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The Episode in Which I Go Granola…Again

A few weeks ago, the Unicyclist was tapped to bring in food for an evening seminar he’s taking. He said the group has been on something of a hummus kick, so he decided to stick with the theme and whip up a batch of homemade hummus. I chose to balance it with a sweet treat and made a couple pans of granola bars for him to take along.

Apparently, the granola bars were a huge hit, as my husband came home with nary a granola bar and a heaping pile of requests for the recipe. Of course, when he delivered this news to me, the Unicyclist shook his head ruefully. He knows me and recipes…particularly where a staple like granola is concerned. All this meant, however, was that our household wound up with another batch of granola bars this week, as I had to make and measure in order to pass on instructions! So, without further ado, this one goes out to the hungry grad students. May you have long life and abundant supplies of granola. Wo0t!

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About Artichokes

Well, it’s been a busy couple weeks.

I have a new job.  I still have the old job.  (I.e., I work a lot.)  I finished the paper and presentation for the class I was taking on banned books and censorship.  And I have decided to love artichokes.

If you have ever prepared artichokes from their spiny, stiff, pigheaded original state, perhaps you can empathize when I say that they are not necessarily the easiest vegetable to love.  Fortunately, I believe in second chances.  And third ones.  And, in the case of artichokes, fourth ones.

This is something I enjoy about our (my and the Unicyclist’s) attitude toward food: we believe that pretty much anything can be delicious if prepared correctly.  He may not pine for okra, but he sure likes it when I make it sauteed with onion, tomato, cumin, and dried red pepper.  Likewise, up until a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t a rabid fan of fresh artichokes stuffed or boiled or drenched in butter (the first ways I tried cooking them).  However, I was certain they had to be good somehow.  Living so close to Cali, some of that Golden State artichoke passion has wafted over here.  Basically, it felt nearly criminal to fail to thrill to artichokes after I had seen The Giant Artichoke restaurant in Castroville, CA.  So I kept trying.

Last week, I found the sweet spot.

Hello, grilled ‘chokes.

So how can you join the artichoke fan club?  Read on for full instructions!

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From the Experimental Kitchen: Creamy Carrot Soup with a Side of Baby Chard

Vegetables are amazing. I mean, there’s kohlrabi, which looks like nothing quite so much as a purple and green UFO camouflaged with a few leaves in order to lurk in your home gardens and probe the tomatoes and eggplant undetected. There are lumpy and bumpy and spiny cucumbers, amazing zebra-striped tomatoes, tenacious snap peas, and, of course, the artichoke. The artichoke is a testament to human ingenuity, as I am still baffled as to how anyone ever figured out that the artichoke bud was edible. In addition to all the oddball shirttail relations of Veggieland, however, there are the gorgeous cousins, like these sunset-hued, violet-red carrots.

We took home a bunch each of the last two weeks from our CSA, which meant that it was definitely time for carrots for dinner at our house. My first inclination was to roast them with some of my wonderful WildTree lemon-infused grapeseed oil, salt, and maybe a bit of dill, but it turns out that the little dill babies the neighbor gave us last week are still a ways away from being bulked up enough to provide dinner. I decided to roast the carrots anyway, though with an alternate ultimate goal: a delicious, creamy carrot soup. I had been wanting to experiment more with vegan versions of creamy soups, and the carrots seemed to be just the ticket. I had made some cashew milk (just like my almond milk, but with cashews) the day before, and I still had all the thick, creamy cashew pulp in the fridge. Perfect, I thought. (Actually, it was more like, “Eh, what the hey,” but that’s sort of how I roll in ye olde kitchen.)  Carrots and cashews seemed like a wonderful combination.

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The Unicyclist’s Standard Version Guacamole Recipe

If I were to become a hard-core locavore (not likely while my patoot is still parked here in ye arid desert), I suspect that I would bend the rules when it came to avocado.  Avocado and I have had a rocky relationship at times, due to my personal conviction that avocado belongs in the savory camp and not the sweet one, but I am still hopelessly devoted to this alligator-skinned fruit.  Never heard of a sweet avocado dish?  Besides avocado smoothies, custards, breads, and pies, there’s a simple breakfast in some parts of Latin America (such as Ecuador, where I spent about six months) that consists of avocado slices drizzled with honey, a slippery, sticky affair that doesn’t sit well with me.  And if you’ve ventured beyond the familiar, dark-green-to-black Hass avocados in the grocery store, you may have stumbled on a larger, bright-green variety that is naturally sweet, making for an odd sort of guacamole.  While it may just be that I’ve never had a really good avocado pie, I’ll confess: I think I can live without one.  After all, avocado fits so nicely in my salads, sandwiches, and guacamole benders.  Which, Gentle Readers, brings us to today’s recipe:

Guacamole.
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Dark Days Challenge: Perfect Pinto Beans

One of the most essential skills for anyone interested in making a delicious, low-cost meal is knowing how to make a tasty pot of beans.  Since I’ve decided to focus on basics here for a while, that means I’m about to tell you everything I know about them thar legumes.  Pull up a chair, people.  Get comfy.  Grab some guacamole.

This week for the Dark Days of Winter Challenge, the Unicyclist and I decided on tacos.  We’d scored local pinto beans through our CSA as well as at the Guadalupe Farmers’ Market, and we do so love a good taco.  Typically, we build ours with soft corn tortillas, black or pinto beans, salsa, guacamole, and a hearty handful of lettuce or spring greens.  I’ll give you the Unicyclist’s guacamole recipe later this week (your knees will melt), but let’s stick with the beans for now, ¿qué no?

I learned how to make a good pot of beans from one Afra Llamas, a woman with whom I worked for several years.  She was newly a U.S. citizen, originally from Mexico, and, baby, could that woman cook.  Silky arroz con leche, salsa so fresh and delicious that people would smuggle it out of parties in disposable cups, and pinto beans cooked to perfection.  I’d fussed and bothered over making good beans for quite some time, adding and removing onion, peppers, garlic, cumin, and all sorts of other goodies in order to make something drool-worthy.  Finally, in a stroke of inspiration triggered by a morning potluck catered by Afra Llamas, I had the brilliant idea of just asking her.  It turns out that making perfect beans is less about ingredients than it is about technique.  Remember that, people.  Play with the ingredients if you want, but if you fuss with the technique, I make no promises.
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On Peanut Butter Apple Oats, Organics, and the Economy

My scalp cringes whenever I hear a middle-class person opining that organically or sustainably produced food is too expensive to be practical (right before said person biffs to Starbucks to drop $3-6 on a caffeinated beverage) or when I hear any garden-variety personfolk bloviating about how it’s cheaper to eat at a fast food joint than it is to eat at home.

Neither of these assertions is necessarily true.  Can they be?  Certainly.  However, that depends largely on what organics you are buying and what types of dishes you are preparing at home, including how many prepared ingredients you are using.  For whole foods vegetarians, especially whole foods vegans, they’re often false.  I don’t even need to address the “hidden costs” of factory farmed produce, dairy, and meat (through environmental damage, taxpayer-funded subsidies, etc.) to prove that.  Case in point?  How about breakfast?

The Unicyclist has been on breakfast duty for the last couple months, something which has allowed him to develop our favorite everyday oatmeal: Peanut Butter Apple Oats.  Today, out of curiosity, I dug up receipts, a food scale, a calculator, and I crunched the numbers to find out how much this tasty, filling dish was costing us. Are you ready?

3 oz. conventional rolled oats from the bulk section at Whole Foods (for .79/lb) = .15

4 oz organic apple bought in a five-pound bag at Whole Foods for 4.99 = .42

1 c Trader Joe’s organic rice milk, at 2.69 for 8 servings = .34

1 T Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter at 2.99/jar = .11

1 T farmer’s market apple butter at 5.00/jar = .17

Add a cup of water (for those of you keeping score to make this in your kitchen, that’s 1 heaping cup rolled oats and 2 cups liquid, plus a diced apple), combine well, cook until creamy and piping hot, and you have breakfast for two people and one Hippo for the grand total of $1.19, or less than sixty cents.  If we’d gotten the organic oats (at about $1.60 in the bulk section, which we skipped because they were out last time we were at the store), we’d have doubled the cost of our oats, which would have upped our total bill to…$1.34.  Again, we’re feeding two people and a 10-pound dog on that. Go ahead and compare that to a fast food breakfast value menu.  I dare ya.

If you’re on a tight budget, embrace the bulk bins.  No, seriously.  Cozy right on up to them.  Snuggle a little if no grocery store employees are watching.  Then stuff a bag with its contents and cart it to the register because dry beans and grains are some of the most affordable items you can pick up, even when they’re organic.

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Dark Days Challenge: Enchilada Sauce Recipe

Several weeks ago, the Unicyclist and I splurged at the Guadalupe Farmer’s Market.  We decided it was time to decorate our place while stockpiling some good food.  That’s how we wound up with a massive jar of mesquite honey and a cheerful ristra of red peppers, one of those beautiful strings of chiles you often see adorning kitchens or doorways in the Southwest.  Both of them are on display in our kitchen, but the honey has definitely been getting more use than the peppers.  You see, I’ve been something of a pepper collector the last couple years.

The Unicyclist and I both like food with bite.  That’s the first problem.  The second problem is that we live in some pretty good chile country.  The third problem is that I have frequented both Native Seed SEARCH and the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Company in the Tucson area a couple times when entertaining out-of-town guests.  Both places have fantastic assortments of chiles, and it’s nigh to impossible to turn any of them down once you give them a whiff.  As a result, I have nearly a dozen unique kinds of chiles commiserating in my cabinets.  There’s morita negro, chiltepín, chile japonés, pasilla Oaxaca, pasilla negra, guajillo, and Santa Cruz hot.  In addition, we have cayenne, paprika, whole mystery ristra chiles, and fresh serranos.  As you might guess, my cupboards smell amazing.

All of which is great.  However, it also means that I’m not giving said enormous ristra as much attention as I ought.  To compound the problem, we’ve received a hearty helping of dried chiles in our CSA share the last two weeks running.  As the chiles piled up on the counter, it became clear that it was time to take action.  It was time to figure out a chile-intensive dish that could help cull some of my burgeoning chile population; thin the herd, as it were.

It was time to make enchilada sauce.

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Reinvented Broccoli Waldorf

I imagine I can’t be the only one of you who looks back on childhood and recalls massive family potlucks at holidays.  These potlucks were a staple in my tender, formative years.  As a matter of course, they involved a mind-boggling array of foods.  You know how when you’re a kid, the family dog seems to be roughly the size of a woolly mammoth, or how the small strip of sand on the lake where you took your swimming lessons seems to rival the shoreline of Mexico in its vastness?  And then, of course, you grow up.  In doing so, you inevitably grow bigger, and you realize neither the dog nor the beach possess quite the massive proportions you had imagined.

When it comes to my family’s potlucks, such is not the case.

The Unicyclist and I attended one just last Thanksgiving, and my 30-year-old eyeballs boggled at what was still an insane amount of food.

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Dark Days Challenge: Darn Good Hummus, Grilled Focaccia, and a New Broccoli Waldorf

For several years, I was something of an anomaly in the vegetarian world.

I hated hummus.  For those of you unfamiliar with hummus, it’s a staple in Middle Eastern and Greek restaurants, as well as in many vegetarian kitchens.  A savory spread of garbanzo beans puréed with garlic, lemon, garlic, and tahini (a sesame seed paste), it’s a healthy and convenient dip for vegetables or for use as a protein-rich sandwich spread.  I loved the concept of hummus.  I just hadn’t had the opportunity to understand what all the fuss was about.  Frankly, whenever I tried to make hummus, it just wasn’t…well…good.

I tried to make it at home.  I even stepped out of character and followed several recipes to a T in my attempts to make something palatable.

I failed.

Then one day, I discovered cumin, and the world was reborn.

Now, we almost always have some hummus in the fridge.  As I mentioned, it’s great for both sandwiches and high-protein snacks, it keeps well, and it’s full of garlicky goodness.  This week, I decided it was time to share my love of hummus with you, so that you all can enjoy it as well.

Although I’m posting my basic hummus recipe, I actually switched this one up today and used tepary beans instead of garbanzos to keep it local for the Dark Days Challenge.  I served it with herbed, grilled focaccia (which I made using our CSA wheatberries and garden herbs) based on the recipe in Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and a fantastic, mostly local, reinvented Waldorf salad.  I’ll be posting the Waldorf recipe later this week.  Lunch was very satisfying: both light and hearty, sweet and salty, chewy and creamy and crunchy.  It was also healthy.

I love when that all comes together.

Enjoy!

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Herbed Sunchokes and Red Potatoes with Yogurt Sauce

If you recall, last week’s challenge meal involved sunchokes as well.  As many of you are undoubtedly aware, eating locally means that when things are in season, you wind up consuming a fair few of them because the harvest dictates what’s for dinner.

It seems that our farm planted enough sunchokes to have them for at least two consecutive weeks, because they were out for the weekly pick-up again.  We actually managed to score a double batch this week by trading in our allotment of dried peppers (of which we already have an entire string) for a basket of sunchokes from someone who apparently felt creatively challenged by the tubers.

After much agonizing over recipe options, I settled on a lighter, herbier version of a traditional au gratin dish for these sunchokes.  I’m not a huge fan of creamy sauces, see, and I get pretty turned off by dishes like scalloped potatoes or fettuccini Alfredo.  To complicate things, I wanted a simpler dish than a multi-ingredient soup.  Basically, I wanted something to let the character of the sunchokes shine instead of drowning it in pools of heavy cream or pureeing it into a liquid.  Me and sunchokes, we’re still getting acquainted.  I may very well make them into a soup if we get them again, but I want to have a better sense of what they are and how they work first, dig?

Care to meet some of the cast of characters?  Sliced sunchokes, red potatoes from the farmer’s market, and a magic herby yogurty sauce, pictured below.  Not pictured: Spinach.  Pecorino Romano.  Fresh yogurt herb sauce for garnish.

This was very much a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of recipe, so forgive the lack of specifics in the following post.  To be honest, I’ve come to realize that very few of my Dark Days recipes make it to publication with any significant specificity.  When that dawned on me this weekend, I was initially horrified.

“Oh, my!” I lamented. “Whatever was I thinking?  However will anyone manage to make this again?”

Then I realized: I don’t want you to make this.

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