Archive for October, 2014

Creamy Artichoke Almond Spread

Creamy Artichoke Almond Spread

Being a vegetarian is hard work. First of all, let me clarify that I am not a vegetarian. After my organic farming adventure, first on an environmentalist-run avocado farm, and then on a sustainable meat farm, I’ve landed somewhere in between strictly herbivorous and flesh eating fanatic. The word I rather pretentiously use to describe myself is flexitarian. (Italics so you know I mean it) Meat is for special occasions, or when it’s the really really good stuff.

My biggest fear in being forced into vegetarianism for the first leg of my WWOOFing journey was that I would starve. How can a plate of vegetables really fill you up after a day of tilling the land, or whatever farmers do? When my fellow WWOOFer suggested we make sandwiches for lunch one day, I laughed. There was no turkey, which had historically meant no sandwich. She henceforth blew me away with the most outrageous avocado, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and Creamy Artichoke Almond Spread sandwich. I was forever changed.

soaked raw almonds

I soon learned that being a vegetarian is seriously delicious, as long as you do it the right way. Somehow, spending the day in the garden before picking, plucking, and snipping dinner seems like the ultimate “right way.” I still drool at the thought of our garden fresh ratatouille, Purslane and butter lettuce salads, and avocado-topped wheat rolls. Sad as I am that this spoiled lifestyle can’t be my every day routine here in San Francisco, I have carried away a number of veggie friendly recipes that can be made sans homestead.

vegan sandwich spread

One of my all time favorite staples was this here Creamy Artichoke Almond Spread. This brings me back to my aforementioned concern, that a strictly vegetarian diet couldn’t possible fill me up. This is often addressed in two ways. Eat lots of pasta. OR eat lots of protein in plenty of different ways. This dip is the perfect example of the preferred method of vegetarianism (unless you can somehow subside solely on pasta, in which case please teach my your ways). By using just a few ingredients in a creative way, you can create an entirely unique flavor that’s perfectly healthy and super nutritious.

food processor vegan

Use this spread like you would hummus. Smear it on sandwiches and chips or as a dip for sliced bell peppers, carrots, and cucumbers. It’s got an acidic flavor thanks to the artichoke hearts and lemon, balanced by a kick of garlic, and rounded out with a crazy creamy texture thanks to the raw almonds.

raw artichoke dip

 

It’s also vegan, which means little to us flexitarians, but goes to show you that eating meat free (or practically meat free) is totally doable, delicious, and satisfying.

nourishing meals cookbook

Recipe originates from Bobcat Ridge’s well-loved copy of Nourishing Meals.

Ingredients

  • 1 14oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup raw almonds, soaked in water overnight, then rinsed
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Place all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until combined. Mixture should be creamy and only slightly chunky. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

easy vegetarian lunch artichoke

So Sweet Tomatillo Salsa

tomatillo salsa

As a self-proclaimed food blogger, people hold me to a pretty high standard when it comes to epicurean trivia. This is flattering, for sure, but it also means that I look like a complete dufus when I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’ll usually admit my naiveté, but sometimes my conversational counterpart sounds so confident that I know who/what/where the heck they’re talking about that I have no choice but to nod along in agreement.

This, I can handle. What’s really embarrassing is when someone, especially an older and wiser someone, leaves the night’s menu in my hands, or asks my advice on how to prepare something and I am just at a complete loss. Sure, I know how to cook, and my gracious taste testers say that I’m pretty good at it, but keep in mind, people, that I’ve only been doing this thing for a few years!

The other day, for example, cousin and granola artisan, Deborah, showed me the correct way to dice an onion and, dang, was she proud that she taught the food blogger something about cooking. Lest we forget, this woman has a culinary degree and used to run her own stand at the infamous Marin Farmer’s Market. Welp, this is what I get for shamelessly self-promoting on any and every possible social network. I’ve fashioned some mighty big shoes to fill, and if you’ve ever tried to run in too-big shoes, you know that it can be tough to keep up. Sometimes, it’s just better to roll with the punches.

Such was the case with the tomatillo. If I’m being honest, until very recently I was pretty sure this was just a fancy word for tomato. Like, this month, recently. Call me a poser, a sham, a good-for-nothin’, but tomatillos are new to me. Yeah, I’ve had plenty of tomatillo salsa at taquerias, but my brain was never like, “Hmm, I wonder why this salsa is not red like the others.” It just never crossed my apparently color blind mind.

organic tomatillos

So you can imagine that when Lucie, fellow WWOOFer at Bobcat Ridge Avocados, plucked a bunch of weird flower looking things to make tomatillo salsa, there was some cognitive dissonance going on in this head of mine. I helped her peel back the delicate paper-like leaves to reveal a little green sphere that looked not unlike a tomato. But unlike the tomatoes we were harvesting practically hourly, these guys were no succulent afternoon snack. Simmered though, the combination of tomatillos with all the fixins’ transformed into a decadent, sweet, and mild salsa.

salsa verde recipe

I’ve been hooked ever since. I practically guzzled Lucie’s entire batch, then embellished Robin’s recipe at FlipJack, and was chasing the high all the way to Loló, a bangin’ Mexican tapas spot in San Francisco’s Mission district with perfectly spicy tomatillo salsa. Back in Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to show off my newfound cooking skills, starting with this here recipe.

My captive audience

Over at Whole Foods (sorry TJ’s, this girl is moving on), the summer crops were waning, but there were a few sunny day treats that remained. Tomatillos were among my haul, along with a beautiful Delicata squash because, let’s face it – it may not look like fall in California, but the dog days are over.

simmered tomatillo salsa

Back to our lovely tomatillos, though. This was my first time making this salsa unassisted. I was Lucie-less and Robin-less with only my memory to inform my next move. Luckily, that month of farming stuck with me like you wouldn’t believe, so it wasn’t too tough to recall the major steps.

easy salsa recipe

The result? I’m still hooked. This salsa is refreshing as ever. It’s the kind of stuff that makes you want to eat outside, with a beer in one hand and a salsa-topped tortilla chip in the other. It’s sweet, smooth, and fit for chips, rice, quesadillas, or you name it. I recommend that you make as much as possible and learn a thing or two about preserving. You’ll be thanking yourself in a few months whilst wondering if there’s anything else that grows on this good earth besides kale and squash.

Ingredients

  • 2 handfuls fresh tomatillos
  • ¼ yellow onion
  • 12 sprigs cilantro
  • 1 jalapeño pepper
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Black pepper to taste
  1. Remove tomatillos from their husks. Cut onion into chunks. Remove cilantro leaves from stems. Cut jalapeño into pieces, removing seeds.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a food processor. Pulse until mixture is uniform and relatively smooth.
  3. Heat salsa in a saucepan over medium heat (or whatever heat level keeps it simmering gently) for 10-15 minutes. Color will transform into a darker green and flavors will become more pronounced.
  4. Remove from heat and refrigerate until cool. Serve with chips, over rice, or with quesadillas!

What’s The Pig Idea?

wwoof flipjack ranch

There are certain things in life that you can’t un-see. For me, watching one pig slurp urine from another pig’s stream is extremely high on that list. Amazing to think that I actually tasted smoked pork tongue that very same day! But another thing I can’t un-see is the destruction caused by those very same pigs in the redwood forest they call home.

At FlipJack Ranch, David and Robin practice Rotational Pasture Management. Essentially, this means that we move the pigs to a new fenced area every few days. As I understand it, this is meant to ensure that the pigs don’t destroy the whole forest at once but also that they get to live in their natural habitat. Mangalistas are a heritage breed from Hungary and they absolutely love to forage. They dig for acorns and chestnuts, but it seems like they’re digging for China by the looks of the forrest floor. While I appreciate that it’s their natural instinct to ‘root,’ that doesn’t mean they should be doing it here.

rotation pasture management pigs

Setting up a new electric fence.

The Santa Cruz Mountains are home to a ridiculous amount of old growth redwood trees and four acres worth of them live on FlipJack Ranch. Redwoods are crucial to our climate, capturing more CO2 from human pollution than any other tree on earth. The trees left standing on this property after years of deforestation are utterly magnificent. There’s nothing like looking up to see the sun peaking through layers of redwood branches, casting singular sparking rays all the way down to the forest floor.

santa cruz mountains

Breathtaking, right?

These tall trees are of little concern to me. Under the ownership of David and Robin, they’re not going anywhere. I’m more concerned about the small plants and baby trees that get trampled, chewed, and macheted to pieces to make way for pigs that came from miles away to live and die there.

Listen, I get it. Mangalista makes for some damn good charcuterie and its marbled fat awards it a highfalutin reputation as far as swine is concerned. A pound of this stuff goes for $15, and at 200 pounds a porker, that’s $3000 per pig. As a decidedly omnivorous human, I’d rather fork over the extra cash for organic, local meat, but watching what these pigs do to a forest that’s not even remotely theirs is disturbing to me. Sure, heritage pork is better for you and for the planet than the stuff grown in mass and stuffed with corn, but I’m still not convinced that it’s all good.

mangalista

It’s hard out here for a pig.

The old growth trees at FlipJack aren’t going anywhere, but by parading these pricey pigs through the rest of the forest, we may be preventing the ever-evolving ecosystem that exists there to thrive. Then again, should I have a hankering for cured Mangalista, should I buy it from a provider in Hungary and pay the price in the fuel emissions it took to get here? Or, should we move the pigs out of the forest and degrade their quality of life by confining them to a spacious, albeit boring, dirt pen? None of these questions have answers. There’s almost no right way to eat meat anymore. Our food system has become so globalized that even local food can be detrimental in the long run. Yes, I’d rather buy pork from a local farm than from Tyson or whoever else is ruining our food system, but we also have to admit that ‘local’ is a buzz word. Local isn’t always good, it’s just usually better.

mangalista pigs santa cruz

Great place for a nap.

I feel sad for the baby redwoods that are being stripped of their right to grow as tall as their years-old counterparts. I feel sad that foreign creatures have been introduced to a delicate microclimate for the profit and enjoyment of humans. No, I’m not telling you to stop eating meat, because I have no intention of doing so myself. I do, however, suggest that we all take a closer look at where our food comes from, whether near or far, and consider its impact on the planet we live on.

Farmhouse Apple Pie

cooks illustrated apple pie

When you work on a farm, things don’t always go according to plan. Take just now, for instance. There I was, biding my time during my afternoon break, when I got word that the sheep (soon-to-be lamb chops) had escaped from their pen. Earlier this week, a mountain lion attacked the Mangalista pigs and they ended up a mile up the road, fat and afraid. On my first morning here, the water stopped working. It was a smelly couple of days.

Here, there are no Post-it notes or calendar invites. There are no meeting rooms or employee reviews. There’s no Beer Friday, but that’s only because we drink together every night. Even though things can be hectic, and usually are, and even though I’m the one running around like a chicken with its head cut off, it’s really fun work. Sure, I don’t love collecting feces from barns and pastures, nor do I adore detangling goat leashes. I certainly don’t enjoy smelling like a combination of pig urine, sweet grain, and goose droppings.

But for all of those things I’m not wild about, there’s so much of this craziness that I love. I love that I can’t tell what color my shoes used to be and that the only way I know the time of day is by looking at the sun. I love that I haven’t worn earrings or makeup or a blazer in weeks and that I haven’t once thought about what’s on sale at J. Crew. I love when the goats nuzzle my hands for another scratch on the face and when the sheep nibble sweet grain from my palm. Even better, I love watching them yell, tongues out and mouths open, because it’s lunchtime and I’ve got a fresh sheet of alfalfa. I don’t love mixing concrete, but I love that I know how to and I sure as hell love feeling the force of a chainsaw as I slice through fallen redwood branches for the fire pit.

Farm life is the good life. When things don’t go according to plan, you simply improvise…after, you know, freaking out for a second because where the hell are the effing pigs?!?!? So, the other day, when my fellow WWOOFer Amanda suggested we make an apple pie, we took to the Internet to find a recipe. Much to our chagrin, it was down. Luckily, you’d be hard put to find a farmer who doesn’t have an abundance of cookbooks on hand. We checked out The New Best Recipe cookbook by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, since the magazine is always so thorough, and who am I kidding, I’m anything but a pastry chef.

santa cruz apples

As much as I love Cook’s Illustrated, my eyes glazed over about eleven paragraphs into the section about using butter or shortening or butter and shortening. This book is great as far as details are concerned, but I believe that we should all be cooking the way I’ve been farming. With improvisation! Yeah, yeah, I know – baking is all about proportions and chemistry and all that stuff I didn’t excel at in high school. But if you do your research – and yes, I read the whole friggin’ section on apple pie – you’ll have much more fun playing by your own rules.

lattice top apple pie

So, for this apple pie, we only loosely followed the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. That is to say, yes, we used flour and butter and apples, but the similarities waned thereafter. The result was simply delicious. Unlike the Cook’s Illustrated recipe, which they conceded didn’t hold its form well, this pie stayed together perfectly. The crust was evenly baked on both the bottom and top and the apples were tender but not mushy. In the words of Elena, the WWOOFer from the Canary Islands, it was “so America.”

lattice apple pie recipe

After a long day of shoveling, corralling, feeding, detangling, digging, watering, weeding, and probably any other farm-related verb you can think of, it was such a treat to sit down to a freshly baked pie topped with homemade vanilla ice cream. We didn’t follow the recipe verbatim, but then again, we never do at FlipJack Ranch. You don’t have to stick to this iteration of apple pie exactly, but if you do, I hope you stay true to the part about eating it to celebrate a job well done.

apple pie and ice cream

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 sticks plus 4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons ice water

Filling

  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 pounds tart apples
  • Juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  1. For dough: Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor.
  2. Slice butter into small pieces and scatter on top of flour mixture. Pulse the food processor in one-second bursts until texture is coarse and small pea-sized balls have formed. Place contents into a mixing bowl.
  3. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to gently combine until dough sticks together.
  4. Use your hands to form dough into two balls and then press into 4-inch discs. Wrap with plastic wrap and store in the fridge for at least one hour, or up to two days.
  5. Remove the dough from the fridge and let sit until malleable, approximately 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 450ºF.
  6. Spread some flour on a flat, clean surface. Using a rolling pin, roll one disc of dough into a 12-inch circle. Roll from the center out, turning the dough every so often so that it is rolled out evenly. It’s okay if the edges aren’t perfect. Roll the circle around the rolling pin and unroll on top of a 9-inch pie plate. Gently maneuver the dough to fit the shape of the plate. Place in the fridge.
  7. For the filling; Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. In a mixing bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, ¾ cup of sugar, spices, and salt.
  8. Retrieve pie plate from fridge and spread apple mixture evenly over the dough.
  9. Roll out your second dough disc so that you can cut eight 2-inch strips. Some strips should be longer than others.
  10. Weave the strips together on top of the pie to create a lattice design.
  11. Break off any extra long pieces of dough strips. Fold a small amount of the dough under and press the edges with a fork to seal.
  12. Use a pastry brush to spread the egg whites over the strips of dough and sprinkle with remaining sugar.
  13. Bake at 450ºF for 20 minutes, then turn down to 375ºF and bake until crust is golden and apples juices appear to be bubbling, about 30 minutes.
  14. Allow pie to cool to room temperature and serve with vanilla ice cream!
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