‘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!

cookiesgreen

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.

 

Gifts, Goodies and Greatest Hits

I have some new recipes, really I do! And some travels and adventures to share as well. And I have pictures, too. But as I am still in high gear work mode right now with some deadlines looming before the Christmas holiday, I think I’ll first take this opportunity to share these “greatest hits” of the season with you. May these favorites of mine inspire some holiday food and gift ideas for you to try until I can get back to the regularly scheduled programming.

I hope you all have enjoyed the holiday season so far, and may your days be merry and bright…and filled with good food, friends and family.

Cookies! For the cookie monster in us all.

Who doesn’t love cookies any time of year, but during the holidays they are a mandatory make and give. Starting from the top with these biscotti…this is the one thing I will try to get made before Christmas!

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. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…if I don’t make these for my husband every Christmas, I might as well find another place to live. I kid you not!

cookies smOld Fashioned Drop Sugar Cookies are a recipe that my mom used to make every year. They are the best I’ve ever had and fun to make by yourself, or with some little elves helping you to decorate! They have the added advantage of keeping well for a week or more in an airtight container.

crinkles2Chocolate 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. They did not disappoint! Continue reading

Gifts a Go-Go: Homemade Chai Tea Mix and So Much More

Zooming. That’s what it feels like right now. Zooming towards the holiday at record breaking speed. Here’s a little slideshow of what I’ve been doing the last two weeks instead of posting sooner!

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So you see, I really haven’t been ignoring anyone, just kinda busy…honestly. But then, who isn’t? So you deserve a new recipe and here it is.

I have a new gift item literally in the “mix” this year. It’s a wonderful smelling and tasting Chai Tea Mix to make and give to friends, or as a great hostess gift. It’s really an easy gift to put together, makes a seasonally colorful mixture and is endlessly customizable to suit your tastes. I’ve used a warming blend of spices that I’m particularly fond of, along with some fresh orange zest and candied ginger. Simply toast your spices, crush them to release their essence and toss with caffeinated or decaf black tea leaves and chopped candied ginger. Or you can try using an herbal tea leaf of your choice—the experimenting is up to you. I like to tie on a pretty little tea ball for brewing, or some tea bags to be filled as desired by the recipient. Here are the steps and recipe, and you can click on any image for a step by step slideshow.

Chai Tea Mix
Makes 4 pint jars full, about 12 cups of tea per jar

56 green cardamom pods, split in half with sharp knife, use pods and seeds
2 teaspoons whole red peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
4 Tablespoons whole fennel seeds
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole cloves
9 – 5 inch cinnamon sticks
4 teaspoons fresh orange zest, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped candied ginger
2 cups loose leaf black tea, I used English Breakfast

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the cardamom pods and seeds, red peppercorns, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange zest into two pie tins or on a cookie sheet, and toast them in the oven until they become fragrant and lightly toasted, about 5-8 minutes. Watch them carefully after 5 minutes. Remove the spices from the oven. Crush the cinnamon stick with a mortar and pestle or in a plastic bag with a rolling pin, until you have small bits but not powder, and add to a large mixing bowl. Lightly crush the remaining spices to release their essence either by mortar and pestle or rolling pin…again, you don’t want powder, just smaller pieces. Add the spices to the cinnamon, along with the candied ginger and tea, and mix well to blend. Transfer the tea mix to your jars or decorative bags.

Directions: To brew one cup of tea (and I put these brewing instructions on my tags on the jars), place one heaping tablespoon of the mix into a tea ball or empty tea bag (these can be purchased at cooking specialty stores or online, or you can make them out of coffee filters), and place into a mug. Add 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 5 minutes. Add warm milk (about 1/4 cup or to taste to start) then sweeten with sugar or honey, if desired. Enjoy!

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I’ll have some more great gift ideas and new items before the big holiday, at which point I will take a rest for a week to enjoy the season and spend time with family and friends.

In the mean time, please check out these links below to find the recipes for items in the slideshow that I’ve made already, and for more food gift ideas that I’ve made and previously posted on this blog. And be sure to take the time to have a cup of tea, de-stress and enjoy the season.

These are a classic!

These are a classic!

Drop Sugar Cookies and

IMG_20111224_170012_edit0Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies
are two old tried and true recipes I love.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Then I had to make some of those addictive red pepper and fennel glazed almonds.

Red Pepper and Fennel Glazed Almonds

biscottiA-1Chocolate, Hazelnut and Ginger Biscotti
(If I make nothing else, I make these every year and I’d be in the doghouse if I didn’t!)

wholeplateRetro Cheese Olive Bites
These are great to make ahead and freeze and so are the
Bacon Wrapped Dates with Apricots and Pistachios!

bottles2Cranberry Liqueur

olives4Provençal Olives

All dressed up and ready to give!

All dressed up and ready to give!

Walnut Thyme Honey

Maamool 4Ma’amool Cookies 

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Old Fashioned Ice Box Cookies…They’re a Cinch!

With dough on standby in the ice box, you can make this many in about 10 minutes...gotta love it!

Starting to feel that teensy bit of panic set in? Trying NOT to look at the calendar and realize that the holidays start NEXT WEEK? Thinking over all that was on your “To Do” list and is rapidly moving to the “No Way” list? I’m with you.

Just slice these up ever so quickly....

While I have been diligently making things for gifts and yes, buying a few little items as well, I’m beginning to realize that I haven’t really wrapped anything, and that some of those goodies I wanted to make are just too time consuming to contemplate at this juncture. Exit the supposedly “easy” and enter the “effortless”…at least by comparison! This post and my next will feature recipes for some things I made over the last two nights that make terrific quick gifts, good fun and great eating. Continue reading