Dearest Readers – After a short sabbatical where my life was a whirlwind of activity, I am back behind the keyboard and ready to entertain you with tales of my (apparently) wicked multitasking skills. Please, hold your applause. 😉
First, I’ll give you a little taste of the last month or so, which might help you understand why I have barely had time to spend in the kitchen lately. Just a week after Andy returned from his 16-day tour of Turkey (which we will all get to taste soon as he brought back some killer spices) we decided to head down to North Carolina for a quick visit with my parents and a mini-vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The family time was wonderful and we all lent a hand to help can dad’s homegrown tomatoes (I can’t help but want to sing this song by Guy Clark every time I say that!).
More jars of salsa and red tomato jam joined my growing collection of things I have “put up” for use when the fruits of summer of scarce. The jam made from red tomatoes was much richer than with the yellow tomatoes and probably best suited as a sauce for various meats. We tried it on mom’s pot roast and it was quite yummy. I used the same proportions as in my golden tomato jam recipe, but quadrupled. For those of you interested in trying it as summer comes to a close, be prepared to spend quite a long time reducing the mixture when using large tomatoes as they have more liquid in them than tiny cherry tomatoes. The upside is that it didn’t seem to stick as long as I kept it on a very low temperature. Just an occasional stirring worked like a charm.
Upon my return from a refreshing vacation, where the mountain air was cool and clean, I had planned to have a whole weekend to shop and prepare for my darling friend Elizabeth’s upcoming bridal shower and bachelorette party, but I was waylaid by an unplanned trip down to Virginia Beach to spend some time with my oldest friend, Dustin, who is getting ready for his second deployment in Afghanistan. I wouldn’t have traded the time for anything in the world, but I might have uttered a curse word or two on the drive down evil I-95 where I spent three hours to move only 80 miles. At least there was plenty of cold beer and a delicious barbeque prepared by his roommate Erin when I arrived! His boss also brought some amazing fresh produce to share – including the biggest zucchinis that I have ever seen in my life. They were twice as big as my head (no exaggeration) and I want to kick myself for not taking pictures of them. Alas, you’ll just have to use your imagination! I am going to give some serious thought to what I would do with a zucchini that size should I ever come across one again. Suggestions welcome.
And I think that brings us back to the last week of my life, which was spent preparing food for a bridal shower in honor of my wonderful friend Elizabeth, for whom I am privileged to serve as a bridesmaid. As the only local maid (the others residing in Miami, New York, and Cincinnati respectively) I took on the shopping and cooking so that we’d all be able to kick back and have some fun when everyone arrived. I probably could have picked up some party trays and called it a day, but I think that by now we all know that is just not my style! It was a labor of love and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. Here’s a glimpse of the menu:
Chicken Marbella – A variation on the classic from the Silver Palate Cookbook made with cubed chicken breast instead of bone-in chicken. It’s a fantastic party or shower dish that’s easily prepared ahead of time and tastes great when served at room temperature.
Simple Salad with Cucumbers, Radishes, and Heirloom Tomatoes – This one was easy and Trader Joe’s box of heirloom cherry tomatoes made a colorful dish. I served it with a quick red wine vinaigrette. Mix olive oil and red wine vinegar in a 3:1 ratio, then add a dollop of Dijon mustard, a drizzle of agave nectar or honey, and salt and pepper. Voila!
Tomato Bruschetta – A little mozzarella on sliced baguette topped with fresh tomatoes and a drizzle of my fresh basil vinaigrette made this one a snap.
Carrots with Hummus and Tzatziki – So, I bought the hummus at the store (naughty me!), but I did make the tzatziki. Take one container of Greek yogurt and combine it with 2-3 mashed garlic cloves (use salt and the side of your knife to make a paste), juice of 2 lemons, and a handful of chopped fresh dill. Let sit overnight for flavors to blend.
Spinach Artichoke Dip – After much searching for a decent homemade spin dip that did not involve cream cheese, I found this one which does not require time under the broiler and, in my opinion, is far superior to others I’ve used. Recipe below.
Lemon Cupcakes with Whipped Cream Frosting – The whipped cream frosting on these cupcakes is much lighter than traditional buttercream and the lemon curd filling (also courtesy of Trader Joe’s) is a gooey surprise. The batter was borrowed from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, but the rest was my way of dressing up a typical cupcake (and avoiding spending beaucoup bucks on a dozen designer cupcakes that DC seems to be crazed about). Recipe in upcoming post.
Pimm’s Cup Proseco Punch – After some debate about what kind of punch we would serve, I came up with this little concoction, loosely based on the traditional Pimm’s Cup, which received plenty of media attention during the London Olympics. No wonder I had a taste for it! Recipe forthcoming as well.
With that, I’ll leave y’all with the recipe for the Spinach Artichoke dip and let you drool waiting for the cupcake recipe!
Spinach Artichoke Dip
1 onion, diced
2-3 tbsp butter
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp flour
1 pint half and half
1 cup chicken broth or stock
1 package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and completely drained
1 can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
1-2 cups mixed cheeses, shredded
Salt and pepper
In a medium sauce pan melt butter and olive oil, then add onions, season lightly, and sauté until softened and translucent (about 5 minutes). Add flour and stir to make a roux, cooking for 2-3 minutes and stirring to make sure the mixture doesn’t brown too much.
Whisk in the half and half and stir, letting the mixture heat up and thicken slightly. Season fairly liberally with salt and pepper, then add cayenne and nutmeg to taste. If the mixture gets too thick you can thin it with up to 1 cup of chicken broth (or vegetable stick). Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, then add spinach and artichokes and bring back up to temperature. When the mixture is bubbling, turn off the heat and stir in the cheese until melted and thoroughly incorporated. Add a dash (or three) of hot sauce to kick it up a notch, then serve with pita or tortilla chips.
Note: This recipe reheats best on the stove, but is really stinking good heated up in the microwave at 3 am when you come home from the bars after a long night of dancing!