Roasted Red Pepper-Cream Cheese Spread

I made and photographed this roasted red pepper-cream cheese spread stuff* last October, but then I didn’t post it. I think mostly I became distracted and more interested in writing other things and then I didn’t want to post it right next to another recipe (the muffins). But I think also it’s because I was taking pictures in the waning afternoon light and I didn’t get a good finished product photo. Every time I looked at the ones I had, it looked kind of gross to me. I guess I’m telling you this as part of a disclaimer. It’s good, okay? Trust me.

*(I don’t know what it is, but I hate the word “spread” as a noun, so I’m always fumbling around when I talk about this: “You know, that red pepper cheese stuff you like?”)

It looks like this. Ideally I would have it staged on crackers or with a nice loaf of bread on some Fiestaware, but this is as good as it gets for this entry.

finished spread in blender

The ingredients are very pretty, however.

red pepper being cut up

garlic on cutting board

This recipe comes from Alton Brown. He includes zucchini, but I leave that out. I did make it once with it, but that was so long ago I can’t truthfully tell you how it compares. I know we did not dislike it with the zucchini, but the husband is not a big fan of squash so I suspected that he would like it better without it. Then that just became how I made it.


You need onions, garlic, a red bell pepper, olive oil, salt, pepper, and cream cheese. I assume you can add other vegetables for variety.

Alton Brown tells you to mix up the vegetables and the olive oil in a bowl before putting them on the cookie sheet, but I think that’s just getting a bowl greasy unnecessarily. I spread the cut vegetables out and dribble olive oil over them (I don’t measure; Rachael Ray* taught me that a tablespoon of oil is about as much as a circle around a frying pan). Then I take tongs, stir a little, and even it out so they’re not all in a pile.

*(This is the paragraph in which it becomes obvious that I went through a Food Network stage about five years ago.)

vegetables on cookie sheet

I don’t have a food processor, so I’m using this little blender attachment dealie that came with my stick blender. This would certainly be easier in an actual food processor. Since I have to do this in two batches and my bowl dealie (what is that thing called?) can’t hold a whole brick of cream cheese, I have to cut it into pieces at this point. I throw the cream cheese in the freezer for ten or fifteen minutes to harden it a little so it’s easier to cut into little chunks.

cream cheese in chunks

When the roasted vegetables look like this, take them out of the oven. Alton Brown says to let them cool completely, but I live dangerously and just let them sit until they aren’t burning hot to the touch.

cooked vegetables on cookie sheet

The beauty of the aluminum foil, in addition to it meaning no scrubbing of the cookie sheet if you do it right (seems like I always have a corner that develops a little hole and leaks), is that you can pick it up and guide/slide your vegetables into the food processor bowl without hassling with picking up every scrap of onion with tongs or fingers.

I throw half of the veggies in with half of the cream cheese and blend it. I have to stop a lot and take my fork and make sure there aren’t chunks missed or stuck. Then I put the mixture in a bowl and repeat the process with the other half.

ingredients in blender

mixed spread

These step-by-step photos are thrilling! Okay, that’s the end. After I have the second half mixed, I throw the first half back in with it, stir it with my fork, and call it good.

This red pepper-cream cheese stuff goes well with bread or crackers. It could also be a filling for celery. It’s more spreadable if you let it come to room temperature before serving.

spread on cracker

Told you the photo of the end result was kind of unattractive. Sorry about that!

Spinach and Feta Muffins

This spinach and feta mini-muffin recipe came from Flickr user Dieting elsie who is part of the Laptop Lunches group there. We will come back to the Laptop Lunch thing. First, the muffins.

spinach and feta muffins on plate

I know having the ingredients all on the counter is kind of a food blog cliche and is made fun of a little in some circles, but I’m going to do it anyway because I find it helpful to see what someone bought for some recipes. Sometimes it’s hard to picture an unfamiliar ingredient or to know what to look for in, say, the cheese department.

Plus, I think it’s interesting to see the variations in packaging and availability in different parts of the country.

ingredients for muffins

For instance, Kroger brand flour? I didn’t know what that looked like two months ago. I’d heard of Kroger, but that’s it. And now it’s here on my counter!

It’s the little things.

Spinach and Feta Mini-Muffins

275g plain flour (2 cups + 2 tbsp + pinch)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 large egg
225ml milk (7.6 oz)
1 tsp sea salt
100g baby spinach leaves (torn up a bit) (3.5 oz)
100g feta, in small cubes (3.5 oz)

Mix first five ingredients well, but not letting in too much air, so just folding really, then add spinach and feta. Grease a 24 mini muffin tin (I used olive oil). Cook on 200 C (~400 F or a little less) for 20 minutes.

Okay. Dieting elsie’s recipe was in metric, but fortunately Google helped me turn those measurements into something that made sense at the Kroger (actually, Kroger stores are called King Soopers here, just to be confusing) and in my American kitchen.

You can tell by my ingredient photo that I didn’t splurge on any fancy salt and that I just bought one of those 4 oz packages of feta that are in crumbles, not cubes. I filled up the liquid measuring cup with milk to about halfway between the 7 and the 8 oz marks. I eyeballed two-thirds or so of the 6-oz bag of spinach, and I used the whole 4 oz of cheese. I know that baking’s a science and people like to stress how important measuring is, but I think muffins have some leeway.

Also, I’ve made this same recipe at sea level and now at high altitude, and I can’t tell if there was any difference. So you can try it with confidence no matter where you are.

mixing bowl of batter

The muffin batter is really thick and barely hanging on to the spinach and feta. It’ll be okay, though.

cooked muffins in tin

They also overflow the muffin cups when cooked, but I think they look flowery and festive. (They did this at sea level, too, so it’s not an altitude weirdness.)

So, a Laptop Lunch is what one packs in one’s Laptop Lunchbox, which is a kind of Americanized bento box. A bento is a traditional style of Japanese lunch that’s packed tightly in a cute little box. You can google this and find a bazillion examples and some webpages that explain it all a lot better than I can.

I don’t do the traditional Japanese thing, and I don’t do “real” bento boxes. I’m sure I will talk about this more later, but I stick to the Laptop Lunch brand system for a couple of reasons, but mainly just as a way to limit myself. I have to consciously choose what I am going to collect and where my boundaries are so I don’t end up (and I say this and link with love) out of control.

I eat at home these days, so I have not been packing bento lunches, but I still reflexively buy and prepare food with bentos in mind. I like having a stocked freezer of little things like mini muffins, two-inch tubs of spaghetti sauce, mini bagels, ravioli, baby cups of pudding, and post-Halloween clearance candy. I made and froze applesauce the other day, too. Most of these mini muffins will go in lunches once I’m back to packing them. (I ate two, and then I threw the rest in a gallon ziploc bag after they cooled and put them straight in the freezer.)

Here are a couple of photos of lunches that include muffins from the last batch I made.

laptop lunchbox with lunch

This lunch has cheese ravioli, a little spinach quiche thing, Wheat Thins, a Laughing Cow cheese wedge, apple slices, Teddy Grahams, a muffin, chocolates, and pistachios.

laptop lunchbox with lunch

This one has a quick salad with leftover chicken thrown on top, a chocolate square, a muffin, pear slices, Wheat Thins, cheddar cheese, and dressing (in the red box). That’s a little fork and a napkin there too. I probably made these close in time to each other, given the overlap of contents.

I have plenty more examples of bentos and links to cool blogs and everything. I’d meant to share them now, but I think I will wait so I don’t overwhelm or bore you.

So, go make these muffins, google up some bento photos, and come back later.

close up of muffins on plate

Onion Dip with Bacon

My husband is a big bacon and onion dip fan, but when we moved away from the Pacific Northwest, he no longer had access to his preferred brand.  We settled for a just-onion substitute in Nebraska, but here in Cajun Country, the pickings were slimmer and nothing tasted right.  So it occured to us that it couldn’t be too hard to make dip.

I looked in How to Cook Everything and Joy of Cooking for a basic onion dip.  Nothing seemed perfect, so I took ingredients from recipes in both to create something that sounded good.  And it was.  After I made it a couple of times, we took it to the next level by adding bacon.

bowl of dip ingredients

Please excuse the ugly and dirty counter, the coffee paraphernalia in the background, and the bad lighting. Taking pictures of this process was a spur-of-the-moment decision and I didn’t feel like staging. And I’m no Pioneer Woman, okay?

ingredients on counter

I use (approximately)

2 cups sour cream
~1/2 cup minced Italian (or regular) parsley
~1 cup minced onion (usually about half green and half yellow)
1/4 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper
squeeze of lemon
~tsp of dried chives
4 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into bits

bowl of dip ingredients

I actually do not measure anything, so this is flexible.

I cooked the bacon another night when we had a dish requiring it. I use kitchen shears to cut the raw bacon into a small frying pan, cutting about 1/3 of an inch bits. You can hold the strips all together and cut several at once. Then cook it, stirring often. Of course, you could also cook it in the regular way and then crumble it. I have no idea which is faster or easier. If you aren’t using up the bacon in the package, it freezes well.

More often than not, we have half an onion and/or half a bunch of green onions in the refrigerator left over from some other meal and I just use whatever’s there without measuring it. I like to use more than one kind of onion because it creates a layering of taste. No, I just made that up. It sounds good, though, doesn’t it? I don’t know, it just adds some color to use more than one kind. I have used green and yellow, green and red, red and yellow–it all tastes good.

stirring the sour cream in

I used about a third of a bunch of parsley here. This is the regular kind of parsley. The Italian kind is flat. I can’t tell you how they taste different. I tend to plan making this dip when I’m buying parsley for something else and then I just save a little from the bunch.

By “squeeze of lemon” I mean the juice from a half of a baby lemon. Or so. It doesn’t matter. You can leave it out if you don’t have it.

dip ready to serve

We eat it with potato chips or pretzels. It’s kind of lumpy, so it needs a sturdy scooper.

I hope you like it! We won’t be going back to grocery store dip.

Homemade Cheese Crackers

I made these cheese crackers last summer.  I didn’t take photos of the steps, but I took enough of the finished product to make up for that.  I was very proud.

crackers on cooling rack

This was my first time making crackers.  I found the recipe at My Kitchen Snippets.

(I’m sure I didn’t use parchment paper, and I used the KitchenAid mixer instead of a food processor.)

crackers on cooling rack

They were light and flakey. They are cheesey, but I wouldn’t compare mine to Cheez-Its. Cheez-Its are much sturdier and sharper, flavorwise. The cheese in mine blended in with the butter and flour to be a soft, subtle cheese flavor.

cat on ladder

Tristan loves to watch me cook. He stands on his ladder and supervises, just out of reach. Behind him, you can see that I was making brownies to go with the crackers. It was the Fourth of July, so it seemed like an appropriately snacky menu.

I took the plate outside to photograph the crackers in natural light.

crackers on plate


close up of crackers