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Slow Cooker Spinach Artichoke Dip

Does anyone else have happy hours and parties in their office? Our division tries to do so every month or so (some would go so far as to say we have a “reputation” for happy hours), and I love that. As much time as we spend at work, we should at least have a little fun, right?

Baked goods always go over well, but I wanted to mix it up. The problem: if your office is anything like mine, bringing something homemade that isn’t a dessert can be difficult. My office has refrigerators and microwaves, but that’s about it. I crowdsourced suggestions through my Facebook friends, and someone sent a link to 25 Super Bowl party foods made in a slow cooker.

Genius! I got several great ideas, including classic spinach artichoke dip. I was admittedly skeptical that it could work in a slow cooker, but it worked beautifully.

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I especially loved how quickly and easily this came together. The night before, I prepped the vegetables and placed them in plastic container. I bought 2 cups of pre-shredded mozzarella and an individual pint of milk. I put all the ingredients in a grocery bag and stored it in the refrigerator.

At the office the next morning, I removed the cream cheese and put the rest of the ingredients in the office fridge until lunch, when I put all the ingredients in my slow cooker. By 3:30 it smelled divine and we were ready to dive in.

I didn’t have any slow cooker liners, but they’ make clean-up a snap.

Slow Cooker Spinach Artichoke Dip

Adapted slightly from Taste and Tell

Serves 12-20

18-oz package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
2 14-oz cans artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
2 8-oz packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded Parmesan
1/2 cup (or more) milk

Place all ingredients in a 4- to 6-quart slow cooker. Cook on high for 2 hours, until cheeses are melted. Stir to combine all ingredients. If the dip is too thick, add more milk, a tablespoon at a time, until desired consistency. Serve with tortilla chips, crackers, pita chips or vegetables.

Parmesan Cauliflower

While eating and drinking my way traversing across New Zealand, I experienced an interesting mix of cuisine: a lot of amazing wine, too much bad British food, and some delicious fare featuring fresh ingredients prepared simply.

One dish I couldn’t get enough of was a creamy, cheesy cauliflower dish served at an adventure lodge in River Valley on the Rangitikei River. Of the eight or so dishes on the family dinner table, I kept going back for more of this cauliflower. I finally asked the cook how he made it, and was surprised at just how simple it was: Parmesan, cream and cauliflower. I’ve lightened this recipe to use Half & Half, but feel free to indulge more with cream or cut back by substituting milk.

Sorry, no pics for this one — it’s not the most photogenic dish, especially after dark on white china.

Parmesan Cauliflower

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups Half & Half (use more if you like more sauce, or expect leftovers

2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or to taste)

1 medium head cauliflower, steamed or roasted

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Gradually pour in Half & Half, stirring constantly. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; reduce heat and cook until sauce begins to thicken. Whisk in cheese. Add cauliflower. Salt and pepper to taste.

Fig, Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

Up to this point, I’d eaten fresh figs exactly once in my life: when the “gourmet fruit of the month” a vendor sends to my office was black mission figs. I managed to snag a couple of those plum beauties, and I could immediately see why my fellow foodies were so enamored. That was nearly a year ago, and I hadn’t seen figs in a grocery store since.

Until Sunday, that is, when I walked into Trader Joe’s, with crate after crate of figs, both black and green. I picked up a container of black mission figs, along with a package of goat cheese. That night, I sliced up a few, topped them with a few crumbles of cheese and a dot of honey, and threw them under a broiler for a couple minutes. Divine and devoured.

For the next two days, they were the highlight of my lunch, in salad form. I packed the ingredients in separate containers and tossed them together on a paper plate from the kitchen at work. I didn’t have any walnuts or pecans on hand, but they would make a great addition, both for flavor and texture. Grilled chicken would make this a great entree salad.

Fig, Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad for One

4-6 fresh figs, sliced in half, stems removed

1/2 cup sliced strawberries

1 oz goat cheese, crumbled

4 cups baby spinach

1 T balsamic vinaigrette (or your favorite dressing) – adjust to your personal preference

Toss all ingredients. Serve immediately.