Artichokes!

Artichokes from the market

I found the most amazing artichokes in the farmers market this week. They were huge and hybrids. These artichokes did not have any of the thorns or much of a “choke’ inside either.

The woman at the market asked me “how do you cook them so they are tender?”

Steam them.

I had to find a domed lid to fit the steamer; the artichoke was so big!

All I did with this artichoke is cut the stem so it would fit in the pot with the lid on it and steam. It had to be steamed for about an hour and 15 minutes. Once the water came to a boil, the heat was turned down to low. You will need to check the water level to be sure you don’t burn up a good pot.

If you find the non-hybrid type that have the small thorn on each leaf, you will need to use the kitchen shears and clip them off. After your cut a few, wipe the edges with a cut lemon to prevent the artichoke from turning black.

Any cut you make on a raw artichoke, swipe it with a piece of cut lemon to preserve the color and keep it from oxidizing.

You can tell the artichoke is done cooking when the leaves pull off easily and a knife is easily inserted into the base of the artichoke with no resistance. Do this from the bottom so as not to ruin the presentation.

There are a lot of things you can do with an artichoke but today, I am just steaming it and serving it with a couple of sauces.

We will eat it as an hors d’ oeuvre with aperitif before dinner. Serving like this is also an interesting way to put out a snack when guests and friends come visit. We usually gather in the front yard about an hour or so before dinner and friends join us for great conversations, drinks and sometimes an hors d’ oeuvre or two.

A word of caution, artichokes make cheap red wine taste great and good red wine taste awful. So if you are serving artichokes, serve a decent inexpensive red wine.

Please don’t go down as low as Trader Joe’s Two Buck Chuck. That is truly awful stuff. The only thing that makes that better is pouring it down the drain.

The sauces:

Yogurt Sour Cream Sauce

  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon onion powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Sprinkle of sweet paprika for garnish

Mix it all together. Sprinkle sweet paprika lightly over the top.

Let is rest to allow the flavors to blend.

Dip artichoke leaves in sauce.

Lemon Butter Sauce

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced

Melt the butter, add the juice of the lemon and 1/2 of the zest. Warm through.

Place a couple of slices of lemon in the bowl to serve. Dip artichoke leaves into sauce.

How do you eat a whole artichoke?

Starting at the bottom base, carefully pull a leaf off. It should separate easily. Dip in sauce if desired.

Place the inside of the leaf against your bottom teeth, lightly bite down and scrape the artichoke flesh off the leaf with your bottom teeth and discard the remaining leaf. You have to pull the leaf to effectively scrape it against your teeth.

As you consume the leaves, the bottom will become visible. Once all the leaves have been consumed, you will find a “choke” in the very center. It is anchored by the bottom of the artichoke.

The "choke"
Notice how fuzzy it is; not leaf like at all

Scrape the choke away from the bottom; discard

The cleaned artichoke bottom

This is how it looks upside down

Cut artichoke bottom ready to use in salads, dips, etc.

You do not eat the choke because it is inedible and if you attempt to eat it, you will choke!

Scrape away the choke and eat the bottom. For this part, you will need a knife and fork.

You can always save it for slicing, mashing into Spinach Artichoke dip, salads or leave it whole and stuff it for a completely different dish.

If you have any leaves left over, scrape the flesh from the leaves with a spoon and make soup, salad dressings or use the artichoke scrapings in stuffing. There isn’t much shape to the scraping, use it like you would something mashed.

You can try making them the Roman way too. (Thanks, Barbara!)

Steamed Artichoke with Yogurt Sour Cream Dip and Crispy Kale Chips

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Cooking Quickie: “What does it mean to ‘Butter the Casserole’?”

“Cooking Quickies” are simple cooking questions heard from readers, students and general people. Please send your “Quickie Questions” to spoonfeast@gmail.com

Cooking Quickie:

What does it mean to “butter the casserole?”

This refers to a vessel in which you are putting a mixture of ingredients where they are going cook for a period of time.
What they want you to do is take butter and smear it all over the inside food contact surface.

The purpose is to make the food easy to remove so it does not stick to the inside of your cooking vessel.
I say ‘cooking vessel’ because it can be a heat proof glass dish (aka. Pyrex), a clay dish, a porcelain ramekin, a stainless steel pan, loaf pan etc. There a lot of choices.

Instead of butter you can also spray the inside surface with an oil spray such as PAM. Fewer calories and just as effective.

When making cakes or souffles, you would also dust the butter with flour, sugar, Parmesan cheese as appropriate.

Some pan release sprays have both oil and flour in them, read the labels. These are commonly called ‘Bakers Spray’. Some pan sprays contain alcohol.  I prefer the ones that are 100% oil. The alcohol evaporates leaving a much thinner coat behind which could result in some sticking.

Be sure to look closely at the inside your casserole dish and make sure you got every little place coated with butter.

You can use hard or soft butter (it smears easier), salted or unsalted. You can even use margarine if you want.

Various casserole Dishes

Potato Chip Cookies

I wrote this post on Potato Chip Cookies before I realized how many others have recently posted recipes for potato chip cookies. In studying some books on food photography, cookies were an “assignment”. These have been on my mind lately and decided to make them for pictures.

Oh well, here is another version that isn’t adapted from Emeril or Smitten Kitchen. Guess a good thing is hard to keep quiet!

We have enjoyed these for years. So addicting and rich a small batch is all you need.

These potato chip cookies are a style of shortbread. There is no salt in the recipe due to the addition of the crushed potato chips. It is a simple and deliciously sweet and salty cookie. They remind me of Pecan Sandies.

The use of baking powder is optional. Using it creates a meringue like texture to the cookie. Quite yummy.

This recipe was discovered in Mom’s Big Book of Cookies which has many delightful cookie recipes, many of which are “kid helper” friendly. I tweaked it a little bit.

If you wanted, you can add some dark chocolate chips to the mix or melt chocolate and dip half the cookie in the melted chocolate.

Or perhaps use pretzels instead of potato chips.

After this potato chip shortbread cookie, maybe a bacon shortbread cookie would be in order. . . just sub out minced crispy bacon for the potato chips and see what you end up with.

Potato Chip Cookies

1/2 cup soft butter

6 Tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

1/2 cup crushed regular potato chips (non flavored-low fat ones work too)

1 teaspoon baking powder – optional

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or use a silpat silicone  mat
  • Cream the butter and sugar together
  • Add vanilla
  • Scrape down the sides of the bowl
  • Measure the flour, baking powder, if using, chopped nuts and crushed chips into a bowl and stir together well.
  • Incorporate the dry mixture into the creamed butter, sugar and vanilla.
  • Make 1 inch sized balls and place 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  • Using a flat-bottomed glass of cup, flatten each ball, dipping the bottom of the glass into sugar between each cookie.
    • Or you could roll the balls in sugar and then flatten them
  • Bake 10-12 minutes or until the edges of the cookies begin to turn golden brown.
  • Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before moving the cookies to a cooling rack.

Serve with a tall cold glass of milk.

Glazed Lemon Shortbread

Glazed Lemon Shortbread

My son loves these. He is going back to school soon and when he gets there, a box of these sweet treats from home will be waiting.

This twist on traditional shortbread adds fresh lemon zest in the mix and fresh lemon juice in the glaze. One secret is to use a very fine microplane on the fruit so the zest is very fine.

If you like the lemon version, branch out and try making them with orange, or lime or tangerine or grapefruit. Kumquat maybe?

The amazing part of good shortbread is how they just melt in your mouth. Then take a nice sip of tea. Sit back and enjoy.

There are several pictures at the end of the post, so scroll down.

Glazed Lemon Squares

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (10x)
  • Zest from 1/2 lemon (Use the other half in the glaze)
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Using a mixer on high-speed, cream butter,  10x sugar, zest and vanilla 3-4 minutes; until light and fluffy.

While the butter and sugar are creaming, measure and mix the flour and salt into a bowl.

Scrape down the bowl.

On low-speed, add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and sugar.

Mix only until the mixture comes together and resembles crumbs.

Do not over mix! Over mixing will develop the gluten in the flour and give you a ‘tough cookie’ rather than a tender one.

Transfer the dough to a non-stick 9 x 12 cake pan.  Cover with plastic wrap and pat the dough evenly into the pan.

Place in the refrigerator or freezer until the dough becomes thoroughly chilled.

Traditionally, you can prick the shortbread with a fork for decoration. You can choose not to.

If, for some reason, you get a wild hair on and decide to add baking powder to the mix, I would strongly suggest you do prick the dough to prevent bubbles and warping.

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Clean up the kitchen.

Once the dough is chilled, place it in the oven and bake for 35 minutes or until the edges are just beginning to turn golden brown. The shortbread will remain pale.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

Cut the shortbread while still warm. You get a cleaner cut edge.

Once cooled; remove the cut shortbread and put them on a rack which is placed over a clean sheet pan.

Make the glaze just before you are going to pour it over the cookies.

Be sure the cookies are completely cool so the glaze does not run or melt off.

Randomly pour the glaze. You can do it randomly or evenly, which ever you prefer.

DO NOT spread the glaze as the cookies are crumbly and you will not have a smooth glaze. If you make a lot of glaze you can cover them and decorate them like petit fours.

I like to sprinkle a fine touch of finely ground fleur de sel on the top of the shortbread cookies.

Sweet, tart, salty, smooth. . .

To make the Lemon Glaze:

  • Zest from the other half of the lemon used in the mix
  • 2 cups confectioners sugar (10x)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Sift the sugar to ensure no lumps.

Add the zest, stir it in and then add the juice. Mix until smooth with a fork. Whisking will add too many bubbles.

Pour over cooled shortbread cookies.

Allow glaze to dry about an hour longer before storing.

Use a fine Microplane to zest the fruit

Cream butter and sugar. Don't forget to scrape down the bowl sides.

Add flour; mix only until combined

Cover with plastic, pat evenly into pan. Chill.

Cut while still warm for a clean edge.

Place on a rack and glaze