It’s been a food-a-thon around here. It started with the various holiday treats my students gave me last week, which we have been happily eating. I baked two batches of Christmas cookies over the weekend, and then my in-laws arrived yesterday, and we headed out for a fancy dinner. Cut to this morning when I baked a sour cream coffee cake, turkey chili, spicy spinach dip, and pita toasts. I don’t cook often, but when I do, I mean business.
I served the spicy spinach dip with the pita toasts as an afternoon snack. I would qualify the dip as Super Bowl worthy. I also like the fact that it has a festive feel due to the red tomatoes and green spinach. So, readers, Merry Christmas and happy snacking this holiday season!
2-3 T. chopped jalapenos (I used canned and drained)
3/4 c. chopped green onions
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 c. seeded and chopped tomatoes
8-oz cream cheese, softened
2 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 c. half and half
Mix all ingredients together. Make sure the cream cheese is blended well.
Pour into buttered ovenproof dish.
Bake at 400 degrees until browned and bubbly (about 20 minutes).
Pita Toast Ingredients
1 package pita bread pockets
1/2 c. melted butter
2 t. lemon pepper
2 t. cumin
Pita Toast Directions
Cut pita pockets into 8 triangles. Separate the triangles into halves.
Blend butter, lemon pepper, and cumin.
With a pastry brush, spread each piece of pita with butter mixture.
Bate at 350 degrees until browned and crisp (about 10 minutes).
You can use different herbs in the butter mixture for the pita toasts and serve them any time. Italian seasoning is a great replacement for the lemon pepper and cumin. Serve the Italian seasoning pita toasts with soup.
The dip can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated. Bake about 10 minutes longer if the dip has been in the refrigerator before it goes in the oven.
We grilled hamburgers with a few friends after the Thanksgiving eat-a-thon last week, and I needed a little snacky bite while people were waiting for dinner. Since I had not consumed enough rich, calorie filled food prior to the hamburger dinner (ha!), I decided we needed a really good dip with lots of melted cheese. I made a Charleston Cheese Dip that is incredible. The consumption rate may have been faster than the Hot Vidalia Onion Dip, which I did not think possible.
1/2 c. mayonnaise
8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 c. grated sharp Cheddar cheese (I used Cracker Barrel)
1/2 to 1 c. Monterey Jack cheese
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 dash cayenne pepper (optional)
8 butter crackers, crushed (I used Ritz)
8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
Frito scoop chips, more Ritz crackers, or pita chips for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium bowl, mix the mayonnaise, cream cheese, Cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, green onions, minced garlic, and cayenne pepper (if using).
Transfer the mixture to a shallow baking dish. I used a quiche dish. A 9-inch pie pan will work too.
Top the mixture with cracker crumbs and bake until heated through, browned on the top, and bubbly around the edges.
I eat carbs and lots of them. Some of my favorite carb alternatives are mashed potatoes, french fries, and chocolate chip cookies. The top of my carb list, however, has to be macaroni and cheese.
I have been perfecting my macaroni and cheese dish since 1993. I started out with the basic recipe my mom always used. She cooked the macaroni noodles, drained them, added butter, milk, and chunks of cheddar cheese in with the noodles and heated on the stovetop. Before baking in a casserole dish in the oven, she added some crumbled Saltine crackers and a few pats of butter to the top. I loved her macaroni and cheese. Little did I know how much better it could be.
Here is the recipe that kicked off the macaroni and cheese improvement plan. I am posting the original recipe but am also including some RoomMom modifications at the end. I will eat this dish for dinner, leftover for breakfast, or packed in a school lunch to be eaten at room temperature.
6 T. butter
1 lb. corkscrew pasta (cavatappi)
5 1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 t. freshly ground pepper
2 t. salt
3 c. grated white cheddar cheese
3 c. grated orange cheddar cheese
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with Pam.
Fill a large saucepan with salted water, bring to a boil, then cook pasta according to directions on the box. Follow the time for al dente.
Transfer pasta to a colander, drain well, and set aside.
In the empty saucepan, melt 6 T. butter over medium heat. When butter bubbles, stir in flour. Cook, whisking, for about one minute.
Continue to whisk and add milk a little at a time. After adding all of the milk, whisk constantly for about 7 minutes or so until the sauce thickens and bubbles around the edges. Remove from heat.
Stir in salt, pepper, 2 1/4 cups of each of the cheeses.
Add cooked pasta to the sauce and stir until the sauce covers the pasta.
Add the pasta and sauce mixture to the casserole dish, sprinkle with remaining grated cheese, and bake until golden brown on top (about 25 minutes).
I use any non-spaghetti like pasta I have on hand. I make this dish with elbow macaroni, penne, bow tie noodles, shell noodles, or any other smaller sized noodle.
I like to mix up the cheese. I use about the amount called for in the recipe, but I usually use a combination of whatever is in my refrigerator. I always have cheddar as the main cheese. I like Cracker Barrel extra sharp orange and Cracker Barrel Vermont white. I usually reduce the cheddar amount a little and supplement with freshly grated Parmesan, some freshly grated Swiss, and I recently started adding several slices of American. Other than the American, I think the cheese needs to be grated at home. The pre-grated cheese does not have as much flavor or melt as well (in my opinion).
I eyeball the butter, flour, and milk amounts. If you are following this recipe for the first time, cook as instructed. Adjust to your taste the next time you make it (and I firmly believe you will be making this recipe a second time).