Monday, September 20, 2010

Wine tasting party alla Spanakopitta

Image from the Downtown Winnipeg Biz website
 I've already sufficiently expressed my love for wine, I think.  So it should come as no surprise that I jumped at the chance to attend the Taste of Downtown event last weekend, which featured wines and cheeses from local merchants.  Manitoba is neat in that, in addition to the provincial liquor stores (Liquormart, the MB equivalent of the LCBO), it licenses private wine stores as well.  I've been to one in The Forks Market, where I found a bottle of rosé from Châteauneuf-du-Pape that reminded me of my family's visit to Nîmes.  Ahh, memories!

The grounds of the festival; slightly muddy, but with a great view of the legislative buildings across the street.
Anyway, back to the tasting.  Despite the ground being a bit sodden, my group (consisting of some coworkers and acquaintances) had a great time sampling the offerings.  Admission was free, and tasting tickets were only $1 each!  I tried mostly whites, though I remember there was a very disappointing rosé that tasted of astringent rhubarb juice.  One booth was set aside for extra-fancy wine, so it cost $2 for a taste.  Most vendors were pretty generous with their "tastes", though.  I also got a nice big hunk of grana padano cheese.   Mmm!  Affordable AND delicious, I'll definitely be back for this next year!

One of the tasting stations set up.  This one had a wine called cupcake or something like that... it was tasty, but clearly a marketing ploy to target people who buy based on the design on the bottle (I'm not judging, I'm one of them!)
After the tasting, I invited my coworkers back to my place to a) meet Pebbles, the ginormous cat I've been petsitting for the past month, and b) to sample an experiment: spanakopitta.  For those not familiar, this is that delicious, flaky spinach and feta cheese pastry that's the cornerstone of Greek restaurants.  Now, I'm not Greek; the closest I come is that my (real) first name is a Greek word.  However, after my previous (successful) foray into meze, I decided to get a little more involved.

As Emeril would say... BAM!!  How I love the super-close-up setting on my camera...
Now, this was my first experience working with phyllo sheets.  After an extremely frustrating (and unsuccessful) time trying to find someone in Superstore to help me locate it, I bought some at Safeway.  In fact, I bought twice as much as I'd need, to save myself the headache for the next time.  I was a little nervous working with this stuff... but I kept a slightly damp tea towel over the stack of sheets to prevent drying, and I was pretty liberal with the melted butter.  Sorry, thighs, it had to be done.

The finished product, minus a piece to sample.  Wanted to be sure it was coworker-worthy, after all!
I didn't want to deviate too much from the original recipe in Rena Salaman's Meze cookbook, however I did make some adjustments based on a) what I had on hand and b) a comment from a coworker stating that she often finds spanakopitta "too spinach-y".  Well, that needed to be fixed.  Here's how I did it:

Spanakotyropitta (Spinach and cheese pie)
Adapted from "Meze" by Rena Salaman
Makes about 20 pieces
  • 1 454 g (1 lb.) package frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 bag (about 250 g or so) fresh pre-washed baby spinach (from the refrigerated salad-in-a-sack section of the produce aisle)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I found mine, by the way!)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 4-5 green onions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
  • 4 eggs
  • 227 g (1/2 lb. or 8 oz.) feta cheese
  • About 1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped (or freeze-dried, if you kill fresh herbs like I do)
  • About 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsely, finely chopped (see above for my deal)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • For equipment, you also need a pastry brush and a 13"x9" roasting pan.
  1. For the filling, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Sauté the yellow and green onions until translucent.   Stir in the salt and pepper.  Add the baby spinach and stir carefully until the spinach wilts down (it shouldn't take long).  Set aside and let cool.
  2. Beat the eggs in a large bowl.  Crumble in the cheese.  Add the herbs, milk, and spinach mixture and mix well with a fork.
  3. Preheat your oven to 375ºF.  Unroll the phyllo pastry carefully- you will have a rectangular stack of paper-thin sheets.  Brush a 13" x 9" roasting pan with some melted butter.  Then lightly butter the top sheet of pastry and lay it into the pan.  Let any excess hang over the edges.  Continue until about half the sheets are used.
  4. Add the spinach filling and spread it out evenly.  Start covering with the remaining phyllo sheets, brushing each one with butter.  Try to be neat.
  5. Roll up all the overhanging pastry along the four edges to "seal" in the filling (sort of like how you'd roll the top of a paper lunch bag).  Brush the whole top of the resulting pastry "packet" generously with melted butter.  With a sharp knife, score the pastry into squares, but don't cut through to the filling.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle a little cold water on top of the pastry to stop it from curling.
  6. Bake at 375ºF for 50 minutes until golden on top.  Let cool slightly.  Slice carefully all the way to the bottom sheets of pastry and serve hot or at room temperature (as I did).
Not TOO spinach-y... juuuust right.
I know the recipe seems long and convoluted, but it was actually pretty darn simple.  I always marveled at the little savoury phyllo pastries that my aunt Lisa would make for our annual Boxing Day feast... maybe I'll have to attempt something like that now that the mystery shrouding this ingredient has dissipated!

In addition to spanakopitta, I made some yummy dips and finger foods for us to munch on.  The pics aren't the greatest, since they were taken AFTER we'd eaten, but oh well!

Clockwise from top left: local sweet-hot pickles, mild genoa salami, kalamata olives, and dill havarti cheese.
No surprise here... hummus and pita.  This time, I put a bit of garam masala spice in the hummus to try to mimic a recent President's Choice offering... wasn't quite the same, but still tasty!
Crudités and sundried tomato white bean dip.  Shannon likes the snap peas you see in the bowl just raw; after seeing her eat these with hummus at work, I've started doing the same.  Reminds me of eating fresh peas from my Nonna's garden... delish.
I receive some compliments on the white bean dip above, so I'll give you guys a twofer and put the recipe here as well:

Sundried Tomato and Herb Bean Dip
Adapted from Living the GI Diet by Rick Gallop and Emily Richards
Makes about 2 cups
  • 2 Tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes (drained, rinsed and patted dry if they came in oil)
  • 1/4 cup boiling or very hot water (mine comes out scalding right from the tap)
  • 1 can (540 ml) white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • A few cranks of freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp herbes de Provençe (or another herb & spice blend, such as Italian)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • About 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  1. Place tomatoes in hot/boiling water; let stand for 10 minutes.  Drain and reserve about 1 Tbsp of the water. 
  2. In a food processor (or with an immersion blender, as I do), purée together beans, tomatoes, oil, salt, pepper, lemon zest, lemon juice, and reserved "tomato water" until smooth.  Pulse in herbs and garlic.
  3. For best flavour, let sit in the fridge or at room temperature for at least an hour to get the flavours to meld.  Lasts about 2 weeks in a sealed container in the fridge.  This is also really good as an alternative to mayo on a turkey sandwich.
So there you have it.  I successfully hosted a wine-tasting afterparty!!  I also served coffee and cookies, but I'm saving the cookies for another post (I think you've had enough for one day!)

Wondering what she should make when she (eventually) invites her neighbors over for cocktails,

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