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Politics, Holidays, and Artichoke Dip

9 Nov

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Holy cow.

What a whirlwind.  We’ve been in November for 9 days.  And it’s been nuts.

Let’s just look at this empirically, shall we?  With the start of November, first there was the take down of Halloween.  Halloween has just gotten too spooky.  Seriously people, enough already with the blood and goo and violent paraphernalia.  We are not the real life Walking Dead and I do imagine if a live zombie came lumbering and grumbling your way, you might poop yourself and run (it’s always a good time for an oxymoron or two).  So what’s with the increasingly growing gore of Halloween?

Growing up, my mom and I would visit local craft shops set up in parking lots and fields and ogle at all the cute pumpkin, scarecrow, turkey, and charming broomsticky things representing the start of the autumn season.  Somehow, that innocence seems to have been forgotten.  Nowadays, we’ve gone straight from this growing grossness of a spooky, dead-loving holiday to – wait for it – Christmas?

It was August 30th when I saw my first sign of Christmas.  Rob and I were in Costco and they had just displayed their wrapping ribbon.  We stopped, looked at the ribbon, looked at each other, and with a slight head shake (and most possible eye roll), kept walking.  The day before Halloween, we saw our first Christmas commercial.  However after discussing it (yes, we discuss these things), we decided it didn’t officially count because the real commercial showing Christmas is upon us is the one with the Hershey Kisses bells ringing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” Yes, I am coining that as the official sign of Christmas – Hershey’s Chocolate, you’re welcome.  Anywho, despite my love, adoration, borderline slight obsession with Christmas (our house blows up into a reindeer, elk, and moose bedazzled wonderland), it’s frankly not yet time.

While the commercial world tries to build up this monstrosity of constant technology, and gimme, gimme, gimme attitudes, and desensitizes children from the innocence of these holidays – clearly, the teacher in me has a bone to pick – I am determined to not let November fly by in a disingenuous prelude to Christmas.

Also, in between good riddance-ing Halloween, avoiding a premature Christmas celebration, and fitting in the best historical foodie celebration our nation celebrates, there was probably one of the most stressful, surprising, amazing, horrible, and memorable elections our nation has probably ever seen.

Over the last few years, our national hard drive has been doused with water, sparking shards of entitlement and division and teaching blame-to-everyone-else-rather-than-accountability across our land.  So this morning, after turning off the tv around 1:45am and then still staying up way too late with anxiety and anticipation, I roused myself to full awareness around 4am to a historical headline.

And despite anyone’s political affiliation, I think most can agree that this election pushed the giant reset button on that national hard drive (and finally those horrible commercials can stop).

So, taking slow steps through this significant day, I mindfully look at my little home adorned with the peaceful signs of the season: pumpkins made from old draperies found in a southern mountain store in NC, red maple leaf placemats, and my personal favorite, antique 14-carat gold rimmed, hand-painted dessert plates adorned with turkeys, pheasants, and mallards.  They are all now in their showcased place, ready for their 43,830 minutes of fame (that’s total minutes in November, and math is cool).

By golly, all of this calls for a damn good dish.

While we are just starting to wake up to a morning chill here in North Florida, I feel the need to plunge head first into everything autumnal, even if it means I need to turn my air conditioning down to a sweater-wearing degree.  It’s also the season for entertaining, and my mind is racing with great ideas for great food with great people – no matter what the celebration.

Like this Artichoke White Bean Dip.  It’s simple, it’s easy and it is oh-so-good.  Hardly an indulgence, it’s not as dairy-filled as many artichoke dips tend to be.  Being dip-worthy, spread-worthy, put-on-a-sandwich-or-mix-with-tuna-fish-worthy, this has become a new standard for easy, crowd-pleasing recipes.

So in between tonight’s news reports claiming disbelief at what just politically happened, and the constant Pier 1 Christmas commercials, make this dip and serve it to a friend or two (with a cocktail, of course).  Its warmth and depth will comfort you with Autumn, helping bring the season back to the heart of what it is meant to be.

Enjoy it.

Warm Artichoke White Bean Dip
makes about 28 oz, enough for a whole crowd (or one hungry night)

  • 9 oz (usually 1 box) thawed, cooked artichoke hearts
  • 1 can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp half and half
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • s&p
  • olive oil, for drizzling
  • shredded cheddar cheese to top *optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a food processor, mix all above ingredients except for the olive oil.  Make sure everything is well incorporated and taste for seasoning.  When mixed, pour into an oven-proof baking dish (a ceramic pie dish works well).  Drizzle with a bit of olive oil (and cheese, if using), and put in oven until the top is browned and the mixture is hot throughout. 

Serve with crudités, bread, pitas, crackers, or simply a spoon (save the spoon for home-alone times, not so much entertaining). 

Enjoy!

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Flavors of Summer

8 Aug

We are back now from all our traveling, relaxed, and yes, a bit more tan.  Expecting to come back to the frigid Oregon Coast summertime winds, we have actually had quite a few days of beautiful sun, mild weather, and gentle breezes.  It has been more than pleasant, and Rob and I are taking advantages of the best of it.  The many hikes, lead to long days, sometimes not even showering until mid afternoon (it’s not gross, it’s “natural”).  We’ve been doing some small entertaining, enjoying close friends in intimate conversation over simply good food.

One of the things I will miss the most come our goodbye next summer, will be the amazing Oregon produce.  Wow, this place has got it down.  The berries are incredible, and our CSA farm basket (yielding not only great zucchini and greens, but inspired the cheeky name for this blog), has been overflowing our crisper.  It’s awesome.

Through the lazy days of summer (and I do mean lazy… Sig is snoring under the table at the moment), I have enjoyed cooking from my roots – simple, easy, tasty dishes celebrating the greatness of food.  We’ve kept some staples in the house: herbed chicken salad (above), blueberry sauce, white bean puree (a great companion for blanched green beans), good quality mayo (for the healthy shmear on a ripe summer tomato), pluots and blueberries for cold, sparkling sangria, and most recently vegetable cream cheese.  With the tons of veg we’ve been getting, combined with our undying and unconditional love of bagels and cream cheese, I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this sooner.  Super simple, incredibly flavorful, and a fantastic way to get some raw veg into the system first thing in the morning.

Right now, I’m waiting for some overripe peaches (there are always a couple in a lug – why waste?) to do their infusing magic with some vodka, anticipating a ginger peach cordial sometime in the next couple of days.

With albacore swimming like crazy right now, one found it’s loin on my dinner plate, grilled with lime, brown sugar, smoked salt, and served with a simple lime balsamic dressing.

And with so many beautiful zucchinis around, a tart was just calling out to me (with a fried egg, oui chic!)

Today’s farmer’s market yielded beautiful blackberries, and the juices are already flowing (no pun) as to what to make next.  Suggestions are welcome. 🙂

Vegetable Cream Cheese (makes 8 oz) 

  • 8 oz room temperature cream cheese (I used the “whipped” kind; it made incorporating the ingredients very easy) 
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled 
  • 1/2 green bell pepper
  • 1/2 small zucchini 
  • 2-3 scallions, white and light green parts only 
  • a handful of parsley 
  • s&p

This requires some patience chopping, but chop all the veg into a very small dice.  First, make thin slices, then slice again into matchsticks.  Then, line up the pieces, chopping them across to make very small pieces.  HERE’S A TRICK: with the carrot, use the vegetable peeler to make the thin slices, and then continue cutting from those “peeled” slices.  It’s much easier than trying to keep a I-want-to-be-free-and-roll-all-over-the-place carrot still.  

Chop the scallion into thin slices, and chop the parsley until fairly fine.  

Mix all the veg and herbs into the cream cheese, and season with s&p.  Depending on the brand of cream cheese you use, you may not need much salt.  

Generously spread on a freshly toasted bagel, lick the excess off your fingers, add more to the bagel once you realize how great it is, and enjoy! 

**The longer the cream cheese mixture sits, the more incorporated the vegetable flavors become.  The second, third, fourth days are the best – if it lasts that long.  

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