To accompany the recent revamping and renaming of the blog, I wanted to share a new tasty recipe. Of course, I wanted one that represents happy food on every level. To determine what that recipe should be, I got to thinking, what is one of my happiest foods? While there are plenty items that fit that bill, a certain appetizer instantly came to mind: taco dip. This creamy, seasoned and layered dip combines two of my favorite things – the flavor of tacos and the joy of snacks. I honestly think that snacks and appetizers are my favorite types of happy foods – they’re usually easy to make, fun to eat, and pair well with lavish parties or simple gatherings with friends. Think about it – there’s more than one reason happy hours usually offer a deal on such food with drink specials. Things like wings, sushi, and nachos are perfect noms for sitting around a table and catching up with great friends.
On top of that, I have fond memories attached to taco dip. When I was a kid, maybe around nine or ten, I distinctly remember having taco dip for the first time. My family would often travel to my grandparents’ summer home in rural Wisconsin, where my aunt, uncle and several cousins also lived. We’d get together, play yard games, and swap stories over various assortments of chips and dips. There’s even a traditional family chip dip served at every gathering and reunion that combines cream cheese, garlic, tomato juice, and lemon juice, but I’ll save that recipe for a different day. One sunny, summer afternoon, I sat down at the picnic table with my cousins and siblings for snacks, where my aunt had set down a new dip I had never seen it before. Chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, shredded cheese, and sliced black olives made up the layers I could see. When I took that tortilla chip and scooped up a chunk of the creamy bottom layer, I fell in love. The creamy layer tasted like taco filling, the chip like a shell, and the other layers mimicked the traditional taco fixings. It instantly became my favorite chip and dip combination, though the occasions to enjoy it were few and far between. Fast forward ten years, and my good friend, Maggie, made the same fabulous dip for some social function at college. I had intermittently forgotten all about it, but one bite reminded me exactly how much I loved taco dip. Since then, the dip entered a regular rotation as one of my party-food staples, and every time Maggie and I get together, she typically throws together a batch for us to munch on while we reminisce about our shared memories and chat about any number of topics, from politics to travel to our current television addiction. Thus, in practically every way, taco dip defines happy food – it tastes great, it’s easy to make, and makes me think happy thoughts.
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
16 oz. sour cream, room temperature
1 packet of taco seasoning (my favorite brand to use here is Ortega)
1 jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
2 cups shredded lettuce
1 large tomato, seeded and diced
1 cup shredded cheese (I usually use some sort of Mexican or taco blend)
1 – 3.8 oz can of sliced ripe olives, drained
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whip the cream cheese with an electric mixer until soft, about 90 seconds. Add the sour cream and taco seasoning packet, and continue using the mixer to combine all three ingredients until well mixed. Stir in the diced jalapeño before spreading the flavored cream cheese mixture into the bottom of a 9 X 13 pan/dish in an even layer. Next, sprinkle the shredded lettuce evenly atop the base layer. Repeat that step with the three remaining ingredients. Using seeded tomatoes is important because you want to remove as much moisture from them before tossing them onto the taco dip. Cover and refrigerate for an hour so the cream cheese mixture firms up. Serve with your favorite brand of tortilla chips and enjoy! If there are any leftovers, cover and return to the refrigerator. The dip lasts for two-three days before the lettuce starts to brown and the tomatoes release their remaining moisture.
Variations: (1) I often put black olives on only half of the dip, as shown in the picture above. That way, those who are not particularly fond of olives can enjoy the dip, too. (2) To spice things up, add anywhere from 1/4 tsp. to 1 full tsp. of cayenne pepper to the cream cheese, sour cream, taco seasoning, and jalapeños. Be sure to taste the mixture as you add the cayenne pepper so as not to over-spice the dip. (3) Not too fond of the layered idea? Stop after combining the cream cheese, sour cream, taco seasoning, jalapeños, and optional cayenne pepper – the base is a good dip by itself. (4) For an extra punch, add a layer of your favorite salsa between the cream cheese mixture and the lettuce.