Monday, May 3, 2010

7 Layer Dip (Made with 8 layers?!)

In honor of Cinco de Mayo on Wednesday, I am posting a delicious and easy to make appetizer. It is called 7 Layer Dip, but it has 8 layers.(Why? Because I got the recipe from a friend who make it with 7 layers, but I added the eighth layer of salsa!)

This is everything you will need. I recommend putting the dip together the day before you will be serving it. That gives time for all the flavors to meld together, and oh, are they wonderful!.

The first thing you need to do is to decide what you want to put the dip in. I say it like that because this dip can go in just about anything. It works best in a rectangular pyrex dish, any size. If you are serving a lot of people then use the 13" X 9". You will need to use more of all of the ingredients, but I will explain that as we go along. I used the small 6" X 9" for these pictures. In the past I have used round, oval and square dishes. The recipe works in any dish.

LAYER 1 ~ refried beans. Spread the beans along the bottom of the dish. For the small dish, I only used half of the can. For the large dish you will need the entire can.

  LAYER 2 ~ add your chopped onion.They should be chopped small.

LAYER 3 ~ add your tomatoes. I used 2 roma tomatoes in the small dish. They are sweet tasting and delicious! I chopped the tomatoes about bite size, and I did what is called a rough chop. That means that there is no precise size or look I was going for. I just wanted them chopped about bite size.

  LAYER 4 ~ Mayonnaise. Add your mayo in a thin layer over the tomatoes, onion, and beans.
Don't worry if it is hard to spread. I like to take out my mayo and sour cream about 15 minutes before I start assembling the dip, but I don't always remember! When I forget, I just very gently spread the dip and try not to upset the layers too much!!

Layer 5~ Avocado.  I love avocado! I can eat it on just about everything, and I love when it is used to make spreads and dips. So, I used 2 avocados for this dip. If you are not an avocado lover (shame on you!) you can use less of this luscious fruit, or none at all. You can skip this layer. That is the beauty of this recipe. Put in what you like, and even more of it if you want, or leave out what you don't like, or use less of it.  I chopped the avocado small, and spread it evenly over the layers.
LAYER 6 ~ Salsa!  Add a light layer of salsa. You can use hot salsa if you like it hot, or if not use what ever temperature suits you. You can use any type or brand, or even make your own. You know, that is a good idea. I think we just might tackle that in another post. It is a lot of fun!!!
LAYER 7 ~ Add sour cream. Spread with a light touch. You don't want to get the sour cream too mixed up with the salsa. Oh heck, I don't know who I'm kidding. It is next to impossible for it not to look like a mess when you spread the sour cream, but don't worry. It will be fine!
LAYER 8 ~ Add your cheese! I like to use a Monterey Jack and Cheddar mix. But use whatever you like best. I have used straight cheddar and it is delicious also. I also like to use a fancy shred, but a regular shred works fine too.
 See what I mean about not worrying when it came to the sour cream mixing with the salsa. The cheese hides all the ugly mess!
     Now what to serve with your 8 layer dip? I use either Mission tortilla chips or these Pita Bites. They are both wonderful with the dip. But use you favorite chip or cracker. There is no wrong way to serve these. Let me know what you used to serve them and how you changed the layers, if you did.

                                                          Have a Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Shelf Life of Spices

    Every year I get rid of my spices. I do this religiously, as this is what I was taught. I always write with black marker on my bottles when I buy them. I put the month and the year. This makes it easy for me to remember when I bought it, and believe me, I need help remembering that kind of stuff!!  

I was always told that the flavor will diminish, therefore not giving my baked goods or sauces the intensity they deserve. But is that right? Am I wasting money by throwing my spices away too early? I decided to check out what other sites on the web were saying about the shelf life of spices, and I was surprised!  http://www.ochef.com/says that you should keep your spices as long as you think they have flavor. Well that's great!! But how will you know? I want to know before I spend time making my favorite biscotti that my cinnamon has lost it's umph!! http://www.ochef.com/says there are a couple ways to know. If your spice doesn't have the strong aroma that it should, then it's time to replace it. You can test your dried spices by putting a few pieces in your hand and crushing them. Then smell. Anything? If there is no smell, or it is barely smellable (if it's not a word, it should be!) then your spice needs to be replaced.http://www.ochef.com/  also gives us the following spice chart:

4 years shelf life for whole spices
2-3 years shelf life for ground spices
1-2 years shelf life for leafy herbs

They also state that all spices should be stored in a cool, dry place. I like this chart!! For sure, I have never kept my spices for more than 2 years, so I think my biscotti is safe!!!

I decided to check out another site. Not that I don't believe everything I read, but, oh well, just for the heck of it. I went to http://www.mccormick.com/ They for sure know a lot about spice. They have a great shelf life chart. Click on spices 101. It is really informative. Their spice chart says this:

2-3 years for ground spices
3-4 years for whole spices
1-3 years for herbs
1-2 years for seasoning blends
4 years for extracts ( except for vanilla-It lasts indefinitely)

So, it looks as if I can change my ways of tossing my spices after a year. http://www.mccormick.com/also says that the storage of spices is very important, and can help add time to the shelf life. Check out the site. There is a Fresh Tester you can use to check your spices, and there are some humorous tidbits on the Share Your Spice Stories page. Have fun cleaning out your spices!!!


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making Memories!

 Some days, there are few things that occupy your thoughts more than memories. I have always loved the way a taste or a smell can connect you, almost immediately to the past, and a pleasant memory. One of my strongest smell  memories is the smell of onion and celery sauteing in a pan on top of the stove on Thanksgiving morning. Whenever I smell the two ingredients I am taken back to those Thanksgivings, where my mother would be making the dressing to stuff the turkey.  At the time, as a typical kid, I didn't even like the dressing.  But, oh the aroma! I don't know if there is such a thing as a comfort smell, but that is mine.
That's what memories should be. They should comfort you, making you feel warm and loved. That's why I choose the snickerdoodle cookie to make. Although I never had this cookie as a child, and so there are no memories for me to draw from, I am making memories for my son. Yes, he is practically grown, and  is away at college, but I love sending him packages of homemade cookies, like these snickerdoodles,  and other goodies. I want them to be a comfort to him when he is stressed or homesick or needs to know he is loved.  I look forward to someday hearing him say, "Remember when you sent me those cookies at school?, Those were great!"  And I want to see him smile!

So that is why I have chosen the snickerdoodle cookie to make today. It isn't hard to make. It incorporates  some measuring, as cookies and baking always do, and it is a classic. This is an easy cookie to make, and oh the memories!

Memory Making Snickerdoodles  
(adapted from Great Cookies by Carole Walter)

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup ( 1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 3/4 cup sugar, divided
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Mix together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, but not your mixing bowl. Set this bowl to the side until later.

In your mixing bowl, mix the butter and the vegetable shortening,until creamy.
 *FRESHMAN TIP*~When measuring solid vegetable shortening, crack your egg into the measuring cup and then swish the egg around until the cup is coated. Pour the egg into a different bowl until you need it. Then measure out the vegetable shortening. The egg coating helps the shortening to release easily from the measuring cup.

Mix at medium speed.
Add 1 1/2 cups of sugar in a steady stream and mix for 2 minutes. 
* FRESHMAN TIP*~To add in a steady stream simply pour the sugar into the bowl with the mixer running. Don't dump it all in at once, as you want the sugar to incorporate into the mixture slowly and evenly


After the 2 minutes, reduce the mixer to low and add your eggs, one at a time, letting each egg mix into the batter.You should scrape down the sides of your bowl at this time also. Add your vanilla.

Now it is time to add your dry mix. Add half of the mix, and blend it in to the batter. Don't overmix!!  Then add the remainder of the batter and mix it again. 

Now put all your dough into a nice, clean  bowl, and cover with plastic. Or you can just wrap it in plastic. I don't always have a lot of room in my refrigerator, so wrapped in plastic, it takes up less room. You must let it refrigerate for at least 8 hours or even overnight.  

 Heat your oven to 350. You need to butter the cookie sheets, or spray them, or I like to use parchment paper. Take your dough, and cut it into four equals amounts. Shape each amount into a log. Slice each log into 12 equal pieces. Then shape each piece into a small ball. 

You should have a 1/2 cup of sugar left over from your ingredients. Put the sugar in a bowl and add the cinnamon. Mix together. Take each piece of rolled dough and roll it into the cinnamon sugar mix. 

Place evenly spaced on your cookie sheet, making them about three inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until slightly browned. Let cool for at least 5 minutes, then set on a wire rack.

These cookies are great for mailing or traveling and they have a long shelf life.

Thanks for reading!


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Measuring Your Ingredients

For my first official blog page I want to talk about measuring your ingredients. When you are cooking sauces and soups, or seasoning foods like meats or veggies you can give a pinch of this or a dash of that. In other words, SEASON TO TASTE. But when you are baking, you must measure your ingredients precisely and correctly. Too much flour will make your cookies dry and tasteless. Too little flour will make them not bake properly, and run on the tray. It has been said that baking is a science, and it is true. Ingredients react to other ingredients, and if done properly, create the masterpiece you are looking for.

  Lets start with your measuring cups. To measure dry ingredients, use a plastic or metal measuring cup like this one.