Cooking Process & Philosophy

1000 words on making (and eating) the artichokes

I make the artichokes about once a year. They’re messy and just for me, so. 

But worth it as an annual treat! And I found a recipe that’s pretty much what Mom did so I just follow that, with a couple very minor changes. 

Do you know about eating stuffed artichokes, people who aren't my brothers? It's a little performance you put on for yourself in sensuous leisure. You pull off the outer leaves and scrape the breadcrumbs and bit of soft interior with your teeth. As you go farther in, there are fewer breadcrumbs, but more interior to scrape and enjoy, and you can squeeze a little lemon juice over them if you wish. When you get to the center, where the purple leaves are, you can eat those, but the ends are slightly prickly. Purpleheart
Then! You have an alien encounter that really quite put me off when I was a child. I wish I'd had the opportunity to eat artichokes with my mom when I was an adult so I could tell her I understand now. Mom had a trick of pulling the purple bit up so the next paragraph tells a slightly different story, but I always just eat that part and make myself deal with what comes next.

You see, you next encounter fur. I expect there's an official name for it, but it's fur. It's just a camouflage, though, because beneath it is all good eating, straight to the bottom of the plate. That's where the heart is, and when you scoop up your first taste with a fork or spoon, you'll understand why it is considered a delicacy. Mom managed to pull up the fur with the purple bit, but I always have to scrape it away. I have put the picture of this in a separate link because it's a little off-putting, and if you have the bizarre problem I have with pictures of holes where it feels, rightly or wrongly, that holes ought not to be, you might not like it. 

Now I’m going to tell you about those recipe changes and give you a couple tips in case you want to make them, too. So this isn't the recipe, okay? You click on the link above or below for that. This is just more chatter and a few not-very-good pictures.

First, I just use two artichokes instead of the three called for in the recipe, but the same amount of filling. This is because I can eat one and save one for the next day. A third would be too extra. 

After I stuff the outer leaves, I put some more filling on the top before drizzling oil over them, because Mom did that, plus the filling is delicious. There’s just a little left over to eat greedily while doing the final cleanup. And so that’s why filling for three works for two, for me. 

Mom used a pressure cooker, but I don’t have one of those. The artichokes do need to be snug in the pan and I used to just bake them in a glass dish, but I like this steaming first method better. So since my pan that fits two really wants three to be snug, I just tuck them to the side and add a placeholder. Panchokes
Then I have to switch to a different pan for the oven, but you might have one you can use which doesn’t have handles that would melt. 

As to the ingredients, you can leave out the lemon zest, but I agree with the recipe that it adds a nice brightness, so maybe don’t. (Do not leave out the rubbing lemon juice over the cut areas step.) However, my microplaner adds so much volume to the cheese, I know 1/3 cup isn’t enough. I really add more like 2/3. So it depends, and that’s why many recipes tell you how many ounces to use instead of volume. But if you’re using preshredded cheese from the deli dept. (Not The Can,) maybe just nudge it to 1/2 cup.

Also, Mom used parsley flakes, but I grow my own parsley so I don’t. Well, you may certainly still use parsley flakes, just use only a couple tablespoons that you crush lightly between your fingers, and if it’s very old, please throw it out and buy more. 

To be honest, I tend not to bother with the stems, but they do make good eating if you would like to bother with them. 

Finally, this is a very messy Thing to Do, so now I’m going to tell you about how to proceed so you can stop and tidy and not become overwhelmed.

Following this good recipe, be sure to get out everything you will need and prepare it for use. Well, first you wash your hands—lava le mani.* You can chop your garlic and parsley while the breadcrumbs are browning if you are sure you can keep an eye on them and stir them. They seem like they won’t brown and then all of a sudden are browning like mad, so watch out. Ingredients
While the breadcrumbs are cooling a bit (so the cheese won't melt when you mix it in,) you can clear the garlic and parsley debris, then trim your artichokes. Then, before you make the stuffing, clean up your artichoke mess and rearrange everything neatly, with your pan and lid ready nearby. 

Set your artichokes on a cutting board or wide plate to catch the filling that falls as you stuff. Use that filling to add to the top. Stuffing
Next, if your olive oil bottle seems like it’ll get away from you for the remaining tablespoon, pour just a little oil into a cup and then drizzle it onto the artichoke tops from the cup. 

Then while the artichokes are coming to a boil, which will happen quickly since there’s only a little (well-salted) water and you have the lid on, finish your cleanup, and if you eat any remaining filling greedily, well, that’s just a teaser of what’s to come.
 *Yes, random pedant, that's just how Mom said it. 

risotto meditations

At some point in the past few years when people were eating a lot of risotto and talking about eating risotto, I decided to find out what the big deal was about making it. 

It’s not a super big deal. It requires time and attention, and a few good ingredients. I learned a simple method that I enjoy the results of from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe, and have modified the process just slightly to suit my taste. 

What you do is cook some onions and/or garlic in a little oil for a couple minutes, then add Arborio rice and stir it around til it starts to brown, then you add broth that is boiling in readiness, one ladle at a time. You watch it cook and maybe adjust the heat if it seems too high, and you stir it as you watch, but you don’t have to stir constantly like with Hollandaise sauce or custard, and in a few minutes you add another ladle of broth and go again.

One ladle at a time, this rice cooks, until, if you like, just before the last ladle is poured in, you add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes or dried mushrooms that you plumped when you first set the broth to boiling.

At the end, you stir in some good parmesan cheese (you could get a bag or tub pre-shaved or shredded from the grocery deli area or buy a wedge and grate some, but don’t use the shelf-stable paper can one) and add a little freshly cracked pepper. 

You need to use good broth, though it doesn’t have to be homemade. Make sure you’ve tasted and enjoyed it before using it in the rice, and make sure it is just a little salty but not very salty. 

And you need, absolutely, to have everything ready and in place before you begin the cooking. This is the meditative thing; you arrange nice ingredients that will taste good together so that they’re to hand when you need them. And as you add and stir and adjust, you have nothing else you need to think about until it’s ready to serve in nice bowls you have set out for it. You define what nice is your own way. 

For two hearty servings, I use the following:

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil + 1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed, but those would be okay*) or dried mushrooms

2 1/2 cups chicken broth (if you do not use dried tomatoes or mushrooms, you need only 2 cups)

3 tablespoons shaved parmesan

black pepper, preferably that you grind yourself

two saucepans, a wooden spoon, and a 1/2 cup sized soup ladle or ladle substitute that won't burn your hand

Make sure your work area is clean and clear. Pour yourself a nice glass of ice water or tea or wine or soda, and set out two bowls you like, or a bowl and a leftover container. Maybe you should play some quiet music if you like to do that while cooking.

Chop the onion and slice the garlic, then heat the oil and butter in a saucepan on medium. While that’s heating, add the broth to the other saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Saute the onion and garlic for a couple minutes, letting it soften but not burn. When your broth comes to a boil, add your sun-dried tomatoes (or mushrooms) if you are using them, to the broth, put a lid on it or mostly on it, and turn it down to simmer at a low boil. 

Add the rice to the pan with the onions and garlic, and stir it around, letting it cook for a few minutes until it starts to brown. Then add a ladleful of broth to the pan; do use enough to cover the surface, but not any more than that. It will sizzle at first. You might need to turn the heat down to medium-low for a gentler boil. Stir it, then watch as the rice begins to soak up the broth. Stir again every minute or so.

In a few minutes, when the liquid is mostly soaked up, add another ladleful of broth and stir again. By now, the dried tomatoes or mushrooms will be softened; strain them from the broth and set them on a cutting board to cool for a few minutes. 

Keep adding ladlefuls of broth, stirring and watching the process, making sure you maintain a low boil. Chop the cooled tomatoes or mushrooms, then when there’s about one ladleful of broth left, and the rice looks soft, stir those in, add the remaining liquid, and wait a little longer til the liquid is finally absorbed. The process slows down as the rice cooks, but you will enjoy being patient and watching it happen, because you are making a simple but groovy dish for yourself. With regular ol’ rice, all you do is put a lid on and set a timer. 

Stir in most of the parmesan cheese, then divide the risotto between the two bowls or bowl and container, and add a little freshly ground pepper on top with the remaining bit of cheese. 

Sit at your dining table if you have one, or a nice spot you like if you don’t, to enjoy this food you created.

20190225_135741_HDRAnd then next time, think of what else you might like to add to it for something new.

*If you use oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drain them well, chop, add at same point. I think they'd be more pungent, though.