The Easiest Freakin’ Pulled Pork You Will Ever Make In Your Life, and What To Do With It

IMG_9634 2Sitting at my desk early on a rainy Friday, I checked emails between recipe searches, looking for a no-fuss weekend project that I could cook while doing the fifteen things I had already planned to do. Inspired by my mother, who made pulled pork in the oven last weekend, and my friend Laura, who posted on Facebook that she had made Kalua pork tacos, I had pig on the brain, and I focused my Googling efforts on pork shoulder.

Remember how I said I was looking for no-fuss? Well, I found it on SkinnyTaste: a three ingredient recipe for pulled pork that cooked in fourteen hours with almost no human intervention. How was this possible? It was a recipe for Crock Pot Kalua Pork.

I will admit that although I’m not gaga over slow cookers the way many of my more culinary-inclined friends are, I own two of them (a large one to cook for crowds, and a small one when I’m just cooking for me & Paul). Yes, they’re great for chilis and soups and injecting life and flavor into dried beans, and once I made perfect poached chicken in the slow cooker, but otherwise I don’t consider it the life-changing appliance many people do.

Well—I didn’t. And then I made pulled pork in my slow cooker.

I’ve got a recipe and instructions below, but what I need to tell you guys is that this is the perfect recipe to prepare when you have a hundred million things to do and have no time to cook.  A slow-cooking pork shoulder fills your house with this wonderful smoky, baconesque aroma, and if you turn on the crock pot before bedtime, you will wake up the next morning to PORK. (Seriously, Saturday morning was like waking up in Jenny’s House of Bacon. Amazing.) And a pork shoulder (AKA pork butt) is a big piece of meat, so you can make it last meal after meal using it all kinds of ways:

  • tacos
  • on Sandwiches with pickles and cole slaw and sriacha mayo
  • with rice & beans
  • in a hash with eggs and toast
  • in lettuce wraps with Hoisin sauce & veggies

Or you could do what I did for dinner tonight, and make Pulled Pork & Kimchi Fried Rice. FANTASTIC. I followed all the instructions in this recipe & substituted the pulled pork for the spam (because, uh – pulled pork rates better than spam any day).

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RECIPE:

No-Fuss Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Adapted from Skinny Taste

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Time: 14.5 hours, largely unattended

Special Equipment: 4-quart programmable slow cooker (crock pot)

Ingredients:

  • 1 boneless pork shoulder, 2 – 3 pounds
  • 2 tbsp coarse sea salt (red Hawaiian salt is great if you can find it)
  • 1.5 tbsp liquid hickory smoke (such as Stubb’s)

Note: start the cooking the night before you want to serve the pork.

Method:

Unwrap the pork shoulder and trim of excess fat (the chunks and so forth, not the marbling). Sprinkle the salt on the meat and press it into the flesh. Put the pork in the slow cooker, and pour the liquid smoke on top.

Place the lid on the slow cooker and program it for 8 or 10 hours on Low (mine has a 10-hour option). Then, go put on your pajamas and go to bed.

Wake up the next morning and inhale the aromas. Then check on the pork. It’s going to look brownish gray and sitting in a pool of its own fat and juices. This is actually what you want. When the timer goes off, remove the pork from the slow cooker carefully and set it aside in a dish. Then pour out the fat & juice mixture.

Return the pork to the slow cooker, drizzle two spoonfuls of the juice on top of the pork and cover again. Set to cook on low for 4 hours.

In the meantime, let the juice cool and then refrigerate. The fat will float to the top and congeal, and then you can spoon it off easily. Save the juice to make sauce, or just to keep the pork moist.

When the timer goes off the second time, remove the pork from the slow cooker and allow to cool for about a half hour. Then, using two forks, shred the meat. Once its completely cooled store in a glass container in the fridge for up to 4 days, if it lasts that long. When you’re ready to use it, reheat gently on low using some of the leftover juice.

Serves: 4 – 6

Lazy Sunday Breakfasting: Blueberry Pancakes

Pancakes_05

Today I finally made good on a promise I made to my husband close to a month ago: I made blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We’re not usually heavy breakfast people, and pancakes are really heavy.

Well they can be – when they’re not done right. I spent a few weeks trying to track down a recipe that would yield light, fluffy pancakes with a slightly crisp exterior and moist berry-licious interior that wouldn’t turn to purple glop on the griddle.

I found Joanna Pruess’s recipe for the Best Buttermilk Blueberry Pancakes in the New York Times Cooking app, and while I thought Pruess was audacious in calling her recipe The Best, I have to tell you – the woman knows whereof she speaks, because this recipe made the tastiest, lightest and most satisfying pancakes I’ve ever cooked up at home.

The only modifications I made to Pruess’s recipe were thus: (1) I cut all the measurements exactly in half since I was cooking for two, which works beautifully for two hungry people or four people who are eating the pancakes with sides. (2) I used 1.5% fat buttermilk, which is the kind I use whenever I do anything with buttermilk. (3) I added about a quarter teaspoon of vanilla extract to the wet ingredients. My mom used to make pancakes from Aunt Jemima mix when I was little, and she always added vanilla. Let’s just say I was feeling nostalgic.

Admittedly, these are much better than the pancakes I ate growing up. Or I should say they were much better. They’re all gone now. Paul and I had a delightful breakfast.

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The Recovery Plan

Peach & Strawberry Jam

About a week ago, I sat at my computer reviewing my ever-growing expenses and felt my left eye twitch. The twitching, I’m told, is caused by stress, and since a complete overhaul of one’s budget isn’t exactly the most peaceful exercise, I turned to the interwebs for distraction.

I ended up here.  Melissa Clark, high priestess of The New York Times Dining section and fellow Brooklynite, was making and canning jam. And she was making it look so easy! I make fruit sauces and refrigerator jams all the time, but true canning would allow me to preserve the best tastes of summer to enjoy all year long. Until I saw Clark’s demonstration I had been more than a little intimidated by the process: boiling and sterilizing jars, ensuring each jar has enough “headspace” and is sealed airtight, creating enough space in the kitchen to carry out the process from start to finish—it’s a lot of stuff. But Clark inspired me.

Hello, Weekend Project.

I bookmarked the video and made a trip to Whisk, a cooking supply store here in New York, for canning supplies. (They also have a well-stocked online store.) Even though you don’t need any special equipment for canning, a few tools make the process go much easier: a jar lifter, a wide-mouth funnel, a lid wand, and a set of tongs to lift the rings.

I’m getting ahead of myself. For the amateur home canner, the best jars to start with are 4-ounce or 8-ounce glass canning jars with metal lids and rings, like these.

As for jam ingredients, I lucked out at the farmers market—it was the last week for peaches, so I stocked my canvas bag full of them. I couldn’t find any of the lemon verbena Clark’s recipe called for, so I decided on some flavorful substitutions: the addition of almond extract (just a few drops) and Wild Turkey American Honey (a couple of generous tablespoons).

I returned home and re-read Clark’s peach jam recipe another ten times, and then watched the jamming & canning video again. And again. Once I was sure I had all the steps down, it was time to prepare the fruit for Phase I: Maceration. This step doesn’t require anything fancy—I combined the peaches, sugar, lemon zest and juice, almond extract and liquor together in a pot, bought it to a simmer, and then transferred the mixture to a big bowl.

Just peachy

It was like looking at sunset: pinks and yellows and oranges swirling together, shining brilliantly. Sigh. I covered the bowl, transferred it to the fridge and then headed to bed, a little too impressed with myself and very excited for the morning to come.

Sunday! The weather was perfect for a brisk walk to the waterfront, so I took one and returned home energized and readyfor Operation: Jam! All my equipment was assembled, jars ready for in-pot sterilization, and I had watched Clark’s video for what must have been the twentieth time in twenty-four hours. I separated the fruit solids from the syrup that developed overnight, and poured the rose-hued syrup into my 12-inch skillet and turned on the heat.

The fruit rested peacefully in a colander on the counter, slowly dripping its clinging juice into the bowl below. Bubbles appeared in the syrup as I stirred along. I was impatiently looking for foam, the kind of foam I remember from chemistry experiments gone wild in high school, the high billowing foam that Clark’s syrup produced in the video.

After a few more minutes, I still didn’t see any foam, so I raised the heat and turned my attention to the large stockpot full of boiling water on the adjacent burner. Time to sterilize the jars. I carefully took hold of each jar with the lifter and lowered them into the pot. But they wouldn’t stand up straight like they do in the video (reason: too much liquid in the pot).  Drops of boiling water splattered and stung my hands as I quickly and awkwardly maneuvered the jars.

And then I smelled it: burning caramel. I looked over and saw the syrup foaming and blackening rapidly. I left the jars to tumble in the water, covered the pot and went back to the skillet to save my syrup. I shut the heat and grabbed a spoon to stir, but it was too late.  It was goop. Burned and quickly hardening goop.

Sometimes you have a moment where everything. Just. Stops. You realize you were moving too fast, maybe taking too much on. Maybe you overestimated how good you really are. Or the expectations you had were so high that the level of disappointment you’re now experiencing will destroy your day.

But I wasn’t ready to give up. I mean, it was tempting. But the kitchen was a mess, and I had a project to finish. And it wasn’t going to be finished until there was jam canned in shelf-stable jars. Besides, if I stopped now I’d have go back to the depressing prospect of my unbalanced budget.

I took a breath. Even though the syrup was ruined, I still had the macerated peaches – soft and full of flavor. I had another two pounds of peaches for snacking in the fruit basket & a package of over-ripened strawberries in the fridge. It was time to get back to business and make this work.

RECIPE:

Peach & Strawberry Jam

Adapted from Melissa Clark

The Original Recipe

  • 3 pounds peaches (or combination of peaches and nectarines),
  • peeled and sliced
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 1.5 tbsp American Honey Liquor
  • 4 drops almond extract

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot or large skillet. Bring to a simmer and stir as sugar dissolves. Remote from heat. Transfer mixture to a bowl and let sit overnight. In the morning, spoon the solids into a colander set over a large bowl, set that aside, and pour all the remaining syrup into a pot. Put the syrup into a wide skillet as Clark instructs, set it over medium high heat and look for the foam to form.

I’m going to pause here since this is where I screwed up—Be patient: I turned my attention away for a couple minutes and… Well, you know the rest. So! Once my syrup was burned and therefore useless, here’s what I ultimately did to make that beautiful jam you see in the picture:

The Recovery Plan:

  • 1 pound strawberries
  • 2 pounds peaches (or combination of peaches and nectarines)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp. American Honey Liquor
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • Macerated peaches from previous recipe

Wash, hull and quarter the strawberries. Peel and cut the peaches into 1” chunks. Combine all ingredients through the almond extract in a stockpot (you heard me – forget the skillet). Set the pot over medium high heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Boil 2 minutes, stirring, until sugar dissolves, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer.

Simmer 25- 30 minutes, then remove from heat.  The fruit will be soft but still intact, and the mixture will be a little thicker but still viscous. Using a large spoon, transfer the fruit solids to a colander set over a large bowl.  Return the syrup to a boil, and allow to boil for 3 to 5 minutes until you see foam begin to form around the edges. Reduce heat so that syrup is at a full simmer. Cook for another 15 – 20 minutes, and continue to stir mixture as it thickens. Be sure to reduce heat if foam rises too high or mixture starts boiling again.

Once your syrup passes the “wrinkle test” in Clark’s video, or registers 220 degrees on a candy thermometer, return the fruit to the pot, stir into the syrup and remove from heat. Cover the pot.

Now, you can focus on the canning. Go forth, home cook, and make that jam.

Bringing A Taste of The Vineyard Home to Brooklyn

On Monday, I returned from a wonderful yet all too short trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  This is the second summer I’ve made the trip—my boyyfriend’s family spends time there each every summer, and it’s easy to see why. The Vineyard is a magical place—the vibe is relaxed, the landscape is picturesque, and there is good food to be had everywhere. I don’t mean restaurant food—I mean fresh food, particularly fish and produce. On Saturday evening my boyfriend and I joined his parents, aunts and uncles for a delightful homemade dinner of Portuguese kale soup with Linguiça sausage, grilled striped bass with pesto, and so many sides of farmers market vegetables that I can’t even remember how many or what they were . I just remember them being delicious. And while the striped bass was perfectly cooked, moist and tender to the bite, the standout of this meal was the soup.

I had never had Linguiça sausage—it’s similar to chorizo in its smokiness, but it’s leaner, and flavored with a different blend of spices, including oregano and cinnamon among others. It adds an incredible flavor to the soup’s base of chicken broth. And without the Linguiça, I would never have been interested in a soup that featured kale, potatoes and kidney beans. Luckily, all those ingredients benefit from some smoke and pork fat.

I was still full from dinner when I awoke the next morning and hurriedly got myself together for the West Tisbury Book Fair. Sunday is half-price day, so our troop (my boyfriend, his uncle and I) arrived at 8:50am so that we might secure the best books once the fair opened at 9. I gave myself a cap of 2 books, knowing I had to fly home and had limited luggage space. I walked away with 5 cookbooks for $5.25, and I was so excited by my good fortune that I temporarily forgot how I would get the books back to Brooklyn.

One of my glorious finds was Molly O’Neill’s A Well-Seasoned Appetite, published in 1995. I remembered reading O’Neill’s columns in The New York Times Magazine growing up, back before Mark Bittman dominated the recipe columns of the newspaper and the Magazine.  Like Bittman’s recipes, O’Neill’s are most appealing in their simplicity—she focuses on seasonal foods and preparations that make them shine with the least amount of effort. Molly O’Neill’s recipes make me want to get in the kitchen; her prose made me want to read the book in a single sitting.

As I combed through each section, looking for inspiration to make some new dishes once I returned home, I found a recipe for Kale Soup with Potatoes and Sausage. It was the first thing I made when I got home.

RECIPE:

Kale Soup With Potatoes and Sausage
adapted from A Well-Seasoned Appetite, by Molly O’Neill

Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Total hands on time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 strips bacon
  • 2 links of chorizo sausage (about 3-4 inches in length; Goya or Tropical sell them in a package)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled or scrubbed, then cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 head of kale (standard curly)
  • 4 cups (1 quart) chicken stock (homemade or canned low-sodium)
  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 can red kidney beans (14 oz, preferably low sodium), rinsed and drained
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Prep:
A couple more things in addition to the washing/draining/chopping listed above… Remove casing from the sausage links. Cut each link into quarters (lengthwise), then slice each log into 1/8 inch-thick pieces. Set aside. Chop the stems off the kale, then rinse the leaves thoroughly. Drain. Then cut into 1″ strips & set aside.

Method:
In a large stockpot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat has rendered. Remove bacon from the pot, then drain and either discard (for shame!) or use it for something else. Lower the heat and add the chorizo pieces, cooking for 2-3 minutes until the fat in the pan has increased and turned a golden-orange color. Next, add the chopped onions, and cook for two minutes. Then add the potato and garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the kale and cook, stirring constantly, for another 2-3 minutes.

Next, stir in the broth, vinegar and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Allow mixture to gently simmer for 30 minutes, then add beans and the water. (Tip: if the water is already hot or even boiling, you won’t have to adjust the heat under the pot to bring it back to a simmer). Allow the mixture to continue cooking for another 10-15 minutes, until the kale and potatoes are tender to the bite. Remove from heat.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with freshly ground pepper. A slight drizzle of extra virgin olive oil doesn’t hurt, either.

This soup with serve 8 as a first course, or 5-6 as a light meal. Molly O’Neill says the recipe will feed 4 as a meal, but assume those portions are huge.  If you don’t plan to serve all the soup at once, freeze some in a large container, or in individual portions. It will keep in the fridge up to 4 days, and will always taste better the day after you make it, once all the flavors from the vegetables and the chorizo have a chance to get to know each other better.

Notes:
 I took a few liberties in this recipe in my adaptation—for one thing, I couldn’t find Linguiça sausage in my neighborhood grocery store, but I did find chorizo.  I didn’t buy the pound that was called for in the recipe, as it would have been too expensive, but I still needed more pork flavor—and fat—than two links of chorizo would yield. Enter bacon, which I already had in my freezer (conveniently frozen in packs of 3 strips each). I skipped the tomatoes O’Neill calls for in favor of the kidney beans, which were a key ingredient in the Portuguese kale soup I enjoy so much at Martha’s Vineyard. I think the soup is better without the addition of tomatoes. Finally, if you are tempted to skip the balsamic vinegar, as I initially was, don’t. One tablespoon goes a long way, and it adds just the right amount of sweetness to the soup without calling attention to itself (as balsamic has a tendency to do).

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

My latest food obsession is rhubarb. I’ve been buying it every Saturday at the local green market since early May. But I’ve only made one thing with it: compote—which is fantastic and delicious on top of damn near anything—but after awhile I needed a break.

Then last weekend, on a day trip to Martha’s Vineyard with my boyfriend and his family, I had a slice of strawberry rhubarb pie from Morning Glory Farm (a place that I’ve heard makes the best pies on the island). And all throughout the following week, I had pie on the brain. I explored the interwebs looking for recipes, and by Friday decided that perhaps pie was too ambitious a project for my Saturday. There just wouldn’t be time.

But I went to the green market yesterday—as some of you may have seen from my previous entry—I found some beautiful rhubarb, and [finally!] some reasonably-priced locally grown strawberries. I went for them, and then popped into Key Food to buy refrigerated pie dough.

Not to sound like Anne Burrell, but look at these cuties!

(Side note: Unless you’re entering a pie contest and trying to prove you’re the best pie-maker at your job/in the county/the state fair, there is absolutely no shame in buying pie dough from the store. It’s a time-saving short cut, and if what you’re buying has a very short ingredients list that includes butter, you’re set.)

I went home and put together a recipe that incorporated elements from recipes I had read online over the week (thank you, Saveur and Martha Stewart). The resulting pie, while not perfect, was indeed beautiful—a golden brown and buttery shell, smattered with siren-red stains of juice, containing a soft, garnet fruit—tender to the bite and exuding the sweet-tart nectar of early summer.

Ta-daa.

 RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie I

Ingredients:

Shell:

  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts (I went with Pillsbury)

OR

  • Enough pie dough for two 9” pie crusts (top and bottom)

Filling:

  • 1 pound rhubarb
  • 1 quart strawberries (the smallest, ripest berries you can find)
  • 1 cup plus 3 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 2 tbsp. corn starch
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp. ground ginger
  • 2 tbsp. butter

For Topping:

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar

Tools:

  • Clean hands
  • Sharp knife
  • Large and medium-sized bowls
  • Pie plate
  • Wax paper
  • Rolling Pin
  • A brush (for the egg wash)

Method:

Allow pie dough/refrigerated crusts to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

Rinse and dry rhubarb. Cut each stalk into thin slices (between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch thick). Put the sliced rhubarb in a large bowl. Rinse and gently dry the strawberries, then cut them in half (if they’re small) or quarter them if they’re larger. Combine the strawberries and rhubarb in the bowl – you’ll have about 7 cups of fruit. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine granulated sugar and spices. Sift the flour and cornstarch over the mixture, then mix well with a whisk or fork.

Cut butter into small pieces, set aside. Beat an egg in a small bowl, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Add dry ingredients to the fruit, mix well with your hands.

Roll one of the pie rounds between two sheets of wax paper until it’s about 11-12” in diameter. Remove wax paper and set crust over pie plate so you have about 1” overhang. Press dough into pie plate.

Combine the dry ingredients with the fruit and mix thoroughly with your hands, until all the fruit pieces are coated. Transfer the fruit mixture to the pie plate, making sure the top is even. Sprinkle the butter pieces on top.

Roll out the 2nd crust the same as the first, but this time remove the top sheet of wax paper and score the crust with the tip of a sharp knife. You can cut out little shapes like I did if you feel like being fancy, but this isn’t necessary. You just have to make sure steam can escape from the interior of the pie so it doesn’t explode in the oven.

Peel the back sheet of wax paper off the pie dough and lay it very gently atop your half-built pie.

Crimp together the edges of your pie with your fingers, by folding the edge under and pressing them gently into the rim of the pie plate. Next, grab a fork and press it all away around the edges of the pie. (Cute, right? My mom taught me that.) Finally, brush the egg wash lightly all over the top of the pie, and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar.

Tip: If you don’t want to shell out the bucks for a box of turbinado sugar (like me), snag yourself two packets of Sugar In The Raw the next time your buy yourself a cup of coffee. Done and Done.

Set the assembled pie over a cookie sheet or piece of foil to catch any juice that might leak, and place in the oven. I baked for 55 minutes, until the crust turned a rich, golden brown color. The edges of the crust were not burned, but if you see yours start to burn during baking, cover the edges with foil.

As you can see, the inside of the pie was so juicy that some liquid escaped through the top. I don’t mind; I wasn’t entering this baby in a contest, and more than anything I wanted to make sure the taste and texture were perfect. To that end, I let the pie rest nearly 8 hours before cutting into it.

Right out of the oven.

The results: a perfectly flaky top crust, tender fruit, and running juices. Delicious, but messy. The bottom crust, while cooked, was not cooked enough to my liking. I wanted it to be crisp, but all the juice in the interior made for a semi-soggy bottom. Again, still delicious, but it was impossible to cut a slice of this pie neatly. I have a feeling the crust would have turned out better if I had blind-baked it, but I have not seen the method called for in recipes for double-crust pies. And next time, I’ll add a half-cup of the flour/corn starch mixture, instead of just a quarter cup. In short, more experiments are definitely in order (much to the delight of my boyfriend).

From Market to Table: Homemade Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

You really need smell-o-vision for this.

At around midnight last night, when I finally had a chance to catch up on The New York Times Dining & Wine section, I watched a video of Melissa Clark making fresh rhubarb compote. It looked so pretty. And easy. And more importantly—delicious.

I woke up with rhubarb on the brain.

After I picked up my morning coffee I ambled over to the Grand Army Plaza farmers market to check out spring’s latest local offerings. It was about 40 degrees this morning here in Brooklyn, and the air didn’t feel so springy. But upon entering the market, I caught sight of a crate of rhubarb stalks priced at $3.50/pound.

If you live in New York, you understand what a bargain this is. Even in season, most supermarkets sell rhubarb for about $7 per pound, which makes it cost-prohibitive for a cook like me who relies more on trial & error than published & tested recipes.

Bag of rhubarb in hand, I stopped at the grocery store to get strawberries (still too early in the season to get local ones here). Once home, I re-reviewed Clark’s video and got to work.

RECIPE:

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Inspired by Melissa Clark’s Rhubarb Compote, from The New York Times

Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 3-4 cups

Ingredients:

  • One pound rhubarb stalks
  • One pound strawberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Juice from half a large lemon

Method:

Begin by giving the rhubarb a good rinse and trimming the ends. FYI – The leaves on the rhubarb plant are poisonous.  Next, wash and hull the strawberries. Cut the rhubarb into 1″ pieces. Leave the strawberries whole if they’re small, or cut them into quarters if they are larger.

Combine the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar and lemon juice in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir to coat the fruit with the sugar. The mixture will come to what looks like a boil, and the fruits will start releasing their juices.  When you start to see a fair amount of liquid build, reduce the heat so that the mixture cooks at a steady simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

You’re done when the fruit is fork-tender and the liquid is at a syrupy consistency. Transfer mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes. Then you can store it away in a jar (it’ll keep for at least a week in the fridge), or serve heaping spoonfuls of this red goodness on any of the following:

  • toast
  • yogurt
  • pancakes
  • french toast
  • pound cake
  • sponge cake
  • granola
  • ice cream
  • corn bread or muffins

 

Happy Weekend, all!

Getting To The Heart of The Artichoke


Look closer.

That came from nature. The tough outer leaves, the bulbous shape, the furry choke, the tender heart—I am in awe of the artichoke for all these things.  I love to eat artichokes because they’re so versatile: steamed, stuffed, fried, braised, sautéed, with chicken or pasta or in a risotto.  Oh! I’m forgetting roasted, grilled, and marinated (the hearts, of course).

One of the reasons I look forward to fresh artichokes every spring is that I don’t cook them. Few foods inspire such anxiety in me as the artichoke.

It’ll be too hard, I think. They turn brown too fast. All that peeling! What if I don’t remove the choke correctly and I end up choking? Or worse, what if my terrible choke-removing results in a gasping dinner guest? Or boyfriend?  Yikes.  It’s so pretty, I don’t want to cut it wrong. How would I cook it? What if I overcook it?  Oh, look! There’s a zucchini. I’ll just cook that.

So goes my thinking process whenever I am faced with an artichoke in the grocery store. Well, no longer.  After going to six gourmet grocery stores in Manhattan on Friday evening and coming up empty on baby artichokes, Saturday I found myself a beautiful, round and full globe artichoke at Trader Joe’s for $1.29.   It was time to consult the interwebs, cookbooks and magazines about proper care and preparation.  I was already settled on cooking method—steaming—a simple and straightforward approach that would really showcase the gentle sweetness of the artichoke, and also how fun it is to pull apart and eat leaf by leaf. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil helps.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Our story begins with one medium-large artichoke.

Prepare a bowl of cold, acidulated water. In English, this means get a bowl of cold water, then cut a lemon in quarters, squeeze some juice into the water, and drop the lemon pieces in the bowl.

Using a serrated knife (and yes, a bread knife will do), saw about an inch off the top of the artichoke. Then, remove the tough outer leaves along the stem.


Next, rub one of the lemon pieces all over the artichoke.  (This and the lemon water are essential since artichokes are super-sensitive to browning. And we don’t want brown veggies.) Get a pair of kitchen shears and cut about a quarter inch off the top of each of the exposed leaves. Rub the artichoke again with the lemon.

Using a paring knife, peel the stem. The outer layer is thick, so make sure you remove it completely.

Next, use a big, strong and especially sharp knife to cut the artichoke in half.  Put one half of the artichoke into the bowl of lemon-water. Take a piece of lemon and rub it all over the half you’re working with.

Moment of truth: time to remove the choke. I know it doesn’t look very threatening. It looks soft and furry, not sharp and thorny.  But you have to remove the choke, and it’s better to do it before you cook the artichoke.

So, grab a ginger peeler, or in the absence of the ginger peeler, a spoon and paring knife will do. Trace along the edge of the fur, scooping out the furry bits and scraping along the flesh so that none are left.  You will be left with a vacancy in the middle of your artichoke, like so:

Put the cleaned half in the water, and repeat the choke-removing process with the other half.

Once both halves are cleaned and resting happily in the lemon-water, get a medium saucepan (about 3 quarts or more).  Put in some cold water, about an inch high in the pot, and add a smashed garlic clove. Set the steamer basket in the pot, cover, and turn the heat to medium-high.  When the water boils, transfer your artichokes from the lemon water to the steamer basket and cover the pot immediately. Steam for 30 minutes, checking on the artichoke halves periodically to make sure there’s still some water in the pot.  You’ll know they’re done when the centers are pierced easily with the tip of a knife.

Remove the artichoke carefully from the steamer basket and transfer to a plate.  You can do what I did—sprinkle some kosher salt on it & then drizzle with olive oil. Or, you could go with my boyfriend’s preferred drizzling solution: melted butter.

To eat, scrape the flesh off the leaves with your teeth, discarding the tough part of the leaves.  You can eat the whole heart and the stem.  Savor them, and you’ll taste spring.