cheddar shortbread

You guys know I’m a major dough-eater, right? Okay, well, if not, there you go – cookie dough, cake batter, brownie batter, any of that – major weakness. As embarrassing as this story is, I will tell you that I have actually reached into the oven to take one more spoonful of pound cake batter from the pan. (Pound cake batter is even better than chocolate chip cookie dough, I’m not even kidding.)

So I was a little worried about these after I mixed up the dough. It…well, frankly, it wasn’t very good. It didn’t have enough flavor. But I don’t have a lot of experience baking savory cookies, so I wasn’t sure how it was supposed to taste.

After baking, they were pretty good actually. My students must be getting braver, because I got more feedback on this one – would be good with garlic, herbs, and, um, served with wine. (“I mean, I don’t know if you drink wine”, he said. I did not respond with, “Do I ever! But only on weekends.”)

In the end, I think they mostly taste like Cheez-Its. Which is an okay thing, I think. But hey, garlic, thyme, and a bit of salt couldn’t hurt. And what isn’t better served with wine? Just wait until they’re baked before you start eating them. (Oh, you do that with all cookies? Well, aren’t you the picture of self-restraint.)

One year ago: Fresh Strawberry Scones
Two years ago: Caesar Salad

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Cheddar Shortbread (adapted from Whisk: a food blog)

Makes about 30 cookies

Despite the advice of my students, I’m not sure I’d add garlic, which sounds like it could easily become overpowering. I could go either way on herbs, and I definitely think some salt (maybe ¼ teaspoon to start) would be a nice addition.

I’m not sure I baked these this long; I think it’s more likely that I baked them about 10 minutes, just until they no longer looked wet on top and they were slightly browned around the edges.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup (4.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1. In a food processor, mix all of the ingredients with the metal blade until the dough forms a ball.

2. Roll the dough into a log. (You can freeze the logs by wrapping them in plastic wrap and put them in a freezer bag. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking.) Slice into ¼-inch rounds and place on baking sheet. Chill for 1 hour in the refrigerator or 30 minutes in the freezer.

3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350˚F. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until light brown. Cool completely on a wire rack.

bacon-wrapped goat-cheese-and-almond-stuffed dates

Stuffed dates are part of one my favorite days recently – one of those that, for whatever reason, just ended up being particularly awesome. Some great friends visited us in Philadelphia shortly before we moved. After walking around the famous historical sites and before seeing one of my favorite musicians play; before walking up the famous steps to the art museum and much before eating cheesesteaks at 2am, we ate dinner at Alma de Cuba.

While we all loved our entrees, our drinks, and the ceviche, the star of the show was the bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed dates. Is transcendent too over-the-top a description? It seems appropriate for something that caused each of us to close our eyes and exclaim with every bite.

I had kind of assumed that my bacon-wrapped almond-stuffed date days were behind me when we moved from Philadelphia. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that I could make them myself. I certainly never thought it would be so easy.

And just as good! I mean, it’s missing the friends-visiting, concert-going, downtown-exploring mystique, but it retains other important things – salty bacon, sweet dates, tangy goat cheese, crunchy almonds. And now it isn’t a once in a lifetime treat, like those standout days are.

One year ago: Honey Yogurt Dip
Two years ago: Salmon Cakes with Hashed Brussels Sprouts and Flaky Biscuits

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Bacon-Wrapped Goat-Cheese-and-Almond-Stuffed Dates (rewritten from Beantown Baker)

Makes 32 appetizers

32 dates, pitted
4 ounces goat cheese
32 almonds (about ⅓ cup)
16 slices (about 1 pound) bacon, halved lengthwise

1. With a paring knife, cut through one long edge of each date; unfold the dates to open them up. Use your fingers to stuff both sides of the date with goat cheese. Push an almond into the goat cheese; close up the dates. Wrap each stuffed date with a piece of bacon and secure with a toothpick or skewer.

2. If you’re broiling the dates, put them on a rimmed baking sheet. Grill the dates over medium-hot coals or broil them 5 inches from the heating unit until the bacon is cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Serve immediately or at room temperature.

roasted garlic balsamic white bean dip

No matter how hard I try, I can’t get excited about the Thanksgiving feast. Turkey, stuffing, cranberries – I don’t know, they’re all just fine, but Thanksgiving isn’t the eat-until-you-pop day for me that it is for a lot of people. I do love the idea of a free for all food day though. I also love football, so the Super Bowl tends to be my big overeating event.

But even a day of unapologetic binging requires some vegetables. Besides the ubiquitous salsa and guacamole, that is. Since I was already treating myself, I suppose I could have made a delicious mayonnaise and sour cream based dip, but I wanted to leave plenty of belly space for the brownies, meatball sliders, and that guacamole, so I stuck to a light bean dip for the vegetables.

The problem with bean dip is that it’s always a battle between how healthy it is and how much flavor it has. If you don’t want to add cream cheese or butter or nut butters, it can be difficult to find ingredients to bump up the flavor.

Three strong flavors help make this white bean dip interesting – roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. The result? A bean dip worth filling up on.

One year ago: Vegetarian Chili
Two years ago: Salmon Pesto Pasta

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Roasted Garlic White Bean Balsamic Dip (adapted substantially from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

1 head of garlic, outer papery skin removed
½ teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
4 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (15-ounce) can white beans (cannellini, navy, great northern), drained and rinsed
pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon oil from jar of sun-dried tomatoes

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 400ºF. Cut ¼-inch off of the top of the bulb of garlic. Place the bulb in an 8-inch square of foil and drizzle with ½ teaspoon of the oil. Wrap the garlic in the foil and roast until soft, about 40 minutes.

2. When the garlic is cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves from their peels and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the tomatoes and salt; process until smooth. Add the beans and pepper and continue processing. With the machine running, pour in the balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomato oil. Adjust the seasonings if necessary, and serve, drizzling with more balsamic vinegar.

sun-dried tomato jam

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Crusty bread, cheese, cured sausage, fruit. It’s a seriously underestimated meal. Yes, a meal. Not a particularly healthy one, I admit, but it does cover all of the nutritional bases, as long as you make an extra effort to eat a lot of the fruit. It doesn’t hurt to use 100% whole wheat bread either.

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And if you add a bit of tomato jam, you’ve just given yourself one more healthy-ish vegetably option. (“Healthy-ish” and “vegetably” really is how I think about nutrition. It seems to sorta kinda work.) The jam is just sautéed and then stewed vegetables.

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The result is a perfect counterpart for creamy or sharp or tangy cheese (or one of each!), salty salami, and fresh berries or grapes. The jam is both sweet and savory, fantastic spread on a slice of baguette by itself or combined with cheese. Definitely a great addition to one of my favorite somewhat indulgent meals.  Or maybe you’re a normal person and would serve this as an appetizer?  I guess that would work too.

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Sun-dried Tomato Jam
(adapted from Everyday Italian via Confections of a Foodie Bride)

The original recipe is for crostini with goat cheese, but I thought the jam was a great addition to a cheese plate on its own.

If you can find pre-sliced dried tomatoes, your life will be much easier.  Chopping greasy, slippery tomatoes is the hardest part of this recipe.

Makes about 1½ cups

8oz jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped, oil reserved
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoon sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of the reserved sun-dried tomato oil, olive oil, onion, and garlic. Stir and cook until the onions are soft and beginning to brown at the edges, about 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Add the sugar, vinegar, water, chicken broth, thyme, salt, and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and continue simmering until most of the liquid is reduced and the mixture is the consistency of jam, about 5 to 10 more minutes. Remove from the heat, let cool slightly, and serve.

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stuffed mushrooms with sun-dried tomatoes

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I’ve started my annual football season tradition of planning to eat snacks on Sundays instead of a full dinner, which will invariably last two weeks before I forget all about it and go back to planning a meal and then whining that “I don’t feel like cooking, I just wanna relax!” My life is so hard.

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But it can be tricky to come up with snacks that are really good but not so filling that I can’t graze on them for a while. (Translation: I’d like to be eating cheese and bread and sausage and mayonnaise-based dips and chips and cookies and, you know, tasty delicious things like that. But I also want my pants to fit.)

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Stuffed mushrooms are a good example of something that seems like it should be fairly healthy, but on closer inspection, is often full of cheese, and not just any cheese, but that most-delicious and fattening of examples – cream cheese.

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Fortunately, this recipe keeps it light by skipping the cheese, flavoring the filling with just shallots, parsley, and sun-dried tomatoes, with bread crumbs used for bulk and just a sprinkle of parmesan grated on top for an accent.

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Even though it was just Dave and I watching football together on a Sunday afternoon, and we had a few other snacks, I made the full recipe. But it turns out these stuffed mushrooms aren’t the type of snack that you graze on throughout an afternoon, because they were so darn good that we snarfed them up immediately. And since they’re not very filling, you can eat a bunch of them and still have plenty of room for some hummus!

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One year ago: Roasted Carrots

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Mushrooms Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
(adapted from Gourmet via Smitten Kitchen)

The only minor change I’ll make to this recipe, to bring it from really damn good to perfect, is to sprinkle the inside of the mushrooms with a bit of salt before roasting them the first time. Not so much to eliminate more liquid, but just to season them. (Even Dave agreed with this, and he isn’t as salt-crazy as I am.)

Makes 18

½ ounce sun-dried tomatoes (about 5)
2 tablespoons olive oil
18 white mushrooms, caps reserved, stems pulled out and chopped fine
½ cup finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup fine dry bread crumbs
1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
¼ cup fresh parsley leaves, washed well, spun dry, and minced
½ teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. If your tomatoes are packed in oil, rinse them before chopping them finely. If they’re not packed in oil, soak them in a small bowl in hot water to cover for 5 minutes. Reserving 1 tablespoon soaking liquid, drain tomatoes well and chop fine.

3. Lay mushroom caps, stems removed, face down on baking sheet either lightly sprayed with cooking spray or lined with parchment paper. Bake them approximately 10 minutes, or until their liquid puddles underneath. Remove from the oven. Carefully pour off liquid that has gathered in the bottom of the pan, and then again, carefully, turn mushroom caps over so they are ready to be filled.

4. In a small skillet heat oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook chopped mushrooms stems, shallots and garlic, stirring until shallots are softened. In a bowl stir together mushrooms mixture, bread crumbs, tomatoes, reserved soaking liquid, yolk, parsley, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Mound stuffing in reserved mushroom caps and arrange caps in a lightly greased shallow baking dish, or the same parchment-lined pan you’ve roasted your mushrooms in. Sprinkle mushrooms with Parmesan and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes.

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goat cheese, pesto, and sun-dried tomato terrine

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Dave is, it should come as no surprise to me by now, quite a good match for me. I used to wish that he was as excited about food as I was. I’d ask him for meal ideas, I’d demand feedback after trying a new recipe, and I wished he’d cook with me. Invariably, his replies were, respectively, “salmon pesto pasta”, “good”, and “sure, someday.”

Which, actually – is fine by me. Do I really need someone picking apart each dish I make? Or adding even more ideas to an already overstuffed recipes-to-try folder? Or taking up valuable cooking opportunities?

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No, his uncritical, always-appreciative, open-minded attitude toward food is perfect. And when he does get excited by a dish, I know to take note, like when he came home from a work party raving about a goat cheese pesto spread someone had brought.

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What you do is line a bowl with plastic wrap, then spread some softened goat cheese in the bottom. You’re supposed to make the goat cheese spreadable by adding cream, but I used milk and it worked just fine. Over the first layer of goat cheese, you add some pesto, then more goat cheese, then minced sun-dried tomatoes and chopped toasted pine nuts, then more goat cheese. After chilling for a few hours, it inverts nicely, and you pull the plastic wrap off to reveal nice layers.

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Wow, what a great combination of ingredients. The sweetness of the sun-dried tomatoes balances the tart goat cheese, and pesto is always delicious.  I served it with a whole wheat baguette, and we ate, um, a lot of it. It was completely irresistible.

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One year ago: Lavash Crackers and Pesto Goat Cheese Spread (Hi! I like pesto! And goat cheese!)

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Goat Cheese, Pesto, and Sun-Dried Tomato Terrine
(from Fine Cooking)

Dave did tell me, too late, that his coworker had advised that one of the tricks to making the terrine look neat was to not overfill the intervening layers. That would have been nice to know before I spooned in a bunch of extra pesto.

My personal preference would have been for one more tomato. Dave didn’t agree.

10 ounces goat cheese
¼ to ½ cup heavy cream
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons basil pesto (homemade or store-bought)
5 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and finely chopped
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling

1. Line the inside of a 2-cup sharply sloping bowl (about 4 inches across the top) with plastic; let the ends extend over the sides a few inches. In a mixing bowl, mash the goat cheese and ¼ cup of the cream with a fork and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper; add more cream if the cheese hasn’t softened.

2. Spoon about one-third of the cheese into the lined bowl and pack it into an even layer. Spread the pesto almost completely to the sides of the first layer of cheese. Top with another third of the cheese, the sun-dried tomatoes, and all but ½ tablespoon of the pine nuts. Top with the remaining cheese. Pack down, fold the plastic over, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

3. Half an hour before serving, take the bowl out of the refrigerator. Pull on the edges of the plastic to loosen the terrine from the bowl. Invert the terrine onto a plate, drizzle with a little olive oil, and let sit for ½ hour to warm up. Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts, season liberally with pepper, and serve.

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puff pastry dough

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Remember when I made these? I was like, they’re so easy! Just cut out some puff pastry rounds, top with fruit and sugar, and bake until beautiful and buttery and perfect!

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Um. “Easy” isn’t really my thing when it comes to baking. I am determined to overcomplicate things.

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So I made my own puff pastry dough. I have tried the Pepperidge Farm stuff, years ago, and I don’t remember being particularly impressed. Plus, bleah, hydrogenated fat. I didn’t know where I could buy all-butter puff pastry dough and figured it would be easier to make my own than search for it.

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As it turns out, puff pastry isn’t all that hard to make. The first steps are similar to pie dough. You mix flour, salt, and sugar, then cut in butter. Then, because pie dough isn’t fattening enough on its own, you work a square of butter into the dough.

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The directions for this are a bit tricky, and I think I would have had difficulty without a series of photos to follow. What you do is roll out the dough into a square that’s about twice the size of your square of butter. You place the butter square in the middle of the dough square, with the corners of the butter in the middle of the sides of the dough. (Uh…did you get that?)

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Then take the butter off and roll just the corners of the dough where the butter didn’t overlap. (Uh…did you get that?) You’re creating four flaps from the corners, but the middle, where the butter was, stays thicker. Once you’ve rolled out the flaps, put the butter back in the center of the dough and fold the flaps over. Now you have a nice little packet.

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Roll the whole thing out, then fold it into thirds like a piece of paper going into an envelope. Then do that again. And again. And again and again and again. You’ll want to chill it in between there occasionally, and it sounds like a lot of rolling and folding, but the dough is really easy to work with, and each roll-and-fold takes maybe one minute. (I’ve been making a lot of croissants lately, which also involves rolling-and-folding, but croissant dough is much more difficult to work with due to its elasticity.)

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And then, you’re done. Then it’s just like having the store-bought stuff, except buttery-er. You can make whatever recipe you want, whether it be fruit tarts, pot pie, turnovers, cheese straws…etc… It’s versatile, it’s delicious, and it isn’t as hard as you think.

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One year ago: Chocolate Pudding

Puff Pastry (from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook)

Makes about 3 pounds

I accidentally added all of the flour into the dough and then didn’t add any flour to the butter package. Everything still went smoothly.

3 cups (14 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (5 ounces) cake flour (not self-rising)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, plus 1 stick (½ cup), cold, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice

1. In a large bowl, combine 2¾ cups (12.85 ounces) all-purpose flour with the cake flour, salt, and sugar. With a pastry blender, cut in the butter pieces (1 stick) until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with a few larger clumps remaining. Make a well in the center, and pour in 1 cup cold water and the vinegar, gradually drawing the flour mixture over the water, gathering and combining until mixture comes together to form a dough. If the dough is too dry, add more cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Knead gently in the bowl, and form dough into a rough ball. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 40 minutes or up to 2 hours.

2. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour on a sheet of parchment. Lay remaining 4 sticks of butter on top, side by side; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Top with more parchment; pound butter with a rolling pin until it’s about ½ inch thick. Remove top paper, fold butter in half, replace paper; pound butter until it’s about ½ inch thick. Repeat two or three more times until it is pliable. Using a bench scraper, shape butter into a 6-inch square; wrap in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled, about 10 minutes.

3. Lightly dust work surface with flour. Roll out dough to a 9-inch round; place butter package in center. Using a paring knife or bench scraper, lightly score dough to outline butter square. Remove butter; set aside. Starting from each side of marked square, gently roll out dough to form flour flaps, each 4 to 5 inches long; do not touch square. Return butter to center square; fold flaps over butter. Press with your hands to seal.

4. With the rolling pin, gently pound the dough all over in regular intervals until it is about 1 inch thick; this will soften the dough, making it easer to roll. Working in only one directly (lengthwise), gently roll out the dough to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, squaring corners with the side of the rolling pin or your hands as you go. Using a dry pastry brush, sweep off excess flour. With a short side facing you, fold the rectangle in thirds like a business letter. Turn the dough a quarter-turn clockwise, so the flap faces right, like a book. (This completes the first turn.) Roll out the dough again to a 20-by-9-inch rectangle, rolling in the same lengthwise direction; fold dough again into thirds. (This completes the second turn.) Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate until well chilled, about 1 hour.

5. Repeat the rolling, turning, and chilling process for a total of six turns; always start each turn with the opening of the dough to the right. (If at any time, the dough becomes too soft to work with, return it to the refrigerator until firm.) Wrap dough in plastic; refrigerate 3 to 4 hours before using the dough.

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honey yogurt dip

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Dave and I, for better or worse, don’t have the types of jobs that we can just forget about when we leave work at the end of the day. As a result, we often have to work on weekends. One particularly stressful weekend, I decided that we should make weekend working an event, where we set aside a few hours to sit down at the table together and get our work done. And what I really mean when I say ‘event’ is that I want snacks.

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Since we were being industrious and working, it made sense to keep the snacks on the healthy side. Plus they were replacing dinner, so they needed to be nutritionally well-rounded. This fruit dip was exactly what I was looking for – easy, healthy(ish), and finger-food friendly.

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Calling this a recipe may be overstating things a bit – it’s really just yogurt sweetened with honey and enhanced with a pinch of cinnamon. The original recipe recommended vanilla yogurt, but a number of the reviewers indicated that the result was too sweet. Another common complaint was that the dip was too thin. I thought using Greek yogurt would solve both problems at once.

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It was a good change apparently, because the dip was perfect – fresh and light, plus just a little spicy from the cinnamon. It enhanced our fruit without overpowering it. Unfortunately, the dip was a lot more successful than working was for me that weekend – I found myself all too easily distracted. But at least I was eating fruit, right?

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One year ago: Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Yogurt Honey Dip (adapted from Bon Apetit July 1998, but really epicurious.com)

Makes about 1 cup, or 4 servings

I have to admit that I didn’t measure anything when I made this. It’s pretty much a to-taste thing anyway, just keep in mind that the flavor of the cinnamon didn’t really come through until the dip had been chilled for a few hours.

1 (7-ounce) container plain Greek yogurt
3-4 tablespoons honey
1/8-¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix the ingredients together. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 2 days. Serve with fresh fruit.

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herbed lima bean hummus

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I don’t blame Tuesdays with Dorie for my pants being too tight to button by the end of 2008.  I blame unemployment.   Instead of grabbing my standard healthy snacks and eating them at work because they were the only food available, I would pass over the bananas and carrots at home and fill up on cookie dough instead.

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So one of my goals for 2009, since I’m still working at home a few days per week, is to make those healthy snacks more enticing. For bananas, it’s as simple as eating them with peanut butter or Nutella. The carrots, or whatever other raw vegetable I end up eating, cry out for some sort of dip. But anything based on mayonnaise and/or sour cream just defeats the purpose.

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Fortunately, there’s plenty of bean dips out there to explore. This one, which isn’t like traditional hummus at all, is based on lima beans, a bean that I don’t have much experience with. The cooked lima beans are pureed along with aromatics, herbs and seasonings.

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The original recipe called for the onion and garlic to be boiled along with the beans, but who wants boiled onion? Yuck. I took many of the recipe reviewers’ recommendations to sauté the onions and garlic instead. The recipe also calls for mint and dill, but I didn’t have any and didn’t miss it. Finally, I reduced the olive oil just a bit, since the whole point here is to make a healthy snack.

The resulting dip is a pretty green color with a very nice, sort of sweet, flavor. It made my daily carrot, which I guarantee wouldn’t have gotten eaten otherwise, much more enjoyable, but no less healthy.

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One year ago:  Moo shu

Herbed Lima Bean Hummus (adapted substantially from Gourmet, via epicurious)

Makes about 2 cups

1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving, if desired
½ large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, smashed with side of a large knife
½ teaspoon salt
1 (10-oz) packages frozen baby lima beans
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ teaspoon ground cumin
⅛ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil in medium skillet. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they’re just starting to brown around the edges. Add the garlic and salt, stir, then remove from the heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring lima beans and 1 cup water to a boil over high heat. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until tender. Drain.

3. Add onion mixture, beans, and all remaining ingredients to a food processor and process until smooth. Add more oil if the dip seems too thick.

4. Transfer dip to a serving bowl and drizzle with remaining tablespoon oil, if desired. Serve with crudité or toasted pita wedges. (Dip can be covered and stored in refrigerator for up to 3 days.)

asian peanut dip

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I keep my eye out for vegetables dips that aren’t ridiculously unhealthy. The thing is, when I serve some sort of meat that’s finger food, I don’t like to serve a vegetable that requires silverware. The perfect accompaniment is crudité (snobby way of saying vegetables eaten as a snack) with a dip, but most dips are nothing more than seasoned mayonnaise and sour cream. Not that I don’t love mayonnaise and sour cream, but I don’t always want to think of the dip as a treat.

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I’ve found one vegetable dip that’s a little healthier, and now I have another one. When struggling to figure out what to serve with the shrimp tempura recipe I was testing for Cooks Illustrated, I remembered that my friend had recently made this great spicy peanut dip on a camping trip. She got the recipe from Backpacker magazine, but when I searched on the internet, I saw that there were many similar recipes, most just as easy as the one we had the on the trip. There were slight variations between each, and I decided to stick with the Backpacker magazine one because it uses rice vinegar instead of lime juice for its acidity, which I’d really enjoyed.

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(Clearly at the time I didn’t realize I’d blog about this at some point, or I would have taken a more flattering/interesting photo.)

The recipe, designed as it is to be made outdoors on a single-burner backpacking stove, is simple. I’ve tweaked the instructions just slightly, to bring the most flavor out of the red pepper and to tame the bite of the garlic. I also increased the seasoning and decreased the amount of red pepper flakes. It seemed far spicier when I made it at home than it did on the trip, maybe because I heated the flakes in oil first. And of course we didn’t add the scallions when we were camping – who brings scallions on a multi-day canoeing trip?

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Usually, we adapt our favorite meals to be appropriate outdoors. I think this is the first time I’ve adapted a backpacking recipe for home, but this is a great recipe to have. I know peanut butter isn’t exactly a low-fat ingredient, but it’s a heck of a lot healthier than mayonnaise or sour cream, and this dip is just as good as more decadent vegetable dips.

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Asian Peanut Dip (adapted from Backpacker Magazine)

Serves 4

1 teaspoon canola or vegetable oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup water
½ cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 scallion, sliced
salt to taste

In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add water, increase heat to high, and bring to boil. When water boils, remove pan from heat and add peanut butter, stirring until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients (saving some scallion slices for garnish, if desired). Return to heat and continue stirring for 2-4 minutes until mixture is thickened. Serve warm or cold with crackers or crudité.