Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Since you said I can be the Fun Aunt...

"We used up all your cheese and trashed the kitchen. Sorry."

It was with those unexpected words that I greeted my niece's dad when he came back from his meeting yesterday.

Honestly, I don't know how it happened but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. After dinner Cutie (age 7) showed me what's new in the vegetable garden and we played on the swingset. Out of the blue she pulled out the Rachael Ray cookbook we gave her a few years ago. Initially she kept it in her play kitchen and - hopefully - she had the best pretend lasagne in town.

She found a recipe for Spicy Mustard Pretzel Dip and excitedly said of her posse of fellow Hannah Montana devotees, "The girls would LOVE this at the pool tomorrow!!" She sounded exactly like her mother and me circa 1996 in our Melrose Place Girls Night Dinner days, where six of us would take turns hosting/cooking and we would yell at Amanda Woodward and sing Jack Wagner's "Aaaallll Iiiii Neeeeeed..."

Anyway, she read the recipe and ran for the fridge. "We have butter! We have cheese! You're my grown-up helper, let's go!" And so we did and we laughed the whole time. Standing on her stepstool to comfortably reach the counter, she did all the measuring, shredded the cheese, and figured out almost all the correct amounts for halving the recipe. True, she failed to multiply the numerators and denominators of 1/2 x 1/2 to get 1/4, but I suppose that wasn't covered in first grade. We'll do flashcards next week.

Without the spicy brown mustard called for in the recipe I told Cutie that we would improvise with spices. To the regular yellow mustard we added some onion powder, ground mustard and, for color, a pinch of chipotle powder.

"We'll also need some of this" she said with authority, and handed me a jar of peanut butter. What was that about creativity run amok?

Cutie will proudly tell her friends at the pool that she made the snack from scratch. The aunt/niece relationship is all the stronger for the spontaneous, fun, friend-to-friend time together. In that regard, Best Dip Ever.

This is from memory, so let's be flexible and forgiving since it's just dip and you could always thin it with a little milk or thicken with some whipped cream cheese or sour cream, 'kay? It would also make a good spread for deli ham or roast beef sandwiches. If for some reason you like a really mustard-y macaroni & cheese, then toss with par-boiled macaroni in a baking dish, top with additional grated cheese, cover and bake at 350 for 20 minutes or so.

SPICY MUSTARD PRETZEL DIP - full recipe, which we halved
2 cups whole milk (we used skim)
2 1/2 cups of shredded cheddar (we used up all the cheddar and moved on to Monterrey Jack to make up the difference)
1/4 cup of mustard
1 TBSP butter
2 tsp flour

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and stir until there is no discernible white flour, it has all been integrated into the butter. Have your Big Girl Helper slowly add millk, about 1/2 cup at a time, and stir constantly. After all milk is added continue to stir until the mixture thickens. Add mustard. Remove from heat and add cheese - stir until melted. Serve with pretzel sticks.


For Cutie and anyone else who's active outdoors in this heat, here's an easy-for-a-kid-to-prepare frozen treat:

Vegetarian Times

2 cups fresh pineapple chunks
1 large banana, sliced
3/4 cup light coconut milk
1/4 to 1/3 cup agave nectar (or just make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar, heated until sugar is dissolved. Honey might work but I don't know how it freezes.... care to chime in, Nancy?)

Puree all ingredients in blender (put the lid on!) 1 to 2 minutes, or until mixture is smooth. Ladle into ice pop molds, with a paper towel under the molds in case of a spill. Freeze at least 4 hours. Run molds under warm water to unmold.

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