Cream Cheese Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Happy New Year! Edwin and I hope you had a safe New Year’s Eve.

I enjoyed a fun gathering of a few friends at my apartment. Two of these friends had been staying with my husband and I for the last few nights, so I wasn’t interested in spending a lot of time in the kitchen preparing food on New Year’s Eve. On nights like that it helps to have some quick and reliable recipes for finger foods to set out.

spinach and artichoke cooking

I never liked spinach and artichoke dip until one day in college I ordered an amazing sandwich at a now-closed restaurant in Charlottesville, VA – sliced chicken with spinach and artichoke dip (spread on the sandwich as if it was mayo). It was surprisingly delicious and I miss ordering it!

bread bowl

Since I began experimenting with spinach and artichoke dip, I’ve received a lot of good feedback about this recipe, particularly because it isn’t mayonnaise based and contains a lot of the good stuff (spinach and artichokes). The great thing about it is that you can modify it to best fit your palate and it will still be delicious. I tend to use a little more spinach and artichokes (because I have to trick myself any way possible into eating more vegetables). I’m also heavy handed with the garlic powder and red pepper flakes.

Enjoy!

spinach and artichoke dip

Cream Cheese Spinach and Artichoke Dip

1 cup frozen chopped spinach
1 cup artichoke hearts
8 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp crushed red peppers
salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
Sour dough boule (optional)

Cook spinach according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

Rinse, drain and chop artichoke hearts (sometimes when you buy them in a jar they’ve been sitting in flavored oil, make sure you rinse them unless you want that taste to carry over).

Boil artichokes in 1/2 cup water on medium for 5 minutes. Add spinach for an additional minute. Drain well.

In a microwave safe bowl, microwave cream cheese for one minute until soft. Stir until smooth. Combine cream cheese and spinach/artichoke mixture in a medium sized bowl, stirring well. Add Parmesan cheese and spices to taste, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Add dip to a serving bowl of your choice. I like to buy a sour dough boule, cut a hole in the top, pull out the bread inside and cube it all for dipping. I pour the dip into the bread bowl and arrange the bread cubes around it.

Total prep and cook time is about 20 minutes (if you’re slow like me).

I really enjoyed last week’s experiment with a lentil loaf, but having been so successful forced me to ask what an appropriate accompaniment to it should be. Mashed potatoes were the obvious choice, but was there anything I could do differently? That’s how we roll here at DinnerCakes.

Cauliflower

Now, there’s nothing wrong with white potatoes. As I’ve mentioned before, they are fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium and high in vitamin C. However, they also have a somewhat high glycemic index and, well, they aren’t exactly low on the calorie scale either (a fact that is always on my mind this time of year). Enter the cauliflower. This sucker is the ultimate competitor for the white potato. It too is fat free, cholesterol free, low in sodium and has even more vitamin C than the white potato, providing you 100% of your daily vitamin C need with just 100 grams. And to top it all off, less than half the calories of the white potato. K.O.

Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes"

Cauliflower mashed potatoes is a pretty well known substitute and is incredibly easy to make. It’s so easy that I’m almost ashamed to write about it (almost). With a food processor and some common kitchen ingredients, you’re good to go. Without a doubt, I will be doing these again.

Cauliflower “Mashed Potatoes”

1 head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 milk/cream/water (optional)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons parsley

Cut the cauliflower into florets and steam for until tender; approximately 10 minutes. Don’t worry about overcooking. Once ready, transfer to a food processor along with the butter, thyme and parsley. Chop until smooth. If you like a creamier consistency, considering adding milk, cream or even water a bit at a time, continuing to process.

Butternut Squash and Onion Soup (That Won't Ruin Your Diet)

A friend recently sent me a recipe for roasted butternut squash and shallot soup she found from Cooking Light. I love butternut squash soup, but I love it the way you should never have it – with heavy cream and sherry.

roasted butternut squash

Cooking Light outlines a healthier way to enjoy this soup, but unfortunately the recipe was a little expensive and called for ingredients that I don’t usually keep on hand, such as shallots, fresh ginger root and fresh chives. Ginger root is not expensive but I don’t love an overpowering ginger taste, shallots may be a little sweeter than regular onions but they’re also more expensive, and fresh chives are also expensive, especially if they’re only acting as a garnish.

I tried to minimize the cost of this recipe and make it a little more manageable for the average pantry. I found the onion taste to be a tad strong, but my husband had no complaints. Yet you do have to like onions to enjoy this recipe. There are other milder versions of this soup, as well as versions that incorporate nuts and apples. These sound absolutely delicious, and I’m excited to try them, but for this particular recipe I was trying to keep it simple.

I served this as the main course for dinner for my husband and I, so we had two full bowls with a little bit leftover. This would also be great as a side to have with a grilled cheese sandwich; I had a piece of bread with my soup and I enjoyed dipping the bread into the soup. If you have other vegetables in your kitchen that you would like to use, such as carrots, that would make an excellent addition as well.

butternut squash onion soup

Butternut Squash and Onion Soup
inspired by Cooking Light

4 cups (1-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 thinly sliced scallions
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons (1-inch) slices fresh chives
black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine butternut squash cubes, oil, salt, minced ginger, minced garlic, chopped onion and minced ginger in a jelly-roll pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Cool 10 minutes.

Pour half the squash mixture and half the broth into a blender. Remove the center piece of the blender’s lid to allow heat to escape; lay a folded paper towel over the opening. Blend mixture until smooth, then pour into a large saucepan. Pour the remaining squash mixture and broth into the blender and repeat previous process. Cook over medium heat for five minutes or until thoroughly heated. Top with scallions and pepper as desired.

Sometimes I forget that most people don’t have the fondness for vegetables that I do. I think this is largely in part to their childhood memories at dinner. Many a vegetable has been overcooked in the mad dash ritual of the family dinner. What at one point was vibrant and full of flavor can easily become dull and tasteless. Of course this is not an attack on our loving Moms and Dads (mine rock), but life can get hectic when you’re balancing a career, home life and the numerous extracurricular functions of your children.

Quality food doesn’t have to be difficult or overly time consuming. You can still have delicious tasting veggies with minimal effort that won’t leave you shaking yourself (or your child) in rage.

Chopped Broccoli

This is a simple roasted vegetable recipe. With the sesame and soy sauce, it’s easy to peg this as an Asian-only side dish; but I disagree. Serve these vegetables alongside grilled fish or a lightly breaded chicken breast with lemon – add some brown rice and you’ve got yourself a flavorful and healthy meal.

Oh, and did I mention roasting preserves more of the vegetables’ nutrients than boiling? Man, this dish rocks all kinds of worlds!

Roasted Sesame Broccoli

Roasted Sesame Broccoli
This dish works with both the broccoli florets and the stalks. I like a little of both for variety, making the florets that much more enjoyable in contrast. Go with whatever you like. Consider adding sesame seeds before serving, though I find this purely decorative.

One broccoli bunch or approximately 4 cups, with or without stalk; sliced (see below)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Preheat the oven to 475°F.

To slice the broccoli, cut up into the florets, not all the way through. Then split by pulling the broccoli apart. For the stalks, cut into 1/4 inch slices. Combine the broccoli, olive oil, sesame oil and soy sauce in a mixing bowl. Place in a baking sheet as a single layer (this will help you get a good browning). Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway through. Remove when the tops are crispy. Serve immediately.