Monday, March 26, 2012

Cook and Eat an Artichoke in 15 Easy Steps!

Do you love eating artichokes but have no clue how to cook one at home? Have you never tried one before, but are curious about them? Well, then this post is for YOU! I'm going to detail each step so that you can make yourself one of these delicious treats right in your own kitchen. Growing up just a few miles away from where 75% of the world's artichokes are grown (that's Castroville, California for those of you who are curious), I was practically born eating these things. But I realize that many of you are probably not as lucky, and might even be clueless as to what to do with these delicious green globes. For help, please read on, dear reader...
Steps 1/2: My frost-bitten artichokes, not as pretty but still delicious!
1. Pick out your artichokes. Did you know that there are male and female artichokes? The male artichoke has leaves that point straight up, whereas the female artichoke leaves are more rounded and point inwards. Most people have no preference, though I have heard from a chef friend that female artichokes have a better taste. I don't think I can taste a difference. For a fun activity, pick out one of each, and see if your family can tell the difference!

2. But I digress...When you're home and ready to prepare the artichokes, make sure you have at least an hour. Cooking time will vary depending on the size.

3. Cut off most of the stem, or all if you prefer. If you leave some on, be sure to peel it so it will be edible after cooking. The outer bit is tough and fibrous.

4. Cut or peel off the first 2-4 rows of bottoms leaves. These have a bitter taste and are not for eating.

5. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top 2-3" of the artichoke.

6. If you want to get fancy, use scissors to trim the tops of the leaves. No more pointy ends to stab your fingers!
Steps 3/4/5/6: Trimmed artichoke - not more pointy ends!
7. Using a pot that will fit a steamer, put enough water in there so it won't boil off. I've done this before, and besides making your house quite smelly, you risk ruining your pot for good!

8. In the water, put a bay leaf, peeled garlic clove, and a slice of lemon. This will give your 'chokes a nice flavor. If you don't have these things in your kitchen, plain water works just fine.
Steps 7/8: My pot of water, with Bay Leaf, Garlic and Lemon.
9. Place the steamer on top of/in your pot, and bring the water to a boil. Once it starts boiling, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Depending on their size, artichokes will take 35-60 minutes to cook. They are done when you can easily stick a fork into the bottom. I usually test them around 35 minutes, and go from there.
Step 9: In the steamer, simmering away...
10. Remove artichokes from heat, allow to cool slightly. They'll stay hot for a long time, and you want to be able to peel off the leaves with your fingers, after all! You can also make them ahead of time and eat them cold.
Step 10: The cooked artichoke, cooling and ready to eat!
11. When hot, I like to eat artichokes either with melted brown butter, or a mustard vinaigrette. When I'm eating them cold, the same vinaigrette works well, or you can dunk them in mayonnaise or aioli.

12. Not for the other important part: how to eat the darn thing! I did not take photos of the first step, but what you want to do is peel off the leaves one by one. My method is: peel, dunk, bite, discard, repeat. The outer leaves will be pretty fibrous, and the only part you want to be biting off is the fleshy bit on the bottom, where you've torn it off.
Steps 12/13: A partially eaten artichoke. On the left is the base with the inner, softer leaves.
 13. Once you've gotten through the tougher outer leaves, you'll notice that the inner leaves are much softer. At this point, you can bite all the way through the leaf to eat the meaty part at the bottom instead of scraping them like you did with the outer leaves.
Steps 13/14: Soft leaves on the left, the "choke" on the right.
 14. When you've eaten most of the soft leaves, you'll find you can pull off a bunch of them and eat around the bottom edges all at the same time. This is pictured on the left of the photo above. The part that is left (what looks purple in the photo) should be gently cut out and removed. What's under those purplish leaves is a furry part that gives the vegetable it's name - the "choke." This bit is aptly named, and should not be eaten.
Steps 14/15: The edible and delicious artichoke "heart," with the choke removed and discarded.
15. When you've removed the furry choke, you're left with what is called the artichoke heart. This is the base of the plant, and what some people consider the most desirable part. Cut it up into pieces (smaller pieces make it last longer!) and either eat it plain or dunk it into whatever dressing you chose.

And that, my friends, is how you cook and eat an artichoke! I look forward to hearing from you all about how this experiment goes for you in your own kitchens!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Soft Polenta with Chard and Mushrooms

A delicious winter meal!

On a cold and rainy night this past week, I was looking to make something warm and comforting. Taking a look in my fridge, I saw a big bunch of chard that I needed to use soon. I began thinking about cooking it with some mushrooms and putting it over soft polenta. However, I had never cooked polenta before, and my past attempts at chard were not very successful. So I scoured the internet for a recipe, my usual plan, and found one from I omitted the sausage from her recipe, and we did not miss it at all. My friends and I were really happy with how it turned out, and I can't wait to make this dish again! If you're in a hurry, you could use one of those pre-made polenta logs, sliced and heated up. But I think the homemade version tastes much better!

Soft Polenta with Sauteed Chard and Mushrooms
1 cup dry Polenta
4 cups Chicken Stock (homemade or store bought)
2 tablespoons Butter
Salt & Pepper
¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 bunch of Chard
1 large Garlic clove, minced
1 cup Baby Portobello Mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon Apple Cider vinegar

- In a medium saucepan, at medium low heat, combine the dry polenta with 1 cup of stock and stir until incorporated. Cook until the liquid has started to evaporate and the polenta has thickened.
- Once the polenta has thickened, add another cup of stock and whisk to combine. Continue to cook over medium low heat, whisking frequently and adding stock when the mixture has thickened, until you’ve added all the stock (this process will take around 30-45 minutes).
- Season with salt & pepper to taste, remove from heat and cover.
- When polenta is about halfway cooked, start with the veggies: Strip the chard leaves from the stems and cut them into strips approximately 1 inch wide. Cut any dry or woody ends off the stems and chop the rest into roughly ½ inch pieces.
- Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan over medium heat. Once the oil has warmed, add the garlic and chard stems to the pan and cook until the stems have begun to soften (about 5 minutes).
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook, stirring, until the mushrooms begin to color and give up their liquid (about 5 minutes).
- Turn the heat up to medium high and add the chard leaves to the pan. Cook, stirring, until the leaves just begin to wilt (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat.
- Add the cider vinegar to the pan and stir everything together. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- If desired, stir shredded parmesan into the polenta until completely incorporated.
- Serve immediately: Spoon polenta onto warmed plates, and top with the chard and mushrooms.

Enjoy, and happy eating! :-)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Oven Steamed Halibut & Stir-Fried Bok Choy

With all the bok choy our CSA has been sending us in our boxes recently, this meal has quickly become one of our favorite ways to enjoy it. Both recipes in this post, the Oven-Steamed Halibut and the Stir-Fried Bok Choy, are quick and easy to make. If you're eating grains, brown rice served on the side is a great way to soak up all the delicious tastes so good, it's a shame to let the extra sauce go to waste!
Halibut - just out of the oven
Oven Steamed Halibut (serves 4)
4 Scallions
2" Fresh Ginger, peeled and sliced thin
4 4oz Halibut Fillets (or other delicate, white fish such as sole, flounder)
2T Soy Sauce
2T Sherry/Rice Vinegar
1t Sesame Oil
1/2t Sugar

- Put 1/3 of the scallions and ginger in a 9x13 glass baking dish.
- Place fish fillets on top, then scatter the remaining scallions and ginger on top.
- Mix the sauce in a bowl, and pour over the fish.
- Let marinate about 15 minutes.
- Seal with foil, bake for 15 minutes at 375 degrees. (You  might need more or less time depending on the thickness of your fish.)
- Fish is cooked when the color has turned white, and easily flakes with a fork.
- Plate pieces of fish and spoon sauce on top to serve.

Bok Choy - almost done
Stir-Fried Bok Choy
2-4 bunches of Organic Bok Choy (depending on size)
2T High heat oil (such as sesame, safflower or peanut)
1T Soy Sauce
Optional: sliced mushrooms, onions, garlic, ginger, chili paste

- Chop the ends off the bok choy, so that the leaves fall apart. Rinse all leaves well, as dirt can accumulate in there. Dry off the leaves as best you can, but some water is okay.
- The exact size is up to you, but separate the white part of the leaf from the green. As you chop, put the white and green parts into separate piles, as they require different cooking times. I like to do roughly bite-sized pieces, because then I can use chopsticks with my meal instead of needing a knife.
- If you're using any of the optional ingredients, slice those up now.
- In a fairly large saucepan, heat the oil over med-high heat. Once it is hot, add the white parts of the bok choy. (If you're using garlic/ginger/onions, add those first and heat til fragrant. Do not brown them!)
- Stir everything well, so that the oil is well distributed.
- Cover the pan, and cook for a couple minutes.
- When the white part of the bok choy is soft, add the green parts. If you're adding mushrooms, do that now.
- Continue to cook, uncovered, until green parts have wilted.
- When vegetables have cooked, turn down the heat and add soy sauce/chili paste to taste. Stir to coat.
- Serve immediately, and enjoy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Potato Leek & Spinach Soup

What to do when your CSA box (or local market) provides you with leeks, potatoes and spinach all in the same week? Let's also pretend that it's a cold, foggy day and you want to curl up on the couch with something warm in your hand. Well, what I did is learn how to make Potato Leek Soup!

In keeping with one of my intentions for 2012, which was to make more soups at home, I looked through many recipes trying to find the "perfect" one to try. Some use broth, others use water. Some include cream while others do not.

The recipe I made is a blend of a few different versions I came across, but what was most exciting to me was that I came across a recipe that included spinach in the soup. The addition of spinach excited me, as I always get excited when I can throw more veggies into one dish! Plus, the added nutrients from the leafy green make this hearty soup even better for you! Spinach is rich in anti-oxidants, minerals and Vitamins K, A and Folate (a B vitamin). Be sure to chose organic for this recipe, especially the butter, potatoes and spinach. Also, for you vegetarians/vegans out there, this recipe could easily be made vegan by replacing butter with oil, chicken broth with veggie broth, and omitting the cream. I'm sure it would be delicious that way too!

Cook up a pot tonight, and enjoy!

Potato, Leek & Spinach Soup (serves 6)
3T Organic Butter
3 Organic Leeks, sliced thin
1 Organic Onion, chopped
2 Organic Garlic Cloves, chopped
4-6 Organic Potatoes, washed and cut into 1" cubes (more = thicker soup)
4C Organic Broth (chicken or veggie - homemade is even better!)
1/2t Ground Nutmeg
1 Bay Leaf
1C Organic Spinach, roughly chopped
1C Heavy Cream
Salt & White Pepper to taste

- Over medium heat, melt butter in large, heavy-bottom soup pot. Add leeks, garlic and onion and cook until just tender. Try not to let them brown!
- Add potatoes, stir to combine. Heat for about 5 minutes.
- Add enough broth to cover the potatoes. Also add the nutmeg and bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
- Once the soup is boiling, lower the heat and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until potatoes are soft.
- Remove the bay leaf.
- Working in batches, blend the soup. Add a handful of chopped spinach (yes, it's uncooked) to the blender.
- Return the blended soup to the pot, add the cream and stir. Heat another 15 minutes.
- Add salt and white pepper to taste. Remove from heat.
- Serve hot and garnished with parsley, if you have any.