Artichoke Dip

Be warned – this is not your average mayo-laden, saltier-than-all-get-out artichoke dip. Oh no. This, my friends, is an artichoke spread inspired by a very similar dip I picked up at a great store in Chicago that sells only locally-grown veggies and other locally-made specialties. Last week, they had a number of items from a Middle Eastern bakery, including a whole-grain pita that goes very well with their artichoke spread. I was so in love with this spread, I wrote down all the ingredients, determined to make it at home.

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And well, I must say, I really think I succeeded. The spread I made was just as addicting as the original version – salty and tangy and a wee bit sour – and I use all those adjectives in the best possible ways. Throughout the course of the week, I ate it with pita chips, the aforementioned whole-grain pita bread, regular wheat bread, a piece of cheese… well, you get the picture. I *might* have licked the bowl. One thing is for sure: I will be making and remaking this recipe throughout the year. I almost always have most of the ingredients on hand anyway, and I’m already thinking of ways to get funky with it. Throw in a few garbanzo beans – sort of an artichoke/hummus dip. Maybe toss in a whole boatload of spinach. Pile it on top of some heirloom tomatoes. Toss it with some pasta and summer veggies like zucchini. Endless, I tell ya!

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Artichoke Dip

Inspired by Middle East Bakery’s Artichoke Spread

2 cans artichoke hearts, packed in water
1/2 cup green olives with pimentos
2 small cloves raw garlic or 1 big clove
handful parsley
juice of 1 lemon + tiny amount of zest
2 teaspoons capers
1/2 cup olive oil
pepper (didn’t need any salt thanks to the olives and capers)

It couldn’t get easier – toss it all in the food processor and combine. Use more or less oil accordingly. Eat with pita chips or just a spoon.

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Summer Market Pasta

One of the best stands at our farmer’s market is one that I don’t visit that often. The veggie stands – yes, all the time – I buy most of my loot at the veggie stands. But the mushroom stand? I only buy mushrooms every once in a while for some reason. And the mushrooms are awesome. They have a “variety pack” for $10 that contains a whole brown paper bag full of cremini, shitake, and chantarelle mushrooms.

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They’re beautiful, aren’t they? That same trip I picked up some fresh English shelling peas. The combination was made for a pasta. At least, in my kitchen, the combination seems meant for a pasta.

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Also in this pasta… a grass-fed, organic spicy lamb sausage from Mint Creek Farms in Stelle, Illinois. I know – aren’t you surprised? Sooner or later, my meat-eating ways will stop surprising you.

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Summer Market Pasta

whole wheat linguini – cook according to package directions
large bunch of various mushrooms
fresh English shell peas – about a pound – shelled
2 links of spicy lamb sausage (or any chorizo or Italian sausage would work well)
big handful of spinach
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup dry white wine
big glug of olive oil
parmesan cheese

Start by sautéing the garlic cloves in the olive oil. I like slicing them – I prefer the big chunks. After about 2 minutes, toss in the mushrooms and white wine. Let the wine reduce to about half. Meanwhile, in a separate pan, saute the lamb sausage. When those are seared on each side, toss them in the white wine/garlic/mushroom mixture. Add the cooked pasta. At the very end, toss in the peas and spinach, then take of heat immediately. Serve with shredded parmesan.

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Berries & Cream

Is there anything better than a fresh summer strawberry at the peak of ripeness? Our farmer’s market is bursting with fresh blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries (mostly from Michigan, though plenty from Illinois as well). You can also tell when berries are in season – you can buy a pound of strawberries from Stanley’s for less than $2. They’re not locally sourced, but they certainly are cheap.

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I made this rather large berry dessert the same day I made gazpacho. It’s plenty healthy, too, unlike a more traditional berries and cream recipe. Greek yogurt replaces the cream – and while Greek yogurt can be very fatty also, it is still healthier than regular cream due to the presence of the active cultures. And cats love it too!
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To boost the health factor, I ground some flax seeds and used Agave Nectar instead of sugar. It turned out to be light, refreshing, and perfect for a very hot day in July.

Berries & Cream
1 box strawberries
1 box blueberries
1 small cup plain Greek yogurt – Fage is my favorite
1/8 cup flax seeds, ground in mortar & pestle
handful of sliced almonds
drizzle of agave nectar

Wash the berries and chop strawberries into bite-sized chunks. Layer them on a plate, then top with yogurt, almonds, and ground flax. Drizzle with agave to taste.

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Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonics

This weekend I had a party with close friends. One of those parties you have right before you get married. I hate the traditional name for it, so let’s just call it a b-party. A weekend-long extravaganza. Good food, good friends, and probably most importantly, good drinks.
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I had one rule for this party. Ok, maybe a couple. No pen*ses, no sashes, no tiaras, no tutu skirts, no tacky, cliche, “traditional” things that people are “supposed” to do at these parties. Ok, forget the no pen*s thing…

Trust me, we were pure class. We had a Bottles & Brushes party. With a live model. A male model. A naked male model. And a BarcaLounger.
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Let me tell you – you can’t have a room full of giggly girls with a naked man in the room without cocktails. The cocktails were important. They were essential. Practically mandatory.
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I made two – the cucumber lime gin and tonics that are the title of this post, and a watermelon vodka spritzer that was a serious hit. Unfortunately, after too many gin and tonics, I forgot to photograph the watermelon spritzer. They were both perfect for the hot summer day – and the naked man lounging in the BarcaLounger (yes, he enjoyed a cocktail before he dropped his pants).
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Cucumber Lime Gin and Tonic

3 cups good quality gin
4 cups tonic
1/2 English cucumber, sliced
3-4 limes, to taste

In a pitcher, squeeze the limes and combine with the cucumbers. Keep the leftover lime in the pitcher and combine with gin and tonic.
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Watermelon Vodka Spritzer

juice of a seedless watermelon
5-6 mint leaves
2-3 limes
1 lemon
2-3 cups good quality vodka
2 cups soda water or tonic, if you prefer it a little sweeter

Juice the watermelon using a juicer, or by blending and straining out the pulpy chunks. In a pitcher, muddle the mint leaves in the juice of the lemons and limes. Pour in the juice, vodka, and soda or tonic. Stir to combine.