28 September 2009

Irished up, or my divine kitchen comedy

Some of my favorite times from childhood were spent listening to my grandpa sing Irish and American folksongs. Grandpa had the true Irish tenor, and a seemingly endless repertoire. Naturally we had our family favorites, one of which was a song we knew as "Clancy Lowered the Boom". It starts like this:

Oh, Clancy was a peaceful man, and you know what I mean -
the cops picked up the pieces, when Clancy left the scene...

Or in modern parlance, he opened a big ol' can o' whup-ass. The refrain began, "Whenever they got his Irish up, Clancy lowered the boom!" My family has always related well to this song. We're a pretty peaceable sort, but if you get our Irish up, you'd best be getting out of the way shortly thereafter or else prepare to feel the wrath.

In addition to our temper - and probably closely linked - we tend to have a generous (by which I mean excessive) streak of good old Irish stubbornness. I have often found, when taking on grand new baking or cooking experiments, that said stubbornness is possibly as valuable a kitchen amenity as, say, the fridge. Similarly taken for granted, and yet indispensable, it's always there when I need it. This was never more true than on a recent Sunday, when it seemed like a good idea to spend the day making apple butter and cinnamon swirl bread. I had no idea that I was embarking on a journey that would make Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy look like a day in the park.

I got up at 8 a.m., knowing that the slow-cooker apple butter recipe called for 10 hours of cooking time, followed by straining the concoction. "No problem!" I naively optimistically thought. "I can probably still be done by 7:30." On Saturday afternoon, I'd picked a bunch of apples from the two trees in our yard, feeling rather domestic-pioneer-y as I did so. I noticed there weren't many apples without souvenirs from bugs or birds, but figured it wouldn't be that hard to cut around them.

12 September 2009

I Heart Artichoke Hearts

Ain't nothin' low-fat about it... but somehow I don't think you'll regret making this recipe. And aside from the fat content (about six tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of butter), it's really quite nutritious. This honestly might be one of the tastiest recipes I've ever invented, which is why I'm writing it down while still eating it, so I can remake it for future joy.

And yes, it's another couscous recipe. What can I say - I'm into couscous. It would probably be pretty good over rice or pasta, but using couscous does make it a lot easier to focus on concocting this delectable sauce.

As always, most measurements are approximate and to taste.

Couscous with Artichoke Heart Melange

1/2 c water
1/2 c couscous
~ 6 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T butter
~ 2 1/2 t lemon juice
~ 1 t white wine vinegar
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 medium white onion, diced
~ 1 T diced shallot
~ 1 T dried oregano
~ 1/2 t powdered ginger
~ 1 t fresh basil, chopped
1 can artichoke hearts (unmarinated)
1 can garbanzo beans
~ 2-3 T fresh cilantro, chopped
~ 1/2 c grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
~ 3 T pine nuts
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Prep the garlic, onion, shallot, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and cilantro. Lightly toast the pine nuts.

Bring the water to a boil with a dash of olive oil. Stir in the couscous, cover, remove from heat and let sit while you make the sauce.

Put the tomatoes, cilantro, and pine nuts in a small bowl and douse with a healthy squirt of lemon juice, about 1 tsp. Stir up and set aside while you make the rest of the sauce.

In a cast iron saucepan (preferably cast iron, anyway), heat about 2 Tbs olive oil over medium to medium low heat. Add the garlic, onion, and shallot, and stir to coat with oil. Cook about five minutes until translucent. Add the butter and let it melt.
Add the artichoke hearts, oregano, ginger, basil, and pepper, about 1/2 to 1 tsp lemon juice (start smaller and adjust to taste), and the white wine vinegar, and stir it up. Taste and adjust your spices. Let it simmer for about ten minutes.
Add the garbanzo beans, pour about 2 more Tbs olive oil on there, and do another round of black pepper over top, then stir it up. Taste again and adjust whatever needs adjusting. Reduce heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about five more minutes.

Get out your favorite serving bowl. Fluff the couscous with a fork and put it in the bowl as your bottom layer. Take the artichoke heart-garbanzo bean sauce and add that as your middle layer. Use the tomato-cilantro-pine nuts as your top layer.

Makes a hearty dinner for two.