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.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.