Every year, in the aftermath of my defeat in the Tomato Art Festival recipe contest, I vow I will never enter again. And every year, I enter again.

This year, though, I couldn't resist. The theme was "dips" (not salsa!), which is something I could easily bring along with me and keep in a cooler while enjoying the festival and not have to worry too much about with plating. But a dip with tomatoes? I don't really make many dips and when I mentioned it to my husband, he said, "so you're going to make Ro-Tel and call it a day, right?" Brilliant idea! Except Ro-Tel needs to be warm. Next.

I thought about favorite dips--mine and those of others and there were some recurring ingredients: cream cheese, sour cream, and ranch dressing mix. Those three alone are pretty good, but how to take them to the next level? And be sure that the dip features tomatoes?

I thought about previous years and how I thought I'd just toss in some pork belly just to win and I realized I didn't have to do that; I could just get the flavor I wanted from roasting the tomatoes and adding smoked paprika. So that's basically all this dip is. Those first three ranch dip ingredients with roasted tomatoes and paprika. But it's damn good.


I wanted to use fresh tomatoes in this recipe to keep the spirit of the contest, but truth be told, I think you could use a can of already fire-roasted diced tomatoes (Hunt's and Muir Glen both make them) or even just a can of Ro-Tel and get a great dip that is even easier and quicker than this one is to make. Serve it with tortilla chips as a dip or use as a topping for nachos or enchiladas! But don't skimp on the smoked paprika. I used a hot version for a great kick. If you don't have any, add a tiny bit of Liquid Smoke instead (to taste).

Zesty Roasted Tomato Ranch Dip

4 medium tomatoes (see note for substitution)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sour cream
1 1-ounce package of Hidden Valley “Original Ranch” dip mix
Hot smoked paprika (see note for substitution)

Pre-heat the oven to 400F. Chop the tomatoes into one-inch cubes and place onto a lined baking dish or jelly roll pan. Roast until the juice has mostly dried and the tomatoes have some char, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Add the cream cheese, sour cream, and dip mix in a medium bowl and mix together until smooth. Add about a tablespoon of smoked paprika and stir until combined. Test and add more to taste. Stir in the cooled tomatoes and serve with tortilla chips.

Notes: for an easier and quicker dip, substitute one can (~15 ounces) of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well-drained for the roasted fresh tomatoes. If you don't have smoked paprika, you can substitute a small (one or two squirts) amount of Liquid Smoke and some chili powder.

By the way, I was once again a...let's say, "non-winner." But (also, once again) the competition was fierce from some folks who really brought in some unique flavor combinations and really interesting dips. It's still a winner as far as Mr. Eats is concerned. :)


I am not going to pretend this recipe isn’t a gigantic cheat. I’m also not going to pretend it isn’t absolutely delicious. Pillsbury’s Crescents rolls have been a guilty pleasure since my childhood. But I’m carb-conscious and try not to buy too many convenience foods that are primarily empty calories, so I hadn’t had any for years. But when my friend, Alexandra served a version of these Crescent Roll-Ups at a party a while back, I couldn’t resist. She used generous slices of cheese that melted out and crisped up on the baking sheet. We ate them fresh from the oven, but they were actually just as good warmed in the microwave…I know, because I took a lot of the leftovers home and had them for breakfast.

Anyway, the next time I got an invitation to a party, these Crescent Roll-Ups were the first things on my mind. Easy to make, but insanely delicious. When I bought the crescent rolls, I got a pleasant surprise, too: there’s only 100 calories in each roll. So, technically, you could make a meal off a can and not feel too bad about it. Okay, that’s a stretch. Half a can. As long as you eat it with a bunch of steamed vegetables. Though I recommend only eating two, both stuffed with cheese and fruit.

As always, the most important part is to use good cheese. I used the Cabot Seriously Sharp white cheddar for mine and rolled them up with D’anjou pear slices, though any of your favorite pear or apple slices would work well.  As you can see, these rolls won’t win any beauty contests, but you’ll be delighted with how they taste.

I'm sorry; I know it's ugly, but it's so good.
I'm sorry; I know it's ugly, but it's so good.

Cheddar and Pear Crescent Roll-Ups
yield: 8 Roll-Ups

1 8 ounce can Pillsbury Crescents rolls
1 pear
4 ounces block cheese

Pre-heat oven to 375F.

Slice the pear and the cheese into eight equal slices each and set aside. Open the rolls and separate the eight triangles. Place one slice of cheese and then one slice of pear on the widest end of the triangle and then wrap around the dough around the cheese and pear until the point is on top and place on the baking sheet at least two inches apart (and not too close to the edge). Repeat with the remaining triangles and bake 10-12 minutes or until nicely browned.


I realized the other day that even though I've had this blog for almost seven years, I've never written a post about pimento cheese (update: I did; I just spelled it "pimiento cheese"--ha!). Which is kind of crazy since it's one of my favorite things. Pimentos (or pimientos) are mild, sweet, and small red peppers. Adding them to cheese and mayonnaise is a southern tradition, though I have no idea why. It just is. I always--always--have the ingredients on hand so that I can make it whenever I need to.


Of course, a big part of it is that I don't have a recipe. I just add some mayonnaise and a jar of diced pimentos to shredded cheese and add a little seasoning and that's it. It's never occurred to me to share a recipe, I guess. But thinking about the recipe made me curious about what a pimento cheese recipe looks like and I was surprised to find a lot of variations, many of which had ingredients lists longer than just three or four items. Cream cheese, onions, Worcestershire sauce, jalapenos, cayenne pepper,, no. You really don't need anything but cheese, mayo, pimentos, and a little pepper.  I did recently start adding a little smoked paprika to mine, but it's strictly optional. So what I have here is just a basic recipe that's very easy and very good.

But be sure to use good cheese and good mayo. Actually, Mr. Eats prefers his pimento cheese with Miracle Whip, but I do not keep Miracle Whip in my house, so he has to settle for my Hellmann's-made "salad" (spread?). A lot of people around here like Duke's, but it lacks the sweetness and a bit of the tang that Hellmann's has. And though I also like Kraft mayo, Hellmann's is thicker and sturdier, so I prefer it for my salads. I also use Sargento's already-finely-grated sharp cheddar for my pimento cheese. I like the finely grated cheese because it blends better and stays together better, particularly if you're going to make a grilled pimento cheese sandwich. And you should. So good. I also like it on "not dogs" (I like Smart Dogs), crackers, or as a vegetable dip.

Pimento Cheese
serves 4-6

2 cups finely-shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 four ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
pepper to taste
smoked paprika (optional)

Combine the cheese, mayonnaise, and pimentos in a large bowl. Add a few twists of fresh ground pepper (to taste). For a little extra flavor, add about 1/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika and stir again.