Tangy Stuffed Italian Artichokes

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“What is your practice?” That is the question the substitute yoga teacher asked the class. To be honest, having only started vinyasa yoga four years ago, I have never considered myself as someone who had ‘a practice’. I never even saw myself as a yoga person. In my mind, yoga was far too calm and quiet for a fidgety person like me to embrace. But then, one day, someone you’ve never met before asks you the question and you realize that you DO have a practice and that despite not believing that you are a yoga person, you have changed, you are that person. And all of the things that you hated about it, you now embrace, and you find yourself pleased with what you have silently become without ever realizing it was happening. Life is odd that way.

Cooking was similar for me. I never saw myself as a cook. My mom is a great cook and growing up she did all of the cooking, so I put myself in charge of the baking. Breads and sweets were my specialty. During college, I dabbled in cooking, but it wasn’t until I was married that I began cooking in earnest. Suddenly, I was a cook and it had happened so gradually that it was only in retrospect that I realized it.

As much as I love to cook, I adore when others cook for me. It’s a true culinary adventure not knowing which ingredients have been combined in the preparation of a particular dish. The recipe I am sharing with you today is one of my mom’s recipes. It is a similar take on our traditional family recipe with a few change-ups. Capers and olives to give this artichoke dish a hint of tang. And by splitting the artichokes down the middle the filling can be used as a dry dip for the tender leaves.

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Tangy Stuffed Italian Artichokes

Ingredients

4 artichokes, trimmed, thorns removed

2 lemons, halved

3/4 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs

½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated plus more

½ cup olive tapenade or 1 cup black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped

2 TBS capers

1 ½ TBS anchovy paste

1 tps crushed red pepper flakes

salt and pepper to taste

1/8 cup olive oil, plus more

butter (optional)

Directions

Butter a 9×13-inch glass baking dish. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Slice the artichokes in half length-wise. Rub the cut sides of the artichokes with the lemon halves. Squeeze the juice from the lemon halves into the water and add the lemon skins. Add the artichokes and cover and cook until tender; approximately 15 to 20 minutes. To test to see if the artichokes are cooked, gently tug at a leaf to see if it removes easily. Once ready, drain the artichokes in a colander. Set aside to cool. Using a spoon, remove the choke of the artichoke, creating a small pocket of space.

In a bowl combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, capers, tapenade (or chopped olives), crushed red pepper flakes, anchovy paste, oil, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Arrange the artichokes, cut-side up, in the prepared baking dish. Fill the artichoke pockets with the breadcrumb filling. Lightly sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. Place in oven for and additional 15-20 minutes. If a crispy texture is desired, dot with butter and broil artichokes until golden brown; approximately 2 to 3 minutes.

Note: If preparing in advance, cook and fill artichokes and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before baking. Artichokes can be made two days in advance.

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Sidebar: You may notice that in the first two images the olives are sliced, while in the remainder of the photos olive tapande was used. Obviously the recipe was so delicious I have made it more than once!

Grapefruit Smoothie

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There are some days realizations hit you harder than others. I had one this week as I watched my daughter start high school. In all reality I can’t believe that I am old enough to have a daughter in high school. I couldn’t possibly be that old! Honest truth- I do (have a high schooler) and I am (old enough)!

The transition of going from her parent to her confidant was quicker than I could have ever imagined. Wasn’t I just telling the family that we were pregnant? Or that she was five, then ten, then thirteen? I vividly recall bandaging up scrapes, putting on crowns, reading her stories, dressing her up like her favorite princess, holding her hand, wiping her tears, kissing her cheeks, holding her on my hip. And now watching her run out of the car to meet her friends as she fends off boys glances and begins to saturate her brain with excessive amounts of knowledge.

If I am lucky I have four more years of making her breakfast, lunch and dinner, recording her smile, cherishing her stories and giving her guidance and then she’ll fly away to college and life will abruptly change again. I just can’t go there right now. I must live in the now or I’ll end up in a heap of tears on the floor and that can’t be my reality today. Today is about remembering the sunshine moments and smiling at how far I’ve come in my parenting journey. Kids change you – they reveal the cracks in your every day armor. They inspire you, frustrate you, bring you tremendous joy and sometimes fear. Their smiles make your heart explode with joy and their tears reduce you to rubble. Children are these precious little orbs of experiences that you’ll do anything for; even in a horribly sleep deprived state of mind. More than anyone, they believe in you and are programmed to bring out your every emotion …and sometimes all at once! Words don’t do the experience justice – which is how I feel about this next crazy recipe – Grapefruit Smoothie.

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This bitter sweet treat has the freshness of summer, a tang of citrus and a slightly tart puckering effect. It is a blender treat that takes only minutes to pull together. While some may hold tightly to the perception that ‘maybe grapefruits aren’t made to smoothie’ I would strongly debate that is exactly why this recipe needed to happen.

Grapefruit Smoothie

Ingredients

1 ruby red grapefruit, skin removed

¼ of an avocado, skin removed

6 medium strawberries (approx. ½ cup), stems removed

1 cup frozen raspberries

1 carrot

1 TBS honey

1 tsp vanilla

Directions

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until well combined. Consistency will be thick and can be thinned out with water.

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Mette’s Norwegian Ham & Cheese Horns

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There is a special kind of feeling you get during the summer – a carefree playful spirit that finds its way into the warm meandering days. A few weeks ago I unexpectedly found myself alone on my drive up to the mountains for vacation. The hot sun beating down on the car as I took the mountain curves, passing the slower moving semi trucks, my favorite play list was blaring through the sound system, all the windows Continue reading ‘Mette’s Norwegian Ham & Cheese Horns’

Bountiful Fig Bowl

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Looking for a work/life balance? I know I am. And in my quest for balance and enlightenment I am always excited when I come across antidotes in magazines or realize observations from my everyday life. Regardless of where I pull my inspiration from, I am always appreciative that these moments invite me in to take stock of where I am. I am not always in a good place, but I try to pull myself above it.

I recently read an article on the healing attributes of kindness. My ‘ah-ha’ moment was to think of kindness as being a practice vs. an action item or a process.

Let’s be honest. It is not always easy to be kind; challenges are inevitable. (And as a parent, I can attest to the challenges!) Bottom line- Someone will always be driving slow in the fast lane or passing on the right. Mean-spirited gossip will forever be circulating at school or work. There will always be angry online commenters, personal upheavals. And that’s OK — as long as we keep looking for ways to practice kindness. It’s all too easy to fall into the kindness trap of thinking that benevolent acts are an achievement that has an endpoint: You did all the right things, so now you can check “being kind” off your to-do list. The cure for the ‘kindness trap’ according to psychologist Elisha Goldstein, PhD, author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion, is to strive to develop a growing awareness of what happens when we stray from kindness, and then gently direct ourselves back toward the compassionate path.

The act of focusing on others can reduce our eat-or-be-eaten anxieties. And in the process, it may actually improve our health and well-being. And kindness does get easier with practice. When we’re good to others, says Goldstein, our mental habits of scarcity, negativity, and rigidity begin to shift. We become less and less worried about getting our share.

I do find that as the wheels start coming off, it helps me to try to cultivate a sense of satisfaction. Even when I feel like life is a chaotic mess and I am not getting the love, respect, or personal time I deserve, I try to take a step back to recognize a few good things in my world. I try to remind myself that every day is a gift and to take nothing for granted. But let’s face it, I am human, and this doesn’t always happen. But like yoga or cooking, I remind myself, that it is a practice and I keep trying to refocus my mental views. The brain is a phenomenal muscle – I am committed to exercising it like I do my palate. And on that note let’s talk about starting off the day with a bowl of yummy goodness- Bountiful Fig Bowl.

The delicate fig flavors blend perfectly with the creaminess of unsweetened almond milk. And the toppings make eating it an event. There is no end to the creativity you can do to make an art of breakfast. Until this invention I was the only fig eater in the house, now I am starting to guard my figs as this recipe takes its place in our kitchen.

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Bountiful Fig Bowl

Ingredients

1 cup almond milk

4 figs, sliced into quarters (I used both Sicilian (yellow) and Mission Figs (dark purple) in the two bowls photographed)

2 majool dates, pits removed

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp protein powder (optional)

1 TBS psyllium husk

Topping options: sliced banana, sliced figs, quinoa puffs, sliced figs, nuts, etc.

Directions

Place all ingredients except Psyllium husk in a blender on high speed until smooth. Add in Psyllium husk and blend to combine. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to thicken up. Decorate with toppings and make your food into art!

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Fudgiest Peanut Butter Smoothie

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This week’s episode of ‘I am not cooking!‘ is brought to you by my faithful blender.

I am a newly converted blending addict. There is no way around it. No matter how much I dream about a nice hot meal I keep on blending. Fortunately it is summer so it’s slightly less noticeable. >she tells herself in affirmation< Continue reading ‘Fudgiest Peanut Butter Smoothie’

Dark Chocolate Raspberry ‘Nana’ Nicecream (AKA Banana Ice Cream)

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This is not the recipe I thought I would post this week, but since today was National Ice Cream Day, I thought I should take the opportunity to share my fresh out of the blender Dark Chocolate Raspberry Nicecream ‘banana ice cream’ with a rich chocolate sauce. This is really some sort of incredible concoction Continue reading ‘Dark Chocolate Raspberry ‘Nana’ Nicecream (AKA Banana Ice Cream)’

Watermelon Basil Sweet Tea

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Right now I can’t cook to save my life. It is just not possible. There are those moments in life when the wheels just come off and you free fall Don Draper style off the high rise. That’s where I am. That’s what my life feels like right now. I’ve tried to ‘pretty it up’ and put lip stick on a pig, but at the end of the day, it is still lip stick on a pig. Nothing more. I am a glass half full type of person, however at a certain point you must also allow yourself to be a realist. Call it as you see it. So here we are.

I’d like to tell you a lovely story of days of yore but tonight I am in my untethered state of being. I’ve been in this space for a while. I’ve have a few non-cooking recipes to share, but just haven’t wanted to face my own words. I wasn’t sure where to start this blog post, nor where to end it. On one hand I am grateful for those that I have in my life and their health and happiness (glass half full), but on the other hand I cannot deny that things ‘suck’ (realist). There, I said it. No gory details, just raw emotions.

Friends and family are what get me through the difficult times. They buoy me forward, make me smile and allow me to forget my troubles. This past July 4th I got together with my usual group of friends. My Guy and I have been spending this holiday together with this intimate group since before we were married, before we had kids or pets or homes to look after. Over the years our lives have moved us all into different areas of Northern California, where we can only manage to see each other regularly on Facebook; yet on this day, the 4th of July, we all converge for our annual gathering. And despite the tsunami of events that have befallen me – not just these past two months, but really these past three years- when I am with this group, my troubles melt away with a feverish drip. We talk about our freedom from all responsibilities, make jokes, act like kids and smile until our cheeks hurt.

In honor of the long holiday weekend, I made this refreshing watermelon basil sweet tea. The spiciness of the tea blended with the sweetness of the fruit and the extremely aromatic basil -with its hint of pepper, anise, and mint- gives this beverage a sweet, and savory, element.

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Watermelon Basil Sweet Tea

Ingredients

1 gallon water

1/2 cup sugar

5 packets decaffeinated black tea

3-5 cups diced watermelon

2 springs Thai basil, blended

watermelon wedge for garnish

Directions

In a large pot over high heat, bring the water to a simmer. Add the tea packets and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Remove packets and allow to cool completely.

Using a blender, blend the melon into a puree. Lightly mash the basil leaves on a cutting board with the flat side of a knife, alternatively a mortar and pestle to release the aromatics or add leaves to a blender with a splash of water and puree. This last method will leave more sediment in the tea but also create more depth. Add the puree and basil to the tea an mix well. Serve with a lot of ice and garnish each glass with a wedge a melon or a spring of basil.

Note: To make this drink more adult, add a shot of tequila, vodka or gin to the glass.

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Shredded Beet & Toasted Sesame Salad- The RAW deal

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I think you know that I’m infatuated with the raw food concept. And while that may sound like an odd concept, on some level we all like raw. Summer is the ‘raw’ Mecca as home gardens and farmer’s markets bust with succulent fruits waiting to burst with sweet juices, fragrant with a lovely floral scent. But let’s be honest, I am not just talking about eating fruits raw, and while I don’t believe I am a full fledged contingent of the growing raw-food advocates group I am enjoying dabbling in it. Do I believe that raw food has more nutrients? Continue reading ‘Shredded Beet & Toasted Sesame Salad- The RAW deal’

Summer Quinoa Pumpkin ‘Risotto’

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It has been good to have time to roll-up my sleeves and cook. Many times it is those simple creations that are the most enjoyable to make. A few unusual ingredients tossed together create a memorable dish. Cooking is very forgiving, unlike baking. Improvising is the key to flexing your culinary muscles.

I recently had the chance to meet up with Chef Josiah Slone at his restaurant Sent Sovi. He prepared a dish for me that will appear in the next edition of Silicon Valley Edible. It is beautifully simple, fresh and delicious. That dish in some way inspired me to create this very light summer pumpkin quinoa risotto (have I peeked your curiosity yet?).

I’ll be honest, I had been thinking about creating a dish with quinoa, but when it came down to preparing it, the fresh ingredients I used were all things that I had in the refrigerator. I tell you this because I think it is important to improvise. The simplest way to do this is to begin with basic substitutions like swapping ingredients — quinoa replaces Aroborio rice (cooking time is greatly adjusted), you could easily exchange the shallot for fresh garlic or ½ finely chopped medium size onion, pumpkin could be replaced with zucchini, and spinach and kale could be interchangeable as well. The key thing to take into account is how soft you like your vegetables. Pumpkin will cook more quickly than thick slices of zucchini for example. Usually the first time I make a recipe I follow the directions exactly- but once I have insight into the textures and the flavor combinations, I like to experiment from that point forward.

The textures in this dish just work. The nutty flavor of the quinoa blended with the saltiness of the broth and Parmesan cheese combine perfectly with the buttery soft squash texture. The spinach and mushrooms intermingled into this summer ‘risotto’ bring a fresh earthy flavor to the palate. This recipe is perfect as a standalone or side dish.

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Summer Quinoa Pumpkin ‘Risotto’

Ingredients

1 cup red quinoa

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 TBS olive oil

1 TBS butter

½ ripe kabocha Japanese pumpkin (approx. 3 cups or 1 lb), skin removed (optional)

8 oz crimini mushrooms, chopped

2 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

4/3 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated

3 cups baby spinach, cleaned with stems removed

Directions

Cook quinoa according to package directions, set aside.

In a large skillet over medium heat add oil and shallot and cook until softened. Add butter and pumpkin, cooking for 5-7 minutes. Add mushrooms stirring frequently. Then add broth and cook uncovered over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Stir in quinoa and combine until most of the broth is absorbed. Add in spinach, stir well to combine then add cheese. Transfer to a serving bowl.

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Raw Caramel Cookie Bars (vegan, gluten free)

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There are times when life throws you curve balls and instead of taking a good cut at it, it hits you in the head. Okay, this is not a literal story but it is pretty darn close- figuratively and literally. But I’ll skip over those details. Let’s suffice to say that was my week in a nutshell and now I can’t seem to find time to cook. And despite how I crave to be creating meals in the kitchen I have had to redefine my efforts to match my ‘snacky’ healthy palate. This week, I returned to my new favorite food area of exploration – the world of raw, vegan. Continue reading ‘Raw Caramel Cookie Bars (vegan, gluten free)’

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