Friday, June 20, 2014

Mediterranean Spinach Dip

Hot, cheesy spinach dip -- with or without artichokes -- has become a staple on almost every chain restaurant menu in the US. I've even written a recipe for it. It's good stuff! But a change can do you good.

Years and years ago, I had a wonderful cold Mediterranean spinach dip with feta cheese at the now-defunct Cafe Tu Tu Tango in Miami's (Coconut Grove. It closed several years ago, but there's still one in Orlando.) The concept was all tapas and small plates -- before anyone else was doing it.

The Mediterranean spinach dip, served with roasted red peppers on top and pita chips on the side, was my favorite item on their menu. I liked it enough to make my own version. Rather than topping it with a couple of rolled up roasted peppers like they did at the restaurant, I diced them and threw them in. Otherwise, I think it's pretty close! This dip was created long before the Greek yogurt craze hit, so I use sour cream to make it, but if you prefer Greek yogurt, do it!

Makes a small vat, perfect for a summer party or BBQ.

  • 24 ounces sour cream, regular or light, or plain Greek yogurt -- or a combination 
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise -- I only use Hellman's 
  • 1 container herb and garlic seasoned feta cheese 
  • 2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced thinly 
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon each dried dill and oregano
  • Several grinds fresh black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 16 oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained REALLY well 
  • 1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers (add more to taste if you want!) 

Thaw the spinach and drain it.The best way I have found to do this is to put the spinach in a plastic strainer, set over a bowl, and microwave it for a couple of minutes to thaw quickly, then use a spatula to press the liquid out into the bowl.

Mix sour cream or yogurt with mayonnaise and feta in a large bowl. Stir in onions, garlic and seasonings. Fold in roasted red peppers and drained spinach. Let chill for several hours or overnight before serving for flavors to blend.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Rockin' Red Velvet Cheesecake

Cut View of Red Velvet Cheesecake
Crosscut view of cheesecake
My good friend and colleague Rosa is that strangest of people: she doesn't love chocolate. I mean really, not at all. So when her birthday rolled around, I took that on as a creative challenge -- to make something incredible and decadent for her that didn't include chocolate (for the most part, anyway!). I did know, however, that she likes Red Velvet Cake.

Red Velvet Cake is REALLY popular in the south, especially with cream cheese frosting, which has always perplexed me, given its legendary Yankee origin story: the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, looking to make a spectacular dessert during the chocolate shortages of World War II, used a tiny bit of cocoa and a ton of red food coloring to create the Red Velvet Cake. Lore has it that there was a food company that made its name by creating and selling red food coloring, with an attached recipe for Red Velvet Cake. It originally was frosted with "a French-style butter roux icing (also called ermine icing)," according to Wikipedia, but I think that the cream cheese frosting it's usually found with now is the ideal accompaniment. 


Cheesecake before frosting
Cheesecake before frosting
So how to turn this decadence into a cheesecake? Cream cheese is already an element of Red Velvet Cake, but just coloring a cheesecake seemed a touch lazy. Instead, I returned to the successful technique I used in the orange Creamsicle Cheesecake, and bought a Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix. That became the crust, topped with rich vanilla cheesecake, sweetened only with white sugar instead of brown for less of a caramel flavor, and then topped with cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of red sugar. It was inhaled! 

I usually make a 9" inch cheesecake, but this one is proportioned for a 10" pan. To cut it to fit a 9" pan, remove 1 8 oz. pkg cream cheese, 1 egg and 1/4 cup sugar. 


Crust: 

  • 1 Duncan Hines Signature Red Velvet Cake Mix
  • 1 stick butter, melted 

Filling: 
  • 4.5 8 ounce packages softened cream cheese 
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch 

Frosting: 
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese 
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter 
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch sea salt 
  • 1 tablespoon half and half 

Topping: Red sugar sprinkles or 2 tablespoons granulated sugar blended with a few drops red food coloring 

Directions: 

Heat oven to 350. Mix cake mix with melted butter. Pat into bottom only of a 10" springform pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray (butter flavored or plain!). Bake for 5 minutes and set aside. Fill a 9 x 13 pan with boiling water and set on the bottom oven rack. 

While the crust bakes, beat cream cheese, sugar and eggs, one block of cream cheese at a time. Beat the cream cheese until starting to get fluffy, add in sugar and then egg. Continue that process until all the cream cheese is incorporated. Stir in vanilla and cornstarch. 


Spray the sides of the springform pan with more cooking spray or brush with melted butter. Pour batter on top of crust, spreading it evenly to cover. Tap the sides of the pan to remove air bubbles. Bake at 350 for 50 minutes.

Let cool at room temperature for at least an hour before frosting.

For frosting, beat butter, cream cheese, salt, sugar and vanilla until blended. Add half and half until the frosting is smooth and spreadable, 1 teaspoon at a time. It may need more than 1 tablespoon.

Once frosted, chill the cheesecake at least 12 hours. Before serving, sprinkle with red sugar.