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Frito Salad

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I have an internal maniacal laugh every time I say or even think, “Frito Salad.” Saying the words “Frito” and “Salad” in the same recipe title just makes me giddy with hilarity. Reminds me of one of my favorite eCards…

This “salad” is basically my two favorite things combined. Chips and dip (and one of my all-time favorite dips at that). And it’s called a salad. WINNING! :D  To be fair, it’s a little healthier than regular chips and dip because of all the corn (and some peppers & and onion), but let’s just get honest here.  This ain’t my Momma’s kinda salad.  But it sure is mine. >:)

This salad is downright delicious and would be great to bring to any potluck you might be attending in the near or distant future. I know I will be!

Frito Salad

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3 (14.5 oz) cans of whole kernel corn, drained
1 green pepper, seeded and finely diced
1/2 of a small red onion, finely diced
1 cup (4 oz) grated cheddar cheese
1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
1 (9.25 oz) bag of Chili Cheese Fritos

Stir the corn, green pepper, onion, cheese and mayonnaise in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, mix in Fritos, reserving a handful to lay on top as a garnish. Serve immediately.

Veronica’s Notes: The original recipe called for red pepper along with the green, so feel free to sub in half of the green for red to make it prettier. Also, if you know you will have leftovers, add the chips to the individual servings rather than all at once, because the chips will get soggy and gross.

Recipe source: adapted from Minda’s Cooking

Baba Ghanoush Two Ways: Classic & Tahini-Free

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After last week’s sugar & booze fest, I thought it was time to break out a beautifully healthy AND delicious recipe.  I’m feeling the need to cleanse my system after indulging in a few too many “tastes” of my creations and this is a perfect way to do it: with baba ghanoush!

Never heard of it?  Baba ghanoush is a Middle Eastern roasted eggplant dip that is similar to hummus, but eggplant stands in for chickpeas.  All other ingredients are pretty much the same!

I’ve always loved hummus but was never impressed with the baba ghanoush I ordered at restaurants.  It was either too smoky or too bland, but I’m stubborn and I had it in my head that if it was prepared properly, I would love it.  So when Jenna posted a recipe for it, and her beautiful pictures mesmerized and dazzled me, convincing me that indeed, I would love it if I made it myself, I ventured forth.

Behold, the baba ghanoush.

There was much jubilation in my kitchen upon the first bite, proof that baba ghanoush is delicious!!

I made the first batch and ate it within a week, then made a tahini-free batch the following week (I ran out of tahini, plus, leaving it out made the recipe 17 Day Diet-friendly).  I actually liked the tahini-free version better, but that is more likely due to me roasting the eggplant longer (the first batch was a little undercooked) than the lack of tahini.  I definitely recommend roasting your eggplants thoroughly (like Jenna says, when you think they’re done roasting, roast them a little more), because it makes a great difference in taste.

I tell you I can’t get enough of this stuff.  I have half a jar in my fridge right now and I had to get up and take a spoonful as I was writing this blog.  And that’s my favorite way to eat it, by the way.  Straight from the jar (or the food processor) with a spoon.  I use it more like a side dish than a dip, but it’s really good with pita chips too!

Baba Ghanoush

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3 medium eggplants
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup parsley, minced
Chips or bread, to serve

Prick each eggplant with a fork until the surface is covered with holes. Place the eggplants under a broiler (or on a grill) and cook for about 40 minutes, until blackened and slightly shrunken, turning occasionally. When they’re very tender, let them cool.

When cool enough to handle, scoop the eggplant flesh into a the bowl of a food processor with a spoon, discarding the skins. Add the lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and cumin. Process until desired texture, then add the parsley and pulse to combine. Serve with chips, pita bread, a baguette, crackers, etc.

Tahini-Free Baba Ghanoush

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3 medium eggplants
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup parsley, minced
Pita chips, crackers, or vegetables, to serve

Prick each eggplant with a fork until the surface is covered with holes. Place the eggplants under a broiler (or on a grill) and cook for about 40 minutes, until blackened and slightly shrunken, turning occasionally. When they’re very tender, let them cool.

When cool enough to handle, scoop the eggplant flesh into a the bowl of a food processor with a spoon, discarding the skins. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, and cumin. Process until desired texture, then add the parsley and pulse to combine. Serve with chips, pita bread, a baguette, crackers, etc.

Recipes source: adapted from Jenna’s Everything Blog

Cake Pops, Balls, & Truffles: Troubleshooting & FAQ

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I posted a cake pops tutorial last January and have gotten so many questions in the comments section, usually the same few repeatedly, that I’m having trouble locating them to reply when a new one is posted anywhere other than at the very end.  An FAQ is long overdue, and I hope to address all the concerns and questions I have received over the last year and a half so that my readers have somewhere to go to resolve their problems and get their questions answered.

I have made many batches of cake pops, balls/truffles, and cupcake bites, but I have NEVER done anything creative like Bakerella so if you’re looking for inspiration, check out her site.  This post is solely meant to help you with the basics.  If you have a question that isn’t answered here, leave it in a comment or email me at vraklis@yahoo.com and I’ll add it to this post.  Thanks!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why is my chocolate cracking?

A: I have found mine cracks if I overheat the chocolate before dipping, or if I freeze the cake balls/pops very long before dipping.  Make sure you very gently heat your chocolate–you never want it to get hot but just barely warm enough to melt.

The surest way to keep your chocolate from cracking is to place your styrofoam block in the refrigerator, or even better, the freezer, and place each pop on it after dipping.  This is a pain, but if you have a lot of issues with cracking, this will prevent it.  However, don’t leave your pops in the freezer too long.  Just let them sit long enough to get hard, then remove.  If they get too cold, they will sweat when you remove them from the freezer.

The fix: if your chocolate does crack, just spoon some melted chocolate over the crack, making sure to cover it well.  It won’t be pretty, but it will keep the cake ball contained and will still be delicious.  If you are using sprinkles, that will help disguise it.

Q: My chocolate is too thick to dip.  What’s going on?

A: You most likely overheated your chocolate.  Chocolate is temperamental and needs to be heated very gently.  I’m extremely careful when microwaving chocolate, stirring it very well every 15 seconds (after the initial 30 seconds-1 minute, or whatever your package says) so that the residual heat does the melting instead of doing it all with the heat of the microwave, which will overheat it.

The fix: stir in some vegetable or canola oil until thinned to the desired consistency.  Your chocolate will dry softer than it would have, but it will still be firm enough to hold the cake ball inside.

Q: What chocolate melter are you using in your video?  Could I use a crockpot instead?

A: It’s a Wilton Chocolate Melter Deluxe, which is no longer for sale.  Wilton has upgraded the pot to a “Chocolate Pro,” available for purchase here.  I don’t actually use mine for melting the chocolate as it takes a long time and I’m impatient, but after melting it in the microwave, I like to pour it into the melter and set it on “warm” to keep the chocolate from solidifying during dipping.  I do find I need to shut it off every so often to keep the chocolate from getting too hot.

I have not tried using a crockpot to melt chocolate, but a reader, Sherry, says that she always melts her chocolate in the microwave and then puts it in the crockpot on the lowest setting to keep it warm while she dips.

Q: Why are my cake balls falling off the sticks?

A: This could be due to many things.  Most likely, you added too much frosting.  Start with less and add more as needed.  Depending on the moistness of the cake you are using, you may not need any at all to get the crumbs to hold together.  I usually use 1/3 to 1/2 cup, even with moist cakes, because I prefer the sweeter flavor to those without any frosting, and that isn’t so much that they are mushy.  Second, make sure the cake balls are cold before you start dipping.  I’ve noticed if I leave my tray of balls out while I’m dipping, by the time I get to to the last ten or so they are starting to slide off the sticks because they aren’t as cold.  Third, make sure you dip the sticks in chocolate before inserting them into the balls (is it just me, or does that sound kinky?).  This will ensure that the balls adhere to the stick.

Q: What is almond bark?  And can I use regular chocolate instead?

A: That is just what we call candy coating around here.  It’s also called “chocolate flavored bark” and “vanilla flavored bark.”  It’s basically chocolate, white or regular, that has palm kernel oil added so that it dries to a nice, hard finish without having to temper it.  You can use any type of chocolate you wish, whether it’s the real stuff, the white stuff, chocolate melting wafers, or candy melts like Wilton has.  If you use real chocolate, add a tablespoon of vegetable shortening or oil per pound or bag of chips (12 oz) and melt them together.

White Cake Balls 1-28-10 in Candy by Veronica Miller

Q: How can I color my white candy coating?

A: I have used powdered icing color with success, but regular icing gel color makes it seize up.  You can do it this way, and just add oil to thin the chocolate back out (I have done this), but the best thing to use is oil-based colors made specifically for candy, such as these.  Check out your craft stores, like Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, or if you have a local cake supply store, they might have them as well.  These same stores usually offer colored candy melts  as well, so that you don’t have to color them yourself.

Q: I find cake balls too sweet. Is there something I can use besides frosting?

A: Certainly!  All you needs is a binder to keep the cake crumbs stuck together when you roll them into balls.  I have a co-worker that uses peanut butter in her chocolate cake balls and lemon pie filling in her lemon cake balls.  Other ideas would be pudding, cream cheese, softened butter, bittersweet or semisweet ganache, sour cream, mayonnaise, jams & jellies.  Just be careful and add a little at a time, as many of these would go further than frosting and you probably wouldn’t need very much.

If you don’t want to add anything, here’s what you do: make my favorite chocolate cake, process it to crumbs in the food processor and then wad up balls of the crumbs and roll!  This particular recipe sticks together with nothing added!  The pops end up tasting more like cake than candy, although the texture is still more dense since the crumbs are compacted.  Here is the picture of the inside of a cake pop made this way:

Q: Do I have to use a cake mix?

A: No, make a scratch cake if you wish!  I prefer the taste of pops made with a cake mix, and since it takes so much time to make the pops themselves, making the cake from a mix is just a shortcut, but not required.

Q: How should they be stored? 

A: Store them covered in the refrigerator.  I prefer to remove mine at least a couple hours before serving to serve at room temperature, but they can be served cold and really should be if your climate is very hot or humid.  Here in Kansas, I don’t have to refrigerate them and if I’m making them the day before serving, I won’t put them in the fridge at all.

These are “Cupcake Bites,” which you can learn how to make here.

Q: How far in advance can I make them?  Can I freeze them? 

A:  You can make them a month in advance, if you like, because yes you can freeze them!  Once the chocolate is hard, there is no risk of the chocolate cracking from freezing the pops/balls and removing them.  If you freeze them, be sure to defrost them in the refrigerator 24 hours before servings so that they won’t sweat when you serve them.  They sweat like crazy if you take them straight from the freezer, especially in the summer.  If you don’t wish to freeze them, I’d recommend making them no more than a week in advance and keeping them in the refrigerator.

Q: Why are my sticks getting yellow and oily?

A: I have had this happen only once, when I used a real buttercream (made with mostly butter and eggs) instead of American (powdered sugar-based) buttercream.  I think if there is too much fat in your cake ball mixture, it will seep into the sticks over time and turn them yellow.  Try using less frosting next time.  Lately I’m using only about 1/3 cup per batch.

Q: Can I use something besides chocolate or candy coating for dipping?

A: I have not personally tried anything else, but one reader had success using a chocolate glaze, and another (thanks, Praveena!) had the brilliant idea of using royal icing for her friends that do not like chocolate.  (Royal icing dries hard so you’d want a very thin layer.)  If you wish to try the aforementioned glaze, here is the recipe Michelle used and shared with me:

1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Put cream and corn syrup into pot and heat until it just starts to boil. Then remove from heat add chocolate chips, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Then stir until combined. A note from me: this is basically ganache with corn syrup added and will get quite firm when cold.  I’d recommend keeping the finished pops in the fridge to keep them intact.

Q:  What is your most popular flavor, and are there other recipes you can share?

A: I found a slew of recipes on Wilton.com but have no special ones of my own.  I’ve only tried three flavors myself: chocolate, white, and red velvet.  Chocolate is the best and red velvet is the most popular (because of Christmas and Independence Day).  White isn’t bad, but just not as good as chocolate, but I did like it a lot when I filled the centers of some white cake balls with a bit of  wedding cake frosting–it was for snowball cake truffles at a Christmas eve party but the taste was like wedding cake truffles–pretty cool!  I almost always mix my cake crumbs with homemade cream cheese frosting, but have also used mocha buttercream, white celebration frosting, and ganache.  It really doesn’t matter what frosting you use–it’s all good.

Q: What size sticks to you use, and where can I find them?

A: The ones I usually get are about 4″ long, but you can use any length you wish.  I get mine at Walmart in the cake decorating supplies section, but you can also find them at craft stores like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby, or cake & candy supply stores.

Q: Do I have to use a food processor to crumble the cake?

A: This is my preferred method, especially when your cake has some dry edges, because it gives you uniform crumbs that easily mix with the frosting, but I’ve also used my hands and it gets the job done.

Q: I’ve noticed that some of my cake pops start leaking oil once the chocolate is set.  Why is this happening?

A: I usually have 1 or 2 pops or balls per batch that leak oil, and for me it is always because 1) a miniscule spot on the ball didn’t get covered with chocolate or 2) I left an air bubble in the chocolate before it set, which creates a weak point that can’t contain the pressure of the filling so that it eventually starts to squirt out.  If there is any spot not covered, the oil will separate from the cake mixture and start leaking out (I’ve even had the cake ball mixture itself squirt out!), so be thorough when you’re dipping.  Also, make sure you poke any air bubbles you see before the chocolate hardens so that the liquid chocolate will fill in the space before it sets.  I usually use the ones that spring leaks for “taste testing” since I always like to enjoy one or two of them from each batch, but if you want to fix it, you can: dab off the oil and spoon on a little bit of chocolate onto, around, and a little beyond the area where the oil has touched.  If you don’t spread the chocolate further than where the oil was, the oil will follow the same path out and will leak again, despite having been recovered.  You need a tight seal and that means chocolate on chocolate with no oil on the surface.  Also, if you use sprinkles that have sharp edges, be careful and don’t use a lot of force because if they poke through to the cake beneath the chocolate, oil will start to leak out from the area once the chocolate is set.

Additional info: the glitter you see on the snowball (or wedding) cake truffles and on the July 4 cake balls is edible and is called “Disco Dust.”  I used “rainbow” on the snowballs and hologram silver (mixed with rainbow) on the July 4 balls, and it is available in a wide range of colors.  I recommend rainbow, as it goes well with any color.  I purchase mine at Cake Stuff! in Wichita, KS, but you can find it online as well.

Related posts: Step-by-step cake pop tutorial, instructions for making cake pops with leftover cake, Cupcake Bites recipe.

Muhammara (Hot Pepper Dip)

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This spicy vegan dip originates in Syria and I didn’t discover it until my friend, Pia, introduced me to it.  It’s her favorite dip and she recommended it to me when she found out I enjoy Middle Eastern cuisine.  I knew it was right up our alley simply because it’s spicy, and since I’d seen some of the pomegranate syrup the recipe calls for at a market attached to our favorite Lebanese restaurant, I snapped a bottle up next time we were there and set out to make this dip.

It is great simply as a dip, but I’m also going to include a “recipe” for a veggie wrap that I’ve incorporated it into for quick lunches.  The first time I served this to my husband, he raved, and it wasn’t until afterward that I realized he had eaten an entirely vegan meal with no complaints. Score!

Muhammara (Hot Pepper Dip)

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1 (12 oz) jar of roasted red peppers, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs — 1/2 cup (I turned pita bread into crumbs in the food processor)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses/syrup/concentrate
1 tablespoon sriracha hot chile sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Chop the peppers roughly and place them, along with all the remaining ingredients, except the olive oil, into a food processor or blender. Pulse to roughly chop the ingredients, then slowly pulse in the olive oil. Try not to purée the ingredients too much. You want the dip to have a little texture.  Adjust seasoning to taste and serve as a dip or spread with pita wedges, vegetables or kebabs.

*Veronica’s notes: the original recipe calls for four fresh red peppers which you roast before processing.  Click the recipe source link below for instructions on this if you would like to do it this way.  The original recipe also calls for red pepper flakes instead of sriracha, so that can be used in place of sriracha if you desire.  As for the pomegranate syrup, my bottle is actually a pomegranate juice concentrate and I know that Pom is now selling this so you might be able to find it where Pom brand pomegranate juice is sold if you don’t have a market that sells ethnic foods in your area.

Recipe source: Inato lang Filipino Cuisine and More


Muhammara Veggie Wrap

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You will need:

  • Muhammara
  • Black beans
  • Parsley
  • Fresh baby spinach
  • Shredded carrots
  • Tortilla, flat bread, or pita bread*

Spread muhammara down the center of your tortilla or bread, then sprinkle on some beans, a little parsley, a handful of spinach and shredded carrots.  Wrap tightly and cut in half to serve.

*I used a pita “tortilla” for my wrap bread:

Recipe source: inspired by My Kitchen Adventures

***For those who wish to participate in BSI this week, don’t forget to submit your cream cheese recipes to me by Sunday night!  Details here.***

Creamy Parmesan Spinach Dip


I’ve got a great dip to add to your New Year’s spread!  I saw this over at Gina’s Skinny Recipes and although I added a lot more sour cream, cheese, and mayonnaise to the dip, it still ends up being much lighter than regular creamy dips.  But who really cares about that, anyway?  If it goes on a cracker, my calorie concerns fly out the window and I eat half the batch.  I love dip!  And this one is no exception.

Creamy Parmesan Spinach Dip

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12 oz chopped frozen spinach, thawed
1 bunch scallions, chopped
½ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
1 (16 z) tub light sour cream
½ cup light mayonnaise
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon garlic powder
Fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Squeeze out as much water from the spinach as you can. Combine all ingredients in large bowl and stir until well mixed. If not serving immediately, remove from refrigerator 2 hours before serving.

*Veronica’s notes: all I could find is a 12 oz bag of spinach but I know most of you will only be able to find the 10 oz container.  No worries, just use that and leave everything else the same.  This dip will not suffer from being more creamy. :)

Recipe source: adapted from Gina’s Skinny Recipes.

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