Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Appetizer. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style

If one ever needed a reason to (a) share a great bottle of wine with friends, (b) grow cherry tomatoes this summer, (c) nosh on appetizers so good you wouldn't care if dinner followed or not, or (d) any or all of the above, this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style may be it. The concept behind this appetizer is so ingenious, so simple I don't know why it isn't one of those 'regulars' served at every cocktail party or gathering. Could it possibly have anything to do with lower than average membership in the feta cheese or kalamata olive fan clubs?  Anyone not already a proud card carrying member, of this club needs to make this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style. One bite and all of your previously held (pre- and misconceived) notions about the taste of feta cheese and/or kalamata olives will be shattered. How can I possibly say this, considering not all tastes are the same? Well, it just so happened I asked the person who shall remain nameless  to tell me what he thought of this 'new' appetizer.  This would be same person who also happens to be the same person who is neither a big fan of feta cheese or olives of any kind. In an effort to avoid any bias before his first bite, I made certain not to tell him any of the ingredients (a cruel necessity). After his third or fourth crostini schmeared with the warm, softened feta cheese and topped with the baked tomato mixture, I was fairly certain he liked it. But of course, I needed the affirmation. Why? Because it's so much more gratifying hearing accolades or experiencing any other form of adoration, than it is assuming or mind reading someone's thoughts based on their actions. The rave reviews given did not disappoint.

The Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style literally is one of the easiest to prepare appetizers. If any of my friends who claim they don't cook made this for their family and/or friends, more than likely everyone would wonder why they had kept their Iron Chef persona under wraps for so long.

Beyond its' simplicity, the Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style doesn't require any unusual, hard to find, or overly expensive ingredients. Yes, this is the proverbial win-win appetizer.

Everything you need to make it may already be in your own garden or readily available at the grocery store. On a side note, the original recipe called for a quarter cup of thinly sliced red onions. I intentionally omitted them. Not because I don't like red onions (I do), but for some reason my palate was in the mood for an onion free Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style experience.

There were a variety of feta cheeses available in the deli section of my grocery store. While slightly more expensive (relatively speaking), use a good quality, fresh Greek Feta for this dish instead of any of the other feta options you find. Ask for an 8 to 10 ounce block of cheese. To ensure the feta stays fresh in my refrigerator I generally ask the person who cutting the cheese to pour some of the cheese brine into the container. When you are ready to put everything together, cut the block of feta in half crosswise, so each piece is no more than an inch thick.

If you can't find a pint of yellow, red, and orange cherry tomatoes, use whichever ones you can find or whatever tomato colors appeal to you. After that, all you to do is cut them in half lengthwise.

After starting to coarsely cut the kalamata olives with a knife, I thought the food processor would do it faster (and better). Feel free to cut them with a knife, but having the food processor do the work is worth having to wash up a few extra things when you are done.

In a medium sized bowl, the halved tomatoes, coarsely chopped olives, minced garlic, black pepper, oregano, olive oil and only one tablespoon of the chopped parsley are mixed together.

In an oven proof baking dish, one able to withstand a temperature of at least 400 degrees (F), the tomato mixture is spooned over the two slices of feta cheese.

In just 15 to 20 minutes, the cheese will have softened (but will not be runny or gooey) and the tomatoes will have blistered. If, by some chance, your cheese has not softened, continue baking, checking every 2 minutes. When the Baked Feta came out of the oven, I gave it an ever so light drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Because, why not.

I served the Baked Feta with some homemade crostini instead of crackers or pita chips. The baked cheese is soft and spreadable (versus runny or gooey like a baked goat cheese). So whatever you use, it needs to have some substance to it. Not only did the crostini hold the baked feta and tomato mixture well, it was the perfect choice to mop up any of the remaining incredibly flavorful juices.

This is one of those substantial appetizers. Depending on how much wine you are serving and drinking while enjoying this Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style, you might consider serving it with some grilled shrimp and/or the Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip. Suddenly your appetizer can turn into the perfect small plate dinner. And who knows, you might end up adding a few more members to the feta and kalamata olive loving fan club.

Baked Feta - Mediterranean Style (ever so minor changes to the Smitten Kitchen's Mediterranean Baked Feta with Tomatoes recipe)

1 pint of a colorful mixture cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced (if you love the flavor of garlic, use 2 cloves)
2 Tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped and divided
1 generous teaspoon dried Greek oregano
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing
Freshly ground black pepper (about 1/4 teaspoon)
An 8 to 10 ounce block of fresh Greek feta
Optional: 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
Crostini, crackers, or pita chips for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the tomatoes, olives, garlic, only 1 Tablespoon of parsley, oregano, olive oil and black pepper. Note: Mix in sliced red onion if using.
3. Cut the block of feta in half crosswise. Lay two halves on an oven proof baking dish. Spoon the tomato mixture over the top.
4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Note: Feta should feel soft to the touch.
5. Garnish with remaining tablespoon of parsley, lightly drizzle with olive oil, and serve immediately with crostini (or baked pita chips, or crackers).

Notes: (1) The originating recipe came from "The Sprouted Kitchen Cookbook" written by Sara Forte. That recipe offered baked and grilled versions of the Baked Feta. If you don't buy the cookbook, you can find the grilling directions in the Smitten Kitchen link above. (2) Chopping the kalamata olives in the food processor worked perfectly and is much easier than chopping them with a knife. (3) If possible, buy your feta from the deli portion rather than in a pre-packaged container in the cheese section of your favorite grocery store. (4) The Baked Feta Mediterranean Style will cool quickly, so it's important to serve immediately. If becomes room temperature either return to the oven to warm or reheat in the microwave oven. (5) Toss any leftovers into some freshly cooked pasta for a mediterranean style pasta dish.

Barns in Door County, Wisconsin (April 2017)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip

Artichokes came late into my life. How late? Well, I was well into adulthood. I would like to be able to tell you exactly where I first had them, how they were served, or how much I swooned over them. But honestly I can't remember. I vaguely recall wondering how it was that artichokes had never crossed my life path before. Or how I had managed to go through so many years of my life without them. Yet, once the artichoke door was opened, there was no going back to an artichoke-free life. Without being overly melodramatic over a vegetable of all things, it was kind of like the feeling one gets when meeting a 'causing your heart to race and stomach to have butterflies' soul mate. You immediately know you want them to be in your life forever.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dips have been around for a very long time. And understandably so. They are delicious, irresistible, slightly addictive, and pair incredibly well with wine. White wine, red wine, a rose, a prosecco. A Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip befriends all of them. 

But let's be honest about something. Not all Hot Spinach and Artichokes Dips are the same. You have probably had your share of those ranging from not particularly endearing to your palate to ones you wanted to hover over. So what may account for the differences? With the exception of all them having spinach and artichokes as common ingredients, there are numerous 'other ingredient' options. All of which will have an impact on the taste and texture of the dip. Some are made with only one kind of cheese, while others have two or more kinds of cheeses. Some have a cream cheese/mayonnaise base, while others are made with sour cream, a bechamel (white sauce) or even a jar of canned sauce. The herbs used are fresh, dried, or a combination of both.  The garlic, if used, maybe be freshly grated or a powder. And sauteed onions are one of the many options added to them. Additionally the proportions of ingredients are all over the map. Which invariably leads to the variances in taste reactions. 

When looking at dozens of recipes for a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip, I came to discover there wasn't 'one' that spoke to me. So I did what I often do. Make some inferences about ingredient proportions, put together combinations that appeal to me, and cross my fingers the outcome will be as good as or even better than I had hoped. This would be my version of culinary science.

While I may be a bit biased, I am going to boldly suggest you abandon your favorite Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip recipe and replace it with this one. Or at least make your version and this version, invite your friends over for a taste test and determine which one is 'best'. Of course, you should do this before they consume significant quantities of wine and after you give them your written statement verifying their 'best' choice decision will not in any way do any temporary or permanent harm to your friendship. 

If you are like me, you always have some frozen spinach in the freezer, cans of artichoke hearts, garlic, cream cheese, mayonnaise, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano in the house. Whole milk mozzarella and Spanish Onions are things I buy when I need them.  When a recipe calls a non-specified type of oregano, I usually decide whether to use the Mediterranean (Greek, Italian) or Mexican versions. Because Mexican Oregano has some citrus notes to it, I thought it would pair well with the artichokes and spinach.

Some of the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip recipes I looked at called for the use of frozen artichoke hearts. But I tend to buy canned artichoke hearts. Use what you like. 

I wanted this Hot Artichoke Dip to have a strong cheesy flavor. So I opted for freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Whole Milk (versus Part-Skim or Fresh) mozzarella. I know Parmigiano-Reggiano can be a little more expensive than other imported or domestic parmesan cheeses, but it lasts for quite a long time (wrapped well) in the refrigerator and brings an unparalleled dimension of flavor to any dish it is used in.

After all of the ingredients are combined, transfer to a oven-proof baking/serving dish and top with some additional grated cheese. I topped with both of the cheeses, but next time might only top with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

The Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip bakes in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for 30-35 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the dip is hot in the center. Your oven as well as the size/depth of the baking dish may affect your baking time.

You can serve the Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip with crackers, crostini, pita chips, or bagel chips. Note: I served with Garlic-Parmesan bagel chips. 

Invariably this dip will turn from hot to warm to even room temperature when you are serving it. Unless of course it is quickly inhaled because it is the only thing you are serving and everyone is starving. While some may like it 'best' hot or warm, I think was still delicious when it got to room temperature. In the event you have any leftovers, this dip reheats exceptionally well in the microwave a medium power. 

This Hot Spinach and Artichoke is destined to be one of your new best friend in the weeks, months and years ahead. It's creamy, cheesy, more than slightly addictive, and incredibly delicious. In other words, its everything a Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip should be.

Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip  (inspired by multiple sources)

10 ounce packages of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed to remove the liquid
14 ounce can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup plus 1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (or 1 teaspoon of Italian oregano)
1 clove garlic, minced
2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 ounces whole milk mozzarella, grated
1 small yellow or Spanish onion chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F)
2. Melt butter in small saute pan. Add chopped onion and cook until onion has become translucent (approximately 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside.
3. In a medium-large bowl, mix cream cheese, mayonnaise, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano. Stir until mixture is smooth and free of any cream cheese lumps.
4. Add spinach, artichoke hearts, grated cheeses and onion. Stir until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
5. Transfer to a oven-proof container. Lightly grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top.
6. Bake 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly golden and dip is hot in the center.
7. Serve hot/warm with bagel chips, pita chips, crackers, and/or crostini.

Notes: (1) This dip can be made early in the day or even the day before. Do not preheat the oven if transferring the dish directly from the refrigerator to the oven. Your baking time might increase slightly, but you won't risk cracking your dish. (2) When buying mozzarella, look for whole milk mozzarella as it does not release as much liquid as a part-skim or fresh mozzarella. (3) If you double the recipe, make it two different dishes (versus one larger dish) and bake them separately. This way you will always have a hot/very warm dip to serve.

April Spring Day (2017) at Morton Arboretum (Lisle, Illinois)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Superbowl Appetizer Round-Up

Super bowl Sunday is right around the corner. An whether you are a football fan or not, it's almost impossible to not be drawn into some of all of the hoopla. Come Monday morning, some of us non-hard core football fans may not remember the final score, the MVP, or the most controversial call of the game. However, we will remember the commercials, the half-time show, and, of course, the food we noshed on during the game. Especially the food we didn't get enough of or over indulged in. Just in case you haven't yet decided what to serve this weekend or what else to make to go with some your standby favorites, here are some savory, hearty, crowd-pleasing appetizers your friends and family won't be able to stop talking about for days, weeks, maybe even a month later. These are so incredibly delicious, it wouldn't surprise me if some of them made a repeat appearance at an upcoming Academy Award party.

Sloppy Joe Sliders with Avocado Crema and Jalapeños

Pretzel Style Pigs in the Blanket

Deviled Eggs

Deviled Ham

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Hummus (Ottolenghi)

"There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your little finger like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic" (Diane Setterfield) The other day I was talking with a friend about the first episode in the new season of "Homeland" and found myself getting weepy. The transformation of one of the main characters along with how I anticipated parts of the new season to evolve had struck an emotional chord. I tried to tell myself to get a grip, this was a television show. But it didn't matter. Because I am someone who can be deeply moved words. And particularly by those found in a well-written article or book or heard in a film, and yes, even a television series. I have always been in awe of those with the ability, the talent, the power, the gift, to draw our emotions, imaginations, and thoughts in with their words. There have been times when I have had to temporarily take pause or walk away from a book because it had evoked either a new or deeply buried thought. I feel this same way watching films, but unlike watching a film or a television show at home, I can hardly walk out of a movie theatre without missing something or be so bold as to ask them to please stop the reel while I finish processing my thoughts (that would be too much even for me to ask). I love equally those books validating things I hold dear or believe as well as those shifting my perspective. "Angela's Ashes" changed the way I looked at poverty, "Columbine" changed the way I looked at the challenges and heroism existing in schools, "A Little Life" validated there can be a destructive element to resiliency, and "The Kite Runner" gave me some early insights into a culture I may have pre-judged but knew very little. Being able to share your thoughts and, yes, even emotions about a book, movie or television show, regardless of what they are one of the ways to make great connections with others. In the same way as sharing a meal does.

Four years ago I posted a recipe for Gameday, Everyday Hummus on the blog. It was one inspired by the person I believe has significantly shifted the way we cook, the way we entertain. No, not Martha Stewart. But rather culinary goddess extraordinaire, Ina Garten. Not only was I incredibly effusive in my praise for her recipe, I genuinely believed it would be the 'one' I would be making forever. Call me what you will, but over the Christmas holidays I (gasp) made a different hummus recipe. One heavily based on the recipe appearing in "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi.

In a single bite of the creamiest hummus I had ever tasted, I knew I would be (dare I say permanently?) switching my hummus loyalties. However, should Ottolenghi ever come across this blog (anything is possible, right?), he might say his original version is even creamier than the slightly modified one I made. So technically I may have yet to experience real hummus nirvana. Although for the moment, I am quite happy to be in this new state of hummus delirium.

So what was the change I made to this hummus recipe? Well, I used canned chickpeas instead of soaking dried chickpeas overnight and then cooking them the next day. It is quite possible that would have been less work than peeling the skins off of the canned chickpeas. But it isn't just the preparation of the chickpeas responsible for creating such a deeply flavorful, immensely addictive. The outrageous amount of tahini (one cup plus two tablespoons) is one of the genius aspects of this hummus.

Peeling the skins off of three and two-thirds cups of canned chickpeas may seem a tad tedious and time consuming. However, removing the skins completely transforms the texture of the hummus and takes it to a completely new hummus level. To keep yourself from going over the edge when peeling off the skins, replay the last episode of "This is Us" (because watching it once isn't enough); phone a friend who likes to talk or phone a friend who likes to listen; or just let let your thoughts wander for awhile. I didn't keep track of how much time I spent skinning the chickpeas, but I am pretty sure it didn't take a half hour. Maybe just 10 minutes. Trust me when I tell you the rewards you will reap from what sounds like a bit of insanity are inversely proportional to the investment of your time. And all you need to peel a chickpea is your thumb and the next two fingers. Put a chickpea between them and gently press and twist. How easy is that? Well much easier than and not nearly as dizzying as my summer college job of using my fingers to put the Cracker Jack prizes in the tiny slots of a conveyor belt. Yes, that really was my job one summer. And yes, peeling the chickpeas is critical.

Also key to the smoothness and creaminess of this hummus is how long it is processed in the food processor. After the chickpeas have been processed to a paste and the lemon juice, salt, garlic and tahini has been fully incorporated, the ice cold water is drizzled in. Set your timer for five minutes and let the food processor work its' magic.

Before transferring the hummus to your serving bowl, taste for seasoning. I added a tiny bit more salt and about a teaspoon of lemon juice. But having served some friends some over the top garlic-y hummus before the holidays, I dared not any more. So if you think your hummus doesn't seem to have a strong enough garlic presence, wait. In about an hour and definitely overnight, its' presence will be known to your palate. Would highly recommend the first time you make this hummus to use only four medium sized cloves of garlic. Depending on your affinity for garlic, make the adjustments the second time around.

Cover the surface of the hummus with plastic wrap and chill for at least an hour or overnight before serving. When ready to surface, generously drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and top with pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, caramelized onions, or chopped parsley and paprika. Serve with toasted pita chips or vegetables. Sliced carrots, strips of red pepper, or cauliflower are some options.

Sometimes you have to let go of what you believe to be your favorite, best recipe. Sometimes you need to take a leap of faith and try a new one, maybe even one pushing you outside of your comfort zone. Because sometimes you and everyone else around you will discover a new definition of best exists.

Hummus (Ottolenghi) (a slight adaptation to the Basic Hummus recipe shared by Yotom Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi in their cookbook Jerusalem)

3 2/3 cups chickpeas, drained and skins removed
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons tahini
2-4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more to taste
4 to 7 Tablespoons ice cold water
Extra-virgin olive oil to finish
Optional garnishes: Pomegranate seeds; pine nuts; caramelized onions; or chopped parsley and paprika
Homemade or store-bought toasted pita bread, pita chips, fresh vegetables (carrots, red peppers, cauliflower)

1. Put chickpeas in the food processor. Process until a thick paste forms.
2. Add the tahini, garlic cloves, sea salt, and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Process until ingredients are well blended.
3. Add the ice cold water and process for at least 5 minutes or until smooth and creamy. Note: Begin with 4 1/2 Tablespoons of ice cold water. If mixture isn't creamy, enough (and it might not be) slowly add the additional ice cold water to reach an ultra creamy consistency.
4. If necessary season to taste with additional lemon juice and/or sea salt.
5. Transfer hummus to serving dish cover its' surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least one hour or overnight.
6. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving. Top with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Serve as is or garnish with chick peas; pomegranate seeds; pine nuts; caramelized onions; chopped parsley; and /or paprika.

Note: (1) To make this hummus using dried chickpeas, put 1 /14 cups of chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with water at least twice their volume. Leave to soak on the counter overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas; place in a medium/large saucepan over high heat adding the drained chickpeas and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 1/ 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas need to cook for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on type and freshness, sometimes longer. Once done, they will be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and next two fingers (almost but not quite mushy). Drain the chickpeas. Measure out 3 2/3 cups. 

Sculptures at the Sydney and Walda Bestoff Scuplture Garden in New Orleans, Louisiana

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hot Macadamia Dip

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend." (Melody Beattie) More so than at any other time of the year, the Thanksgiving season encourages all of us to reflect on and openly share the things in life and people we are most thankful for. Many of us include on this list friends, family, and those guardian angels who have come into our lives for sometimes not immediately known reasons. Some of us extend our gratefulness out to those we may not know, but whom we value for their sacrifices, contributions, or heroic actions. Shifting to the 'things' in life, what comes to mind may be somewhat dependent on our age, perspective, values, and/or life experiences. Maybe our health, running water, access to education, our freedom, and open spaces make the list of those things we openly admit to being most grateful for. Secretly our list might include things like chocolate, ice cream, and Netflix.

For a myriad of reasons, I find focusing on the more substantial and thoughtful aspects of gratitude in the days leading up to Thanksgiving to be a bit challenging this year. As at the moment, my gratitude short list is nothing short of what might be considered somewhat superficial. And what might be on this ostensibly half-baked list? Well, movies, books and wine. More important than the 'things' on this list, are the reasons, or rather reason, why. Not only do they happen to be much needed distractions, albeit temporary, from all of the angry rhetoric expressed in the months prior to and days after the recent Presidential election, they are enabling me to keep my sanity as well as the ability to remember all the things I really do like about the people I call friends. My over the top immersion into books, movies and wine is not so much a means of escaping from reality or putting my head in the sand, but rather the means to enable me to regain some perspective on who and what matters to me, on who and what I am genuinely grateful for. By the time Thanksgiving gets here, I want to be in a place where it feels good to be able to count all of my blessings. Call me naive or call me Pollyanna, but I continue to have faith that sooner rather than later we all will give ourselves the opportunity to take a deep breath, to take pause, to decide how to contribute to the greater collective good, and to take some solace in remembering there are endless possibilities in life when we decide to live a life filled with hope. And maybe for some of us, it will only take a few bottles of wine for this to happen.

Rather than drink alone, I convinced some of my friends to be my partners in crime at a wine tasting event this past weekend. Being a 'good, not a completely bad influence' friend, I planned to make sure my potentially 'tipsy' friends had the opportunity to sober up with a yummy follow-up dinner at my house. Fortunately for me, this is a somewhat adventurous group of food and wine friends. So I always know I can try some new recipes. Of course in addition to food, there would be more wine. What kind of hostess would I be if I didn't keep the wine theme going? (Not a very good one.)

The first time I tasted this Hot Macadamia Dip was a lifetime ago (okay so it was a few decades back and that's as specific as I am going to be) at the home of a friend who taught me many things, including how to set a beautiful table. It immediately turned into one of those appetizer regulars. And then it became one of those recipes put on extended hiatus. A few weeks ago we had dinner at the home of some friends. And lo and behold the Hot Macadamia Dip reappeared like a divine intervention. There were only four of us but we devoured it. When planning the post wine tasting dinner I knew this dip had to make a reappearance.

They key to this dip's creaminess is starting with softened/room temperature cream cheese. I usually take the blocks of cream cheese out before going to bed to ensure it will be the right consistency for beating it with a hand held mixer.

Once all of the ingredients are blended together, the dip is spooned into an 8 inch ceramic dish or pie plate. This is one of those dips you can make the night before or early in the day making entertaining seem slightly effortless when guests arrive.

Macadamia nuts take the flavor of just about everything up a notch or two. It's definitely the icing on this cake.

A half cup of chopped macadamia nuts are mixed with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter and then spread evenly over the top of the dip. 

In a preheated 350 degree (F) oven, the Hot Macadamia Dip bakes for 25-30 minutes or until bubbling hot on the sides as well as hot through the center. Because this is one of those hot dips served in the container it is baked in, use a ceramic dish or pie plate you love. On my recent trip to Michigan I saw a piece of pottery at the Khnemu Studio of Fernwood Farm in the town of Fennville and immediately thought it was destined to be the container for this Hot Macadamia Dip.

Served hot/warm with buttery crackers or cocktail rye breads, it is one of those appetizers winning the 'most likely to disappear' award. It's the perfect hot appetizer to serve at any gathering. It's creamy yet has a bit of crunch from the green peppers, onions and macadamia nuts. Especially ones where there wine or cocktails or both wine and cocktails are being served.

Hot Macadamia Dip

11-12 ounces cream cheese, softened/room temperature
2 Tablespoons milk
2 small packages (2 ounce size) of Buddig's beef (thinly sliced and cut into 1 inch pieces)
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow or sweet Vidalia onion
1/3 cup finely chopped green pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1 1/2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Cocktail rye and/or pumpernickel bread and/or butter/Ritz crackers

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
2. In a medium sized bowl, blend the softened cream cheese and milk together until smooth using a hand held mixer.
3. Fold in black pepper, ground ginger, garlic, green pepper and onion. 
4. Mix in sliced, cut beef.
5. Fold in sour cream. Transfer mixture to an 8 inch ceramic dish or pie plate. Smooth top.
6. Mix together the chopped macadamia nuts and melted butter. Spread evenly over the top.
7. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until completely heated through. Serve hot/warm with assorted crackers and/or small rye breads.

Notes: (1) The dip can be made the night before and/or hours before. Cover and chill in the refrigerator. To prevent the chilled ceramic dish and/or pie plate from breaking, put it in oven and then turn on oven temperature to 350 degrees (F). (2) Instead of the Buddig's beef can use the dried jarred beef. Rinse and dry before slicing and adding to the dip mixture.

Starved Rock State Park, Utica, Illinois (November 2016)