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.
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.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.