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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!

Lemony Pepper Salmon + A Taste of Iceland

France, Italy, Japan…these are countries known for their food. But, Iceland? It had honestly never even crossed my mind. That is, until I stepped foot in Rialto, a restaurant located in Boston’s Harvard Square.

Rialto is an Italian restaurant, but that night we took our taste buds on a trip to Iceland. Iceland Naturally, an organization that seeks to encourage tourism, recently hosted Taste of Iceland, an annual festival that brings the country’s food, music, booze, and culture right to Boston. Lucky me!

I was invited to attend the media tasting event for the special Icelandic popup menu at Rialto, where we were treated to passed bites of fishy yumminess. Before digging in, guest chef Hákon Már Örvarsson explained that many of the ingredients where flown in from Iceland, just the day before.

rialto restaurant

I was a bit wary at first, as I’d been told that Iceland’s delicacy is fermented shark, but one bite of the deep fried cod balls and I was a changed woman. The outside was super crispy and the inside had a nice creamy texture. The cured salmon with lemon-sour cream and lumpfish caviar was another favorite. The group I was chatting with made sure to flag it down whenever a fresh tray was in sight.

I also sampled the Arctic Char, which was cold-smoked and then gently cooked. It was so tender and flaky that I could hardly believe it. Note to self: Keep an eye out for Arctic Char and learn about cold-smoking.

Icelandic cured salmon

The meal ended with a Skyr tart. Skyr is an Icelandic dairy product with a similar taste to Greek yogurt. It’s been a staple there since the Vikings invented it. Bet you didn’t know that Vikings knew much about cooking! The tart was chilled, had a crispy oat crust, and was topped with cinnamon flavored poached rhubarb. Second note to self: poach rhubarb.

Overall, it was a delicious fish-infused meal. I was hoping to pick Chef Örvarsson’s brain for some Icelandic cooking tips, but was dissuaded by his mention of “moss dust” which, he assured me, I could find at a grocery store. I’m not so sure. He did tell me about The Miðfjarðara, which is one of the best salmon rivers in Iceland.  Chef  Örvarsson is now the chef at Laxahvammur, an esteemed lodge alongside the river.

Now, I’m no Chef Örvarsson, but I do make a good piece of salmon. It’s simple. Much much simpler than anything I had the pleasure of tasting at Rialto, but good salmon doesn’t need much dressing up. I hope to one day taste Nordic cuisine in Iceland, but until then, I’ll be munching on this Lemony Pepper Salmon.

P.S. I recommend listening to Retro Stefson and Sin Fang while you cook (or anytime). Not only were they a hilarious bunch, but their music is fun, too!

P.P.S. I have no idea what the above tweet means…

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 lb. fresh salmon fillets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • Black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 375o.
2. Rinse salmon, pat dry and place, skin side down, in a cast iron skillet.
3. Pour olive oil over fish and use your fingers or a brush to coat. Squeeze half the lemon over the fish and sprinkle with the black pepper.
4. Cover skillet with tinfoil. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until inside of fillet is opaque.

Sweet & Spicy Marinade

 

My grandmother says that chicken is like a blank canvas. You probably won’t get salmonella from eating a blank canvas, but other than that, she’s spot on. Since I stocked my chicken-roasting arsenal over the winter (see Garlicky Rosemary Roast Chicken), I’ve been going “ham,” making chicken at least once a week. Now that I’m more comfortable de-gutting, cleaning, and generally handling an eight-pound dead bird, I’ve become more adventurous with my preparation methods.

 

Adventurous as I may be, all of my endeavors have included a common thread: garlic. Garlic is my lifeblood. I’m fairly certain that 90% of my meals include it in either roasted, sautéed, or raw form. Maybe that’s why Robert Pattinson never asked me out…

 

In the book Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (my culinary and literary idol), he warns against using a garlic press. He says, “I don’t know what that junk is that squeezes out of the end of those things but it ain’t garlic.” In my book, whatever he says goes, so I’ve kept my distance from them. Though I’ve taught myself a thing or two about mincing garlic, the tiny flecks never totally blend in with whatever I’m adding them to, be it salad dressing, stir fry, or marinade.

 

Cue: my othergrandmother, master chef and yogi (I took a Pop Physique class with this woman a few weeks ago and she can do the splits. THE SPLITS!). Being the supportive grandmother that she is, she reads my blog. Remember when, a few weeks back, I mentioned that a zester would be next on my kitchen wishlist? Well, guess what showed up in the mail a few days later, courtesy of my fairy grandmother?

 

My microplane zester is my new favorite toy. It comes in handy for zesting lemons, chocolate, ginger, and you guessed it – garlic. Anthony might not be on board with this stuff, but when you’re in college and don’t have a million dollar knife set at your disposal, something’s gotta give.

 

 

The great thing about using the zester for garlic is that it minces the cloves super fine (almost into a paste) so that it gets fully integrated into whatever you’re cooking. For me, this means more garlic coverage when I’m marinating, roasting, and basting my chicken.

 

If you’ve ever roasted garlic, you know a thing or two about that smooth, velvety, creamy flavor that comes with it. But if you’re a garlic fiend like me, you just as much love the bite and burn of the raw stuff. For this marinade, I capture both of these flavors, plus some Asian flare, because, you know, why not?

 

Though the marinade may seem super spicy when you taste it, fear not. These flavors will all soak into your chicken, leaving you with a crispy skin and tangy meat.

 

Ingredients
·      5 garlic cloves, minced or “zested”
·      1 teaspoon paprika
·      ½ teaspoon chili powder (for a smokier flavor) or cayenne pepper (for a spicier kick)
·      1 teaspoon fresh chopped or “zested” ginger (or ½ teaspoon ground ginger)
·      ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
·      2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce (found in Asian markets or at Trader Joe’s)
·      ½ cup olive oil
·      ½ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
·      3 tablespoons light brown sugar

 

Directions
1. Place garlic and spices in a jar.
2. Using a spoon, a dull knife, or a small spatula, mix until ingredients forms a cohesive, thick paste.
3. Add olive oil, soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce. Cover jar and shake until combined.
4. Add ginger (if using fresh) and brown sugar. Cover and shake again.

 

Check out my Garlicky Rosemary Roast Chicken post for instructions on how to marinade and cook the bird herself, or try it on pork chops or eggplant!

 

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