Smoky Tomato Spread


I was very tempted to proudly call this “Super Simple 4-Ingredient Smoky Tomato Spread,” but first of all, that’s a little wordy, and second of all, that would probably make me guilty of false advertising for one of the ingredients: roasted cherry tomatoes. Since I have a slight (*cough*) case of OCD about wasting fresh food, I roasted a bunch of end-of-summer garden tomatoes, and I’m still making my way through the quart-size bag of them that I stashed in the freezer back in September. But I realize that they’re not exactly a pantry staple for everyone. If you’re not a produce hoarder like me, get a pint of cherry tomatoes, cut them in half, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt, and roast at 300° for about an hour. If you are lucky enough to already have some roasted tomatoes in your freezer, too, then winner, winner, chicken dinner! There is hardly any prep work.

This spread was inspired by two things. First, after spending about a week out of town visiting family over the holidays, my husband and I were planning on spending a quiet New Year’s Eve at home, just the two of us—until about 7:00pm on December 30th, when we decided, What the heck, let’s invite friends over! And trust me, most of the less-than-24-hours we had to prepare needed to be spent cleaning the house, so the only appetizers I was considering making were ones that were maybe one step more complicated than taking the lid off of a veggie tray. Second, in high school I worked in a sandwich / cheese shop (which went out of business long ago), and we sold something called a “smoked tomato spread” that I thought was delicious. We didn’t make it in-house, and it wasn’t exactly what you’d call “artisan”: it came pre-packaged in a little plastic tub. I have no idea what was in it, but it’s one of those things that’s been in the back of my mind for years (years) about wanting to try to recreate. It had the texture of a cream cheese spread, so that’s what I used as the base.

IMG_6044I have seen recipes that call for smoking tomatoes or other vegetables with wood chips and the whole nine yards, and—while I’m sure it turns out delicious—I am a liquid smoke fan, especially since I found out that liquid smoke is not, in fact, a vial of synthetic chemicals; it’s made by condensing real smoke. Score! It’s inexpensive, takes a fraction of the time, and actually has good flavor. I bought a bottle of it for a crock-pot pork barbecue recipe, and I have been sold ever since. It helped give the spread the flavor that I was aiming for. I served the spread with crackers and bread, and leftovers have been great on sandwiches. And now I’m doing some wishful thinking about how dynamite it would be for breakfast on an everything bagel from Bodo’s…


Smoky Tomato Spread

makes a little over a cup

  • 3/4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes (the dry-packed kind, not the oil-packed; shockingly, Whole Foods sells them for a good price)
  • 1 oz. roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. liquid smoke
  1. Boil a cup of water and pour it over the sun-dried tomatoes. Let them soak for 15 minutes, and then remove them from the soaking liquid and use a paper towel to pat them as dry as you can. Discard the soaking liquid or use it for something else.
  2. Finely mince the sun-dried tomatoes and the roasted cherry tomatoes.
  3. Put everything in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste, if desired. I found that it didn’t need extra salt because both tomatoes already had some added.
  4. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend.


Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Baked Potato

This piled-high potato has been my go-to bachelorette dinner (and snow-day lunch) for the past week and a half. Whenever I have plans for the evening and my husband doesn’t, you can pretty much guarantee that he gets Peruvian chicken from a place near our house. (It has amaaaaazingly good chicken. And fries. And sauce. Two kinds of sauce actually. A spicy green one and a tangy mayo-y one. Sooooo good. I’d probably go there too but I am one of those people who hates eating out alone, even if it only means standing in the take-out line by myself.) So, if I’m the one on my own for dinner, I usually cook something easy.

This dish happened because, well, I had a lot of leftover cooked chicken from making that soup from the last post, but I really didn’t feel like making soup again and I wasn’t in the mood for chicken salad. And also because my parents made some dynamite scalloped potatoes over Christmas that I was kind of craving, but that’s not the type of thing you can easily make a single serving of. I ended up making a cheese sauce based on the scalloped potatoes recipe my parents had, and then using it to top a baked potato filled with leftover chicken and steamed broccoli. Even though the cheese sauce tastes rich, it’s not over the top: it contains the equivalent of one slice of cheese and has only a minimal amount of butter, and I used 1% milk because that’s what we keep around. Plus, it’s fast and simple. Seriously it takes less than 10 minutes from prep to finish. You essentially sauté a little chopped onion and garlic in some butter, then add some milk and cornstarch, then add some cheese, and voilà. The only way to mess it up is to turn the heat up too high.

Except for the sauce, everything else can be made ahead of time to make it even easier to throw together. You could cook several potatoes and steam a bunch of broccoli, then reheat them when you want them. My leftover chicken was in the freezer, and I just defrosted a little bit at a time as a needed it. I’m sure rotisserie chicken or grilled chicken would work too. It’s a whole meal delivered on a spud—you’ve got your starch, your veg, your meat, and your dairy. No sides necessary. And you could easily omit the chicken to make it vegetarian.

In other news, pantryhero is now on Instagram. Some of the photos will overlap, but I’ll also be adding photos of other (non-leftover-using) culinary adventures that don’t make it to the blog.

 Note:  The cheese sauce is an adaptation of this scalloped potatoes recipe from It firms up pretty quickly as it cools, so you want everything else to be hot/reheated and ready to go before you start making it.

Cheesy Chicken and Broccoli Baked Potato

serves 1 quite generously; can easily be double, tripled, etc.

For the potato, fillings, and assembly:

  • 1 medium russet potato
  • 1 1/2 c. broccoli florets (about 1/2 medium crown)
  • 1/2 c. diced cooked chicken
  • 1/2 Tbsp. chicken broth (optional)
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 recipe of cheese sauce (see below)
  1. Cook the potato: Preheat the oven to 350º. Scrub the potato clean and prick it with a fork a few times. Rub it with some olive oil and kosher salt, and place it directly on a rack in the center of the oven. Bake until the skin is crispy and the inside is easily pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
  2. Cook the broccoli: Steam the broccoli until cooked to your taste. For this recipe, I like it bright green and not overly tender.
  3. Reheat the chicken if necessary. I added 1/2 Tbsp. chicken broth to it and popped it into the microwave for 20 seconds.
  4. Split open the warm potato and sprinkle it with a little kosher salt and pepper. Add the chicken, then the broccoli, and season with another sprinkle of salt and pepper.
  5. Make the cheese sauce and drizzle it on top of everything. Serve immediately.

For the cheese sauce:

  • 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 c. milk (I used 1%)
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. minced onion
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 tsp. table salt
  • small pinch of cayenne
  • 1 oz. cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (I used sharp)
  • more salt and pepper to taste
  1. Whisk the cornstarch into the milk and set aside.
  2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring constantly, until the onion is soft and translucent, 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the milk/cornstarch mixture, salt, and cayenne, and bring to a low simmer, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the grated cheese. Whisk until the cheese has completely melted into the sauce—this will hardly take any time at all. You will still see some lumps because of the onion and garlic. Let it bubble for a minute or so to thicken.
  6. Remove from heat, adjust seasoning if needed, and use immediately.