Spinach Squares

This time of year, over and over I find myself  searching for “good” appetizer recipes.  “Good” usually means the following:

  • not too difficult
  • does not require too much time
  • travels well
  • people will actually want to eat it

I recently found myself Googling like crazy and I could not find something that fit the bill.  I have a few go-tos (like this Layered Greek Dip, for instance) but I just get sick of the same thing over and over.  (By the way, if I had a nickel for each time I made that Layered Greek Dip I could buy Greece and all of its feta…and olives…and olive oil…you get the picture.)

After much frustration and interchanging of the words “appetizer” and “hors d’oeuvre” in Google (because technically *I think* an appetizer is something that is served as a plated first course  and hors d’oeuvres are more of finger foody snacks, or at least that’s how I distinguish them) I conceded that Greek Dip it would be.  But then for some reason I remembered to consult my green binder.  My green binder is a vinyl, school binder and it is bursting at the seams.  It contains recipe printouts and handouts and tearouts and recipe cards and papers and clippings from all walks of life.  And there it was:

A little old fashioned recipe card with a little duck wearing a ruffled apron on it and my 8 year-old penmanship staring up at me.  A recipe from the 1980s.  A recipe that reminds me of first communion parties and birthday cookouts and grandparents’ anniversaries.  A recipe that I transcribed from an aunt on June 25.  (It is dated!)

SPINACH SQUARES.  Spinach Squares are the perfect appetizer (or shall I say, hors d’oeuvre).  They travel well, they are versatile, they are delicious and they are straight out of the 1980s–what could be cooler than that!  (That’s almost retro, right?)  I promise never to forget these little bites of cheesy goodness again.   

Spinach Squares:

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion
  • 2 packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained well
  • 2  8-oz packages grated white cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Melt butter in a glass 9 x 13-inch dish.  In a medium bowl, mix the remaining ingredients together and spread into dish.  Bake for 30-35 minutes.  Let stand for 30 minutes before cutting.  Cut into small squares.  May be served warm, cool, or at room temperature.

German Potato Salad

When you think of potato salad you might think of it accompanying burgers at a Memorial Day or Fourth of July party–I know I do.  However, I recently determined that potato salad is a great side-kick to many proteins any time of the year. 

Use red bliss potatoes instead of russet and leave the skin on for some beautiful fall-esque color (and added nutrients).  Serve it warm along side pulled pork sandwiches, kielbasa, roasted pork, seared steaks, or three cheese paninis.  It works really well as a fall and/or winter side dish!  This recipe is great because it is light, fragrant and fresh.  It is very different from the cold summery mayonaise-based salads that are often at cook-outs. 

(Pst–look closely at the photo–I love how the potato salad matches my table cloth!) 

A big tip! The tip I am about to share with you has been passed down from many generations of potato salad makers (aka my mom, her mom etc.)  I encourage you to take notes, as this is classified information. 😉

Rather than dice the potatoes into cubes using a knife, use a fork to smash the potatoes.  The nooks and crannies left by the fork tines allow the potatoes to be coated by the dressing more effectively creating a much tastier potato.  Straight edges made by a knife allow the dressing to drip off leaving a pool at the bottom of your bowl. 

German Potato Salad:

  • 3 pounds red bliss potatoes
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 pound bacon, diced
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seeds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

Place potatoes and yellow onion in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are tender.  (Do not over cook.) Drain the potatoes and discard the onion.  Place the potatoes in a large bowl.  Smash them using the back of a fork and then cover to keep warm.

In a large saute pan, cook the bacon and cook until crisp. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Add the onions to the rendered bacon fat and cook until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully add the vinegar and mustard seeds and cook for 2 more minutes. Whisk in the oil and season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add the hot dressing to the potatoes and toss gently to coat. Fold in the green onions and parsley. Season again with salt and pepper, to taste.

Adapted from Bobby Flay’s German Potato Salad recipe found here on Foodnetwork.com.

Heath Bar Chocolate Cake

Wow–the days and weeks have gotten away from me! I came down with a nasty cold after Thanksgiving and I am not, what you might call, a quick “rebounder.”  I take some time to bounce back!  I am working on it, though.  With the help of some roasted garlic cloves I hope to be 100% soon!  Needless to say, I have not been cooking anything too snazzy in the kitchen as of late.  Roasted winter vegetables, simply grilled steaks, some pasta, sweet potatoes, and beans are pretty much it.  That said, I hope to get back on it and squeeze in some fun holiday treats before the season spirals away from me. 

I recently did some baking  for my wonderful co-worker, Jill, who is getting married in the Bahamas next month.  We had a surprise shower for her at work and I made this celebration cake for the gathering.  It is an adaptation of Annie’s Eats Cookies and Cream Cake, which won me our office bake-off.  This time, instead of crushed Oreos I used Heath Bar chocolate bits folded into the whipped cream filling. 

I must say I was quite pleased with the result.  The chocolate cake is rich and moist, the whipped cream filling is light and fluffy, yet not too sweet, and the Hershey’s chocolate frosting is fudgy and delicious.  I’d say this cake has mass appeal, which makes it perfect for an office occasion or a party where you might not know everyone’s tastes. 

Heath Bar Chocolate Cake:

For the cake:

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water

For the filling:

  • 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1/8 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 bag of Heath Bar chocolate bits 

For the frosting:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 2/3 cup Hershey’s cocoa powder
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Grease and flour two 8 or 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.  Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed for 2 minutes.  Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin).  Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks.  Cool completely.

 To make the filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream, confectioners’ sugar and vanilla.  Beat on low speed until all sugar is incorporated; increase speed to high and whisk until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold in candy pieces with a rubber spatula.

 To make the frosting, melt the butter in a medium bowl.  Stir in the cocoa.  Alternately add confectioners’ sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.  Add small amount additional milk, if needed.  Stir in vanilla.

 To assemble the cake, slice two cakes in half cross-wise using a serrated knife.  Place one cake layer on a cardboard cake circle.  Pipe a ring of the chocolate frosting around the outside edge of the cake.  Fill the area inside the ring of frosting with a thick layer of the cookies and cream mixture.  Repeat with remaining layers. Place the last cake layer on top.  Frost the sides of the cake layers with chocolate frosting.  Pipe a decorative border of the chocolate frosting on top of the cake.  Fill the area inside this border with a thick layer of the cookies and cream mixture.  Garnish with extra candy pieces and chocolate frosting.

Adapted from Annie’s Eats.