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Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Ellie Krieger's Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip recipe. / Renee Comet / USA WEEKEND

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Dips are the perfect party starters. They are casual crowd-pleasers — a festive focal point where guests can literally rub elbows and mingle as they grab a nibble. During the holidays, when there is a chill in the air, it is especially nice to kick things off with a warm dip, just out of the oven, creamy and bubbling with melted cheese.

This Spinach and Artichoke Dip tastes just like the classic favorite. But thanks to a few tweaks, it is so much better for you. First, I eliminated the nearly half-cup of mayonnaise used in many typical recipes and included just a touch for extra richness. Then, I simply substituted reduced-fat cream cheese, sour cream and mozzarella cheese for the full-fat varieties. (I prefer reduced-fat to non-fat, which often has a lot of additives, and, I think, compromises taste). The result: all of the dipping pleasure and taste without the extra calories.

Let the festivities begin!

Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip

• 1 Tb. canola oil
• 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1½ cups)
• 3 cloves garlic, chopped (about 1 Tb.)
• 1 (9-ounce) package frozen artichoke hearts, thawed, rinsed and patted dry
• 1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
• ½ cup reduced-fat sour cream
• 2 Tbs. mayonnaise
• ½ cup (4 ounces) Neufchâtel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese)
• 2 ounces part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (about ½ cup)
• ½ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
• Cooking spray

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring a few times, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a food processor, combine the artichoke hearts, spinach, sour cream, mayonnaise, Neufchâtel, mozzarella, salt and pepper. Process until smooth. Add the cooled onion mixture and pulse a few times to combine. At this point, you can refrigerate the dip in an airtight container for up to 3 days before baking it.

Transfer the mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish or 9-inch pie plate that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Bake until heated through, 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve hot with pita wedges or raw vegetables.

Yield: 12 servings (3 cups)
Per serving (1/4 cup): 100 calories, 5g carbohydrates, 4g protein, 7g fat (3g saturated), 2g fiber, 13mg cholesterol, 211mg sodium

Contributing editor and registered dietitian Ellie Krieger is best known as the host of Food Network’s Healthy Appetite. Her most recent cookbook is Comfort Food Fix: Feel Good Favorites Made Healthy.

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Ellie Krieger is host of the The Food Network’s hit show “Healthy Appetite,” which airs on The Cooking Channel. The author of three cookbooks, her latest is Comfort Food Fix: Feel Good Favorites Made Healthy. A registered dietitian, Ellie has helped out with First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign and has teamed up with New York City SchoolFood initiative, where she created healthy, delicious menu items for students citywide.