Sunday, December 7, 2014

Guilt-Free Creamy Baked Spinach Artichoke Dip

Looking for something that tastes like an indulgence but isn't packed with an exorbitant amount of fat and calories? This is it. I'm a total sucker for spinach artichoke dip. I've been on such a kick for it lately, I think I've tried every version available in town. Unfortunately, restaurant versions can easily contain 80-90 grams of fat and thousands of calories for an appetizer portion. Ugh. Diet fail.

Have no fear, though--with a few simple substitutions, my version contains less than 100 calories and 6 grams of fat per 1/4 c. serving. It is quick and easy to prepare and could easily be modified to suit your own tastes. One of the main ingredients, the Greek yogurt/cream cheese blend, is a product I hadn't noticed before and bought on a whim. I'm so happy I tried it in this recipe--it's much lower in fat than traditional cream cheese, but has a more "restauranty" dip flavor than just using Greek yogurt (I tried . . .). Many recipes use mayo (or a mix of mayonnaise and sour cream), but I'm not a huge fan of mayo so I just went with straight sour cream. Worked like a charm!

Guilt-Free Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip
Makes 16 1/4 c. Servings

1 8 oz. block Greek Cream Cheese and Greek Yogurt Blend
1 16 oz. container Reduced Fat Sour Cream
1 10 oz. package Frozen Chopped Spinach
1 14 oz. can Quartered Artichoke Hearts in Brine
1/3 c. Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2/3 c. Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, divided (1/3 c. to mix in, 1/3 c. on top)
1/2 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
Pepper to taste
Dash Hot Sauce

Preheat oven to 400° F
Thaw spinach completely in microwave (I did mine on 30 second intervals for a total of 2 minutes or so). Dump thawed spinach into the center of a non-fuzzy dish towel (this might stain, don't use your heirloom tea towels) or several layers of paper towel. Squeeze as much liquid from the spinach as possible. Chop the spinach to break up long, stringy stems.
Drain artichoke hearts and roughly chop them.
Put the block of cream cheese into a microwave-proof bowl. I like to use my large 8 cup glass measuring cup. Microwave until cheese is softened enough to stir, about 1 1/2- 2 minutes.
Mix artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, salt, garlic, pepper, hot sauce, Parmesan cheese, and 1/3 c. mozzarella cheese in with cream cheese until well blended.
Spread into a buttered casserole dish and top with remaining 1/3 c. cheese
Bake 20-25 minutes, then broil for a couple more until the cheese is golden.
Serve with tortilla chips, pita, pretzel crisps, veggie sticks . . . whatever your heart desires!

Nutrition per 1/4 c. serving (calculated using
Calories: 93, Fat: 6 g., Sodium: 233 mg., Carb: 5 g., Fiber: 1 g., Protein: 5 g.

Weight Watchers Points Plus: 2 (calculated with Weight Watchers Points Plus calculator using the above information. If anyone uses recipe builder and gets a different result, please let me know in the comments)

I can tell you from personal experience that this dip reheats very well. It would also be a great make-ahead dish for a holiday party--throw it together the night before and bake it the day of. Be creative and enjoy!

Monday, December 1, 2014

4 x 8 Christmas Card 2014 Freebie Template

I decided to try something a little different this year. I designed the above image for our 2014 Christmas cards, but I also made a blank version to post as a freebie! Just follow the link below to access it.

Christmas Card Template in Google Drive

I was in a sort of Dickensian mood this Christmas, so I used my beloved to create a card that was in this vein. To use the template yourself, download the image and open it in your favorite photo editing program (ahem, Import your family photo as an overlay, add it to your work, then drag it into place. Easy!

Use a text tool to fill in your name or greeting in the ribbon. Add to the design if you want! Reindeer? Ok! Sprigs of holly? Why the heck not!?!

Once you've got your image looking good, save it to your computer (I like saving in .png format). I have my cards printed through Vistaprint because they allow you to upload your own image to a blank 4 x 8 rather than using one of their pre-set designs. If you're not up to designing a whole card from scratch in the holiday rush, I hope you'll consider letting me help you along with this template. Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

DIY Freezer to Oven Cookies: Freeze Cookie Dough Now, Bake Later

Every year of my 20s, I've tried to get better at holiday prepping. The Christmas season is like the Olympics for DIYers--it's a distance race (or sprint, if you're a procrastinator) of handmade gifts, made-from-scratch meals, and do-it-yourself decorations. It's exhausting. The older I get, though, the more I want to spend my time enjoying the holiday, not just surviving it.

One of my goals this year is to do as much as possible ahead of time. I've been researching homemade ready-to-bake cookies that I can make now and freeze until Christmas. This post will detail the method for freezing the cookie dough. I'll include the recipe for the All Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies pictured above in a later post.

I actually found this post from Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn after I froze my dough. I'll be explaining the method for drop cookies, but if you're interested in freezing rolled or slice and bake cookies, check out the link above.

Freezing Cookie Dough for Drop Cookies:
You'll Need:
1 batch of your favorite cookie dough, chilled to make it easier to work with (I used chocolate chip)
Sheet pan that will fit in your freezer
Parchment paper or baking mat
Teaspoon or small scoop
2 large zip top bags
Permanent marker
1. Let cookie dough chill in the refrigerator while you prep other
2. Line sheet pan with parchment paper
3. Write type of cookie, date, and baking directions (see below) on one zip top freezer bag
4. Use spoon or scoop to shape cookies. I use a heaping teaspoon's worth of dough for each cookie and roll it into a ball between my palms
5. Drop cookies onto prepared sheet pan making sure they do not touch.
6. Slide sheet pan into freezer, being sure not to tip the pan. The cookies should not touch as they freeze.
7. Allow cookie dough to freeze for at least 6 hours.
8. Once cookies are frozen, place balls in freezer bag, press out air, and seal top. I like to place this bag inside a second freezer bag, just for extra protection.

Baking Cookies from Frozen Dough:
I highly recommend baking a small test batch to test the temperature and time. Generally cookies will be baked as called for in the recipe with an added 1-2 minutes of cooking time. The cookies pictured here, however, do not contain any shortening--they're all butter. The original recipe called for a cooking temperature of 375 degrees. When I baked my first batch (only 5 cookies), they were too dark at the edges and on the bottom before the centers were close to set. I ended up dropping the temperature to 350 degrees and adding a minute of cooking time. Perfect!

I'm very excited about the prospect of having my baking prep done early. If you freeze cookies or cookie dough, I'd love to read your tips and tricks in the comments below! Be creative and enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

DIY Original Star Trek Tunic

I will fully admit that I am a Star Wars girl. I vaguely remember my parents watching Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was a kid, but I've never really watched any of the iterations of the show on my own. Until a few months ago, that is. On the advice of a friend, I marathoned the first season of the original series and completely loved it. I reference it in casual conversation and find myself watching this scene from The Cable Guy over and over again:

I knew I wanted to make the classic tunic for Halloween (confession: I just wanted to wear it around the house). Regular readers of this blog know that I am NOT a pattern maker. The thought of taking all of my measurements and committing them to paper makes me feel physically ill. Commercial patterns seem ridiculously complicated to me--on an intellectual level I know they aren't, but pulling all of those thin little pieces of tissue paper from the envelope makes me kind of sweaty and nervous.

Materials and Tools:
1 1/2 - 2 yards of stretch knit fabric (I used a poly rayon blend in a cherry red color. I only needed 1 1/2 yards, but I am only 5' 2")
1/8 yard stretch black fabric
Gold lame (enough for a patch)
Gold trim (I used almost a yard to put one Lt. stripe on each sleeve cuff)
Thread to match main fabric color
Black puff paint or black thread for zigzag stitching
Long-sleeved t-shirt that fits well to use as a pattern for tunic
Bathing suit bottom or underwear to use as a pattern for briefs

First I doubled my fabric with enough overlap to cut out the body of the tunic. I used my t-shirt as a pattern, leaving about a 1/4" allowance around. I followed the seam where the sleeves are inset. This provided basically one half of a tank top. Using that piece as a pattern, I cut a second one. This gave me a front and back.

Placing right sides together, I sewed the side seams and the shoulders with a 1/4" seam allowance. Once the tank top was sewn together, I cut the neckline with a slight scoop (I used stills from the show as a reference).

Through trial and--admittedly--some error, I placed darts at the bustline from the sleeves and from the bustline straight down to the waist. While wearing the tank, I marked with chalk where the gaps at the sleeve hole were. It was too loose on my waist area, so I created darts there as well. I ended up extending the vertical darts all the way up to the shoulders, but that was really for looks.

Once the tank top fit the way I wanted, I cut the sleeves. I used the long-sleeved t-shirt as a guide for the length and width of the sleeve. I used the arm hole of my new tank top as a pattern for the end of the sleeve that would be inset into the body of the tunic.

I sewed the long seam of each sleeve then set them into the body. With the tank top and the sleeve both inside out, I pinned the sleeve to the arm opening in the tank. When I sew this seam, I always start in the armpit because if there's any bunchiness or imperfection when I am finished I'd rather it be in the pit than on top of my shoulder.

For the skirt, I basically cut two long rectangles. The rectangles were scientifically measured as follows: Half the bottom circumference of the tank top + 3 inches. The bottom halves of the Star Trek tunics are almost like wrap skirts (or skorts!), so the 3 inches on each end gave ample fabric for overlap.

Ok, this part takes a little imagination. You have two layers of fabric that will overlap and be sewn along the bottom edge of the shirt you've made--one rectangle will run in one direction, to cover your right hip, the other will run in the other direction, to cover your left hip. There will be a flap in the front and the back where they overlap. The first thing I did was sew under the short sides of the rectangles to finish these edges. Alright. Pay close attention here. The shirt is right side out. Place one rectangle against the shirt with the right side facing in, toward the body of the shirt. The finished end of the rectangle should line up with the vertical dart on your right-hand side. Line the bottom edges of rectangle and shirt. Pin together around the shirt until you run out of rectangle. This first rectangle will be the one that is outermost on the tunic. Flip your creation back over. Place the second rectangle so that the finished edge lines up with the left-hand vertical seam. Pin it around the other half of the tunic.

Sew around the bottom with a generous 1/4" seam allowance. Try on your tunic. I ended up taking in the sides because it flared a bit too much for me. Then I marked the skirt for desired length. I like how short Lt. Uhura's tunic is (she's always flashing a bit of briefs underneath her uniform), so I cut mine pretty short.

To finish the tunic, I hemmed the bottom edges of the skirt rectangles and the cuffs of the sleeves. I sewed gold trim around each cuff. For the neckline, I love the asymmetrical trim in the tunics from the series. This is a double bonus because you don't have to be particular when you sew the black trim on. I made it narrower at the shoulders and thicker in the front with the thickest part over my left boob. I cut a badge out of gold lame, stitched it to the tunic, then outlined it with black puff paint. I also painted on the support staff decal in the center of the badge.

I used my favorite bathing suit bottom as a pattern for a pair of briefs to wear under my tunic. I put a wide waistband along the top edge of the briefs.

I am absolutely in love with my Star Trek uniform. I wore it out on Halloween and got a "live long and prosper" from a fellow bar-goer. Even if you never make this particular outfit, I hope the takeaway here is that making a costume doesn't have to seem impossible. You don't need to spend a fortune on an outfit for conventions, theme parties, etc. With basic sewing skills and determination you can make one! Be creative and enjoy!  

Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween 2014: DIY Original Star Trek Female Crewmember Costume

Happy Halloween, Readers! For all of you Trekkies out there looking to make a female crewmember uniform for next Halloween, a con, or sitting around the house just feeling awesome (yes ... that's exactly what I've been doing), I'll have a tutorial up soon.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Free Printable Patriotic Pinwheel Template

Happy Fourth of July! To celebrate, it's freebie time! Today I wanted to share a printable pinwheel that I created to embrace the patriotic spirit of this holiday. These pinwheels are a quick, easy way to add a little fun to your Independence Day picnic table. This is my first time using DocStoc to embed a PDF into a blog post, so please comment if you have trouble with it.

Printable PDF (see below)
Length of dowel or a pencil
Glue stick

Patriotic Pinwheel.pdf

Download and print the pinwheel. Cut around the perimeter of the full image. Fold the rectangle in half along the line separating the stripe pattern from the blue/starred portion, with the printed sides facing out. Crease the fold well. Use a glue stick to adhere the two halves together. I don't recommend using white school glue for this because it will wrinkle your paper and it's easy to get too much glue with the squeeze bottle.

After folding/gluing, you'll be left with a square that is printed with red and white stripes on one side and blue with white stars on the other. Once the glue has dried, cut along the diagonal dashed lines on the blue side. Don't cut all the way to the middle! Only cut as far as the dashes go.

Fold alternating corners toward the center, making sure the corners overlap slightly in the center. You can secure each point with a tiny swipe of glue in the center. Pierce the center of the folded pinwheel with the pushpin, making sure to go through all layers. Work the pin around to enlarge the hole so that the pinwheel will spin freely--this is the key to a successful pinwheel! Push the end of the tack into the pencil eraser or tap it into the end of the dowel. Voila!

Stick that baby into the nearest Mason jar and use it to adorn your table. Or run wild around your yard with it--I'm not judging. Be creative and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Banana Chocolate Chia Seed Muffins

Breakfast win! With three bananas rapidly turning black on my counter, it seemed like the perfect time to experiment on a replacement for my beloved morning bagel.

I started with Daphne Oz's recipe for Fudgy Chocolate Banana Flax Muffins as a guide. But I didn't have any flax or wheat germ. Substitution time! Through a happy accident, I also realized that I could cut the coconut oil and increase the applesauce.

Chocolate Banana Chia Seed Muffins
Makes 12
Wet Ingredients:
1/4 c. coconut oil, microwaved briefly until just starting to melt, plus more for greasing muffin tin
1/4 c. brown sugar
3 very ripe bananas
2 eggs
1/4 c. applesauce
1/4 c. water
Dry Ingredients:
1 1/2 c. whole wheat white flour (I recommend King Arthur brand flour)
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. chia seeds (you could used ground here, but I used whole. They have a texture similar to poppy seeds)
1/3 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Prepare standard, 12 cup muffin tin by rubbing cups with coconut oil or prepare with paper liners.
Cream oil and sugar in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add bananas to mixer and beat until smooth. Beat in remaining wet ingredients.
Whisk dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Stir in wet mixture until incorporated.
Divide batter between 12 muffin cups. They should each be about 3/4 full.
Bake muffins 15-18 minutes, until a tester comes out with a few crumbs clinging.

Nutrition facts per muffin: 199 calories, 9 g. fat, 29 g. carb, 3 g. fiber, 12 g. sugar, 5 g. protein (per nutrition facts calculator). For those following Weight Watchers Points Plus, this calculated to 6 points plus per muffin.

These muffins are so yummy, if somewhat unconventional. I hope you'll try them, or Daphne Oz's original recipe with flax and wheat germ. Be creative and enjoy!