Sunday, March 26, 2006

In response to Kerry's question in my last post's comments section...
Hey, if people ask, I will tell :)

Artichokes...they *are* intimidating and even as someone who has been taught the "correct" way to handle one, I am loath to do so unless absolutely needed. Truthfully, it's alot of work for a very little amount of usable product. That said, the idea of canned is kind of icky and bottled in oil is just greasy. So, if you want to make your own, here's how you do it:

Half a lemon and reserve one half. Squeeze the other half into a bowl and fill the bowl the rest of the way with water. Throw in the juiced lemon half for good measure.

Take the artichoke and, using a bread knife, cut off the very tip (about 1/2"-3/4"), rub with remaining lemon half.

Start removing leaves. You want to get rid of all of that green. That also means peeling the stem (which is edible) and probably having to take a paring knife to the little bits of leaf left at the bottom when they are removed. Keep tearing off leaves until you get a artichoke that is a very lovely pale color. Occasionally give it a rub with that lemon half or a dunk in the bowl of water. Artichokes oxidize and turn brown very quickly, so keeping all exposed cut parts covered in an acid is essential.

Once you've removed all of the green, it's now time to remove the "choke." This is a furry mass in the center of the artichoke which is very unpleasant to eat. So, grab yourself a melon-baller or, if you don't have one, a teaspoon and start digging away. There should be a nice little entrance in the center from cutting off the top previously. Just stick the implement of choice in there and start scraping. Basically, you'll see alot of small leaves with purple tips coming out. You want to get all of those out, along with any very small, bristly looking leaves. Remember to keep dunking and rubbing with the lemon juice.

When that is done, well, you're done. The artichoke is ready to be cooked however you'd like. In class, we braised them with a bit of stock, some tomatoes, olives and such and it was very yummy. Hope this helps!

As for the link to the "Dream Dinners" article..well, first let me explain to everyone else what "Dream Dinners" are. Basically, it's a service where working men and women choose their meals for the week and, once a week, go into the Dream Dinners kitchen and are given all the ingredients needed and the recipe needed to assemble their meals. They then put together their meals for the week, which are then packed up and sent back with them. That way, come meal-time, they just need to pop the container in the microwave or oven and have a complete meal with almost no work.

In theory, I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea, especially if it's a mealtime that would normally be spent getting take-out or crappy food. That said, I do agree with Madhur Jaffey (who is quoted in the article) in that the people who do this are fooling themselves. They are not cooking, they are *assembling*. There is a difference. Example: At Olive Garden, your food arrives at the site pre-made. The person "cooking" your food just has to heat up some pasta and sauce and throw one on the other and, there you go, that's your meal. That's why that person makes minimum wage. It takes no thought or creativity. While someone at a high end Italian restaurant, well, the sausage on your pasta might have been made in the kitchen and the pasta itself most likely was, as well. That's why you pay $25.00 for a bowl of pasta. Quality and creativity. The point is the people who go to these kitchens should be under no impression that they are cooking their meals. They are not chefs, they are not evern cooks, they are simply assembling meals already created and prepared for them. They are a McDonald's employee.

In addition, the raw ingredients are supplied by companies like Sysco, which means not only is the customer not getting very high quality ingredients, but, even this chance to have some connection with the food their preparing is denied. The end result, to me, brings people no closer to homemade meals than they were before. They are simply aren't eating Chinese every night.

So do these people have no options? Of course not! We always have food around the house ready to heat up and eat, but it's food we've made. When we make soup, there's always enough extra to freeze for another day. When I make pizza dough, I make enough for a few pizzas, freeze some dough and when we want pizza, we simply put it in the fridge the day before, then top with whatever we have the day of. We have a fridge full of frozen food, but it's good and it's homemade.