Introduction: Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip With Alphabread

About: Let's skip the pretentious titles. At present, I am a paper pusher. In the remainder of my life, I am a mother of two handsome grown men, a wife to a very patient man, a nana of two precious grandchildren, c…

Hot spinach and artichoke dip is one of the goodies I always look
for at get-togethers, especially around holidays that occur during
the colder months. There's just something about a plate full of
delicious dip, even at the risk of getting spinach between your teeth.

This recipe is quick to prepare, and easily adapted, just waiting for
a personal touch so your guests will know you put your heart into
the process.

With just a few cookie cutters and a loaf of bread, any occasion will
be extra special.

What better for a New Year's Eve party than 'alphabreads'
(bread shaped like the alphabet) to celebrate the occasion with
Hot Spinach & Artichoke dip.

A little draining, a bit of chopping, mixing, and baking. That's it.

Come on, let's have fun, and warm up the house in the process!

Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients...

If you are using frozen spinach, make certain to defrost it a day
ahead, otherwise, you may need to set the package in a dish
of hot water to speed things up. Don't worry, It won't take very
long if you forget.

Gather the following ingredients:

For the alphabread -

* French Toasting, Sourdough, Rye, Pumpernickel, just about any bread will do.
The larger the slices, the more letters you will be able to get out of each piece.
Don't discard the cut-out scraps, they can be toasted, then processed into crumbs
for the topping!
* Grab a few cookie cutters. If you don't have cutters, just cut the bread up into slices.

For the dip -

* 10 ounce package of frozen spinach, thawed (later squeezed)
* 12 to 14 ounces of marinated artichoke hearts. I repeat, marinated.
Don't fret over precise weight. Somewhere between 12 and 14 ounces is average.
Consider using Cara Mia
* 2 packages of cream cheese, 8 ounces each
(Consider using Green Mountain Farms brand Greek Cream Cheese - compare to standard cream cheese)
* 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
* 1/2 cup of mayonnaise (if you prefer Miracle Whip, I won't hold it against you)
You can also use half mayo, half sour cream.
* 3 to 4 large garlic cloves, pressed
* 2 Tablespoons of lemon juice (yes, the bottled stuff is just fine)
* Optional ingredients such as chopped onion, extra salt, diced jalapenos, roasted peppers, etc.

For the dip topping:
* 1 to 1 1/2 cups of breadcrumbs. Make your own, as shown in step 8, or use a prepared product
* 2 Tablespoons of melted butter

Step 2: Cut the 'Alphabreads', Preheat the Oven...

When bread is shaped liked the alphabet, it only makes sense that they
would be called alphabreads. Alphabet + bread. Perfect.

But I digress.

Cut bread with a knife, a cookie cutter, a bisquit cutter, just about anything fun.
Larger slices will yield more shapes and / or letters. Try to arrange the cutters
to get as many letters as you can, and move them around on the bread to get
the best cut. Then press down hard, and voila! You may need to use a pointed
object to get the bread out of little cavities and holes.

Speaking of holes, if you have leftover space on your bread slice, use a tiny cutter
to get bite-sized pieces. They toast just as good, and taste the same. Cut out as
few or as many as desired, and set them on baking sheets with or without a liner.
As we are only making toast, spraying the pan, or even using liners is not necessary.

You don't have to use alphabet-shaped cutters, in fact, you could have
a grand time choosing cutters to suit the occasion for this festive dip.

Star-shaped cutters for a Fourth of July party, hearts for your Valentine,
anchors for a cruise or family member in the Navy, gingerbread cutters,
Santa, snowmen, teddy bears for a birthday, so many ideas come to mind!

As for alphabreads, here are just a few ideas to get you started:

or, as I had fun making... HAPPY NEW YEAR INSTRUCTABLES!

Step 3: Drain the Spinach and Artichokes...

Open the jar of artichokes and dump them into a strainer that will fit
on top of a bowl large enough to contain the marinade. Set aside to drip.

Cut open the spinach, wrap a rubber band around the top, not too tight,
and invert the package into a tall glass or container that will hold the juice.
Give it a squeeze, and on occasion, give it another squeeze. Set aside.

Step 4: Mise En Place...

As you gather your ingredients, set them aside in the measurements that
are required. This makes the process so much easier when adding everything
to the mixer.

Mise en place is a French term for organizing your ingredients, but not a process
that everyone enjoys, especially those with an aversion to washing dishes.

Measure out the mayonnaise, the lemon juice, cheese, bread crumbs and everything
else for the dip.

Step 5: Chop the Onions (if Used) and Press the Garlic...

Peel and dice an onion, if desired, and set aside. I've previously used
onion powder and a dab of salt when I ran out of onions, but diced and
fresh are so much better.

Peel and press three to four garlic cloves and set aside. Many people do
not understand that dicing garlic is not nearly as strong as sending it through
a press. If you do use a press, you won't need as much garlic as if you had
minced it.

Step 6: Squeeze and Pat the Spinach Dry, Then Chop...

Remove the rubber-banded spinach package from the glass, and squeeze
any remaining juice from the package into the glass. Don't be too
heavy-handed, just take it slow. Remove the package, lay the wad of
spinach flat on a cutting board, and press a clean paper towel on top
of it to remove more juice. It does not have to be perfectly dry, just not soggy.
Remove the paper towel, and chop the spinach so as to avoid hair-length fibers.

If you are adding other ingredients, such as roasted peppers, squeeze them as well, then pat them with a paper towel the same way you did the spinach. Dice the peppers and set them aside.

Step 7: Chop the Artichokes...

Since the artichokes have been draining while the other ingredients were prepped, they should be ready to chop. Don't get carried away mincing them, just make certain the artichoke segments are diced up. Sometimes those little pieces can be a bit firm. Dice, then set them aside.

Step 8: Make the Bread Crumbs...

Remember the bread sections that were left over from cutting?
If you are using fresh bread bits instead of pre-made crumbs, it is
time to pop them into the oven.

Since you preheated the oven (you did do that, didn't you?)
they can be toasted now. Twenty minutes should be sufficient time
to toast them without burning, but do keep an eye on them just in case.

As they toast, move on to the next step.

When they are cool, simply run them through a food processor
to crumble them into bits. Pass through a strainer to make even
finer crumbs, dumping the larger pieces back into the bowl
for further processing. Set aside.

Step 9: Combine All Ingredients Except the Butter and Bread Crumbs

Although an electric mixer is not necessary, it is nice to have and use one.

Add the following ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixer:

Both packages of cream cheese
Drained, chopped artichokes
Drained, squeezed spinach, chopped
Half the Parmesan cheese
Garlic, pressed
Lemon juice

Also add any optional ingredients that may sound good to you,
and complimentary to the dip, such as:

1/4 to 1/2 cup of finely diced onions OR 1/4 teaspoon onion salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup of drained, towel-blotted roasted red peppers, diced
1/4 cup finely diced jalapenos, seeds and veins removed
1/2 cup of fresh, diced fennel bulb

Mix well on low to medium speed until entirely combined.

Step 10: Top the Dip With Buttered Crumbs and Cheese, Then Bake

Melt the 2 Tablespoons of butter, and set aside to cool.

Dip a few fingers covered with a disposable plastic glove, or use a
pastry brush, into the butter, and coat the inside bottom and sides
of your baking dish. You may also use a spray oil such as Pam.

While an 11" x 7" casserole dish is typically used for such dips, don't be afraid
to use a different shape, provided the dish is somewhat shallow and oven safe.
Just be certain the dip has room to spread around and the cheese has a chance to melt.

Pour the mixed dip into the shallow dish, spreading it around with a silicone or rubber
scraper to smooth it evenly. Use a damp paper towel wrapped around your index finger
to wipe clean the edges of the dish.

Sprinkle the remaining half of the Parmesan cheese on top of the dip.

Combine the butter with the bread crumbs. They don't have to be perfectly blended, just
try to mix them well. Evenly spread the crumbs on top of the dip. Use more or less
depending on your preference.

Pop the dish into the oven and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the crumbs have
browned. If you opted to add extra cheese, make certain it is melted.

Step 11: Toast the Cutouts, and Serve!

While the dip bakes, you will have additional time to cut out more
shapes or letters, if needed. Since the dip is going to be super hot for
a little while, as soon as you pull it out of the oven after baking, pop
in the alphabreads that we made in step 8.

The letters are much better when they are freshly toasted, as they
may soften up if they set out for a while. If they do, and your party is
still going on, simply pop them back into a hot oven for a few more
minutes, and all should be well.

Serve hot with alphabreads or other bread, and stand back to
watch it disappear.

Keep in mind that this dip is a dairy product, and as such, leftovers
should be promptly refrigerated. You might consider baking the dip in
individual ramekin dishes, or several small, but yet roomy dishes.
This dip can be made ahead and refrigerated, then add
the crumbs right before baking.

Some people even prefer this dip to be cold instead of hot, so
that would be a win-win for the leftovers. Dab some on a bit of egg
noodles for an interesting snack. Smear some on a sandwich.

Whatever you decide, have fun with the recipe, pass it on, and enjoy!