Sunday, March 23, 2014

How to Cook Artichokes and Blind Wine Tasting Party

We live about an hour away from the “Artichoke Capital of the World,” and it is hard to believe that until recently I had never made artichokes at home. They had been on my “list” forever, but somehow I was intimidated by them. When they showed up in our CSA box a few weeks ago, I finally steamed my first ones, and we loved them so much that we have been buying and cooking them ever since.

The other day, we bought some giant artichokes from Castroville at Costco and the bag came with some handy instructions on different ways to prepare them.


The first few time we made artichokes, we steamed them. We boiled the giant artichokes from Costco in some water with lemon juice.

Before you boil or steam the artichokes, do the following:
  1. Cut off the top of the artichokes (about 3/4 to one inch).
  2. Remove the leaves on the bottom.
  3. Cut off the spiky ends of all leaves with scissors.
  4. Spread the leaves apart and wash them well. Quite a bit of dirt can accumulate deep in the leaves.

To steam medium-sized artichokes:
  1. Put the artichokes in a steamer basket over salted water with lemon juice and a bay leaf.
  2. Steam for about 25 – 35 minutes, until you can insert a knife easily into the artichokes.
To boil extra-large artichokes:
  1. Put the artichokes into a pot of boiling water that is salted and contains the juice of a lemon so that the artichokes are about 3/4 covered with water.
  2. Boil for about 45 minutes.

To eat the artichokes:
  1. Pull off a leaf.
  2. Dip the white, fleshy part into a dipping sauce (see below for some suggestions) and put the leaf into your mouth and remove the white, fleshy part with your teeth.
  3. Discard the rest of the leaf and eat the next leaf.
  4. Once all the leaves are eaten, remove the choke (the fuzzy part) with a  knife. What is left is the heart and the attached stem. Cut the heart and stem into pieces and eat them or keep them to use in other dishes.
Artichoke Dipping Sauces
  • Mayonnaise with a little balsamic vinegar mixed in – so simple yet so good
  • Mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice, garlic, and Worcestershire sauce (add different herbs, such as basil or tarragon)
  • Garlic butter (melted butter with minced garlic)
  • Lemon butter (melted butter with lemon juice)
  • Greek yogurt with lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper

Blind Wine Tasting Party
On Saturday we had a blind wine tasting party. We asked guests to bring a favorite bottle of affordable red wine (no more than $15). Once all the guests got there, we put brown bags over each bottle and put letters on them. We then tasted the wines, took notes on flavor profiles, overall impressions, guessed what grapes each wine was, and gave each wine a score from 1-10. Everyone was also supposed to identify his/her own bottle. Once everyone had tasted all wines, we talked about each wine by referring to our notes, tasted the wine again, and then revealed each bottle.

The tasting and discussing notes was a lot of fun. We actually put a bottle of Charles Shaw in there, and one of our friends, a guy with quite of bit of wine-drinking experience, picked it as his favorite wine! Also, we had put a $20 bottle of wine in the mix since Andy had liked it so much when he tasted it a few weeks ago. During the tasting, Andy thought it was the Charles Shaw! We all had a lot of fun with the blind tasting and the different opinions and guesses!

For appetizers, we had a cheese tray, fruit salad, prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe pieces, prosciutto-wrapped cream cheese-stuffed dates, and cucumber rounds with smoked salmon, olives, and crackers.

The main course was spaghetti squash casserole, a salad, and roasted mushroom and asparagus. I cooked the components and assembled the casserole on Friday evening and put it in the oven for 45 minutes on Saturday after our guests had arrived. It was a stress-free way to entertain.

For dessert I made chocolate-covered strawberries, grapes, and blueberries. Since I am not a baker, that’s a great easy dessert that everyone enjoyed (melt dark chocolate chips with a little butter, dip the fruit in it and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Let the fruit dry in the fridge). I also bought some macaroons at Costco.

It was a fun evening, and I’m looking forward to hosting more blind wine- (and maybe beer-) tasting parties.

Questions: Do you like artichokes? If so, what’s your favorite way to eat them? What was the highlight of your weekend?
Be well,