Make-Your-Own Spinach Dip

Spinach dip is my answer to getting vegetable haters to eat their veggies in a nonsneaky, totally unmanipulative way. It’s dip, for crying out loud! Who doesn’t like dip? Not only is it loaded with vegetables, but it’s perfect for serving with cut vegetables, which is win-win. You can also use it as a condiment on sandwiches and burgers. And ~ toddler moms, hear this ~ it’s also a super dip for chicken fingers.

Of course you can buy spinach dip mixes, but they’re packed with those wacky, complicated chemicals that mystical creatures make in underground laboratories. If you hie yourself over to the spice aisle in the grocery store, you can make an initial investment in a few bottles of dried herbs and spices, spend an hour portioning out some dip packets, and have MYO dip mix for a year or more. Or less, if you get asked constantly to bring your “Famous Insanely Delicious Spinach Dip” to every gathering you attend. If you are very hardcore and grow and dry your own herbs, this is a perfect way to use them. And please invite me over for lunch sometime.

BTW, I like to buy little 2×3-inch plastic bags at the craft store for this purpose. Just slap a label on the outside and you’re good to go.

[Disclaimer: I know, I know. Here on Eat Real I usually have nothing good to say about dried herbs. This would obviously be an exception. While you can use fresh herbs in this recipe (remember the ratio is 3:1 fresh to dry), you can’t make a year’s worth of dip mixes in an hour using fresh herbs! And it’s not a nutritional sacrifice. So I’m completely, 100% on board with dried herbs here. Even parsley. And you know how I feel about dried parsley.]

MYO Spinach Dip*

  • 1 tablespoon dried vegetable flakes 
  • 1 tablespoon dried chives 
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried parsley 
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil 
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried dill 
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder 
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • 2 cups sour cream or 1 cup sour cream and 1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt**
  • 4 cups fresh spinach, chopped
  1. Combine all ingredients except for spinach and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow vegetables and herbs to rehydrate and flavors to blend. 
  2. While the dip base is chilling, spray a nonstick skillet with pan spray or oil lightly with olive oil and heat over medium heat. Cook spinach, stirring frequently, until wilted and soft. If the spinach begins to stick to the pan, add a little water, a teaspoon at a time. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  3. When the spinach is cool, stir into the dip base. Serve with chips, toasted pita wedges, or cut veggies.

*This is dedicated to my sister, Ande, Queen of All Spinach Dip.
**Bonus nutritional points for using yogurt.

Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies are the nice girls of the cookie jar. They’re wholesome, earthy, sweet ~ the cookie version of the girl you can take home to not just Mom, but Grandma too.

This version is the equally lovable, slightly sassier ~ but not quite naughtier ~ cookie-girl version. She’s the one who will have a nose ring, a cupcake tattooed on her butt, and enough charm to wrangle your Grandma’s lime whip salad recipe out of her at the church potluck.

Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies with Orange and Spice

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  1. Cream together butter, sugars, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest until smooth and light.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, salt, and allspice. Add to the butter mixture and beat just until combined. Stir in oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips. Chill dough 1 hour or overnight.
  3.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
  4. Drop cookies by tablespoon or cookie scoop onto prepared sheets. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges are just golden. Let cool 2 minutes on pan; remove to racks to cool completely. Store at room temperature for 1 week in air-tight container or freeze for longer storage.

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Eggnog Cookies with Whipped Eggnog Buttercream

You do it every year. You buy eggnog because it’s Christmas and everyone wants a glass of eggnog to wash down their after-dinner slice of fruitcake. Or so they say. But then you have six quarts of eggnog and no one has room for liquid dessert. You and I both know December 26 is going to find us with pretty much the same amount of eggnog we started out with. Every year.

But that’s okay. In fact that’s actually terrific. Why?

These cookies. Enough said.

Next year, make these for your cookie plate and you won’t even have to wash those fancy little eggnog glasses. Eggnog in liquid form will be irrelevant. But you might want to pick up some extra anyway, in case you feel like pancakes, because you can’t really eat cookies for breakfast. Not every day, anyway.

Eggnog Cookies with Whipped Eggnog Buttercream

    Yields: about 3 dozen cookies

    • 21/4 cups all-purpose flour
    • 2 teaspoons baking powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 6 ounces butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
    • 2 large egg yolks
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup eggnog

    Whipped Eggnog Frosting:

    • 4 ounces butter, softened
    • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
    • 1/4 cup eggnog
    • Freshly grated nutmeg, optional
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment and set aside.
    2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside.
    3. Cream butter and sugars until light and smooth. Add egg yolks one at a time, mixing until just combined. Add vanilla extract and eggnog; scrape down bowl and beat on medium speed until integrated.
    4. Turn mixer to low and add dry ingredients. Beat just till combined.
    5. Chill dough for 1 hour. Use a cookie scoop or two teaspoons to drop dough 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, until bottoms are golden brown. Let cool on pan for 2 minutes, then move to rack and cool completely.
    6. For Eggnog Frosting: Cream butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add confectioners’ sugar, beating at medium speed. Add eggnog a tablespoon at a time. Stop mixer and scrape down bowl. Start mixer and increase speed to high. Whip until frosting is light and fluffy. 
    7. Spread frosting on cooled cookies; dust with freshly grated nutmeg if desired. Store at room temperature in a covered container.

    Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chunk Crumb Cake

    This is not a tea cake. This is a deep, dense, baby-gimme-somma-dat coffee cake. It’s dense. And deep. I emphasize this, because I don’t want complaints about how heavy this is. It’s not HEAVY. It’s moist, delicious, flavorful, and dense. And unlike in men and souffles, in this cake, that’s a great quality.

    But why so dense? Well, first of all, the streusel. It’s in the middle, it’s on top. And no one has ever accused a good streusel of being delicate. So it’s not.

    Second, there’s a lot going on here: peanut butter (dense), bananas (dense), chocolate (dense), and sour cream (dense). Think about it.

    Third, I use a deep pan. A real deep pan. Why? Because I didn’t have a shallow pan on hand when I was originally developing this recipe, and my chief taster liked it pretty well just this way. And I agreed. So I stuck with it. If you like your crumb cake a little more ladylike, use an 11×7-inch baking dish. I won’t judge you. It takes a while to work up to this much badonkadonk.

    A couple of words on the actual cake . . .

    Regarding streuseling: Don’t just sprinkle. Get in there like you mean it. Grab yourself a handful of streusel, make a nice clump, and break it up ~ a little ~ then drop that onto your batter. That’s what’ll give you those gorgeous take-me-home-to-mama chubs of streusel on your cake.

    Regarding flours: I used Hodgson Mill white whole wheat flour for this (and all of my other recipes requiring whole wheat flour). I originally developed this recipe for a contest on their site via my dearly departed baking blog (which is a sad/angry/frustrating story for another day). So I would like to give a shoutout to HM for their consistently good products. I’m a big fan of their white whole wheat and their whole wheat pastry flour, specifically.

    And that’s it. Go make it. Give yourself plenty of time; it’s a big prima donna and it’s going to take a while to bake. I’m not exaggerating. If you use the deep pan like I’m telling you to, plan on sticking around for at least an hour and a half. But all feedback so far suggests it’s worth it.

    Peanut Butter Banana Chocolate Chunk Crumb Cake

    • 4 ounces (1 stick) butter, softened
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/4 cup peanut butter
    • 2 large eggs
    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 very ripe bananas, mashed
    • 1/2 cup sour cream
    • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

    For Streusel:

    • 1 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
    • 1/2 cup peanut butter
    • 3 ounces butter, softened
    1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×9-inch glass baking dish with nonstick pan spray and set aside. 
    2. Make Streusel: In a bowl, combine brown sugar,  flours, peanut butter, and butter. Mix with a pastry blender or fingertips until butter and peanut butter are fully integrated.Set aside.
    3. Cream butter and sugar until light and smooth; add peanut butter and cream until fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating to incorporate; add vanilla and scrape down the bowl.
    4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda, and salt. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture, beating until just combined. Add bananas and sour cream and mix until combined. Stir in chocolate chips.
    5. Pour half the batter into prepared pan. Top with half the streusel. Add remaining batter. Don’t worry if the streusel layer isn’t covered ~ things will work themselves out. Top with remaining streusel.
    6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour, then check. If browning fast, cover loosely with a sheet of foil and return to oven. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, check, repeat until a toothpick inserted in the center of the crumb cake comes out clean. 
    7. Let cool on a rack and dust with powdered sugar if you’d like. 

    Bruleed Grapefruit Segments

    Grapefruit was called the “forbidden fruit” long before it was known to be one. Sometime circa 1750, it was described in the Natural History of Barbados and monikered thusly, though it’s kind of a mystery as to why. Now this well-loved citrus is forbidden for many because we know that grapefruit and its juice doesn’t play well with some 85 different prescription medications. (Seriously, check the list before you indulge . . . some heart meds and birth control are on it. Yikes.)

    But if you are lucky enough to enjoy grapefruit without fear, I give you this lovely little dish. It’s elegant enough to be served as a light dessert or brunch course. You can use ruby red or pink grapefruit, but I prefer to use white grapefruit because it provides just the right level of tartness to offset the sweetness of the caramelized sugar topping.

    If you don’t have a kitchen torch, prepare these in oven-safe ramekins and run them under the broiler for a few minutes until the sugar is just bubbling and golden-brown.

    Brûléed Grapefruit Segments 

    Serves 4

    • 4 grapefruits
    • 1/4 cup turbinado sugar 
    •  

      1. Cut the peel away from the grapefruits and separate into segments, removing the tough outer membranes.
      2. Arrange segments on a serving plate or in a shallow bowl. Gently pat the surface of the grapefruit segments with a paper towel to remove a bit of surface moisture.
      3. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over each portion.
      4. Using a kitchen torch, brulée the sugar until it caramelizes. Serve immediately.
       

    Tip: I like turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) for this because the large crystals don’t get wet as quickly and therefore brûlées nicely. But if you don’t have it on hand, white sugar or brown sugar will do. Just sprinkle them on in a fairly thick layer to keep the top of the sugar as dry as possible.

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    Sesame Almond Crackers with Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper

      ~ Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Paleo-Friendly

    I try–Lord knows I try–to eat well. I don’t count calories or cut certain food groups out of my diet. But I do eat mindfully. Most of the time, I eat pretty clean, filling my plate with quality sources of protein, lots of veggies and fruits, and some dairy and grains. For me, balance is key. It has to feel like I’m in control of what I eat, not that I’m constantly having to sacrifice flavor for function. When it works that way, I never feel deprived, and I never go hungry. I also allow myself to eat food purely for enjoyment sometimes–ice cream, pizza, wine. . . . 

    When I’m training, I try to eat a little more consciously, knowing that what I eat today will affect how well my efforts go on the trail or in the gym tomorrow. These crackers are one of my go-to snacks. No empty calories here, just plenty of protein and beneficial fats and loads of flavor.

    I’ve made these lots of different ways, with various seasonings, but I think this combo of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper just might be my favorite. I hope you like it too.

    Sesame Almond Crackers with Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper

    • 2 cups almond flour
    • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
    • ¾ teaspoon sea salt plus additional for sprinkling
    • ½ – 1 teaspoon cracked pepper (according to preference)
    • 1 egg white
    • 1 tablespoons cold water
    • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    • ½ teaspoon sesame oil

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
    2. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together almond flour, sesame seeds, salt, and pepper.
    3. In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk together egg white, water, olive oil, and sesame oil.
    4. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until fully incorporated. Divide the dough in half.
    5. Place one half of the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll as thin as possible (1/8” is fine).
    6. Remove top sheet of parchment and transfer bottom sheet, with dough on it, to baking sheet.
    7. Use a pastry wheel, pizza cutter, or paring knife to cut the dough into desired-size squares.
    8. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes, until just golden. Turn off oven and let crackers remain in oven until golden brown, about 5 more minutes. Let cool completely on baking sheet and store in an air-tight container.

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    Chocolate Peanut Butter Pots de Creme ~ Dairy-Free

    Need a super-fast, decadent, impressive-but-so-easy-you’ll-lie-about-the-recipe dessert for a special dinner tonight? Look no further. This whips up in mere minutes and sets to semi-firm in about an hour and a half. It uses coconut milk instead of heavy cream, but trust me, you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone who isn’t avoiding dairy that they’re being deprived of anything once they taste this. Enjoy!

    • 6 ounces good-quality dark chocolate (dairy-free), chopped
    • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • Pinch of salt
    • Pinch of cinnamon
    • 1 (13.5-ounce) can full-fat coconut milk
    • 2 tablespoons sugar
    • ¼ cup smooth peanut butter

    1. Combine chocolate, vanilla extract, salt, and cinnamon in the bowl of food processor, but do not process.
    2. Shake the can of coconut milk well. Empty it into a small saucepan and add the sugar. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from stove and pour over the chocolate mixture in the food processor. Secure the lid on the processor, let stand a minute or two, and process until smooth. Add peanut butter and process again.
    3. Pour chocolate mixture into serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until set, about 2-3 hours, depending on the dimensions of the dish. Garnish as desired and serve.

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    Hot Buttered Rum

    Winter is a drag. If I had my druthers, I’d live in one of those places where it never dips below 70 degrees, “snow” refers exclusively to something squirted with blue raspberry syrup and eaten from a paper cone at the fair, and perennial humidity makes it possible for me to like my hair.

    Alas, mine is no such clime. For example, this very morning, I spent an hour shoveling 6 million metric tons of frozen water off my driveway just so we could pull the car out. That is, in the event that we would want to go somewhere, which we would not, considering the fact that it was sleeting and slant-wise snowing out there.

    Far better to stay home and read a book and drink a warming beverage. And so, I give you hot buttered rum, which has been a favored chill chaser since the Colonial days, and fairly effective at warming hands and bellies and even, dare I say it, making winter slightly more bearable.

    Hot Buttered Rum

    4 ounces butter, softened
    2 cups light brown sugar, packed
    1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
    ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
    ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
    Zest of 1 large orange (optional)
    Pinch salt
    Dark rum (e.g., I used Bacardi Select)
    Boiling water

    In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter, sugar, spices, salt, zest, and salt until combined. Use a tablespoon scoop or two tablespoons to form 12 balls of the butter mixture, placing them in a single layer in a plastic container with a tightly fitting lid. Refrigerate until firm or up to two weeks (freeze for longer storage).

    To serve: For each serving, place a butter ball in a 12-ounce mug. Pour 11/2 ounces of dark rum over, and top off mug with boiling water. Stir well and serve.

    Photo Credit: Top photo, Paris Smith

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    Savory Smoked Habanero Cheddar Shortbreads

    I am a closet Cheez-It fanatic. All right, perhaps not so closeted. I can’t buy them because I can’t be trusted to exercise moderation when it comes to those addictively yum orange, cheesey, orange, salty, orange crackers. This is my revenge against the savage hold those crackers have over me.

    These are the cheese crackers that young Cheez-Its put pictures of in their lockers and on their bedroom walls. Cheez-Its want to be these when they grow up.

    If you can’t find ground smoked habanero pepper, feel free to substitute cayenne and replace the sweet paprika with smoky Spanish pimenton. Use yellow cheddar if you want the cheese to show up in the cracker.

    These are just perfect with a glass of wine, white or red. Enjoy!

    Savory Smoked Habanero Cheddar Shortbreads 

    • 3 ounces butter, softened
    • 4 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
    • 2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
    • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
    • ½ teaspoon ground smoked habanero pepper (or cayenne)
    • ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • Flaked sea salt for sprinkling (optional)

    1. Combine butter, Cheddar, cream cheese, salt, habanero pepper, and paprika in the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attached. Beat at medium speed until all ingredients are combined.
    2. Add flour to cheese mixture, then continue beating until flour is incorporated.
    3. Separate dough into 3 portions. Roll each portion into a long, thin cylinder. Wrap all three cylinders in waxed paper and chill for 30 minutes or until set.
    4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
    5. Use a sharp or serrated knife to cut the chilled rolls of dough into thin (about 1/6”) rounds. Place on baking sheet. These won’t spread, so you don’t need to space them out much. Sprinkle crackers with flaked sea salt.
    6. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 15 minutes, until tops begin to turn golden brown. Let cool on pan 1 minute, then remove to rack to cool completely. Store in an air-tight container for up to one week at room temperature, or freeze for longer storage.

    Recipe Note:

    If you like a thinner, crisper cracker, instead of forming the dough into logs, roll it out into thin sheets and score with a pastry wheel into the desired cracker-size squares. Bake until golden, then let sit on pan till cool.

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    Peppermint Patties

    Gearing up for the holiday season? These simple confections are something you’ll want to have on hand for hostess gifts and cookie trays. Theyre quick to prepare and keep for quite a while in the fridge. The fresh mint leaves really make this recipe sing. I like to use chocolate mint, mainly because that happens to be the variety overgrowing my herb bed, but regular old mint is swell too. 
     
    Peppermint Patties
    Yield: About 2 dozen patties

    • 1 ounce unsalted butter, room temperature
    • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar
    • 2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract
    • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
    • 1 ounce (about 2 tablespoons) heavy whipping cream
    • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh mint leaves
    • 8 ounces good-quality dark chocolate pastilles or bar chocolate, chopped
    • ½ ounce unsalted butter or cocoa butter

    1. Line a baking sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside in refrigerator to chill.

    2. Using a handheld electric mixer, cream the butter, confectioner’s sugar, and extracts on low speed until well combined. Add cream and mint leaves and gradually increase speed to medium-high. Blend for another minute, scrape down the bowl, and blend again for 1 more minute. Mixture should be creamy and thick, not chalky or powdery. If it’s too powdery, at a little more cream, ½ teaspoon at a time. If it’s too loose, add a little more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon at a time.

    3. Roll teaspoon-size scoops of the mint mixture into balls and flatten them into patties (about ¼” thick) on the prepared baking sheet. Return to the fridge to chill for at least 30 minutes.

    4. Place the chocolate and the butter in a microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds on high power. Stir. Heat again for 15 seconds. Stir. Repeat until chocolate is melted. Let chocolate cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.

    5. Dip the chilled patties into the cooled melted chocolate and gently tap off excess chocolate. Place them on the baking sheet and return the sheet to the refrigerator. Let chill for a couple of hours before serving. Store leftover patties in the refrigerator.