Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip

Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip

This is a recipe I think Ina would appreciate, especially when she notices that I followed her high/low rule by serving elegant smoked salmon with simple potato chips straight from the yellow Lay’s bag. This recipe also closely follows the make-ahead and low or no-cook rule by helpfully improving with time in the refrigerator and requiring a minimum of mixing and prepping to be incredible.

Last time I made this dip I whipped up a batch the night before knowing it was exactly the type of item I could hand off to literally any early arrival - up to and including a middle-schooler - and say “put this in a bowl, sprinkle it with these herbs, and pour chips around it” with utter confidence it would be perfect when guests walked through the door.

Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip

SuperBowl parties are coming up, so add this baby to your repertoire and sleep soundly smug in the knowledge you have a knock-out appetizer up your sleeve and it took almost no effort to prepare.

Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip (serves: 8-10)

8 ounces smoked salmon
2 cups whole milk greek yogurt (I prefer a milder flavor like Fage here)
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup minced fresh chives, plus more for serving
1/3 cup tablespoon minced fresh dill, plus more for serving
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

In a medium bowl, stir together the yogurt, minced herbs, lemon juice, salt* and pepper until well combined. *Both smoked salmon and potato chips are pretty salty (duh) so go easy here!

Using your fingers, pull the smoked salmon into large pieces and fold into the yogurt mixture until evenly distributed.

Just before serving, sprinkle the top of the dip with more chives, dill and freshly ground pepper. Dip can be made 2 days ahead. Place in an air-tight container and refrigerate.

Re-written and adapted from Bon Appetit’s Lemony Smoked Trout Dip by Alison Roman.

Small Kitchen Friendly?
100%. I used a medium mixing bowl, chef’s knife, medium cutting board, and rubber spatula. The recipe is easy to eye-ball, but if you want to be precise then measuring cups & spoons.

Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip
Lemony Smoked Salmon Dip

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “Eat Like a Local”

The Set-up: Ina and Jeffrey are in Napa looking for inspiration from local foods.

The Menu: Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Thyme Roasted Marcona Almonds, Napa Spritz, Basil Gimlet

0:25 – Ina and Jeffrey are starting off the trip with a visit to the St. Helena Farmer’s Market. How did I miss this when we were there last month?!?

1:13 – Ina appears to be relatively incognito, but I can see my fellow superfans in the background just barely resisting the urge to ruin the shot and dart over for a convo with the Contessa.

2:36 – Ina has a master plan for their market visit: see what’s really fresh and delicious and let that guide their lunch menu.

3:07 – The resulting recipe is Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta, which sounds A-mazing. My stomach is growling already – I should know better than to watch Ina when I’m hungry.

4:18 – Thankfully tomato high-season is just about here, which means I won’t have to wait 6 months to make this…

5:39 – Ina’s combining the cherry tomatoes and dressing, and I just realized this is essentially a milder version of bruschetta topping - red wine vinegar instead of balsamic, shallots instead of red onion. Brilliant.

9:24 – Finishing touches on the crostini – toasted pine nuts and a sprinkle of julienned basil leaves. Now for the taste test verdict from Jeffrey: he deems it “fantastic.”

10:20 – After that ringing endorsement Ina is off to Addendum, where Thomas Keller’s Buttermilk Fried Chicken is available for take out.

11:15 – Ooh, we’re getting a how-to from Chef David Cruz. Step 1: Brine the chicken overnight. Step 2: Double coat the chicken in seasoned flour and buttermilk. Step 3: Fry!

12:59 – This is how you know you’re the Barefoot Contessa: your fried chicken is already to go when you arrive and it’s hand-delivered by the chef. Oooh la la.

13:28 – Ina delivers the Buttermilk Fried Chicken to Jeffrey who declares it “delicious!” Ina tries to trap him by asking if it’s the best chicken he’s ever eaten, but J is too wily for that. He says it is, except for the one she makes. Well played, sir.

17:34 – The Garten’s are shaking things up (I’m so sorry) with a visit from local mixologist Jon Gasparini for their own private cocktail class.

18:45 – The bar he’s setting up is pretty amazing, more than just a folding table with a tablecloth thrown over it.

19:07 – Ina is making herself right at home in their rental house garden – nipping a few figs here and a sprig of thyme there. But let’s be honest, who wouldn’t contribute an herb or two to Ina’s recipes?

20:42 – Onward to the Thyme Roasted Marcona Almonds. I am officially obsessed with Marcona almonds ever since I sat in the backyard at our friends’ place in San Jose with a silver dish of salt & pepper seasoned almonds and a glass of sparkling wine. Perfect.

21:35 – Ina always cooks so simply, but most of her food has an East Coast vibe to it (natch) and these recipes are so Californian. I love the adaptation.

25:46 – Jeffrey, you’ve been working too hard, so I got you a surprise: a stranger slinging cocktails in the backyard!

26:13 – I realize I’ve lost your trust with that pun a few minutes ago, but I was quite prescient because now the Gartens really are shaking up the Napa Spritz!

27:24 – Don’t get me wrong, I love a fancy drink, but gently clapping a piece of organic lavender between your palms to “release the oils” is where I draw the line. You’re on notice Gasparini.

28:07 – Next, the Basil Gimlet, complete with more herb clapping. PS: Jeffrey is adorably precise with his attention to direction. He’s clearly putting all of his focus on doing everything juuuust riiight.

29:50 – Two strong cocktails down and the night is young! Why do I think things are about to pop off at the Garten manse? Cheers to Napa!

Final Thoughts:
I’ve been trying to cook more seasonally, but I still always have a recipe in mind when I shop. I need to push myself to be inspired from the ingredients first!

Cocktails are pretty much the hotness these days, although I think the “mixologist” trend might be waning. Probably time to up my game in that department.

Was any one else trying to resist talking like the Californians as they watched this episode?

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I can’t pretend that Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta requires extensive culinary skills - isn't that part of it's beauty? - but I did learn something from making this recipe.

Balance – I mentioned this before, but there are really minimal ingredients in this recipe, yet the flavor is incredible. I’m sometimes tempted to add more and more to my recipes, but cooking something really simple like this reminds me that the right balance of texture – creamy cheese, crunchy bread – and flavor – fresh tomatoes, salty feta

Knife Skills – The variety of produce and the varied sizes that are ideal in this recipe - minced garlic, small diced shallots, a julienne on the basil leaves – make this a great opportunity to practice your knife cuts.

Read the Recipe – Even with minimal ingredients I still forgot to toast the pine nuts and sprinkle them on top. Thankfully, the pine nuts aren’t as essential as say, baking powder in a cake, but a good reminder to double check everything and make sure nothing is missing! 

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Almost definitely. This recipe hinges mainly on whether you have a food processor. I used a 6 cup food processor, a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a medium mixing bowl, chef’s knife, serrated utility knife, and medium cutting board. A large wooden spoon and rubber spatula will also be helpful. I cheated a little and used the toaster for the bread, but if you’re doing more than a few pieces then a baking sheet will be a good addition. 

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

The Verdict:
OMG. The ingredients are so minimal, yet the flavors in Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta are off the charts delicious not that you’d expect anything less from Ina. Definitely get the best grape or cherry tomatoes you can – they’re the star here – and ably supported by the salty tang of the feta. These little crostini are delicious on their own, but are transformed into an amazing meal with the addition of a poached egg and a crumble of bacon. Trust me on this – you definitely want to make this recipe.

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Tomato Crostini with Whipped Feta | Image: Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus | Image: Laura Messersmith

Have you heard? As soon as Thanksgiving rolls around we are officially in The Holidays (capital H). For me The Holidays means house parties, celebratory dinners, and rounds of drinks where I have to do my best to remember that an all cookie and cheese in puff pastry diet in December means new pants in January.

I know I can’t be the only one who wants to make something special that won’t leave me or my guests feeling guilty. I’m also in favor of keeping things as simple and low stress as possible. In my world a frazzled hostess is a grumpy hostess.

Thank goodness for Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus. The chickpeas and greek yogurt (Chobani, naturally) blended with the deep pure flavor of the garlic, basil and parmesan in the pesto are an awesome combination.

And here’s your get out of anxiety free card - if you don’t have pesto stashed in your freezer from the summer like I did (remember this recipe?), and are running low on the time or energy to make the pesto from scratch then pick up a small container when you’re buying the other ingredients. Taste a little before you add it to the mix to see how strong the flavors are and adjust as needed. A little more pesto here, a little less salt there.

This is also easy to make ahead and stash in the fridge for a day or two, which has the special bonus of allowing the flavors to mingle and grow in power. Delicious, healthy, simple, low stress – sounds perfect for The Holidays, or really anytime of year.

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus | Image: Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus (yield: 2 cups)

Hummus Ingredients:

1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas
1/2 cup Chobani whole milk 4% plain greek yogurt
6 tablespoons prepared pesto (recipe below)
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Hummus Instructions:

Drain the chickpeas through a sieve and place in the bowl of a medium food processor. Measure the Chobani whole milk 4% plain greek yogurt, pesto, and kosher salt into the food processor.

Process for 1-2 minutes, or until the hummus reaches your desired consistency and the ingredients are well mixed. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Serve with your favorite accompaniment. Enjoy!

Pesto Ingredients:

¼ cup walnuts
¼ cup pine nuts (aka pignoli)
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Pesto Instructions: (yield: 4 cups)
Place the walnuts, pine nuts, and chopped garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 15 seconds. Add the fresh basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.

Important storage note: This will make more pesto than needed for the recipe and exposure to air will turn it an unappetizing brown. So plan to use the extra right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight container with a thin film of olive oil or plastic wrap pressed directly on top to remove air pockets.

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly:
Yes, assuming you have access to a medium-sized food processor. Ours is a 7 cup and it was just right for this recipe, too much smaller and I would have had trouble getting everything to fit. A sieve to drain the chickpeas, dry and liquid measuring cups, measuring spoons, a rubber spatula, a microplane grater, and one medium cutting board finished the job.

The Verdict:
Mike and I both really liked the results of my experiment with Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus. The freshness of basil and garlic in the pesto balances nicely with the creamy yogurt and nutty chickpeas. The texture is smooth and cool a perfect pairing with crudité, pita chips, or to jazz up a leftover turkey sandwich.

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Pesto Greek Yogurt Hummus | Image: Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Greek Yogurt Crème Fraîche

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt C   rème Fraîche    | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Crème Fraîche | Image: Laura Messersmith

Maybe this makes me weird, but one of the things I love most about late fall is the arrival of the pumpkins and squashes. Their deep orange and gold tones echo the leaves on the ground and are a welcome splash of color on the dinner table, especially now when sunset seems earlier and earlier.

I love them roasted and tossed with cranberries, or grilled on salads, and of course I love them pureed into beautifully smooth soup. Butternut squash bisque is a classic for a reason – it’s delicious – but I wanted to try something a little different by adding some elements that would complement the richness of the squash and add a little depth. The flavors are influenced by Indian food, but the amount of each spice called for us relatively small, so the effect is a subtle undercurrent of warm, perfumed spice. That richness is brought into balance by the tang of the cool pumpkin and cinnamon greek yogurt.

Extra bonus: this is a two-in-one recipe, because if you’re not curry-inclined it’s easy to skip the last four spices (garam masala, ginger, curry, turmeric) and just use a plain greek yogurt for the crème fraîche step. A slice of multi-grain bread with toasted Gruyere and you’re in business with a light meal that’s still satisfying.

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt C   rème Fraîche    | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Crème Fraîche | Image: Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Greek Yogurt Crème Fraiche (serves 6-8)


6 cups (1 medium) diced butternut squash
2 cups (1/2 medium) diced acorn squash
1/2 cup (2 medium) minced shallots
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
5.3 ounces (1 container) Chobani Pumpkin Spice Yogurt
1 teaspoon 2% milk
1/4 cup squash seeds
ground black pepper
kosher salt


Peel the butternut and acorn squashes, cut in half length-wise, and scoop out the pulp and seeds from the core with a spoon. Reserve the seeds in a small bowl and discard the pulp. Cut the two squashes into approximately 1/2 inch cubes. Next, mince the shallots.

Meanwhile, in a medium French oven or large pot melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Sauté the shallots in the melted butter until softened, then add the squash pieces and stir to coat with the butter and shallot mixture. Season with 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt.

Add the chicken broth to the pot and raise the heat to bring the soup to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes or until the squash pieces are easily pierced with a fork.

Meanwhile, spread the reserved squash seeds on a baking sheet and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Toast in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes until crisp and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

Next, use a blender or food processor to puree the softened squash and broth in batches until the texture is smooth (about 1-1 1/2 minutes per batch), reserving the pureed soup in a large bowl. Return the pureed soup to the pot and stir in the garam masala, curry powder, ground ginger, and turmeric. Bring the soup back up to a low simmer.

Stir together the Chobani Pumpkin Spice Yogurt and 2% milk in a small bowl (or right in the yogurt container) until evenly combined.

Finally, serve the winter squash bisque hot with a teaspoon or two of the pumpkin greek yogurt crème fraîche (a plastic squeeze bottle will help get that perfect swirl) in each bowl and a sprinkle of toasted squash seeds and a finishing pinch of garam masala. Accompany with a toasted piece of whole grain bread.

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt C   rème Fraîche    | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Crème Fraîche | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?

Yes, indeed! The Le Creuset French oven (5.5 quart) rides again, along with a large cutting board, a chef’s knife, Y-shaped vegetable peeler, wooden spatula, measuring spoons and cups. I also used a blender, a medium bowl (for reserving pureed batches of the soup), a sheet pan, and plastic squeeze bottle to get that perfect swirl of greek yogurt crème fraîche.

The Verdict:

Mike and my sister Katherine humored me by doing “blind” taste tests of the various combinations of classic/curried squash soup with both plain and pumpkin spice yogurt to see which we liked best. I didn’t realize they were fans of curry, but they surprised me when by giving the spicier version high marks. In the end, all the combinations were successful, so you really can’t go wrong here. And, since this is such a simple soup it would be a perfect make-ahead first course for an elegant Thanksgiving supper.

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt C  rème Fraîche   | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Curried Winter Squash Soup with Pumpkin Greek Yogurt Crème Fraîche | Image: Laura Messersmith