cheese

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Sometimes you just need a great dip. Dane and I were hanging out one weekend and I really wanted spinach and artichoke dip. Instead of going out to a restaurant, I figured I could just figure out how to make some on my own.

I started with looking through some recipes just to get a sense of the amounts I should be working with. I saw recipes that called for cream cheese, sour cream, and mayo. None of those seemed right to me. Mayo in a spinach and artichoke dip? Not so much for me.

My favorite kind of spinach and artichoke dip always has a delicious cheesyness mixed in with the spinach and artichoke. Since I’ve made all kinds of things with cheese sauces (because I LOVE CHEESE!) I knew I could make it work. And the results were awesome!

Spinach and Artichoke Dip

  • 1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onions
  • 3-4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
  • 1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • 4-5 strips bacon, fried crisp, drained and crumbled
  • Assorted chips for dipping (pita chips, tortilla chips, bagel chips)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch round dish (I actually used a pie plate, which worked perfectly) and set aside. I also drained the spinach, which took awhile to get all the water out. Really make sure you drain off as much water as you can. I then drained the artichoke hearts and chopped them into bite sized pieces.

In a medium pot, cook the bacon until crispy over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon and crumble once it has cooled. In the bacon fat, add the onions and cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook an additional 3 minutes.


Add the flour and stir constantly, to make a roux. Cook about 3 minutes then add the milk and cream. The mixture will start to thicken, so make sure to keep stirring constantly. It should take 3-5 minutes of stirring before you feel it starting to thicken.

Add the spinach and stir in well. Then add the cheeses, artichoke hearts, and bacon, and stir together.

Remove the pot from the heat and pour into the prepared dish. Put in the oven for about 20 minutes, until bubbly (you can add more cheese on top if you want). Remove from the oven and serve hot with chips.

This does make a LOT of dip, and Dane and I didn’t get through even close to half of this. It’s the perfect amount for company though. I froze the rest that we didn’t eat, and plan to try and reheat it next time I’m feeling the need for some dip. It may or may not work, but hey, it’s worth a shot.

Hope you enjoy!

The Nook & the Jucy Lucy, St. Paul, MN

Before I went to MN to visit Sam and Jason, I heard about the Jucy Lucy. How could a cheeseburger get any better? I wasn’t sure how, but this is the answer. I got really pumped when I saw the Food Wars episode on the Travel Channel with two battling restaurants claiming to have the original Jucy Lucy, Matt’s Bar and the 5-8 Club. Sam and Jason promised to bring me for a Jucy Lucy first thing after I landed in Minneapolis.

They kept their promise, as good friends do. We headed to their favorite place for a Jucy Lucy (not either of the sites featured on Food Wars) as soon as we picked up my luggage from baggage claim. Having tasted all three, their favorite is The Nook in St. Paul, and I trusted their burger judgment fully and ordered the Juicy Nookie Burger (with pickles, obviously).

No joke, that cheese will burn your face off. It’s best to use all your willpower and hold back a few minute while it cools. Learned that the hard way. I honestly didn’t expect to taste much of any difference from your normal run-of-the-mill cheeseburger, but I was wrong. The cheese in the middles seemed to make everything juicier and the cheese just got into every nook and cranny of the burger.

All I wanted for the rest of the trip was another Jucy Lucy. And now writing about this, I obviously want one. Every place really seems to have it’s own “thing”. NY and Chicago have pizza, Philly has the cheesesteak, and Minneapolis has the Jucy Lucy. If you’re in the area, go to the Nook and get one!

Baked Mac and Cheese with Sweet Peas

I know, I know. You’re sick of hearing about my obsession with macaroni and cheese. But I can’t help it! Who can resist a pasta smothered in an amazing creamy cheese sauce?

I’ve tried some great recipes, each better than the next for mac and cheese. The way I make it now is a mix of a few, and it is YUMMY!

Baked Mac and Cheese with Sweet Peas

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. cavatappi pasta (you can really use whatever kind you want. if you’d prefer, elbows always work well)
  • 4 cups of milk
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 5 cups of shredded cheese (I used 4 different kinds and mixed it up)
  • 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • Italian breadcrumbs (about 3/4 cup)

Start by cooking your pasta. Put the water on in a large pot to boil. Get started on the cheese sauce while you’re waiting for the water to boil.

Use a medium-large saucepan and add the 4 cups of milk. Heat over medium heat. Smash the garlic cloves and cut them in half, then add to the milk. Whisk the milk frequently to ensure it’s not scalding on the bottom, and cook over low-medium heat for 15-20 minutes. This will infuse the milk with an amazing garlic flavor, which I LOVE in mac and cheese. If you aren’t big into garlic, you can leave this part out.

In a large saucepan (you’re going to add the 4 cups of milk to this, so make sure it’s big enough!), melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk together. Make sure you get any lumps out. This will help thicken the cheese sauce later.

Strain the garlic cloves from the milk and discard them. Add the four cups of milk to the saucepan with the butter/flour mixture and whisk well to combine.

It’s probably time to put your pasta in to boil now, so check on that! Cook the pasta 2-3 minutes less than it says on the box. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven, so you don’t want it to get too mushy.

Back to the cheese sauce. Heat the milk mixture over low-medium heat and begin adding the cheese. I used a mixture of cheeses including sharp cheddar (bought in a block and I cut it up into small cubes), a bag of shredded cheese (approximately 2 cups) which was a mixture of cheddar and Monterey Jack, and about one cup of shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese. The cheeses are all about your preferences. I like a much sharper flavor, so I went with sharper cheddars. All together I had about 5 cups of cheese.

Add the cheese about one cup at a time and whisk well. For me, it took awhile for the cheddar pieces to melt in, but the shredded cheese melted much faster. The sauce will begin to thicken. Make sure the cheese totally melts! This might take some patience and extra whisking, but you can do it. Take a quick taste too, just to see if it needs a little salt or pepper.

Your pasta should be cooked and slightly under done by the time your cheese mixture is ready. Add the pasta to your cheese mixture and stir it together. Then add the frozen peas and make sure they are mixed together and evenly distributed. The peas can be added straight from the freezer, no need to thaw them.

Now add this to a large casserole dish that has been greased with butter lightly (so it doesn’t stick!). I had a little bit more pasta than there was room in the casserole dish, so I made two mini mac and cheese dishes that could be individual portions.

Now sprinkle the bread crumbs on top. I used about 3/4 of a cup, but use less or more depending on what you like. Once it’s ready, put in the oven on 375 degrees for about 45 minutes. The breadcrumbs should get slightly browned on top and the sauce will be bubbly and amazing. It will be hard, but let it cool for 10-15 minutes before you dig in. It will be super hot!

Now grab some friends (or don’t, you could just eat it yourself) and dig in! We had two friends staying with us when I made this and it was a huge hit. Baked mac and cheese is always a crowd pleaser!

Found! My Dream Cheese Board

I’ve been looking for the perfect cheese board for months. I looked at stores everywhere I went, shopped online, and even wrote a post with my most promising finds. But I found it when I wasn’t even looking. That’s always how it works out, isn’t it?

This past weekend we visited a store in Salem while some friends were visiting. The town was quiet and it was cold. Salem is actually a great little place to go visit, even in the “off-season”, which for them is just about any time except for the month of October. While walking around, we found a little boutique with kitchen items, specialty foods, dishware, wine, and craft beer. I had to stop in, and while I was milling around aimlessly falling in love with every item I saw, Dane took the initiative to find a store employee, locate some cheese boards, then found me and told me to pick out whatever one I wanted. I saw it right away.

The size I wanted, the shape I wanted, the color wood I wanted. AND? Matching cheese accessories (!). We picked up the accessories, and headed to checkout. They wrapped it up in a cute little bag for me and I toted it around town the rest of the day.

We went grocery shopping on our day off on Monday and picked up two different cheeses and some crackers, just to have in the house. You never know when company might be coming over, you have to be prepared with the right cheeses. Am I the only one who does this? Probably.

But, the best part of all this came yesterday evening. I was at a national conference all day and had a presentation at 8:50 in the morning. It was a great conference, but I was exhausted when I got home. What did I walk into?

Yup. That’s a cheese plate made by Dane that was ready for me and waiting when I got home. Cheddar, Brie, crackers, and prosciutto. All the makings of a very happy Kristen.

(Yes, I do realize that no one should be this obsessed with a cheese board. We all have our weird things, just bear with me on this. If you ever come over, you’ll be happy we have it!)

Welcome to your new home, perfect cheese board!

Kristen

Cheesy Cheesy Goodness

I have definitely documented my love of cheese on this blog. At this point, it goes without saying that I might be what some would call “obsessed” with different types of cheese. Whatever. I consider it a point of pride.

I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect cheese board and I think I’ve finally settled on the one I want. Surprisingly, Dane doesn’t seem to have very strong opinions on cheese boards, so this decision is up to me. I haven’t gotten it yet though, and when I hosted a wine tasting for this little blog (at beccajane’s apartment), there had to be a cheese plate to go with the wine. We made due with a wooden cutting board, which worked out quite lovely.

So to prepare for this event, I spent some quality time at the cheese section of the grocery store. I ended up with most of my own personal favorites, and tried to get a mix that everyone would like. Is there a correct way to do a cheese plate? I don’t know, but I was happy.

The four cheese I chose were gouda, brie, muenster, and cheddar. All pretty basic and delicious. Gouda is made from cow’s milk and always comes with a rind around it that helps to keep the cheese from drying out. Brie, also from cow’s milk, is a soft cheese named after the area in France where it originated. Muenster is a mild tasting cheese made with cow’s milk, that has a signature orangey rind. Lastly, cheddar, a familiar cheese with a sharper flavor. Served with some crackers and Sfilatino from Fornax Bread Company, each was delicious in its own way.

Next cheese plate will probably include some goat cheese and a harder cheese like pecorino or parmigiana. Can’t wait to host again, when I get my very own cheese board.

What’s your favorite cheese?

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