Hot Spinach Red Pepper Dip

New Year’s Eve is just around the corner, and for many of us, it’s one last binge of decadent dips and desserts before the inevitable post-holiday commitment to better eating habits and exercise.

Of course, for those who would like to start pretending that their eating habits are already improving before the New Year hits, this crowd-pleasing hot spinach red pepper dip should do the trick. There are two vegetables listed right there in the recipe’s name – so it must be good for you, right?

Okay, while I can’t promise much nutritional value from this recipe, I can attest to its phenomenal taste. By far, it’s my favorite spinach dip recipe to make – rich and creamy from the combination of cheeses, with just enough of a kick from the red pepper flakes to make you immediately want to dive back in for more. And it’s the perfect hot dip to prepare for a New Year’s Eve party, as it can be made earlier in the day and kept warm in a Crock-Pot or even made the day before, refrigerated and reheated.

As you prepare this dip, be sure to squeeze out as much water as you can from your softened pepper and spinach using a colander and paper towels. Excess water could make your dip runny rather than thick and creamy, so spend the extra time pressing firmly down on the vegetables to remove any leftover liquid.

When chopping your bell pepper, don’t waste any unnecessary time and effort by cutting it in half and de-seeding it, as many people do. Instead, my favorite way is to cut off the very top of the pepper to remove the stem, then cut the very bottom of the pepper to stabilize it. Then, simply cut the lobes off, leaving the middle section with the seeds intact. To avoid any waste, you can then trim the usable red pepper off the top and bottom slices and dice that as well. To finely dice the pepper, start by cutting the lobes into equally-sized matchstick-shaped slices, then taking those matchsticks and chopping into small, uniform squares.

This hot spinach red pepper dip can be kept warm and served from a Crock-Pot, or it can be transferred to a serving dish or bread bowl. I prefer to buy a sourdough bread bowl from the bakery, hollow out the loaf by cutting a wide circle from the top, and then pull out chunks of bread from the inside. The removed top of the loaf can be cut or torn into small, bite-size pieces of bread and used along with the chunks of bread from the inside of the loaf for dipping. This spinach dip is also delicious served with salty tortilla chips or cut-up vegetables. This recipe is enough to fill one bread bowl with dip, or it can be doubled or tripled and placed in a larger Crock-Pot for bigger crowds.

Serve your bread bowl on a platter atop of leafy greens. If making ahead of time, garnish with diced red bell pepper right before serving. If desired, red pepper flakes can be reduced or eliminated for a milder flavor.

Hot Spinach Red Pepper Dip

Ingredients
1 c. water
1 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. thawed frozen chopped spinach
1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese
2 Tbsp. milk
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (or more, depending on how hot you like it)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 pinch freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp. finely diced red bell pepper

Directions
Bring the cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat and add the one cup of diced red pepper and the chopped spinach. Bring the water back to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and simmer until the pepper is very soft, about 10 minutes. Drain the spinach and red pepper in a colander, pressing out as much liquid as possible.

Combine the cream cheese and milk in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until hot and softened. Stir in the cooked spinach and red peppers, Parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, and ground black pepper. Continue to stir until well combined and heated through.

Spoon hot dip into a serving plate or bread bowl and serve with the tablespoon of finely diced red bell pepper sprinkled on top for garnish. For an artsier touch, add leafy greens underneath the bread bowl.

Serves 8 (1/4 c. per serving)

The Power of Farming Communities

I’m always amazed when I hear about farming communities pulling together for one of their own.

Not surprised – amazed. Awestruck. Inspired. But never surprised.

It’s a thought that keeps coming back to me this week, as I listen to friends with farming backgrounds share their stories of tragedy and comradery. One, another South Dakota native, relayed how neighbors immediately and unquestioningly took over caring for the family’s livestock after her father-in-law was severely hit by a distracted driver. She and her husband had not even reached the hospital when they received the unexpected phone call from the neighbor that the equipment was put away because of the coming snow, and yes, the hogs were taken care of for the night, and for tomorrow, and for as long as they needed help, so don’t worry about a thing. Now, as her father-in-law works through his second major surgery and faces a lengthy rehabilitation, their tight-knit farming community continues to pull together to ensure the family farm is taken care of and the family can spend time with their recovering farmer.

Another farming friend shared how her family was called late at night this week by a neighbor who thought their cattle were out near the highway in Yankton. After spending 30 minutes frantically driving along the highway with flashers on and spotlights in hand and multiple trips of heading back to the farm to count their cows, they discovered it was not their herd that was on the loose. Still, although the hour was late and they were exhausted with kids in tow, they continued to drive for miles, searching for tracks and hoping to help another farm family bring their livelihood home safely and prevent a possible accident from occurring.

As my friend later mused on Facebook, “The moral of the story is, farming families – whether close or acquaintances – are all looking out for each other and respect the lifestyle. They help when in need and they deeply care for each other!”

It’s something I see again and again in our own small farming community, and it doesn’t take a tragic accident or a crisis for farmers to come together to help each other. There are a number of young farmers in our area who are always willing to help each other, never expecting anything in return and often when they themselves have more than enough work to do. It’s heartwarming and humbling, and it makes you cherish the small-town environment around you. We are so blessed to have neighbors who offer help without question when we are in need.

The moral of the story is, farming families – whether close or acquaintances – are all looking out for each other and respect the lifestyle. They help when in need and they deeply care for each other!

As a soon-to-be mother, I couldn’t be happier and prouder that my son will be raised in this lifestyle. It’s one thing to talk about the virtues of sacrifice, kindness and community, and another to actually see these principles lived out on a daily basis. During a time when even turning on the local news can be stressful and terrifying for parents-to-be, it’s heartening to see that your children will grow up surrounded by men and women of great character.

I’ll admit – when I first moved to the farm, I remember not always understanding why Dan had to work late or leave dinner early to help a neighbor, particularly when the need didn’t seem incredibly urgent and I was feeling lonely and alone on the farm.  I remember Dan repeatedly telling me, “It’s the neighborly thing to do, honey,” until it finally clicked. Farm families are in this together. We depend upon each other, and we help each other during the good times and the bad. Not because it’s going to help us later on, but because it’s the right thing – the neighborly thing – to do.

So no, I’m not surprised when I hear about these acts of kindness and sacrifice from our farm families. But I am inspired.