Hot Artichoke-Cheddar Dip

When you make a recipe so many times, you no longer need to review the ingredients list or even bother measuring, and that is the case for me with this hot artichoke cheddar dip, which I made umpteen dozen times during my stint as a prep cook for a catering company called A Pinch of Thyme.

The holiday season was wild in the “Pinch” kitchen, as many of our regular, affluent clients planned and hosted extravagant parties and, naturally, they did not prepare the food themselves. My friend, Tammy, was the events manager for Pinch, and she often shared colorful stories about some of the luxurious homes where our food was delivered (like the one with copper pipes running hot water underneath the marble floors to keep everyone’s tootsies warm), and I often wondered if those hosts supposed the food came from an equally posh kitchen and was prepared by consummate culinary professionals donning crisp, white chef coats and hats.

If they only knew.

My day job at the radio station usually had me out the door by noon, which gave me plenty of time to change into my most worn-out jeans and a WKZL T-shirt before tackling the party menus at the kitchen. The rock music would be blaring, Chef Rodney would be barking orders to everyone, the dishwasher would start running full-steam ahead and, somehow, we’d get it all done in time for the serving crew to load the truck and shuttle our delicacies to the client. The menu for such a shindig might have included a whole roasted beef tenderloin and buttered red bliss potatoes, some exquisite pastry dessert that I probably can’t even pronounce, bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with bleu cheese and, more often than not, this artichoke cheddar dip. Because, simple though it was, everyone loved it.

Warm and bubbly from the oven, this artichoke cheddar dip is delicious served with pita chips or crostini!

No matter how elaborate (or not) you intend your holiday get-togethers to be this year, I promise this dip will bring rave reviews. From memory, I scaled down the recipe to make it at home and, over time, I have modified it to reduce the ratio of mayonnaise in favor of smooth cream cheese; I think it endures better, especially when guests will be mingling for a while. The cream cheese keeps this dip silky, the cheddar gives a little sharpness and the artichoke hearts are satisfying and tart with their lemony zing.

If you want to go overboard, as we usually did in the Pinch kitchen, you might serve the dip in a silver chafing dish with handmade toasted herbed pita chips, which we typically made in quantity to fill up a hotel laundry cart. We would cut pita breads into wedges, split them to expose the shaggy insides, brush them with melted butter and then toss them with dried oregano, basil and garlic powder before baking them to perfect crispness. It was delicious, for sure, but at our house this year, we simply baked the dip in a pie plate, opened a bag of Stacy’s multigrain pita chips and had ourselves a party!


Ingredients

8 oz. brick of cream cheese (full fat or Neufchatel)

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

A few shakes hot sauce, such as Tabasco or Texas Pete

2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced

8 oz. brick cheddar cheese (medium or sharp), freshly shredded* (see notes)

Freshly ground black pepper

1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, finely chopped*

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

A pinch of dried thyme (of course)

1/4 cup parm-romano blend*


*Notes

I know that it’s tempting to use pre-shredded cheese from a bag, but don’t. The stuff is coated with a powdery substance that keeps it from clumping, which may be great for the purpose of packaging, but not great for cooking because it does not melt well. Break out the box grater and shred the cheese yourself. You’ll be glad you did!

I use artichoke hearts that are marinated in spices and oil, and I usually scoop them out of the jar with a slotted spoon without draining them. The herbs and oil add a pleasant layer of flavor. If you use artichoke hearts packed in water, drain them thoroughly and also drizzle them with a bit of olive oil before mixing into the dip. If they are plain, consider increasing the dried herbs slightly.

I use oil-marinated artichoke hearts. There is no need to rinse or drain them, and the herbs add flavor.

We make our own parm-romano blend, which is easy to do and super convenient, because we love the piquant flavor in so many dishes. If you don’t care to do this (or if you just don’t have the time), substitute a good quality grated parmesan from the supermarket.

Before we get into the making of this recipe, I have a confession (as you’ll see in the photos). To satisfy our shopping list on the day I made the dip, my husband had to visit four grocery stores. I decided not to wait for the new package of cream cheese, and I dipped into our fresh batch of spreadable scallion cream cheese, which we make regularly as a bagel schmear. The spread has a bit of sour cream in it, plus chopped scallions and a touch of dill. I scooped out a heaping cup of it for this recipe and it worked great. Improvisation has led me to some of my favorite flavor discoveries, and I’ve learned to not be strictly bound to a recipe.


Instructions

Using an electric mixer, blend the cream cheese, mayonnaise and sour cream together. Add garlic and hot sauce and mix until smooth. Give it a taste and adjust hot sauce to your liking. Add about 2/3 of the shredded cheddar and mix again. Season with about 15 twists of freshly ground black pepper. Blend in the chopped artichoke hearts until evenly distributed. Add oregano and, in keeping with the original recipe, a pinch of thyme.

Pile the mixture into a deep pie plate or 8 x 8 glass baking dish. Sprinkle on the parm-romano blend. Top with remaining shredded cheddar.

Bake at 375° F for about 25 minutes, until dip is heated through and cheese is bubbly. Serve warm with pita chips, sturdy crackers or crostini.



Crab & Artichoke Bisque

If this soup looks and sounds familiar to you, it’s because you are a faithful reader of Comfort du Jour, and you probably remember it from the Chopped Challenge post of a few days ago. In that post, I detailed my thought process in transforming a basket of ordinary mystery ingredients (curated by my darling husband, Les) into stunning food magnificence. Dramatic? Perhaps I have been watching too much of the real “Chopped” on Food Network and channeling host Ted Allen. Or blame the stars—I am, after all, a Leo.

Anywho, because of the overwhelming response and multitude of requests for the details of this recipe (OK, it was only my foodie pal, Dorothy, who requested the particulars, but she is enough), I share it today for your culinary pleasure. Dorothy and I met on WordPress, the digital platform for my blog, and we follow each other’s kitchen adventures with great joy and mutual encouragement. Her own blog, The New Vintage Kitchen, has me swooning over homemade delicacies on the regular, so if she wants one of my original recipes, you can bet I’ll hustle it up here. This works out well for me, too, because my usual M.O. is cooking without a specific plan or purpose, adding a little of this and that, skipping all effort of writing down the ingredients, amounts or instructions. Inevitably, Les will casually mention how much he enjoyed the such-and-such that I made back in oh, I don’t know, 2017, maybe? And at that point, I have absolutely no idea how to replicate it. Sigh.

That will not happen with this delicious soup, which also happened to be easy to make, even though I felt at the time as though I was flying by the seat of my pants (I was). I created it as a challenge to myself, to avoid the pitfalls of my own comfortable repertoire, and to surprise Les with something more interesting than the most obvious dish I might have otherwise prepared from my mystery basket (pizza). Do I not already make enough pizzas here on the blog? [Insert shameless plug for Pizza Party page] Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to jot down my method and amounts, so this will be a piece of cake—no, wait, a pot of soup—and I will be able to refer back to my own blog to revisit the recipe anytime I want (you’d be surprised at how often I really do this).

The soup ingredients themselves are no mystery. You’ll need lump crab meat and canned artichoke hearts, plus some onions (I used leeks), small red potatoes, seafood stock or veggie broth, a generous glug of white wine, a splash of cream and an immersion blender. Oh, and some crispy bacon for serving. If you don’t have an immersion blender, I am confident that this soup would also have been delicious in the style of a chowder, and I almost made it that way myself, except for the fact that Les loves creamy soups, and bisques in particular. I took a chance pureeing it, given that the potatoes had red skin and the leaves of the artichoke hearts can be kind of stringy, but it worked out beautifully. So you choose which works for you.

As a bonus, I will also share the ratio of ingredients for the tangy tapenade I served on the side, taking advantage of another basket ingredient (Kalamata olives) that didn’t seem to fit the soup itself. Enjoy!

Note to self: Must make again; Les loved it and declared my Chopped challenge a “winner.” And it just might be served one day in Dorothy’s own kitchen, or perhaps under her majestic maple tree named Alice, and that would make me super proud.

Recipe makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 slice thick center-cut bacon, diced* (see notes)

2 leeks (white and pale green parts), sliced and cleaned (or 1 medium onion, chopped)

2 Tbsp. salted butter

4 smallish young red potatoes, skin-on, diced (should be about 1 1/2 cups)

15 oz. can artichoke hearts, drained*

3 cups seafood stock or veggie broth*

About 1/3 cup dry white wine

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1 or 2 bay leaves for simmering

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

8 oz. lump crab meat

1 rib celery, strings removed and finely minced

Lemon slices and freshly chopped parsley (for garnish)


*Notes

The bacon I used for this recipe was pasture-raised and very thick cut. If using a grocery store brand, I recommend the thickest center cut available, and consider using two slices.

If you intend to make the artichoke-Kalamata tapenade, cut a few of the artichoke hearts in half, reserving the very tender parts for the tapenade. Otherwise, use the entire can in the soup. These artichoke hearts were packed only in water, not in oil with spices.

I used seafood stock from a carton because I already had it on hand. I knew the crab would be introduced at the very end, and I wanted more of the seafood flavor simmered into the soup. If I had the time (and enough shrimp shells in my freezer stash) I probably would have made this from scratch. In a pinch, a favorite veggie broth would work well. Or perhaps veggie broth, plus a small bottle of clam juice.


Instructions

  1. Place a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon to the pot and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set it aside.
  2. Add butter to the bacon grease and saute the leeks (or onions) until tender. Stir them around to loosen all the browned bacon-y goodness from the bottom of the pot.
  3. Add the potatoes and artichoke hearts and toss to coat in the bacon drippings mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the stock, white wine, lemon juice and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to simmer for about 45 minutes. Check to be sure the potato cubes are completely tender.
  4. Remove bay leaf from the pot. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup mixture to the desired consistency. Stir in heavy cream. Adjust seasoning to taste.
  5. Add most of the lump crab, reserving a bit to sprinkle on top of each serving. Add the minced celery here at the very end also, for a surprising little bit of texture in each spoonful. Stir gently to combine and simmer until the crab is warmed through. Drizzle a bit of olive oil into the reserved crab and place it near the stove to warm.
  6. Ladle the soup into serving bowls. Top each bowl with a tablespoon of reserved lump crab, a sprinkling of the crisp bacon, a scatter of fresh parsley and a broiled lemon slice.

Broiled lemon slices: Cut thin slices from the center of a lemon (where it is thickest). Remove the seeds and press between paper towels to remove as much juice and moisture as possible. Arrange the lemon slices on a parchment-lined baking sheet and broil on low for a few minutes (watch them closely). I placed mine on a baking sheet with another item and baked them for about 20 minutes, and the result was nearly the same.


Artichoke-Kalamata Tapenade

A handful of pitted Kalamata olives, preferably packed in brine with oil

1/4 cup artichoke hearts (only the tender “bottoms”)

2 large “lemon twist” cocktail olives in vermouth (mine were Tillen Farms brand)

2 Tbsp. sun-dried tomatoes, snipped into bits and rehydrated with boiling water

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (mine happened to be from Kalamata olives)

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper


Chop up the olives, artichoke hearts and cocktail olives (including lemon peels inside) into very small bits. Do this by hand, as a food processor would pulverize them into mush. Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and add them to the mix. Stir in lemon juice. Drizzle in olive oil and stir to coat everything. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Serve alongside the soup with crackers, pita, crostini or bread sticks.




Artichoke & Garlic Hummus

In six short weeks, life will be turned upside down for my husband, Les, and me. This is when our kitchen tear-out will begin, and we are beginning to shift our expectations as we prepare for the eight weeks or so that we will be “without” a kitchen. Welcome, friends, to our “in-between” kitchen!


We have rearranged our dining room space to accommodate a baker’s rack that will hold some of the appliances that will help us get through the chaos. A new two-burner induction cooktop will allow us to do simple stove-top cooking, including heating water for my daily dose of French press coffee. We will make good use of our slow cooker, toaster oven and the panini griddle that doubles as a waffle iron. We have the gas grill for outdoor cooking, and so far, the only thing I haven’t quite figured out is how I will make bread without our oven, though don’t be surprised if I use one or more of the above to make it happen!

As we are preparing for the load out of the old kitchen (not to mention a bevy of random pantry and freezer ingredients), I’m giving all of our other small electrics a chance to prove themselves worthy of a spot in our new space. One item that will be (sadly) getting the boot is our KitchenAid 11-cup food processor, but not because we don’t use it; on the contrary, this thing gets so much action, it is on its last legs. The protective film over the power buttons has become brittle and is completely worn away from the pulse button, the feed chute is cracked and the inside of the “S” blade stem has some dried-on crud that I have not been able to remove. I have had the appliance nearly 20 years, and KitchenAid no longer makes my model (or any of the parts), so my only choice will be to replace the machine.


Until then, I’ll keep going with recipes like this one, for easy homemade hummus made with garbanzo beans, lemony artichoke hearts and lots of fresh garlic. Hummus is one of my favorite “blank canvas” foods, and it’s so simple at home, it makes no sense to buy it. The other key ingredients include tahini, olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon, which is a perfect highlight to the tangy artichoke. 

Warm the garbanzo beans to soften them up before you begin and use a food processor or a good blender for best, smoothest results. Enjoy your hummus on crackers, chips, crostini or fresh veggie slices.


It’s so much tastier than store-bought!

Ingredients

15 oz. can garbanzo beans, with liquid

3 Tbsp. tahini* (see notes)

2 to 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

About 1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts*, drained and rough-chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Kosher salt and pepper

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil


*Notes

Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. It is available in most larger supermarkets, usually in the same section as olives, or perhaps in the international aisle.

The artichoke hearts I used were Trader Joe’s, marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar and spices. If you use plain hearts, consider adding a pinch or dried herbs (dill or oregano would be great), and either way, drain all the excess liquid from them.


Instructions


Pour the entire contents of the canned garbanzo beans into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat until mixture just begins to boil. Remove from heat and drain liquid off beans, but do not discard it (you’ll use it for blending).

Transfer warm beans into a food processor or blender and pulse a few times to grind the beans into a meal-like texture. Scrape down sides of the processor bowl. Add tahini, garlic, artichoke hearts, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to combine. Scrape down the sides again.

Turn processor on and run continuously while slowly pouring about 3 tablespoons of the warm liquid into the processor. Blending slowly will help to emulsify the ingredients into a smooth blend. Add more or less of the liquid, depending on your preference for hummus consistency. Remember that the mixture will become firmer after chilling. Scrape down sides once more.

Run processor continuously and slowly blend in about 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

Transfer hummus to a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for up to a week.



Artichoke & Garlic Hummus


Cobb with Artichoke-Crab Cake

A good many years ago, a work colleague from my radio days shared with me about his unusual mental habit of assigning colors to the months of the year—not surprisingly, several of the months were given colors that matched a holiday within the month, such as green for March (St. Patrick’s Day). My buddy gave July deep red, for its blazing summer heat. Orange was obviously the color of October, reflecting Halloween pumpkins and fall foliage. But January? You guessed it. Gray.

He’s right about that. The whole month of January looks and feels gray and lifeless, with the Christmas decorations down, no leaves on the trees, no flowers to enjoy. Gray is bland and boring, the color of a steak cooked in the microwave.

As many millions of other Americans, I let go an enormous exhale this week as our battered country took its first steps forward toward what we hope is a new chapter of compassion, cooperation and unity. The installment of a new president has me feeling hopeful for the first time in years, as if gigantic gray clouds have parted to allow sunshine and color back into our lives. I’m not naïve about politics, and I have seen enough in my years to know that smooth-sailing government is a goal rather than a given, but attitudes and intentions must be positive for progress to happen, and we are overdue. I’m ecstatic and proud about the historic swearing-in of our nation’s first-ever woman vice president (I’ll be raising a toast to her in a day or two here), optimistic about making up lost ground in our relationship with the rest of the world (and the planet), and relieved at the promise of giving science a louder voice than ego in our battle against this wretched virus.

Things are looking up, and I’ve needed something to be excited about after so much gloom.

And so, here begins a fun and color-filled parade of recipes to brighten up your plate. Nutritionists will tell you about the benefits of “eating the rainbow,” for all its varying vitamins, antioxidants and whatnot, and it’s undeniable that bright colors in general make people feel happier. I’m determined to bring that color!

Color my world! 🙂

To kick things off, I’m chasing away the gray with a mostly classic Cobb salad, authentic in the sense that it has all the key Cobb ingredients—avocado, bacon, hard-boiled egg, bleu cheese and tomatoes. In step with my recent celebration of seafood, I’ve swapped out the usual chicken breast in favor of a homemade artichoke-crab cake. I love the flavor of artichokes, with their slight lemony tang, and the pairing with crab has been a favorite for years. To pull the flavors together, I’ve punched up the vinaigrette with fresh lemon juice and a few shakes of lemon-pepper seasoning.

The end result is fresh, bright and cheerful. The flavors all work great together, and the colors are breathing some much-needed sunshine into gray and gloomy January. Enjoy!


Serves: 2 dinner salads with extra crab cakes for another meal
Leftover idea: crab cakes benedict, with poached egg and english muffin, topped with sauce of your choice


Crab Cakes

1 1/2 cups lump crab meat, drained and picked over for shell pieces

1/2 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained well and chopped fine

4 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1 large egg

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

1/4 cup cracker or panko crumbs (I used seasoned crackers)

1/4 tsp. lemon pepper seasoning (or more if using bland crackers)

Small handful fresh parsley

Lemon wedges for serving

Mix it up!

  1. Combine all ingredients except crab and mix with a fork until mixture is completely blended.
  2. Add crab meat and fold gently about 6 times, just enough to fully incorporate the mixture.
  3. Cover mixture and chill about 2 hours.
  4. Shape crab mixture into 6 equal-sized cakes*, then cover and chill again 2 hours until ready to cook.
  5. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake crab cakes about 25 minutes, until set but not dry.

*I misjudged my portions and ended up with a smaller seventh crab cake. Better than trying to re-shape them!


Citrus vinaigrette

2 Tbsp. Trader Joe’s orange muscat champagne vinegar* (or substitute any light or citrus-y vinegar + a pinch of sugar)

Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

3 or 4 shakes lemon pepper seasoning (I used McCormick, which already contains salt)

1 Tbsp. expeller-pressed canola oil + 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

  1. Whisk together vinegar, lemon juice, Dijon mustard and lemon pepper seasoning in a small bowl or measuring glass.
  2. Slowly drizzle canola oil into the mixture, whisking constantly to create an emulsion. Repeat with the olive oil. Cover and allow mixture to rest to “wake up” the seasonings. I typically make my dressings several hours or even days ahead, then bring to room temperature for serving.

Cobb salad

1 full romaine heart, washed, dried and chopped

1/2 cup finely shredded red cabbage (for color :))

1 small shallot, chopped (or substitute red onion)

8 baby tomatoes, halved

1/2 medium avocado, cubed

1/4 cup bleu cheese crumbles

3 slices uncured, smoked bacon, chopped and cooked crisp

1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped



Want to make this colorful salad?


If you’re a fan of the crab-artichoke combination, check out my easy recipe for Creamy Crab and Artichoke Dip!