Hot Mexican-style Spinach Dip

FullSizeRenderWith the Big Game coming up, thought I’d share this recipe for a creamy, hot spinach appetizer that’s a step above the Knorr’s soup and mayo dip we’ve all feasted on. (Remember when it was all the rage to serve that dip in a hollowed out round loaf of bread? That was looooong before Pinterest, so only the hostesses with the mostest were aware of that little trick.) I got this recipe from a friend many moons ago, and dug up the recipe to serve at a recent book club. The ladies loved it, and I promised I’d post it.

Chopped spinach used to only be sold in a solid 10-ounce brick, which takes forever and a day to thaw out. Now you can buy a bag of loose chopped spinach, and that’s usually about 16 ounces. It thaws much quicker, so I made this with the 16-ounce bag for my friends. It was extra spinachy, but no one turned into Popeye. So use whichever package you prefer. (I’ve always thought the spinach squished into a block was kind of strange. What’s the point? Storage issues? So you can teach kids geometry while you cook? Not sure on that one…)

Sometimes I divide this into smaller ramekins, and give each guest their own dish of this delicious dip. Avoids that whole double-dipping faux pas, and no one gets an elbow in the face from an over-eager dipper. It only needs about 20 minutes in the oven if you’re doing smaller individual-size portions.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-4 fresh tomatoes (about 1½ cups), chopped, and excess liquid drained
2 tablespoons canned chopped jalapeño, or 1 fresh jalapeño, seeds and membranes removed, minced
1 (10-ounce or 16-ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed, and excess moisture squeezed out
2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
8-ounce cream cheese, cut into ½-inch pieces, room temperature
1 cup Half and Half cream
2 (2.2 ounce) cans sliced black olives*
1 tablespoon red wine or apple cider vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. Heat oil in medium skillet; saute onions until translucent. Add tomatoes and jalapeño, and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl, and stir in spinach, Monty Jack cheese, cream cheese, Half and Half, olives, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon mixture into shallow 9″x9″ baking dish and bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and browned on top. Serve with tortilla chips.

NOTE: This dip can be prepared ahead, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days prior to baking. You will want to let it sit at room temp for an hour or so before baking.

*Also note that the cheap sliced black olives work best in this dish. I made this again for a gathering after initially posting it, and I used Kalamata olives, thinking that would take it over the top into a new realm of tasty goodness. It did not. They made it taste funky. Morale of the story, don’t waste your Kalamata olives in this dip!

Buffalo Chicken Potato Casserole

FullSizeRender-4There’s a great divide in our house, and it’s over this casserole. People either love the creamy Buffalo chicken kick, or they hate it. What’s really weird, is that I’m the one who loves it most, and I’m not much for heat in my food! This recipe was featured on Rachel Ray’s most requested recipes of 2013 show, but I’ve made a few adjustments—like halving the amount of hot sauce, and making more of the béchamel (aka: white sauce). The only ingredients you probably need to grab at the grocery store, are Frank’s hot sauce and a rotisserie chicken. Other than that, it’s basics like potatoes, butter, flour, and cheese. I’ve made it with red potatoes, and russets, and it does seem to work better with the russets for some reason. Use a flour substitute in the sauce, and this dish fills the craving for creamy pasta if you’re doing gluten-free diet.

And where do the famous Buffalo wings get their name? Buffalo, New York, of course, not the 1-ton beast. The story goes that more than 50 years ago, Teressa Bellissimo, owner and cook at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York had gotten a whole crate of chicken wings by mistake, and wasn’t sure what to do with the excess, parts that were usually used only in soups. She came up with the idea to serve them deep friend and bathed in her secret hot sauce, with celery sticks and creamy blue cheese dressing on the side. They were such a hit, that the bar became infamous for her happy accident.

6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 teaspoon dry mustard
2½-3 cups milk
1/2 cup of Frank’s Red Hot original cayenne pepper sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Dash of nutmeg
4 large russet potatoes, peeled and sliced thin (1/8″)
3 cups shredded Monty Jack cheese
1 store-bought rotisserie chicken, skin removed, and meat shredded (approx. 4 cups meat)

Preheat oven to 400°. To make béchamel sauce: In medium sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Sprinkle in flour and dry mustard, and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in milk to avoid lumps in sauce (start with 2½ cups and add more milk if sauce needs thinning later). Stir in hot sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Sauce is thick enough when it coats a spoon when stirred.

In a 9″x13″ baking dish, spoon a thin layer of béchamel sauce on bottom, and layer with 1/3 of the sliced potatoes. Cover with 1/3 of the shredded chicken, 1/3 of the cheese, and 1/3 of the béchamel. Repeat layers twice, finishing with the cheese rather than the béchamel. Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30-45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.

NOTE: This dish is great left over as well. In fact the flavors mellow, and I actually prefer it second-day.

Wild Rice Soup

FullSizeRenderMinnesotans love their rich and creamy wild rice soup, something unique to the Midwest. So whenever we have out-of-state or overseas visitors, we send them home with a bag of wild rice…and this recipe for making a slightly healthier version of the old standby. I got a recipe similar to this years ago from Lund’s and Byerly’s. The high-end grocery store serves this soup in their deli, and they were handing out the secret recipe in response to frequent requests from patrons. But lately I’ve been adding in a chopped red pepper (which is chock full of vitamin C), and some celery and carrots. I also use only a portion of Half and Half, and then milk to finish it up. It’s still not a low-fat meal, mind you, just a little more substantive. (And I defy you to find another food blog that offers great vocab like “substantive” along with delicious food…)

1 cup wild rice, rinsed and drained
4 cups water
1 cube chicken bouillon
2 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon minded dry onion
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large sweet red pepper, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and grated
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
¼ cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup Half and Half
2 cups skim milk
2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken or 1 cup diced ham, optional

Combine wild rice, water, and bouillon cube in large sauce pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 45 minutes, or until majority of kernels are split. Rinse under cold water to shock rice, and halt the cooking process. Set aside.

In large Dutch oven, melt butter. Add dry minced onion and cook until golden. Add chopped onion and cook until onion is translucent. Add pepper, carrots, and celery and cook 5-10 minutes more. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir to coat, and then cook a minute more. Gradually pour in chicken broth and stir until no lumps of flour remain. Stir in cooked rice, Half and Half, and 1 cup milk. Add in chicken or ham, if you’d like. Add additional cup of milk if needed to thin soup. Serve.

NOTE: Cream-based soups do not freeze well. Refrigerate your leftovers of this soup.

Nette’s Cranberry Salsa

FullSizeRender-2Tomato salsa is so last year! This cranberry salsa has some kick and some sass, just like my neighbor Nette—which is fitting, since I got this recipe from her. You’ll need a food processor or blender to make it, but if you’ve got the tools, it’s a snap to whip up. If you serve it with corn tortilla chips, it’s both gluten free AND dairy free—how many appetizers can make that claim? Not many! At least not the appetizers found on most midwestern buffets in the cold winter months. And if you need more incentive to try this recipe, take note that cranberries are higher in antioxidants than the highly-acclaimed blueberry, and offer 24% of your daily allowance of vitamin C. So stick THAT on your chip and eat it. (Smiley face…)

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into slices
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup chopped red onion
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1 fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and membranes removed, and coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped pickled jalapeño (like Mrs. Renfro’s brand)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, rinsed and drained

Combine apple, sugar, onion, lime zest and juice, fresh and pickled jalapeño, and cilantro in a food processor or blender and pulse several times. Add cranberries and pulse until grainy. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving for flavors to blend. Serve with tortilla or pita chips.

Cream of Cauliflower Soup

IMG_1140As this creamy cauliflower soup prepares in about 30 minutes, you can get a light, healthy lunch on the table fairly fast. I found the basic recipe in Midwest Living magazine (Feb 2013), and it was titled “Cream of Any-Vegetable Soup.” I’ve done cauliflower and also broccoli, but we liked the cauliflower best. One problem—they must have taste-tested this recipe on a family of gnats, cause the first time I made it, it served up 2 small bowls. Not worth the effort for such a small yield! So I doubled it. I also found that their recipe used far too little vegetable, so I significantly increased that—more so than the other ingredients. If you prefer broccoli to the cauliflower, I’ve included the instructions for that at the end of the recipe as well.

Serves 6

4 cups cauliflower florets
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped onion
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon granules or 1 cub chicken bouillon, crushed
1 teaspoon curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon course ground black pepper
4 cups milk
Dash Worcestershire sauce
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, optional (but really, since when is cheese in anything “optional”?)

Place half of cut cauliflower in microwave safe bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high for 3 minutes. Repeat with other half of cut cauliflower, and set aside cooked vegetables.

In a heavy saucepan or small Dutch oven, sauté celery and onion in butter until tender. Stir in flour and bouillon granules, curry, salt, and pepper. Allow flour and seasonings to “toast” for about a minute to bring out flavor. Gradually stir in milk, whisking it into flour until combined to avoid lumps. Add Worcestershire sauce. Cook and stir until thick and bubbly, then cook and stir for another minute. Stir in cooked cauliflower. Allow mixture to cook slightly, then place in blender (1/3 at a time), and blend for about 3 seconds. Repeat until all of soup has been processed. Return to saucepan to heat through. Add cheese and stir until melted. Serve.

For Broccoli-cheese Soup: Add 4 cups cooked broccoli florets instead of cauliflower, omit the curry and use ½ teaspoon garlic salt or garlic powder instead, and increase the cheese to 1 cup.

Curried Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

FullSizeRenderIf you’re one of the gazillion American’s who has “lose weight” as a #1 resolution in the New Year, here’s a low cal recipe for you. I figure it’s about 108 calories per bowl, if you get 8 bowls from this batch. And with lentils and sweet potatoes as the main ingredients, this is a super healthy, gluten-free soup, that’s surprisingly hearty and filling. The small amount of jalapeño cuts the sweetness of the potatoes, and it really is a necessary ingredient. I’ve tried making it without jalapeño when I didn’t have it on hand, and the soup was bland and tasteless, even with all that wonderful curry that usually holds it’s own in a recipe. Who knew a little pepper had so much power? It cooks up in about 30 minutes, so it’s not one of the more time-intensive soups in my arsenal. I cut this recipe from a Midwest Living magazine several years ago, and since stumbling on it, you’ll find it simmering on my stovetop at least once a month whenever there’s a nip in the air.

Serves 6-8

1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ or 1 medium fresh jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or 1 teaspoons of canned, chopped, jalapeño peppers*
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 cup dry lentils, rinsed and drained (that is ½ of a 1 pound bag of lentils)
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (14-ounce) cans vegetable or chicken broth (or 4 cups water and 3 teaspoons vegetable or chicken soup base)
1 cup water
1 tablespoon curry powder
Dash salt

In a Dutch oven, cook onion in hot oil over medium heat until onion is translucent. Add jalapeño, garlic, and ginger, and cook a few minutes more. Add dry lentils, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (with juice), broth, water, curry powder, and salt. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer 25-30 minutes or until lentils and potatoes are tender.

*If using fresh jalapeño or other peppers, wear gloves when handling peppers. Seeds from peppers can be extremely hot. Wash hands and all utensils thoroughly after handling any fresh peppers.