We have so much to celebrate in this country—the hockey is over, no election for at least a couple of years, no hurricanes in the forecast and daylight until we’re just about ready for bed. Seems like a good excuse for a birthday celebration over the coming long weekend.
Cheesy spinach and caramelized onion dip
Here’s a party starter for you. Even people who think they don’t like blue cheese will scarf down this tasty dip.
Deeply caramelizing the onion releases all their sugar and adds a sweet note without being cloying.
Serve with sturdy crackers or toasted pita triangles or go all out with a giant basket of buffalo wings, carrot sticks and celery stalks.
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp. butter
1 large bag spinach (4 to 6 cups)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup each crumbled blue cheese and goat cheese
3/4 cup sour cream (low-fat is fine)
1/2 cup mayonnaise (not salad dressing)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fry onion in butter over low heat until completely soft and brown, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
If spinach leaves are very large chop them coarsely or tear them into smaller pieces. Add spinach to pan and cook until wilted and soft, about 5 minutes longer. Add garlic and cook another minute.
Remove from heat and cool. Add blue cheese, goat cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
You could use a blender or food processor here, but a potato masher does a better job of retaining some of the gorgeous textures — your choice.
Mix everything together until well blended and serve.
What could possibly be a better main course at a birthday party than burgers? These are tender and tasty, and hold together on the barbecue, but are equally delicious fried or broiled.
I can hear you asking, where’s the egg, but eggs only toughen the mixture.
This amount makes 8 large burgers.
1 large onion, finely diced
2 tsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup beer (or double the milk if you prefer)
3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. each mustard and ketchup
1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs
2 lbs. lean ground beef
8 hamburger buns
Fry onion in butter until wilted. Add garlic and cook together a minute or two; set aside to cool.
Whisk together milk, beer, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, ketchup, salt, and pepper and stir in bread crumbs. Allow to sit about 5 minutes.
Combine onion mixture with soaked bread crumbs and beef. Mix well, but don’t mangle it with your hands — work the meat as little as possible.
Shape into 8 patties that are slightly larger in diameter than the buns and flattened evenly so the middles aren’t thicker than the edges.
Grill about 5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Serve on toasted buns with all the condiments you can fit on top.
Fruit and veg kebabs with yogurt sauce
You don’t have to serve fries with burgers — lighten up your celebration with these fabulous kebabs.
This amount serves eight generously. Substitute any fruit and vegetables you like — whatever looks good at the grocery store.
1 medium red onion
1 each red and green bell pepper
1/2 fresh pineapple
1/2 honeydew melon
16 large strawberries
2 tbsp. each honey and melted butter or margarine
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plain yogurt (low-fat is fine)
1/4 cup honey
Juice and finely grated rind of 1 lemon
Peel and cube the onion, peppers, pineapple and melon. Halve the strawberries. Alternate the different fruits and vegetables on well-soaked bamboo or metal skewers.
Combine honey, butter and pepper and brush all over kebabs. Grill or broil until golden.
Whisk together yogurt, honey, lemon juice and rind, and serve over kebabs.
One-bowl chocolate birthday cake with vanilla buttercream frosting
It can’t be a party without a cake, and this one will satisfy everyone, from the kids clamouring for sugar to the most sophisticated palates at your table.
Don’t tell anyone you started with a cake mix and no one will ever know.
2 tbsp. hot water
1 tsp. instant coffee
1 two-layer devil’s food or other chocolate cake mix
1 small (4-serving) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla
Vanilla buttercream frosting:
1 cup soft unsalted butter
4 cups icing sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
5 tbsp. whipping cream
2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, at room temperature or warmed in your hand
Combine hot water and instant coffee, stirring until dissolved. Set aside.
Prepare the pans in advance because the pudding sets up really fast, making it difficult to work with the batter.
In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, pudding mix, sour cream, vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla and coffee mixture. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes or until smooth and thoroughly mixed.
Pour into two greased and floured nine-inch cake pans and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes, until a cake tester in the centre comes out clean.
Cool in the pans on a rack for 5 minutes, then remove from pans and cool completely.
For the frosting, beat butter until creamy and light, about 5 minutes — don’t shortcut here because the extra beating makes it fluffier.
Add icing sugar, vanilla and salt and beat until well combined. Add whipping cream and beat until fluffy and smooth.
If mixture is still too stiff for your taste, add another spoonful of whipping cream. Spread between layers and all over the outside of the cake. Grate chocolate over top.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.