Plus, I wanted more room for my tea collection 😉 I’ll write  in detail about all of  that at another time.

For now, just know that melting the chocolate over low heat in a non-reactive saucepan should work just fine, as long as you don’t walk away and keep that spatula or spoon moving.

I figured posting this on Friday would be perfect for those of you who might have waiting until the last minute 😉 to gather ingredients for any Valentine’s Day sweets you might be making. You may very well have the ingredients on hand for this recipe. For now, let’s roll that tape. I mean, video 😉

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Frozen Hot Chocolate with an optional dollop of creamy goat milk yogurt and a dusting of nutmeg to give it a Middle Eastern flair. Leave out the goat yogurt and use a non-dairy milk and voila! It's vegan. Either way, it's elegant, portion-controlled, and so smooth!

Does this ever happen to you? The weather is cold. Even snowing, perhaps, like it is in New York City at this very moment. And all of a sudden, nothing sounds quite as good as a frozen treat of some kind?

This sort of thing definitely happens to me. Maybe it’s the warmth of being indoors. Or not; I’ve had these cravings strike while trudging through a blizzard. No joke.

Craving cool sweets in this type of weather? Why yes, I sometimes do.

At times like these, my easy Frozen Hot Chocolate could fit the bill nicely. It’s quick and simple to make, and there are many options as to how you take your chocolate. You could drink it immediately, or let it chill overnight in the fridge so that it takes an almost pudding-like texture. Plus, there are numerous ways to top this treat. I like to keep it simple, so let’s get right down to the base recipe:

A versatile and easy recipe that can be enjoyed immediately or later on.I prefer mine plain, but a dollop of goat yogurt and a sprinkling of nutmeg looks and tastes lovely, too.

Frozen Hot Chocolate w/Optional Goat Yogurt Topping

Ingredients:

1 1/2 ounces bittersweet or unsweetened dark chocolate

2 Tablespoons agave nectar or granulated sugar (you can adjust this amount to your taste)

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup and also 1/2 cup milk of choice (I used a combo of rice milk and coconut milk)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/1/2 cups ice (approx 8 standard ice cubes)

Optional: extra thick (strained) goat yogurt for topping

Other optional toppings: ground nutmeg, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chocolate shavings. Feel free to get creative or leave out the toppings entirely.

Directions:

1.  Over a low heat, gently melt chocolate chips or chunks. Stir frequently to prevent burning or sticking. Remove from heat and use a spatula to transfer the chocolate to a medium-sized bowl.

2. Into the chocolate, whisk in the sweetener of choice, adjusting the amount to your taste.  Whisk in cocoa powder and vanilla extract and make sure the mixture is well-blended.

3. Let this mixture cool slightly, then stir in 1/4 cup of the milk. (You could stop here and have a very thick, rich, no bake mousse/pudding like scenario. Or you could continue on. . .)

4. Now puree chocolate mixture, the 1/2 cup of milk and the ice in a blender.

5. Divide between 4 shot glasses or espresso cups. Enjoy immediately, or chill overnight and top with toppings of choice. If you chill this mixture overnight, it will have a thicker texture that’s almost pudding-like that you can drink or enjoy with a spoon.

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