Never ever did I dream I'd keep green food coloring on hand. Never never ever. But then last summer, my friend 'moo' – that's short for Margie Olsen Olson, yes it happens, an Olsen married an Olson; have I told you about my girlfriend Cary who met and married a man also named Cary? so yes it happens – responded to my call for cucumber recipes with the note, "What about cucumber/yogurt soup [with buttermilk] and a cream cheese spread for tea sandwiches, called Benedictine?" I already had a dreamy cucumber soup recipe, Cool-as-a-Cucumber Avocado Soup but the Benedictine cream cheese spread, it caught my eye.
A little google action turned me onto the history of Benedictine spread. Between the 1890s and the 1920s, "Miss Jennie" Benedict of Louisville (for full effect, pronounce this with a flat Kentucky accent, loo-a-vil) was a successful businesswoman, the editor of the local paper's household section for a time and a community volunteer. She operated a catering business and several tearooms. In 2008, her 1922 cookbook was republished, The Blue Ribbon Cook Book. (Source: Louisville Courier-Journal)
Back to the spread, which in MIss Jennie's world was used for tea sandwiches, and the green food coloring. Sure, you can make it without the food coloring, I did, just once. And no kidding, the green food coloring makes the creamy stuff taste better! That pale green color is so appealing, it just goes to show that our food tastes are based as much on the eyes as the taste buds.
I love this stuff: it mixes up in a few minutes, it needs no rest time although sure, make it ahead of time if you like. I've been making it since last summer but have yet to tuck it into sandwiches but the next time I host a tea party, sure, I will, and yes, moo, you and the OCHER-YaYa's are invited, gloves and hats expected.
MISS JENNIE's FAMOUS BENEDICTINE SPREAD
Time to table: 5 minutes
Makes 1/2 cup, easily doubled, halved, etc.
2 ounces low-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise
Green food coloring, preferably gel (see TIPS)
Sprinkle of onion powder (or a tiny smidge of grated onion)
Pepper to taste
1 cucumber, peeled
With a spoon, mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, green food coloring, onion powder and pepper. Cut the cucumber into thirds, then each third into quarters, slice off the seeds from each piece. Grate about 1/3 of the cucumber into the cream cheese mixture and stir in. Season to taste with Tabasco and transfer to a serving bowl. Cut the remaining cucumber pieces into thin strips and arrange on a place surrounding the spread. Serve and savor!
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
There are many variations of Benedictine Spread so feel free to play around, just be sure to include cream cheese lightened with mayonnaise, cucumber, a touch of onion, a touch of heat and yes, the green food coloring.
Gel food coloring creates the gentle, pale-green coloring that's so pretty and "tastes good". Liquid food coloring is hard to add "just a little" – a tiny, tiny, TINY drop – and anymore turns the stuff a bright unworldly green. Or maybe stick a toothpick into the bottle of regular food coloring to get just a tiny tiny TINY drop.
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