All Choked Up

Even off season, California artichokes are large and luscious.

Even off season, California artichokes are large and luscious.

It’s been nearly four years since I attended Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco, which was a blast. Since then, I haven’t made much time for networking with other food bloggers since my work took me in a more family meals and child nutrition direction. However, when a friend let me know that the 2016 International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) would take place right in my own backyard, then I HAD to register. Coordinated by Zephyr Adventures and Foodista, IFBC 16 Sacramento will feature all of the Farm to Fork awesomeness that northern California has to offer. This is the first of a three blog series (at a minimum…I’ll probably write more) that I’ve pledged to receive a highly discounted conference registration rate.

The chock-a-block agenda ranges from optional excursions (I’m particularly looking forward to Curiculamb) to sessions about monetizing a blog, SnapChat, food waste and more. SarasFloored has been my personal little hobby, but I write about food and nutrition as part of my 9–5 job working for an agricultural marketing board. I’m excited to learn new things, meeting new people and sharpen my writing skills.  Maybe I should look into sharpening my knives too. Hmmm, now THAT would be a great session.

To me, nothing says Farm to Fork in Northern California like artichoke. (I know this is blasphemy to all the Sacra-tomato devotees out there, but bear with me). Growing up in central New York my family fell in love with artichokes— little shriveled things left dried out and withered after a week on a truck cross-country. However, we lived to sink our teeth into the leathery flesh, working our way deeper and deeper to the meaty, still moist inner leaves.

Needless to say, my first California artichoke, nearly as big as my head and fresh from the fields in Castroville (about two hours south of here) was nearly a religious experience. Now, I’ve long held that you’ve never REALLY tasted an artichoke until you taste one while you’re here in California.  Sadly, our IFBC guests will have missed the height of artichoke season, but they are still to be had. And in  honor of all the visiting bloggers and generous sponsors, I’m sharing my favorite method for preparing and enjoying them.

Dipping sauce

My perfect blend of creamy, garlicky goodness.

Artichokes belong to the thistle branch of the sunflower family. They are high in fiber (about 6-10 mg!), contain inulin, antioxidants and 6 grams of protein for about 60 calories.  Plus they taste really, really good in a nutty herbal way.

 

Trimmed artichoke ready to cook

Separate the leaves, rinse under running water and then squeeze the lemon juice into the trimmed artichoke.

Common cooking methods include boiling, steaming, baking, roasting and grilling artichokes. I’m often aghast when I see my coworkers pull out soggy artichokes that have been boiled or steamed to a moss brown mush. I’m slightly less horrified by the charred and unevenness of grilled artichokes, but this method suits very small, tender artichokes quite well.

 

The jury is still out on the baking method— when it’s 100+ degrees outside, I’m the only thing that gets roasted. In fact, the only oven I’m interested in when it gets this hot is my microwave oven. And conveniently, the microwave is my FAVORITE method for preparing perfect artichokes.

Who says good food has to be hard to prepare? My method takes a fraction of the time of steaming and boiling. I start by preparing my dipping sauce. I combine 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise with 1.5 tablespoons Greek yogurt, sprinkle on some garlic powder, 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s and squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lemon. I stir to combine, taste, cover and refrigerate until needed. Please share your favorite dipping sauce recipes in the comments!

Rinsed, wrapped and ready, three minutes is all you need!

Rinsed, wrapped and ready, three minutes is all you need!

Then I prep my artichokes. I cut off the bottom so the artichoke sits nicely upright, and trim off the top of the artichoke with a serrated knife and use kitchen shears on any outer leaves that contain sharp points. Artichokes ARE a member of the thistle family. I also trim and peel the stem since it has a very tasty core that shouldn’t go to waste.

Use your fingers to spread the trimmed artichoke open and rinse with running water. Then squeeze the second half of the lemon into the leaves. This gets a little damp and messy. Plan ahead. Spread out a piece of plastic wrap on the counter and balance the artichoke on top of the core, then wrap the ends of the plastic wrap around the base, forming a nice overlapping seal.

Strech the plastic wrap onto your serving piece or plate for snappy cleanup.

Notice how microwaving retains the beautiful green and purple colors. No brown mush here!

Place the wrapped artichoke in the microwave for 3 minutes on high. Carefully squeeze the stem and bottom of the artichoke to see if they are soft. Add time in 30 second increments if desired. I cooked this artichoke for 4 minutes total. A fraction of time it takes to boil (15 minutes +), steam (20 minutes +) or bake (2 hours) with far better results.

Carefully remove from the microwave and plastic wrap. Keep this handy since it will make clean up a whole lot easier. Eating an artichoke is not the most delicate thing ever. At home, I peel off the individual leaves, dip the bottoms in my yogurt sauce then scrape the fleshy underside with my bottom teeth to remove the “meat” at the base of each leaf. This means a lot of the artichoke gets discarded, so keeping the plastic wrap on your plate makes clean up a snap.

The leaves will be more tender the farther you get in to the artichoke and my dogs LOVE getting these soft inner leaves when I’m done with them.

Cleanup is a snap, and there's more dipping sauce for artichoke #2.

Cleanup is a snap, and there’s more dipping sauce for artichoke #2.

That also makes cleanup easy, but I am careful not to get them too many leaves. That’s a lot of fiber for a little dog!

I make my way through the leaves, then eat around the soft “hairy” fibers that cover the heart of the artichoke. I’ve tried eating these too, but they tend to get uncomfortably stuck in my throat. Some people with patiently scoop them away with a spoon, but my impatience means I don’t have good luck with this method, so I just try to eat the heart from around the sides and from the stem base-up to avoid the hairs.

So that’s it. You’re done polishing off your tasty treat while other cooks are still waiting to get their artichokes from the steamer, off of the stovetop or out of the oven.

What’s your favorite way to prepare artichokes?

 

Artichoke Dipping Sauce

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon Mayonnaise

1.5 tablespoons Greek Yogurt, plain, fat-free

1/2 fresh Lemon

1 teaspoon Seasoning mix— I prefer 21 Seasoning Salute from Trader Joe’s

Garlic and Chipotle powders to taste (optional)

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate 1-2 hours or until needed.

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