‘Tis the Season for a Quick and Festive Spinach and Feta Spread

IMG_2551smIt’s less than two weeks until Christmas and less than 3 weeks before a new year arrives! Where has the time gone?

In this busy and festive holiday season, it’s so nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve for last minute holiday entertaining. Along those lines, here’s a versatile savory spread and dip that comes together in a flash, is loaded with delicious flavor and looks very pretty, too. In fact, this vibrant green Spinach and Feta Spread has “party” written all over it.

As a make-ahead spread or even a last minute decision, it can’t be beat in terms of speed and ease of prep. There is no cooking involved at all. Just toss all of the ingredients into a food processor, blitz it until smooth and eat it right away or cover with plastic and keep in the fridge until your guests arrive. You can serve it in a pretty ceramic or crystal bowl alongside some sliced baguette and crackers, or make toasted crostini topped with some spread, a little sprinkle of crumbled feta and a few slivers of spinach leaves. It can also be served at room temperature as a dip with crudités. Even if you don’t want to make this for a party, it’s a delectable sandwich spread. Lovely.

Fully loaded freezer! Save even more time by writing the baking instructions on your packages.

So what else do I have up my sleeve this holiday season? These tried-and-true party appetizers and ice box cookies are just the ticket for busy working folks and would-be party hosts. Retro Cheese Olive Bites, Bacon Wrapped Dates and Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies can be made ahead and are already in my freezer just waiting to be quickly baked and plated, then served at a gathering of friends and family. I made all of these in the span of a late afternoon one weekend…about 3 hours total. And now I’ve got a party in the freezer. Even Santa’s elves can’t beat that for productivity!

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Old fashioned ice box cookies are wonderful to have on hand. You can take out what you need, slice and bake in a snap. Click here for the recipe and this year I’ve added the zest of one orange to my dough…making them even better!

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It wouldn’t be a party without my Retro Cheese Olive Bites and these amazing Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with pistachios and apricots from Martha Stewart.

In addition, Mom’s drop sugar cookies cannot be beat! If you have some extra time on your hands, these are THE BEST and fun for kids of all ages to decorate, too. You can find that recipe by clicking here.

Happy Holidays, indeed!

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The color of this quick and savory Spinach and Feta Spread is delightful.

Festive Spinach and Feta Spread
Makes 2 cups

2.5 ounces (1/2-5 oz. bag) raw baby spinach
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
8 ounces cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1 clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon no salt pasta seasoning or Italian seasoning blend (I use Trader Joe’s)

Combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to break up the spinach. Process until smooth and creamy as above. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes or more to allow the flavors to blend. Serve with crackers, baguette and/or crudités.

 

Sharing More Cookies

cookies smI really am a cookie monster. From a food point of view, I consider myself to be much more of a savory person than a sweet one, but where cookies are concerned I become a little scary. This is why I only make them this time of year for the most part, because I plan to share them…you know, (ahem!) give them away as presents.

Brilliant! If only I could sing that well.

And since I only do this once a year, and as if all those cookies and goodies I mentioned in my last post Holiday Roundup weren’t enough, I just had to make a few more goodies this week.

crinkles2First off were these Chocolate Espresso Crinkle Cookies. I knew I had to try them the moment I saw Eva’s original recipe, and then Sawsan’s adaptation of Eva’s recipe that added some warm spices. I ended up making Sawsan’s version this time because I already had my biscotti, which have chocolate chips in them, and also because I was so curious about the addition of cardamom to the chocolate.

crinkles1Result: Amazing! The texture of these cookies isn’t to be missed…very much like a brownie. And the taste, well, let’s just say they didn’t last long enough to be given to very many folks! I’ll make these again. In fact, I’ll be adding them to my cookie line-up, so do check out the recipes on both these blogs for a truly chocolatey wonder of a good cookie.

Now on to a recipe from my family that I’d like to share with you today. This is an old fashioned recipe for Drop Sugar Cookies that my mom and her mother (Mamaw) made for years, and they almost always make an appearance around Christmas time.

flatten2flatten1Dropped onto the cookie sheet by the spoonful and then flattened with a glass, these cookies are thin with just the right amount of crisp. They have a lovely, buttery and light texture, and are just perfect for a snack with tea, cocoa, or alongside eggnog. You absolutely must let them brown around the edges a bit to caramelize the sugars, or they just won’t taste as good. And while I normally do not use shortening in baking if I can help it, these really must have the shortening in order to obtain the correct light texture. I know this for a fact, because I’ve tried substituting all butter and ended up with a flattened mess, ruining a lot of good ingredients and ending my efforts with an epic fail. Do not try that at home!

cookies3I seem to remember decorating these with my mom as a child, though I don’t recall if my grandmother ever decorated her sugar cookies. If you’re not in a decorating mood or it’s the wrong time of year, these do have a lovely coating of granulated sugar on them after all, so they can certainly stand alone. I like to use a few sprinkles for fun and sparkle—just to make them pop up and say “Happy Holidays!”

Drop Sugar Cookies
Makes about 5 1/2 dozen

Have all ingredients at room temperature:

2 1/2 cups sifted all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, such as Crisco
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 Tablespoons milk
Additional granulated sugar for dipping

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Sift the flour, soda and salt together into a small bowl. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, shortening, egg, sugar and vanilla until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the dry ingredients until the mixture is smooth. Blend in the milk. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet (I use a slipat). Flatten each teaspoon of dough with the bottom of a glass that has been dipped into the granulated sugar. (Can be decorated with sprinkles at this point if desired.) Bake for about 6-10 minutes, watching closely, until the edges are browned. These will keep for about 1 week stored in an airtight container.

Note: I use cane sugar, which is unbleached, so my cookies are a bit darker than the original. If you desire a more snowy-like appearance, use white granulated sugar in the cookie and for dipping the glass and pressing the cookies flat.

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A Holiday Round-Up: Some Sweet, Petite and Neat

wpid-IMG_20111225_083829.jpgFourteen days and counting! Are you ready yet?

We all have our favorite traditional holiday treats and gifts that we like to make each year. And as each holiday approaches, I see so many more things I want to try my hand at making, but usually end up falling short of getting to them in addition to my usual baking…and before I run out of time and energy. This will be one of those years I imagine. However, I will be posting some items for you next week that are new in this year’s baking line-up.

Meanwhile, let me share a round-up of food and drink that I think you might enjoy this holiday season—the sweet, the savory and the in-between. Below are some of my very favorite traditional holiday baking, entertaining and gift-giving recipes from this blog, many of which can be made ahead, frozen or are just plain quick and easy. Cheers!

biscottiA-1Chocolate Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti are perhaps the most addictive cookies ever known to man or woman. These truly decadent biscotti have the perfect dry texture combined with savory hazelnuts, spicy candied ginger and melty semi-sweet chocolate surprises in every bite. If I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live.
I’m not kidding.

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readytobake2Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies are so easy to make ahead and wonderful to freeze, then have on hand to slice, bake and decorate a few whenever you need or want them. Prettily packaged, they make a sweet gift as well.

almonds1R2olives4Glazed Red Pepper and Fennel Almonds are a hit with everyone and won’t last long at a party…or in your home in general. They’re a most welcome gift for a cocktail nibble or appetizer, and a few sprinkled atop a green salad with some fruit are a lovely way to enjoy them, too. You’ll also find these savory Provençal Olives in this post. They keep well for about a month or so, and make a great hostess gift. These two together as appetizers or tapas are a dynamic duo.

Mmmm. These Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal cookies are to die for! Mmmmuuuuaaaah ha ha ha ha!

Sweet Cider Glazed Apple, Walnut and Oatmeal Cookies have festive flavors and aren’t quite as heavy as some cookies…so you can eat more than one, not that I can only eat one anyway!

bottles2Cranberry Liqueur is the perfect gift and keeps at room temperature for a year. There’s still time to get a batch made for holiday giving or New Year’s tippling. Be sure to make some while fresh cranberries are still available.

Maamool 4Ma’amool is a Middle Eastern treat in the form of a fruit or nut stuffed semolina cookie that is molded into beautiful shapes. They taste as good as they look, too! No mold? No worries. You can seal them and decorate with the tines of a fork.

jarsfinal1This Walnut Thyme Honey is just amazing drizzled over cheese for a quick and impressive appetizer. Needless to say, it makes a lovely gift.

wholeplateMy Retro Cheese and Olive Bites make a “can’t believe how good these are” do-ahead-and-freeze appetizer to bake when needed, then serve or give away. They are truly addictive, so be sure to make enough for yourself and some to share. Also in this same post are the equally fabulous make-ahead-and-freeze Bacon Wrapped Dates with Pistachios and Apricots.

finishedcrabcakes2tomatoes3Two more lively appetizers for entertaining are found in another post: Mini Crab Cakes with Lemon Chive Aioli and Goat Cheese and Fresh Basil Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes. While the crab cakes take a little work, they can be made ahead and frozen, then rewarmed when needed. And the stuffed tomatoes are just too darn easy and good to be ignored. Seasonal colors, too.

finished puddingNeed something for a holiday brunch? Our all-time favorite dish for Christmas Eve or morning is this absolutely divine Ham, Fontina and Spinach Bread Pudding. You can make it the night before and bake it when you need it. It reheats well and will become your fave, too, I guarantee it.

breadpuddingWhat’s that? Want something a bit lighter and healthier, or dare I say vegetarian, before the big holiday bash? This savory Butternut Squash, Kale and Parmesan Bread Pudding is just the ticket. All the festive flavor and a lot less of the fat.

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cocktails1And to wash it all down, you’ve got to have a sparkling drink! For those holiday toasts, this Champagne Cocktail would do quite nicely. And if you’ve make the Cranberry Liqueur listed above, try out these Festive Holiday Cocktails for a Happy New Year.

Ma’amool for Easter

These cookies have Easter written all over them. Festive and rather stunning, if I do say so myself!

The Ma’amool mold with the tag.

A dear friend of mine is a treasure hunter. By this I mean she finds the most amazing treasures in any number of places…yard sales, estate sales, thrift stores, etc. She’s so good at it, that some of my most creative and interesting objects in the house are things that she’s found…everything from a hand painted swashbuckling hat holder to a  very cool and Don Quixote-styled metal horse sculpture. Last fall on my birthday, one of her gifts was an odd (to me), but really beautiful hand carved mold. Continue reading