Fancy Dip bowl for fancy dip!

The Labor Day weekend represents the last hurrah of summer in the U.S. Though weather in the sunbelt states allows cookouts and outdoor parties most of the year, this is the last long weekend until Thanksgiving. So, if you’re planning a party, cookout, or picnic, this is a little something “extra” to dress up the chips-n-dip (or veggies and dip). I don’t recall where I first picked up this trick, but it has come in handy in recent years since I’ve perfected my Frankenslaw recipe, which uses some red cabbage. Here’s a cool way to use the rest of it!

Homemade artichoke dip, in red cabbage bowl.

Homemade artichoke dip, in red cabbage bowl.

I’m not going to lie to you: carving out the center of raw red cabbage takes more time and effort than you would think. But it looks so pretty! I’ve noticed that red cabbage is usually slightly smaller then green cabbage. If you want to use the red cabbage as one of the ingredients in my Frankenslaw and use it as a bowl for dip, pick one of the bigger of the reds. Slice off the top and chisel out the center: it doesn’t matter if it’s messy since it will be used in the slaw (which is really colorful and tasty). Any dip will do. If you want to make what’s in the picture, here’s my artichoke dip recipe. In this case I used smaller artichoke pieces and stirred them in for a chunkier dip than if I had used the blender.

Occasionally I get a cabbage with a very lopsided base and have to neaten up the bottom to make it sit more or less flat and not be tippy. Sit the cabbage on your serving dish and see how it settles and if anything needs to be done to the bottom before you fill it with dip! 🙂

Check out these tags for recipes: Cookouts, Picnics, Parties and Snacks!

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Snacks for Super Sunday

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, it’s time to break out the snacks! We’ve now had just over a year of good food on the Usual Suspects blog and while most of our recipes aren’t finger food, we’ve got lots of interesting recipes to browse as you prepare to host a Super Bowl, or prepare to take food to a Super Bowl party.

First start with our snacks and appetizers tags. (There is some overlap with tags.) If you’re doing a tailgating or cookout thing, check out our cookout tag and also our picnic tag. If you want to make up a big slow cooker of chili and have DIY chili pie for everyone, check out the chili tag. Got a sweet tooth? There’s the dessert tag, which doesn’t include muffins or scones (not traditional Super Bowl fare, I know, but they’re finger food and yummy).

Did I forget anything? Yes, I probably did. So, you’ll just have to indulge yourself by giving the blog a thorough browse. 😉 Check out the sidebar: you can browse by author (click the author name), or by month, or select a category from a drop-down menu, or peruse the vast tag cloud for something that strikes your fancy.

I’ve really enjoyed writing for this blog the past year. I’ll be back next Friday with a new recipe! Follow us as we cook and write our way through another year of good food! 😀

Began the New Year with Truffle Tremor…

Later in the day after the Hair of the Dog brunch and the Hazelnut Scones, lingering and lounging with friends on New Year’s Day, I broke out a wedge of Cypress Grove’s Truffle Tremor for us to snack on. I’ve mentioned Cypress Grove’s Purple Haze before. All their cheeses use vegetarian rennet. I hadn’t had Truffle Tremor before but it was a very sumptuous scrumptious way to start the new year. It was delish! Sort of a salty earthy flavor, a soft white cheese with a white rind. I think it would be an excellent cheese to serve as an appetizer. The salty savory flavor made me think that it might be good alongside olives and other such savory tidbits. Unlike the Purple Haze which is almost addictive, Truffle Tremor was a cheese that I wanted to eat just a little of at a time. A cheese to be consumed slowly and savored. I folded a little bit of it — I didn’t have much left — into an omelet and the omelet was utter transformed. 🙂

(If you want to know more about the cheese, the link above takes you right to the page for Truffle Tremor on the Cypress Grove site.)

Enhanced Hummus

My enhanced hummus with a pita chip. :-) Yum!

My enhanced hummus with a pita chip. 🙂 Yum!

Most recipes for hummus call for using canned garbanzo beans. I prefer to cook things myself instead of using canned, if it’s practical, but cooking dried garbanzo beans is honestly not practical when I usually decide to whip up hummus on the spur of the moment. Garbanzo bean flour is a good compromise between using canned beans and cooking beans, at least for me. I use Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour.

3/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo Bean Flour
2 tsp garlic powder
3 Tbls lemon juice
1 tsp cumin
1 Tbls sesame oil
3 Tbls olive oil
1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I use the kind with B vitamins added for a bit more nutrition)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (omit to make it vegan)

I follow the measurements on the package for mixing the flour and water and the cooking time for the mixture, but I depart from their hummus recipe after that. Their hummus recipe is yummy and it’s a good place to start if you’ve never made hummus. Everyone I know has a slightly different take on hummus. Some like lots of lemon, some not a lot of tahini, some like it hot, some want it mild, some want enough garlic to send a vampire into shock. 😉 To develop your own hummus you have to start somewhere. I started with the recipe on the package then gradually morphed it into something else. You can start with the recipe on the package, or with my enhanced version below. 😀

First you need to reconstitute — and cook — the flour by adding 3/4 cups of the garbanzo bean flour to 2.5 cups of water in a medium saucepan. (I use a non-stick saucepan because this is a sticky mixture and I suspect it might be inclined to stick.) The instructions say to whisk in the flour into the boiling water. The idea of vigorously whisking a boiling liquid does not appeal to me, so I have gently whisked it so as not to splatter myself with boiling hot liquid. However, I’ve discovered that whisking boiling liquid isn’t necessary! I get better results if I add the flour to the water and whisk it in while waiting for the water to heat up. When it starts to bubble I set the timer for 1 minute, whisk for a minute as the instructions say, the turn the heat down to low and stir it occasionally as it cooks for another 5 minutes.

If you whisk the garbanzo flour into the boiling water don’t expect it to make a smooth mixture. (It will look a bit like lumpy oatmeal.) But no matter when you add the flour, don’t worry about any lumps; the blender will take care of that!

After cooking, while the flour and water mixture is cooling, stir in 1/2 cup water, then the garlic powder, cumin, and lemon juice.

I don’t have an immersion blender (yet) but you may be able to mix all the ingredients in the pot using an immersion blender. It’s a thick sticky mixture so if your stick blender doesn’t like that type of thing, dump the whole mess in a regular blender, add the rest of the ingredients 1 at a time (I do the oils, then add the nutritional yeast and Parmesan), and blend thoroughly.

Most hummus recipes use tahini, which is a sesame paste. Since I’m more likely to have sesame oil on hand for Chinese recipes, I substitute sesame oil for part of the olive oil. You can tweak the flavor by varying these amounts, but the total amount of oil probably shouldn’t be over 1/4 cup — which is 4 Tbls. (Varying the amount of lemon juice can also tweak the flavor. If the flavor doesn’t seem quite right to you experiment with varying the amounts of sesame, olive and lemon juice.)

I think the mild, slightly nutty flavor of the nutritional yeast complements the flavors of the garbanzo and sesame. The Parmesan cheese, on the other hand, combines nicely with the olive oil. (As anyone who loves Italian food knows!) I developed this recipe with the yeast and cheese; omitting one or both will substantially alter the flavor, but give you a more traditional flavor. You may need to tweak the seasonings a bit if you leave out these “enhancements” of mine, but I expect everyone to tweak the seasonings to suit their taste anyway. 😉

Chill thoroughly. Stir vigorously before serving. Don’t be alarmed by the gelatinous texture when it first comes out of the fridge. That’s what oil does when it gets really cold. It’s fine. Give it a taste, making any slight adjustments in seasonings that you might want. The Parmesan cheese adds salt, so if you add the cheese, don’t add any salt without tasting it first! Serve with pita bread or pita chips.

Veggie Dip #2: Artichoke Dip

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If you want a creamy artichoke dip, you don’t have to buy it. I get the chunkier canned artichoke and mix it in the blender, but if you want a chunkier dip you may want to get can of artichoke that’s already in bits and stir it in or process it less.

1 14oz can quartered artichoke hearts, drained
16 oz sour cream
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbls dried onion flakes
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 Tbls Parmesan cheese
salt (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Refrigerate for several hours. Taste and tweak seasonings before serving. Garlic lovers may want more garlic powder, others may want to ramp up the Parmesan. This recipe is pretty basic; there’s room to experiment as you customize it to suit your own taste. (I put some green olives in it once, but wasn’t crazy about how it turned out…too olive-y.) It’s a good idea to taste it with whatever you’ll have to dip it before adding any salt. It might not need salt if you’re serving it with salty chips or if you’ve added more Parmesan cheese. On the other hand, if it’s a meant for carrots and celery sticks, then a tiny bit of salt might be good. Serve with veggies such as celery sticks, broccoli florets, or baby carrots, or chips.

Veggie Dip #1

With football season around the corner — not to mention baseball playoffs and the World Series — we’re entering Snacking Season. 😀 I’m going to add some simple easy dips and snacks on the blog off and on as we head into fall. This recipe is, in many ways, an old-fashioned dip because it uses sour cream as a base. It’s delicious this way, probably because of all that fat. 😉 If you want a lower-fat option, substitute 8 oz silken tofu for half the sour cream. This will substantially alter the flavor of the dip compared to using just sour cream as the base (but it’s still good). After it’s been refrigerated for a few hours you might want to taste and tweak the seasonings.

If you’ve never made a dip from scratch, this is a good starting point; from this you may decide to add more of this, less of that, or a bit of something else. Seasonings that you typically use together when cooking will probably go together okay in a dip. I would add one caution to your experiments: pre-mixed seasonings usually have salt added, so check the label before you add salt!

16 oz sour cream
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried dill
1/2 tsp parsley
1/2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp dried chives
1/4 tsp sea salt

Mix all ingredients well. Refrigerate for several hours.

Looking for more dips, spreads, and snacks? Try the “snack” tag in the sidebar. Last week: Homemade Pimiento Cheese! Good for sandwiches, or on crackers or stuffed celery sticks.

Homemade Pimento Cheese

There’s nothing like a cold sandwich on a hot day! My Mom and I got to talking about pimento cheese sandwiches recently. I can remember my mother making pimento cheese spread from scratch when I was a kid. In my memory it’s always better than store-bought pimento cheese. I asked her about the recipe and found that she’d never written it down, and scarcely remembered how she made it. She said she used a medium or mild cheddar because she doesn’t like sharp cheddar (I do like sharp cheese, though I use a milder cheddar for pimiento cheese so it will taste like hers). Of course there were pimentos in it, and she said that she thought she added some cream cheese, to to make it soft and spreadable. But she couldn’t tell me the amounts or proportions of the ingredients. She said she just mixed it up until it looked right.

This was before the days of food processors, so she grated the cheese by hand, that much I do know. I use a food processor for things that require a lot of grating (though I do have a hand grate that’s both fast and comfortable to use). After some experimenting this is what I’ve come up with. I tried making it with varying amounts of cream cheese and that did not, by itself, make it spreadable, but rather just stickier. So, I had to add a bit of mayonnaise. I use a low-fat mayo; goodness knows this has enough fat in it already! 😉

Homemade Pimiento Cheese

Homemade Pimiento Cheese

8 oz cheddar (mild or sharp, your preference)
4 oz cream cheese
5 tsp pimentos
1/2 cup low fat mayonnaise
1/4 tsp (or more) paprika or Hungarian Hot Paprika (optional)

Set out cream cheese to soften before making the pimiento cheese. I use a block of cream cheese rather than spreadable varieties because this is what my mother used. Grate cheddar cheese. (I don’t recommend using pre-grated packages of cheese. The cheese is too dry and has less flavor.) Mix and mash cheeses in a bowl with pimientos and the mayo. Add paprika or Hungarian hot paprika to taste. 1/4 tsp will make it very mildly seasoned, use more if you want it to really have a kick. Mix and blend with a fork or other suitable utensil (or put on food handling gloves and mix with your hands).

This makes a lot of cheese spread. Unless you’re crazy about pimiento cheese sandwiches or are making the spread for a party you might want to make a half-batch. Besides being a classic sandwich filling, this pimiento cheese mixture can be used as a casual appetizer spread on crackers or as a filling for stuffed celery sticks. (If that sounds too dull for your taste — or your friends’ taste — that Hungarian Hot Paprika option will liven things up!)