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Recipe: Spinach Artichoke Dip

Choke a guy named Artie once, and nobody ever lets it go. (Just kidding.) Ah the mighty artichoke. What's not to love? Spiky outer leaves provide a suit of armor, protecting the tender heart within. (Sounds like a metaphor for several of my ex-boyfriends...) During the 16th century, it was considered scandalous for women in the 16th century to partake of the pleasures of artichoke eating. (It was also thought to be a potent aphrodisiac for men.)

A few centuries down the road and into future, it's obvious the artichoke should be welcomed into all our diets - men and women alike. Research has identified the artichoke as a natural antidote to a host of ailments including heart disease, cancer and birth defects. Among antioxidant-rich foods, artichokes are often overlooked, however a July 2006 study tested the antioxidant levels of more than 1,000 foods and beverages and found that artichoke hearts had the highest level among all vegetables measured. They came in fourth among all foods and beverages analyzed in the study. That means artichokes beat out more commonly referenced antioxidant-rich foods such as blueberries, red wine, chocolate, coffee and tea.

Cynara, the first Myth Artichoke
According to an Aegean legend, the first artichoke was a lovely young girl who lived on the island of Zinari. The god, Zeus was visiting his brother Poseidon one day when, as he emerged from the sea, he caught sight of a beautiful young mortal woman. She did not seem frightened by the presence of a god, and Zeus seized the opportunity to seduce her. He was so pleased with the girl, who's name was Cynara, that he decided to make her a goddess so that she could be nearer to his home on Olympia. Cynara agreed, and Zeus looked forward to the trysts to come whenever his wife Hera was away. Soon thereafter, Cynara began to miss her mother and grew homesick. She snuck back to the world of mortals for a brief visit. After she returned, Zeus discovered this un-goddesslike behavior. Enraged, he hurled her back to earth and transformed her into the plant we know as the artichoke.

A few tweaks to a favorite spinach dip - and voila! Delicious artichokeness with a low-fat spin.

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SPINACH ARTICHOKE DIP

Ingredients

  • 2 cans artichoke hearts, unmarinated
  • 1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 block chopped spinach, frozen or fresh
  • 1 8-oz brick reduced fat cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup low fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • optional, chopped water chestnuts for added crunch

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix all ingredients in a baking dish, reserving 1/2 cup mozzarella for toping. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle additional 1/2 cup mozzarella and broil until the cheese browns. Serve with tortilla chips, french bread, pita slices or keep the calorie count down and serve with crudites.

Hostess Gifting: From flower pot to teapot

Headed to a surprise party tonight. So, what to get the girl who has everything? Flowers, of course! I found the most gorgeous, cheerful bouquet at Trader Joe’s this morning. (Granted, I’m a sucker for sunflowers.)  I think fresh flowers are a lovely gift, because they’re something we so rarely buy ourselves. Along with other girlish niceties like beautiful soaps, indulgent, one-bite, luxury chocolates, linen water and quality stationary, just knowing I have fresh flowers in my house seems luxurious and special. If you’re anything like me, you have roughly a dozen clear glass vases stashed in cupboards and on shelves throughout your home. I try to avoid adding to clutter when I gift-give and always prefer pops of the unexpected to the traditional. On the way home from Trader Joe’s I stopped at our local Home Goods and stumbled across this gorgeous, lidless teapot and was instantly sold. What is more ladylike than tea and flowers?

I trimmed the flowers down quite a bit and spent some time arranging to end up with a cheerful, feminine arrangement that seems to smile and exclaim “Life is good!” – exactly what I was hoping for.

Next time you give the gift of flowers – think outside the vase. Mason jars, antique containers, old kitchenware, vintage coffee cans, teapots, pitchers – all make wonderful and unexpected additions to a simple bouquet. And when the flowers are gone, the recipient is left with a useful container she can use again and again.

Or, if you're into repurposing, here is a great tutorial from Pinterest on giving those tired, clear vases new life.

What’s the most unique flower container you’ve ever given or received?

Thinking Outside the Lunchbox: Meet the Bento Box

Move over lunchbox, there's a new lunch box in town. Meet bento! In all fairness, bento is not technically new. It's quite old, dating all the way back to fifth century Japan. So what the heck is a bento box? I'm glad you asked. A bento is a single-portion packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. Long story short, it's a packed lunch in a lunchbox.

The term "bento" originated from a slang term meaning "convenient."  Traditionally people working outdoors (whether in the fields, mountains, on fishing boats or in town) carried their lunches with them because they didn't have time to go home for meals. These boxed lunches typically contained staples such as white rice or potatoes. The boxes provided a simple, convenient way to carry food and to eat on the go.

As time went on, bento evolved from a matter of convenience to a culinary art in its own. Today it is not uncommon to find bento arranged in a style called kyaraben or "character bento," decorated to look like popular Japanese cartoon, comic book or video game characters. Another popular bento style is "oekakiben" or "picture bento," which is decorated to look like people, animals, buildings or natural elements such as flowers and plants. Contests are often held where bento arrangers compete to design the most aesthetically pleasing bento arrangements.

Modern Japanese bentos typically consists of rice, fish or meat and one or more pickled, cooked or raw vegetables. Although bento meals are readily available for purchase throughout Japan, everywhere from convenience stores to bento shops, train stations to department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend time preparing bentos for the family each day.

A little closer to home, bentos have hopped the pond, popping up in offices and school cafeterias around the United States. My recent re-vegetarianism has affirmed a harsh reality: it can be a challenge to find fast, vegetarian-friendly lunches on the go. (And this "harsh reality" was all the confirmation I needed to give myself permission to begin shopping for a bento box of my own!)

Below you'll find a handful of the neato bentos (and bento accessories) I have found along the way...

Not sure you can turn rice balls into adorable pigs? No worries. Here are a couple "doable" bentos even the most amateur bento makers can assemble. Click the image for the recipe...

Recipe: Tart on Tart Pie

There are two kinds of people I simply don't trust in life: 1) People who don't like dogs. 2) People who choose cake over pie. If you fall into either of those categories, stop reading this post now and seek immediate treatment. Assuming you like dogs and pie (or at least pie) continue reading.

In the world of fruit pies an eternal struggle has been going on for centuries: cherry vs apple. It's fair to say this epic battle has not only resulted in the dissolution of friendships and marriages, it has lead to some disappointing dinners as well.

In order to settle the debate once and for all, I have devised a solution. I like to think of it as a little "Tart on Tart" action. So with no further ado, I give you Tart-on-Tart Apple Cherry Pie.

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Tart-on-Tart Apple Cherry Pie

INGREDIENTS

CRUST 1 pre-made frozen crust. I simply can't bring myself to battle homemade crust. If you are a masochist, a quick google should provide plenty of crust recipes. And maybe after you master that impossible skill, you can teach me how to fold a fitted sheet, too.

FILLING 1-2 cans tart cherries, drained 3 tart apples, peeled and sliced (I use granny smiths, but you can mix it up) 1/2 cup sugar 2 T. flour 2 t. cinnamon 1 t. nutmeg pinch of ground cloves

TOPPING 3/4 cup oatmeal 3/4 cup brown sugar 3/4 cup flour 6 T. butter, chilled and cubed 3 t. cinnamon

DIRECTIONS Preheat oven to 400 F. Combine cherries, apples and dry filling ingredients in a bowl. Stir and spoon into crust.

In another bowl, mix together topping flour and cinnamon. Cut in butter cubes using your hands to blend the butter into the dry mixture. If the mixture is excessively greasy, add more flour. If mixture is too dry, cut in more butter. Lightly pack topping over the filling and place pie on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. Bake pie until topping is golden (approximately 35 minutes. Cover crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning. Reduce oven temperature to 350F. Continue baking until apples in center of pie are tender when pierced with a fork and filling is bubbly and thick at pie edges (approximately 25-35 minutes.) Cool and serve.

FOLLOW REVEG OF THE NERD ON FACEBOOK BY ---> CLICKING HERE <--- (works just like a magical teleportation machine, no?)

The Power of Storytelling

A few weeks ago the name TMB (Thailand Military Bank) started popping up and onto my radar. I was perplexed. Thailand isn’t exactly in our neighborhood, after all. I found myself wondering what had inspired people on my side of the pond to talk about and care about a bank 9,000 miles away. So off I went to uncover the mystery. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a video posted by TMB on YouTube. A bank commercial that had inspired over a million views in just over a month? And it’s not even Super Bowl season? Hard to believe.

Only a few seconds into the video, it became abundantly clear that it wasn’t a bank commercial at all.

So what was it?

The power of storytelling.

“TMB (Thai Military Bank) has launched a new brand vision “Make THE Difference” by making a film to inspire people to start thinking differently with a hope that they will start to Make THE Difference to their own world. It doesn’t have to be big, but a little can create positive changes.”

Set in the tiny village of Koh Panyi, this five-minute mini-documentary is based on a true story. In 1986, a group of children in Koh Panyi decided they were sick of just watching soccer – and decided to build a soccer field of their own. One problem: Koh Panyi is a floating village built on stilts in the sea. It didn’t have an inch of spare soil – let alone enough space to build a soccer field.

But the children of Koh Panyi didn’t let that stop their dream. They just started thinking differently.

I’ll let the video tell the rest of the story…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jU4oA3kkAWU

Writer Robert McKee once said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”

We are all storytellers…and story collectors.

Whether you’re tweeting from a concert, chatting with a colleague over morning coffee or writing the next great American novel – your story is who you are.

So…what ideas are you going to put out into the world this week? This month? This year? This lifetime?

What is your story?