Let's Make a Roux: White Wine Spinach Cream Sauce

Where it all begins: butter and alliums.

Making a roux was the first scary, real-chef sort of thing I did in my kitchen fresh out of college and it was simultaneously terrifying and freeing. Terrifying because, well, you are dumping a lot of flour into not a lot of butter, and praying that your super doesn’t evict you if it all goes to pot and you burn down your apartment building. Freeing because it actually ended up being so fun and gave me the exhilarating feeling of “gosh, maybe I can cook!” It’s sort of how I felt after I turned in my first paper in grad school. I was so scared, but it turned out really well. It was the moment that the imposter syndrome started to let go, and I could finally allow myself to believe that maybe I belonged here.

Now, making a roux is exciting to me and I can do it by feel alone. In fact, I think that’s my favorite thing about it; you can’t really follow a recipe. You just have to move with your ingredients and listen, watch, and taste your progress, adjusting along the way. If you don’t know, a roux is “a mixture of fat (especially butter) and flour used in making sauces,” according to the dictionary. The flour and the fat merge and thicken, providing that creamy, luxurious, decadent base for the cream sauces that color our favorite food memories.

Last night I made a white wine spinach cream sauce over penne pasta, and it was about the most decadent thing you can do with a Monday night. It’s elevated comfort food that looks and tastes like hard work but was actually just a ton of fun. So I’m going to talk you through how I made my sauce, and I hope you go and try your own. Mix up the ingredients, burn a saucepan, over-salt, make your mistakes, but just, please, keep trying and learning from your food.

I began my sauce by setting out everything I would need close at hand. Building a roux will move pretty quickly, so you don’t want to be digging around in your cupboards while your mixture scalds or seizes on the stove. sautéing minced shallots and garlic with a healthy dash of salt over melted butter on medium heat. I sautéed them for about three minutes all told. De glaze the pan with about a 1/3 cup of white wine (I used Bogle’s Chardonnay. I don’t love it for drinking strait up, though my husband does, but it imparts a great cooking flavor and it’s a pretty affordable wine at a smooth $7).

Once I’ve deglazed the pan, I may add another pat of butter if I think I need more fat after the shallots and co. have absorbed some of it. From here, I start to whisk in the flour (if you are gluten-free, try arrowroot powder!) a little at a time, keeping things moving. You’ll notice that the flour will start to gum around the shallots. This is the roux! It will form the thickening base you need for a rich sauce.

It’s so pretty! Not scary, pretty!

You want to keep the mixture loose, however, so start to slowly add in some milk, half and half, or cream. Keep whisking to loosen the bonds. Alternating as needed, whisk in all your flour and dairy. I find that I end up with about 1/3 cup of butter, 1/3 of flour, and 1/2 cup of dairy. At this point, taste your sauce base to see what it needs. Last night, I knew I needed a little more wine, a spoonful of coarse-grain mustard, some generous freshly ground nutmeg, lots of freshly ground pepper, and if I’d had time and the inclination for doing more dishes, I would have zested and juiced a lemon to cut through all the richness. After stirring in these elements, the sauce was seizing a bit, so I loosened it with more milk. I let the mixture heat through, adding in the spinach. I used half a bag of frozen chopped spinach because I had it on hand. You can totally use fresh, but it will have a lot of water content, so watch out as it sweats down in the sauce. You may need to adjust ratios to keep things balanced.

I wish you could smell this decadence.

Just for fun, I had some chéve I wanted to use up, so melted that in (added a great tang) along with 2 cups shredded mozzarella. Once this had melted, I tasted again, added more pepper, and it was ready to serve. I poured this gooey deliciousness overtop some lovely al dente penne, cooked in heavily salted water (thank you Samin Nosrat for illuminating me about the importance of thoroughly salting your cooking water!), and dove in with aplomb. Like seriously, I blew through this bowl in like five minutes and had leftovers today for lunch.

Try topping your bowl with lemon zest, minced fresh parsley, or something else bright and acidic to cut through all of the luxurious heaviness. Or, for a crunchy element, toast some panko breadcrumbs in butter and top.

All this to say, keep experimenting and don’t fail to rejoice in really successful cooking moments. I did this without a recipe last night, but you better believe that I clung to the recipe book the first time I made one of these 5 years ago. Give yourself permission to pull away the scaffolding as you learn and internalize cooking principles, growing in confidence and skill. And remember; you can always order pizza if it all goes wrong.

Weeknight Garlicky Greens

My favorite part is the crunchy tofu!

Over the holidays, university towns become ghost towns, and it’s really quite wonderful. But, if you happen to be the one graduate student who isn’t traveling to see family over the holidays, you are given all the [fill-in-the-blank]-sitting jobs. Don’t get me wrong; I am ALL about the side-hustles. In addition to being a full-time graduate student and part-time university employee, I also teach at a local fitness studio (check out Refit online! It’s an amazing body-positive fitness movement!), clean a friend’s Air B&B, do freelance writing, and donate plasma (for money, obvs). But holidays take it to a whole new level. I apartment-sat, plant-sat, dog-sat, and cat-sat. Let’s be real. I will do almost anything for bookstore/coffee shop gift cards. But the best offer I got over the holidays was to pick up my friend’s CSA (which, if you don’t know, stands for community supported agriculture, which is where you as a community member support a local farm and receive a dividend of produce in return! See if there are any local CSAs in your area; they can be surprisingly reasonable in price and the money supports local farmers. Can you think of a better use of your money?) share while she was out of town, and it was a field greens bomb. Seriously, the first day I picked up all of the produce, it took me a full hour and a half to wash, chop, and process all of it.

I was so proud of my jarring; check out Brown Kids instagram to learn more about the jar method of storing produce! It’s been a life-saver.

So I was drowning in greens, quite happily. But what’s a girl to do with 4 jars of bitter greens? Stir-fry, duh. So here’s my quick weeknight garlicky greens recipe; feel free to adjust the flavor profile as you see fit. I went a more Asian-style route, but you could really do whatever you want. Always keep in mind, these ingredient measurements are approximations. I tend to cook by feel, rather than precise measurements. Also, I found that this meal takes about 30 minutes to prepare, and will leave leftovers that are great warmed up the next day for lunch! Just be sure to add some water or broth to the rice so that it isn’t dry and gross.

  • 6 cups minimum of your choice of field greens, chopped (I used mustard, turnip, kale, collard, radish, and mature arugula). NOTE BENE: I really like the stems, but separate these out from the leaves.
  • ALL OF THE GARLIC. Like seriously, knock yourself out. Slice, mince, whatever suits your fancy.
  • 2 Tbs. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsps. minced ginger or ginger paste
  • 1 Tbs. white miso paste
  • 1 dried Thai chili (or if you can’t find this, try a teaspoon of Sambal, an Asian chili paste)
  • 2 Tbs. sweet chili sauce
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup tamari soy sauce (preferably low sodium)
  • 1 Tbs. sesame seeds
  • 2 cups of jasmine rice
  • 4 cups broth (PS, I make my own veggie broth with kitchen scraps. It takes so much better than store bought, it’s free, and I can control the sodium levels)
  • 1/2 a package of extra firm tofu, diced (or 1 chicken breast, chopped, if you are a meat-eater like my husband)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. neutral oil
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Cook your jasmine rice in a pot or rice cooker while you make the stir fry. (Come on; it’s 2020. If you aren’t using a rice cooker or InstaPot for your grains, what are you doing with your life?) I find that rice takes about 30-40 minutes to cook, depending on the portion sizes, so time your stir-frying accordingly.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic, ginger, miso, green stems (if using) and Thai chili, stirring often until just tender. Add sweet chili, rice vinegar, and tamari, letting the ingredients heat through. Add in all greens, coating in the sauce. Adjust sauce as necessary, adding more of whatever your tastebuds require. Put the lid on the skillet or wok, and let the greens sweat down, stirring often (about 5 minutes). Toss in sesame seeds in the last minute, stirring to incorporate.

While the greens cook, in a separate skillet, heat your neutral oil over med-high heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add in the tofu or chicken, seasoning with the salt, garlic, paprika, and cayenne. Cook tofu until crispy, stirring often (may require high heat) or chicken until cooked through, but tender.

Place a bed of rice in the bottom of the bowl, topped with greens, then your protein of choice. Garnish with more sesame seeds and tamari, if desired. Dig in!

Healthy-is comfort food!

Roasted Butternut Squash Orzo

Yeah, you will want to eat this.

Life update: taking three graduate courses was way harder than I anticipated, hence not posting on this site for three billion years. Prepare for several months of backlogged recipes. I’m currently in the middle of writing my Master’s Thesis, which I may share bits and pieces about from time to time. While this is primarily a food blog, it does have “Graduate” in the title, so you’re just going to have to deal with my academic side too 🙂 I do apologize for my negligence to this site; I promise to be better in the New Year! (isn’t that how all failed New Year’s resolutions begin?)

When I made this recipe, it was chilly (for Texas) and nothing warms me up like oven-roasted squash. I made this recipe years ago, but couldn’t find where I got it from, so I re-made it up out of my head and here we go.

  • 1.5 cups of orzo
  • 1 small onion, diced (I’ve used white, yellow, and red; experiment to see what you like best. Shallot could taste great too)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of butternut squash, cubed
  • 4 cups of spinach
  • Freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese
  • Salt and pepper, ground to taste

Preheat over to 400F, and toss the butternut cubes in olive oil, salt, and pepper. You can experiment with adding other spices and seasonings, depending on your mood. I’ve done a 1/4 cup of orange juice for sweetness, or you could go smoky and earthy with some smoked paprika. Your preference! Roast the squash on a baking sheet for 20 minutes, stir, then roast for 10 minutes more. Remove from oven.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add in the orzo. I find that orzo takes anywhere from 12-15 minutes to cook. I like al dente, but orzo is so dense that sometimes getting an even al dente is tricky. At the 12-minute mark, test the orzo to see if you like the consistency and tweak remaining cooking time from there. When orzo is fully cooked, drain.

While the orzo boils and the squash roasts, bring 2 Tbs. olive oil to a shimmer in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, sautéing until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add spinach and wilt down, about 2 minutes at the most (another option, if you like your spinach a little more fresh, is to just add the spinach at the end to the serving bowl and let the heat of the cooked pasta and squash wilt it naturally).

When all the elements are cooked, add to a serving bowl and combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If you are feeling fresh and fancy, try a splash of white wine vinegar to brighten up the palate. Grate fresh cheese over top and serve.

Purple Power

A super nutrient-packed veggie rice bowl to make you feel like a rockstar.

It’s she a beaut?

Now that it’s summer, I’m loving cooking again and using all the lovely seasonal ingredients. After awhile, some of those veggies start to pile up in the fridge, and this recipe is a great way to use a ton of them at once!

Disclaimer: You’re going to see a lot of recipes from Whole Bowls on here, my favorite cookbook written by Allison Day. So do yourself a favor, and just go buy it. You’ll thank me, and eventually name your first child after me. You’re welcome.

I still can’t get over the dressing for this dish. It’s phenomenal. I made a double batch and used it all week. So here’s the skinny. In the cookbook, it only makes one serving, so I’ve upped the quantities to feed about 4. Enjoy.

Bowl Ingredients

  • 4 small/medium beets, whole
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 cup brown rice (I love basmati, but you do you)
  • 2 cups of cooked chickpeas (canned is fine, just rinse them so you don’t die of a sodium overdose)
  • 2 cups finely shredded red cabbage
  • 16 radishes, quartered
  • 1/2 a head of radicchio, cored and cut into wedges
  • 1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 8 sprigs of fresh cilantro

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil or olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ground black pepper to taste

To Make the Bowls

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Cover the beets in foil and roast for 1-2 hours, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Once the beets have cooled, remove the foil, peel off the skin (should fall off when you rub it with your fingers), cut off the top and bottom of the beet, and slice into wedges.

You can make the rice in a pot of boiling water, but if you don’t own a rice cooker, what are you doing with your life??? Go get one!

To Make the Dressing

Combine all of the ingredients in a mason jar, put the lid on, and shake it like a polaroid picture. It’s not rocket science.

To (Avengers) Assemble

Take your bowls and layer in sections the cooked rice, the chickpeas, cabbage, radishes, and radicchio. Pour over the dressing to taste. Top with crushed hazelnuts and cilantro sprigs (the toasted hazelnuts MAKE this meal). Optional, pour some balsamic glaze or balsamic vinegar over top.

Things I Might Do Differently Next Time

So this dish was great, and everything Alison Day tells me to make, I will do so with joy and gladness. However, there are some things I’d do differently next time.

  1. Make a lifetime supply of the dressing
  2. Either don’t add the radicchio, or sauté it slightly. It is just SO bitter to have alongside other raw veggies, like cabbage and radishes, which have strong flavors all on their own.
  3. Day actually suggests lightly sautéing or steaming the veggies to make it a warm bowl, rather than predominantly cold, and I think that would be fun to try and see how it shakes things up.

Have you made this? What would you do differently? Let me know in the comments below!

Thai Red Curry

We’re back and better than ever, baby.

My apologies for not posting for the last three billion years. Taking 3 graduate courses turned out to be far more work than I had anticipated. Rookie move. But we’re back now, and I have months of recipes backlogged to blog about, so great ready.

My favorite thing in the world is Trader Joe’s, but we don’t have one where we live now. So, from time to time, my husband and I put the cooler in our trunk and make a pilgrimage to Austin, TX to hit up Trader Joe’s. And one of the best things TJ’s has (in my humble opinion) is their Thai Red Curry Sauce. Currys are delicious, but building up layers of flavor can be difficult for weeknight cooking. Trader Joe’s simmer sauces are a perfect solution to complex flavors on the go. Here’s everything you need for a beautiful, weeknight red curry. Serves 4-6.

  • 2 Tbs. coconut oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbs. ginger (I use a paste)
  • 1 dried chili, whole
  • 1 eggplant, chopped into 1-inch squares
  • 3 bell peppers (I love using red, yellow, and orange for a visual feast!), chopped into bite-sized pieces.
  • 2 cups haricot verts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can coconut milk, full-fat
  • 1 bottle of Trader Joe’s Red Curry Sauce
  • 6 baby bok choi, halved.
  • 8 leaves of basil (Thai basil preferred)
Onion, garlic, ginger
Dried chilis; be sure to remove after cooking! They continue to leech heat as long as they are left in the curry.

Heat coconut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger, and whole chili and cook for 5 minutes, or until onions are translucent. Add eggplant and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often. Add bell peppers and haricots vests, cooking for another 3 minutes.

Beautiful, ain’t it?
Ingredients of the curry sauce, if you’re curious.

Pour in can of coconut milk and curry sauce. Simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, add in bok choi and basil, cooking for 2 more minutes, until the bok choi is just wilted. Remove from heat and serve over brown rice. Top with more basil, if desired.

Perfection.

French Onion Soup for the Non-Purist (So, Onion Soup)

The face of beauty.

About a month ago, Troy and I got to go on a food theology retreat with some people from our church. It was a lot of delicious food, the wine and whiskey were flowing, we spent an hour+ in the company of an onion; it was, in all, a lovely time. Plus I got in a 2-hour nap that I really, really needed.

You’re probably thinking, wait, go back; an hour in the company of an onion? What the hell does that mean? It means that we spent an hour lovingly engaging with the beauty, taste, smell, feel, and sounds of an onion. If you have ever read The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, he begins the work by directing the reader through an hour with an onion. You begin by addressing the onion (greeting it), then spending time, taking it apart, layer by layer, feeling and smelling and tasting each part. It was a really special time to slow down and contemplate an object that is both food and art equally. We finished up our time of reflection by slicing each layer of the onion separately, collecting the slivers for a scrumptious onion soup. Let me tell you, no Onion Soup has ever been more lovingly prepared. Each sliver was pared with tenderness!

We had so many onions that not all of them made it into the soup, so I took home a pound and replicated the soup we made, only with vegetable broth, not chicken. Here’s the recipe, I hope you enjoy it!

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 pound of onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
  • 1Tbs. butter
  • 1 Tbs. whole-grain or dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or stock of your choice. If you want to make it more like an authentic French Onion soup, beef broth is traditional
  • Shredded Gruyere cheese (for topping)
I love to let the onions caramelize a bit; adds a nice bit of charcoal-y bite to the soup.

In a large stock pot over medium heat, heat 2 Tbs. olive oil, adding sliced onions and shallot when the oil begins to shimmer. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir often. When the onions are about halfway done (the edges should start to look translucent), add the butter and mustard, stirring often. When onions are fully cooked, deglaze the pot with 1/2 cup of white wine, give the pot a good stir, then add all 6 cups of broth. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Top with shredded Gruyere and serve with a side of crusty sourdough bread! I recommend homemade bread, and if you don’t have time for sourdough, here’s a great almost-no-knead recipe that my priest recommended to me, and is completely delicious! It uses beer and vinegar to achieve the flavor of sourdough, without all the work. My priest and I both recommend apple cider vinegar; it’s the best.

Oniony goodness!

Bon appetit!

Here’s a picture of the finished loaf. Not too dense.

Garam Masala Granola

My breakfast this week.

Disclaimer, right off the bat. I burnt this batch. I’d never made this type of granola before, and I second guessed myself. And I didn’t measure the liquids. Also, sorry for waiting a full week to post this; grad school stuff was crazy this week, and the front of one of our cars is falling off, while the other car is 30,000 miles overdue for a timing belt replacement. It’s been a party at our house this week. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s do this.

Garam masala. You have to love the earthy, sweet, comforting taste and smell of the Indian staple spice. If you don’t, well, in the words of the beautiful April Ludgate of Parks and Rec, you are basically a war criminal.

Okay, so she was talking about people who hate dogs, not granola, but the sentiment still applies.

I have a lovely artist friend back in Virginia who has a glorious garam masala granola recipe, but in the true Yankee spirit of my ancestors, I did it on my own. And burnt it. But I’ve got it sorted now, and here’s the recipe. If you follow these directions, you will have some delicious, un-singed granola. Thankfully I have a husband who, for some reason, likes slightly-burnt granola, so everyone’s winning over here.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups uncooked rolled oats (Quaker’s 1 minute oats, or the like)
  • 1 cup nut of your choice (suggestions: sliced almonds, pecans, cashews, pistachios)
  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 cup coconut chips (use the chips not the flakes! The flakes tend to burn quickly, which will make your granola bitter)
  • 1 tsp. sea salt (feel free to be generous though. Unsalted granola is sad granola)
  • 1/2 cup brown or raw sugar
  • 1/3 cup oil (I prefer coconut oil, but olive or avocado are great alternatives)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (you can also use agave or honey)
  • 2 Tbs. garam masala (you can buy this at the grocery store, or, if you are just too cool for school, make your own!)
  • 1 cup golden raisins (or whatever dried fruit you like, dried cranberries, sour cherries, whatever floats your boat.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit (geez that word is hard to spell). While oven heats, mix oats, nuts, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Then take a skillet and over medium heat, combine the brown sugar, oil, syrup, and garam masala. Cook, stirring regularly, until sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes.

Combine wet and dry ingredients and spread evenly on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake granola for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in golden raisins. Allow to cool fully before transferring the granola to jars or bags.

Yours should probably not look quite this toasty. Unless you like burnt granola, then you’re good.

Enjoy with plain or vanilla yoghurt for breakfast or a quick snack on the go!