Quick & Cheesy, Artichoke & Spinach Dip

People in Texas love cheesy dips.

This recipe came as a complete accident a few weeks ago when I was suddenly asked to come up with an appetizer big enough to feed 8 people, two of them teenage boys.   After scavenging the entire kitchen looking for ingredients that made sense,  I realized there was very little, and nearly not enough to make a dish for that many people, or that would appeal the teenage taste.  That is, until I saw the package of Trader Joe’s Artichoke and & Spinach dip hiding in the freezer!  In no way is this an original recipe, but mostly a way to stretch that one package of dip, give it a nice injection of flavor and make everyone happy.   In this case, it saved the day!

 

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cooking time:  4-10 Minutes 

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 pckg – Trader Joe’s Artichoke Dip
  • 3 cloves – Garlic
  • 1/2 bulb – Shallots
  • 1 tbsp – Olive oil
  • 1/4 cup – Chopped Frozen Spinach
  • 1 pckg – Light Cream Cheese (Neuchâtel)
  • 1/4 tsp – Cayenne Pepper
  • 1/2 lemon – Lemon Juice
  • 1/2 cup – Mozzarella or Italian Blend Cheese

Instructions

  • Slightly defrost TJ Dip in the microwave – follow instructions of the package.
  • Cream cheese should be at room temperature
  • Crush or mince garlic cloves, finely chop the shallots.
  • While the dip is defrosting, bring the olive oil in a sauté pan to medium heat
  • Sauté the garlic and shallots together until translucent, about 4 minutes.
  • Add the Cream cheese to a large mixing bowl, then pour in the garlic and shallot mixture, mix by hand using a spatula until incorporated and smooth
  • Add the defrosted Spinach (no cooking necessary, just make sure there’s no additional liquid)
  • Add the lemon juice, cayenne, a dash of salt & pepper to taste.
  • Add the packaged TD Artichoke dip, mix well.
  • Continue to mix until all the ingredients are well incorporated.
  • Transfer into a serving dish, then top with Mozzarella / Italian Blend cheese.

 

Cooking Instructions:

In the Oven:  Broil in 425ºF for 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is browned and bubbly.

If using a Microwave:  Cover and heat in Med / High setting for 4 minutes

Serve with thick tortilla chips and enjoy!

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My kind of cooking Party — Pastelillos de Carne

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Making pastelillos is way easier than you think.                 Dough + filling, frying oil and done.

 

I had a “Pastelillo” party the other night, we all rolled up our sleeves and got creative trying out different ingredients and fillings.  It was amazing to see everyone having so much fun, getting super involved and excited to try their own creations.

In Puerto Rico we have our own version of empanadas, called Pastelillos. They are kind of different from the empanadas out there, the dough is light, fried, and cut into small discs.  There is an endless supply of filling recipes.  Seasoned ground beef (picadillo), potatoes-onions & cheese, even left over chicken fricassee… My favorite pastelillos growing up were simply filled with just cheese or sweet guava.

I guess its like the original Hot Pocket… but healthier and way tastier (yes, even though its fried).  They can be filled with something savory, sweet, or both.   This recipe is loaded with flavor and is super easy to make, especially if you buy the pre-made dough from any specialty supermarket.

Here the recipe:

Pastelillos 

Ingredients

• Pre-made Empanada shells

Goya is a popular brand you can find at many Asian or ethnic supermarkets.

If you rather make your own dough, this is my go-to recipe http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Empanada-Dough-230786

 

Beef Filling (Picadillo)

Ground Beef, 80% Lean

1/2 green pepper, diced

1/2 small onion, diced

3 garlic cloves- minced

1 tbsp Sofrito

1 tomato, chopped

4 oz of tomato sauce

1 tsp. Adobo seasoning (Goya) or salt and pepper for seasoning

1 tbsp Annato seed infused oil

1 tsp. ground Cumin

1 tsp dried Oregano
½ tsp. black pepper
8 chopped or sliced olives

1 bay leaf

1 tbsp. golden raisins

2 tbsp Olive oil (to sauté the ground beef)

 

▪Veggie Filling (Vegetarian Option) 

1 whole Zucchini Squash- diced

2 cloves of Garlic minced

1/2 small onion, diced

Pinch of Cumin, pinch of Oregano

Fresh Cilantro, minced

Pinch of salt and pepper for seasoning

1/4 cup of Mozzarella or Fontina cheese

2 Tbsp of Olive oil

 

Cooking Instructions

Picadillo

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and green peppers with a dash of salt and let stand for 3 minutes until the veggies start to steam stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 2 tbsp of Sofrito and stir around the pan until incorporated.

Starts when Sofrito hits the pan

 

Add the ground beef (you can mix it with ground turkey, or chicken for a healthier option) to the pan to brown, season with 1/2 tsp. of Adobo.  Add the chopped tomato, oregano, olives and raisins, annatto oil (or Sazon Goya is a good substitute) , and tomato sauce.  Bring to a simmer stirring often, then cover and cook for 15 minutes over low heat.  Continue to cook uncovered for another 10-15 minutes.  Season to taste with the remaining Adobo.

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Ground beef filling (Picadillo), made with sofrito, peppers, onions.

 

You can totally make the meat filling ahead, its much easier to assemble the Pastelillos when the meat is cool.  Plus, it saves a lot of time.

Veggie Filling

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan to a low-medium heat, add the onions, garlic with a dash of salt and let stand for 2 minutes stirring every other minute until the onions start to become translucent.  Add 1 tsp.  Sofrito, the dry spices, and the diced zucchini then stir until all incorporated, season with salt and pepper to taste.

Use the cheese to sprinkle on top of the filling when making the pastelillos.

 

How to put it together.

Pour cooking oil in a 3 quart pan, deep enough for frying.  I don’t have a thermometer, so my grandma knew when the oil was hot enough by watching the first signs of a light steam…

But, if you have one a thermometer , just make sure it hits 325-350º F.

Place the dough on a clean surface lined with wax paper (easier to clean up!)  Fill the center with a spoonful of the filling.  Sometimes I sprinkle some cheese on top of the filling for an added yummy creaminess.

 

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Here’s a trick! Run your fingers around the edges of the dough using a couple of drops of water to create tight seal

 

 

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Place the filling in the middle, make sure you don’t over-fill it. A small amount goes a long way, and it keeps your frying oil free of over-spills

 

Then fold disk in half, it should look like a half moon, then using a fork press the edges to seal both sides creating a nice rippled edge look.

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Fold into a half-moon shape, then press down on the (already moist) edges using a fork. This will keep your filling safe inside, and makes it look pretty.

 

Once your pastelillos are all sealed and ready, drop them in the heated oil one by one.  The filling is cooked, so the dough will only need a few minutes to cook, 2 minutes on each side—resist the urge to leave them any longer… they go from pale to brown in no time!  The pastelillos should have puffed up from the steam inside.  Then, try to resist the urge to eat them immediately…  let the pastelillos cool.

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You can use a deep frier, or a frying pan. Just make sure there is enough oil in the pan.

After they cool (preferably in a cooling rack), I serve them in a bread basket.  It gives it a little rustic look that makes you want to just grab one and go.

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Ok, so this is just delish. Crunchy dough, warm savory ground beef, with a sprinkle of cheese for the extra ‘umph’.


I seriously need an intervention, because once I start– I can’t stop.