Tangy Broccoli Dip & Philly Orange Dip

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When I was a teenager, the first kid I ever babysat was a three-year-old boy with a predilection for stripping his clothes off at a moment's notice and a passion for 'dip.' Only to him, any food that was liquid was dip. Syrup, salsa, ketchup, soup, honey, yoghurt and even some solids like cereal all qualified as dip, and his parents used this fascination to get him to eat anything he didn't otherwise want to eat. (Refuse to eat broccoli? Here's some cheese 'dip' for it and now Ben is loving it!). I adored that kid and recently realised he's now old enough to be out of college, so clearly I am an old lady.

In the spirit of that adorable kid, I present to you two pleasingly retro but still tasty dips: one savoury, perfect for spreading on crackers, toast points or veggies, and one sweet, great for dipping berries or other summer fruits. Also the sweet one is literally the only sweet dip I think I've ever tasted in my life, so chances are you've had it before, at least if you grew up in the US in the 1990s.

I had to go to four different grocery stores to find water chestnuts, but I persevered because they seemed like an integral part of a recipe I otherwise had my suspicions about, and I'm glad I powered through, because the water chestnuts provided a much-needed crunch to contrast the creamy smoothness of the dip.

(As a sidenote, why are water chestnuts so hard to find here in Scotland? Chinese restaurants have them, because they come in takeaways all the time so they're obviously not illegal, but my Tesco, Sainsbury's and ScotMid all don't carry them, so I had to go to Waitrose, the rich people grocery store, where I spent more than probably anyone ever should on the wee-est can of water chestnuts I've ever seen.)

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I made these both for the same party recently, and the veggie dip was the biggest hit by far. The bread bowl was also a good decision- everyone at the party loved it, and by the end of the night the entire bread bowl and its contents was gone. And honestly, a bread bowl might be the most retro food this side of curly parsley, but I challenge you to find a serving vessel that easy that doubles as a snack in itself.

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The fruit dip, while tasty, was definitely the bigger letdown- I guess maybe as a grownup you just realise that fruit is sweet enough on its own and doesn't really need to be dressed up. It was still lovely, but I'd probably bypass it next time (unless I was working with off-season fruit that needed the extra bit of sweetness). Also, probably this is down to the weather, but when I mixed the ingredients as listed in the recipe, the dip was far too thick, so I added some additional orange juice, and by the time I served it, it was too runny to dip, leading to a last minute trip back out for more cream cheese to thicken it back up.

The verdict:
Broccoli Dip:

4 spoons out of five. Although if you were asking our party guests, I think they'd give it 5 spoons.

Orange Dip:

3 spoons out five. It was tasty, but given the issues listed above and the fact that I just feel like fruit doesn't need additional sweetness makes me think this dip was just unnecessary.

Two years ago: Wind Pudding

the recipe:

Tangy Broccoli Dip

the directions:

Cut slice from top of bread loaf, then scoop out bread from inside, leaving a crust at least 1-inch thick.
Cut bread removed from inside into slices or cubes and toast at 175C/350F until golden.
Combine cream cheese, yoghurt, mayonnaise and Tabasco, mixing until well-blended.
Stir in soup mix or spices, water chestnuts and broccoli.
Spoon into bread shell and serve with reserved bread pieces or crackers, and fresh veggies.

the ingredients:

1 round sourdough bread loaf
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 c plain yoghurt
½ c mayonnaise
Dash of Tabasco (or, if you're in the US and have access, hot pepper sauce)
1 pkg vegetable soup mix (or, if you don't have this, then ¼ tsp of each of the following: salt, black pepper, dried garlic, garlic salt, dried parsley, dried chives, onion powder, dried dill)
8 oz water chestnuts, drained and chopped
10 oz frozen broccoli, chopped, thawed and drained
Radishes, cucumbers, carrots and celery for dipping

the recipe:

Philly Orange Dip

the directions:

Stir cream cheese, sugar, orange juice and zest together until well-blended.
Chill at least one hour before serving with fresh fruit.

the ingredients:

8 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tbsp sugar
¼ c orange juice
Zest from one orange, minced
Strawberries, pineapple, and melon for dipping

Florida Pie

I was born and raised in Florida. Eleanor spent the last half of her life in Florida. My parents spent their entire childhoods in Florida, and honestly, it's a place I still miss on days when I have to put on a scarf and a jacket to go outside in August.

When I was a kid, my parents would drive me around and point out subdivisions and shopping centres and parks around our central Florida town and tell me 'when I was your age, that was all orange groves' or 'when I was learning to ride a bike, that was a construction site and I wiped out on my bike trying to rescue a turtle from there.' As a kid, I did not care and was convinced all these stories made my parents ancient. But now I'm the same age my mom was when I was born, and every time I go back to that city, all I can see is places that used to be orange groves, and subdivisions that used to be swamps, and candy shops where my mom used to take me when I got a good report card.

Maybe Florida is special to me because it's stuck in a time warp since I haven't lived there since I was a kid, or maybe because it's so totally opposite of the city where I live now in climate and culture, but I really love visiting there: hanging out with my family, eating all the seafood I can get my hands on and swimming in the Gulf of Mexico until my fingers are prune-y and my manicure has all but chipped off.

When we had the chance to visit and stay at my family's house on the beach for a week in July, we were excited. A friend of ours from Atlanta who happens to be from the same town came down to stay with us, and we filled our days with sunshine and beach time and our nights with seafood and rainbow-coloured cocktails. Highlights included drinking the most incredibly expensive martinis at the Don Cesar, an all-pink super-fancy Art Deco hotel down the street from our beach house, finding starfish and sand dollars and a whole load of conch shells at Fort DeSoto when the tide was out, eating ice cream from The Candy Kitchen and most of all, visiting Universal Studios and Disney World- you know, all the things you do on a Florida vacation if you're a proper tourist. We finished the trip physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, hungover and in need of some green vegetables and lots of hydration, but so happy to have gotten to see many of the people we love most in the world.

Crackers can be broken by hand to the size demonstrated here- you want a mixture of small pieces that will blend into the meringue and slightly larger pieces to provide a salty crunch.

Crackers can be broken by hand to the size demonstrated here- you want a mixture of small pieces that will blend into the meringue and slightly larger pieces to provide a salty crunch.

Lumpy meringue base straight out of the oven.

Lumpy meringue base straight out of the oven.

The only downside of living away from the country where we grew up is that our friends are split up all over the globe. Coming back to Edinburgh was bittersweet- bitter to leave some of our best friends but sweet to come back to our adorable dog, our lovely flat and all of our friends here in Scotland.

So of course, my first order of business whenever I'm feeling a little homesick is to head into the kitchen- and this time I knew exactly what I'd make: Florida Pie. This recipe sparked my interest when I came across the handwritten card two years ago as I sorted through the Recipe Box, but it wasn't until I sat down to make it last week that I actually read the ingredients. I anticipated loads of citrus would be included- a tart grapefruit curd or a bright lime custard... or maybe it would be an icebox pie layered with ice cream and meringue, something cold and frozen and perfect to eat after a day in the hot sun. Imagine my surprise when I realised there was no fruit in this recipe, and instead it was just a basic meringue with nuts and Ritz crackers (or, over here, Tuc crackers because good luck finding Ritz in Bruntsfield) mixed in? I was horrified, but it was too late to go back now; I had already decided to make it.

But then something wondrous happened: this pie was incredible. I know I've been on a roll of recipes lately that I assume will be gross and I tell you how weird they are and then I have to spend a whole blog post trying to convince you they are tasty, but this time you're not only listening to my opinion- you're listening to the opinion of all the coworkers who tasted this pie and were equally into it. It's the perfect combination of salty-sweet, crisp and fluffy, and it's served cold- perfect for a summertime dessert. Maybe it is more Florida than I realised.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. I would make this again right now if I had any more Tuc crackers to hand.

two years ago: Simple, Classic Cheesecake

the recipe:

Florida Pie

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add sugar and baking powder gradually and continue blending until glossy and smooth.
Gently fold in vanilla, crackers and nuts until of uniform consistency.
Spoon into a 9-inch round pie plate and gently smooth the top.
Bake for 20 minutes until crisp.
Remove from oven and allow to cool completely at room temperature.
Once cool, beat whipping cream (and optionally 1 tbsp powdered sugar and additional tbsp vanilla) until fluffy.
Top meringue with whipping cream and refrigerate overnight before serving.

the ingredients:

3 egg whites
1 c sugar
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
18 plain Tuc crackers or 20 Ritz crackers, crushed
1 c pecans, roughly chopped
1 c whipping cream
Optional: 1 tbsp powdered sugar and 1 additional tbsp vanilla

A Tetris Cake for Someone You Really Love, or, Dewy Velvet Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Vanilla Frosting

Judson's birthday was last month, and while I'm now super late, I can't let it pass without telling you about his cake, because as we all know, Judson's birthday means two things: I want to make a cake and he doesn’t care about cake. So while I took to heart his request to ‘please, please don’t go over the top with food at my party’, I still couldn’t resist making a proper cake for the guests at his shindig.

Only I can’t ever just leave it at… you know, a plain old cake. For his birthday in years past there’s been the Domo cake with corresponding speech bubble; the ill-fated sushi cake (which was the same year as the jello shots inside of real strawberries, so I feel like I should get a pass for the cake only looking ‘meh;’ the key lime pie made in a country where I can’t buy key limes; and too many others to count. (I’m pretty sure there were beer popsicles one year? And another year, jello shots in the shape of the Scottish flag made with the largest bottle of blue curacao I've ever seen and if anyone can remember what I used to make the white ones, then they're doing better off than me).

So this year, Judson had a board-game party for his birthday- relatively chill, lots of games and puzzles and nerdy jokes and day-drinking, so I decided to make him a Tetris cake. Not content (and let's be real, not skilled enough) to use frosting for the shapes, of course I decided to make square macarons. But I didn't reckon on there being seven iterations of Tetris shapes. Did you know there are seven Tetris shapes? Well, there are. I'll give you a minute to think it through, but here is a list: line, square, T, squiggle-to-the-left, squiggle-to-the-right, L, and backwards L. I considered wussing out and only doing some of them (no I didn't) but instead of that, I called on my best baking buddy and while strolling through the streets of Barcelona, we brainstormed the best way to divide up a single batch of macaron batter into seven different colours out of which to build the shapes.

We haven't really talked about macarons much here because (no surprise) there are no recipes for them in the recipe box, but they're my absolute favourite dessert and one that I previously thought so untackle-able that I refused to even try to make them. Fast forward to this spring when I finally gave it a chance, and you know what? I'm not half bad at macarons! (Actually, I'm rather good at them and wildly enjoy making them). But being good at making them doesn't mean they're easy, and when you divide something as temperamental as macaron batter into sevenths, things are bound to get iffy. Combine the fact that I was using food dye to colour them pretty vibrant colours as well, and some of my shapes had some cracks in them, I'll admit it.

But the cake, dear reader, was amazing: plush and soft and so moist it hardly held together when I frosted it with the softest buttercream I could manage. I know I say I love one of the cakes I've made often, but this cake and the banana caramel cake from 2015 are without a doubt my two favourite cakes I've made since starting the Recipe Box Project. If you're a new reader, start with this cake... skip the macarons and it's actually beyond easy!

Or, even if you're not new here, next time you need a cake for someone you love dearly, give this one a go. It's the perfect way to tell someone happy birthday.

This is the footnote on the recipe for this cake... And i also quoted it to judson like a billion times when he kept requesting that i rein it in on party foods.

This is the footnote on the recipe for this cake... And i also quoted it to judson like a billion times when he kept requesting that i rein it in on party foods.

Some Notes:
  • As listed below, this will make you enough for 2 9x13-inch layers. If you'd rather have 2 9-inch round layers, you may halve the recipe.
  • If you've never made macarons before, then don't try to make them square the first time. I've made them close to a dozen times and still had some trouble making it work.
  • I used this recipe as my inspiration, splitting the nut & sugar mixture into seven by weight before I even beat the egg. Then I beat the eggs as normal, divided the weight of the egg into sevenths, and added it to my individual bowls of nuts & sugar. Add the food dye at that stage and make as normal, but work quickly. Fill your piping bags and pipe 1-inch squares onto parchment or a Silpat.
  • You'll also need to make your Tetris pattern. I used a 9x13 inch pan to make my cake, so I went for 8 columns of 1-inch Tetris blocks (because the macarons will swell a little in the oven and you'll need a bit of space around them). I found it useful to print out graph paper and doodle a few options before I committed to this one.
  • Once you decide on your pattern, make sure that you'll have enough Tetris blocks to make it- one batch of the above macaron batter makes approximately 16 square macarons in each colour, but that's very dependent on how well you scrape the bowl, how much you can get out of your pastry bags, etc.

the verdict:

5 spoons out of five. I still have dreams about this cake.

Two years ago: Bacon Rounds

the recipe:

Dewy Velvet Chocolate Cake with Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream

the directions:
cake:

Line 2 9x13 pans with paper on bottom and preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cocoa into a large bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat eggs until thick and lemon-coloured.
Gradually add sugar and beat until very well-blended and almost smooth.
Add oil, buttermilk and vanilla to dry ingredients and beat until very smooth.
Fold in egg mixture thoroughly but gently.
Pour into prepared pans and bake 30-35 minutes, until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out very slightly sticky.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Beat butter until very light and fluffy.
Add powdered sugar gradually until mixture has the consistency you want.
Add cream, vanilla and bourbon and blend well; adjust powdered sugar if necessary.
Frost and fill cake, then decorate with macarons if going for a Tetris cake.

the ingredients:
the cake:

3 c cake flour, sifted (OR 3/8 c cornflour PLUS 2 5/8 c flour, all sifted together)
2 ½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 c cocoa
4 eggs
2 ½ c sugar
1 1/3 c vegetable oil
2 c buttermilk (OR 2 tbsp lemon juice or white vinegar PLUS scant 2 c buttermilk)
1 tsp vanilla extract



the frosting:

2 c butter
6-7 c powdered sugar, sifted
½ tsp salt
4 tsp cream
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp bourbon