Freezing your own spinach

In Japan, there are often small farming plots throughout the city, intermixed with houses and businesses.  Most of them are rice paddies, but in our neighborhood, there are quite a few produce fields.  About five blocks away is a really nice, little shed that holds the produce of that particular plot of land — we’ve found such fresh treasures as “mikans” (small orange-like fruit that is much sweeter and easier to peel), green onions, broccoli, leeks, watercress, yellow onions, and spinach, all for 100yen per bulging package (about $1).  I decided to take advantage of the cheapness and freeze some spinach for dips or soups later on.  Here’s what I found out about it..

What you’ll need:
Spinach (not of the pre-packaged variety)
Pot of boiling water
Tongs
Strainer
Paper towels
Freezer bag

1. Wash the spinach — cut/tear them as you like, for whatever you’re planning on using them for after they’re frozen.  You can also leave them as they are.
2.  Boil a large pot of water.
3.  “Blanch” the spinach by placing in the water and using tongs to submerge the leaves.  You should be able to get one whole package of spinach in one pot of water.  It shrinks A LOT when this is done.  Blanch for about 1-2 mins.
4.  Use the tongs to take the spinach out of the water and into strainer (or just pour into strainer if you aren’t going to use the water anymore).  Run cold water over the spinach to cool it — THIS IS IMPORTANT.  I don’t know why, but the spinach needs to be cooled.
5.  Once it’s drained, place the blanched spinach on a paper towel and pat some more moisture off of it.
6.  Place in a freezer bag and freeze.  Take out and thaw to make something like spinach dip or Spinach & Spaghetti.

Parent and Child in a Bowl

..or otherwise known as “Oyakodon” in Japanese. This is one of my favorite meals, and very quick to make — in fact, it was the first meal I cooked in our new home in Shizuoka! All of this should be available at a local Asian market or perhaps larger grocery stores (HyVee and the like).

Fish stock (a must-have in most Japanese dishes)
Mirin (sweet cooking sake)
Shoyu (soy sauce)
Sake (regular cooking sake)
1 medium onion
2-3 chicken breasts (parent)
3 eggs (child)
Rice (cooked)

**Note: the skillet you use for this dish must have a lid. If you don’t own a skillet with a lid, borrow one from a pot — I’m certain it won’t mind. :)

1. Thinly slice the onions and cube the chicken. Break the eggs into a bowl, beat, and set aside.
2. Sauce: not an exact science, and it will cook away as you simmer the meat, so don’t worry about it. Stir together some stock and water. Add about two parts soy sauce to the mirin and sake. Sip — does it taste a little fishy? It should.. but you can add more water/shoyu/whatever you like to get the taste you desire.
3. In a skillet, add chicken, onions, and sauce — bring to a slight boil, then lower the temp and simmer away about 1/2 to 2/3 of the liquid.. AND make sure the chicken is cooked through.
4. Take the beaten eggs and pour around the WHOLE SKILLET (I often forget this and just pour it into the middle — bad idea, but can be salvaged). The idea is to have egg over the top of the entire mixture. Cover the skillet with the lid of your choice and leave on the heat till the egg is cooked.

Serve over white rice.. and while you enjoy, ponder which came first: chicken or egg?

Chicken Spaghetti Casserole

A return to cooking, to hosting community dinner, and to blogging on Needs More Butter! This recipe is easy, easy, easy (hence why I thought I could swing it for community dinner). The recipe is from The Pioneer Woman Cooks, and I made only the slightest modifications (added more chicken, green pepper, and onions; nixed pimentos). Go to her site to see pretty pictures.

3 cups cooked chicken
2 cans Cream of Mushroom soup
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 finely diced green pepper
1 finely diced onion

3 cups dry spaghetti, broken into two inch pieces
2 cups reserved chicken broth from pot
1 teaspoon Lawry’s Seasoned Salt
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 additional cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Cook 1 cut up fryer and pick out the meat to make three cups. Cook spaghetti in same chicken broth until al dente. Do not overcook. When spaghetti is cooked, combine with remaining ingredients except additional 1 cup sharp cheddar. Place mixture in casserole pan and top with remaining sharp cheddar. Cover and freeze up to six months, cover and refrigerate up to two days, or bake immediately: 350 degrees for 45 minutes until bubbly. (If the cheese on top starts to get too cooked, cover with foil.)