Spinach artichoke gratin


Do you really need another Spinach artichoke dip? You do when it is this good. Not so over-stuffed with cheese to turn it into rubber and not so heavy with mayonnaise that it is greasy or separates when reheated, yet still very flavorful and just creamy enough

This bakes up more like a gratin so I recommend slicing up a baguette and schmearing the slices with the gratin rather than trying to drag a tortilla chip through it

For a hint of heat, offer up a selection of favorite hot sauces and let guests help themselves

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup diced sweet onion, such as Vidalia
2 large cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and finely minced
9 – 11 ounce box/bag frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry (see Note)
14 ounce can whole artichoke hearts in water, drained, roughly chopped (see Note 2)
8 ounce block cream cheese, ART*
1/3 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
House salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1 fresh nutmeg, for grating
1 cup packed grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 18 inch long French sourdough baguette, for service

Place a half sheet pan on the rack below the rack on which the gratin will bake

Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, stir in onions and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir garlic into the onions and slide the pan off the heat and allow to cool slightly

In a large bowl, stir together the onions, spinach, artichokes, cream cheese, mayonnaise, half the Gruyere, the 1/3 cup of Parmesan and salt, freshly milled pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste until very well combined

Mix the remaining 1/2 cup Gruyere and 2 tablespoons of Parmesan together

Spoon the mixture into a 9-inch pie plate then smooth into an even layer. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining Gruyere-Parmesan

Bake until hot and bubbling and the edges turn golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes (to further brown the top run the gratin under the broiler until the desired color is reached, watching it carefully)

Serve Spinach artichoke gratin with sliced sourdough baguette and palate knives for spreading

Note: Not every box of frozen spinach is the same weight. That can vary by brand and even within brand. Be sure to check that you have a box (or bag) that is at least 9 ounces but no more than 11

Note 2: I believe artichoke hearts in water in cans have more flavor than frozen artichokes but aren’t so saturated in a piquant dressing like the bottled ones. I buy the 14 ounce cans based on price, which can vary. Sometimes the whole large artichokes are less expensive than the smaller ones, sometimes they aren’t. Of course the smaller whole artichokes don’t need to be chopped as much. For processing the larger ones, I slice in half the long way then cut each half into thirds the short way. I want my guests know they are in the gratin so I don’t chop them too finely. Don’t buy chopped artichoke hearts because you never know what you might end up with

*Having the cream cheese ART – At Room Temperature – will make it easy to stir it into the other ingredients

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The Art of the Picnic

There’s something about a picnic that can elevate even the lowly balogna and cheese sandwich to gourmet status, well, at least make it seem more special than it really is. Foods taste different outdoors too, not to mention the fact that when you’re off on a picnic, you are with people you choose to be with.

There are different types of picnics. Lounging on a good blanket on the lawn, or in a meadow, or on a riverbed, or at a concert doesn’t have a hold on the idea of picnicking. A picnic, by definition, is any meal eaten out of doors, generally on an excursion.

If you’re anything like me, you might prefer those lovely fall days on which to picnic. Indian summer is a great time for picnicking! The first frost has passed, coloring the leaves, and suppressing the ants to the underground, but the sun shines bright, warming the ground and the air for what could well be the nicest time of year for a picnic. But I’m not selling Indian summer picnics. I’m touting the picnic as a do-ahead-so-you-can-enjoy-yourself meal. For two or twenty, the picnic has its roots in the prepare and transport methodology. You can prepare your picnic the day before, instead of the morning of and thoroughly enjoy your day. Most picnic food is actually better if it’s leftover. Envision a picnic: a meal eaten outdoors on a blanket in the grass, under a shady tree perhaps, sans ants.

Eating on the picnic table in the backyard of your home (or somebody else’s home) is perhaps the most popular form of the picnic. The fare tends to be more traditional, with more of everything. Throw in whatever the neighbors bring and your heading towards a block party or a pot luck. Nevermind; if you’re eating all of those wonderful foods outside, it’s still a form of the picnic.

Food safety is of the utmost importance when picnicking. As much as it gets a bad rap, store-bought mayonnaise contains pasteurized eggs and enough salt and lemon juice or vinegar that it actually inhibits bacterial growth. Low-acid foods in picnic dishes such as potatoes, chicken, and ham are much more susceptible to bacterial growth than the mayonnaise itself. It’s the foods that breed bacteria, not the mayonnaise. It’s easy to deal with ants and other little picnic pests you can see; the tough ones to avoid are the invisible organisms that can make you sick. Here are some guidelines for packing and transporting picnic foods safely.

The bugs that cause food poisoning thrive at temperatures between 40 degrees and 140 degrees. Don’t leave prepared foods in that danger zone more than two hours. When the outdoor temperature rises above 90 degrees, the time limit is one hour. Discard any leftovers or any questionable foods. Wait until just before leaving home to pack chilled foods in an insulated cooler, and make sure you have plenty of ice or ice packs to surround them. Containers of frozen juice or juice concentrate can help keep other foods cold.

Take two coolers, one for drinks, the other for perishable foods. That way, warm air won’t reach the perishables each time someone reaches for a beverage.

In hot weather, keep the cooler in the air-conditioned passenger compartment of the car, not in the trunk. At the picnic, keep the cooler in the shade.

Wash your hands before and after handling food. Soap and hot water are ideal, but bring along a jug of water and paper towels in case none are available at the picnic site. Disposable moist towelettes are an easy-to-carry option.

Wrap uncooked chicken and meats in separate tightly sealed bags or containers, and put them in the bottom of the cooler. Cook them within one hour of leaving home.

When grilling, use a meat thermometer to be sure meats and poultry reach a safe temperature. Cook chicken breasts to 170 degrees Fahrenheit; other poultry to 180 degrees Fahrenheit; beef, lamb, and veal steaks and roasts to 145 degrees Fahrenheit for medium-rare or 160 degrees Fahrenheit. for medium doneness.

Make your picnic/Memorial Day weekend/4th of July memorable for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

Serving pieces (pocket knife, spoons, corkscrew, etc.) utensils, napkins (preferably cloth for less litter), cups, cutting board (one without feet: saves space and you can use both sides), plates, and trash bags are de rigueur. Tow everything in a gorgeous fabric-lined picnic basket to add a level of sophistication to the event. Or use any large basket or bag. Just make sure it’s big enough to carry the food and enough cold packs or zipper bags filled with ice to keep food cold.

Keep your picnic simple or elaborate, but definitely safe, and FUN!

Turkey, Jarlsburg and olive salad sandwiches

Inspired by those expensive but addictive sandwiches from those ubiquitous boulangiers around the country

Plan ahead, these pressed sandwiches need to be weighted down for at least 8 hours

2/3  cup green olives
1/4 cup black olives
7 ounces canned or thawed frozen artichoke hearts (not bottled and marinated)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 crushed garlic clove
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
Pinch of kosher salt
Black peppercorns in a pepper mill
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 white sandwich rolls
8 ounces white turkey meat, sliced
8 ounces Jarlsburg or Aged-Swiss cheese, sliced
Extra Virgin olive oil or mayonnaise

Coarsely chop the olives and quarter the artichoke hearts, transferring to a bowl

Mix vinegar, garlic, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the oil. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and leave covered at room temperature for 30 minutes

Split the rolls. Brush the interior of the tops with Extra virgin olive oil (or mayonnaise). Divide the sliced turkey and cheese on bottom half. Top with olive salad and cover with top half of roll. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and then in foil. Place the sandwiches on a half sheet pan or tray platter with some heavy cans on top to weight down on the sandwiches. Refrigerate under the weight 8 hours or up to 24

Unwrap the foil from the pressed sandwiches and distribute. Serve with kettle-cooked potato chips and cold beverages

Tip of the Week


When making a ganache it will come together more quickly if you melt chopped chocolate with the cream rather than chocolate chips. Chocolate chips have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting; therefore you will spend more time waiting for them to melt than if you chopped an equal weight of a quality chocolate bar … or use chocolate buttons (available in kitchenware stores and online)

Tom’s Tips: Super Bowl 50

Tom’s Tips are my favorite techniques and tips from the kitchen

Still at a loss as to what to serve at your Super Bowl party? Maybe you’ve grown weary of chili (the national dish for The Super Bowl) but don’t despair your party can still be the hit of the neighborhood (especially since everyone will be at your place!) I have a boatload of party-approved, easy-to prepare dishes and drinks that will make yours the party everyone will remember. You can make it doubly easy on yourself by sharing this list and assigning your friends, family and neighbors the task of preparing them. Now that’s a Super Bowl party worth cheering for!

Main courses
Chili – I’m not leaving this out just because you might be ready for something new. My Texas chili is true of form – meat and spices – and requires overnight refrigeration so you still have time

Pizza – You can achieve pizza dough AND pizza sauce in as much time as it takes to order for delivery and it could very well become your favorite

Calzones – Take pizza to the next level by turning your pizza dough into calzones

Di rigueur – if you serve nothing else, you need to at least have some pickles and some cheese … in the following formats, please. It doesn’t show much in the way of caring if you open some jars and unwrap a block of cheese and call it ‘snacks’

Relish tray


Hors d’oeuvres – A little fussier, but I’m into that – individual appetizers to serve on big platters

Potato skins

Deviled eggs

Kettle chips with bacon and blue cheese

Buffalo wings with homemade blue cheese dressing

Bacon wrapped dates

Fried cheese sticks with marinara

Shrimp scampi stuffed mushrooms

Dips – Don’t forget the dip!

Cold spinach dip with pineapple bread

Baba ganoush

Hot artichoke dip

Crab Rangoon dip

Creamy sausage dip

Two sandwiches

Famous Turkey Swiss with olive salad sandwich


Three Salads

Deli mac salad

Deli potato salad

Chopped salad

Drinks – beer is an easy go to, just don’t fall into a false-sense of needs by ordering a keg unless you’re hosting at a college fraternity or have over 100 people imbibing

Homemade ginger ale

Any juice Mimosa

3 way on the beach


Dessert – Some guests just won’t forgive you if you don’t have something sweet, especially if their team doesn’t win

Best of class brownies

Chocolate covered pretzel rods

Chocolate chip cookies

Marshmallow cereal bars

Peanut butter balls

Go Team!

Tom’s Tips – Using a Thermos

Tom’s Tips are my favorite techniques and tips from the kitchen

Using a Thermos

Today’s tip is about properly using a Thermos to ensure your beverage stays hot … or cold … for as long as possible

But first: Thermos is the name of a brand. It’s like Kleenex in that people have given a brand name to a great variety of items in the same category

Back to it

The Thermos, or any vacuum container like it, can keep hot beverages hot and cold beverages cold if you prepare said Thermos properly in advance

Set the Thermos in the sink. If you’re going to fill it with a hot beverage run very hot tap water into it for 90 seconds. If you’re going to fill it with a cold beverage, run very cold tap water into it for 90 seconds

Empty the tap water from the Thermos, immediately fill it with your beverage of choice and seal it

Your beverage wiill retain its original temperature for 4 hours