In the coldest months, we all look for bright spots, and football fans this winter have had plenty.
The Super Bowl (on Feb. 13) is always a dead-of-winter highlight. And while gatherings might be smaller than in pre-pandemic years, we can still pull out the stops with snacks and food.
My Super Bowl menu changes from year to year, but there are recurring themes: sliders, chilis, nachos, pulled pork, pizza and always, always a dip. Most of the time, that’s a hot dip plunked down on the table to a very warm reception. I’ve yet to find a person who doesn’t get a little weak in the knees at the sight of a creamy, often cheesy dip bubbling away in its baking dish.
First, let’s talk about what goes with those dips. I offer an assortment of dippers, from the healthy (whole-grain chips and crackers, loads of cut-up veggies like carrots, celery, cucumber, radishes, sliced bell peppers and so on) to the indulgent (potato and tortilla chips, buttery crackers, breadsticks, baguette slices, strips of focaccia, pita chips, pretzels). Each person can decide which direction appeals the most, and switch back and forth between a kettle-fried potato chip and a spear of endive lettuce as the mood strikes.
Hot dips often involve some sort of dairy, like sour cream or cream cheese, and often other melting cheese as well. They can be vegetarian, or feature a meat or seafood protein. Many vegan hot dip recipes include non-dairy ingredients like nut milks, soft tofu, vegan cheeses and nutritional yeast.
Most hot dips are baked in the oven or warmed through on the stove, and the recipe may call for occasional stirring. You can also make and serve hot dips in a slow cooker or instant pot.
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I often divide hot dip mixtures into two smaller baking pans or casseroles and heat them one at a time, so by the time the first half is served and eaten, the other is just ready in the oven. If you use two smaller pans instead of one large one, the cooking time might be shortened a bit.
Cooking times and temperatures for hot dips are flexible on the whole – it’s usually a matter of warming the dip so any cheese is melted and it’s hot all the way through. If your oven is set for a slightly higher or lower temperature than the recipe calls for, just add or subtract some cooking time. Look for the dip to be hot in the center, slightly browned on top and bubbling around the edges.
Popular hot dip recipes include Buffalo chicken dip, cheesy artichoke dip, queso, and spinach and goat cheese dip. As you begin your hot dip cooking adventures, you’ll see that many combinations of creaminess, vegetables and proteins can be worked into a bubbling pan of dip deliciousness.
Feel free to make substitutions. If a recipe calls for scallions but you’re not keen on a supermarket run, use finely chopped onions or shallots instead, no problem. Use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, and if you are out of cheddar, try Havarti, Monterey Jack or maybe even Gouda. Use a grated cheese that gets nice and melty.
Use shredded chicken from a rotisserie chicken in a chicken dip. Swap crab for shrimp. Try thyme instead of oregano. Use hot sauce instead of cayenne pepper.
Here’s a recipe for one of my favorites:
HOT CRAB AND CORN DIP
This dip combines sweet, luxurious crabmeat with corn. I first made this at the end of a summer, with fresh corn, but frozen or canned and drained corn works just fine.
You can use pretty much any grade of crabmeat here, depending on how much you want to spend and how indulgent you want the dip to feel. I suggest skipping the Colossal or Jumbo Lump Crabmeat, which are expensive and should be saved for dishes in which they star, rather than being blended with other ingredients. Go for any of the middle-grade ones, like Special, Lump or Backfin.
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1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 scallions trimmed and minced (white and green parts)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
16 ounces fresh crab meat, picked over for shells, excess liquid pressed out
1 cup corn kernels (fresh, frozen and defrosted, or canned and drained)
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Place the cream cheese, sour cream, garlic, scallions, cayenne, parsley, Worcestershire, lemon juice, and salt and pepper in a bowl and use a fork, spoon or electric mixer to blend well. Fold in the crab and corn until well combined.
Turn the mixture into a shallow 1- or 2-quart baking dish, spread it evenly, and bake for about 12 minutes, until hot and bubbly. Give it a final minute under the broiler to really brown the top if desired.
Serve hot with crackers, chips, fresh vegetables or the accompaniments of your choice!
The Associated Press contributed to this article.