Wednesday, May 2, 2012

About Asparagus...

Okay, it's been a long while and I owe everyone an apology for not having posted, but there really was a good reason, which I will share with you in Heaven, but no sooner. Suffice it to say I'm back with bells on, and with lots of good recipes and conversation for you! Thank you so much for being there! Did you ever notice that April is somehow a little different, a little special, that the other months of the year? This year, we had an uncommon surprise—our asparagus actually came up! Now if that sounds commonplace, kind of like, ‘So what?’ let me explain that I’ve been waiting to plant and grow asparagus for the past forty years, but (while my husband and I grew children and grandchildren and friends and businesses in all the many places we lived) we never were in one place long enough to grow asparagus. Oh, we might have planted them, I suppose. Worked the soil and enriched it (gardening is, after all, not at all about the plants—it’s about the soil) and put down the asparagus roots; but then, we might have moved again, and the asparagus, like all our many fruit trees and bramble bushes, as well as the perennials we planted, would have passed to someone else. Welcome as the gift would have been, to give as well as to receive, I wanted one day to eat of our own bounty, to put up pears and applesauce, make apple butter for sandwiches and apple ketchup for pork roasts, to gather our own black- blue- and raspberries, to dry our own meaty tomatoes, and at last, to cut our asparagus and prepare them fresh from the earth. Well, two years ago, we began. I put in 24 healthy young plants, and less than a week later, up came the tiny, delicate fronds, no bigger than a pencil lead, but unmistakably asparagus. What a joy! Then last year, the spears were the size of pencils, but still we thought we would keep feeding the plants and not take any shoots yet. After all ,the asparagus needed to make bigger and better roots and get acclimated to the North Texas earth But this year!~~ This year, in mid-February, the earth trembled (well, if it didn’t quite tremble, it should have!) and up came these big green shoots, thick as my husband’s thumb and two feet tall before I could get out there with an asparagus tool—you’ve seen those—they look like a bent screwdriver with a metal “snake’s tongue” shape at the end. The idea is to jab them carefully beneath the surface of the soil and cut off the asparagus shoot below ground. Well, I went out there a few hours later, and they were about four feet tall, and now they are taller than I am and have an attitude. So I’m waiting until next year, when they’re still groggy from being underground all two weeks of winter, and I’ll nip ‘em in the bud, so to speak. Asparagus is a member of the fern family, you see, and the asparagus that grace our Easter or Passover tables are simply the budding shoots of these same fern fronds. In fact, for the first two or three years, the gardener cannot collect any asparagus at all, but must allow the plant to gain strength and breadth; first so that the plants will be suitable for the table, but also to protect the plants themselves. They are living creatures, even though they are not animals or humans; so as much as possible, we should be good to them; and in return, we can count on their contributing delicious variety to our dinners and healthy phytochemicals and minerals to our diets. I meet a lot of people who tell me, “I don’t know how to grow things; is it hard?” No, it’s not, not if you start off right. As I keep saying, and will keep saying, so expect it, gardening is all about the soil, rather than the plants. You can buy the most expensive plants you like, and water them like mad, but unless you’ve prepared your soil, your plants are doomed. For example, here in North Texas where I live, both our soil and our rain are alkaline. So unless you’re willing to plant xeriscape plants—that is, plants that have been living here since Demosthenes expounded on the rocky hills of Greece, you’d better be ready to add a whole lot of peat moss and a bag of expanded shale to your 4’ X 8’ garden bed. In places where the soil is sour and acid, you will need to lime your soil. When we lived in a place like that, I used to crush my eggshells and add them to the soil wherever I wanted to grow bulbs (tulips, daffodils, crocus, etc.) I found that it helped immeasurably. Lime (oyster and clamshells, limes itself, and eggshells) sweetens acid soil; expanded shale, peat moss, pine needles and coffee grounds tones down the sweetness of alkaline soil. Tea or opened tea bags are good, too, but you can get free coffee grounds from Starbucks simply for the asking, so it’s smart to go that route. Conversely, to grow azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas, you'll want a fairly acid soil. What to do, what to do? The best thing to do is to test your soil. One way is to take 1 Tbsp. samples from several places in your garden and put them in a canning jar or clean one-pint jelly jar. Add fresh water to the top and stir thoroughly. Then, using your test kit, follow the directions for determining just what your soil needs for optimum performance. Add the suggested material and get ready for a terrific harvest, a couple of years from now, and for twenty or so years thereafter. It may take a little waiting, but, in the long run, you’ll be glad you did!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Surprise Salad #1

Okay, here’s the first of the surprise salad recipes I promised you!

This is a salad that you’d use if your husband brought home an old service buddy he met again downtown, and it’s almost dinnertime, you haven’t gone to the store, and you can’t make dinner reservations because all the “extra” in your bank account went to band fees, school fees, tuition, gasoline or some other unavoidable "luxury."


Grab a couple of cans, some stuff from the fridge, and a few herbs from the pantry, and you’re set for a refreshing salad that will pass any muster. You will need:

1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can of pitted black olives
the “heart” of a fresh celery
2 Tbsps capers from a jar
3 large pieces of roasted red peppers from a jar, drained
4-5 large fresh sprigs of parsley, Italian flat-leaf parsley or cilantro OR
2 Tbsps dried versions of one of the above, soaked in:
3 Tbsps red wine vinegar (apple cider vinegar will do if wine’s a problem)
3-4 Tbsps virgin or extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly-made or storebought cheese croutons
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste


Remove the “heart” from the celery. That is the lighter-colored, more tender, sweeter, inner section of the celery, about 2” in diameter or a bit more. The whole plant is a “stalk;” the individual pieces are called “ribs.” The outer ribs will be darker and tougher than the heart. Slice the celery heart, leaves and all, into ¼” slices and place in a colander. Wash thoroughly under running cold water. Place in a medium-sized salad bowl. Rinse the two Tbsps of capers under running cold water to remove some of the salt. Add to bowl. Open, drain and rinse the olives, and add them to the salad bowl. Open, drain—saving the juice—and reserve the tomato dice in the salad bowl. Save the juice in your freezer container for soup next week. Open the roasted red peppers, remove 3 large pieces and dice them. Add them to the salad also. Rinse, pick and chop fine the herbs if using fresh herbs; otherwise soak the 2 Tbsps of dried herb, (whether parsley, Italian flat-leaved parsley or cilantro—but not all) in the 3 Tbsps of red wine vinegar. Let soak for 10 or 15 minutes, then add herb and vinegar to the bowl. Season to taste. Add the olive oil and toss gently, trying not to bruise or break the ingredients. If desired, finely sliced green onions (scallions) are a nice addition instead of the sliced Vidalia or red onion. Add the croutons at the very last, just as you plate up the salad.

This goes well with plain, hearty meals and gives a nice freshness to any meal. Quick and easy. Try it sometimes. You’ll be glad you did.

See you next time!

Tuscan Sausage-'n-Potato Soup

Hi, again!

I know it’s been a long time since I posted, but honestly, I had a really good reason for it.

I spent the last month-and-a-half making an heirloom Baptismal dress for our precious little great-grandson, Master Jackson Christopher Bentley, who was born and who resides in England. Fortunately, the family loved it, so I'm jazzed about that! There will be pictures on pretty soon, so if you're interested, by all means take a look and leave a comment! I’d love it if you’d follow me here, too.

I promised my daughters to post the recipe for this soup, because they really love it, so here goes. I promise that immediately I'm finished with this one, I'll post the first of the "surprise salads" recipes. You have my word on it.

Okay. You'll need:

1 package (5 links) of Italian Hot Sausage
4 cans of cream of potato soup
4 or 5 large potatoes, (the floury kind not the waxy ones)
2 cans evaporated milk
¼ lb. bacon
I very large or 2 large white onions
1 package frozen chopped spinach OR
1 # fresh young spinach
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or to taste (remember the sausage is hot)
Chicken stock as needed

Slice sausages into 1” coins and reserve. Peel, wash and finely dice onion. Reserve. Cut bacon into 1” slices and render slowly in a heavy pan or Dutch Oven over medium heat to remove all fat. Cool and crumble bacon. Reserve the bacon and the bacon fat in separate bowls. If you’re using fresh spinach, pick over the leaves of the fresh and remove severely wilted, discolored, slick or bruised portions. Wash carefully under running water and shake or spin dry. Cut fresh spinach into 1” squares. For frozen spinach, just open the package. Reserve. Peel, wash and cut (into ½” dice) the potatoes. Boil them in enough water to cover until they are cooked.

In the Dutch Oven, sauté the sausage coins until well done. Reserve. Using 2 Tbsps of the reserved bacon fat, sweat the onion until it’s transparent, then sauté the fresh or frozen spinach over medium-high heat right on top of the onion, until it is totally wilted and cooked through. Reserve the scrapings from the bottom of the pan unless they are burned. These add a wonderful depth to the dish. Add the ¼ tsp red pepper flakes. Combine well, cooking for another minute or two. Add the contents of the four cans of potato soup, the boiled potatoes and their water, and the two cans of evaporated milk. Combine well and let simmer for about five minutes. Add the sausage, the crumbled bacon, and the cooked spinach.

If the soup is too thick, thin it with chicken stock or water. Season sparingly to taste with salt and black pepper. Let it all simmer together while you warm the big, crusty slabs of garlic bread and toss the fresh salad you’re serving with this wonderful soup.

All you need now is a terrific dessert and a good appetite! Enjoy!

PS: Diced roasted red peppers are delicious in this dish. Add them to the soup after it's plated up. Go easy with until you're sure you like it. Fresh escarole substitutes well for the spinach, too.

Okay, there you are! Let me know what you think, won't you? Your comments help me offer recipes along the lines of things my followers enjoy. Thanks!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nana's Famous Chicken Soup

Here’s the recipe I promised you for my good chicken soup. My daughter, Gretchen, claims it will re-grow limbs. Well, I won’t go that far, but I will say I love making soup for people I care about (or downright love-to-pieces!) Even people who aren’t ill will just gobble it up anyway. It’s Louisiana good! Just be sure you have a great big pot to cook it in, or cut the recipe in half. It’s just as good either way.

A note here: This is not a “quickie meal.” The prep takes a long time, the cooking takes very little, comparatively. This is a great soup for the family to gather round on a rainy or snowy Saturday, with hot garlic bread, a fresh salad*, and some kind of pudding for dessert. Mmmm….

Nana’s Best Chicken Soup

1 pkg (about 3 #) chicken legs-and-thighs OR
the equivalent in other pieces of chicken
2 very large onions
1 1/2 # carrots
1 entire stalk of celery (the whole thing; individual pieces are called “ribs”)
1 tbsp fresh ginger
1 entire head of garlic
half a bunch of curly parsley
half a bunch of Italian flat-leaf parsley OR
half a bunch of cilantro OR
2 Tbsps dried parsley AND
2 Tbsps dried cilantro
1 Tbsp—1/2 cup Knorr Chicken Bouillon (It will be labelled in English and in Spanish, so you know you're getting the right thing.)
ground black pepper to taste AND/OR
red pepper flakes to taste
(just remember, pepper gets stronger over time, so be careful)


Rinse the chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry. If you like the chicken skin, leave it on. I usually remove all but the smallest bits of skin and most of the fat from my chicken pieces. Do what you like. If you’re using the skin, remove it and cut it in 1” squares. Reserve. Place the chicken in your largest pot and cover it with enough water to cover twice as much chicken. For example, if your chicken can be covered with one gallon of water, use two gallons of water, okay? Sometimes I talk funny, but I think you know what I mean. If now, write me at and put the words “Chicken Soup” in the “Subject” line. I’ll get right back to you.

Okay, now, scrape or peel your carrots and cut them into 1” chunks. If they’re very thick, split the thick parts lengthways as well. Reserve them in a very large bowl. All your veggies are going to go into it.

Trim your celery, taking off any discolored parts and taking the barest bit off any broken stems. Remove the heel (which you will peel and cut into six delicious bits) and cut your celery into 1” slices as well, dropping them into a colander, not into the veggie bowl yet. Use the leaves as well. Just be sure to cut them into julienne (or small bits if you prefer.) Drop them into the colander, too, and rinse well under cold running water.

Place the now-cleaned celery into the veggie bowl. The reason you have to be so particular with celery is, when it’s growing, the growers pile earth up against the stems to “blanch” them. That comes from the French word, “blanche,” which means “white.” It’s why your celery isn’t green and bitter. If it is green and bitter, they didn’t blanche the celery when they should have done.

Smash and peel the entire head of garlic. Don’t say, “I like garlic, but not that much.” Yes, I hear you. But just do it. It’s delicious this way, and not hot or biting; just mellow and creamy and luscious---smash the garlic, okay? Trust me. Save it in a small bowl.

Now peel and chop both onions fine. Reserve them in the big bowl, too.

Using the tip of a teaspoon, scrape off the skin from about 1” to 1-1/2” of your ginger. Mince it as fine as you can make it. Put it in the little bowl and let it get friendly with the garlic. If you’re using dried parsley and cilantro, put them in, too.

If you’re using the fresh parsley/cilantro, now’s the time to trim any discolored or broken stems and wash them both thoroughly under cold running water. Chop them medium-fine and put them in their own medium bowl. They’ll be added last. We don’t want them in, yet.


By now your chicken should be boiling merrily. Turn down your heat to medium (or, if you have lots of time, medium-low, and skim the grayish stuff off the top of the seething soup-to-be. Discard it. Test your chicken from time to time. What you’re looking for is chicken that’s almost falling off the bones. When you get to that point, use your long kitchen tongs to remove the chicken pieces from the broth. Set them aside in a large bowl, pan, jellyroll pan (the kind we all call a “cookie sheet,” but it has a little rim all round.) Whatever you can use, cool the chicken parts quickly. If you have no tongs, use your kitchen fork. Just get them out, no hurry, and be careful. Don’t burn yourself.

Meanwhile, carefully add all your veggies from the big bowl to the seething broth, and add the Knorr chicken Chicken Bouillon to taste. Remember, you can always add more, but you can’t take any out. so start slowly and add judiciously.

While the veggies cook—don’t overcook them, whatever you do; they should be fork tender but not mushy—cut the meat off the bones into roughly 1” squares. You want it tender, because sick people ache all over, and sometimes just chewing can hurt. When you have your meat cut up, put it back into the pot and add your parsley and cilantro. Let it cook for about 3-5 minutes and turn off the heat. Correct for seasonings with more Knorr, if you like, and add the black pepper if you’re using it. Let it stand for a few minutes for the ingredients to get friendly, and serve into big soup mugs, or into bowls. This really is a tasty dish!

That’s it!

*Check out my recipe for “Surprise Salads” coming up next!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Nana's Homemade Soup #1

Hey! Here it is, halfway between the First Sunday of Advent and Christmas Itself, and I'm still making presents, decorating and planning goodies to eat for the 12 Days of Christmas!

The weather turned unusually cold down here in North Texas tonight, and I thought I'd send you my recipe for Nana's Homemade Soup. Nice to sip while trimming the tree, especially with hot bread, salami and cheese panini, or hot cornbread!

Nana's Homemade Soup

Okay, this is fun. Maybe you never made homemade soup before, but it’s as easy as offending an in-law. Here’s how it goes:

Start this right after breakfast if you want it done by lunch, okay?

Now, when we started being friends, I advised you to keep a good-sized plastic container in your freezer for “juices,” by which I mean water from cooking your veggies, liquid from the cans you open, the water with which you “deglaze”* your meat pans after you use them, the last little bit (or the last ‘quite a bit’ of gravies—except cream gravies), and so on. You get the idea. But don’t use cream sauces or cheese of any sort. That’s for something else.

Even fish juices and waters, like from tuna cans and fish oils (for example, from smoked oysters) are fair game, but keep them in another, separate, freezer container; just be sure to keep them, because they make chowder to die for! Imagine all the essences of the sea, combined with meltingly mealy potatoes, sweet kernels of corn, leeks sautéed in butter, and good rich hot milk in a creamy soup, speckled with black pepper and fresh parsley! Oh, yum!

“Save them juices,” as my son-in-law, the non-saver-of-juices joked, after tasting it. “Nana, save them dee-licious juices!”

I like to tear a few pieces of processed seaweed into tiny bits and scatter them in the soup; they’re full of iodine, which steps up your thyroid function and helps you be energetic. Some say it even helps you drop a pound or two, eating lots of seaweed. If you’re sensitive to iodine, for pity’s sake, stay away from it! If you’re not sure, ask your doctor, don’t take my word for it.

All I know is, it tastes fantastic to me and makes me feel good! Try all this new stuff, unless your doctor says otherwise. You’ll love at least some of it, and it’s all a great adventure, right?

My friend Bora used to warn me daily that I was feeding my family too much sodium from the canned-veggie juices, that we would all die horribly of heart attacks, or strokes, or Creeping Sodium-itis, or whatever, and on and on and on, and then I watched her make her own version of soup, during which she added a good handful of salt. Hmmmm.

I don’t add salt to my soups, or do so very rarely, depending on taste, and none of us have died of heart attacks yet, praise God, so I think you’re pretty safe. If, however, you or someone in your family has a coronary or other problem, be sensible – don’t use this recipe, find another one. There are a lot of them out there.

Anyway, back to the soup: Take all that good leftover liquid, dump it in a stockpot or whatever you usually make soup in, add:

--one or two (16oz) cans of diced, crushed, or whole tomatoes;
--a large onion, peeled and finely minced;
--a can/freezer package of whole-kernel corn;
--as many cloves of garlic as you enjoy (I use half a dozen, peeled and coarsely
--a couple of the outer, discouraged-looking ribs of celery, washed, trimmed,
chopped fine or sliced into 1/4-inch slices,
--a handful of washed, minced, celery leaves,
the mixed veggies left over from dinner night-before-last (anything but broccoli
beets, or broccoli raab; for some reason, they don’t work well in this);
--the meat from any leftover roast, the spare grilled hamburger no one ate (cut in
small dice), the two chicken legs, boned and diced (that just means take
it off the bones, there’s nothing fancy about it, believe me!)
--Diced green peppers, rutabagas, any veggie but beetroot, cabbage, broccoli,
broccoli raab or their relatives. Squash, carrot, corn, peas, green beans and so on are fine.
--Do not add dried beans, split peas or lentils unless you want to cook it much, much longer. That’s a whole ‘nother story. More on that later.
--If you haven’t any leftover meats, use a pound of beef stew meat, beef bones with lots of meat on them, or a cheap piece of chuck, diced, and boil it up until it’s practically falling apart; and:
--between a quart and a gallon of water, as needed. Start with the quart and add more as you need it.

Boil it all up gently until the meat is falling apart, the veggies are cooked, and it smells heavenly and has reduced at least one-third in volume; then add lots of parsley, if you like (not more than ½ cup, fresh or 4 BIG Tbsps, dried), and especially if your soup has any oil on top that you chose not to remove.

I usually remove mine. Just skim it off with your soup-cooking spoon. NEVER save beef tallow (fat) for cooking, but some people use chicken or pork fat with good results, in different parts of the world. Make our own decision about that.

Don’t add salt until right before you serve it. Salt toughens meat and when your liquid boils down, it gets too salty if you’ve salted it too soon. You can add pepper whenever you want.

By the way, did you know that the parsley on your plate at a restaurant is there to aid your digestion? Of course, you have to eat it for it to work. Looking at how pretty it is doesn’t help much. *smile* But that’s why it’s there.

Serve your soup in nice crockery dishes or something that the kids will like (and can’t hurt), and you can even let them help you pour the juices for the next batch of soup into the container ‘for our special soup.’ Little ones, and even children not-so-little, love doing this, and pre-teens and teeners like making the soup themselves.

Try it and see.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Turkey 'n Sausage Gumbo

Looks like the holidays are upon us, and what better way to use up the turkey leftovers than a nice, hot, comforting bowl of good old gumbo, on a chilly Autumn or Winter night?

Gumbo, as we have discussed before, is the Swahili word for "okra," and I can't imagine gumbo without that vegetable. But I can't imagine it, either, without one of my own kitchen standbys, the humble onion.

Onions have been working busily and well in people's kitchens since 'way before the Egyptians started getting fancy with their tombs or the Romans came strutting across Europe bringing law and recipes.

Onions and lilies are members of the same family, and they're grown pretty much the same way. The only difference is that we usually put lily bulbs into the (slightly alkaline, well-fertilized, moist-but-not-wet, well-drained) ground to get a lily later in the season. With onions, either we put in "onion sets," which are little baby onions, into the ground; or we put in onion seeds, which are produced on beautiful 4" compound blossoms (that means the big blossom is made up of lots and lots of tiny little blossoms who have clubbed together to look like a big bloom).

When the blossom is ripe, the onion will produce little black seeds, two or three for each small flower. These seeds, planted and nurtured, will produce onion sets in the first year, and then--replanted--they will grow to maturity the second year.

Of course, we always buy our onions at the supermarket, but it doesn't hurt to know how to do it, just in case something goes wrong someday. Perhaps the Europeans didn't know there would be two world wars within two generations, and I'll bet those who knew how to grow and eat from the land were the Europeans who were able to keep their families fed.

Here's a wonderful way to use onions. I do it all the time, and no one has complained yet.

Turnkey and Sausage Gumbo

I picked-over turkey carcass PLUS
1 6" X 3"-thick chunk of white or dark meat
1 1/2 # Italian hot sausage links
1 very latge onion
6 fat cloves garlic
6 outer ribs of celery, with leaves
1 1/2 tsps dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
1 (1#) bag frozen cut okra
1/2 c virgin olive oil* OR
a mixture of olive oil and bacon fat, rendered
1/2 all-purpose flour*
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Spanish paprika
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
salt to taste
1 cup white wine
1-2 gallons water


Boil the carcass in a large stockpot over low heat until all the collagen had leached out of the bones, about 18 hours or all-afternoon-turn-it-off-to-sleep-all- the-following-day. Keep the cover on the pot while cooking and refrigerate it overnight in the pot. Let it cool, then pick every bit of the meat off the turkey bones. Reserve meat in one bowl and the broth in the stockpot. Discard the bones into your compost bin; your plants could probably use the phosphorus and calcium. Dice the chunk of meat. Slice the hot sausage in to 1/2" coins. Reserve together in a large bowl. Peel your onion and dice into 1/4" dice. Smash, peel and finely chop the garlic. Wash the celery ribs and slice into 1/4" slices. Reserve with the onions and garlic in a second, smaller bowl. Measure the pappers, thyme and oregano into a small bowl and reserve.


Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a heavy Dutch Oven, and add the flour when the oil gets hot. Keep it moving with a wooden spoon, not stopping for a minute until it changes and becomes a lovely medium-dark brown color and smells lovely. This is a dark roux, and making it properly could take 10 or 15 minutes or more. Trust me, it's worth it.

When it's the right color, add the onion/garlic/celery mixture and sweat your veggies until they surrender. Now add the black pepper/cayenne pepper/thyme/oregano mixture and stir until it blooms with fragrance. Now add your meats and stir them around until the sausage greys out somewhat. Add about a gallon of the water and all the wine, turn down the heat to medium-low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes, while the flavors blend, the sausage cooks through, and the broth thickens.

During the last ten minutes of cooking, add the frozen okra and let it cook to tender-crisp perfection. If you wanted to sneak a pound of shrimp just then, or an equal amount of fresh oysters, or both, I won't complain. Neither will you. Just be sure the shrimp lose their transparency but don't get to the "Goodyear" stage, and only add oysters for the last couple of minutes, until their edges curl. Of course you will include the oyster liquor (juices) as well.

Serve the gumbo hot in soup dishes, over a scoop of fluffy, fragrant white rice, with steaming garlic/Parmesan bread and a nice big salad to "go with."

Be prepared to serve "seconds" to all comers. This is just as good the next day, but the broth will have thickened and gotten a little gluey due to the okra. Still tastes great. Try it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A is for Artichoke

I was in the supermarket a few days ago, buying artichokes, when a lady and her husband came up and spoke to me. “What in the world,” she said, in her polite, gentle Southern tones, “are those? And however do you cook them?”

(One sweet person confided to me that she had tried boiling them and they were awful!-- so she threw them out. They would be, if you boiled them and tried to eat that.)

All of us probably have seen those prickly, hard, green vegetables at the supermarket. They look rather like a great big thistle—or like a green, leathery, flower-bud--but the question the Gentle Lady asked is the question most people have: How in the world do you cook them?

“Simple,” I told her. And it is. Not easy, but simple.

I’ll tell you in a minute, but first, let me tell you a little about artichokes. They are native to Sicily, and grow wild there and many other places with the same climate: dry but not desert, and they enjoy rain as long as it drains away. They hate wet feet. They're easy to grow at the back of the garden and will last sometimes for twenty years, giving you artichoke all the while.

They really are a relative of the thistle, with long, serrated, prickly leaves and thick overlapping petals. These petals start large at the outside, growing smaller and thinner toward the middle, until they are almost transparent at the center.

The center, or “choke,” is the problem.

The choke can kill you if you don’t know how to handle it.

Please!—don’t freak or give up on artichokes! Just listen for a minute and I’ll teach you how to make them perfectly safe and absolutely delicious! Just hang in there with me for a little while longer.

The “choke’ is the equivalent of a flower-center; but instead of a velvety center a daisy displays, the artichokes have a bristly, prickly round “brush” of individual hairs, each armed with a prickle, that—if swallowed or inhaled—causes the eater to choke. Hence the name. The inhaled hairs cause the body to react by producing so much mucus that it strangles the unwise eater, and tragedy can follow.

There’s an easy way to get around this. Trust me, people, I’ve been cooking and eating artichokes for three-quarters of a century and I haven’t killed anyone yet, nor have I strangled on artichokes. Guess why?

BECAUSE WE REMOVE THE CHOKE!—which is the same as pulling a rattlesnake’s fangs and poison glands. Without the choke, the artichoke is a pussycat. A delicious gustatory pussycat. And now you’re going to find out how to do it!

Here’s how you prepare an artichoke to be safe and luscious to eat:

1.) Wash the outside of your artichoke. You don’t really have to do this, because you’re going to steam them over boiling water, but we Americans are paranoid about cleanliness when it comes to food, so wash it if you will. I won’t tell.
2.) Now take a tightly-closed artichoke (the ones with wide-spread petals are old and tough—don’t buy them!) and with a large serrated knife, cut the top off the artichoke, straight across, until the blossom is about 4 1/2"--5" tall.
3.) With your kitchen shears, snip off the prickly points on each remaining petal. Cut them straight across like French Fingernails. Take off about ½” of the tip.
3.) Cut off the stem level with the bottom of the artichoke so it can sit up straight, and remove any small, broken or discolored petals around the stem.
4.) Next, spread the petals apart, gently but firmly moving them outward, away from the center. Press them away, but don’t break them. Be firm but careful.
5.) Now with a tablespoon, begin at the inside, where the petals are 2” long and less, and start scraping them off the inner base of the artichoke. That is, from the 2” long petals near the center, to the entire center. Remove it all. Scrape them up from the bottom, making sure to clean out under the longer leaves as well, because the “choke” tends to try to hide little prickles under there, too.
6.) DO NOT USE WATER at this point. Water will glue the prickles to the sides and you will fail to see them. Dry-scrape the “choke” out of the artichoke blossom, taking away all petals 2” long or shorter, and discard them in your compost container. It takes strong hands, but you can do it.
7.) You should end up with circular rows of petals surrounding a large, empty center with a smooth base inside. BE SURE TO CLEAN WELL UNDER ALL THE REMAINING PETALS SURROUNDING THE CENTER. The center base probably will turn an unappetizing dark color. Ignore it. It’s just showing off. When it’s cooked, it will be jade green and luscious and nice as you please. If it bothers you too much, squeeze a little lemon juice over it and watch it start to behave.

Now for the Stuffing. What? You did know there would be some kind of wonderful Sicilian stuffing for these things, didn’t you? Well, sweetie, there is. This is how you make it, and it’s enough for three nice big (properly prepared) artichokes.

1 ½ boxes Italian Bread Crumbs
3 ½ c Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large onion
3 large ribs of celery
½ head garlic
10-12 leaves fresh basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp red pepper flakes
¾ tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
6 oz shrimp in their jackets*
6 ozs sliced mushrooms*
2 eggs
1 ½ c white wine*
Olive oil


Peel and mince onion. Reserve in a big bowl. Trim, slice and chop the celery small. Use the leaves as well. Smash, peel and mince garlic and julienne the fresh basil leaves. Reserve them in a medium bowl. Add your red and black peppers, oregano, and salt—everything we’ve mentioned so far--to this bowl as well.

In a little bowl, beat the two eggs (if you’re using them) with 1 Tbsp water. Reserve.

Save the garlic peels, celery trimmings, and the heavy basil stems; you’re going to be using them in just a minute.

Peel the shrimp and chop them small. Rough-chop your mushrooms and put them in the same second little bowl as the chopped shrimp.


In a large frying pan, heat about ¼ c of olive oil until it's hot. Add the contents of the onion/garlic/basil/oregano/peppers bowl to the pan and sweat the veggies until they're 'sweating' and the onions look transparent and soft.

Now add the mushrooms and shrimp to the veggie/ mixture

To the small saucepan, add 1-1/2 c of water, and 1 ½” white wine* and the shrimp jackets, the garlic peels, celery trimmings, and the chopped basil stems. Place them all together over medium heat and watch them carefully. Shrimp jackets (shells) love to try to climb out of the pot in a lovely white foam that smells absolutely horrible when it hits the heat. Otherwise, it smells heavenly. Keep it all in the pot by stirring and/or adjusting the heat. Do not cover completely; offset the cover to prevent their boiling over.

Once the mushrooms are plumped and the shrimp are just pink WITH NO TRANSLUCENCE (be really sure of this, okay?) add the bread crumbs and keep stirring until everything is mixed together like old friends. Toast the breadcrumbs for a minute or two, then take the pan off the heat. Using the back of your wooden spoon, stir in about ½ c olive oil, blending it in until everything looks damp but not wet or (God forbid!) gloppy. If there are any lumps, mash them with the back of your spoon.

If you’re using the eggs, add them now and mix them in well. Now, using a ladle and pouring it by ½ cups, strain a little of the shrimp/celery/basil/garlic skin/wine stock (“shrimp stock”) through a sieve or strainer into the crumb mixture. If it's still too dry, add a bit more, but don't add too much. As we agreed above, we don't want it to be sloppy or even wet. Just promising. Mix everything well until it’s evenly blended, then add 2 c of the Parmesan cheese.

You have added everything EXCEPT THE rest of the SHRIMP STOCK. Strain that and reserve it in the freezer for gumbo, etouffee, or Shrimp Creole later. The recipes will be in future blog posts, I promise. And oh, do I make a gool ol' gumbo!

You also have ¾ c Parmesan cheese left over. Good. Wait a minute, you’ll need it in just a second.

Place your first artichoke in the big bowl and, beginning at the outside, use your wooden spoon (and your hands, once it cools a little) to fill every petal with stuffing, ramming it down well to the base. Continue to fill the petals, going around and around. Pack in firmly as much stuffing as each petal will hold. The artichoke will expand to permit this and look marvelous.

At last, fill the center with stuffing, again, pushing it down well. When the blossom is so full it can’t hold another crumb, pour ¼ c (one-third) of the reamining Parmesan cheese over the top; place the stuffed artichoke on a rack over a few inches of boiling water, and steam over medium-low heat until a petal pulls out easily, with a slight tug. Keep a sharp eye out, so your water doesn't boil away.

It’s often advisable to tie the petals together loosely with clean kitchen string, but be careful not to tie them too tightly; the stuffing needs room to swell. Cover tightly and simmer hard over medium-low heat until the artichoke is done.

Refrigerate the artichoke if you have used the shrimp/shrimp stock/ mushrooms or eggs, all of which are perishable and optional (but yummy!) Artichokes WITHOUT the abovementioned additions can stand out for a couple of hours.

Repeat the process for stuffing and steaming the other two artichokes, and refrigerate them until they are devoured. It generally doesn't take long.

Here’s how to eat them:

Cut them into wedges, if you like, or do it our way, which is to put the whole blossom on the table on a sturdy plate and let family and friends keep at it until they gobble it up. The stuffing is scraped with the bottom teeth off the petals individually, along with the base of the petal itself. Sounds awful. Isn’t.

Quite the contrary, it’s practically addictive! The base itself is the piece de resistance, a gourmet's delight! Tender and creamy-firm, it’s a great substitute for English Muffins in an Eggs Benedict. A well-prepared base, covered with a perfectly-poached egg and a mask of Hollandaise sauce, is a pure joy!

Wonderful stuffed as an hors d’ouvre, or at a party as a savory offering. But you’d better make a lot! Your guests are going to love it!