Some of my fondest memories of the Christmas season, growing up, were the nights we'd gather as a family (usually on a Sunday evening) to decorate our tree. There was nothing especially unique about our evening, when compared to most families we knew, but it was still a special time. We had Christmas music on the stereo, discussions about how many lights to use (as many as possible), questions about which side of the tree was the straightest, varying degrees of participation (as we grew older and more teen-aged) and the same stories to tell every year about where each ornament came from.
Our food tradition that evening was simple. My mom would make a handful of our favorite appetizers and serve them with simple cut veggies and fruit, maybe a bowl of popcorn and sometimes a plate of Christmas cookies.
At the end of the night, after everyone else had gone to bed, I'd sneak into the living room (usually after snatching just one. more. cookie.) and turn off all of the lights except for the tree. Sitting in the silence I'd squint my eyes until all of the lights (which were colored, of course) blended together into one shiny blob of Christmas happiness.
Tonight, with the help of our just-turned-2 (!!!) year old babygirl, we continued an old tradition with our new family with a coffee table full of tasty treats and some shiny (also new) ornaments for our little tree. Most of the ornaments are only about 36 inches off of the ground (and we watched Dora's Christmas Carol rather than listening to Christmas Carols) but the tree is just as beautiful and the evening just as magical.
In honor of appetizers of Christmas Tree-Trimmings past, I combined two of my favorite dips into one ridiculously sinful pan of joy. You can serve this with toasted bread, cut veggies and tortilla chips but it is also just as good with only a spoon. I'm hoping to sneak one more nibble of it just before bed, with only the Christmas tree lights for company...
Also Known As,
Hot Artichoke, Crab and Spinach Dip
1 8 oz. tub whipped cream cheese
1/2 low-fat sour cream
1/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack
1/4 cup shredded Parmeson
1-10 oz can artichokes in brine, drained and chopped
1/2 10 oz. bag frozen spinach, thawed and well strained
1-6 oz can crab, drained
3 green onions, white parts only, finely sliced
juice of half a lemon
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard powder
dash or three of Tabasco
2 T shredded Parmeson
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Lightly oil a 9 in pie plate.
Combine the cream cheese and sour cream together in a large bowl. Mix well. Stir in the cheeses, artichokes, spinach, crab, green onions, lemon juice, garlic salt*, mustard and a few (or more) dashes of Tabasco. Mix everything together well but don't stress over it. It's hard to mess this up. (Feel free to grab a spoon at this point for a wee taste of it while it's cold. You won't be sorry.)
Spread the whole, delicious mixture into the pie plate and even out the top a bit with a spatula. Sprinkle evenly with the rest of the Parmesan cheese. Use more if you feel like it.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Crank the heat up to 375 and bake 15 minutes longer or until the top is browned.
If you can stand the wait, let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
*Note: Seriously. Garlic Salt. This is supposed to be quick and easy so you can get to the decorating (okay, eating) part faster. I wouldn't screw it up by dealing with a sticky mess of minced garlic. Just saying...
30 January 2009
So that's a pretty long title for such a small, easy little recipe but, really, it could have been worse. These are actually more like, "Savory, Cheesy, Butternut Squash Muffins with Whole Wheat and Flax" but that length seemed even more ridiculous. The point is, these little guys are not only yummy, they are also pretty healthy.
I made them to go with my favorite Roasted Chicken Soup (more on that another time) on a very snowy night. It had been a loooong day at the T~L~S~E house. My poor little monkey had been snuffly, coughy and weepy all day and I could feel my own nose growing more clogged by the minute. I was *this* close to giving up on making dinner in favor of ordering take-out. Then I realized that the most nurturing thing I could do for both myself and for my family was take the time to craft a hearty, healthy, warming meal to fill our bellies and soothe our sneezes.
The chicken soup is one I've made enough times that I was able to throw it together with one hand while attending to my grumpy girl with the other. And muffins are the perfect quick bread when you don't have time, extra hands or half a brain left after a long day. They don't even require a mixer! After searching my favorite cookbooks for a decent savory muffin recipe and coming up empty-handed I decided to use what I had in the fridge (leftover roasted butternut squash + shredded cheese) and pantry (whole wheat flour, etc.) to create my own.
The basic ingredients for any muffin are few...flour, seasoning, baking soda, liquid, fat and eggs (sugar if you're making them sweet). After that all you need is two bowls, a spoon, some muffin tins and a hot oven and you have fresh bread to dip in your hot soup...or to warm your tummy while you wait for the soup to cool. :)
*Try to eat these lovelies while they are still warm. If you're feeling extra indulgent, split one in half and allow a tiny pat of butter to melt into each side.
- 1 cup AP flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 3 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup pureed butternut squash
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup ground flax
- 1 cup shredded cheese (gruyere would be amazing but I used sharp cheddar)
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2) Sift or whisk first four (dry) ingredients together into a large bowl.
3) Stir in grated cheese.
3) Whisk egg, oil, squash, milk and ground flax.
4) Lightly whisk wet ingredients into dry until just combined. Do not over mix.
5) Divide batter equally into 12 greased (or lined) muffin cups and bake for 20 minutes or until very lightly browned. Enjoy warm and store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container.
26 January 2009
Otherwise known as... "Gingercrack," these cookies are insanely addictive. They are even better the day after you bake them, provided you've stored them safely in an airtight container. Ever since I found the recipe in September and tweaked it to my liking, I've baked them no less than once every two weeks. That's a lot of cookies.
They actually played a small role in our annual Loafman 3-day Thanksgiving extravaganza. And let me tell you, it is NOT easy to break into the long list of "must-have" treats at that event. We have some seriously strong, unwavering Loafman traditions and at times it can be hard to be the new kid in town. Many a new dish has gingerly approached the table in years past...ne'er to be spoken of again (sweet potato balls, anyone?).
The dearest honor that these cookies hold, however, is that of being the VERY first sweet to ever enter my sweet baby's mouth, at 10 months, and they are still her favorite treat. As such, they are one thing I've found to distract her from almost any looming tantrum. (Yes, she can be pacified and bribed with baked goods. Cue: "Like mother, like daughter" joke.)
They would make FANTASTIC ice cream sandwiches, if you are so inclined. Pumpkin ice cream would make a heavenly pairing. A drizzle of melted dark chocolate or a piping of cream cheese buttercream would also be lovely.
Most often we eat them as plain as can be, with just a sprinkle of coarse sugar on top for a bit of sparkle and added crunch.
- 2 1/4 cups A.P. flour
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves (freshly ground if you can)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1/4 cup molasses
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 tsp water
- 1/4 cup sugar (for topping)
1) In a medium bowl, sift together all dry ingredients.
2) In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.
3) Beat in egg.
4) Beat in molasses, vanilla and water.
5) On low speed (or by hand) mix in dry ingredients a little at a time.
6) Cover dough and refrigerate at least 4 hours.
7) When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
8) Roll dough into balls (about 1 1/2 in. diameter)
9) Place balls on ungreased cookie sheet (I use a silicone mat for easy removal) 2 inches apart.
10) Dip the flat end of a glass into remaining sugar and carefully flatten each ball, slightly, with sugared end of the glass.
11) Optional: Sprinkle tops with coarse sanding sugar or decorating sugar.
12) Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until set throughout (the centers should not look "doughy"). If you prefer "snappier" cookies, bake until slightly golden brown.
13) Remove from cookie sheets immediately and let cool on racks.
14) Once cooled completely, store cookies at room temperature in an airtight container.
22 January 2009
*Recipe courtesy of my buddy Sophia
Two of my dear friends, for different reasons, have been recently bed/couchridden and therefore have been graciously accepting meals from many of our friends. I've never been much of a fan of the typical lasagna/casserole/enchilada/freezer-meal fare (see my minestrone post) that often accompanies this sort of an occasion. However, that presents a bit of a challenge when attempting to plan a meal that would be easy to transport and reheat without completely ruining it. Thankfully my buddy Sophia came to the rescue!
Sophia's family is entirely, beautifully Greek (you should see the photos from her amazing wedding in Mykonos) and she has this incredible book of authentic recipes to show for it. One of those recipes is this delicious and actually, quite simple spanakopita. I doubled the filling and was able to fill three 8x8 pans (which, thankfully, meant that we got to keep one for our dinner) but the recipe would also generously fill one pan for a family with hearty appetites. Uh...who am I kidding? I ate half of of our pan myself.
This is best eaten fresh out of the oven but is actually quite lovely at room temperature too.
- one bag frozen spinach or two boxes frozen spinach
- 2 small/medium onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp fresh dill
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1.5 - 2 cup crumbled feta
- one package phylo dough
- 1/4 -1 stick butter, melted (+ olive oil to make it healthier! I use 1/4 stick, my relatives use a whole stick)
- Preheat oven to 350.
- Saute onions and garlic in oil over med heat. Add salt and spinach. Cook over med heat for 5 min, remove. Allow to cool, then add beaten eggs, dill, and feta. Set aside.
- Butter 9x13 pan. Place sheet of phylo in pan, butter/oil it, add another sheet, butter/oil it, etc. After approx 5 layers, put spinach mixture on top. Layer phylo again. This time, crumble/scrunch several layers of phylo to trap air and make it lighter/crispier. Josh prefers to use oil for bottom layers and butter for top. I often do an oil/butter blend. You can skimp on all butter except for the topmost layer. Really lather it on there.
- IMPORTANT: Cut the spanakopita before baking. It will help make the pieces neater and easier to serve afterwards.
- Bake for 45 min, or until golden brown.