Saturday, December 12, 2009

Calhoun's Spinach Maria

If Popeye was addicted to spinach then this dish would be like crystal meth for him.

I found a recipe for Spinach Maria when we still lived in Florida and made it back then, so I never realized it was a regional East Tennessee thing until recently. Almost every reference I find about it online refers to Calhoun's or "a restaurant in Knoxville". Have you ever heard of Spinach Maria?

It is a cheesy, creamy spinach casserole with a little kick. I like it because this is a dish you can prepare ahead to a point, then all you have to do is put it on a 350f indirect heat grill or oven for 20 minutes. That works with a lot of roasts that I cook at 350 on the Big Green Egg. It also helps to use the individual ramekins instead of a large casserole dish, so you can fit them on the grill easier.

Here is the original Calhoun's version as posted on food journalist, Mary Constantine's blog, Stirring The Pot.

Calhoun's Spinach Maria

5 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach
4 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 3/4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
5 tablespoons melted butter
6 tablespoons flour
8ounces Velveeta cheese
8 ounces cheddar cheese
4 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese (for topping)

Thaw spinach in refrigerator for 24 hours. Squeeze as much excess water as possible out of spinach. Heat milk and spices in 4-quart saucepan on medium heat to just below a boil (190 degrees). Then reduce heat and simmer. Saute chopped onion in 1 tablespoon butter on medium heat for 5-8 minutes. Add to saucepan. Combine 5 tablespoons melted butter with flour in a small suate pan. (This is the first step of making a roux, which will thicken the sauce.) Mix until completely blended. Cook on low heat 3-4 minutes to make roux. Add roux to milk in saucepan and mix well. Continue to cook until sauce thickens.

Cut Velveeta, cheddar and Jack cheese into small cubes and add to saucepan. Continue to mix until all the cheese is completely melted and blended into sauce. Be careful not to burn the sauce while cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.

Add drained spinach to cheese sauce, mix until completely blended. Spoon into 11-by-9-by-2-inch casserole dish and top with grated Monterey Jack cheese. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

I cut the recipe in 2/5ths and it yielded 6 servings. I also substituted shallots for the onion.

For cheese, I used some of the colby jack that I hickory smoked a few weeks ago and the cheddar was cherry wood smoked. And how did being around such superior cheeses make make processed cheesefood Velveeta feel?

The cheese sauce was so good I could have just eaten it straight out of the pot.

Once you have added the spinach, you can put this dish on hold until you're 20-30 minutes from service.

While that was going on, I tossed a few ribeyes on the Egg. I don't know how I went as long as I did without a cast iron grate, look at those sear marks. I have a full post in development about cast iron grates in general and a review of this specific one from Craycort.

Spinach Maria is the perfect partner for a grilled steak or a half slab of ribs. I would have like the cheese on top more browned but I over filled the ramekins and they were starting to bubble over. Later I realized I should have given them the "creme brulee" treatment.

I'm feeling "calorie regret" (like buyers remorse) this morning but it was worth it and I'll do an extra 2-3 cycles of my stations workout this morning.