The Fearless Cook takes on….the (sexy) Artichoke

the sexy artichoke

Many years ago, I was put to shame by a teenager and his knowledge of artichokes. He went on and on about how cool it was to be served an artichoke flower. To peel it leaf-by-leaf, dip it in warm garlic butter and savor the fleshy end piece. He made it sound so sophisticated and sexy.  

The music group, Cibo Matta, has a song “Artichokes” whose thinly veiled lyrics are about sex. According to the website 10 songs about food that are really about sex, this song made the number #6 position.  So what better time of year to tackle the artichoke but Valentine’s Day?

I knew nothing about the artichoke plant before taking on this challenge. It is a pretty piece of produce, but also intimidating. It has all these thorny leaves and most of the plant is inedible. It is a thistle plant native to the Mediterranean region and brought to the United States by the Spaniards. I also read that it is a member of the sunflower family.

Another interesting tidbit is that Castroville, CA produces 80% of all commercially grown artichokes. It was put on the map after Marilyn Monroe was crowned Artichoke Queen in 1948. She was the epitome of sex, right?

Steamed Artichokes The New Best Recipe 2004

So here I go. I trimmed off the pin-sharp thorns from the tips of the leaves. It makes for easier handling. Then with a a sharp knife, I tried to cut off the top two rows of  the artichoke. I found this pretty difficult to do, so I used a kitchen shears.

Then I cut the stem flush with the base of the bulb and dropped it into a bowl of lemon juice and water to prevent browning before steaming.

I steamed my artichokes by placing the base on top of a 1 1/2 inch thick onion slice. If you have difficulty balancing the artichoke, then pop out the inner 3-4 rings of the onion.

artichoke steam bath

The pot was filled with water a half inch below the top of the onion rings.

Once the water comes to a boil, then cover and cook for 30 minutes or until the outer leaves release into a flower. I had to check the pot periodically to make sure the water did not boil out.

The artichokes were removed from the pot and cooled for 15 minutes. I served them warm, pulling off one leaf at a time and dipping the bottom end into the garlic butter. To eat, scrape off the end with your teeth. It can also be served cold, but it tastes better warm.

leaf-by-leaf dip into garlic butter - YUM

So one by one you get to the heart, the edible part of the plant. See how much fun it can be if shared by two people? 

The Heart

Remove the fuzzy part to reveal the heart.  

I reserved the artichoke heart for an appetizer. I cut the artichoke into bite size pieces, mixed it with soft roasted garlic and a dash of hot pepper sauce. Served on a crostini.

The Fearless Cook Footnotes

The leaf-by-leaf method is ideal for an intimate meal. One heart to be shared by two 🙂

The cost of one artichoke was $3.00. If I was making an artichoke dip, I would go for the jarred version. You get more hearts for your money. My 9/12 oz jar cost about $3.50. 

My lovely artichoke our time together was fun while it lasted. It was a labor intensive tryst we had for very little food. I’m a practical girl raised in the Corn Belt and we live for food production.

The Fearless Cook takes on…Garlic

Fear, innate in all of us, is a human instinct. It is nature’s coping mechanism to protect us from the emotional bad stuff. The number one thing people are afraid of is a terrorist attack. Cooking in the kitchen did not make the top ten list. My minor in psychology causes me ponder these things.

I grew up in a rural town and some people might say that because of that upbringing I was sheltered from the “real world”. I was exposed to cooking according to how my mom did it in the 60s and 70s. There were five kids in my family and cooking was a way to get food on the table to feed seven people. Cooking with non-traditional ingredients and foods weren’t high on the list.

I will never forget my first exposure to garlic. It was 7:00 am on the hospital day shift and the assistant head nurse was giving me me my assignment for the day. She was of Italian descent and she reeked of garlic on her breath. Whoa! That was overpowering! My mother never cooked with real garlic, ever. She used garlic powder or salt that got sprinkled into a sauce or chili. I had no idea such a thing existed.

This was the beginning of tackling my fear of cooking. I was determined to overcome foods and ingredients I knew nothing about, one at a time. The basics of cooking are the ingredients, one ingredient building on another. One ingredient can make a recipe sing.

So, with respect to garlic, you were my first fear. I looked at you in the produce section all tiny in that wrapping paper of Mother Nature. I wasn’t fond of your strong smell in my hands. But combined with olive oil in a sauté pan and heaven!

As you can see below, garlic comes in many forms,already minced in a jar, already peeled in a bag, dried minced and of course garlic powder. With all the focus of cooking magazines, websites, TV shows and features; garlic is available everywhere now.

When I started cooking with garlic I started with garlic powder. Then I moved to the minced garlic in a jar. Both of these versions didn’t require touching it with my hands. I slowly moved to the real thing and it took an awful lot of practice AND TIME to break open those cloves.

the side of a knife to break open the clove covering

look a clove!

Now, I have broke open many a garlic bulb and the cloves are not always that easy to pull apart and break open. But with practice I have gotten better. Now once it is out of the paper you can put it in a garlic press to mince it (still don’t have to touch it!), mince it or chop it with a knife (full hands on at this point), or put it whole in the food processor (and let the blades chop it for you). I have seen several ways to get the smell of garlic off your hands, which include: pouring mouthwash over your hands, rubbing your hands with kosher salt and lemon, and rubbing your hands on a piece of silver.

Garlic is a member of the onion family. China produces the most garlic in the world with the U.S. 6th in production. Throughout history, many cultures believe in the medicinal properties of garlic. Garlic cloves were swallowed whole or strings of garlic bulbs were worn around necks to ward off viruses and even bacteria. It is available in pill or capsule form in the health food supplement aisle for people trying alternative methods of reducing cholesterol levels. This health benefit has helped the popularity of garlic. Knock on wood, I have not been sick this year. In fact, one day when I felt a cold coming on, I roasted some garlic with vegetables and my sniffles dissipated.

One of the best ways I like to use garlic is to get a big piece of aluminum foil and throw 6-8 whole cloves in with fresh beets from the garden, cover it with olive oil and kosher salt. It gets steam-roasted in a 350 degree oven for about an hour. The garlic is so buttery, soft and wonderful that I eat it whole or spread it on a crostini. No offensive garlicky flavor.

The nice thing about all these different forms of garlic is that it makes it easier for us as consumers to use it more readily. There is a garlic chicken recipe that calls for 40 cloves of garlic. I saw Alton Brown make it once on “Good Eats.”. How would you like to unwrap several heads of garlic, smash and peel until you got 40 cloves? That is labor intensive. That bag of already peeled garlic would save me 30 minutes of prep time. I conquered my fear, but I don’t want to spend my whole day in the kitchen. I do have a full time job afterall.

The Fearless Cook takes on….Chopped Liver

The Fearless cook did a mini survey this week of reader’s fears of cooking and liver appeared.  I am a chicken about liver. I guess I forgot about liver many years ago because I faced my fear about it and moved on.  About 25 years ago I decided I would be “cultured” and try to make pate’. I made it, liked it but didn’t see it appearing in my life again.

In the grocery store, you can find chicken and calves liver easily. My mother used to cook calves liver in the Weight Watcher days of the 1970s when it was recommended to eat once a week for stamina while losing weight. She also tried to feed it to us kids; flouring it, frying it in oil, adding fried onions . She tried to convince us it tasted like chicken. Yeah, sure chicken fried liver, yummy. My problem with liver is I dislike the taste, immensely. 

Liver is an organ; I have one you have one and animals with vertebraes have them also. It is an organ where the protein stores for the body lie. I am all about trying to be healthy and liver is high in iron and Vitamin A, but it is also high in cholesterol. Many cooking sources recommend not to eat it very often. 

I decided to make chopped liver. Chopped liver is a traditional dish served in many European countries and for those of Ashkenazi Jewish decent (www.brighthub.com).

So, I searched several recipes and found Ina Garten 2001 Barefoot Contessa Parties! recipe for Chopped Liver.  This is from www.foodnetwork.com website. I love Ina Garten because her recipes are simple and delicious. It also had about 100 or so reader reviews that were highly favorable. Any liver recipe that can “hide” the taste of liver sounded good to me.

Ingredients: 
2 lbs of chicken livers
2 lbs of chicken liver

free range chicken liver

1 cup of rendered chicken fat (or extra virgin olive oil=EVOO)
2 cups of diced yellow onion ( 2 med onions)

diced onion

1/3 cup Madeira wineMadeira wine
4 large eggs, hard-boiled, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup parsley
2 tsp fresh thyme
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper

Drain the livers, saute in 2 batches each with 2 TBSP fat or EVOO at medium-high heat, turn once for a total of 5 minutes, with the center barely pink. The recipe recommends not to overcook the liver or it will be dry. Transfer to a large bowl.

saute the chicken liver

In same pan, saute the onions in 3 TBSP of fat or EVOO for until golden. Add the Madeira and deglaze the pan, scraping the sides. Transfer to the bowl with the livers.

Add the eggs, remaining fat or EVOO, parsley, thyme, salt, black pepper and cayenne. Toss to combine.

Transfer to the food processor and in batches pulse until coarsely chopped. Okay, it turned into a puree, like pate’.

Season to taste, chill in the refrigerator and serve with crackers, matzo or crostini.

Chopped liver is served

Okay, I made a few mistakes, but corrected them as I went along. I had to go back and add the hard-boiled eggs and the EVOO because I forgot them. The picture above with the eggs shows them being added to already pureed ingredients. What I learned from my mistake, and tasting as I went along is that the eggs and the oil helped dampen the strong liver taste. It tasted much better after adding them.

The second thing I learned is that this makes a whopping amount of chopped liver. I think it made about 3-4 cups. I am lucky that I am taking it to a party this weekend. I’ll let you know how the guests like it. If I made it again I would cut the recipe in half using only one pound of chicken livers.

The dog thought it smelled great

Cooking the liver made the kitchen smell wonderful. Okay the dog did get a taste of the liver freshly cooked from the pan. She is a such a faithful fan.