Black and Blue Dip

black and blue dipI have been working on this recipe for the last year or so and I finally feel like it is ready for prime time. I served it this past week at a party and it was a huge hit.

Everyone in my crowd goes crazy for my mother’s Pimento Cheese Spread. So I initially created this companion recipe to work along side her pimento for a buffet supper. Recently I have had success serving this dip during the cocktail hour of a dinner party. The crunch of the almonds, along with the earthy flavor of of the olive/blue cheese combo, works especially well with champagne and the stand-by vodka sodas everyone seems to drink.

I serve this dip with a hearty crackers like the wheat water crackers shown.  It also works well with radishes, carrots or celery. I prefer Maytag Blue Cheese (readily available at most Whole Foods and good specialty grocery stores) because I feel it has the perfect balance of bite and creaminess.  This dip works best when left a room temp for about 15 minutes before serving – allowing the butter to soften a bit.  It also tastes (and looks) great with a heavy shake of Crystal hot sauce as a topper.

Black and Blue Dip

3/4 cup almond slivers
8 ounce wedge medium bodied blue cheese – like Maytag
6 TBS unsalted butter – softened
3/4 Cup good mayonnaise
2 small cans (2.25 oz) sliced black olives
1 TSP Worcestershire  sauce
salt and freshly ground pepper

Place almonds on a baking sheet and broil in an oven or toaster-oven for about 3 minutes – constantly watching and sporadically shaking them until they are uniformly golden in color.  Remove from pan and place on a large cutting board.  Roughly chop the nuts until they form a large crumb like mixture.

Rinse the black olives and blot dry with a paper towels.  Roughly chop the olives into slightly smaller pieces – do not mince.

Grate the blue cheese into a large mixing bowl.  Add the butter, mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce and stir until well combined.  Fold in almonds and olives until just combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately with vegetables and/or hearty crackers. The dip be prepared in advance, packed into a crock or container, and refrigerated. However let the dips soften a bit at room temp before serving.

Crab Dip Au Gratin

Crab au GratinThis dip is a popular crowd pleaser at our annual Holiday Party. The richness of the crab pairs perfectly with thin slices of fresh french bread. I served the dip in an uber cool burnt red Emile Henry Flame Top Fondue Pot I found at Sur La Table. The fondue set’s flame keeps the dip warm and spreadable throughout the evening. And it looks so much chicer than a chafing dish. Using fresh lump crab meat was crucial here – I bought the chilled canned variety sold at my local Whole Foods. Do not mistake this for the traditional canned crab you can buy off the supermarket shelf – they are entirely different. The great thing about this recipe is that it can be made earlier in the day and baked just prior to serving.

This recipe was adapted from one found in The Junior League of Birmingham’s cookbook “Tables of Content,” a treasured gift from my grandmother. My version is as follows.

Crab Dip Au Gratin

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter
1 Bunch Green Onions – thinly sliced (white and some green)
1/3 Cup All-purpose Flour
1 12 oz can Evaporated Milk
1/2 Cup Whole Milk
2 Egg Yolks, lightly beaten
1 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Cayenne Pepper
1/2 TSP Ground Black Pepper
1 lb lump crab meat – shelled
8 ounces shredded Swiss Cheese
8 ounces grated Parmesan Cheese
1/2 Cup Sherry

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rinse the fresh crab meat – pick through looking for any missed pieces of shel. Place aside. Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet and add the green onion. Saute until tender but do not brown. Remove from heat and stir in the flour. Mix the evaporated and whole milk in a separate bowl (or large measuring cup) and mix in the egg yolks until well combined. Stir the milk into the onion mixture and add the salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper. Cook over a medium heat for about five minutes, or until the mixture has thickened to a sauce like consistency, stirring constantly. in a large bowl combine the crab meat and sauce mixture. Do not over combine – try and maintain some of the lump texture of the crab. Gently fold in both cheeses and the sherry until just combined; spread into 9 x 13 baking dish or oven-proof serving piece (in my case the enameled fondue pot*). If making earlier in the day, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Prior to serving bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is bubbly and golden brown. Serve with hearty crackers or thin slices of french bread.

* I double this recipe to fill the large enamel fondue pot pictured and increase the baking time to 25 to 30 mins.

Tuscan Lemon Cake

Tuscan Lemon Cake from Under the Tuscan SunI call this the Tuscan Lemon Cake because I first found the recipe inside the memoir Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I was impressed by the creative way her book infused the narrative centering around her love for travel and cooking with actual recipes. I also was drawn to this particular cake because it was an heirloom recipe from her Southern family.

The cake has a terrific lemon flavor that seems just right any time of year. It is wonderfully moist, and has a rich dense consistency, similar to a poundcake.  It is a winner that freinds and family ask for again and again.

Initially, I had difficulty with the cake sticking to the pan. I overcompensated by using a lot of cooking spray – but going that route gave the cake a hard brown crust versus the slightly browned edge I was looking for.  I tried Pam with Flour – it solved the sticking but the crust was still overdone.  I found the old school technique of generously buttering the pan, and then lightly coating it with flour, did the trick.  No sticking and the cake browned beautifully.

A few other tips – make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature. I use the defrost feature on my microwave to gently warm anything coming directly out of the fridge. Also sifting the dry ingredients together work wonders to help create a lighter texture. Finally, make sure the cake is fully cooled before icing it.

This cake is wonderful served with fresh berries or ice cream. And it is equally good for breakfast or dessert.

Tuscan Lemon Cake

3 Cups White Flour + additional amount to flour the pan
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/4 TSP Salt
1 Stick Unsalted Butter + additional butter to grease the pan
2 Cups Sugar
3 Large Eggs
1 Cup Buttermilk
Juice (about 4 TBSP) and Zest of One Large Lemon

1 1/2 Cups Powdered Sugar
1/4 Cup Butter
Juice of one Lemon (about 4 TBS)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

In a large bowl sift together flour, salt and baking powder.

Zest and juice the lemon.

Butter and flour a standard bundt pan – I brush about 3 TBS soft butter onto the pan using a pastry brush and then lightly sprinkle a small amount of flour all over the pan – shifting the pan back and forth to evenly coat the butter.

Using an electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until well combined – about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until the mixture is light and fluffy.  With the mixer on a low speed alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Add the lemon juice and zest and continue to mix until well combined.  Do not over-mix.

Spread the mixture into the pan – using a rubber spatula to evenly distribute the batter and flatten out the top.  Bake for one hour.  Remove cake from oven, let it rest five minutes, and then remove it from the pan.  Let the cake cool completely before frosting.

In a medium sized bowl whisk together the powdered sugar, flour and butter – stirring constantly until there are no lumps.  Glaze the cake – starting along the top ridge of the cake – allowing the icing to drip down and cover the sides.