Spinach Dip Cob: the retro party food that just won’t Die

Is it too late to say Happy New Year?

Nah. Screw it. Happy New Year! I hope you smash all of your 2018 goals out of the park.

New year, new you.  Right?  Maybe not.  At least it gives you an excuse to start of fresh. I’m not the type to make resolutions or anything, but after stepping out of my comfort zone and starting my YouTube channel (Go on, take a peak and subscribe to my channel.  You know you want to!), I think it’s time to set a few goals for myself that I think are easily attainable.  So here are my goals for 2018:

  • Get serious about Clem’s Recipe Reviews, and be consistent in posting. You guys seem to enjoy the reviews, confirming the reason why I started this blog.  I’m not the only one who has tried a recipe only to have it fail miserably! Plus my recipe collection is only getting bigger. #recipeaddict
  • Go on an adventure at least once a month, whether that be an art exhibit, new restaurant, or an area I haven’t explored yet.

I reckon two goals are pretty realistic, and challenging enough that I’ll definitely feel like I’ve achieved a lot if I complete them.  Now on to what this blog is all about…a recipe review!

This post I decided to do something slightly retro,  something that our mums and grandmums have been bringing to barbecues and parties for decades –  seafood mousse.

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Haha no I’m kidding.  I couldn’t put you through that!  What I’m reviewing is a Spinach Dip Cob, a retro recipe that just seems to never die.  And for good reason!  Here in Australia there’s never been a barbecue that I’ve been to that didn’t have a cob loaf of some description.  This party dish is so popular there’s a town that has a cob festival in Wellington, NSW and competition to crown the “world’s best cob”.  There’s cold cobs, warm cobs, and even dessert cobs.  They’re so popular, they’re even mentioned on the radio.

If you don’t know what a cob loaf is, it’s pretty much just a round loaf of bread.  BOOM! Mind blown.

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But I’m going to stick to the classic spinach dip cob, and I’m going to use the most popular version of this recipe found on Taste.com.au.  I mean, if it’s highly rated surely it’s the best recipe for spinach cob right?

Time to get on your expandable pant wear as we review the Spinach Dip Cob!

If you want to watch the video of my review, check it out below:

Here’s the recipe from Taste.com.au:

Cob Loaf Spinach Dip

Ingredients

  • 450g (approx 1 pound) cob loaf
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) creamed cheese, softened
  •  300ml (approx 10 ounces) tub sour cream
  •  40g (approx 1.5 ounce) packet French onion soup mix
  •  Crackers, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F)/160C (325F) fan-forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Cut 4cm (1 inch) off top of cob loaf to form lid. Scoop bread from centre of loaf, leaving 1.5cm edge. Tear or roughly chop bread pieces.
  3. Squeeze out any excess moisture from spinach, discarding any liquid. Combine spinach, cheese, sour cream and soup mix in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Spoon mixture into loaf. Top with lid. Place on prepared tray. Arrange bread pieces in a single layer around loaf. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve with cut vegetables and extra crackers if desired.

The Good, the bad, the inedible

As always, lets start with the good.

Mate, this recipe is so easy, there’s no way you can screw it up.  And it’s really quick to make to.

Yeah. That’s about it really.

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Let’s start with those instructions.  How the hell are you supposed to cut 4cm off the top of a round loaf?  let me just get my laser level and square ruler out of my back pocket and measure that out exactly.  Seriously Taste.com.au, let’s be realistic here.

Good lord this dip is SALTY.  And all you taste is French onion soup mix.  If it’s called “spinach dip” surely you want to taste the spinach in said dip right?  If not then don’t call it spinach dip!

Even without seasoning it as per the reason (because me being as impatient as I am, I had to try the dip out a couple of times before completing it), it was still salty.  Then I read the ingredients on the back of the French onion soup mix.  Did you know that the list of ingredients goes in order from what’s used the most in a recipe to the least?  Pretty handy tip for  when you’re keeping an eye on your salt intake or anything else in general.  Anyway, salt was the third most predominant ingredient in this particular mix.  The next time I went to the supermarket, I got curious and looked at every French onion soup mix packet I could find, and every single one had salt as the third or fourth most predominant ingredient. Every. Single. One.  Pretty scary ay?

Next downside to this is the dip once made, doesn’t actually fill a whole cob.  Which really just sucks because that means there’s too much bread to dip.  So if you want to fill the cob you have to double up this recipe.

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Each time I got it out of the oven, I dove my crispy bread cube all the way down to the bottom of the dip.  A) because I wanted to ensure that the entire dip was warm and B) because I am a pig. And each time I did this, the dip wasn’t warmed all the way through.  It was warm on the top and room temperature on the bottom.  Now, I don’t know about you, but my instincts usually say with any cream based dips if they’re room temperature that’s not entirely food safe.  It’s probably okay in this scenario, but I certainly don’t think it makes this dip the best cob dip on the planet.

I think this is my first review of a taste.com.au recipe, and to be honest it leaves something to be desired.  What I’ve found is that the ingredient amounts aren’t enough to fill the whole cob (seriously who in their right mind would fill a cob only halfway?!), and their instructions are too specific for their own good.  If you’re going to publish a recipe, no matter how simple the process is, make the instructions simple. Make sure the ingredient amount complement the entire recipe or actual serving size.  Come on Taste, you can do better than this!

So, let’s move on to my new and improved version!

I threw out my laser level and square ruler thingy and just cut a quarter from the top of the loaf.  The dip then filled the loaf enough that there was an excellent bread to dip ratio!

I thought immediately it’s time to scrap the French onion soup mix.  You can give flavour to the dip without adding too much salt, and the soup mix was just too overpowering. This is the perfect opportunity to add some fresh herbs and use some garlic and onion to give it some flavour.

I decided that raw onion and garlic would be way too overpowering as the dip doesn’t actually cook in the oven. Instead, powdered garlic and onion would be the perfect option – not too powerful, but just enough to give the dip flavour. But after adding double what I thought needed to be added, the dip was still missing something.  Something tangy, and a bit acidic.  Dijon mustard did the trick!  And with the new version, this dip was perfect even just cold, which if you’re like me, a cold dip is WAY better than a warm one.

So, go grab a cob and a few simple ingredients and get dippin’!

New and Improved Spinach Cob

Ingredients

  • 450g (approx 1 pound) cob loaf
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) frozen spinach, thawed
  •  250g (approx 8 ounces) creamed cheese, softened
  •  300ml (approx 10 ounces) tub sour cream
  •  2 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup chopped herbs (I used parsley)
  •  Crackers, to serve

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 180C (350F)/160C (325F) fan-forced. Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Cut the top quarter of cob loaf to form lid. Scoop bread from centre of loaf, leaving thick edge. Tear or roughly chop bread pieces. If you’re serving a cold cob, toast your bread cubes in the oven and set aside.
  3. Squeeze out any excess moisture from spinach, discarding any liquid. Combine spinach and all remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. If you want a cold dip, refrigerate for at least half an hour and serve in your cob.
  5. If serving warm, spoon mixture into loaf. Top with lid. Place on prepared tray. Arrange bread pieces in a single layer around loaf. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve with cut vegetables and extra crackers if desired.

Slow, Sinful Sundays 

Fondue Camembert Surprise and Slow Cooker Beef Ragu with Polenta

In our home, we abide by the rule that Sundays are a day of rest.  We both work long hours during the week take our time away from our respective jobs pretty seriously.   Some weekends we spend up at Putty, about two and a half hours north west of Sydney.  Dan’s old business partner has a property up there where we go to get away from the city life.  There’s little to no mobile phone reception, no running water and the only power we have is off either a generator or solar panels.  To some, this rough lifestyle isn’t their definition of rest and relaxation, but to the hubby and me, it’s the perfect way for us to decompress.  This weekend we finally started getting the soil ready for a small veggie patch.  I don’t have the liberty of space to grow things in our tiny apartment in Sydney, so hopefully I can get a few veggies growing up at the weekend getaway.  You can read more about our Putty adventures and the veggie patch on my adventures page.

With the days getting shorter and the air getting much cooler as autumn rolls in, there’s no better way to enjoy a lazy Sunday than with a slow cooked meal. If I’m spending the day at home, I love to get the slow cooker going in the morning so dinner is sorted.  I get to spend the day doing what I want (which if you know me, most likely involves food), and the slow cooker does all the hard work for me.  It’s a win win situation all around!

This week I decided to try out a slow cooker beef ragu with polenta recipe that’s been sitting in my Pinterest collection from A Pinch of Yum, along with a fondue camembert surprise appetiser I saw on Chef Club.  The images on APOY make me salivate, and the recipe seemed too easy to mess up.  If you don’t know Chef Club, get on it!  Chef Club publishes extremely easy recipes to create sinfully decadent dishes.  Most of the videos from Chef Club that come through my social media feeds are in French.  Lucky for me I can read the recipes as they are, but seriously if it looks good, get the recipe translated and try it!

Anyway, let’s get started!

Fondue Camembert Surprise by Chef Club

Here’s the translated version of the recipe –

Ingredients

1 camembert round
1 head of garlic
Olive Oil
100 grams lardons (bacon, chopped)
1 sheet of shortcrust pastry (thawed)
1 egg yolk
5 potatoes
Salt and pepper
Herbes de Provence (mixed dried herbs)

Instructions

  • Slice the top of a whole garlic head.
  • Place the head of garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil and pour a generous sieve of olive oil.
  • Close the aluminum paper and bake the garlic at 200 ° C for 35 minutes.
  • Using the tip of a knife cut a circle to remove the top of the camembert.
  • Remove the garlic from the oven and use a spoon to empty the pods.
  • Spread the garlic purée in the circle cut at the top of the pie.
  • Grill the bacon in the frying pan for about 5 minutes.
  • Place the toasted bacon in the center of the puff pastry.
  • Cover the bacon with the turned-over camembert.
  • Close the puff pastry around the camembert.
  • Brush egg yolk with a brush.
  • Bake at 190 ° C for 25 minutes.
  • Peel and cut into pieces the potatoes.
  • Fry the potatoes in a frying pan with a fillet of olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs of Provence.
  • Remove the Camembert from the oven and remove a circle of puff pastry at the top.
  • Taste by soaking the potatoes in the cheese.

Here’s the short video from Chef Club, showing how easy this recipe is:

The Good, the Bad, the Inedible. Part One.

Okay, this recipe is the bomb. A cheesy gooey, sinfully delicious bomb. And it’s as easy to make as the video shows.

The only downside that may qualify as inedible in this recipe is the pastry underneath the cheese.  Because this part has the most amount of crust, it doesn’t bake completely.  But to me that’s not a deal breaker.   There’s also the factor that as you will not just take one bite of this cheesy goodness, you’re pretty much eating an entire wheel of cheese….in a buttery crust.  With bacon.  Be prepared to say goodbye to any diet you’re on!

To some, the roasted garlic might be a turn off, and there is a very fine line between just the right amount of garlic to too much.  I tried this recipe twice, 1 because that’s one of my rules and 2 because cheese is my life.  I created a version using caramalised onions and it was just as incredible as if you used roasted garlic.  Really up to you which you prefer. In all though, I wouldn’t change a thing with this recipe. If you want to try this with other dipping items, try it with broccoli, apple, bread cubes.  Anything you would dip into a cheese fondue would go well with this yummy yummy goodness.

As a side experiment I also tried one version using French Camembert and another using Australian Camembert.  I’m half French, and I’m fairly certain that this side of my family would disown me if I didn’t like any cheese that didn’t smell like an old musty cellar like a good Camembert does.  One of the biggest differences I find with the Australian version of this cheese is the smell and consistency.  I have never found an Australian Camembert that runs once it’s been out of the fridge for a bit, nor have I found any that have the iconic musty smell.  To be honest, Australian Camemberts seem more like brie in their mild flavour and texture, and I certainly can not tell the difference between and Australian brie and Camembert.  A true Camembert will always be a French Camembert!  But hey if you know of an Australian cheese maker that you think makes a great musty, runny stinky Camembert, do let me know!

HOWEVER.  The Australian Camembert gives a significantly more thick and gooey consistency compared to the French version where the cheese was quite thin, almost too runny.  So which one is the winner here?  If it’s about texture, the Aussies win. If it’s about pungeuncy it’s the French.

If you want to try this recipe with a good French cheese, surprisingly Costco has an excellent variety of reasonably priced imported cheeses.  Besides the Camembert they have British Stilton and Cheddar, Spanish Manchego, Italian Parmesan and Pecorino, among other varieties.

Now on to the ragu…

Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. (approx 1.35 kilos) beef rump roast or round roast
Half a yellow or white onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28-ounce (800 grams in total) cans San Marzano whole tomatoes 
½ cup red wine
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
For the Polenta
6 cups water
1-2 teaspoons salt
1¾ cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons butter

INSTRUCTIONS

Optional, but for best tasting results: Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the beef in one whole piece and fry on each side for about 5 minutes, turning until the whole exterior is golden brown. 
Place all remaining ingredients with the beef in a crockpot or slow cooker (5 quart size worked for me). Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours. When the beef falls apart easily when pulled at with two forks, it is ready. Shred the beef into pieces and give it a good stir.
For the polenta, boil the water and add the salt. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. The polenta will start to thicken quickly. Continue whisking or stirring for 2-3 minutes before removing from heat. Stir in the butter until melted . For solid and chewy polenta, pour into a rectangular dish, let cool for 15-20 minutes, and cut into pieces. For softer polenta, serve scoops of polenta immediately before it has hardened.

The Good, the Bad, the Inedible

For a slow cooker recipe, this one is really not too bad.  It’s incredibly easy to make, and has a few simple ingredients and steps.

But that’s the problem.  This recipe is almost too simple.  In essence this ragu is just tomatoes and beef. It lacks dimension and depth of flavour, and is actually quite acidic.  Also, both instances came out a bit watery.

When I think of ragu I think of melt-in-your-mouth fall apart beef with a thick tomato sauce, where it’s the perfect balance of beef, sauce and whatever you use to soak up the sauce.  And this ragu just doesn’t cut it, at least for me.

I had a look at a few other ragu recipes and from what I’ve gleaned there are a few ingredients missing to give this ragu some depth and thickness – carrots celery and more tomato paste. Now that I think about it, a ragu is essentially a tomato beef sauce, so it only makes sense that the vegetable backbones of a tomato sauce are included in this recipe.  Nearly doubling tomato paste helped thicken this sauce immensely, which is exactly what I was hoping it would do.  The carrots and celery fall apart within the beefy sauce, giving it a wonderfully smooth texture and adds that missing depth to the dish as a whole.

APOY also suggests to brown the beef before adding to to the slow cooker.  Definitely do this step.  It helps create a seal to keep all the beefy juices in.  Plus whole doesn’t love the smell of meat grilling in a pan? Bring your inner neanderthal out!

Polenta is not everyone’s favourite.  Being from Southern part of the United States I adore grits, which is pretty much a white corn version of polenta.  So for me I certainly don’t mind polenta with the dish. The hubby, not so much.  He was a really good sport though and still tried it.  We also tried the ragu on roasted potatoes, which the hubster preferred.  If you want to replace the polenta with something else, try pasta, rice, couscous or even mash.  Essentially ragu can go with any grain, pulse or starch.

Here’s my amended version of the Ragu.  Feel free to let me know what you think.  Buon Appetito!

Ingredients

 

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 lbs. (approx 1.35 kilos) beef rump roast or round roast
Half a yellow or white onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 stalk celery, roughly chopped
2 28-ounce (800 grams in total) cans San Marzano whole tomatoes
1/3 cup red wine
5 tablespoons tomato paste (one small tin is perfect)
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
black pepper to taste
For the Polenta
6 cups water
1-2 teaspoons salt
1¾ cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons butter

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the beef in one whole piece and fry on each side for about 5 minutes, turning until the whole exterior is golden brown.
Place all remaining ingredients with the beef in a crockpot or slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 7-8 hours. When the beef falls apart easily when pulled at with two forks, it is ready. Shred the beef into pieces and give it a good stir.  Leave the ragu on low for another 30 minutes to 1 hour, whenever you’re ready to serve.
For the polenta, boil the water and add the salt. Slowly add the cornmeal, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. The polenta will start to thicken quickly. Continue whisking or stirring for 2-3 minutes before removing from heat. Stir in the butter until melted . For solid and chewy polenta, pour into a rectangular dish, let cool for 15-20 minutes, and cut into pieces. For softer polenta, serve scoops of polenta immediately before it has hardened.  Alternatively, serve over pasta, roasted potatoes, mash, or rice.