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.

Let’s get Greeny….and Beany. Green Bean Casserole

Recipe Test: Paula Deen’s Green Bean Casserole

Holy crapola where has the time gone by?!  It’s OCTOBER?????? Wasn’t it just August a few days ago?!  Jesus how time has flown by.  And so much has happened.  Far out, I feel like I am suffering whiplash.

I started a new role withing the company I work for (which I absolutely love.  I can happily say I actually get excited about coming to work.  Not many people can say that!).  Along with that I managed to squeeze in a small holiday to Bali, the one country I have been to where I bawl my eyes out every time I leave.  The people, the culture, the perfect weather, It’s seriously paradise to me.  If I could I would probably “go bamboo” and live there permanently.  But alas, life goes on.  And I gots ta get paid.

That being said, we have eleven weekends before Christmas.  That’s right.  Only eleven weekends before the family chaos and gluttony that is the Christmas holiday are upon us. And Americans out there that means it’s  seven weeks until Thanksgiving.  Bring on the turkey and expandable pant wear!

Thanksgiving, or Turkey Day as the hubster and I call it, is my favourite holiday.  As a kid, it was the one time of year my mum let me eat easy cheese and gorge on ranch dip before la piece de resistance, the turkey with all the trimmings, came out to the table.  At uni, my friends and I would gather together and have a “friendsgiving” and again stuff ourselves silly and just have a good laugh around the table.

When I got married, I really missed being able to celebrate this holiday with my family and friends, and the hubster being the man that he is really wanted to try cooking a turkey on his new toy, the keg spit.  And so, Turkey Day was born.  We’ve managed to keep this tradition going (with the exception of last year.  We were away on an adventure on Fraser Island), with every year getting bigger with more friends and coworkers coming and better as our spit roasting technique improves.  If you haven’t tried it yet, dear God go find a spit roast and roast your turkey on it.  Best. Bird. Ever.

Along with the traditional turkey I always make a green bean casserole to go along with it.  It’s not Thanksigiving unless you have a green bean casserole, well at least it was at my friend’s houses and in my uni days.  Green bean casserole is an excellent side dish to any holiday or Sunday roast, and there are heaps of different recipes out there you can try.  But today I’m going to test out Paula Deen’s green bean casserole recipe.

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Paula Deen, the Butter Queen. Photo courtesy of foodnetwork.com

Now if you don’t know who Paula Deen is, you certainly are in for a very southern treat.  She’s the butter queen, with the majority of her recipes using butter in one form or another.  As the years go by her hair just seems to defy gravity more and more, and that southern drawl just adds pizzazz to her TV personality.  She had a major setback a few years ago due to a rather public lawsuit, but I’m sure that her heart attack inducing, sinfully delicious recipes will endure.

I’ve also done something rather different this time around.  I’ve actually shot video of the entire test and posted up on my Youtube channel.  I hope you have a watch of it.  And yes, I’m cooking in activewear, and the cat video bombs at some point.  It’s my first time trying to film a test so be kind!

Alright, moving on.  Here’s Paula’s version ya’ll.

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch Paula Deen’s House Seasoning
  • 1 (2.8 oz, or 80 grams) can French-fried onion rings
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz, or 304 grams) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups sliced green beans
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 1/3 stick (38 grams) butter
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  2. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter.
  3. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain.
  4. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, onion rings and House Seasoning to taste. Stir well.
  5. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted.

The Good, The Bad, The Inedible

The Good – With just five steps this recipes is so bloody easy.  The step that took the longest time was the baking part, and if you play your cards right, cleaning up should only take you a few minutes.  No seriously, I’m better at making a mess and it took me maybe five minutes to clean everything up.

The Bad – If you’re on a diet this is not the recipe for you.  Like I said Paula Deen is the butter queen, and  1/3 of a stick (or 38 grams) is a fuckton of butter for the amount of casserole this recipe actually makes.  The other problem I encountered (and this is shown on the video) is that soup can sizes are not universal.  10 3/4 ounces is actually 304 grams, and soup cans here in Australia are 420 grams.  So in the second test I actually had to measure out 304 grams, which come out to dead on 1 cup, leaving about a 1/4 of the tin left.   This is perfect proof why it’s always good to do a second test.  I’m pretty sure this is the first time where human error played a part in Clem’s Recipe Reviews.

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Now the soup can size isn’t Paula’s fault, at least I don’t think so.  But looking at her video and even the images on her site I doubt that she uses even the full can of cream of mushroom soup.  I got curious and had a look for soup can sizes in the US, and the standard is 10.5 ounces, so sorry Paula, I think your ingredient amount is a bit flawed. A full can with the amount of actual vegetables this recipe calls for really makes this dish Cream of Mushroom casserole instead of a green bean casserole.  You really only taste the soup contents and the cheese on the top, and if you’re wanting to taste the green beans, that’s just not going to happen in this recipe.

Paula also calls for you to add the fried onions into the casserole itself.  Now this does make the onion flavour slightly stronger, but the casserole as whole then lacked texture.  Cooked vegetables are just soft and could use something to boost the flavour factor here too.  So I would sprinkle them on top of the casserole at the very end to give the dish that extra bit of crunch and a bit of  extra flavour.

Might not sound like a big deal but I think your pan size is also important here.  Paula says to use a 1.5 quart dish to bake the casserole in.  Look this is entirely up to you, but it seemed to me that an 8×11 (if you stick with Paula’s recipe) or 9×12 dish (if you stick with mine) actually seemed to work better in keeping the soup mixture from boiling over the cheese at the very end. Just sayin’.

The Inedible – did I mention how much butter there is in this?  That’s all you can taste and your mouth is just coated in it after one bite.  I get it Paula, you love butter.  But ma’am, this time around you’ve gone a tad bit overboard.

To improve this recipe I added more of most of the ingredients to really get the green beans to be the main character of this dish and to give it different dimensions of flavour, but also so I could use a whole can of soup.  Because I mean seriously, who is going to use 100 grams of soup?  I think the amended version below is still worth a shot if you are stateside and have the 10.5 ounce cans.  You might find it not to be as thick and much closer to what Paula’s site images and video are.

If you have time, try out Paula’s house seasoning.  But if you have a go to recipe or brand, use it.  Mine is Old Bay.  It’s incredibly rare to find over here so I have a stash of it and go absolutely apeshit when I do find it at Costco.  Also onion rings are another rare find, but fried shallots from your local Asian grocery store are an excellent replacements.

I also cut the butter by half, and switched around the first two steps.  I found if I did the green beans first, and then sauteed the onions and mushrooms, then the green beans had plenty of time to drain and get as much water out as possible.  I also added garlic, because onions and garlic go together like PB & J.  Plus you’re already going to have onion breath, may as well have garlic breath too!

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon Paula Deen’s House Seasoning, or your go-to seasoning mix
  • 1 (2.8 oz, or 80 grams) can French-fried onion rings, or fried shallots
  • 1 (10 3/4 oz, or 304 grams) can cream of mushroom soup
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 4 cups sliced green beans
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup onions, diced
  • 1/6 stick (19 grams) butter
  • 1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Preparation

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. (175 degrees….180 is perfectly fine)
  2. Boil green beans in chicken broth for 10 minutes and drain.
  3. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Sauté the onions and mushrooms in the butter.
  4. Add the green beans, mushroom soup, and seasoning. Stir well.
  5. Pour into a greased 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Bake for 20 minutes, then top the casserole with the Cheddar and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until the casserole is hot and cheese is melted. Top with fried shallots.

And here without further a due is my video…..be prepared, it’s not the greatest quality but hey, I’m proud with what I’ve done!