Cooking Green: Not-for-Faint-of-Heart Baked Artichoke Heart Dip With Almonds
I enjoy having good friends over. I also enjoy cooking and eating. You'd think I would love to entertain then, with all that that word implies. Not so much. I am what Sandy Coughlin would call a "reluctant entertainer," someone who enjoys company but lets perfectionism or lack of resources get in her way. But having good recipes to make and share definitely makes entertaining easier.
Recently, I decided to try a recipe from Jackie Newgent's Big Green Cookbook. Now, I consider myself environmentally conscious. I recycle almost everything. I don't throw away anything unless it's been fully used. I'm always flipping lights off. However, I am not necessarily what Jackie Newgent would call a "green" cook. Indeed, I hadn't really thought that cooking really had anything to do with preserving the environment. But in Jackie's new Big Green Cookbook, she presents a new way of thinking about the kitchen and all things food. Her book is full of recipes that are "full-flavored and have a nutrient-rich focus." All recipes feature:
- Fresh, whole, organic foods
- Plant-based ingredients
- Seasonal produce
- Environmentally-conscious products
- Either sustainable fish and shellfish, or petite portions of meats
- As little cooking time as possible
On almost every page is a "green cooking tip," a suggestion or two on how to reduce waste and energy consumption when preparing that recipe. The author actually encourages use of microwaves and toaster ovens over conventional ovens because the latter tends to use energy inefficiently. I decided to put one of Jackie's recipes and a few of Sandy's tips to the test, preparing an appetizer from Jackie's cookbook to serve at a New Years' Eve party I hosted. Jackie's "Not-for-Faint-of-Heart Dip" offers a "green" version of the popular artichoke heart dish:
Not-for-Faint-of-Heart Baked Artichoke Heart Dip With Almonds
- 10 ounces fresh micro-steamed or thawed frozen artichoke hearts, chopped (or about 3 large fresh artichokes)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 8 ounces shredded organic or locally-produced mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
- 2 1/2 oz. freshly-grated organic or locally-produced Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/3 cup finely-chopped chives
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 cup sliced raw (natural) almonds
- whole-grain crackers
- Combine the artichoke hearts, oil, and salt in a large, 2-quart, microwave-safe dish. Let marinate for 15 minutes.
- Stir the cheese, mayonnaise, and half the chives into the artichoke mixture. Add the black pepper and cayenne.
- "Micro-roast" (cook in microwave oven) uncovered on high until the dip is hot, cheeses are fully melted, and edges are bubbly, about 4 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Sprinkle with the almonds and the remaining chives.
- Serve warm with whole-grain crackers.
When all was said and done, my dip turned out to be one of many similar ones served that night. Did I worry that my guests would be unimpressed or that they would notice that my house wasn't perfectly clean? No, I took Sandy's advice and focused on making my guests feel comfortable. The dip was fabulous and the evening was very enjoyable.