Secret Ingredient Spinach-Artichoke Dip

When grocery shopping for food to take on our most recent cabin trip, I impulsively grabbed a bottle of Original Grlk Sauce, an amazing condiment I first discovered at an indoor winter market in NE Minneapolis where I sampled the original flavor and was immediately in love!

Creamy, fluffy, garlicy goodness in a plastic bottle. Locally made (in St. Paul, MN) with all healthy ingredients (it’s also vegan, sugar-free, and gluten-free), I was sold! Back then I used my purchase mainly on sandwiches and in sandwich fillings and was very sad when that bottle was empty. The winter market was over, and my source was gone.

A year or so later, I was surprised to find the elusive condiment I had been craving in a grocery store. Hallelujah! I could now satisfy my hankering whenever it arose.

Fast forward to our cabin trip, on a stormy night with Lake Superior’s waves crashing loudly and the wind roaring, we needed a comfort-food snack. I had a bag of spinach, the beloved Grlk Sauce, parmesan cheese, and some scallions and was mad at myself for not grabbing that container of sour cream from the fridge at home when filling the cooler. But somehow the ingredients on-hand came together for a hot and bubbly snack—a perfect example of food always tasting better at the cabin.

Once back at home, I vowed to make this dip again, but with the additional ingredients I wished I had at the cabin and for sure including my new secret ingredient, Grlk. Then I forgot about it. That is, until watching the red-hot Minnesota Gopher’s football game on a sunny Saturday when, once again, the time was right for a comfort-food snack. After a little improvising, this is what I came up with, and I think it’s a winner, even if we’re not at the cabin! Enjoy!

By the way, Original Grlk Sauce, along with additional flavors, is available at a number of stores in the St. Paul-Minneapolis metro area and online here. It’s amazing!

Secret Ingredient Spinach-Artichoke Dip

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic, chopped

One 6-ounce bag baby spinach

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

One 14-ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained and chopped

½ cup sour cream

¼ cup original Grlk sauce

1 ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (the Annie’s brand is vegetarian and delicious!)

A pinch of cayenne pepper, or more if you like things really spicy

3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided

Sliced scallions, for garnish (optional—I forgot to use them today, but won’t next time)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 1.5-quart baking dish with cooking spray or coat it with a little olive oil.

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. When hot, add garlic and cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add spinach, sprinkle with salt, stir, and cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted and bright green. Stir in artichoke hearts.

In a small bowl, whisk together sour cream, Original Grlk Sauce, Worcestershire, cayenne, and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in ½ cup of the parmesan. Add sour cream mixture to spinach mixture and stir to thoroughly combine.

Transfer dip to prepared baking dish. Bake for 15 minutes, then sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup parmesan. Bake another 10 minutes, then broil for a couple minutes to brown the top–watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.

Remove from oven, sprinkle with scallions, if using, and serve dip hot with crackers, toasted pita or naan, veggies, or tortilla chips. Makes about 4 servings.


Spiced Pear Butter

A while back I spied some beautiful organic Bartlett pears on sale at Whole Foods and decided to buy a big bag of ‘em. I left them on the counter to ripen and then put them in the crisper drawer of the fridge with plans for lots of pear snacking. Fast forward a week or so and that bag o’ pears was still in the crisper, said snacking had not happened, and the pears were starting to lose their beauty.

A dessert using all those pears would be mighty big and I certainly don’t need those calories, so I decided to see if there was such a thing as pear butter. Pears are kind of like apples, and apple butter is delicious, so pear butter must be a thing. Sure, enough, I found several recipes online.

The result is wonderful! Full of warm fall spices with a richness from the brown sugar and vanilla—I’ll be finding many uses for this deliciousness! On ice-cream, English muffins (paired with peanut butter it’s especially good!), mixed in with plain yogurt, a sweet touch to a savory grilled cheese sandwich, pancake topping, a smoothie mix-in—so many ways to use this concoction! Enjoy!

Spiced Pear Butter

  • Servings: three 12-ounce jars
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Adapted from this USA Pears recipe

3 pounds ripe Bartlett pears

¼ cup water

¾ to 1 cup light brown sugar, use the lower amount for a less sweet version

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

½ of a vanilla bean or ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract*

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Wash, quarter, and core pears (if you do not have a food mill, mentioned later in the recipe, peel pears after washing, and skip the food mill step).

Place pear quarters and water in a large stockpot, over medium heat, until water starts to simmer. Cover pot and adjust heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until pears are soft, about 20 minutes. It may seem like you should add more than a quarter cup of water, but the pears will release liquid as they soften—I assure you there’s no need for more water.

Remove pot from heat and mash pears with a potato masher (if you don’t have a potato masher, carefully mash the pears with the bottom of a large drinking glass).

Place a food mill over a large bowl and run mashed pears, in batches, through mill, discarding pear skins that are left in the mill. Dump the bowl of pear pulp back into the stockpot, add the brown sugar, the vanilla bean, and the spices.

*If you are using pure vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean, add the vanilla later, after the cooking process, where the instructions have you remove the vanilla bean.

Cook pear mixture, uncovered, at a simmer, for about an hour, until desired thickness. Stir every few minutes to prevent scorching. Mixture will thicken somewhat as it cools.

Spoon mixture into jars and, if freezing, leave about an ½ to an inch of headspace in jars for expansion. Will keep in refrigerator for a couple weeks and in freezer for a couple months. Makes about three 12-ounce jars.


Ultimate Zucchini Bread

Up until recently, if you mentioned zucchini bread to me, I would have said, “Meh.” It was okay, but nothing I would have chosen to make unless I was desperate to use up some zucchini and wasn’t feeling a savory recipe.

So when I saw a zucchini bread recipe pop up on the Smitten Kitchen, the only reason I didn’t skip right over it was the word “ultimate” in the title. Deb Perelman doesn’t throw around words like that without the goods to back ‘em up.

With that in mind, and some farmers’ market zucchini in the crisper, I baked a loaf that Pete and I enjoyed the heck out of. Soon after, another one when I had a tooth pulled and needed something moist and soft that didn’t require actual chewing (and kept this one all to myself). And another loaf after that to serve with breakfast when my parents were visiting. And, again, to take to take to the cabin. In between, I was craving this stuff. Crazy, right? Never in a million years did I think I’d actually be craving zucchini bread!

The nice thing is, this loaf of yumminess is so quick to mix up and pop in the oven. A one-bowl feat of ease with no need to wring the moisture out of the zucchini. And it freezes beautifully!

Deb mentions using a neutral oil, melted, butter, or olive oil. Wanting to maximize the health factor, I opted for olive oil. With the first loaf, I think I used whole wheat pastry flour for ½ cup of the 2 cups flour, and each time I made it, I increased the percentage of whole wheat till there was no white flour included. Totally whole grain without any heaviness or grainy texture—yay!

The only hard part about this recipe is the suggestion requirement of waiting 24 hours after baking to dig into it. Be assured, though, this is necessary in order for it to live up to the “ultimate” moniker. Once you’ve waited that excruciatingly long full day, I think you’ll agree, the delay was worth it.

In order to keep the crunchy dome of this treat crunchy, don’t cover it, just let it sit out on the counter in the pan in which it was baked—no need to do anything else—I’ve got four (or more by now) loaves under my belt, so am speaking from experience. Just wrap the cut end in foil and return it to the pan and keep it on the kitchen counter. I pretty much guarantee it won’t last long–it’s that good!

Eaten plain or slathered with whatever spread, butter, or topping you please, let this warmly-spiced sweet treat ease you into fall. And if you happen to have made a batch of the Smitten Kitchen’s Peach Butter like I did, it will elevate this “ultimate” zucchini bread to super ultimate status. Enjoy!

Amazing Zucchini Bread

Slightly adapted from this Smitten Kitchen Recipe

2 cups (13 ounces or 370 grams) grated, packed zucchini, not wrung out, grated on the large holes of a box grater

2 large eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup (160 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, butter, or a neutral oil like safflower or grapeseed

½ cup (95 grams) packed dark brown sugar

½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt

1 ¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 cups (9.65 ounces or 275 grams) whole wheat pastry flour (I like Whole Foods 365 Organic)

2 tablespoons raw or turbinado sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. or 335 if you have a convection oven. Lightly coat a 6-cup or 9×5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray.

Place grated zucchini in a large bowl and add oil, eggs, brown and granulated sugars, vanilla, and salt. Mix with a fork until combined.

Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and baking powder over the surface of the batter and mix until combined. Then, to ensure ingredients are well-dispersed, mix an additional 10 or so stirs.

Add flour and mix until combined, with no pockets of flour remaining. Pour into prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with the raw or turbinado sugar—use it all—it will make that awesome crunchy dome.

Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick or tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out batter-free. Because I have a history of quick breads being doughy in the middle, to ensure doneness, I also use an instant read thermometer to test the internal temperature. If it’s not between 195 and 200 degrees F., I put it back in the oven until it reaches that temperature range.

Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack. Leave in the pan, unwrapped, overnight or 24 hours. Remove loaf carefully from pan, being careful not to ruin the crunchy lid, and cut into slices. Zucchini bread keeps 4-5 days at room temperature. Only the cut end of the loaf needs to be wrapped in foil; store the bread in the baking pan.

Makes 8-10 servings.


Buttermilk Chive Bread

After returning from an all-too-short cabin trip over the 4th of July, we had a big bag of cabin chives to use. I’ve written about our cabin chives before—they come from the most prolific chive plant I’ve ever seen, and it’s situated smack dab in front of the cabin. The Lake Superior air must be good for it.

You can cut chives from this plant almost any time of the year. We’ve even dug through the snow to find fresh chives in winter. Seriously!

A couple years ago after bringing a bag of chives home, I got to thinking about chives and buttermilk pairing so well together and wondered how that would translate into bread. I found a recipe online, tweaked it some, including incorporating whole wheat flour and doubling the chives (hey, when you’ve got good chives, flaunt ’em!), and the rest is history. It’s become a staple in our house whenever we bring home chives. Perfect for either sandwiches or toasted and spread with good butter, it’s got a pleasant tang from the buttermilk and an oniony hint that lots of chives bring. I see sandwiches in your future! Enjoy!

By the way, if you’re lucky enough to have the chive flowers, in addition to being pretty, they add a delicious delicate flavor to whatever you add them. We love the on salads!

Buttermilk Chive Bread

Adapted from this Iowa Housewife recipe

4 cups bread flour, divided

2 cups whole wheat flour

4 teaspoons instant yeast (if using active dry yeast instead, double rising times)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon salt

¼ cup neutral oil (grapeseed, avocado, canola) or melted butter

1 ¼ cup warm water, about 110 degrees F.

1 cup warm buttermilk (I use low-fat), about 110 degrees F.

½ cup chopped chives

2 tablespoons butter, melted, for brushing on cooked loaves (optional)

Grease two 4 ½ x 8 ½ inch loaf pans. Set aside.

Place three cups of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour, yeast, sugar, and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix until combined (if you don’t have a stand mixer, use a whisk).

With mixer on low speed, add the oil/butter, water, and buttermilk. Gradually add the remaining cup of bread flour and mix until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn speed up slightly and mix for about two minutes. If you don’t have a stand mixer, mix all ingredients together using a wooden spoon.

Add chives and change to the dough hook, and, at low speed, knead about five minutes (if you don’t have a stand mixer, knead by hand on a lightly floured surface for about 5 minutes). Cover bowl and let rest in a warm place for about 10 minutes. Turn dough out of bowl onto a floured surface and divide in half. Form into loaves and place in prepared pans. Loosely cover the pans with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

While dough is rising, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake loaves for 25-30 minutes. Remove loaves from pans onto a cooling rack. Brush tops with melted butter. Slice and eat either warm or room temp. Loaves freeze well. Makes two loaves.

Spicy Cashew Queso Dip

A venerable party staple, queso dip is delicious and addicting. It is not, however, healthy. Typically made with Velveeta, which is full of colors and preservatives, it’s not even considered actual cheese. So what’s not to love about a version that is also delicious and addicting, but truly good for you?

The combination of cashews and nutritional yeast gives it the cheesy taste and spices, jalapeños, onion and tomato give it the queso treatment. Whirred up in the blender until creamy smooth and warmed up on the stove, it will satisfy all comfort food cravings you may have and will be gobbled up at any party where it’s served. Enjoy!

Spicy Cashew Queso

½ tablespoon neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, vegetable)

1 medium jalapeño pepper, diced

½ cup diced onion

1 cup raw, unsalted cashews, soaked in water for 4 hours, then thoroughly drained (this softens them up so they will blend to a creamy smoothness)

½ cup water (filtered, if you don’t have good tasting tap water)

One 4 oz. can diced green chiles, drained

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon taco seasoning, homemade or store-bought

½ teaspoon turmeric

Salt to taste

½ of a 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add jalapeño and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

Place cashews, water, chiles, nutritional yeast, taco seasoning, turmeric, and salt in blender. Blend until completely smooth, stopping blender to scrape down sides occasionally. Taste and add more salt, if necessary.

Transfer cashew mixture to a medium saucepan. Add jalapeño-onion mixture and tomatoes. Over medium-low heat, stir occasionally until hot. Transfer to a bowl and serve with chips or raw vegetables.

Makes about two cups of queso.


Cauliflower Banh Mi Sandwich

For anyone who is unfamiliar, the banh mi is a Vietnamese sandwich served on baguettes spread with pâté or spicy mayonnaise and stuffed with various marinated meats, cucumbers, herbs, and pickled veggies. I’ve seen vegetarian versions made with either tofu or tempeh and even though they looked delicious, I’d never had one.

Then a couple weeks ago in my Facebook news feed, I saw a post from the local co-op sharing for Meatless Monday a cauliflower banh mi from the Minimalist Baker, aka Dana Shultz. I was familiar with her blog and even have one of her cookbooks, so I knew this would be a solid recipe. It’s vegan and if you want it to be gluten-free, all that’s needed is swapping out the baguette for a gluten-free one or do it as a lettuce wrap. I was intrigued by a cauliflower version and put it on my must-make-soon list.

The first time, I made everything on a weeknight after work and by the time it was ready, we were famished. I then realized much of it can be prepared in advance. The pickled veggies taste better made a day or two ahead anyway, and you can chop up the cauliflower florets and make the aioli the night before, which is what I did the second time. This time we were able to sit down to dinner before we were so hungry we wanted to eat our fists!

Truly an amazing recipe, it definitely makes my list of top five best sandwiches I’ve had in my life. Spicy, crunchy, saucy, sweet and sour—all delicious. When you’re done eating, you’ll want more! Even those who aren’t big on cauliflower are going to love it. Enjoy!

Cauliflower Banh Mi Sandwich

Adapted from this Minimalist Baker recipe

Pickled Vegetables (best made a day ahead)
2/3 cup rice vinegar

1/3 cup hot water

½ teaspoon fine grain salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2/3 cup thinly sliced or shredded carrot

1/3 cup thinly sliced or shredded daikon, red, or watermelon radish

3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce (like Sambal Oelek)

1/3 cup tamari, coconut aminos, or, if no need to be gluten-free, soy sauce

1 ½ tablespoon pure maple syrup

1 ½ tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice

1 tablespoon neutral oil (avocado or grapeseed)

4 heaping cups cauliflower florets cut in bite sized pieces

½ cup vegan mayo (Vegenaise or Mindful Mayo brands are both delicious!)

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot sauce

2 small baguettes (gluten-free if that is a concern) or large lettuce leaf, used as a wrap

Fresh herbs (cilantro, basil, parsley, mint—your choice—I used parsley and basil)

Thinly sliced cucumber

Fresh or pickled sliced jalapeño (I use Trader Joe’s Hot & Sweet Jalapeños)

To make the pickled veggies, shake vinegar, hot water, sugar, and salt in a glass jar until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add carrot and radish and push down to submerge. Cover jar and refrigerate; they’ll keep a couple weeks.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Make the cauliflower: Whisk together in a medium bowl the chili garlic sauce, tamari, maple syrup, lime juice, and oil. Add the cauliflower florets and toss to evenly coat.

Heat a large, oven-proof (preferably cast iron) skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, using a slotted spoon, transfer cauliflower to pan, reserving most of the liquid in the bowl.

Cook the cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Then add most the of the reserved marinade to the pan, but save a little for serving. Toss to coat. Place pan in the oven and bake until cauliflower is crispy and caramelized, about 15 minutes.

While cauliflower is cooking, whisk together aioli ingredients together in a small bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

Chop your herbs, slice the cucumbers and jalapeño.

Halve your baguettes horizontally and place them in the oven, cut side down, directly on rack, during the last five minutes of the cauliflower cooking.

To assemble sandwiches, spread aioli on both sides of baguette. Top one half of baguette with cauliflower and drizzle some left-over cauliflower marinade. Top with pickled vegetables, cucumber, herbs, and jalapeño. Cover with top half of baguette. Have a napkin on hand too. You may have not use all the cauliflower and will probably also have leftover pickled veggies. Makes two sandwiches.

Sushi Rice Crostini

When you hear the term rice cake, a crunchy, dry, tasteless round with the texture of styrofoam may come to mind. Not so in this case, in fact, here I prefer the term rice crostini. Sounds a little more sophisticated, fancy even. And the opposite of dry and tasteless. Topped with creamy avocado, piquant peppers, and other fresh veggies, these “crostini” are as pretty as they are delicious.

This fun little appetizer comes from the April issue of Food & Wine Magazine. Intrigued by small rectangles of golden rice, I left the magazine open to that page and kept coming back to it. The other day I bought sushi rice for the first time in my life and got to work on the recipe.

Cook the sushi rice either by package directions or in a rice cooker if you have one. I used mine, it’s hands-off, and no matter what type of rice you’re making, it turns out perfectly every time.

The toppings can be switched out to whatever you prefer. If you’re not vegetarian, you could use sushi grade tuna, along with the veggie toppings.

One thing to note, the “crostini” are best topped and eaten soon after they come out of the oven. Also, the recipe is easily halved. I made a half batch and used an 8×8 square baking pan. If you do make a full recipe and don’t have a quarter sheet pan, just use two 8×8 pans. You’ll need to do a little planning ahead because once the rice is in the pan(s), it must be chilled for at least eight hours (mine was in the fridge for close to 24). Enjoy!

Sushi Rice Crostini

From the April issue of Food & Wine Magazine

6 cups cooked sushi rice, cooled

3 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Cooking spray

3 tablespoons neutral oil (grapeseed, canola, avocado)

Suggested toppings:
Chopped avocado
Hot & sweet cherry peppers, sliced
Shaved carrots
Sliced scallions
Flakey sea salt, such as Maldon
Tamari (which is gluten-free) or soy sauce for dipping

Line a rimmed quarter sheet pan with plastic wrap, leaving 2 inches of overhang on all sides.

Place rice in a large bowl. Stir together rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small bowl until salt is dissolved. Drizzle over rice; gently fold together. Lightly pack rice into a 1-cup dry measuring cup; invert onto prepared pan. Repeat with remaining rice, creating 2 rows of 3. Moisten hands slightly; gently press rice into an even layer. Place another piece of plastic wrap directly on surface of rice; press firmly into a compact, even layer (1/2 inch to 5/8 inch thick). Fold overhanging plastic wrap over top, gently pressing on top and smoothing outer edges. Chill 8 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees F. with oven racks in middle and lower third of oven. Remove baking sheet from refrigerator. Unwrap plastic wrap and remove top piece on rice; invert rice onto a work surface (I used a large cutting board). Remove plastic wrap from back.

Cut into about 56 (1 1/2- x 1-inch) pieces. (For clean slices, dip knife into warm water, and wipe clean often.) Lightly coat top of rice pieces with cooking spray. Brush 2 rimmed baking sheets evenly with the oil. Place 28 rice pieces, cooking spray–coated sides down, on each oiled baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until crisp and lightly golden, 14 to 20 minutes. Flip and top immediately. Makes 56.