1.23.2015

Quick and Easy Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip with a Better for You Twist

I created today's recipe post as part of a nationally sponsored campaign. 

Apparently, there is a big game coming up on Sunday, Feb. 1. I don't watch NFL football. Well, I like the Carolina Panthers because I like cat mascots in general, and the Panthers are located in North Carolina. I like the Dallas Cowboys because I always wanted to be one of their cheerleaders. Seriously, they were BIG celebrities in 1978, and guest starred on the "Love Boat."  Those two teams are not in this year's Super Bowl so I just plan to socialize, but I've heard that the game will be fun to watch, according to my husband's college friends. Seattle Seahawks quarterback, Russell Wilson, played for NC State in Raleigh, N.C at one time. I remember his name, but I remember the cuteness of the Wolfpack mascot more.


Quick and Easy Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip using Naturally Fresh Lite Bleu Cheese Dressing. All-natural ingredients. Quick and Easy recipe.
Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip 

 I don't care who wins the big game, but I care about what is served. My Spinach Bleu Cheese dip is quick, easy, and game-day worthy. It even has a "better for you twist."

I was given the opportunity to create a recipe with Naturally Fresh salad dressings, which are found in the refrigerated produce section in grocery stores. Since I'm really just a journalist who likes food, and do not have the skills of a trained chef or recipe developer, I wondered if I could really pull this task off and score a recipe touchdown. When I was approached, I liked what I heard about these products. Naturally Fresh contains wholesome ingredients. I can read the ingredient label and understand every word I'm reading. The dressings are made with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
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Quick and Easy Spinach Blue Cheese Dip. Great for game-day. Easy list of ingredients.


I chose to purchase Lite Bleu Cheese, which is made with Naturally Fresh's own nonfat buttermilk and aged blue cheese chunks to create my recipe. I did not go to the Internet for my recipe inspiration, but rather I opened my cabinet and started with a Southern-based cookbook that I use a lot. The cookbook is published by the Rocky Mount Junior Guild in North Carolina. In the South, it is not uncommon for mayonnaise to be used as a base for dips, dressings, casseroles, and salads. We put mayo on or in everything. It is absolutely delicious on bread in a banana and peanut butter sandwich or a tomato sandwich. However, mayonnaise is a high calorie food with about 100 calories per tablespoon. Most recipes don't call for just a tablespoon either.

After studying several recipes, I decided that I would try to substitute the Lite Bleu Cheese salad dressing in place of mayonnaise. I chose the lite over the regular Bleu Cheese dressing because I wanted to reduce calories even more. Two tablespoons of Naturally Fresh Lite Bleu Cheese dressing has just 80 calories compared to the 100 calories for one tablespoon of Duke's mayonnaise. I chose to make my version of  Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip. Because I was substituting a bleu cheese dressing for mayonnaise, I did use less bleu cheese chunks than the original recipe recommended because I didn't want to overpower the recipe since I was using the bleu cheese dressing base which already had that bleu/blue cheese taste.

Spinach Blue Cheese Dip has all-natural ingredients including Naturally Fresh salad dressing.
Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip is quick and easy

Spinach Bleu Cheese Dip

Ingredients:

1 6 oz. fresh bag of organic spinach or one bunch of spinach from your produce box. 
3/4 cup of low fat organic cottage cheese
3/4 cup of Naturally Fresh Lite Bleu Cheese salad dressing
1/4 cup of chopped onions (green parts, too)
1 to 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire Sauce
A dash or two of hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons of minced green jalapeno pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
6 tablespoons of aged, crumbled blue cheese (I used Trader Joe's brand and it was spelled Blue Cheese). 
(Note: the original recipe using mayo called for 1/2 pound of blue cheese)

Serve with raw vegetables or/and blue corn chips 

Directions: 

Wash spinach. Remove longer stems, and put in large saucepan using only the water clinging to the spinach leaves. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until spinach is wilted. This takes about 5 minutes.  Drain spinach, rinse with cold water. Squeeze water out gently, and chop coarsely. 


Quick and Easy Spinach Blue Cheese Dip


Place cottage cheese, Naturally Fresh Lite Bleu Cheese Dressing, spinach, green onions, and seasonings into bowl of food processor. Process until well combined. Add crumbled blue cheese and pulse on and off to just combine the cheese into the dip. There should be chunks of blue cheese in the dip. 

I loved it with celery, red pepper, corn chips, and crackers.  Also, adjust taste by adding more Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce, if needed. 

Will got home after working late on the evening I made the dip. He asked, "what's that green stuff in the fridge?" I told him it was for a food post I was working on for the blog. As soon as I turned around, he was eating it with crackers. He said,"that stuff is pretty good!" I've told him that I don't really like the his description of "pretty good." However, after being married to him for almost 13 years, and when he tells me I look "pretty good" when I ask him how I look,  I've learned to translate his "pretty good" to mean "awesome." I feel pretty good sharing my new recipe with you all as a result.

Spinach Blue Cheese Dip works well with crackers, raw veggies, and blue corn chips
I love this dip with red peppers and celery. 

If you would like to make this recipe or try the  Naturally Fresh line of salad dressings,  I am giving five readers a coupon to receive a free 12 ounce bottle of Naturally Fresh salad dressing from your local store.   You can also download the Naturally Fresh free mobile app, which will help find all of the Naturally Fresh products along with recipes. Five winners will be drawn at random. Just leave a comment and let me know in your comment that you would like to try the dressing.  I will contact the winners on Feb. 9, 2015. 

Disclosure: This post is part of the blogger program by Naturally Fresh® and The Motherhood, who compensated me for my time and the development of this recipe. Opinions, experiences and photos shared here are my own, and I hope you enjoy them.




1.18.2015

Out and About in North Carolina: Explore 14 National Parks in N.C.

It's no secret that North Carolina is a diverse state in terms of travel. We have the coast and the mountains plus beautiful terrain in between.  We also have 14 National Parks to explore.  My husband has hiked the Appalachian Trail, and I've driven on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we are very behind on this list. As you plan your family travels, keep this National Park list in mind for N.C.


Explore 14 National Parks In N.C. Blue Ridge Parkway by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Beautiful blue ridge parkway near Blowing Rock, N.C. 

National Parks in North Carolina


Appalachian Scenic Trail 

I'm proud to say my husband has hiked this trail through several states, and my son would love to do the same thing one day. I hope that the two can do that together one day while my daughter and I follow along, and find luxury hotels in nearby towns so they can shower on occasion. This trail is a great place for kids and teens to get outside, exercise and experience nature.  

A good place to enter the trail is in Hot Springs, N.C. in Madison County. Check out these cute accommodations at the historic Iron Horse Station



The Blue Ridge Parkway is a great scenic drive. My favorite place to get on the parkway is in Blowing Rock, N.C.  I love the tranquility of The Chetola Resort.They have a fire pit there that can't be beat. It was my absolute favorite spot to spend time while staying there. 

 
Chetola Resort by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Blowing Rock's Chetola Resort 

Blue Ridge National Heritage Area


This encompasses a huge area in the North Carolina mountains. There are tons of beautiful towns to explore. Valle Crucis, North Carolina is on the list. The historic Mast Farm General Store is a must-visit, and of course, I love the beautiful Mast Farm Inn in Valle Crucis. Pictured below are some of the original cabins. Inside they've been upgraded to the best in luxury. 


Mast Farm Inn by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Historic Mast Farm Inn 


The Blue Ridge National Heritage area is a great website to plan your adventures in North Carolina's mountains. Highlands, North Carolina is also in the area. You must check into the Old Edwards Inn and Spa or their new casual chic property, 200 Main.  Asheville, N.C. is on the list if you are looking for a larger city as a base to explore. 


North Carolina's Outer Banks is a must-visit in our state. My kids haven't been yet so we must change that soon. There are some great restaurants in this area, plenty of camping spots, and of course, hotels. I have the luxury resort, The Sanderling, on my list. 


The Atlantic Ocean by Leigh Powell Hines @Hinessightblog
Atlantic Ocean at sunset 



Camping on this island is in primitive style, if that is your thing. You must reach the area by boat, and plan to take everything you need with you including water. The islands are undeveloped and wild. The highlight will be the Cape Lookout Light House. The base for this area is Harker's Island, and a boat will take you to the remote areas. Harker's Island Visitor Center is where you need to start your trip. There are several museums in the area like the Keeper's Museum and Portsmouth Village. 



Carl Sandburg is celebrated as an American poet, although his works are found all over the world and have been published in many different languages. Carl Sandburg and his family lived in a home in Flat Rock, N.C. from 1945 until his death in 1967. The park offers tours of the Sandburg Home, over five miles of hiking trails and cares for the descendents of Mrs. Sandburg's prize-winning goats.

If traveling to the Flat Rock area, you may want to check out The Highland Lake Inn and Resort.  Steeped in local history, Highland Lake Inn rests in a country setting of 26 gently wooded acres on a serene lake in Historic Flat Rock. Resort accommodations range from cabins and cottages, to a lodge and an upscale inn.


Fort Raleigh National Historic Site


Fort Raleigh National Historic Site protects and preserves known portions of England's first New World settlements from 1584 to 1590. This park is home to the outdoor summer drama, The Lost Colony", and it also boasts the The Elizabethan Gardens, which offers  year-round opportunity to enjoy 10 acres of flora as a living memorial to England's first New World colonists. There is a visitor's center, and hiking opportunities. 

This North Carolina National Park extends into Tennessee. In North Carolina, you can enter the park in Cherokee, N.C. This is a nature lover's paradise. For hard core nature lovers, you can hike to a hotel that is only accessible by foot. At 6,593 feet elevation, Mount LeConte is the third highest peak in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and LeConte Lodge® is located near the summit at 6,360 feet elevation. There is a lottery to stay there, and there is a wait list. 

There are several communities around Cherokee such as Maggie Valley, Waynesville, and Bryson City which also offer lodging. These are great towns to explore, and most of the Inns are very economical. Harrahs Casino Cherokee Resort is family-friendly despite the gambling. It has tons of restaurants on-site, an indoor and outdoor pool, and a spa. It's like a mini Las Vegas in one spot. My vote for cuteness goes to The Chalet Suites Boutique Hotel and Chalet Inn Bed and Breakfast.  It has an alpine, European look with a touch of luxury. For those who like to prepare meals, tthe Smoky Mountain Country Club Lodging in Whittier may appeal to you.  These condos offer the chance for families to spread out.  A property that certainly caught my eye is  McKinley Edwards Inn in Bryson City. The main house is currently going through a renovation, and based on photos, it will be a very nice place to stay in the area. 


This historic trail goes through nine states. Remember and commemorate the survival of the Cherokee people, forcefully removed from their homelands in Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee to live in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. They traveled by foot, horse, wagon, or steamboat in 1838-1839. In North Carolina, there are three museums in the mountains to honor this trail. Cherokee, N.C. is also a federal Indian reservation. 

This is a national military park in Greensboro that memorializes North Carolina's significance in the Revolutionary War. There are hiking trails, wildlife, and twenty-eight monuments within the park that honor Revolutionary soldiers, statesmen, heroes, and heroines. William Hooper and John Penn, two of North Carolina's three signers of the Declaration of Independence, are buried under the Signers' Monument. A large equestrian statue of General Nathanael Greene dominates the monument honoring the soldiers of the Southern Army and its leader.

Greensboro has great lodging and lots to see. I've stayed at the O'Henry Hotel and loved it. 


Located in Currie, North Carolina, this battlefield marks the site of the first Patriot victory in the American Revolution and the site of the last Scottish Highland broadsword charge. The victory ended British authority in the colony and stalled a full-scale British invasion of the South for nearly four years. Currie is located in Pender County and is very near Wilmington, N.C. which I highlighted this month for its civil war landmarks


Stretching 330 miles through four states (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina) the Overmountain Victory National Historic Trail traces the route used by patriot militia during the pivotal Kings Mountain campaign of 1780. You can access the trail via these points in North Carolina


North Carolina is first in flight.This is an extremely kid-friendly destination in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Paying honor to Wilbur and Orville Wright, this memorial is a great place to learn about the history of aviation. The Wright Brothers Visitors Center is hands-on fun.  Plan your trip by visiting the Outer Banks Tourism website. 

Atlantic Ocean by Leigh Powell HInes @Hinessightblog (NC Coast)
North Carolina Coast



Designated by Congress in 2006, the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor extends from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida in the south. It is home to one of America's most unique cultures, a tradition first shaped by captive Africans brought to the southern United States from West Africa and continued in later generations by their descendents. Festivals for awareness are held several times a year. 

Happy exploring in North Carolina. 


1.14.2015

Ticket Giveaway: NC Chefs to Battle it Out in Annual Competition Dining Series.

North Carolina has a "Super Bowl" of its own in the state, and it's just getting started. The Carolina Panthers may be out, but your favorite chef is just firing up. The event to see this year is the The “Got To Be NC” Competition Dining Series. 


2015 Triangle area chefs compete in "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series
2015 Triangle area chefs compete in "Got to Be NC" Competition Dining Series

The brackets are out, and I'm going to help you get a front row seat for a six-course dinner created around North Carolina ingredients. 

Battle Apple Mill Apple Butter, Atlantic Caviar & Biltmore Winery Sparkling Wine Blanc de Blanc: NC  Competition Dining Series
Battle Apple Mill Apple Butter, Atlantic Caviar & Biltmore Winery Sparkling Wine Blanc de Blanc

Here's the fun part about this competition. There is a secret ingredient for each dinner, and the chefs don't know what that ingredient will be until a few hours before guests arrive. Each chef has to make three dishes using that secret ingredient. It could be chocolate or sweet potatoes or peanut butter. 


Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan Butter & Panko-Crusted Lamb with Goat Cheese Crème Fraîche Mousse, Islander Ginger Beer & Basil Vinaigrette, Pickled Windcrest Farm Organics Ginger, Beet & Ginger Beer-Marinated Dry Apple Salad
Big Spoon Roasters Peanut Pecan Butter & Panko-Crusted Lamb with Goat Cheese Crème Fraîche Mousse, Islander Ginger Beer & Basil Vinaigrette, Pickled Windcrest Farm Organics Ginger, Beet & Ginger Beer-Marinated Dry Apple Salad

Peaches or blackberries. It could be heirloom pork. It could be NC beer, or TOPO whiskey.  It could be several ingredients. No one knows until that day. This competition is quite a challenge, and the chefs are vying for a 2,000 cash prize and a coveted red chef jacket. 

In a blind tasting (don't worry...neither you or the chefs are blindfolded), you get to rate the dish put before you by using a fun phone app. At the end of the evening, the system computes a winner based on the scores for each dish. 

Competition Dining Course 1 battle Pepsi and Sweet potatoes   Brown Butter Roasted NC Flounder, Bourbon-Pepsi Sausage Meat Pie with a Bacon, Sweet Potato & Kale Crust, Apple-Pistachio Butter
Competition Dining Course 1 battle Pepsi and Sweet potatoes (2014)

Brown Butter Roasted NC Flounder, Bourbon-Pepsi Sausage Meat Pie with a Bacon, Sweet Potato & Kale Crust, Apple-Pistachio Butter


The winner gets to move on to the next round, and a regional chef will eventually battle it out for top honors in the state against other regional chefs at the end of the year. 

It's really exciting in person. They hype it all up. They play music. Dim the lights. It's like the Super Bowl for foodies. 

The competition is starting first in Raleigh so let's take a look at the brackets:


First-Round Brackets

 I'm going to be a guest judge (judges rankings weigh a little heavier on the point scale than the audience diners. It's kind of scary. You may even get booed, if they audience does not agree with you your choices) on Jan. 26 at the dinner between these two chefs: Christopher Hill of Faire Steak & Seafood and Teddy Diggs of Il Palio in Chapel Hill. 


Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series, Jan. 26 dinner in Raleigh
Hill vs. Diggs. They look like they are ready to rumble. 

Hill describes his cooking style as classical French foundations with Southern influences while Diggs says his is rustic and regional Italian. Their bios are strong. Diggs has cooked for the Obamas during their vacation in Martha Vineyards. He started making pizzas at local pizzeria when he was 15. Meanwhile, Hill is a chef who has worked his way up from dishwasher to Executive Chef.  He's also felt this competition pressure before. This will be his third time competing. It will be Digg's first time in the competition. Will one be more familiar cooking with the secret ingredient? Can't wait to find out later this month. 

YOUR CHANCE TO GO: 2 Tickets to Feb. 2 Dinner Giveaway

You can use this link to order your tickets to any of the dinners, including the night I'm judging. Tickets get more pricey per person as the competition gets to the finals. It is a six-course dinner though, and loads of fun. 

All Triangle events are held at 1705 Prime, located at 1705 E. Millbrook in Raleigh. Tickets to attend a preliminary battle cost $55 each and tickets for a quarterfinal battle are $59 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee. 



Sweet Grit & Almond Cake, Vanilla Railhouse Brewery Porter Marshmallow, Buttermilk Sherbet, Pine Nut Toffee
Sweet Grit & Almond Cake, Vanilla Railhouse Brewery Porter Marshmallow, Buttermilk Sherbet, Pine Nut Toffee
Tickets to attend a semifinal battle cost $69 each and tickets for the final competition are $75 each, excluding beverage, tax and service fee.  You can attend as many dinners as you like or you can try to win tickets to the Feb. 2 match up from my blog. 


  • Feb. 2 Dinner: Spencer Carter of Weathervane in Chapel Hill, versus Rhett Morris of Rhett's Restaurant in Southern Pines  (Enter to win tickets via rafflecopter). 


Quarterfinals
  • Feb. 9 Dinner: Jan. 19 winner versus Jan. 20 winner
  • Feb. 10 Dinner: Jan. 21 winner versus Jan. 26 winner
  • Feb. 16 Dinner: Jan. 27 winner versus Jan. 28 winner
  • Feb. 17 Dinner: Feb. 2 winner versus Feb. 3 winner

Semifinals
  • Feb. 23 Dinner: Feb. 9 winner versus Feb. 10 winner
  • Feb. 24 Dinner: Feb. 16 winner versus Feb. 17 winner

Final Battle (Triangle championship event)
  • March 2 Dinner: Feb. 23 winner versus Feb. 24 winner

The Got to Be NC Competition Dining Series has the goal to celebrate local North Carolina products and agriculture, and to showcase the culinary ingenuity and talent across the state. For more information, visit www.competitiondining.com or get in on the conversation at www.facebook.com/competitiondining and @CompDiningNC on Twitter or Instagram.

This giveaway ends at 12:00 am on Sunday, January 25. One winner will be chosen at random. Please share with your friends. They may want to go, too.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


See you all at competition dining!

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