Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip

One of our favorite appetizers to get at virtually any restaurant we go to is the hot spinach artichoke dip, sometimes served with chips, sometimes with sliced baguettes. In my Cooking Light cookbook, I found that the first recipe in the Starters section was a “healthy” version of the dip. So I tried it.

And it does NOT taste healthy. It tastes (and smells) like gooey, melty, delicious cheesy dip with big chunks of artichokes and lots of spinach. Anything with 3 types of cheese in one recipe is good in my book.

The base of it is fat-free cream cheese, low-fat sour cream, and part-skim shredded mozzarella. Now let’s get one thing straight: I absolutely hate the taste of fat-free cream cheese. If it’s between spreading fat-free cream cheese on a bagel or not eating anything, I’ll choose nothing. So I was hesitant. But after the Zucchini Bread debacle, I decided to follow the recipe without changing anything instead of insisting I know best. And I did not regret it.

I did, however, double the garlic (I pretty much always do), and next time I will 100% double the spinach since 10 ounces was really pretty skimpy in the spinach department, as my taste testers also pointed out. My  neighbor and patient taste-tester also suggested adding chopped roasted red pepper to it, which I think would be fabulous.

The part that really surprised me was how quick the whole thing went together. I could whip this baby up in no time, especially since I normally have all of the ingredients on hand. Then it bakes for 30 minutes, comes out browned and bubbly, and was amazingly delicious. Ryan and my brother-in-law ate nearly the entire baking dish of it in one post-golf sitting. And while I love to cook, I normally don’t love to eat what I cook other than sampling one bite of it, but this stuff…I had to practice restraint.

So, here’s what goes in:

  • 2 cups shredded skim mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 16 oz (two blocks) of fat-free cream cheese
  • 1 can of artichoke hearts, chopped up
  • 20 oz of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • Black pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
It all gets mixed together in a big bowl, dumped into a baking dish, and baked for 30 minutes. Delicious! This one is definitely going on our list of Make-Agains.
Easiness to Make: A+
Deliciousness: A+
Presentation: A (it’s hard to take a pretty picture of a lump of spinach dip)

Topped with extra mozzarella and parmesan


Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread with Cream Cheese Frosting

Zucchini bread is a touchy subject in my family; one mention of altering a recipe or looking for a new way to do it, and my mother had already texted me the exact ingredients that I needed, no turning away from them, this is how we do it. Don’t get me wrong: my love of food and cooking comes directly from my family. Unfortunately, so does my predisposition for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure and cholesterol. So, in the name of healthy lifestyles for myself and our future generations, I really have made a huge effort to turn away from the Butter Pools of Desire that make up our traditional family dinners in favor of whole foods.

Somebody really stupid I know said that “real cooks don’t need a recipe,” which is totally asinine considering that recipes are a great way of expanding your menu – oh, the possibilities! I will say, however, that I feel like a rockstar having created a recipe on my own, subbing in all the stuff I wanted in a zucchini bread instead of all the stuff a traditional one calls for.

Rather than using the normal white flour, white sugar, and oil, I subbed in whole wheat flour (the grainy raw kind), Stevia and brown sugar, and plain Greek yogurt. I doubled the zucchini so that it’s really zucchini-y, and I didn’t use buttermilk but instead just used regular fat-free milk with a splash of white vinegar in it (not my idea, but a substitute I found online).

And ta-da! Healthy (er), whole wheat zucchini bread which allows for the indulgence with the cream cheese frosting. Which I used whole fat, creamy, delicious cream cheese for, no healthy substitutions allowed.

Whole Wheat Zucchini Bread w/ Cream Cheese Frosting

So how did it taste? In a word: disappointing. Well, at first, when I tried it directly out of the oven.I didn’t say I was going to succeed everytime, did I?

It’s my own fault, really; I should have doubled or tripled the brown sugar, because while it was super moist and had a great consistency, it was definitely not sweet enough. The cream cheese frosting is basically the same recipe I stuffed the Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries with, so that’s a no-fail, but the bread itself at first taste…eh. So, if you want to try it yourself, I recommend using either a) chunks of dark chocolate in the baking process or b) more sugar to sweeten it up.

Six hours later, however, when it had cooled, apparently all the flavors had meshed together and paired with the Cream Cheese Frosting, it got significantly better grades from both me and Ryan. Turns out, I highly recommend afterall.

Easiness to make: B- (it requires actual sifting of flour and sugar and real baking-ness on your part)

Deliciousness: B+ (with Cream Cheese Frosting; without Cream Cheese Frosting, a solid C)

Presentation: A-

Next Day Update: After a night in the fridge, it was truly pretty gross this morning. A bit of a conundrum since it can’t be left out because of the cream cheese frosting. Sigh.

Mushroom and Gruyere Puff Pies

Yesterday was a lot of firsts for me: first time using Puff Pastry, first time eating Gruyere cheese, first time losing my temper in the middle of the grocery store over button mushrooms. It was a busy day.

This recipe is basically puff pies filled with melty Gruyere cheese, a mushroom mix composed of crushed garlic, button mushrooms, and diced red pepper, and a creamy filling made of sour cream, Dijon mustard, and cheese. They’re brushed with egg, baked til golden brown, and then scarfed down by boys.

After having a minor meltdown because three grocery stores in the area failed to carry button mushrooms, I substituted a mix of baby bellas and shitake mushrooms, and it seemed to turn out just as delightful. If you’ve ever used button mushrooms, you know they are super moist and make a leaky kind of liquid in the pan that you have to cook a bit longer to evaporate – the other two types of mushrooms don’t do that, so you just have to adjust your saute time accordingly if you, too, can’t find button mushrooms to save your life.

Also, a note on cheese: if you’ve never had Gruyere, I recommend trying it, since my personal philosophy is that no cheese should go untried. It’s a Swiss cheese (and it tastes like it), with a slight bitey flavor that I think takes a little getting used to. If it’s not your thing, I suspect cheddar or sliced provolone can be used just as efficiently in these. For a heartier pie, it’s entirely reasonable to add strips of chicken or beef, if you’re into that kind of thing, or a tofu substitute like Morningstar Farms Chik’n Strips. But be warned: the mushroom mix and the melted Gruyere are heavy hitters; Ryan was “stuffed” after two and a half pies.

Below, I included a picture of pretty much what they looked like, but I didn’t take my own picture due to camera issues, so a very special thanks to Tuesday with Angela – another great WordPress blog to check out!

Total time to prep and cook: 1 hour 10 minutes

Easiness to make: B-

Deliciousness: B+

Presentation: B+  

Mushroom Gruyere Puff Pies

It’s not writing, but it tastes better

So, this week I finished my second novel manuscript and submitted it to my agent to read, and basically that’s the end of anything I can do with it for this moment. Pair that with the fact that I am on limited mobility until this kid makes an appearance sometime in early September, and it makes for 8 long weeks of boredom.

So I’m filling my time with food. And writing. But mostly food.

Ever since happily watching Julie & Julia, I’ve always wanted to work my way through a book full of recipes. So that’s what I’m doing. After much research and a difficult process of elimination, this morning, I went to Borders and picked up two delightful, colorful, full-picture recipe books: Cooking Light – Way to Cook Vegetarian by Scott Mowbray, which is a big honking cookbook with step-by-step preparation pictures and lots of great extra sections about proper techniques for cooking stuff; and The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook.

Here’s the thing about vegetarian recipes: I need to get a handle on a delicious variety of recipes that we love in our household so that I can make them more often. Right now, I only have about 5 in my arsenal, which I cycle through, but since we’re going to be raising a little Veggie, and I’m not going to be home forever, now is the perfect time to figure out what recipes work and which don’t, and to hopefully fine-tune them so that they become regulars in our house.

My goal is to choose two recipes each day that we are both home for dinner, and try them out. I’d like to catalogue them on here, and at the same time share my experience, and maybe give you some great dinner ideas. The only thing is that I won’t be posting the entire recipe and instructions for each one, since that would obviously not be nice for the author/editor, and it would also take a very long time. I’ll be writing more of a review of each one, and if one strikes your fancy, just shoot me an email and I’m happy to share the directions and ingredients!

So, stay tuned. For anyone who is completely uninterested in this because they are an omnivore and like-a the meat, don’t fret: I’m sure you can throw in some beef or chicken or turkey to whatever it is I’m making.

Estrogenerosity: The Great Girl Revolution

One of the biggest reasons Mean Girls was such a ridiculous success was that it was so gosh-darned real. I mean, watching it, as a college girl, when it came out, all I could do was marvel at the fact that someone had captured the relationship wars between young women so very, very well. Fact is, it’s pretty sad that a movie about emotional warfare on other women rang so true. But it did. And that brings me to a topic that’s been on my mind for a few months now: female friendships. In our culture, friendships between women are just expected to be negative; cat fights, jealousy, haters, boyfriend-stealers, backstabbers. Just the coining of the term “frenemy” in the last few years says a lot about the expectations women have of friendships with each other.

But if you’re a woman, you already know this. I am completely confident that you know all of this, that you yourselves have said at one point or another, “God, I hate girls,” that you have had a deep heart-to-heart with one good girlfriend of yours and said, “I’m not like that,” and really meant it. I understand. But I also, perhaps in the ripening of my old age, am beginning to disagree.

For the first time in my life, I’ve been reflecting on the friendships that I have. I’m blaming it on hormones, idle mind time, and the nostalgia of summer. But I’m also blaming it on what I’ve seen in my life in the last few months. It’s easy to say “women suck” when all you are surrounded by are toxic women who time after time succeed in disappointing you with their behavior, say mean things to you under the pretense of “speaking their mind,” put you second or third or last or not at all ; it’s a lot harder to have that attitude when you see women surrounding each other, helping each other, holding each other up, cheering each other on.

And that’s what I’ve been seeing an awful freaking lot of.

Throughout the past few years, I’ve seen it in a variety of places: in my Master’s program at Wilkes, where not a catty bone was to be found among the ladies I broke bread with; in the group of girls that I grew close to in college, and in their friends, most of whom were athletes and balanced female relationships 24/7; in the neighbors I’ve gotten to know in my apartment complex since moving in almost a year ago. I’ve seen it, I just haven’t stopped to appreciate it. And so that’s what I’m urging you to do.

These are five of the many ways that I think healthy friendships with women are amazing:

Great Girls will be your biggest fans. No more giving time or mind power or energy to women who seem like they want to bring you down. Don’t waste time thinking about how they’re haters or jealous or bitches. Don’t even think about them at all. Instead, look around and appreciate the girls who cross their fingers for you before interviews, speeches, and doctor’s appointments, call to tell you you’ll be awesome at whatever it is you’re up to, screech into the phone when you tell them good news about yourself, and want to immediately celebrate your successes, big or small, directly related to them or not related to them at all.

Great Girls will surround you with a cocoon of help. All kinds of help. Buttloads of help. Doesn’t matter what kind of help you’re in need of, they will find a way to do it, quickly and efficiently. They won’t make excuses or try to get out of it, and they won’t pretend like they never got your call or text. They’ll be there. They’ll hear what you need. And they’ll do it.

Recently, a Great Girl friend of mine had a bit of a medical emergency. Within minutes of finding out, another Great Girl friend was already networking with me and many others, planning food and shifts and visits and babysitters. It was like the Underground Railroad of Great Girls – each one had a planned stop, a responsibility, a task, and she was focused, up for it, ready to integrate so that everything went as smooth and wonderful as it could. Great Girls will help you, plain and simple, and they won’t be imposed upon, think you’re taking advantage of them, or even think about it at all. They’ll just happily do it, like some kind of crazy, nice, caring autopilot mode they switch into. Isn’t that awesome?

Great Girls will be generous. This goes along with number 2, but I think it deserves its own number because generosity happens in so many different ways. One Great Girl friend of mine, upon finding out that my Eggo was preggo, systematically lent me every single item from her maternity wardrobe from small to large, both casual and business. No questions asked. Just huge, wonderfully organized Rubbermaid containers of super cute, size-sorted clothing that I could use for nine months. If you’ve ever looked at the price tag on a pair of moderately cute maternity jeans and wanted to unbake your growing baby just so you didn’t break the bank, you’ll understand how amazingly generous this is.

I’ve had Great Girl friends generously give up their time to help me proofread and edit manuscripts despite it being their own extremely busy wedding month; pack up a newborn baby and seventy pounds of equipment to visit me when I couldn’t leave the house for weeks and wanted to tear my hair out; drive five hours in one day and give up a weekend on vacation with her husband to bring brownie bites to my party because ‘she wouldn’t miss it for the world’; show up at 11:00pm with herbal remedies and juice because I was convinced I was going to die from a UTI (to be fair, that was my Great Sister, but I still think she counts). And most recently, I had a Great Girl friend pick me up a watermelon when she was at the store. Just because I’m obsessed and she knows it, and she got an extra one thinking of me. Generous.

One note on this one: if you noticed, generous doesn’t have to equal money or expensive BFF matching heart necklaces. It just equals thinking of someone else over yourself for a few minutes and acting on it. Pretty simple really.

Great Girls will professionally address meltdowns. You know that feeling of having the Worst. Day. Ever., where you can feel at any moment that your chest is going to squeeze itself closed and you’re going to burst into tears? And then the moment you make it into the safety of the elevator/the car/your front entryway, you do burst into tears? Meltdown. For some of us, they only happen very rarely. For others (no names mentioned – *I look around uncomfortably*), they happen more frequently. Great Girls won’t give you a pat and say, “You’ll be okay,” which, really, is a perfectly acceptable reaction to meltdowns. No. They will respond to your email or phone call with an in-depth analysis of why you’re so sad, and then they will listen to you sob and snort snot and freak out and explain why you cannot get yourself out of this mess, and then they will carefully list all the reasons that you will, indeed, be okay. Then they’ll list the exact reasons again, patiently, and tell you to call if you meltdown again. And they mean it.

Great Girls will be positive. This is a biggie. It’s taken me a very long time, it feels like, to realize the difference between toxic people and positive people. It seems like it should be a very simple, but in Girl World, it’s not always clear cut. Toxic people bring you down when you interact with them, whether by making you view other people more negatively, by changing your attitude for the worst, or by simply making you feel less good then you did before talking to them. Positive people don’t have to have sunshine and rainbows coming out of their bajingos; they just need to bring you up more than they bring you down. That’s all.

So. This is an extra mushy post, but look around you. Do you have Great Girls in your life? More importantly, are you one to your friends? I promise – it makes a whole lotta difference in the perpetuation of female friendship stereotypes when you actually, truly believe that the women in your life are wonderful, trustworthy, awesome people.

Chocolate Cheesecake Strawberries

Well, these turned out to be sinfully good. I made two batches in two days: the first one was completely annihilated within minutes of serving by Ryan and his best friend, Mojo, and the second one I shared with some neighbors in celebration of their new baby girl. Here’s the thing about faking grownupness with recipes: these will make you look so fancy-schmancy at virtually any social gathering because they look and taste like something you spent hours slaving over, plus, they’re a delightfully presented grown-up dessert. No more cracking open a box of Entemann’s Coffee Cake and hoping nobody knows you brought it. And the reason they’re perfect for me and this blog? Because I generally can’t bake any type of dessert without burning down the house, I like things that line up nicely on a platter and look like neat little soldiers awaiting orders, and I love fruit.

One note about my step-by-step instructions: they seem really long. This is because I like very specific instructions when I make things, so instead of 4 “easy” steps that confuse the hell out of me, I like to break it down into 12-15 small steps that explain exactly what to do. It actually makes it go faster – just not the reading part.


  • 20 large strawberries (really large ones)
  • 1 and a half boxes of Philly Cream Cheese (12 oz total)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. of vanilla extract
  • 1 stack of honey graham crackers (or the already crushed kind, if you’re in a rush)
  • 1 can of Dolci Frutta dipping chocolate (find them in the produce section)
What to do:
  1. Wash all the strawberries (pesticides are nasty and organic strawberries are very hard to come by)
  2. Cut the stem tops off all the strawberries so they have nice, flat, stemless tops.
  3. Use a little paring knife (the short stubby one in the knife collection), and VERY carefully core out the strawberry. I ruined about four of them the first time because I dug the knife right through the other end with my clumsy monster hands. You want to basically hollow out a hole right in the center without cutting the outside of the strawberry. Thankfully, if you screw this up, you just have more mutilated strawberries to eat. There is a great picture guide here, if you’re interested.
  4. Line up all of your hollowed out strawberries on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet.
  5. In a small bowl, use an electric handmixer and mix together the softened cream cheese, the powdered sugar, and the vanilla. Whip it around til it’s really smooth. Then taste it. Then taste it again to make sure. Then take a small spoonful and taste it once more. Note: If you’re inclined to keep tasting it, it’s ready to use. Just put the spoon down and get back to the cookin’, fatty.
  6. Put the graham crackers in a Zip-Lock bag and crush them til they’re crumbs. I used a giant can of tomatoes because I don’t own a rolling pin. First I just smashed at the bag, then once they were littler pieces, I rolled it out like a rolling pin and they actually crushed down to very fine crumbs. Pour the crumbs into a small bowl.
  7. Bring the bowl of cream cheese mixture and the bowl of graham cracker crumbs over to the table and set them next to the strawberries so everything is lined up and easy to work with.
  8. Using a small spoon (I used a baby spoon), scoop the cream cheese mixture into the strawberry holes so that there’s just a little overflowing, but not much.
  9. Dip the tops of the strawberries into the graham cracker crumbs so that the crumbs stick to the cream cheese mixture.
  10. Repeat with all of them and line them up on the sheet.
  11. Put in refrigerator to chill for 1 hour (important! Otherwise the cheesecake won’t set)
  12. Melt the Dolci Frutta chocolate until it’s melty and ready to dip in.
  13. Dip each strawberry tip into the chocolate and set graham cracker side down/chocolatey tip up on the wax paper tray.
  14. Let chocolate harden for ten minutes and then eat!!
I wish I had a nice, orderly photo of the final project; unfortunately, Ryan and Mojo ate all of the remaining ones before I could take a nice picture, so all you get is the crappy one I snapped on my phone.

The final product 🙂

So, the verdict?
Easiness to make: A
Deliciousness: A+
Presentation: A+

Who needs a recipe book? Faking Culinary Skills…

For a while now, I’ve been wanting to keep a recipe book because rather frequently (especially now that I’m home more), I’ve tried recipes that are brand new to Ryan and I. The majority of the time I cook them, we eat them, we love them, and then I promptly forget them and they become one-hit-wonders in our household. So, in my mind, I keep telling myself to start a recipe book. But why do that when I can blog them instead? All in one place, one less project to keep track of, and (bonus!) maybe some of you would like to try to out the good ones for yourselves.

So, I simply added a new category: Faking Culinary Skills, and all of my attempts will go right here, with the recipe and instructions, how easy it was to make, and how delicious it was. If I can figure out these newfangled contraptions, I may even attempt to throw in some photos since I love to neurotically take pictures of food that I make.

The only thing I’m a little fuzzy on is the rights to recipes – I almost always StumbleUpon something that looks delicious, use it as my base recipe, and then create something that we love to eat. I rarely follow a whole recipe because a) almost nothing ever has enough garlic/cheese/spices in it and b) I can’t help my twitchy self from trying new additions that seem like they might make it more delish. So I guess I’ll also post a link to the original, if it’s close to it, that way whoever was actually the culinary genius behind the recipe can get a visit to their site and some props for making up scrumptious creations.


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