Cardoons, Roman mayonnaise and Facebook. And some writing.

I’m always excited to try a new vegetable, and I’d been noticing cardoons for sale at Russo’s, where I buy most of my groceries. Cardoons look sort of like a big bunch of celery, though they’re actually more closely related to artichokes and thistles. Apparently the ancient Romans ate them fairly often; Apicius has several recipes (the ancient Romans also had mayonnaise, but that’s a different post!).

Well, let me tell you, they’re a whole heck of a lot of work to prepare! First you have to separate the stalks, like you would with a bunch of celery. Only the stalks are about 4 times as big as celery stalks. Then you have to trim the leaves off each stalk with a paring knife, and remove the strings from the bigger stalks. Only then can you cut them into eating-sized pieces, and cook them.

I only found one recipe for cardoons, though I haven’t looked through all my cookbooks yet. Stewed cardoons, from Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates. You boil the cardoons first in salted water with a bit of lemon juice, then stew them for an additional 20 minutes with canned tomatoes, olives, sauteed onions and garlic, and other herbs.

They were fine. Not delicious enough to warrant all that work, though! I suppose it’s just as well, because I don’t seem to have a lot of recipes for them, and I hate making the same recipe over and over again. If Joy of Cooking didn’t have some additional options, and it turned out I really loved cardoons, I was going to have to resort to Apicius.

On the other hand, the main dish I prepared that evening was pina colada shrimp, from one of the Rachael Ray cookbooks: seared shrimp in a coconut milk sauce with fresh pineapple, tossed with shredded coconut, served over jasmine rice. Stewed cardoons in tomatoes might sound like an odd accompaniment, but the tomato mingled nicely with the coconut around the edges to give a flavor reminiscent of a Brazilian moqueca (a seafood stew with tomatoes and coconut milk). And that is a very good thing!

On a completely different note, people who follow my blog might have noticed that I haven’t been posting much lately. They may also have noticed a precipitous decline in my posting frequency right around the time I joined Facebook. Hmmm…. I do have a few things I want to write about–interesting conversations and panels at the World Fantasy Convention, good books and magazines I’ve been reading–but it takes a lot of time to actually write a thoughtful post about something, rather than just rambling on about what I cooked for dinner earlier in the week, so those are all works in progress.

In writing news, I’ve been working on rewriting an older story that has not yet found a home, about this guy who starts turning into a tree. I think the new version is working much better. But it’s frustrating. I spent several days plodding through a new scene, only to realize towards the end that the scene was totally wrong and I needed to throw the whole thing out. Blah.

I’m also working on a novelette/novella (not sure how long it will end up) that’s a complete rewrite of another older story, this one about a swordswoman in a fantasy world without magic (or, at least, no more magic than our world), in an Empire that’s vaguely reminiscent of what you might imagine if a Chinese-influenced Mongolian Empire settled in European Russia, became decadent, and took over most of Europe and Asia (at least, that’s what I was aiming for). With some 18th century technology, but only rudimentary handguns. It’s also not-so-vaguely inspired by The Three Musketeers. Someone in one of my writers groups went so far as to call it Dumas pastiche. Or “When Athos Met D’Artagnan.” (There’s a romantic subplot, but don’t expect it to end well–again on a different note, will I start to write stories with happier romances now that I’ve been in one myself for the last year and a half? Or do I still have too much angst and bitterness to work out before I can get to those? Is this also something I should perhaps be pondering on Facebook rather than on my blog for the entire world to read? Questions, questions!)

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4 Responses to Cardoons, Roman mayonnaise and Facebook. And some writing.

  1. Kira says:

    Hmmm…I think I’ll skip the cardoons.

    I really enjoy your posts on cooking, though! I have always been a baker, but I have gotten more in to cooking lately. I really enjoy a lot of the recipes from the eating well website. They’re actually really healthy as opposed to something like cooking light where everything just seems to be a slightly processed or trimmed down version of stuff i’d rather sacrifice and have in the original. i’m wondering if i should try rachel ray as long as i don’t expect meals to be done in 30 minutes?

    the novel/novelette whatever sounds cool. i love the occassional tragic love story whether i’m happy in love or not. i read gone with the wind all the time even though it kills me! (wait, is that an embarrassing confession to make? eh, i don’t care. love it.)

  2. Kristin says:

    I think it’s easier for bakers to become cooks than vice versa! Baking requires closer attention to detail and more recipe-following than cooking, and it won’t usually hurt you as much to cook like that as it will to take a more freeform approach to baking (though it depends what you’re baking; you can get away with it more with cookies or brownies than with, say, a genoise).

    I haven’t tried the eating well website. It sounds interesting though! I don’t like recipes that just cut out too much of the fat without rethinking the recipe; it often ends up as a boring version of the original, and you probably would be better off if you just made the full-fat version but only ate a half-portion and filled out the meal with lots of fresh vegetables. One of the reasons I really like the Moosewood vegetarian cookbooks is that they do healthy vegetarian food that’s based on lots of fresh produce and whole grains, rather than just cutting out the meat and trying to substitute tofu or something. Though there are also plenty of tasty tofu recipes in Moosewood cookbooks!

    I like Rachael Ray cookbooks, but I don’t think they’re ideal for either eating light, or for vegetarian options. Also, they’re not as good for beginners as the marketing behind them would have you think. Though I don’t think you count as a beginner! But there are plenty of recipes where I’m thinking, “Okay, it says to cook the shrimp for 2 minutes on each side, but that’s way too long, and I know they’ll be overcooked; also they won’t get properly seared and flavorful unless I cook half at a time, because otherwise the pan will be too crowded.” Though it’s possible that people who aren’t experienced enough to notice that the recipe isn’t quite right might not be as picky as I am.

    One of my roommates (who is sort of trying to be a vegetarian) recently started cooking a lot more, and she finds she enjoys recipes from the Moosewood cookbooks more than Rachael Ray recipes. Moosewood has a quick recipe cookbook, called Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. It’s a 45-minute meal cookbook, and the time estimates are more reasonable than in most cookbooks.

    If you do want to try a Rachael Ray cookbook, I think 365: No Repeats probably strikes the best balance between recipes that you can actually finish in reasonably close to the estimated time, and that are also interesting and tasty. In general, Rachael Ray’s recipes tend to be Italian-American, but this one also has a lot of Indian, East Asian, and even some Cuban-American dishes.

    I think that the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks are better than either Moosewood or Rachael Ray, especially with respect to giving detailed instructions for recipes that will work perfectly the first time you try them (they don’t always, but more often than with most cookbooks). My boyfriend has very little cooking experience, but was able to make a recipe from one of their cookbooks that turned out just as good as when I made it (actually his might even have been better). They also have a 30 minute recipe cookbook. They’re not any better for vegetarian options than Rachael Ray, though. And some people feel that their recipes are a little boring, and skewed towards the tame tastebuds of middle America. They’re probably not the best source for really authentic international food, but for American or continental European classics, it’s hard to do better.

    I’ve gotten good recipes from, when I’ve wanted a recipe for some international dish that isn’t represented in any of my cookbooks. Like some Brazilian dishes.

    I don’t think you should be embarrased about having read Gone With the Wind! The Twilight books, though….

  3. ruthling says:

    if the Moosewood books appeal to you or your roommate, I recommend former Moosewoodite Molly Katzen’s book Still Life with Menu.

  4. Kristin says:

    I have Molly Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook and Enchanted Broccoli Forest, but last I checked, I think Still Life With Menu was out of print.

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