In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Monday, February 7, 2011

How To Wow Them With an Appetizer

these are not chicken wings.

So I had a small dinner on Saturday night and it seems my appetizer -- the only one I made -- was a hit.

Couldn't be simpler or more sophisticated, in a rustic Italian way.

Fried Artichokes

1. Get either large globe artichokes with stems still attached, or bebbeh artichokes. If large, snap off all the leaves till you are down to just the heart, choke, and raggedy green stem. If using baby artichokes, just snap off the outer leaves, leaving the remaining ones.

You know those things they call artichoke hearts you get marinated in a jar? Don't use those. Use raw artichokes. Those are baby artichokes anyway. What we are after is what you will find in cans called "artichoke bottoms." But don't use the cans either.

2. Slice the little ones in half -- if there is a choke remove it with a knife and/or spoon. There is definitely a hairy choke in the large ones, so either remove the choke with a spoon from the whole denuded artichoke heart, or cut the artichoke into quarters and then eighths -- the long way, so you get some stem and some heart in each piece -- then dig out the hairs. It looks awful, like some beast from the original Star Wars that lives underground and eats you like a worm. Get rid of it. Then peel with long stem with a pairing knife, and trim off raggedy leave bottoms.

This guy can show you how to do it:

I like to make these into quarters or eighths so they cook fully without burning.

3. Now you should have fuzz-free, limp green things. Toss them in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it. Just give half a lemon a squeeze. Keep the other half for later.

4. Heat up good olive oil -- cold press extra virgin.. it makes a difference -- in a pan over medium heat. Dry your artichokes and drop them in the oil. Don't crowd the pan. I did about 8 1/8 artichoke pieces at a time.

5. Fry them on one side until golden brown, about 3 minutes, then flip them over and do the same. Fish them out and park them on paper towels or brown paper to drain. Salt them with coarse sea salt.

6. Now while they are still hot, and you are frying the next batch, put them on a plate for your guests to eat with their fingers and squeeze the lemon over them -- just a few drops.

7. Serve with champagne. Artichokes are notoriously difficult to pair with wine. They seem to inhibit some kind of flavor on your taste buds and can ruin a fine wine. A good dry champagne cuts right through that -- you get the bubbly texture, and that contrasts well with the slick rich olive oil.

8. DO it. report back. I'm serious about this. This is a version of Carciofi alla Giudia -- artichokes Jewish style. I have no idea why it's called that -- something about Jews in Rome being awesome artichoke cooks, I guess.
By the way, the rest of the menu was:
faux carpaccio of beets and arugula with orange-dijon vinaigrette (faux because I actually roasted the beets before slicing them. carpaccio normally refers to raw foods sliced thin)
chipotle short ribs with coffee and maple syrup (check out epicurious for a recipe. definitely degrease it, and I added some ground baking chocolate for a little extra complexity -- it tasted too sweet to me. I took that cue from a Mexican mole)
mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed beet greens (off the beets)
roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon
the best part of the menu was that everything - meat, sweet potatoes, beets and sprouts -- all went into the same oven. Unbelievably easy.
There's this new service that will apparently send you menu, wine pairing, invitation and decorating ideas for $100. I'll do it for free... hit me in comments! Tell me the occasion, number of guests, food aversions, date of dinner, and your comfort with cooking.
In the meantime, make the artichokes. Prepare for accolades. Act humble.


  1. Can you just move in next door?
    I don't need help with a menu, I just think you'd be good to have around.

  2. i dont know if I am good to have around but you certainly won't have to put up with ambivalence from me. :) have you made the ragu with pappardelle yet?