Spring is nearly here and with it comes lovely artichokes. Artichokes are perennial plants in the same family as dandelions and sunflowers, they are a thistle plant and, in most artichokes, there is a center that’s inedible, the ‘choke’. In cooler climates, such as California’s northern coast they can be grown as annual’s. Spring and fall are times when you can find fresh artichokes in the markets. An easy plant to grow, they do require full sun and will take up a large space, 3 feet or more. Be sure to cut the artichoke before the leaves begin to open and it blossoms into a flower.
When you choose your artichoke, you want to make sure that it’s firm when you press the sides and you’ll often hear a squeaky noise, that’s good. The leaves should be tight and closed. If there is a little bit of brown on the leaves that’s ok, it just means there was a little frost during its growing season but that’s not a bad thing. The inside will be perfectly delightful. You also might want to consider only organic artichokes since you’ll be eating parts of the plant that may have been sprayed with pesticides during its growing season. Pesticides cannot be washed off with water or vegetables soaps, they are oil based and you know what happens when oil and water mix! If you can’t find beautiful California Artichokes in the market, here is a great local source where you can order them, Melissa’s Produce, http://www.melissas.com/Organic-Artichokes-p/1375.htm
To store your artichokes, you could place in a plastic bag and store in the produce drawer of your refrigerator or just pop it into the drawer itself. They will last up to 7 days but best eaten within a few.
Rinse the artichoke under cool water; pull off the lower, smaller leaves and cut the stem at the base of the choke. If you have a nice long stem, you can cook this separately and eat it like you would the heart, it tastes the same. If desired, with a sharp chef’s knife cut across the top third of the artichoke and snip the sticker off the remaining leaves. Even though there are many ways to prepare a fresh artichoke, most people fall back to either boiling/steaming them, although it takes quite a while, up to half an hour or more. You could put them in a microwave bowl or in an Instant Pot adding a cup of water and cook for 10 minutes, cover the microwave ones, or grill them over hard wood. Anyway is fine with me.
Here’s the traditional method:
Put them into a large pot and cover with cool water, squeeze two lemons into the water and a little sea salt, bring to a boil and simmer until you can run a small knife through the bottom part of the artichoke, 30-45 minutes or longer depending on the size of the vegetable. Remove from the water using tongs and picking up the artichoke with the top facing down so not to spill hot water all over yourself, drain and serve with my favorite sauce from Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach.
Get the recipe here,
Are you hankering for some romaine lettuce? Well, there are tons of alternatives here in So. Cal for you. From the CDC website here’s what they are saying about the current outbreak of e coli on romaine lettuce.
‘Based on new information, CDC is narrowing its warning to consumers. CDC is advising that U.S. consumers not eat and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any romaine lettuce harvested from the Central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California. If you do not know where the romaine is from, do not eat it.’
Here’s the link for more information, CDC.
Personally, I like a mix of lettuce mostly, a little crunch, a little color and a tangy dressing. My favorite is a good old Italian dressing made with a very good red wine vinegar. I love a little cheese as well, blue, parmesan or goat goes well with a tangy Italian dressing.
Just mix a little Dijon mustard, like Maille, with your red wine vinegar, add a little minced shallot, some fresh ground Italian spices and whisk in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper and you’re done.
Local lettuce varieties are usually more plentiful during the winter as most lettuce prefers to grow in the cooler weather. Here are some varieties that will offer no only color but flavor to your salad bowl.
Choose lettuce that is bright with no brown edges or spots. Try and get them not too wet, if they are wet, they have a tendency to go bad faster. Pick whole heads of lettuce rather than bagged lettuce. The more lettuce is handled from field to bag the greater chance it can pick up any bacteria. Bagged lettuce can also be washed with chlorinated water and tends to be older than a non-bagged lettuce. Are you tempted to buy the bag that says triple washed and leave it at that? That lettuce may be contaminated with more than just chlorinated water and if it’s wet at all it will likely rot within a couple of days in that bag. Buy un-bagged lettuce, wash and dry well before storing. You might notice that if you purchase your lettuce at a farmers market that it lasts longer than a store bought lettuce, it’s because your farmers market lettuce was probably picked within a couple of days. I’ve had lettuce last up to 2 weeks from my farmers markets. So here are just some of the lettuce types you should be able to pick up anywhere.
Arugula (Rocket)-spicy and peppery, the larger the leaves the more bite it will have
Batavia is a loose-leaf lettuce similar to red or green leaf lettuce with a mild flavor
Belgian Endive-these can be a tad bitter, but they will add crunch to any salad mix
Butter-a very mild lettuce with big cupped leaves, great for serving topped with a crab salad
Frisee (Curly Endive)-Sometimes called chicory, the leaves are thin and curly with a little bit of a bite, aka peppery.
Iceberg-A dense head of lettuce with lots of crunch but little flavor
Leaf Lettuce, Red or Green-Another loose leaf lettuce with mild flavor but both add a lot of color to a salad bowl, great on sandwiches as well.
Little Gem-This lettuce looks like a mini version of romaine but it’s not as crunchy, mild flavor
Oakleaf-Another beautiful bi-colored loose-leaf lettuce that has a mild taste
Radicchio-There are numerous colors of radicchio, most have a little bitterness but a great addition to any salad.
Spring Mix-Usually a variety of small lettuces, some are mild, and some mixes can be spicy.
Watercress – Although probably a little difficult to find it makes a nice addition to a mixed salad or added to a rustic piece of bread slathered with some soft cheese. It has a peppery bit, much like Arugula. Use smaller leaves for less intense flavor.
From my book, What’s In Your Pantry. Buy the book here
You don’t want to use just any kind of pumpkin for puree, most pumpkins have too much water in them and not enough flavor. Use the small pumpkins known as sugar or pie pumpkins. Or better yet use butternut squash, cooked in the same manner as a pumpkin, butternut squash will give a richer, deeper flavor. The cooked pulp can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week or can be frozen. Use the squash for pumpkin pie, cakes or for a soup, it can be used in any recipe calling for pumpkin puree.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or tin foil.
Wash and dry the squash, slice the top off and cut the pumpkin in half, from the top to the bottom.
Do not remove the seeds and pulp, they will be easy to scoop out after the squash has cooked.
Brush the flesh of each half of the pumpkin with olive oil (or any kind of cooking oil) and place face down on the baking sheet.
Roast for about 40 – 50 minutes, until fork-tender or until a paring knife slips right through the flesh. Let cool for about 10 minutes then scoop out the seeds and the pulp, discard, and then scoop out the cooked flesh.
Blend or puree in a food processor until smooth. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze up to 3 months.
Photo: Davison Orchards Ltd.
Last Class of the Year
Festive Family Dinner
Thursday December 7th
6:30 – 8:30, approximately
Tomato Bisque with Gruyere & French Ham Croutons
Italian Roasted Beef in Barolo Wine Sauce
Balsamic Butternut Squash, Brussels Sprouts & Pecans
Stuffed Shells with Homemade Ricotta
Cranberry-Orange Olive Oil Cake
For reservations call Temecula Olive Oil, Seal Beach
Join us for our next cooking demo
Thursday, 6:30-8:30, approximately
Nov 9th & 16th
Smoked Trout Canapés
Spinach Bacon Salad with Pine Nuts & Croutons
Roast Duck Breast with Blackberry-Orange Sauce
Pumpkin Risotto with Pomegranate Arils & Shaved Parmesan
Haricot Vert (French style Green Beans) with Bacon & Pearl Onions
Mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes
For reservations call Temecula Olive Oil, Seal Beach
Photo: Christina Peters
I love fall and winter and I love to cook hearty stews and warming soups. One of the most important ingredients is stock or broth for your dish and homemade is the best. Most of the time spent making stock is hands off, it needs to simmer for a good 4 hours so prep time in the kitchen can be limited to about 1/2 hour. Cut most of that time in half by making the stock in your pressure cooker but I like the results better just simmered slowly on the back of the stove. (Besides it makes your house smell wonderful!) I’ve included a list of descriptives for stock, broth, stew, soup etc. And my recipe for a perfect stock; stock is made with bones and broth is made with pieces of meat and vegetables and is a little less hearty than stock. Keep some stock in your freezer for quick meals during the winter season. Recipe below but here are some descriptives of soups, stews etc.
Bisque: a rich, thick usually smooth soup. Thickened either by pureeing or adding cream and usually made with some kind of seafood.
Chowder: a thick, chunky soup
Stock: clear savory liquid made from vegetables or meat on the bone
Broth: similar to stock but made with just meat or vegetables, not a hearty as stock
Gazpacho: a cold vegetable soup usually with tomatoes as main ingredient
Gumbo: thick broth with creole seasonings and chunks of meat & vegetables
Stew: thick soup with chunks of vegetables and/or meat
Soup: thinner than a stew with less chunks
Guides for making stocks
Use mild flavored vegetables, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes
No oily fish such as salmon
Beef bones with marrow will have more flavor
Use chicken feet for great taste and lots of natural gelatin
Do not season stock with salt until after it’s cooked
For making soups or stews
Any fresh or frozen veggie can be used. Do not defrost vegetable before using, just toss it into the stock.
Onion, peas, broccoli florets, celery, carrots, potatoes (will help to thicken soup also), corn, zucchini, peppers
Basil, oregano, thyme, Italian parsley, crushed red peppers, Italian seasoning
Keep canned or frozen beans such as kidney, navy, white beans, pinto, black beans
Grains (pre-cook and freeze) Add at the end of cooking time
Farro, barley, rice, pasta, quinoa, beans