butternut squash & blue cheese spread

Call me basic, but this girl loves some squash.

butternut squash goat cheese dip I howsweeteats.com

In my humble opinion, squash should be celebrated year round – not just autumn, when it’s in season and oh-so-plentiful. Typically, I try to shop seasonally {helps with keeping my food local, costs down, etc.} but squash somehow always finds a way into my cart, shopping trip after shopping trip. It’s a versatile vegetable; salads, main dishes, soup and chili {yes, even in the spring and summer!}…I never find myself tiring of it. Good thing the hubs doesn’t either, otherwise we might have a bit of a problem.

But back to the recipe, lest I get further swept up in preaching my love for squash…

This is definitely a new, and fun, twist on a squash dish. As I mentioned above, none of us are strangers to using said vegetable in all sorts of dishes. But when racking my brain for an autumnal dish to bring on a trip, I thought “why not do something squash-based?” and sure enough, the internet didn’t let me down.  This dip is seriously delicious, and seriously addicting.

Roasted butternut squash meets up with its herbacious friends in a warm, creamy spread. It is bursting with tangy blue cheese, but not so heavy that it leaves you feeling like you need a nap after just a few bites. In fact, the lot of us polished this entire dish off in one sitting, and trust me – not a single one of us felt bad about it. You can scale back on the cheese if you’d like, but I highly suggest leaving it all in. I served it with toasted whole wheat naan bread, rather than chips; they were a bit sturdier, and the nutty flavor of the naan complemented the dip so nicely.

I could easily see this as a spread on sandwiches, flatbread pizzas, dolloped onto a vegetable-based soup or stew…the possibilities are endless! And it can be prepared ahead of time, too; just assemble the dish until the step before you bake it {seal tightly and store in the refrigerator until ready to heat through}. You’ll be the star of the party with this one. Truth.

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Butternut Squash & Blue Cheese Spread {recipe adapted, slightly, from How Sweet It Is}

Squash lovers, meet your new dip addiction. Blended until creamy and smooth, lusciously rich…perfect for any get-together, and sure to please even the pickiest of palettes! The flavor combinations are out of this world. 

Ingredients:

2-1/2 cups cubed butternut squash

3 Tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

pinch grated nutmeg

10 ounces crumbled blue cheese {I used a reduced-fat version, but full-fat would be fine as well}

1 Tbsp. EACH of these dried herbs: oregano, basil, parsley, sage

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, and coat with nonstick cooking spray.

Toss the squash cubes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out on the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Toss and bake for 15 minutes more, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Add the squash {and any olive oil drippings} into the bowl of a food processor along with the nutmeg, dried herbs, and half of the blue cheese crumbles. Blend until completely smooth, and transfer to an oven-proof dish.**

Cover with remaining blue cheese crumbles, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until warmed through. Stir to incorporate melted cheese on top.

Drizzle with additional olive oil, if desired, and fresh cracked pepper. Serve immediately with your dipper of choice.

butternut squash goat cheese dip I howsweeteats.com

*images courtesy of How Sweet It Is*

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lightened up spinach artichoke dip

A lot of times, what we deem as “traditional” appetizers often get a bad rep. I mean, it’s not hard for that to happen. When we peel back the layers of ingredients and really dive in, we find that most are loaded down with heavy, not-so-healthy ingredients…full-fat mayonnaise, cream cheese, sour cream, an oftentimes an exorbitant amount of cheese on top. And that doesn’t even take into account the accouterments {fried chips, toasted bread, crackers and pretzels}. Now don’t get me wrong! – I am a big believer in maintaining a balance; everything in moderation, exercise portion control when needed. But sometimes, you might just want to do some serious work on appetizers and not feel guilty about it!

Enter this dish…

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It’s bubbly, browned, crusty and FULL.OF.FLAVOR. Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to your new favorite {and jazzed up!} spinach artichoke dip! Glancing down through the ingredient list, you’ll recognize instantly a few of my staples: Greek yogurt, blended cream cheese, etc. But what really makes this dish shine and stand out from its cousins is the explosion of spices and vegetables that we’re packing in. In just about 3 cups of dip, we’re utilizing smoky paprika, spicy garlic, onion powder, red pepper flakes{!!}, and tangy Parmesan. Seriously, your taste buds won’t know what hit them upon the first bite.

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This is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, and is on constant rotation in our home. This can easily be doubled or tripled for the countless summer BBQs we will all surely be attending this summer; is wonderful spread onto sandwiches; I’ve even thrown it into a fritatta with shredded chicken. A dish with many purposes; not only super healthy, but super flavorful and oh-so-flexible!

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Lightened Up Spinach/Artichoke Dip

A perfect dip for throwing together at the last minute, this is one of our go-to items for date nights at home. It’s tangy, refreshing, bubbling over with flavor…and good for you!

Ingredients:

12 ounces frozen spinach, cooked {make sure you drain it really well}

1 {14 ounce} can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped

5 ounces of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

2 Tbsp. cream cheese {I like to use a Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend that is available at my grocery store}

2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping

1 clove garlic, finely diced

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1 tsp. onion powder

large pinch of red pepper flakes {optional}

nonstick cooking spray

salt & pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a round glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray and set aside {mine holds about 3-4 cups worth of dip}.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients. Mix well to combine; take extra care to make sure that the cream cheese and yogurt are thoroughly mixed into the vegetables and spices.

Spoon dip into the prepared baking dish. Top with additional Parmesan cheese.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the top is starting to turn golden brown and the edges are bubbling over slightly.

Serve hot with toast points, sliced vegetables, chips, etc…whatever you like.

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Enjoy!

sweet pea hummus

Like many, I tend to eat with my eyes first; taking in the different colors of the dish, its presentation on the plate, and what kinds of textures I can pick out with my naked eye.

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So when I finished plating this delightful dip, I could not wait to dive in. Just take one look at that photo, y’all – beautifully bright green with fresh basil and succulent sweet peas. We know we’re going to get a pop of bright citrus from the lemon garnish. And you can tell it’s going to have a beautiful mouth-feel because of how velvety and luscious it looks in the bowl.

I may need another moment, and another look.

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This dish practically screams “summer” to me. We’re utilizing so many fresh ingredients today, many of which you should be able to get from your local farmer’s market or co-op. Aside from the weather, I can safely say that preparing dishes with so many fresh and local flavors is one of the best parts of my summer. I look forward to it every year; seeing what I can create with what I can either grow in my backyard, or what my friends grow. It’s a fun challenge, but oh-so-rewarding; you can taste the freshness bursting forth! This hummus is no exception.

I prepared it for a graduation party, served alongside hearty dippables {crusty bread, chips, pretzels}. But I can just as easily see myself stirring it into pasta salads, smearing onto a sandwich, or heck…the base for a pizza! Let your imagination run wild – that’s how some of the best dishes come about.

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Sweet Pea Hummus {adapted, minimally, from Food52}

Ingredients:

1 can of white northern beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed

1-1/2 cups green peas {I used a frozen bag, and simply cooked and cooled slightly before assembling the dip}

2-3 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

salt and pepper, to taste

4 T. fresh herbs {I used basil}

To Prepare:

Place the beans, peas, lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and fresh herbs into the base of a food processor and pulse to combine. Next, blend at a continuous speed until thoroughly emulsified {if the mixture is too thick for your liking, drizzle in a bit of olive oil or water}.

Taste the hummus, and add salt and pepper according to your preference.

Serve alongside crunchy vegetables, chips, or toasted baguettes.

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Enjoy!

how to: a romantic date-night in

…I’ll admit, I feel like I’ve been on a bit of a “how to” kick lately! But it’s also something that I feel is important to take the time to do – as busy people {whether working, parenting, or being a student} with extracurriculars and other daily activities that take up much of our time, it’s a breath of fresh air to be reminded to have fun; setting time aside for ourselves is just as necessary, no? 

With a lot of trips/visits/activities packed into our schedule over the past two months, the hubs and I have prioritized a weekly “date night” practice that really has turned into, I’ll admit, somewhat of a new tradition. We pick one weekend evening where we stay home and go through all the musings: nice outfit, special dinner, cocktails and drinks. Heck, I even put some music on while I’m preparing dinner and the hubs is on the other side whipping up drinks! It’s the little touches that make nights in so much more special; today, I thought I would detail a bit more of our routine : ) 

-Alicia xoxo

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How To: Have a Romantic Date Night In

  • as i mentioned above, get dressed up for the occasion! it might not feel like it matters much, since you’re at home, but i’ve found that it really helps elevate the mood. when you feel good, you look good!
  • set up a designated “happy hour” from the point where you and your significant other are both “ready” for the date; enjoy a few cocktails or, perhaps your beer lovers – make a point to run to the store beforehand to pick up some specialty craft beers you’re both dying to taste!
  • music. have some fun tunes playing lightly in the background – it gives you more of a restaurant/bar vibe, but since you control the channel, you both will always be happy with the selection! {we even like to switch genres to a more subtle tune for when we sit down to dinner}
  • candles. i am a HUGE fan of candles, and have them lit whenever possible. i may go a bit overboard for occasions such as this, but it really adds a special touch; plus, the lighting is super warm and inviting…much nicer than bright overhead lights! & keep the blinds in your home up for bonus natural light.
  • when it comes to dinner, we gravitate more towards a tapas-style approach. i think small bites are more fun, not only because you can enjoy more of them {hehe}, but it makes preparation much easier! i focus on one larger place {think crab dip, or wings} then  set out lots of little snacks with it – olives, nuts, a nice block of sharp cheese, dried fruits, crackers. that way, you can build and customize your plate exactly as you’d like.
  • pick a fun activity for post-dinner. whether it’s watching a movie you’re both itching to see, playing some board games, or even just sitting down and catching up on the week, make sure you end date night on a high note!

I’d love to hear how you make your nights spent in with your loved ones{s} special! Leave me a note in the comments! 

st. patty’s day ideas!

Top o’ the morning, all!

With St. Patrick’s Day {and its collaborative foodie celebration} right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite recipes with y’all – both from a food & cocktail perspective. Some of them gear towards traditional, while some others are a bit of a…twist…but regardless, they are are equally delicious! I’d love to know – how do you like to celebrate this holiday,  if at all?

For the Table:

Boxty

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Smoky Cheese and Potato Soup

Smoky Cheese & Potato Soup

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Beef, Mushroom, and Onion Tart

Beef, Onion & Mushroom Tart

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Mussels in Irish Cider

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Apple & Bramble Cake with Bushmill’s Custard

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Irish Cream Bundt Cake

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For the Bar:

How to Make an Irish Martini - Steve Brown Photography / Photolibrary / Getty Images

Irish Martini

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Sweet Hospitality Group's Irish Farmhouse Cocktail - Photo Courtesy: © Sweet Hospitality Group

Irish Farmhouse

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Irish Coffee

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Blarney Stone

Blarney Stone

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Time for a Drink: the Emerald

The Emerald

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Milk Punch

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Slainte, everyone!

garlic parmesan wings

I’ve been so, so excited to share this recipe with y’all.

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One look and you’re in love, am I right? At least, that was how the hubs and I felt after devouring this meal for dinner.

These are a fun twist on my wings I made awhile back – they’re certainly a staple in our household; a quick and easy dinner to throw together during the week, full of flavor, and significantly healthier that traditional wings that are deep fried {so gloriously wonderful, but so naughty at the same time}. But for this particular recipe, we’re combining the Italian staples of Parmesan cheese and garlic but jazzing it up with loads of dried herbs, and two types of tangy mustard {!}. Is your mouth watering yet?

This batch of wings pack a flavor punch like no other. I am such a huge fan of explosive flavors, and these do not disappoint. As mentioned, we get that distinctive garlicky flavor from {almost} too much garlic, nutty undertones from Parmesan cheese, and more herbal notes than your taste buds will know what to do with. Both mustard types that I used – a classic, spicy Dijon and a sweet Honey Champagne – pair perfectly together, but you can easily sub in whatever your preference is. Baked until crispy and falling of the bone, the only thing that can take these one more notch above perfection is some dipping sauce on the side.

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Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings {adapted from Steamy Kitchen}

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lbs. chicken wings {I like to use the large ones}

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried rosemary

2 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for baking

1/4 cup mustard {I used a combination of Dijon and Champagne mustard}

salt & pepper, to taste

non-stick cooking spray

serving accompaniments: hot sauce, homemade blue cheese dressing, celery, carrots – whatever you like! 

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the herbs and grated cheese. Mix in the mustard, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the wings in the sauce, making sure to ensure a generous coating. Line up the wings on the prepared baking sheet, and drizzle any remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese.

Bake 45-60 minutes, or until juices run clear and internal temperature has reached 165 degrees. Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.

light & fresh crab dip

When you don’t live ocean side, sometimes you just need to bring the beach to you…no?

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I love to create dishes that remind me of previous trips; food is such a powerful way to evoke wonderful memories that might not often be remembered just through a photo. After all, an image doesn’t create a sensory experience other than just looking at it. While there is nothing wrong with that {in fact, I find myself looking at old photos quite often!} I have so much more fun when I can wrap multiple senses around a memory.

That is where this crab dip comes into play. While I have no particular dish to draw on for inspiration, crab dip is something that we enjoyed on beach vacations as children; later on in life, the hubs and I would have several trips with his family where we picked crabs for dinner all night long. This dish is my homage to those nights – times spent sharing stories and creating memories with those that I love.

This dish is simple to prepare; many of the ingredients you probably have on hand already. A few fresh green onions, dried herbs, and bread crumbs…in addition to the cream cheese and Greek yogurt, these are considered staples for many people {I’ll admit, I had to run out for green onions this time around, though!}.

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The only thing that I request is that you please, please use high-quality crab meat…no room for imitation here! This is a lightened up twist on traditional crab dip; that is, we’re relying very little on creamy ingredients, so it’s vital to the recipe that you not skimp here. The crab is the star, and the other ingredients are merely there to accent it. One bite, and I promise you’ll understand.

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Light & Fresh Crab Dip

Hands-down a favorite in our household, this dip is perfect for any occasion – we love to enjoy it on date nights with a good bottle of wine, or spread between toasted bread for sandwiches. Easily enough to double or triple, too! 

Ingredients:

1 {8 ounce} container of good crab meat…claw, back fin, jumbo lump all work well

1 heaping tbsp. Old Bay seasoning

2 tbsp. dried parsley

2 green onions, finely chopped

2 ounces cream cheese {I opted to use my favorite Greek yogurt and cream cheese blend}, room temperature

3 ounces plain, non-fat Greek yogurt

1/4 cup plain bread crumbs

non-stick cooking spray

salt & pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an oven-proof glass serving dish with non-stick cooking spray, and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the cream cheese, yogurt, green onion, and herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently fold in the crab meat, making sure to keep the pieces as intact as possible.

Carefully spoon into the prepared baking dish, then top with bread crumbs. Spritz with non-stick cooking spray {this will help ensure a crisp exterior}.

Bake, uncovered, about 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the edges are bubbling. Serve with assorted crackers, toast points, and vegetables for dipping.

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