Elote Dip (Creamy Mexican Corn Dip)

>> Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Elote Dip (Creamy Mexican Corn Dip)

In Pilsen, the Latino neighborhood near the University of Illinois at Chicago, I would often see men pushing compact food carts in spring and summer, or riding bicycle carts and ringing little bells as they passed. The vendors sell all kinds of treats - ice cream, fruit cups, quick tacos, or elote - corn with mayonnaise, cheese, and a bit of spice. Some vendors sell elote as whole ears of corn with a skewer for you to hold onto while you munch. At a Hispanic grocery store near us, a lady sells little cups of cut corn mixed with the creamy elote sauce. Jessie and Jenn used to love to dip into them with tiny plastic spoons while we examined the produce.

pushcart vendor making fruit cups  in Rogers Park, Chicago

Of course, one of the many wonderful things about corn on the cob is that it gives you an extra incentive to floss your teeth (which we're all doing 12 times a day already, right?). But as a dip with tortilla chips, elote has the benefit of very little cleanup afterward.

When my sister and nephew stopped over last week on the way to the National Dive Meet in Minneapolis, I warned them that this dip has no real nutritional value...but that was a lie. Everyone knows that corn is good for you, and corn and cheese eaten with corn chips are especially healthy. Anyway, once you taste this dip you might not care about nutrition, which is why we lightened it up with low-fat dairy ingredients and light corn chips.

Elote Dip (Creamy Mexican Corn Dip)


6 ears of corn in husks
1/2 cup light mayonnaise
1/2 cup light yogurt
1 tbsp Mexican-style hot sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup Cotija or Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1 bag of tortilla chips


Soak the ears of corn in water for 10 minutes, while heating the grill to medium temperature. Grill the corn, turning occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until just tender. Allow to cool slightly then husk the corn, and cut the kernels off the cobs.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the corn, mayo, yogurt, hot sauce, lime juice, salt and pepper, and cheese. Heat until bubbly. Serve hot, garnished with the cilantro and cayenne.

Makes about 3 cups of dip.


Wild Berry Lavender Jam

>> Tuesday, July 15, 2014

blueberry and blackberry jam with lavender

Last weekend when Joe and I went for a walk in the woods, we found wild blackberry vines studded with fresh berries. I'd been out the week before collecting wildflowers, and I expected the berries would be ready soon. This time, I came to the nature preserve with a couple of plastic bags to bring home the fruit.

Wildflowers from the nature preserve - colored pencil drawing.

Thankfully, we were coated with a strong layer of insect repellent. The mosquitoes are fierce and heavy this summer; in some thickets we could hardly breathe through the fog of flying bugs. Nonetheless, the berries were delicious and worth the threat to life and limb.

Those we didn't eat immediately we stirred together with some blueberries and made this fragrant, floral-tinged jam.

Wild berry lavender jam


Juice of three limes (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup hot water
2 tsp powdered pectin
3 tablespoons lavender buds and leaves
4 cups fresh blackberries
4 cups fresh blueberries
4 cups sugar


In a large non-reactive saucepan, stir together the water, lime juice, and pectin.

Put the lavender, berries, and sugar in a blender or food processor and pulse until mixed but still slightly lumpy. Add to the saucepan and mix well. Bring the jam to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer on low, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes.

Check to see if the jam is setting by dropping a bit onto a plate and letting it cool for a few minutes. The jam is set when you can tilt the plate sideways and the jam does not slide off the plate.

Sterilize half-pint jars and lids. Heat water in a boiling-water canner until it is at a rolling boil. If you don't like seeds, strain the jam through cheesecloth before putting it in jars. Then fill sterilized jars with the fruit mixture, leaving 1/2" room from the rim. Wipe off the rims and screw down the lids until finger-tight.

Boil in a hot-water bath for 15 minutes. Remove from boiler and cool on a towel. Tighten the lids before storing.

Makes about 8 half pint jars.

The Complete Guide to Food Preservation
You can find other canning and preserving recipes in my book, The Complete Guide to Food Preservation: Step-by-step Instructions on How to Freeze, Dry, Can, and Preserve Food


Smoked Cheese-Stuffed Eggplant Rolls (Involtini di Melanzane)

>> Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Eggplants have that hearty, meaty texture of some kinds of mushrooms. This is one reason why they are beloved by vegetarians. Cheese-stuffed eggplant rolls are wonderful for a meatless Monday, especially when a friend has just given you beautiful, shiny lavender eggplants from her garden. If you don't have eggplant, a similar dish can be made from other long summer squashes like zucchini.

The creamy smoked of the cheese is the highlight of this dish. We urge you to splurge on some really good melty high-quality kind if you can afford it. The rest of the recipe is really inexpensive, and you are worth it.

Try pronouncing this in-vole-TEE-nee dee may-lon-ZAH-nee. Melanzane is the Italian word for eggplant.


1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 20-oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp capers
1 large eggplant (a long, thin one works best for this recipe)
1/2 pound smoked provolone, gouda, or scamorza cheese, sliced sandwich-thin
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves


Take the cheese out of the fridge and let it warm to room temperature.

Heat the oil in a saucepan until wavy. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Add the oinon and red bell pepper and saute for 2 or 3 minutes, until slightly softened. Add the garlic and saute 2 more minutes. Pour in the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the thyme, salt, and capers, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until the eggplant is ready to be stuffed.

Cut off the top of the eggplant. Slice it lengthwise into 1/4 thick strips. On a medium grill, cook the eggplant for several minutes on each side, or until the eggplant is tender and pliable.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9x11 casserole pan.

Lay an eggplant slice flat on a cutting board. Place 1/2 slice of cheese on the slice. Rip a basil leaf in half and place each half on the slice. Roll up the slice and place it in the casserole pan. Repeat with each slice. Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the rolls. Tear up the remaining cheese and sprinkle over the top.

Bake the casserole for 20-30 minutes,until heated through and bubbly. Serve with a tossed green salad and crusty bread, if desired.

Serves 4-6.


Cranberry-Chicken Pasta Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

>> Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cranberry-Chicken Pasta Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

We love a good pasta salad. In fact, we love pasta in general. This recipe is a quick one, which is helpful on a weeknight or when you're running late to a picnic and you promised to bring a salad. Not that it would ever happen to you, but I'm a little surprised at how often we're rushing to fix something for a party.

On the other hand, if you have plenty of time to make this, I'd recommend starting with steaming or boiling a large boneless skinless chicken breast rather than using canned chicken meat. I'd also suggest toasting the pecan nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 10 minutes before stirring them into the pasta salad. These extra steps really punch up the flavor.

Creamy poppyseed dressing is really easy to make, too, and brings out the sweet tangy flavor of the cranberries. Altogether delicious.

Creamy poppyseed dressing


For the Dressing

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup white onion
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground mustard
2 tsp black poppy seeds

For the Salad

1 16 oz box farfalle, elbow, penne, or campanelle pasta (any sort of small shape) 
2 cooked chicken breasts, or 2 5-oz cans cooked chicken 
1 cup chopped celery 
2/3 cup chopped carrot 
2/3 cup chopped white onion 
2/3 cup chopped cucumber 
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper 
1/2 cup dried cranberries 
1 cup pecan pieces, toasted
Romaine lettuce, for serving


Blend together all ingredients except the poppy seeds. Stir in the poppy seeds and chill the dressing until the salad is ready.

Cook pasta according to directions, then drain and rinse with cold water. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir in the rest of the ingredients and drizzle with the dressing. Mix until well combined. Serve over lettuce leaves.

Makes about 6 main-dish servings, or 8-10 side dish servings.

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