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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spinach Artichoke Dip--Frugal?

Over the years there have been recipes I have not even tried because they contained ingredients that didn't fit my tight budget. That wonderful spinach artichoke dip, as delicious as it can be, was full of  too expensive things like artichokes, sour cream, and "real" Parmesan cheese, so I just enjoyed it when it was part of a potluck.

Recently, I was able to get some artichoke hearts marinated in oil on a really good sale, so I decided it was time to see if I could find a way to make a "frugal" dip from them. The following recipe cut costs and, as a nice side effect, resulted in a healthier dish,  lower in calories and fat and higher in protein. Some of the changes:
  • No mayonnaise or sour cream; instead I used plain, low fat yogurt and low fat cream cheese (while some recipes include Greek yogurt, I used "regular" yogurt, simply pouring off the whey that separates out).
  • Parmesan from a jar--it was a store-brand and about a quarter (or less) of the cost of the deli counter Parmesan and worked out just as well.
  • Reduced somewhat the proportion of artichoke hearts from most of the recipes I looked at.
  • The chiles had been purchased on sale; if you can't get these at a "reasonable" price, you could substitute hot sauce OR finely chopped fresh jalapenos (usually the least expensive of fresh peppers available here).

This is great served with homemade pita or flat bread wedges.

Want to make your own pita bread? Check this out:

And then, here's a great recipe for an herbed flat bread that works well for making your own "pita chips":

Spinach Artichoke Yogurt Dip

8 oz Neufchatel (low fat) cream cheese
2 c lowfat, plain yogurt
1 T oil from the artichokes (optional)
1 1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1 c artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (about 9 oz)
1/4 c chopped green chiles--about half a small can
12 oz frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1/4 c finely chopped onion
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced

1.  Combine the cream cheese, yogurt, oil (if used), and Parmesan cheese in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and beginning to bubble around the edges.

2.  Press the spinach through a strainer (or just squeeze it out with your hands) to make it as dry as possible.

3.  Stir the artichokes, chiles, onion, garlic, and drained spinach into the bubbling cheese mixture. Continue to cook until heated through.

You can serve the dip at this point, though it will be relatively liquid. My preference is to continue on to step 4 for richer flavor overall. Sometimes, though, you just won't be able to wait any longer before trying it out.

4.  (The preferred method) Pour the dip into an oiled casserole and bake at 350 degrees for about 15 to 25 minutes, until bubbly and just starting to brown.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Bean Flat Bread

Our local Aldi started carrying dried kidney beans, at a very attractive price, so I bought a few pounds and then cooked up two pounds of them for a weekend of chili making--two large crowd events with three batches of chili would call for a lot of beans.

Not, however, quite as many as I had thought. Do you know how many cups (quarts!) of cooked beans you get from two pounds of dry beans?

A lot.

So, even after all that chili, there were still beans left. I was definitely done with chili as an option. I made one batch of the Depression era salad I occasionally enjoy nostalgically, but there were still a couple of cups of cooked beans in the refrigerator.

Yes, I could have frozen them, but I was looking for something new and different to try. Dessert? Bread? I started some internet searches and found lots of bean recipes, but the distinctive color and generally firmer texture of kidney beans didn't include them in most of these unique uses. I did, however, find some breads made with cooked beans that were intriguing.

Thinking that the kidney beans would leave telltale dark flecks in whatever bread I would make, I started to think of ways to disguise this, and herbs were an easy solution. Then, looking forward to an event when I would be making some kind of dip and dippers, I considered making this into a flat bread that could be made into something like pita chips.

The result? A wonderful new recipe that provides a great sandwich bread (part of the recipe was shaped into a typical loaf) as well as flat breads that can be used whole or toasted into chips for dipping, the original plan.

And one more side benefit, besides using up those extra beans:  this is a vegan bread that has boosted protein from the beans.

 Kidney Bean Flat Bread
2 c cooked, drained kidney beans, prepared without salt (see NOTE if canned beans are used)
2 c water and drained bean liquid
1 t garlic powder
1 t Italian seasoning
1 t black pepper
1 pkg dry yeast (2 1/2 t)
2 1/2 t salt
1/4 c sugar (or less--see NOTE for canned beans)
3 T olive oil)
approximately 4 1/2 to 5 1/2c bread flour

1.  Drain the bean liquid into a 2 cup measure and fill the measure to the top with water. Heat this mixture in the microwave until very warm.

2.  Put the kidney beans and one cup of the water/bean liquid in a processor, using the metal blade. Blend until the beans are very smooth.

3. Add the oil, herbs, salt, sugar, and yeast along with the rest of the water and about 2 cups of flour. Process until smooth.

4.  Continue adding flour, one half cup at a time, processing each time until blended. If you have a large (about 14 cup) processor, you can probably add all the flour, processing until the dough makes a smooth dough. However, with a more standard size processor (mine is an 11 cup processor), you will need to stop after about 3 cups or so have been added. DON'T overtax your processor's motor!

5.  Turn the dough into a floured bowl, adding more flour as necessary to develop a "kneadable" dough. If you were not able to finish the kneading in the processor, knead the dough now, until it is pliant and slightly resistant to pressure.

6.  Oil the top of the dough ball lightly and allow to rise until doubled.

7.  Shape the dough into flat rounds about 1/4 to 1/3" thick. Place on an oiled sheet and allow to double in size, about 30 to 45 minutes.

8.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 to 12 minutes, until nicely browned.

9.  Remove from oven and brush with olive oil or butter for a glossy surface.


You can substitute a 15 1/2 oz can of kidney beans. Be aware that almost all canned kidney beans are prepared with both sugar and salt--even the organic varieties! If you are using a can of these beans, reduce the sugar to 3 tablespoons and the salt to 2 teaspoons.


Instead of shaping the dough into flat rounds, shape it into 2 to 3 loaves. Place the loaves on pans that have been oiled and sprinkled with corn meal (I use masa harina). Cut slits in the tops of the loaves and allow to raise until double. Bake at 350 degrees. 

Other beans can probably be substituted for the kidney beans, but I have only tested this with kidney and black beans. For the latter, do NOT use the liquid, as it will give the dough a not so attractive gray color overall.

You may use your own favorite herbs in place of or in addition to the Italian seasoning.

Flat Bread Chips for Dipping

1.  Cut the flat bread in half horizontally, as you might for a sandwich. Then cut each into triangles.

2.  Spread the triangle chips across a tray that has been lightly oiled. Spray the chips with a bit of olive oil and sprinkle with salt--coarse salt is good, but seasoning salt, garlic salt, etc., may also be used.

3.  Bake the chips at 280 degrees for about 12 to 15 minutes. Turn and continue baking another 12 to 15 minutes until they begin to turn golden and are crisp. Allow to cool before serving. 

Vegetarian Enchilada Casserole

Several of us were asked to bring a Chicken Enchilada Casserole for a large gathering recently, so I volunteered to make a vegetarian version. The organizers wanted all the casseroles to have the same appearance so they had provided a recipe to follow and asked that I make my vegetarian contribution to look as much as possible as the original. I have included that recipe at the end of this post, just for comparison purposes. As you will see, the revisions I have made are quite a bit lower in fat and higher in vitamins and fiber, a nice side benefit.

One problem:  When I have made vegetarian enchiladas in the past, they have always had the tomatoe-y sauce that is what most of us think of when we imagine enchiladas.

To produce a flavorful substitute, not only without tomatoes but also without using cream soup was going to be a challenge, that's for sure. But I was up to it and worked out the following recipe that is even tastier than the original and, not incidentally, a whole lot lower in calories and fat.

Creamy Vegetarian Enchiladas

olive oil
11 to 12 oz diced butternut squash, about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups
1/2 c (1/2 medium) onion, diced
4 oz can mushroom slices or pieces--do not drain
1/4 c flour
1 c plain low fat or nonfat yogurt
2 T McKay's seasoning or other vegetable bouillon base
1 t garlic powder
1 t cumin
1/2 c low fat sour cream
10 oz frozen chopped kale or spinach, thawed but not drained
1 15 oz can garbanzo beans--drain but reserve liquid
4 oz  diced green chiles, including liquid
1/4 to 1/2 c chopped cilantro, to taste (use stems as well as leaves)
about 1/2 to 1 t salt, to taste
6 to 8 flour tortillas
14 to 16 oz Mexican mix grated cheese (or all cheddar or cheddar/jack mix)

1.  Put just enough olive oil in a large nonstick frying pan to cover the bottom with a very thin layer.
Add the squash and onions and saute over medium to high heat until the squash is soft and the onions are golden.

2.  Stir the flour into the liquid from the mushrooms, adding a bit more water or milk to make this a thin paste. Gradually add this mixture with the mushrooms and yogurt and stir just until the mixture is thickened. Add the seasonings and sour cream and stir until smooth and beginning to thicken.

3.  Add the kale or spinach, garbanzo beans, and cilantro. Taste and add salt as needed.  

 4.  Lightly oil a 9 X 12 pan and spread with a single layer of tortillas. Tear the tortillas as needed to cover the entire bottom. Spoon about one third of the garbanzo bean mixture evenly across the tortillas and then sprinkle with about a quarter to a third of the cheese.

5.  Repeat layering tortillas, bean mixture, and cheese two more times. Make sure the top is completely covered with the cheese.

6.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees (325 if using a glass pan) for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the mixture is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

Serve with salsa and/or hot sauce.

Some changes you may want to make:

Mushrooms:   I didn't have any fresh mushrooms so used canned, but sauteeing fresh ones (and maybe as many as 8 oz.) near the end of step 1 would be even better.

Tortillas:  As mentioned, I prefer corn tortillas, and you could substitute those for the flour tortillas here. If you stay with flour tortillas, choose whole grain tortillas for more texture and nutrition.

Garlic:  Fresh garlic is always good to use if you have it, but bottled or frozen garlic could also be substituted for the garlic powder. Still, garlic powder is a good ingredient to have on hand if you are in a hurry and/or you want to have a very well-blended garlic flavor in a sauce such as this.

Squash:  Butternut squash puree, either freshly made or pureed, can be substituted for the fresh squash.


For comparison purposes, here is the original recipe that was used for the evening's meal. It was definitely a well-received dish and could be something you might want to make if you still use canned cream soups.

Chicken Enchiladas                  
1 dozen flour tortillas
Mix next 6 ingredients:
  • 4 COOKED skinless, boneless chicken breasts ( can use whole fryer instead)
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 stick melted butter
  • 1 small onion - chopped
  • 1 can green chopped chiles
1 pound grated cheddar cheese

Layer in a 9x13 pan:
Tortillas ( rip tortillas in sections to allow single layer coverage of pan)
Chicken mixture
Repeat layers (ending with grated cheese)
Bake uncovered at 350 for approx. 35 minutes or until bubbly.
Serves: 8-10