Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lightened Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip

There is still a mystery sickness abounding in the household; I lost my voice on Monday-Tuesday and went to the doctor. No confirmed diagnosis but I have a just-in-case prescription for antibiotics in case I get worse, since we’re driving to Mike’s parents tomorrow.

So with that, I need to get back to bed but here’s a lightened up version of my “famous” (to my father in law, at least) spinach and artichoke dip. This is one of the most processed, unhealthy, convenience food dishes I make, but I make it once a year at Thanksgiving. I decided to lighten it up this year as I realized just how incredibly heavy and rich it is – it really needed some thinning.

Note: this is a pre-bake picture, as I’m not baking it until I get to the in-laws. You can make this ahead and it’ll keep for two days. Great for a holiday appetizer! If you need the room in the oven, you can microwave this as well. (Forgive the dish it’s in, it’s a disposable/portable one to take down south.)


Lightened Up Spinach and Artichoke Dip


10 oz. box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained well

3 oz. package of cream cheese, softened

2-10 oz. cans of artichoke hearts in water, drained and chopped

8 oz. package of shredded Italian six cheese blend

15 oz. jar of roasted garlic alfredo sauce

6 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Milk, for thinning


Preheat oven to 375 F and spray a large baking dish with non-stick spray. Combine first six ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. Pour into prepared baking dish and cover with aluminum foil.

Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil, raise oven temperature to 425 F, and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until top is browning. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. If the dip is too thick, add milk one tablespoon at a time to desired consistency.

Serve with crackers, chips, bread, vegetables, etc.!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thanksgiving Edition: Pecan, Sage, and Cherry Stuffing and Vegetarian Gravy

Now it’s been my turn to get sick! At least I got my flu shot earlier in the year, so hopefully I don’t get the death flu this year. A couple days late due to sickness and then my computer dying yesterday, but I have two recipes just in time for Thanksgiving.

Mike and I have settled into a routine where we visit his family for Thanksgiving and my family for Christmas. Since his family always has dinner at home, I bring a few of my own things down; it’s a large but very, very laid back gathering and no one cares as long as they get to bring their usual dishes. (As an aside, one thing I don’t get is having the same meal/recipes each Thanksgiving, but I like variety!)

This year I’m bringing down a Field Roast Celebration Roast (look at all those amazing food-service only products on their site!); pecan, sage, and cherry stuffing; vegetarian gravy; Brussels sprouts, and a lightened up version of my spinach and artichoke dip that I still have to work out. And some kind of sangria or mulled wine, of course. In the photo below you’ll see the Celebration Roast, gravy, stuffing, and Brussels sprouts with pearl onions and chestnuts.

Stuffing is one of the few times I miss meat, to be honest. Not because of the whole “cooking it in the turkey” thing, since I didn’t grow up with that – my family stuffing was a potato/sausage dish that we cooked on the side. It’s more that there’s a certain umami/unctuous/savory/richness that I can’t seem to coax out of vegetables or meat substitutes. I definitely have my share of liquid smoke, soy sauce, and Maggi seasonings, though! But I get around that somewhat with the gravy that I make and ladle over Celebration Roast slices and stuffing.

If you have additional time, deeply caramelize an onion over slow heat and add it to the gravy, then puree the gravy in a blender – it’ll give the gravy a much richer flavor. However, the quick gravy below is delicious as is.

The stuffing components can be substituted with other breads, fruits, and nuts: sourdough, cornbread, dried apricots, cranberries, pears, walnuts, pine nuts, Brazil nuts. Sourdough, dried apricots, and pine nuts would be an especially delicious combination – I may try that this year!


stuffing and gravy1

Pecan, Sage, and Cherry Stuffing

Serves 12 or more


2 loaves of whole grain bread

1 stick of butter

8 stalks of celery, chopped

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh sage

2 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)

2 Tbsp fresh tarragon

2 cups of pecans

2 cups of dried cherries

2 eggs

2 cups of vegetable broth

Salt and pepper


The day before: cube both loaves of bread and spread over a large baking sheet. Leave overnight to stale. If made the day of, place the cubed bread in a 200 F oven for 20 minutes or until dried out.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish with butter, oil, or nonstick spray.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the celery, onion, and garlic and sprinkle with salt. Cook for 10 minutes. Add sage, thyme, tarragon, and pecans, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Turn off heat, stir in cherries, and let mixture cool. Stir in salt and pepper to taste.

When the cubed bread and vegetable mixture are cooled, combine in a large mixing bowl. Beat eggs in a large measuring cup; add vegetable broth. Pour liquid mixture over bread and vegetables, and mix well to combine.

Pour stuffing mixture into baking dish and cover. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until browned.


Vegetarian Gravy

Makes 2 2/3 cups


2 cups “No-Chicken” vegetarian broth

2 tsp dried thyme

2 Tbsp sherry

2 tsp garlic powder

2 tsp onion powder

3 tbsp butter

4 tbsp flour

Salt and pepper


Combine first five ingredients in a large measuring cup.

Heat butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted. Quickly whisk in flour and let cook for 1 minute. While whisking continually, slowly pour in liquid mixture. Turn heat to medium high, bring to a boil, then return to medium.

Add salt and pepper and adjust seasoning as needed. If a thinner gravy is desired, add more broth. If a thicker gravy is desired, make a slurry of 1 part flour to 2 parts broth and stir into gravy, briefly bringing to a boil. Adjust seasoning after changing thickness.

Note: if the gravy ends up lumpy, it’s easily fixed. Either use an immersion/stick blender in the saucepan, or move the gravy to a blender and very carefully blend. This will remove lumps and make the gravy smooth. This will work for any lumpy gravy!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Golden Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula Pecan Pesto

One of my favorite things about autumn is all of the fantastic flavors that are available and how well they come together and make some of my go-to recipes. Once I discovered I liked beets, they’ve become one of my favorite fall flavors. The arugula idea came from one week when I had a bunch of arugula and no ideas, so I tried out making a pesto with the greens. The peppery flavor paired perfectly with the sweetness of the beets and the richness of the goat cheese, and a new recipe was born!

Now, I admit that beet and goat cheese salad can be somewhat cliché these days, but I’ve converted quite a few people into liking beets with this recipe – even my dad, a confirmed beet-hater. The golden beets are milder and have less of the “soil” flavor that turns many people off, and the best part – they don’t stain fingers like red beets do. As well, this recipe takes advantage of a very easy way to peel the beets. Simply trim the root and greens, wash well, wrap in foil, bake, let cool, then wipe the peel right off with a paper towel.

This recipe can also be made with red beets, which I often do if it’s just Mike and I, since I’ve convinced him to at least somewhat like red beets. But anytime I’m making it for someone new, I always use a mild beet. Candy cane beets are also a mild variety of beets, but can be harder to find.

This salad can also be arranged any way you’d like, just sliced and placed on a plate, or molded into a timbale to make it a bit more fancy. The entire recipe can be served on top of a bed of greens tossed with a mild vinaigrette to make a more substantial salad.


beet goat cheese2


Golden Beet and Goat Cheese Salad with Arugula Pecan Pesto

Serves 4 as a first course or 2 as an entrée


4 large (or 8 medium) golden beets

1  large bunch of arugula

1 cup unsalted pecans, toasted

2 oz. Parmesan cheese

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 cup mild olive or walnut oil

6 oz. soft goat cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Additional toasted pecans as garnish, optional


Preheat the oven to 375 F. Trim and wash the beets well. Wrap individually in aluminum foil, place on a large baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes, depending on how large the beets are. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, peel each beet by wiping off the peel with a paper towel. This step can be done up to two days before, refrigerating the beets once they cool.

Chop the arugula coarsely and wash well, as arugula may contain a lot of sandy soil trapped in the leaves. You may have to wash three times to remove all of the sand.

While the arugula is being washed, add the pecans, Parmesan cheese, and garlic to a food processor. Pulse several times or until everything is finely chopped. Add the washed arugula in batches, pulsing in between. Turning the food processor on, slowly stream in the oil until the mixture has a smooth consistency. If it is too thick, add water to thin. Add additional garlic to taste, if needed, and add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the pesto is ready, slice or chop the beets as desired. Divide the goat cheese into individual portions on plates, arrange the beets as desired, and drizzle the pesto over each dish. Sprinkle with additional toasted pecans if desired.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Today’s Post

Having a tiny bit of a “family crisis” – family just made reservations to come up for Disney on Christmas and I’ve been having to scramble to make their plans. I’ll have today’s post up first thing in the morning!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Honeycrisp Autumn Sangria

At least that’s what I’m calling it for now. I’m not quite sure that I want to label it a sangria, but I don’t want to just call it a “punch” or “cocktail,” either.

A couple weekends ago two of our good friends, Josh and Jenn, came up for the day to bum around, eat some lunch, and play some Rock Band. We had an as-always delicious late lunch at Shipyard Emporium, then we stopped at Fresh Market to pick out some snacks and drinks for sustenance during serious Rock Banding. I noticed a bottle of Honeycrisp apple cider and snagged it, figuring that I could do SOMETHING interesting with it. Honeycrisps are my favorite cultivar of apple for eating out of hand; I think they have a great balance of sweet and tart, along with a perfect texture. I was hoping that the cider made from the apples would be just as delicious.

Luckily, not only was the cider very tasty on its own, but we had some ingredients around at home that lent for some mixology magic. A bottle of Riesling was chilling in the fridge, and we had also picked up a couple Honeycrisp apples and a Meyer lemon at the store. We mixed the cider in a large pitcher with the wine, an apple, and the juice from the lemon. This mixture alone was nearly perfect, but it was missing something. After consulting the liquor cabinet, I tested a bit of bourbon in my glass and that neatly pulled everything together. No sweetener is needed due to the natural sweetness of the apple cider!

Just to make sure, I took some to a friend’s housewarming party and it also went over very well there. And so now, to complement my winter sangria, I have an autumn themed sangria! I believe this one will be making the trek down to my in-laws for Thanksgiving this year!

Much thanks and love to Jenn to helping me develop this one!!

honeycrisp sangria2

Honeycrisp Autumn Sangria

Makes 10-12 cups


1 half gallon bottle of Honeycrisp apple cider

1 750 mL bottle of Riesling wine

1 large Meyer lemon, juiced, with the fruit chopped and set aside

1 large Honeycrisp apple, chopped

8 oz bourbon

1/4 tsp cinnamon


Combine all ingredients in a pitcher large enough to hold one gallon and stir well. This mixture may be served immediately, or held overnight. Serve as is, over ice, or topped with club soda to make it sparkling.

Notes: if you can’t find Honeycrisp cider or Meyer lemons, you can make this with regular apple cider and lemons, but add 1/4 cup of orange juice as well. The taste and appearance will be slightly different.