Out of dinner ideas?
Open up a can of whup-@$$ on your dinner guests with the savory and delightful artichoke plant. Versatile and taste bud-arousing, the artichoke can adapt as a side to almost any kind of main dish. Artichokes feature a diversity of textures: one can nibble away at the tender, almost ivory-colored base of the outer artichoke leaves; pull the tight, fibrous leaf through one's clamped teeth; and use the tapered tines of the fork to delve into the tender, fluffy, baked potato-like stem interior. The artichoke flavor concentrates in the inner most leaves, or the heart of the 'choke, which throbs and pulsates, not with muscular contractions, but with a wealth of woody and earthy flavors.
But lemme tell you, artichokes are hell-on-earth to prepare. Be careful not to get poked by the pointed barbs on the tips of the outer leaves. They sting like lil' b!+¢#e$!
Salad of Steamed Artichoke Hearts and Balsamic Vinegar
6 fresh artichokes, whole
1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese (optional)
sea salt, to taste
Peel of the outer leaves of the artichoke that are green in color. You may discard these leaves, or you may steam them and nibble the ends of the leaves and scrape them through your teeth to eat every remaining bit of artichoke flesh. After you've removed the green leaves (there are quite a lot), use a paring knife to cut off the excess the green, snapped-off leaf vestiges near the stem. Then, cut the yellow artichoke hearts in half, and use a spoon with a pointed tip to remove the hairy, ultra-fibrous choke from the inside of the artichoke. For a great pictorial guide on how to do this, check out Becks & Posh. For a great recipe on how to prepare artichokes whole, check out the Unemployed Cook.
Put the readied artichoke hearts into a large, microwave-safe glass bowl with a few tablespoons of water and tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Microwave the hearts on high heat for 10 minutes. After microwaving, carefully remove the plastic wrap, being careful of the steam. Sprinkle the artichokes with the sea salt, drizzle them with the balsamic vinegar, and if desired, add the grated parmesan cheese over the steamed artichokes. Now you're ready to enjoy a deliciously warm salad!
In addition with the recipe above, here are two more suggested recipes that compliment the artichokes and make a complete meal:
Fluffed Moroccan Couscous
1 1/2 cups of Moroccan-style couscous, made of durum wheat
1 can of fat-free low-sodium chicken stock or broth
1 tsp of extra virgin olive oil
lemon wedges, to serve
mint leaves, to serve
Bring the chicken stock to a boil in a small sauce pan with a tight lid. Add the extra virgin olive oil and couscous, replace the lid to cover the couscous, and immediately take the couscous off of the heat. Wait for 5 minutes, remove the lid, and use a fork to fluff the individual grains of couscous. Serve with lemon wedges and garnish with a few mint leaves.
I love couscous as a side, because it takes less time than boiling an egg!
Finally, I would serve the artichokes and couscous with broiled steaks. The recipe below isn't really a recipe, but I am on a roll with artsy recipe names, so here goes:
Virgin Steak au Poivre
2 hearty steak cuts of beef, such as t-bone
whole peppercorns, ground with a mortar and pestle or in a pepper grinding mill
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Ready the steaks, by generously seasoning both sides with salt and freshly ground pepper, and lay them on a ridged baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the insides are done.
Serve with the couscous and artichokes.
By the way, this last recipe isn't even close to real steak au poivre, which is made with a gorgeous glazed reduction made with cognac, but the name makes plain ole' steaks heated in the oven sound much fancier! Besides, poivre just means pepper in French anyway!
I hope you've enjoyed the recipes, and my submissions to the fair recipe trade!