Real Sour Cream & Onion Dip and a Wisconsin Cheese Giveaway: Set of Cheese Knives, Cheese Board, and 3-Bowl Bamboo Server

caramelized onion and sour cream dip with Ruffles potato chips

The unfortunate consequence of being deprived of chips and dip as a child is that I am the girl at parties (much to my husband’s embarrassment) hovering over the crock pot filled with queso dip, piling more than a manageable amount of hot crab spread into my Tostitos scoops, and destroying the poor bowl filled with spinach-artichoke dip.

In addition to childhood deprivation, part of my love for these sorts of dips, I suspect, stems from the fact that I never make them. As many of you know, so many of these most-adored party dip recipes call for opening a pack of soup mix filled mostly with dehydrated ingredients, two days worth of the recommended salt intake, MSG and a host of nitrates and preservatives. While this knowledge never seemed to prevent me from eating these dips — all willpower dissolves when confronted face to face — for many years it prevented me from making them.

With the recent success of a homemade sour cream-and-onion dip, however, I am hoping homemade queso dip along with a few other classics might be in my future, with any luck before the Super Bowl. Who knew that real sour cream-and-onion dip is astonishingly easy to prepare and far more delicious than its dried-soup variation? While caramelizing onions takes time — time, not work — throwing together this dip couldn’t be much more difficult than opening a box of instant soup. One bite of this sweet-and-tangy dip atop a salty Ruffles potato chip allayed my fears that my Super Bowl guests, upon observing the spread — my mother’s olivata, my aunt’s whipped feta with roasted red peppers, and not a crock pot in sight — might run out the door. If you feel like going this homemade-sour-cream-and-onion-dip route, rest assured that your guests will feel right at home watching the game. Just don’t forget the Ruffles… for some things there are no substitutes. Continue reading

Super Easy Marinated Olives

marinated olives with orange, garlic and fennel seeds

Today I find myself awaiting the arrival of a few dear friends, and for the first time in a long time, I feel very unprepared. You see, they’ve all gone paleo, and as a result, my usual tricks just won’t fly. I’ve stashed away the biscotti; eaten all of the cheeses; frozen all of the bread.

While my friends have assured me they are all on holiday-paleo hiatus, I can’t help but want to have some treats for them. We’re having chicken drumsticks for dinner — I’m pretty sure that’s what cavemen ate? — and I have some nuts to get us through the early dinner hours, so we certainly won’t starve. I also, without doing any research, made a batch of marinated olives, which I have since learned die-hard paleos don’t even eat. Oops. I hope my friends were being sincere about their paleo-hiatus statuses. Continue reading

Gingerbread Biscotti And A Few Favorite Holiday Recipes

gingerbread biscotti in jar

Biscotti lovers seem to fall into two camps: those who view dipping as essential and those who view dipping as optional. As you can see from the photo above, I fall into the dipping-is-optional camp. I like my biscotti with a chewy center (a texture achieved by butter, which dipping-biscotti recipes generally do not call for) and a crisp crust, and I like them on the larger, meatier size — I want to eat one (not ten) and feel satisfied.

While I am partial to classic almond biscotti, these gingerbread biscotti are a treat this time of year. This recipe is just a variation of my favorite recipe with molasses replacing some of the sugar and the addition of traditional gingerbread spices: ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. With coffee or tea, a latte or hot cocoa, this dunking-is-optional treat will put anyone in the holiday spirit. Continue reading

Baked Fontina

baked fontina with herbs and garlic

I am all for buying two or three wedges of nice cheeses, plopping them on a cutting board, surrounding them with grapes and nuts and maybe something exotic like quince membrillo, and crossing “make-hors d’oeuvres” off my to-do list.

But every so often it’s nice to present something a teensy more special, more awe-inspiring, more spectacularly delicious. This baked fontina is the favorite party trick of my aunt — not the one that introduced me to salsa di parmigiano, the other one. She serves this bubbling fontina-herb-and-garlic-filled cast-iron skillet just as instructed with lots of crusty bread and swears that not a morsel ever remains. Because it is quite decadent, her other offerings consist of crispy kale chips and radishes with sea salt. My aunties are just full of good ideas. Continue reading

Salsa di Parmigiano; Homemade Advent Calendar, for next year perhaps

salsa di Parmigiano and grilled bread

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two of my aunts in northern Virginia. Over the course of seven hours, we found a reason to use this sauce — salsa di Parmigiano — three times. For our lunch, we spread it onto French bread and made paninis filled with artichoke hearts, golden cherry tomatoes, and fontina cheese; for the children’s dinner, we tossed it with pasta; for our meze-style dinner, we spooned it onto grilled bread, which we ate all evening along with some olives, feta, and various other treats. It was a delicious spread, but this dipping sauce received the most attention by everyone who joined the party.

This is a nice little sauce to know. Made mostly in the food processor, it comes together in less than ten minutes and makes enough to last you for weeks. Apparently, at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, every table receives a bowl of the sauce along with crispy bread before the main courses arrive. Sounds heavenly. Continue reading

Pickled Okra & Baker’s Foie

pickled okra

When you don’t get out to eat very often, there is nothing worse than experiencing buyers’ remorse at the dinner table. Ordering becomes a big deal. A few Saturday nights ago, Ben and I found ourselves seated at the bar at Bistro Bethem, drinks ordered, food yet to be determined. It was our first meal out in a long time — with the exception, of course, of the many lunches at 2Amy’s, our favorite post-zoo spot for wolfing down as much delicious food as possible before the two children bobbing on our laps explode — and we thought it wise to take our time. A few bad choices might ruin the evening. The pressure was on.

After placing our order for the pâté, a tomato salad, and a few wood-oven pizzas, our server delivered a basket of warm focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and a shallow dish filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In an instant, all worries about the food — the evening — dissolved. It’s amazing how far a little fresh bread goes to win my belly and heart over.

But the rest of the food proved to be as wonderful as that bread basket, and one dish in particular had us taken: pickled okra. Continue reading

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Continue reading

A Sprouted Kitchen Feast

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

I couldn’t make a decision. And my attempts to organize my thoughts — adhering cute page flags to particularly tempting recipes — proved futile. In the midst of this frenzied state of drooling and tabbing, drooling and tabbing, my mother arrived at my doorstep with a bucket of feta (that’s normal, right?), a branch of oregano, and a dozen figs. And at once, my vision for our dinner became clear.

As my mother unloaded her basket of goodies into my pantry and fridge, I waved pages of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in front of her. Over every image we ooheh and ahhed; over every title we yummed and mmmmed. My mother soon understood my predicament: everything — from the roasted wild cod with meyer lemon and caper relish to the roasted tomato soup with cheesy toasts to the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers — looked and sounded incredibly enticing.

But thanks to the ingredients my mother had just delivered, the decision was easy: dinner would be mediterranean baked feta with olives and roasted plum tartines with ricotta, substituting figs for the plums and my mother’s peasant bread for the wheat baguette — I never pass on my mother’s peasant bread. And having just read that Sara, the book’s author, encourages readers to “use the recipes as a starting point and to omit or add ingredients according to preferences,” I felt OK making a few changes. Figs seemed a suitable stand-in for plums, and Sara in fact recommends pears or persimmons in the fall. Yum.

We soon set to work mixing dough, slicing onions, halving tomatoes, making ricotta, mincing garlic and chopping parsley. And before we knew it, we had the makings of a beautiful spread, as colorful as Hugh’s (Sara’s husband) photos, as promising as Sara’s recipes.

The book, while not a small-plate cookbook, offers lots of wonderful ideas in this category. As I flipped through the pages, the recurring thought was: This would be fun for a party. And it makes sense as one of Sara’s goals for the book is to “share recipes that are simple enough to make after work but interesting enough to serve at a dinner party.” She certainly has achieved this. We have now eaten the baked feta with a hunk of bread twice this week for dinner — it is so good — and I have never been so eager to invite some friends over for dinner to show them my new tricks. The fig tartines, which disappeared in record time, lit up the table.

Beautifully photographed, thoughtfully written, the book is sure to inspire whoever comes across it. The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is now available for purchase.

Preparing the baked feta:
olive topping, oregano, feta

feta, ready for the oven

baked feta with olives and tomatoes

Preparing the roasted fig tartines:
honey roasted figs

roasted fig bruschetta with ricotta and basil

Bucket of feta:
bucket of feta

Mom’s bread:
making my mom's bread

mom's bread

Recipes:

Roasted Plum (or fig) Tartines
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: I’ve supplied the recipe here just as it is written in the book so that you can take a look and make your own adjustments accordingly. As I noted above, I used figs in place of the plums, but roasted them exactly the same — with honey and salt for about 20 minutes. Also, I made homemade ricotta, which is so easy and delicious, and omitted the parmesan and chopped chives (was feeling a little lazy). Finally, I used fresh basil in place of the microgreens.

6 ripe plums
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 whole grain baguette
1 cup microgreens for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Cut the plums into quarters (if using figs, cut them in half) and remove the pits. Gently toss the plum pieces with a pinch of salt and the warm honey. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until the edges are crisped and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

3. While the plums are baking, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake the bread just until toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly on both halves and return to the oven just until warmed through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the roasted plums on top of the cheese. Finish with a few grinds of pepper and garnish with the greens. Cut each baguette half into slices on the diagonal. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Baked Feta
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: Once you make this once, you’ll never need a recipe again. The quantity of the olive salad is dependent on how much feta you choose to warm up. I baked my block (as opposed to grilled) and served it with warm bread. Heaven.

1 (8- to 10-ounce) block of feta
1 cup assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalmata olives, pitted (I didn’t…lazy) and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Crackers, pita chips, or crostini, for dipping

1. Heat your grill to medium-high or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Set the block of feta in the middle of a piece of foil for grilling or in a small ovenproof baking dish twice the size of your block of cheese for baking.

2. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Pile the tomato mixture on top of the feta. For grilling, fold up the edges of the foil so that it will hold in any liquid as it cooks; put it straight on a grill; heat for 15 minutes to warm it through. For baking, put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will not melt, just get warm and soften.

4. Remove from the grill or oven and serve the dip hot with the crackers, pita chips, or crostini.

Honey Almond Butter
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: This almond butter is SO good. If I wasn’t afraid that I might burn out my Cuisinart’s motor, I would start making this for gifts immediately. I used maple syrup in place of the honey because I am obsessed with this particular Justin’s Nut Butter, but now that I know how to make it, there’s no going back.

2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon oil, such as almond, unrefined peanut or extra-virgin coconut (I used coconut and more than a teaspoon)
sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I omitted)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1. Place the almonds in a food processor or Vitamix and process for about 1 minute. Add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the cinnamon. Continue to process for another 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the food processor or Vitamix as needed. You will see a change in consistency from crumbs, to big clumps, to a large ball. Finally, as the oil is released from the almonds, the mixture will smooth itself out. If you want it even smoother, add a bit more oil.

2. When it is as smooth as you’d like it, stir in the honey or maple syrup. Add more salt to taste and transfer to a glass jar. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. (I kept mine at room temperature. It disappeared in three days.)

maple almond butter

Maple almond butter spread on no-knead oatmeal toasting bread:
no-knead oatmeal bread with maple almond butter

Maryland Crab Cakes

just-broiled crab cakes

My only goal for my week in Virginia Beach was to eat a good crabcake. Thanks to Dockside, I did. Broiled, lightly seasoned, meaty, the Dockside crabcake embodies everything I hope for in a crabcake.

Finding myself dreaming about this delicacy upon returning home, I called Dockside to find out the details, which they so graciously offered: crabmeat, mayonnaise, panko bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. They keep it pretty simple, which came as no surprise. Had they told me they used nothing but crabmeat, I wouldn’t have questioned them.

Recreating the Dockside crab cake was surprisingly easy. Because the cakes are broiled — as opposed to pan fried, which (and sorry for stating the obvious) involves flipping — the cakes can (and should) be delicately and loosely formed. In fact, if your cakes are almost falling apart as you’re placing them on your broiling pan, it’s probably a good sign. A nearly falling-apart crab cake will ensure that the mayonnaise and panko (or pulverized Saltines or bread crumbs or whatever you are using) are doing their job as binders but nothing more.

These cakes broiled for five minutes and disappeared in two. They were delicious.

Final note, crabmeat is expensive. Like, pit-in-your-stomach expensive. Like, oh-shit expensive. Like, how-can-I-rationalize-this-purchase expensive. But, it’s worth it. A good crab cake starts with good crab. The rest is simple.

crab meat

unbaked crab cakes

ready for the broiler

just-broiled crab cakes

Maryland Crab Cakes
Yield = 8 cakes, serves 2 to 3

Note: This crab cake recipe is inspired by the crab cakes served at Dockside in Virginia Beach. Dockside uses Old Bay seasoning in their crab cakes, but I could barely taste it and because I’m not a huge fan of it anyway, I just omitted it. If you like Old Bay, go for it, but don’t over do it — the crabmeat is so tasty on its own. Also, I used tarragon mayonnaise (because I had it on hand), which I feared might be overpowering, but which definitely was not. The tarragon adds a lovely flavor. If you don’t feel like making the tarragon mayonnaise, however, some freshly chopped tarragon or other herb — parsley or chives, perhaps — would be a nice addition to the crab cake mix.

1 lb. jumbo lump or backfin crabmeat
kosher salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) panko bread crumbs
squeeze of lemon (less than half of a lemon, so maybe a teaspoon)
a couple of tablespoons of freshly chopped tarragon, parsley or chives (see note above), optional

melted butter, for brushing

lemon wedges, for serving
tartar sauce (recipe below), for serving, optional

1. Place crabmeat in a large mixing bowl. Being careful not to break up the lumps too much, spread out the crabmeat into a single layer in the bowl. Season lightly with salt. Add the mayonnaise, panko, lemon juice and herb (if using). Gently fold all of the ingredients together using your hands or a spatula. The mixture should barely hold together when formed into a cake.

2. Preheat the broiler. (Rack should be about 4 inches from the heat source.) Lightly grease a sheet pan with butter. (Note: Before doing this, take a look at your broiler and make a visual note about where the burning elements will line up with your pan. For instance, I have two coils in my broiler, so when I greased my sheet pan with butter, I greased only the parts where I was planning on placing the crab cakes, which would eventually line up with the two heating elements in the broiler. Hope that makes sense.) Portion your crab mixture into 8 cakes. I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a portioner and used my hands to gently form the cakes. Place cakes on sheet pan and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.

3. Brush each cake with melter butter. Broil five minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side if desired.

Tartar Sauce

I didn’t measure — sorry! — but you kind of can’t mess this up. Also, this can be made days in advance. It tastes better with each passing day.

1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
8 cornichons, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
pinch kosher salt

1. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Taste. Adjust accordingly.

tartar sauce

just-broiled crab cakes

Tartine-Style Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur

Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.

This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.

And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.

While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.

Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
asparagus & spring onions

asparagus & spring onions, ready to be baked

roasted asparagus & spring onions

Nancy Silverton's bechamel

olive bread, thyme, comte

asparagus & spring onion croque monsieur, ready for the broiler

Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like

Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.

asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
olive oil
kosher salt

good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.

2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.

3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Bechamel:
Source: Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever–from Thursday Nights at Campanile

Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.

Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
kosher salt
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 bayleaf

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.

2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.

3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)