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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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The Attack of the Root Vegetables: Garlic-Dill Roasted Carrots

Lurking in our fridge, buried deep in the crisper, huddled between bags of salad greens, you will find them.  Or at least you would have up until yesterday.

Several weeks’ worth of root vegetables had very nearly taken over our fridge.  Between the farm visit and our regular CSA pickup, our stash had grown significantly without us really noticing.  When we did finally realize we were outnumbered six to one by turnips, it was touch and go for a while there. Fortunately, we are stout and hardy folk, and we managed to quell the veggie uprising with some seriously dedicated roasting this weekend.  I scrubbed, sliced, cubed, and roasted three pans worth of turnips, sweet potatoes, beets, and carrots.  It was all delicious, but I confess that I really fell hopelessly in love with the carrots. These are the carrots I had wanted to make a couple weeks ago but had to forego due to my undersized dill plants. However, it’s been in the 80s and 90s here, and I have been a faithful hydrator. This weekend, my patience was rewarded.

Not only were these carrots gorgeous, but did you catch the part where I mentioned there was dill involved?  And lemon.  And garlic. Holy yum.

It was a beautiful thing.  It was so beautiful, in fact, that I’m sharing it with you.  Without further ado, here is a recipe for some Dang Fine Carrots.  You can eat them hot, cold, or tossed on top of a salad.  Whichever way you eat them, I hope they make your eyes roll back in your head with delight and your toes curl with bliss. Best of all, it’s one of those simple, non-recipes that don’t require you to blow any gaskets about measuring.  The basics are here—you just work with those!

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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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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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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Sweet and Savory Kabobs

Early this morning, awakened by the dulcet tones of one Mr Hippo singing to the sunrise, I got up, got dressed, and headed to the farmers’ market to see what I could scavenge for our Dark Days Challenge meal.  The fridge was a little bare, since our CSA pick-up last week was canceled due to the holiday.  However, the Unicyclist and I had an inkling of what we wanted: kabobs.  Rich and savory kabobs to slather with the leftover muhammara from our Christmas Eve shindig.  Last night over dinner, just as we’d decided this, the Unicyclist was struck with a bolt of inspiration.

“What about dessert kabobs?”

Brilliant.  And timely.  As everyone knows, nothing makes a party like food on a stick, so consider these recipes my belated Christmas gift to you.  Both the savory and the sweet kabobs we made would be a wonderful, healthful addition to any New Year’s Eve fiestas.

Let’s get into it.  First: the ingredients.

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Dark Days Challenge Recipe: Apple and Sweet Potato Bake with Greens

Apparently last week over at Urban Hennery, some murmurings started sneaking in about how many of the Dark Days Challenge recipes people had been submitting seemed…well…complicated.  It seems some of the folks taking the challenge for the first time were taken aback by the ambitiousness of multi-course dinners and fancy sauces created by those who have been local fooding and cooking from scratch for a good long while.

I’m sure you all know my stance on that.

I dig fancy-pants meals sometimes.  I really do.  But simple is also good.  Very good.  And tasty.

I can do simple.

So, this week, I decided to keep my Dark Days meal extra-simple and use some ingredients that more folks would be able to find without, you know, having to move to the desert.  With the exception of the orange, I think I done good. Basically, I am excited that so many people did sign up at Urban Hennery for the challenge, and I hope they keep it going.  You know, sometimes you have scrambled eggs for dinner  or squash and a salad.  That counts, too!  And so does this week’s project: sweet potato apple bake with a side of wilted winter greens.

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Kid-friendly Risotto (Really), or, The Cheesy Barley Pot of Yum Yum

Now, I’ve sure eaten risotto.  Good risotto.  When the Unicyclist was living in Europe for a year for his studies, we were fortunate enough to take a month to explore.  While I may not be able to recall just exactly  what all our particular priorities were for our travels, I do remember that art, architecture, and food figured pretty high on the list.  That’s how we wound up in Italy.

Enter risotto. Well, and pizza and a plethora of amazing pastas and calzones and fabulous beans, but that’s all off-topic.

Risotto.  Mmm-mm, risotto.

See that?  That’s butternut squash risotto with fried sage leaves and toasted walnuts.  This picture makes my knees weak even now.

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Healthy Christmas Dinner–Success!

The Challenge: Pull off Christmas dinner for seven in a one-butt kitchen without tripping over any one of the five dogs underfoot

The Menu: Lentil soup, roasted root veggies, green bean casserole, fresh bread, stuffing, garlic mashed potatoes, mixed greens salad with goat cheese, cranberries, and pecans, pumpkin and pecan pies, and the requisite turkey and gravy for the omnivores in the group

Mom and I had a pretty elaborate choreography going on in the kitchen.  As mentioned, it’s a one-butt kitchen, and there were two to three human butts in it at most times, never mind the doggie butts…or the extremely hopeful doggie faces.  Despite the occasional butt bump, everything went extremely well.  So, ready for the skinny on a couple of the dishes?  After the jump, find out how I modified some classics for vegetarians and those concerned about blood sugar.

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