CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #8 — DIPS

A tasty dip comes in handy this time of year (really, any time of year), whether to set out for friends and family, or to bring to a holiday party.  One dip that is a surefire hit is Baked Artichoke Parmesan Dip. And if you’re short on time, don’t hesitate to whip up a batch of Hidden Valley Party Dip — all you need is a packet of the party dip and an 8-ounce container of sour cream — and serve it with veggie sticks and Fritos.  Trust me, no one will complain.

This year, I tried a new dip, and it’s a keeper.  Smoked Salmon Dip, adapted from The English Kitchen, is wonderfully smoky, salty, and savory, owing to the lemon juice, green onions, capers, and dill.  It comes together quickly in the food processor.  One tip from the English Kitchen that I found interesting was: “You don’t need to use best quality smoked salmon . . . I usually use the smoked salmon scraps you can buy in the shops.  You are going to chop it coarsely anyways, and the scraps are already chopped for you.”  I had no idea I could buy smoked salmon scraps, but when I went to buy the smoked salmon at Kroger, sure enough, there they were.  And they worked perfectly.

Smoked salmon scraps

SMOKED SALMON DIP
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Recipe type: Appetizer
Author:
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 green onion, white and green parts, thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 4-5 ounces smoked salmon, coarsely chopped, any gray areas removed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Fresh dill sprig, for garnish
  • Bagel chips, for serving
Instructions
  1. Put the cream cheese, sour cream, Tabasco sauce, and lemon juice in a food processor, and process until smooth. Add the green onion, capers, salmon, dill, and pepper, and pulse to blend.
  2. Transfer to serving bowl, and refrigerate until ready to use. Garnish with dill sprig and serve with bagel chips.

 

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #7 — NUTCRACKERS AND SWEDISH NUTS

With the holidays, comes an inevitable invasion of nutcrackers.  They stare blankly ahead, grinning while gracing tables and guarding doorways.

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When my children were young, we took them to see the Houston Ballet’s annual production of The Nutcracker.  My 5-year old daughter looked beautiful in her flowing fancy dress, and my 3-year old son looked precious in his tweed blazer — I was so proud of my young family.  The sets were gorgeous, the costumes stunning, and . . . my kids were just too young to appreciate it.  They fidgeted and whispered questions (in fairness, so were half the other kids in the theater).  We could sense that the people in front of us were mildly irritated.  At intermission, the redneck sitting in front of us turned around and said something like, “Could you control your kids?  I paid $______ for these tickets.”  (Doesn’t he know it’s impolite to talk about money, and besides, he probably used a Groupon.)  We took the kids out to the lobby and got them a drink and some candy, and went back for the second act.  Unfortunately, my son was still fidgety, and as he squirmed, he dropped one of his Skittles and it rolled down the theater floor — ping ping ping.  Then he did it again — ping ping ping.  Before the redneck’s head popped off, I picked up my son to move him to my lap, and during the transfer, the entire bag of Skittles emptied out and rolled down the theater floor.  It sounded like soft rain — ch ch ch ch ch.  At which point my husband stood up and said “Get up, we’re leaving.”  Now, when my friends tell me they are going to The Nutcracker, I have to try very hard not to laugh.  Y’all have fun.

But just because I don’t enjoy The Nutcracker doesn’t mean that I don’t like cracked nuts.  A few years ago my neighbor brought us Swedish Nuts as a holiday treat.  We loved these nuts!  I hounded her for the recipe, and I am happy to be able share it.  (Most recipes for Swedish Nuts on the interwebs use regular sugar, but I think the brown sugar really helps make these special).  These are easy and really delicious (how could they not be with all that butter and sugar) — be sure to make an extra batch for yourself!

SWEDISH NUTS
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Recipe type: Appetizers, Snacks
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup butter
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound pecan halves
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Beat egg whites with an electric mixture until stiff. Stir in brown sugar and salt, mixing until completely combined. Add the pecans and stir until all nuts are completely coated.
  3. Place butter on a cookie sheet, and place in oven until butter is melted. Pour nuts onto cookie sheet and bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on cookie sheet, breaking up any nuts that have stuck together. Can be stored in refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container.

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Stir until all the pecans are coated

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Ready for to go in the oven

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After 15 minutes

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After 30 minutes

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Done!

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A perfect holiday treat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN #2 — GINGER TREATS

Add a little spice to your holiday celebrations with gingersnaps.  And if you really want to experience a holiday treat, order a tin of crisp, spicy gingersnaps from The Center, a private not-for-profit agency serving persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities (Houston readers can usually purchase these at the Eastside Farmers Market as well).  The sale of the gingersnaps began as a volunteer effort led by Alicia Lee, whose son and nephew were residents at The Center’s Willow River Farms.  According to the website, the request for gingersnaps came from Barbara Bush, and Ms. Lee set about testing recipes for months in her quest for a crisp, crunchy, spicy cookie.  After many test batches, they sent a sample to Barbara Bush, who loved them, and the rest is gingersnap history.  Each gold tin is decorated with a hand-pressed and gilded ornament, made by one of the Center’s clients.  These gingersnaps are crunchy, buttery, spicy, and addictive.

If you’d like to make your own gingersnaps or ginger cookies, there are a million recipes out there.  My personal favorite recipe is this one, and I bake tons of them every year.

Although the gingersnaps are wonderful all by themselves, they are even better served with Amazing Pumpkin Dip.  We discovered this years ago at a small grocery store that had samples out of various products you could order for the holidays.  They called it Amazing Pumpkin Dip and had copies of the recipe printed for anyone who wanted one.  What was truly amazing was that we were not asked to leave, because my young son ate at least half of the bowl of dip while I was shopping.  (He tended to view free samples as his own personal buffet.)

If you need to bring a dish to a holiday party, or are looking for something to serve at one of your own, gingersnaps and pumpkin dip are a crowd-pleaser.

AMAZING PUMPKIN DIP
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Recipe type: Appetizers, Snacks, Desserts
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 10 ounces pumpkin butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 8-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
  • Gingersnaps, for serving
Instructions
  1. Place cream cheese in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add pumpkin butter, sugar, and vanilla, and beat until well-blended. Gently fold in whipped topping. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Serve with gingersnaps for dipping.

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EASTER-Y DEVILED EGGS

This dancing egg chick that was recently installed on the esplanade outside my office reminds me that every year around this time I get lots of visitors to the blog looking for cute deviled egg ideas for Easter — this year is no exception.  Apparently deviled eggs are not just popular in the South!  So for those of you hunting for a fun appetizer for an Easter meal, here’s the updated 2017 annual roundup of Easter-y deviled eggs.

Your family will cluck with approval at these cute little chicks from swellkid:

chickie eggs

Not handy with a piping bag?  Food & Whine shows you how to have your chicks and eat them too, without the fuss:

Use a small ice cream scoop to make these stand-up stand-out Easter chicks (Larry, Moe, and Curly) from delish:

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Or perhaps these cuties from kitchme.com:

A plateful of cute Easter critters from saveonfoods.com:

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These colorful ones from Real Mom Kitchen are sure to wow:

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Little hens and chicks from eye candy (not sure which one she made first, the hen or the chicks):

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Keep ’em guessing with deviled egg bunnies/mice from MyFudo:

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T’was the night before Easter and all through the house . . . .

Or trim radish slices to make less ambiguous bunnies, from kraftrecipes.com:

Everyone will ooh and aah at this pretty springtime presentation from Hungry Happenings:

Making deviled eggs into daisies [1]

Ditto for these showy deviled eggs from Created by Diane:

What kid could possibly resist these adorable bunny eggs from Paas?

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Another cute bunny idea (although I might leave the whiskers off) comes from PapaWow:

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And adorable bunny feet eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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A basket of deviled egg cuteness (soak celery in water to make it pliable for the handle):

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Here’s another adorable Easter basket deviled egg from Taste of Home with candy-coated sunflower seed eggs and sprouts:

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If you’d prefer something a little more reverent for Easter, you might try these carrot crosses from Happier than a Pig in Mud:

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Not deviled eggs, but here’s a few fun ways to serve hard-boiled eggs for Easter and use up those leftover dyed eggs:

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fivehearthome.com

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servingupsouthern.com

Gather a few giggles with these hatching eggs from Hungry Happenings:

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Here’s my own recipe for Easter Lily Deviled Eggs (I really need a better a photo).  Feel free to use your favorite recipe for deviled eggs for these or any of the ideas above.  Or try a new one — like this great-sounding one for Chipotle Cilantro Deviled Eggs from Savoury Table.

photo

EASTER LILY DEVILED EGGS
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Recipe type: Appetizers
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 12 mini fillo shells (recipe developed with Athens brand)
  • Paprika (sweet or smoked), to garnish
Instructions
  1. Slice eggs in half lengthwise. Carefully remove yolks and place in a small bowl; set whites aside. Add mayonnaise and mustard to bowl, and using a fork, mash together with yolks until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Spoon or pipe yolk mixture into fillo shells. Cut triangular petals from reserved egg whites with a sharp paring knife. For each deviled egg cup, arrange 5 petals decoratively around filling, sprinkle paprika lightly over filling, and serve.

 

easter-lily[1] Happy Easter!

FUSS-FREE APPETIZERS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS

Whether you’re entertaining a crowd, or planning a quiet night in for New Year’s Eve, here are three appetizers that are fuss-free, elegant, and always popular.

Fuss-free appetizer #1:  duck rillettes, cornichons, and french mustard

Serve with crostini. (To make crostini, slice a baguette into 1/4″ thick slices, place on baking sheet, and brush one side lightly with olive oil — bake at 350 degrees until dry and crispy).  In a pinch, you can serve with sturdy crackers.  This goes well with any kind of wine.

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Fuss-free appetizer #2: caviar, crème fraiche, and mini pancakes

The caviar is a splurge, but Costco has it this time of year at a significant savings off the regular price.  Traditionally, caviar is served with buckwheat pancakes (blini), but I couldn’t find them locally, wasn’t about to make them, and ordering them was prohibitive because they had to be shipped on ice.  But then my boss introduced me to H-E-B mini pancakes, and they are just perfect.  This goes well with champagne.

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Fuss-free appetizer #3:  cambozola and sweet crisps

Cambozola is a triple cream, brie-style blue cheese (think camembert and gorgonzola).  Sweet Crisps are sold at Corner Bakery, and are thin slices of raisin pecan bread, brushed (I assume) with butter or oil, sprinkled with coarse sugar, and baked until crispy (there are loads of “copy-cat” recipes on the interwebs).  Although cambozola is perfectly delicious on a plain ol’ cracker, it is divine on a sweet crisp.  If you are lucky enough to have a friend who sends you her homemade sour cherry jam, by all means, dab a little on top of the cheese!  This goes particularly well with red wine.

img_8683None of these appetizers will take you more than 5 minutes to put together, and I promise you, they will disappear almost as quickly.

HOMEMADE TAMALES

Tamales are a holiday tradition in Texas and elsewhere.  Traditional tamales begin with a dough called masa, made from nixtamalized corn (soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and then hulled) or a masa mix, such as Maseca, and lard (gasp!) or vegetable shortening, or even butter.  The masa is spread on corn husks or plantain leaves, with a few tablespoons of sweet or savory filling, folded up into a neat little packet, and then steamed until the masa is firm.

Tamales are eaten year-round, but during the holidays, they are extremely popular. Perhaps this is because making tamales is usually done in large batches — tens, if not hundreds, at a time — and is a nice way to bring generations together to assemble them.

There are several ways to get your tamale holiday fix.  Most Mexican restaurants sell them this time of year — some even set up tamale stands:

tamale stand

If you’re lucky, someone in your office has a grandmother or aunt that sells homemade tamales this time of year (if so, do yourself a favor and get a dozen or two).  You can also order them online — Texas Tamale Company has some nice sets that make welcome gifts, especially for out-of-state friends.  Or . . . you can make your own.

A while back I signed up for a Tamales 101 class with Sylvia Casares, owner of Sylvia’s Enchiladas and Houston’s unofficial Enchilada Queen.  The first part of the class was instructional, where we watched Sylvia prepare the several ingredients necessary to make the tamales.  Sylvia chatted while preparing chile sauce, pork filling, and masa, sharing bits about her life, Mexican food, and the antiques that decorate her attractive restaurant.

Once all the components were ready, Sylvia showed us how to spread the masa on the pre-soaked corn husk, and how much filling to add:

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At this point, the class moved to the dining room, where each person had their own tamale-making station:

And away we rolled!  One of the staff admired my tamales and declared them perfect (not that I’m competitive or anything):

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We packed up our tamales for steaming at home (which, I must say, were quite tasty, with a perfect masa-to-filling ratio).

Will I ever make tamales at home?  I’d like to think so, although on a smaller scale, and probably without lard.  I am also intrigued by the idea of sweet tamales, which Sylvia described to us, and which take significantly less preparation.  Perhaps this will become a new holiday tradition for my family.

In the event you might like to try your hand at tamales, or are interested in seeing what’s involved, I’m including the recipes from the class (there’s a separate recipe for each component). These recipes will make approximately 5 dozen tamales.  If making tamales seems involved, it’s because it is — that’s why it’s fun to do it with several people.  The fillings below (Pork Guisado and/or Pollo Guisado) can be prepared a day or two in advance.  Note that Sylvia’s masa is different than that used in most tamales (and also tastier), because it’s flavored with a chile sauce — most consist of only masa and lard or vegetable shortening.

CHILI SAUCE FOR MASA
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Recipe type: Sauce
Author:
Ingredients
  • 5 guajillo chiles (stems and seeds removed)
  • 2-1/4 cups water
Instructions
  1. Place water and chiles in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes,
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Set aside to add to masa.

 
SAUCE FOR PORK GUISADO
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Recipe type: Sauce
Author:
Ingredients
  • 15 guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 5 chile de arbol, stems removed
  • ½ of a large onion, quartered
  • 5 cups water
  • 4 cloves garlic
Instructions
  1. Place chiles, onion, and water in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Set aside to cool for approximately 15 minutes.
  2. Using a food processor or blender, blend all ingredients until smooth. Pour through a strainer to remove any solids.
  3. Blend garlic with ¼ cup water and add to pureed chiles.
  4. Set aside for use in Pork Guisado.

 
POLLO GUISADO
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Recipe type: Poultry
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken, approximately 3 pounds, cut into 8 pieces, skin removed
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 1 large tomato, cored, seeded, and diced
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken, water, and salt in a large stockpot and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove the chicken from the pot and shred the chicken into small pieces. Reserve the broth.
  2. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the garlic, peppercorns, and cumin seeds.
  3. Combine the shredded chicken with the ground garlic and spices and add to the reserved broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to simmer. Add onion, bay leaf, tomatoes, and tomato sauce, and simmer for 20 minutes. Set aside to cool
  4. When cool, drain most of the liquid and discard bay leaves. Cover and refrigerate chicken until ready to use.

 
PORK GUISADO TAMALE FILLING
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Recipe type: Porl
Author:
Ingredients
  • 7-1/2 pounds pork butt (approximate yield after trimming fat is 4-1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cups water
  • ½ large onion, quartered
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1/-12 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Instructions
  1. Trim excess fat from pork. Dice pork into ½-inch pieces.
  2. Place pork, water, onion, garlic, and salt in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until very tender, approximately 1-1/2 hours.
  3. Remove pork from pot and set aside in a large saute pan. Reserve pork stock for use in preparing masa.
  4. Add vegetable oil to pan and saute pork over medium heat until edges begin to brown.
  5. Cover and set aside to cool.
  6. To prepare Pork Guisado:
  7. Add Sauce for Pork Guisado to browned pork pieces. Add cumin, oregano, pepper, and salt to the mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. Optional: When cool enough to handle, shred pork by hand, which will make it easier to use for tamale filling.

 
MASA FOR TAMALES
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Author:
Ingredients
  • 14 cups Maseca Instant Corn Masa Flour
  • 2-1/2 pounds lard (or vegetable shortening or softened butter)
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 1-1/2 cups Chili Sauce for Masa
  • 3-1/2 cups water
  • 3-1/4 cups reserved pork stock
Instructions
  1. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Combine lard (or vegetable shortening or butter), pork stock, Chile Sauce for Masa, and water in a large sauce pan. Heat over medium-high heat to melt the lard, using a whisk to combine all ingredients.
  3. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches.
  4. Mix all ingredients and knead (with your hands or using an electric mixer) until dough is well-blended and light. This will take 15-20 minutes of kneading.
  5. Cover and set aside until ready to use.

 
TAMALES
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Recipe type: Main Course, Pork, Chicken
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 bag corn husks that have been soaked for at least one hour (soak in 1 gallon warm water, and weight them down so that they are submerged)
  • Prepared masa
  • Pork Guisado or Pollo Guisado (or other desired filling)
Instructions
  1. Using a spackle tool or small spatula, place a lump of masa in the center of a corn husk (a little larger than a walnut, smaller than a golf ball).
  2. With the spackle tool, spread the masa evenly almost to the edges of the husk. The husk is triangular (i.e., wide on one end, narrow on the other) -- the masa should be spread on the wide end, approximately 4 inches toward the narrow end.
  3. Place a few tablespoons of filling down the center of the masa.
  4. Fold the sides of the husk, one at a time, toward the center. They will overlap. Fold the pointed end of the husk up over the filled part. Place tamale in a container with the tail side down (to help keep it from opening up).
  5. Repeat with remaining husks.
  6. To cook the tamales, place them in a pot with a steamer rack. Add enough water to cover the rack. Tamales need to be steamed standing up, with the open end facing up. (You can place a small bowl in the center of the rack and arrange the tamales around it.)
  7. Cover the pot and cook over low heat for about 1-1/2 hours. Then turn off the heat and leave pot on burner for another 30 minutes.
  8. When tamales are cooked completely, the husk will peel easily from the masa.

 

 

 

PHILADELPHIA PUMPKIN SPICE CREAM CHEESE SPREAD (AND A RECIPE)

Welcome to Day 2 of Tag Sale Tastes’ Pumpkinpalooza!

Today I’m taking a look at Philadelphia Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cream Cheese Spread:

The lid boasts that this spread is made with “real pumpkin & cinnamon.”  Sure enough, the ingredient list includes pumpkin concentrate and cinnamon.

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The first thing you’ll notice when you open the container is the odd color of the cream cheese spread:

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Hmmm . . . where have I seen that color before?  Why, it’s the color of Barbie and Ken:

barbie and kenIf they were going to make this spread Barbie flesh-colored, you would think they could have at least gone with Malibu Barbie.

The appearance of the spread dashed any hopes that this might be something tasty to schmear on a bagel.  Indeed, it had a noticeable tang, which you would expect from cream cheese, but it was not offset by enough pumpkin or sugar or spice to balance it out.  There was no discernible pumpkin or spice flavor.  It kind of made you want to scrunch up your face when you’re eating it.

Rating:  1-1/2 pumpkins (out of 5)

But . . . pumpkin spice cream cheese takes just a few minutes to make, and is infinitely better than the Philadelphia brand.  This flavorful cream cheese can be used as a spread or a dip, and no one will question whether it contains pumpkin or spice.  It is also not Barbie-colored.

PUMPKIN SPICE CREAM CHEESE SPREAD
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Recipe type: Appetizers, Halloween
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup canned pumpkin puree
Instructions
  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and thoroughly combined. Keep refrigerated.

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Philadelphia on the left, homemade on the right

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In a side-by-side taste test, homemade easily beat out Philadelphia