And somehow, in the blink of an eye, it’s the week before Christmas and we’re racing around trying to fill cookie tins, pick up a few last minute gifts, make plans for our upcoming Bay Area visit (Oliver’s first time to San Francisco!), string popcorn garland, and see as many friends as possible. While I tried to avoid it this year, the hustle and bustle is upon us and it looks like we’re kind of succumbing to it — everywhere, that is, except the kitchen: we’re hosting Christmas dinner this weekend, and I’ve been really determined to keep things festive yet low key, special yet simple. So today I bring you one of my favorite appetizers of all time, lightened up a bit, made with a very doable ingredient list and tackled in under an hour. Oliver and Sam eat it by the spoonful and sneak bites of leftovers for breakfast. It’s that good.
Generally, spinach artichoke dip is made with frozen spinach and lots and lots of mayonnaise. Don’t get me wrong: it’s crazy delicious, but a few months ago I started to work on a recipe using fresh spinach instead and lightening it up with plain cottage cheese, a bit of lemon zest, and a generous handful of feta and Parmesan. For this recipe, I use Muuna cottage cheese which I love because it’s super thick and low in sugar and high in protein (the plain has 4g sugar and 19g protein!). While it comes in a few different sizes (single and multi-serve containers) and six different flavors, we really like the plain best — to eat on its own and I’ve also been experimenting with it in recipes (my go-to is usually Greek yogurt, but we’ve burned out on it at the moment, so it’s been really nice mixing it up).
I made this dip a few times, each time adding more cottage cheese and less mayonnaise until I felt like the consistency and flavor were right where I wanted them. Sometimes spinach dip can feel really heavy, but this one has some brightness thanks to the lemon zest, lots of color from the fresh spinach, and a dressiness thanks to the feta and Parmesan.
If you’re celebrating this weekend, I truly hope that you all have a wonderful holiday. Regardless of how grand or simple, hopefully you’re spending it with friends or family that make you happy. We’ll be over here trying to keep Oliver from knocking down the tree, eating gingerbread men and leftover spinach dip for breakfast, and hoping for a Christmas miracle of sleeping past 5:30 a.m.
A flavor-packed fresh spinach dip with a generous handful of feta and Parmesan, this appetizer is best served warm with pita chips or crackers. When you’re prepping your ingredients, I realize upon first glance it seems like a lot of spinach here, but trust that it all cooks down quickly. And like many good things in life, I find this dip is even better the second day, so it’s a great one to make in advance.
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Rub a little olive oil on the inside of a 2-quart baking dish.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for about 2 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Add the garlic and spinach and continue cooking until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, scoop the spinach mixture into a medium bowl (I press down a bit with my hands or the back of a spoon to remove any excess moisture). Add the artichoke hearts, cottage cheese, mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper.
Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish, and spread the top so it’s nice and even. Sprinkle feta cheese and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan on top. Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the dip is bubbling around the edges and the top is golden brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving (it’ll set / firm up a bit during this time). Serve hot with pita chips or crackers. Leftover dip will keep, covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.