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Tried-and-true dips and spreads

Too many hosts and hostesses have become cavalier about their vegetable dips and spreads — considering a plate of crudites nothing more than the token health food, an offering to the Spa Gods, if you will, not to be taken seriously.

And so, in the party-prep stage, mixing up a bowl of vegetable dip ranks barely ahead of straightening the cushions and ordering pizza for the kids. They think you can stir any ol’ thing into a pint of sour cream and call it good.

But good? Much of it isn’t even palatable. So, I’m offering up a selection of tried-and-true recipes from my own files that will really help you shine in the Dips and Spreads Department this year.

Besides, this is a perfectly good time to be eating more fresh vegetables anyway. Particularly if you weren’t eating enough of them during those social events you attended last December. My selections won’t be as labor-free as scraping 16 ounces of vegetable dip-like substance from a carton into a bowl, or ripping open a package of soup mix and stirring it into sour cream. But they do have one thing going for them: they’re good.

Beer-Cheese Crock

Makes about 3 cups

At my gatherings, I love offering a dynamite crock of beer-cheese spread. This one is just that. I’m also giving you the option to fine-tune the flavor through a range of beer selections. If you opt for an IPA, its hoppy character (remember, high hops equals bitterness) may not please everyone. You can have a more toasty back flavor by selecting a more rounded beer, such as Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Ale.

5 cups (about 1¼ pounds, which is 20 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese

¼ cup finely chopped yellow onion

½ cup craft beer (see note below)

½ cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons pickled vegetable juice (see note below)

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 to 4 dashes Tabasco sauce

Crackers and slices of French baguette

Celery sticks

In the work bowl of a food processor or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cheese, onion, beer, mayonnaise, pickled vegetable juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Mix until soft and fairly creamy. It might take 3 to 5 minutes if using a stand mixer.

Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours for the flavor to develop. But this spread can be prepared up to 2 weeks ahead and refrigerated.

NOTE ON PICKLED VEGETABLE JUICE: I always have a jar of Mezzetta brand Deli-Sliced Tamed Jalapeno Peppers on hand, so that’s the juice I use. Another zesty choice would be pickled golden pepperoncini. Lacking either of those and no oomph to run to the market, opt for a dash of white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

Hot Artichoke Dip

There are many versions of this particular dip, but I discovered one of the best several years ago at the Prescott Brewing Company in Prescott, Arizona. They’re particularly generous with the marinated artichokes, and the whole thing is served hot and creamy in a scooped-out loaf of bread. I managed to duplicate their creation and, for simplicity’s sake, ditched the bread bowl. If desired, you can always bake your dip in said bread bowl. Just allow a longer baking time in the oven.

1 pint sour cream

½ cup mayonnaise

2 (6 ounce) jars marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup finely chopped green onions (white portion only; reserve the green for garnish)

Assorted raw vegetables (including broccoli florets, cauliflower florets, carrot sticks, sweet red and green bell pepper strips)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, artichoke hearts, Parmesan cheese and green onion. Scrape the mixture into a shallow oven-proof dish, such as a 9-by-13-inch rectangle, and bake until the dip is hot and bubbly and lightly golden on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, garnish the top with a sprinkling of the green onion tops and serve, surrounded by the vegetables and slices of a fresh baguette.

Hot Mushroom Dip

This is really an outstanding dip! It’s one of my friend Elizabeth’s specialties from many years ago. The flavor combination simply sings and will have your guests begging you for the recipe.

4 slices bacon

8 ounces fresh mushrooms, finely chopped (a food processor on the “pulse” setting works really well)

1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon soy sauce

½ cup sour cream

Salt and pepper

Fresh vegetables, crackers, and baguette slices

Saute the bacon in a skillet until crisp, then remove to paper towels; drain most of the fat from the skillet, leaving 2 tablespoons of it in the pan. Crumble the bacon and set aside.

Saute the mushrooms and onions in the skillet with the reserved drippings until the onions are tender and most of the liquid that is released from the mushrooms has evaporated. Stir in the flour and stir to blend. Stir in the cream cheese, Worcestershire sauce and soy sauce and continue stirring over medium heat until the cream cheese is melted. Stir in the sour cream and the crumbled bacon. Heat through, but don’t boil (the sour cream has a tendency to curdle at extreme temperatures). It can be made ahead and refrigerated for several days. Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stove-top. Serve warm with fresh vegetables and your favorite cracker or baguette slices.

Homemade Ranch Dressing

Makes 2 cups

This ranch-style dressing has a little more zing and robust flavor than the bottled versions. And it’s delicious with so many other party foods: chicken wings, fried onion rings, veggies ...

I think that once you have all of the seasonings on hand, you will decide that there’s no reason to go back to bottled ranch dressing because  this is so much better.

1 cup mayonnaise

¾ cup sour cream

½ cup low-fat buttermilk

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)

1½ teaspoons lemon pepper

1¼ teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

¾ teaspoon dried thyme

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

¾ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon dried marjoram

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ teaspoon ground celery seed

Whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, lemon pepper, salt, thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, marjoram, sugar and ground celery seed. Adjust seasonings. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Blue Cheese Vegetable Dip

Makes about 2 cups.

Especially delicious with celery sticks and chicken wings.

8 ounces softened cream cheese

½ cup sour cream

¼ cup finely chopped sweet onion

3 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, or to taste

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

¼ teaspoon Tabasco (or other hot pepper sauce), or to taste

Fresh vegetables

In a blender or food processor, cream together the cream cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Scrape the mixture into a bowl, stir in the onion, then crumble in the blue cheese. Adjust seasonings, adding the salt, pepper, vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to taste.

Sour Cream and Onion Dip

Makes about 2½ cups.

2 cups sour cream

2/3 cup chopped green onion (all of the white and some green)

4 teaspoons teriyaki sauce

Fresh vegetables for dipping

Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with fresh vegetables and kettle-style chips. Yields about 2 cups of dip.

Sour Cream and Salsa Dip

Makes about 2½ cups

2 cups sour cream

¼ cup chunky style salsa

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon ketchup

½ teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)

Fresh vegetables and tortilla chips

Combine all of the ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with fresh vegetables and tortilla chips. Yields about 2 cups of dip.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.