Saturday, December 6, 2008

It's beginning to look a lot like party dip

Snow outside my apartment window can only mean one party season has arrived!

Champagne cocktails galore, roasted nuts in every bowl, and spinach dip as far as the eye can see...and don't even get me started on the plethora of holiday cookies. really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Unless, of course, you're saddled with more potluck Evites than you can count and have the cooking skills of an eight year old.

Well, lucky for you, you read this blog! I have a few go-to things I tote to parties (thus, the season of schlepping through the snow begins...sigh) that are always crowd-pleasers.

I even tested a new recipe for a party this weekend, and it got rave reviews (and was completely demolished by the end of the night - always a good sign).

My old standby is a recipe my BBF Alisha gave me back in college. Hence, I have always called it Alisha's Taco Dip. Not only is it the crack cocaine of dip (seriously, people will just stand around the hors d'ouevres table and nosh ravenously), it's super fast and easy and requires ingredients you could probably grab at a 7-11 in a pinch.


1 package cream cheese
1 16-oz. container sour cream
1 package taco seasoning
1 can refried beans
shredded Mexican blend cheese

These are the basic ingredients - you can add any number of things to it - pimientos, jalapenos, black olives, tomatoes - whatever you want.

Just mix all the ingredients together except the cheese, spread in a casserole dish, cover with a layer of the cheese, and bake, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips.

The recipe that was such a hit recently is a Cheese Dip Pine Cone - very seasonal. I found a recipe in a magazine that inspired it, and just modified it to fit my tastes. The basic idea is that you shape cheese dip into an oval, and stick toasted sliced almonds in it to resemble a pine cone (a few girls at the party asked if it was supposed to be a Christmas porcupine...hmmmm).


2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 8-oz. container sour cream (I used light)
1 small jar pimientos
8 oz. havarti dill, grated
4 oz. chihuahua or other salty cheese, grated
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
squeeze of lemon juice
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of black pepper
sliced almonds, toasted
rosemary sprigs for the "greenery" garnish

I added the pimientos and parsley for a red and green effect (very Christmas-y), and they really added a lot to the flavor.

Mix all the ingredients except the almonds and the rosemary together in a large mixing bowl. Spread the mixture into an oval shape (I used a spatula to this and it worked well) on a tray. Cover and refrigerate from a minimum of 2 hours to overnight.

Toast the almonds in a single layer in the oven or in a pan. Cool. Starting at the top of the oval, stick them in one by one in a pine-cone-ish formation. Add the rosemary sprigs at the bottom.

Serve with crackers (I used whole wheat crackers and rosemary/olive oil Triscuits, and they were both great with it). It would also be great with crudites or french bread.

My last go-to party recipe is my Grandma's banana pudding. It's one of those throwback desserts that nobody thinks about, but one bite in, people are just standing around, practically shanking each other with plastic sporks to get at another plateful. And, like the Taco Dip, it's one of the easiest things you'll ever make.


1 tub Cool Whip, thawed (do NOT use actual whipped cream in this, e.g., Reddi Wip - it won't work)
1 package instant vanilla pudding (you'll need milk, preferably whole, to make it)
1 box Nilla Wafers
5-6 bananas, perfectly ripe

Make the pudding and let it chill for about 15 minutes in the fridge until it's set.
In a large bowl, whisk in about 1/2 of the tub of Cool Whip until it's smooth.

In a 9 X 9" casserole dish or bowl, place Nilla Wafers side by side in the bottom to create a sort of crust.

Cut the bananas into round slices (about 3/4" inch thick). Place a layer of banana slices on top of the layer of Wafers.

Pour 1/2 of the pudding/Cool Whip mixture over the top, smoothing with a spatula.

Put another layer of Nilla Wafers and bananas on top. Pour the rest of the pudding on top. Using a spatula, spread the remaining Cool Whip over top of the pudding layer. Place a layer of Nilla Wafers (in a pattern, if you want) on top. Refrigerate for an hour before serving, or refigerate overnight to serve the next day.

So, friends, put on Mariah Carey's timeless Christmas album, spend some time in the kitchen with good food, good pals, and bad champagne, and enjoy the holiday season!

Thanks for reading! Happy Merry Christmahannukwanzakah!

The Ecstasy of St. Michael Chiarello

I know what you're thinking:

Why is she opening this blog posting with a photo of Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa"? Well, friends, because I found some lost images of a Butternut Squash lasagna on my camera this morning, and the memory of biting into the savory, melty, noodly deliciousness immediately conjured up this mental image.

Art historians claim St. Teresa was in the throes of an intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit, but I think she may have just snuck a bite of my Butternut Squash Lasagna...

My recipe was inspired by a recipe I found while browsing through one of Michael Chiarello's cookbooks. I did my best to commit the main ingredients to memory so I could create something similar at home.


For the squash filling:

1 large butternut squash
1-2 cups milk
some butter
olive oil
parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
cayenne pepper

For the bechamel sauce:

3-4 cups milk


1 package dry lasagna noodles
sliced fresh mozzarella

When I made this, I did it over the course of two days, not to complicate my life, but to simplify it.

I always tell everyone that lasagna isn't hard to make, it's just time consuming. So to avoid having dinner at 10 PM, I broke this process up into two nights, which I'd recommend unless you have a few hours in the kitchen to work before dinnertime.


Halve the squash lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place it on a baking pan and rub with a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast for about an hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees, until the squash flesh is soft enough to be mashed with a fork. Let cool enough to handle easily.


Spoon out the flesh of the squash into a large mixing bowl. Add some milk (start with about a cup), throw in some salt and pepper, parmesan (about a cup), and a little nutmeg and cayenne pepper (a couple pinches of each). Add milk as needed until the consistency of the mixture is spreadable.

***This is where I took my 24 hour hiatus. At this point, either just continue making the rest, or cover and refrigerate the squash mixture.***


Boil salted water with a little olive oil in it and cook lasagna noodles until they're al dente. Drain them and pour cold water (maybe add some ice cubes) over the top so they're cool enough to handle.


Make the bechamel sauce by melting about a 1/3 stick of butter in a saucepan and whisking in about 3/4 c. of flour to make a roux. Cook that for about a minute, then whisk in about 3 cups of milk and some salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly, until it's thickened (coats the back of a spoon). Remove from heat or keep on a very low warming temp.


Rub a little olive oil in the bottom of a casserole dish (to prevent sticking). Drain each noodle as much as possible before putting it in the bottom of the dish, and create a layer of noodles three noodles across in the bottom of the dish.


Spread a layer of the squash mixture over the noodles (this is sort of difficult, as the noodles want to slide around and the mixture wants to glop up in clumps, but just use your hands and be patient until you get a semi-even layer over the noodles. It doesn't have to perfect.


Sprinkle about a handful of grated parmesan over the squash layer, then pour on about 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Repeat the noodles, squash, parmesan, and bechamel layering two more times.


Put the final three noodles on top. Slice the ball of fresh mozzarella into 1/2 inch slices and layer on top of the noodles. Sprinkle with another handful of parmesan.


Bake at 375 for about 35-40 minutes, until the edges are bubbly and the cheese on top is melted and beginning to brown, like cheese on a pizza.

STEP 10:

I always try to let my lasagnas "rest" before I serve them. Otherwise, the layers won't meld properly, and each piece will just be a floppy, metly pile of gooey cheese and noodles - which is fine if you don't care how it looks, but I prefer to have it in pieces that are somewhat recognizable as squares. If you want, top the whole thing with a little fresh chopped sage, basil, or parsley.

Here's a photo of the finished thing (not mine, but a pic from the interwebs):

The great thing about this is that it makes a lot, and the leftovers just keep getting better and better the longer they sit.

Since I didn't do this meal with my judging format in mind, I don't have any pithy criticisms to share, but I can tell you that, in retrospect, there are things I would add for the next time I make this dish (and I can't WAIT to make it again): I would add fresh chopped sage to the squash mixture, and probably some element of crunch, such as toasted pine nuts. The dish was good, but there's just really nothing about it to bite into - octogenarians with denture issues would be just fine having this for dinner. If I were to make it a meat dish, I would use a little crumbled spicy Italian sausage in one of the layers.

I suggest serving this with a crisp green salad and an acidic vinaigrette to cut the richness of it, and it's great with a really dry white wine.

Thanks for reading!

Keep an eye out soon for Holiday Party Dips!
Related Posts with Thumbnails