Thursday, March 24, 2011

Julia Child's Spinach Turnover Experience

A couple weeks ago I was inspired by the movie, Julie and Julia. It's all about Julia Child and her cooking. Ever since I have had the strongest desire to buy her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking and learn how to really cook.

Not having enough money to buy the book, I looked up episodes of her old cooking show, The French Chef. She had me hooked! I decided on the spinach turnover; not too hard but definitely the do-able challenge I was looking for.

So here's how I made it!

I began by making pastry dough. I found my mom's favorite electric mixer recipe. It makes enough dough for two 9 inch pie crusts.

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 2/3 cups of shortening
  • 6 tablespoons of ice cold water

I mixed the flour, salt, and shortening in the mixer until the shortening had made pea sized clumps. Slowly I mixed in the water, making sure not to over mix the dough. (Mom warned me of that) I have to say I think that a little more shortening would have made the dough better. If anyone tries this let me know what you did. Once the dough was mixed I wrapped it and put it in the fridge.

Now Julia says you can use fresh or frozen spinach. Well I decided to use fresh, for the experience's sake. I de-stemmed and cleaned the spinach  (about 2 cups). I dropped the spinach into boiling water and left them there until they were limp (around 3-4 min.), then put them in icy cold water. This is called blanching. Once the spinach is blanched, chop your spinach. Here's some advice to anyone who would like to try this, just go for frozen spinach. It is a much quicker process and gives you the same thing. It is already blanched and probably pre-chopped for you, so save yourself the trouble.
Freshly blanched spinach. It was a pain but is such a beautiful green.

Next saute the mushrooms and ham. I made up my own amounts since Julia so kindly forgot to mention them. I am glad she didn't, because I am not a fan of mushrooms. For my turnover I didn't cook very many and chopped them fine so that I could forget they were there. I cooked each of these separate so they could develop their own individual flavors. That is what she recommends in this episode.

Now in a pot, cook around 1 cup of onion (next time I might use a tiny bit more) in 2 tablespoons of butter. Cooking them until they are very soft. Then put 1/2 the onions with the spinach in a different pot. Adding to the other half of the onions,  1/2 cup flour and 1 1/3 cups of milk; mix well with a whisk. No lumps. Put this pot over heat and beat the mixture as it comes to a boil. This is NOT supposed to be lumpy, I had to put some muscle into it. It will be a thick mixture, take off the heat and mix 1 egg, a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, pepper and just a tad of nutmeg to keep 'em guessing. Put about a 1/2 cup of this sauce into the spinach mixture over a very low heat for 8-10 minutes just to finish cooking the spinach.

Next is to finish the sauce so we can serve it with the turnover. Over heat, mix cream into the sauce to thin it out. You want it thin enough to easily serve but not drip off the plate. Once you have it at your preferred viscosity take it off he heat, clean the sauce off the sides with a rubber spatula and float cream on the top of the sauce This is to keep it from forming a skin. Top it off with about a 1/3 cup of shredded Swiss cheese. Let it slowly melt. I would wait until you are almost ready to serve before finishing the sauce, because you want it to stay warm and the cheese still melted.
      *To float the cream put cream on a spoon and spread the cream over the entire surface*

Next we need to form the dough. Roll the dough into a rectangle, the dough being about 1/4 inch thick. (I had wished that my recipe had made a little more dough. I'm not sure how modify it though.) I trimmed the sides with a knife so that my dough had straight edges, as if it had been cut out by a cookie cutter. Then place on a baking sheet.

Now the fun parts!

Beat one egg yoke and wipe it all over the inside of the dough, cover it thoroughly. Then on one half of the dough put a thin layer of your spinach mixture, carefully leaving a border of dough. Just enough to enclose your filling. This is followed by a thin layer of ham, then mushroom and a final layer of spinach. You don't want it to be piled too high because you have to fold the other half of  the dough over it and be able to seal it shut. Less really is more! Gently seal the edges with a fork by pressing the two edges together and then pull the excess dough upward blending it into the top. Then paint the dough with an egg glaze.
       *An egg glaze is 1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon of water*

Decorations! Yep it is a decorated turnover, verrry fancy. Whatever dough you didn't use on your rectangle you can use to decorate the top. I cut mine into strips and placed them in a design I liked. Once those are on, you do a finishing layer of egg glaze. You want it to be beautiful so make sure the edges are neat.
It may not seem very neat or perfect, but it is harder than you would think!!

Place on the middle rack of a 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until it is brown and feels crisp. I had to cook mine the full thirty minutes.

Serve in slices with your oh so delicious cream and cheese sauce!

This was so fun to make and the end product just as enjoyable. Oh yummm.

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