Cougar Gold Cheese Dip

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The Davenport is a lovely historical hotel in downtown Spokane, Washington, where I went to law school. It’s home to a bar called the Peacock Room, which is pretty swanky for Spokane, and back in my law school days I spent quite a bit of time there. How my friends and I had the time or money, I’m not sure, but we would go on Fridays for happy hour and order pricey cocktails, and the waitress would bring delicious little bowls of salted cashews out for the table. At the time, Cougar Gold Cheese Dip wasn’t on the menu, and thank goodness for that or we would have been frequenting the Peacock Room more often than we already were, spending that much more money and gaining that much more weight (or at least spending that much more time at the gym instead of at the law library). The dip debuted on the menu sometime after I finished law school, and I heard about it many times over the years, whenever anyone would go to Spokane and make the obligatory trip to the Peacock Room. I stayed at the Davenport a couple years ago when I was back in Spokane for my younger cousin’s college graduation, and finally had the opportunity to try it for myself. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.

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Cougar Gold is a delicious sharp white cheddar cheese that’s made at the Washington State University Creamery in Pullman, Washington. As a Husky, I’m not supposed to be that into the Cougs, but I have to admit they make some pretty delicious cheese. When I was in college, the only place you could buy Cougar Gold was at the WSU bookstore, and any trip to Pullman included a special trip to the bookstore just to stock up on a few cans. Nowadays you can get it at the Metropolitan Market in Seattle, and at New Seasons in Portland. You can also order it online, and even with shipping it’s a lot cheaper than at Met Market and New Seasons. You don’t need the whole can, however – you only need four ounces for this recipe, and you can buy four ounce wedges at the grocery stores – it’s a lot more economical and you’ll eat a lot less cheese.  I love the can, though, so I splurged. Leftover cheese can be used for Mac and Cheese (there’s a Cougar Gold Mac and Cheese recipe, or you can use it in place of Beecher’s for the World’s Best recipe – legend has it Beecher’s was modeled after Cougar Gold), crumbled next to crackers for the easiest and most delicious cheese plate ever, or for any number of cheesy recipes.  Make this dip first, though – it literally takes five minutes and your friends/family/fellow tailgaters will thank you.

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One Year Ago: Chicken Lasagna Cacciatore
Two Years Ago: Crunchy Baked Pasta with Sausage (or Squash)

Hot Cougar Gold Cheese Dip, from The Davenport Hotel

Serves a crowd 

1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, washed, dried, and chopped
12 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
8 ounces gruyère cheese, grated
4 ounces Cougar Gold cheese, grated
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Baguette, apples, and carrots, and/or whatever else you like to eat with cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Heat olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Add shallot and garlic mixture and season with cayenne pepper and salt. Mix until well combined. Pour into four ovenproof ramekins or a 1 3/4 quart baking dish. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbling (8-10 minutes for ramekins, 12-15 minutes for larger dish). Finish under the broiler for a few seconds until top is golden brown and caramelized. Top with additional parsley and cayenne pepper and serve with sliced baguette, apples, and carrots.

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