19 August 2012

Ladies Night Gets Hot Under the Collar!

We were headed to Bend for the weekend which, in my opinion, necessitates a stop in Sisters for refreshments after coming over the mountains. My mother sat across from me at the picnic table behind the Sno-Cap diner, watching me as I took my first bite of a jalapeno pepper jack cheeseburger. She just watched as I enjoyed that first bite, which is always the best, and let out a sigh of delight. Her own burger waiting in her hands while all her attention was on me. After a moment to chew she asked if it was good. I gave an enthusiastic "mmm-hmmm!!" while my mouth burned with delight. "Is it spicy?" she asked. "Oh, yeah!" I replied as I wiped my nose on the back of my hand, it already running from the heat of the peppers. "I have NO idea where you came from!" mom offered back, sounding dumbfounded. We laughed at the oddity that I am in the family, the only one who likes spicy food among a bunch of milquetoast eaters. For crying out loud, my dad thinks garlic is too spicy! Garlic! It doesn't even have any heat! I am happy being the anomaly in the family, adding hot sauce, cayenne, and peppers to my food freely and liberally. I finished my cheeseburger, slowly, frequently stopping to let the fire die down enough so that I could actually taste it again, and to dab away the tears that would well up in my eyes, or wipe away the snot that threatened to run down my upper lip. That was one good burger!

I don't know what my body is trying to tell me, but this summer has been the season of jalapeno cravings. And I do mean crave! That's weird, right? I think so. I have been coming up with some creative ways to add the green heat to different dishes, but one tops it all - jalapeno popper dip!

I tried it out for the first time for ladies night several weeks ago. On a balmy Saturday evening a group of us gathered at Katie's house for food, conversation, laughter, and friendship. For the most part we were all friends in high school. Although they have maintained the relationships over the years, I am just recently re-forging these friendships - much to my delight. I was thrilled when I was invited to girl's night, my awkward self-conscious inner teenager was amazed that I was being included into the inner circle with the cool kids. This meant I needed to impress them with my culinary contribution to the Mexican themed dinner; I wanted to prove my value and worth to the evening's offerings with hopes of being invited again. This seemed like a perfect occasion to try out the recipe that I had recently pinned and hadn't stopped thinking about.

While it was a big hit and was very tasty, I felt it missed the mark. It tasted like a really good spicy queso dip, but not a dip reminiscent of jalapeno poppers. Of course I didn't follow the recipe exactly - that just isn't in my nature. Instead of the fresh and canned jalapeno, I substituted diced roasted jalapenos. Oh, and I used Trader Joe's Extra Extra New York Sharp Cheddar and Black Pepper Crusted Parmesan. One last tweak - since Traders doesn't carry fat free cream cheese, I used light. But I made up for this by using Fage 0% Greek yogurt. Oh... and, forget the bread crumbs.
Here is the original recipe: Jalapeno Popper Dip

Since then I have been experimenting with the recipe and have come up with something that I really like, that truly is reminiscent of a jalapeno popper! I can't stop eating the stuff! I still have a little refinement to work out, I'm not totally happy with the consistency as it has to be fairly hot for it to be dip-able. But at room temperature or cold, it is solid enough to use as a spread, which has its advantages as well (think sandwiches).

Here is my version:
Jenn's Jalapeno Poppin' Dip
  • 1 block (8 ounces) of light cream cheese
  • 1 cup of Greek yogurt (I prefer Fage brand)
  • 1 cup of sharp cheddar (Tillamook's Vintage White Sharp Cheddar is especially good)
  • 2 (or more) roasted jalapenos, finely diced - ribs and seeds removed, if any of the skin is extra black you may want to remove that as well. 
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
Dump everything into a saucepan over low-med heat and stir frequently until the cheddar is melted. Done. Yes, it really is that easy. 
I used a stick blender with just some of the yogurt and jalapeno to make a paste so that the jalapeno would be more evenly distributed. A sprinkle of some bacon crumbles on top would be a nice touch too. Let it sit for a day and the heat and flavor will develop more robustly. 
Transfer to a serving bowl and set it out with tortilla chips, red bell pepper strips, cucumber sticks, or Jenn style - with a big spoon. Or spread it in a tortilla and add some chicken, tomatoes, spinach, and black olives for a tasty wrap.


(And invite me over when you make a batch!)