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Cooking Lesson Two: Date-Impressing Artichokes

Come off like a pro by making this easy-to-cook but intimidating vegetable.

Artichokes are a very impressive vegetable -- they intimidate most people, but they shouldn't! They're really a cinch to cook (hardly any work), and not hard to eat once you know what you're doing. Serving up artichokes will make you look like a serious cook -- and, while I don't know about their validity as the aphrodisiac they were once reputed to be, I do know that eating with your fingers and nibbling on your food can add a certain....something...to your date. We won't go into that, however! The lavish homemade sauce will make you look even more clever -- but you can skip it and just use melted butter with a little lemon juice mixed in.

Here's what you need: 2 artichokes. (They aren't hard to pick out -- just look for nice firm, fat-looking ones with as even a green color as possible.) Powdered mustard, garlic, olive oil and vinegar for the sauce. (Or butter and lemon juice)

First, start the artichokes. You want to clip off the pointy ends of the leaves -- I just use a pair of scissors. Then cut off the top 1/2" of the artichoke and the entire stem, taking off the bottom layer of leaves. To wash the artichokes, sort of spread out the leaves under running water, and then shake upside down. Place them upside down in a vegetable steamer over as much water as will fit in the pan without flooding the steamer, put a lid on the pan and put on the stove over high heat. Once the water is boiling, check the clock or set a timer, and just ignore them for the next 45 minutes. (If you are using a small pan, check to make sure the water hasn't boiled off every 10 minutes or so -- add more water as necessary.)

While the artichokes are steaming, fix the rest of your dinner (I suggest steak and rice, or something else simple) and then make your sauce (you can make the sauce as far ahead of time as you want). In a bowl put 1/2 teaspoon of powdered mustard, and either one chopped garlic clove or 1/2 teaspoon of prepared garlic (the little jars at the grocery store). Add 4 tablespoons of olive oil and 4 tablespoons of vinegar, stir and let sit.

To make sure that the artichokes are done, pull the pan off the heat, take off the lid and pull up one of the outer leaves with your fingers or a fork. If the leaf pulls off easily, you're ready to go.

Using tongs or something else that'll keep you from getting burnt, lift the artichokes out of the steamer carefully, and place them right-side-up on the plates. On the table, put a dish containing sauce between your date's plate and yours -- and make sure to put a big bowl or something similar to the side to put the discarded leaves in.

To eat the artichoke, pull a leaf off from the outside layer, and hold with your thumb on the inside (the side curving in). Dip into the sauce (you'll get to know how much sauce you like on you leaves as you eat) and then place the leaf between your front teeth about halfway into your mouth (inside, concave side, down). Bite down gently and scrape the flesh of the leaf into your mouth across your lower teeth as you grip the leaf with your upper teeth. Throw the skin of the leaf into the bowl you put on the table. Now do you see what I mean about that certain....something? (Especially if you get to, I mean have to teach your date how to eat it.) If you don't get a lot of flesh off the first several leaves, don't be frustrated -- the outer leaves have a lot less meat on them, and it will get better as you go in.

When you get to the tiny leaves in the middle -- you don't eat these. Pull them out and expose the
"choke", which is the part that looks like a lot of pale green hair. Use a spoon (or whatever) to scrape the entire choke out and get rid of it. Now, what you are looking at is the heart, which for many people is the highlight and big payoff of eating the whole thing. Cut it into chunks and eat it, dipping it into sauce. Or eat it whole if it's a small one.

(TIP: if you're one of the people intimidated by artichokes, make one for yourself and practice first -- then you'll impress your date even more with your sauve, worldy artichoke eating style!)

Have fun! And if you get lucky, I don't want to know about it. See you next time!

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