30 April 2008

Adventures in Spinach Dip

This weekend I was reminded of the cook's most invaluable tool: flexibility. It's very hard to be OCD and enjoy cooking; there are just too many variables beyond your control. If you're a novice cook and intimidated by forays into the kitchen, figuring that you're going to mess something up or do it wrong somehow, let me just say now that 1. it happens to the best of us sometimes, and 2. really, no cooking mistake is so serious that you can't just throw it in the trash and order some pizza. Oh, and also, cooking misadventures can make for highly entertaining experiences - as long as you can keep your sense of humor about you.

For example, this weekend I flew to DC to throw my dear friend a baby shower. We decided to make several easy recipes, including the spinach-artichoke dip mentioned in the previous post. I chose to include the dip because it requires so little thought and effort; you can make it in about 30 minutes or less.

Assuming you have a working food processor, that is.

Can you see the writing on the wall? First I made a couple other dishes, saving the spinach dip for last because - say it with me - it was so easy. And quick, did I mention quick? Yah. So I prep all the ingredients, throw them into my friend's combo blender/food processor, and hit the button. ...Not much happens. A lot of noise, but not a lot of results. I decide there must be too many ingredients in there, and dump half of it into a bowl. I hit puree again. ...Not much happens. Then I experiment with every button the processor possesses. Still not much. So I dump the rest of the ingredients out, including - at the very, very bottom - a puree that looks a lot like baby food, and look at the machine.

'Those look a lot like blender blades,' I think to myself. I ask my friend if there are other blades that come with this thing, and she replies that she did indeed notice other parts in the box. At this point, she also says they received this thing as a wedding gift and have used it all of twice, but it worked fine those times. We retrieve the other parts, which turns out to be the food processor bowl and blades, all of which still have the original packaging on them. Now I'm figuring we have resolved the problem. I remove the packaging, wash off the stuff and attach it to the base. I dump half the ingredients into the processor. I hit the button. ...Not much happens. Still making a lot of noise, but to no avail.

I'll spare you the rest of the painful details, but eventually, we figure out that the food processor blades aren't even turning, reattach the blender, puree it in small batches as best we can, and finally take a hand-held electric beater to it in a final attempt to achieve dip. Finally, a scant TWO HOURS after beginning this recipe, I say while laughing not-quite-hysterically, "It's just going to be a chunky dip," and carry it to the table. I was gratified to see that despite the chunkiness, it was very well received.

So remember, when you're beset on all sides by uncooperative kitchen equipment, just keep your chin up and keep laughing!

25 April 2008

Artichoke hearts make everything better.

Seriously. The other day I was going through the index of a cookbook I like pretty well, and discovered that there were no entries under artichokes. Now that just ain't right. I officially think less of that cookbook.

But anyway. Wanted to post two yummy recipes for easy potluck/cookout salads that involve artichoke hearts. One's a spinach dip sure to delight all you vegans and fellow lactose-intolerants out there; it uses pureed beans as creamy goodness instead of cheese or sour cream. The other is pretty much your classic three-bean salad, which I looked at and decided it needed artichoke hearts to really make people happy. Or at least to make ME happy.

The spinach artichoke heart dip comes from the great vegetarian cookbook, "Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites". The three-bean salad one I just kinda made up after reading a few different online recipes & deciding what I wanted; I made it with red wine vinegar, whereas they're often made with cider vinegar, and it was pretty darn tasty.

Spinach Artichoke Heart Dip

5 oz fresh organic spinach, rinsed & stemmed
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
1 1/2 c cooked cannellini beans (or butter beans) (this equals one 15-oz can, drained and rinsed)
1 c chopped scallions
2 T chopped fresh basil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste (or seriously, just use reaLemon if you're in a hurry)
5-6 artichoke hearts or bottoms, minced (15-oz can)
salt and ground black pepper to taste

Using only the water that's on the leaves after rinsing, steam the spinach just until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Drain.
In a food processor, puree the spinach, garlic, beans, scallions, basil and 2T of lemon juice until very smooth. Fold in the minced artichoke hearts; add more lemon juice, and the salt and pepper to taste.
Serve chilled or at room temp.

Ann's Super-Easy Deluxe Three-Bean Salad

15 oz can organic kidney beans, rinsed & drained
15 oz can organic green beans, rinsed & drained
15 oz can organic garbanzo beans, rinsed & drained
15 oz can artichoke hearts, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, minced
1/3 c cider or red wine vinegar
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c sugar
2 T oregano
salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste

Combine beans, artichoke hearts and onion in a large bowl. In a small separate bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, sugar, and oregano. Drizzle over the beans, add salt and pepper to taste, toss gently and taste again, adding more salt & pepper if needed. Recommended to let chill several hours before serving, so the salad can marinate.

18 April 2008

Potato Salad

Summertime's a-comin... time for some cook-outs! My mom just sent me a potato salad recipe that looks absolutely delish. I haven't even tried it yet, but it looks so tasty that I wanted to share it. I love potato salad... of course, almost anything involving potatoes is a pretty easy sell for me. Mom got this from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. Why it's patriotic, I'm not totally sure... but we don't question good food.

Patriotic Potato Salad

14 small new red potatoes, scrubbed clean
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and halved
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
2 medium scallions, sliced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup mayonniase

Heat a medium-sized saucepan of water to boiling. Add the potatoes and cook just until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, cool, and cut in half (or quarters). Combine the eggs, potatoes, carrot, and scallions in a large bowl. Add the dill, parsley, caraway, salt & pepper, and gently toss to combine. Mix the sour cream and mayo; gently fold into the potato mixture.
Refrigerate for several hours before serving, to allow flavors to blend.

Serves 8