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Carb Solution: Holiday Dipping Platter

Image of Fresh Spinach & Artichoke Heart Holiday Veggie Platter
Over half of the U.S. adult population, some 154 million, qualify as overweight or obese. Another 29 million of us have Diabetes, many as a direct result of being overweight. Then there are the 23.9 million overweight children dutifully following the example of their XXL adult role models. Diabetes and these extra pounds cost this country billions annually in both medical and economic resources, not to mention the effect these weight-related maladies have on a person’s overall mental well-being and happiness. However, both diabetes and being overweight are very manageable, even preventable, with a few lifestyle tweaks. By maintaining a sensible diet in conjunction with some consistent exercise, no matter how minimal, we can all be in total control of our own weight. One easy way to start taking that control is to make decisions about the foods we eat based on the glycemic index [GI] and glycemic load [GL].

Simply put, our bodies convert all foods into sugar calories that provide energy to the body via the bloodstream. The Glycemic Index assigns a score of 1 to 100 to all foods based on how quickly the body converts that food into sugar. Foods that break down slowly enable the body to assimilate these calories of energy more efficiently without overwhelming the body with more sugar than it can process. While this is especially important for people with diabetes who process sugars much slower than others, everyone can benefit from foods with low glycemic scores since they also reduce appetite and encourage the metabolism to burn body fat. Conversely, a diet of foods high on the glycemic charts has been proven to increase appetite and impede effective fat oxidation.

A QUICKIE GLYCEMIC PRIMER:
  • The glycemic index of a food compares its effect on blood sugar level to that of pure glucose, which has a score of 100. White breads, which are made of processed white flour, are at the top of this scale, scoring a “perfect” 100 on the glycemic index. For perspective, a score of 55 or below denotes a low glycemic index food; 70 or above is considered very high. Serving size is not a consideration in arriving at a food’s Glycemic Index number.
  • The glycemic load, on the other hand, focuses on how much digestible carbohydrates (sugars) a food contains in a typical single serving, which is defined as approximately 3.5 ounces. For glycemic load, a score of 20 or more is high, while 10 or less is low.
‘Tis the season…for good cheer, many holiday gatherings, lots of small plates and even more ways to fall off the low-carb bandwagon than usual! Faced with such annual delicacies as sweet cranberry sauces, processed meat platters, addicting butter cookies, crackers and chips of all shapes as well as a plethora of traditional pies with toppings that would tempt a Trappist monk -- what’s a carb-counter to do? Obviously, be discerningly selective at the buffet table and load up on any healthy dishes being served. After all, there is nothing in the Holiday Spirit Rule Book that says one’s health must be sacrificed to celebrate the season.

If a holiday buffet table scavenger hunt for healthy foods does not appeal, you can guarantee that there will be at least one acceptable nibble on the menu by contributing this low-carb, high-flavor fresh spinach & artichoke heart dip presented on a colorful platter of assorted “scooping” veggies. The vibrant colors of the dish will not only add a festive splash to any holiday table; it is probably the only offering on that table with only 15 grams of net carbs per cup! Another boring carrot stick dish, you’re thinking? Sure, there can be carrots, but slice ‘em in wide-thin slabs, creating more area for one bubbling hot, creamy, cheesy, garlicky scoop of goodness laced with the distinct flavors of artichoke and fresh spinach. Audible groans of delight have been known to emanate spontaneously with that first scoop, no matter whether it is delivered by a carrot or the occasional index finger when no one is looking!

Actually, choosing the best scooping vegetables for the task of delivering this decadent dip that replaces the usual chips or crackers was the fun part. Be mindful of color in your choices and get creative with the “scoop-ability” of some less obvious items in the produce department. For instance, a large, round red radish looks nothing like a potato chip or cracker until sliced lengthwise into mini-rounds just large enough to pile on a bit of the creamy hot dip that clashes in a delicious way with the sharp flavor of a peppery radish—tasty! Carrots and zucchini are larger, so a mandolin can be used to create long, wide slabs, sliced thin, that are then cut in half for a more stable and efficient dip-n-scoop! A wide stalk of zucchini adds a pleasant texture and is a great delivery vehicle for the dip. Carrot will lend a sweet crunch to the profile of each bite. Even tastier, mini sweet peppers sliced in half lengthwise lay open almost flat naturally and even closely resemble a salted chip in a tapered shape, less all the artery-clogging ingredients and adding a fresh sweet aftertaste that plays off the other flavors in the dip nicely.

The quick and easy prep of this recipe is made even easier using a few packages of Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke Hearts. These tasty morsels of goodness are ready-to-eat, having been steamed, then vacuum sealed to ensure a just-picked taste. Canned or jarred hearts are usually packed in water with salt and citric acid to preserve the green color. One can and should rinse off the salty water, but that “canned” taste lingers no matter. Melissa’s hearts are not only cooked but also quartered and full of fresh flavor; for this recipe, use right out of the package or chop into smaller pieces for a smoother, less chunky dip.

I am amazed that most all spinach dip recipes found on the ‘net assume frozen spinach, with the first step always being to thaw! No doubt my fresh produce industry background contributes some prejudice, but there is definitely a taste/texture difference between fresh and frozen spinach. Frozen spinach has a much mushier quality; though it has not been completely cooked, it has been flash-blanched, which accounts for its “cooked” texture. Fresh spinach has what can only be described as a fresh crunch to it, even though it cooks down quite a bit in volume. I also experience a more distinct peppery accent to fresh spinach over frozen. The fact is that there is nothing that can compare with that fresh-from-the-field taste factor. BTW, do not be fooled by that seemingly small ball of cooked and squeezed spinach in this recipe; the volume will permeate the dip in balance with the rest of the components perfectly. Adding more spinach could turn this into a Spinach Casserole, which sounds like it could be awfully good too – except for that prepared platter of veggie scoops on the counter just waiting for this luscious dip! Have a happy glycemic-friendly holiday season!

Fresh Spinach & Artichoke Heart Holiday Veggie Platter
Makes 4 cups
Image of ingredients
Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 bag baby spinach
8 oz. cream cheese
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 tablespoons sour cream
½ cup Grated parmesan
3 pkgs. Melissa’s Steamed Artichoke hearts, chopped to taste
8 cloves garlic (minced)
1 teaspoon black pepper, to taste
1½ cup Mozzarella cheese (shredded, divided)
Assorted “scooping” veggies like: celery, mini sweet peppers, zucchini slices, carrot “flat” sticks, radish, broccoli, etc.

Preparation
Image of blanched spinach
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan, then add the spinach and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is wilted and bright green. Set aside to cool, then gather it into a ball and squeeze several times, making sure to get out as much water as possible. Set aside.
Image of combining ingredients
Heat the cream cheese in the microwave or a medium saucepan on the stove over low heat. Then stir in the mayonnaise, sour cream, parmesan cheese, artichoke hearts, garlic, black pepper and half the mozzarella. Combine thoroughly.
Image of spinach dip
Fold the spinach into the artichoke mixture.
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Transfer to a small ceramic baking dish. Smooth the top with a spatula. Cover with the remaining shredded mozzarella.
Image of baked dip
Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350°F, until hot and bubbly. Serve hot on a platter surrounded by assorted veggies cut to scoop up the goods!
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