Gabriel's birthday party was a fun exercise in embracing imperfection. I had a good time once I decided to relax and stop worrying about not having the "perfect" dinner party. Since tonight is our big Secret Santa finale, we had to go Christmas shopping before making dinner yesterday. When we got home we had to rush through the dinner prep and cut 2 things out of the menu. I didn't melt down a giant chocolate bar and form it into the shape of a soup pot nor did Gabriel make 2 main dishes, just the uvezzi. It takes a crisis to make us do things like normal people. In terms of sheer force of will, Martha Stewart's got nothing on me. She may make her pate feuillete to perfection, but she's got 10 assistants behind her making sure all goes well. I try the same things and get about halfway. The napoleon cake last night took several hours and I didn't even make the puff pastry dough myself. The fondant sugar topping was an exercise in culinary chemistry, a lot like making sugar caramel but more picky and exact. It solidified completely on contact with the top of the cake so there was no way to make the swirlies with the espresso-chocolate frosting. I just wrote "Happy Birthday Gabriel" on the top with it. The creme St. Honore (basically, an egg custard and a meringue whipped together at the last minute) that went between the layers of puff pastry was delicious but ran out all over the sides of the cake which had me trying to get ground hazelnuts to stick to and mask the gooey sides as guests were arriving. So I know how to make a Napoleon taste good, but I have yet to make one look good. It's Gabriel's favorite birthday cake, so there's always next year!
At dinner, Paola asked for the spanakopita (spinach pie) recipe. It goes like this:
1.5 lb (600 grams) of chopped, frozen spinach
1 large leek cleaned thoroughly and roughly chopped
1 large yellow onion, finely minced
1 package of feta cheese (or a 5"X3"X1" slice) crumbled
2 tbsp dill
salt and pepper to taste
1 package of thawed phyllo dough
2 tbsp olive oil plus some for brushing.
Preheat the oven to 450F. Place 1 tbsp of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the onions. Stir for 1 minute, then add the leek and cook the mixture stirring, until translucent. Place the frozen spinach in a large pot along with 1 tbsp of olive oil over low heat. Allow the heat to melt the spinach, then cook until the liquid has evaporated. Add the onion and leek to the pot. Mix thoroughly, take off the heat and add the feta and the dill. Mix in and add salt and pepper to taste. Allow to cool.
In a large baking dish (mine is an oval 16 in x 10 in with 2.5 in sides) brush the bottom and sides with olive oil. Roll out the phyllo dough and brush the top of the first sheet with more oil. There should be just enough oil to roughly coat each sheet. Place the first sheet in the baking dish and let the corners lay over the sides for the moment. If the phyllo is not a long as your baking dish, place the first sheet over to one side and the second over to the other side alternating with each new sheet. Also shift the direction of each new sheet so that the corners are laying over the baking sheet at all angles. Place at least 6 layers down before putting in the spinach filling. Layer the filling in and continue layering phyllo sheets on top. Once the last sheet is on, fold all the phyllo edges onto the top of the dish making a beautiful decoration.
Place on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Check often for color. Most of the dish should be golden brown when it comes out of the oven and the irregular edges on the top can be a darker brown. If they're browning too quickly, bake at a lower rack in the oven.
Let cool for 10 minutes before slicing with a serrated knife.