Thursday, September 10, 2009

'Choke THIS

A few days ago, my I went to Kroger to pick up some basic groceries. As always happens when I go to the store, I also picked up some random, completely unnecessary items. The most notable this time was an artichoke.

I'd never cooked an artichoke before. I'd never eaten an artichoke before. Sure, I've had spinach artichoke dip, and pizza, or used packaged artichoke hearts in pasta dishes. But the whole thing? Never. I'd been thinking about it ever since I read of Julie Powell's tackling of the Julia Child recipe, so I decided to give that recipe a shot. So that adds another "first" to this endeavor -- my first time making a Julia Child recipe.

I started by doing a web search and finding Julia's recipe here. Eventually, I did my usual YouTube search and found this great pairing of videos that tell you how to eat them, along with some other good videos about how to prepare them. Should've watched those first, but I don't think the cooking was any worse for it.

I started by trimming the stem down to about 1" and just barely nipping off the sharp ends of the leaves with a pair of scissors. Julia wants you to cut off the top of the artichoke as well. I said "Phooey!" to that and only trimmed the stem. I assume that the top trim was to prevent the amount of artichoke that protrudes from the water (pictured... we got a floater). I'm glad in the end that I didn't, because the leaves that would've been trimmed turned out to be the tastiest ones.

My simple solution to how far this thing wanted to stick out of the water. As the water really started to boil, it wasn't as big a deal, only sticking out maybe 1", but early on I was worried. Eventually, I used a pair of tongs to flip it over and stuck a butter knife into the center of the stem to test its done-ness. Perfection.

I had a little more trouble with the lemon-butter sauce. First, I accidentally let my lemon juice mixture brown slightly because I got sidetracked in trying to make the artichoke stay submerged. Then I was just confused -- why would you whisk in *cold* butter? Why not just gradually add softened butter? It's just going to have to melt anyway? But I tried to do it according to the recipe. Somewhere along the line, I think because of browning of the lemon juice, I got weird sediment-like stuff in the mixture. Determined not to let this phase me, I found a tiny strainer and ran the finished product through it into a small bowl to sit while the artichoke finished cooking.

The finished product! Ooh, don't I feel so fancy?!

Well, for a minute, anyway. This is the moment of "erm... how do I eat this thing?" which led me to my YouTube search. Took me a minute, too, to figure out that the bottom couple of leaf layers weren't really edible. The center ones were pretty good, though. But it seems to me that artichoke is, well, a bit bland. I wish I'd added more pepper to the sauce, because it paired well, but still left something to be desired. I think if it had a little spice to it, it would've been good. But I guess I just don't have a big taste for artichoke alone... I like it fine in the aforementioned dishes, but alone... meh. Too much work for something I'm feeling ambivalent about.

The aftermath. I wanted you to see the mess I was left with. Pile of napkins, as between the amount of water in the artichoke and the level of drippy of the lemon butter, I was a bit sloppy. My neat-looking little artichoke was reduced to a pile of garbage. And the lemon butter not only curdled, but the water you're meant to add at the end apparently separated. Euuurrrggh.

I don't get where people talk about the artichoke being "sexy" and "sensual" to eat. I'd describe it as "primal". More than anything, I felt like a monkey trying to get ants from the inside of a stick, or a bird dropping shellfish against a rock.

There was one lovely moment, though, and that's what I'll leave you with. I opened the last couple of inner leaf layers around the "choke", and it made a lovely flower.

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