in which martha hurts my feelings
Nearly seven years ago, my best friend bought me a subscription to Martha Stewart Living magazine as holiday present. Tearing open the wrapping paper, I caught a glimpse of a pyramid stack of rigidly squared off Rice Krispy Treat-style cereal bars on one of those ever-upbeat and brightly lit covers I recognized all too well and protested, "But I don't read Martha Stewart!"
"Of course you don't," she said. "Of course not."
Martha Stewart was fussy and domestic and a grueling perfectionist who doted on the most inane stuff and I… I… I was all of those things; I just hadn't come to terms with it yet. I would buy the rag for long train rides and chuck it when I got to my destination; nobody had to know but me. My dirty little magazine-stand secret had dewy, dimly lit pictures of ripe melons all over it, oh yeah, but the authentic kind.
I don't know when I stopped subscribing (odds are, I haven't, I just move too damned much) but Martha don't come round no more, so when we were finally reunited on a New Jersey Transit bus last week, I nearly ate the pages, most pertinently the one with the roasted baby artichokes recipe as I will cook or eat anything in the whole world as long as it involved a single iota of artichoke ("even boogers?" my husband asks and I'll spare you my answer). I love them that much.
I brought home ten miniature artichokes Tuesday night, so adorable I wanted to line them up and create monologues and dance routines for them, but hunger won out. I got to work on them, so excited about the dish I hummed the whole time. Yet, all directions followed to the letter as would make Martha proud (oh, because I do want to make her proud, I really do), 40 minutes later they remained rubbery and undercooked - by quite a bit - and again 20 and then 40 minutes after that. Nearly two hours in a 400 degree oven was all the kitchen blasphemy I could take (if I remind you it was 100 degrees outside, I will be sent to hell, no doubt) and I tried to dig in. They were still bitter. The hearts were cooked but a full minute of chewing couldn't grind a single leaf in my eager maw.
Heartbroken, I threw the rest into the trash, but two days later, I still want to know where it all went wrong. But, I first have to confess this isn't the first time a New Exciting Recipe for baby artichokes failed me; the time I grilled them last year, it was ibid with the rubbery and undercooked, even while cooking them well beyond Mark Bittman's suggestion.
Mostly I'm crushed because I don't know where this leaves me, Martha and all the plans I had for us. I suspect the only way to move past this will be over Chocolate-Strawberry Thumbprints on page 176. It's for the relationship, you see.
I too am a Martha addict, but some of her recipe instruction confound me. Can you explain what does "garlic cloves, skins split but left intact" mean? Mash the cloves but don't peel? just pull them off the bulb? grrr!!
1 | carrie | August 4, 2006 10:18 AM
Stupid comment here I'm sure, but are you supposed to eat the leaves? I thought you only ate the hearts.
2 | Cam | August 4, 2006 10:33 AM
Deb-did you soak the artichokes in water and lemon juice prior to cooking them?
3 | Diana | August 4, 2006 11:10 AM
Carrie - I did just that, putting a couple nicks in each garlic clove with a knife. I'm assuming that meant that they wanted the roasted garlic clove juices (drool) to run out as they cooked.
Carn - You can eat the underside of the tougher leaves on the large steamed ones, and apparently, them in full in the miniatures although I have yet to do so successful as they keep coming out undercooked. I prune them a lot, but still seem to be missing something.
Diana - I did. (In fact, think that it needed more acidity as they still browned a little.)
Needless to say, my artichoke cravings have only been heightened by this experience.
Deb, you are so cute. The artichokes probably weren't all that good to begin with. I'm not familiar with the baby ones but I know you want the larger ones really firm when you buy them.
I (secretly) love Martha Stewart, too. Did you know that on the day she surrendered, it was raining so she carried A WHITE UMBRELLA? What color umbrella would you carry if you were surrendering?
Ridiculous that anything you do should not turn out fabulousment, my french version of awesome, tho probably not a real word.
This is just a suggestion from a seat of the pants cook, but have you tried parboiling or steaming them a bit before continuing on? I would suggest the steaming. Microwaves are great for that, and it would cut down on the my-apartment-is-hot-as-hell oven time.
Where there is a will, there is a way, especially where artichokes are concerned :)
I have always had the best result when soaking baby artichokes overnight-every time I rushed the process they were tough or chewy.
By the way I think you're terrific-I love your writing, recipes, photos-hope to one day meet you at a book signing.
7 | Diana | August 4, 2006 11:46 AM
Thanks - I love the feedback!
A good part of my frustration is that I KNOW how to cook artichokes - I boil or steam the whole ones in acidulated water for an hour, the way I always have. I'm sure the minis can be done for a shortened period of time and be equally delicious, yet I'm continually swayed by recipes which promise that roasting or grilling them will have the same effect. (Recipes from trusted sources, no less!)
I have the death of ten tiny artichokes weighing heavily on my conscience.
This is the best line I have ever read on any blog, ever...
"I brought home ten miniature artichokes Tuesday night, so adorable I wanted to line them up and create monologues and dance routines for them..."
I will love you forever for thoughts like these.
9 | Mary | August 4, 2006 01:19 PM
I have to tell you, I've had the same problem with her recipes. Her crafts? Brilliant. Her decorating? I love. Her gardening? A bit to East Coast, but I adapt. But her recipes including the every so tempting monthly dessert are always way too much work for a mediocre result.
Deb, do you even own a microwave? It just doesn't seem like your style. :)
11 | M | August 4, 2006 02:18 PM
Perhaps it's because she wants us to merely continually strive to be Martha, and never truly wants us to reach our goals. Is it that she's simply teasing us? I want to BE Martha!
I have to say though, that I have treasured the rice krispie treat issue. However, I've been less than impressed with her Weddings magazine. The last issue I got had a tissue-paper bouquet on the cover - as if!
12 | LMB815 | August 4, 2006 03:15 PM
I loved that rice krispy one, too! In fact, I made some cocoa puffs treats for a friend's birthday, who swore he'd die happy at that point. I took his word for it; my mother wouldn't let us eat "sugar cereals" growing up and now I have no taste for them. (Somewhere, my husband is sitting in front of a computer, "make them for me! For MEEE!")
We have a microwave, but it came with the place. We've used it to reheat foods and I admit to having used it to cut back on cooking times for potatoes (when making home fries) and lazily melting chocolate (don't tell! I watched it carefully!). I don't think I'd miss it if our next place didn't have one.
I can aprreciate your love of cooking, but I seriously think you should think about a baby. Your devotion to detail needs a new outlet. This is coming from a mother of four. I used to cook all day long too before babies.
14 | Anne | August 4, 2006 08:44 PM
Having kids is great, but don't rush it!! It'll happen whenit's meant to.
I'm with you--Martha's recipes often don't turn out. My most heartbreaking experience with this was making a labor-intensive yet beautiful white chocolate buche de noel one Christmas. I spent an entire day on this freaking thing. Piped the meringe mushrooms, made the white chocolate mousse that went between the lighter-than-air chocolate sponge cake. Everything was coming together until I got to one line in the recipe, which told me to let the chocolate sponge cake cool completely. I did, and it refused to roll. It fell apart as I tried to roll it up with the mousse inside and was a complete mess. I swore. I stomped. I cried. My mother and grandmother came in, took one look at the mess and told me that you ALWAYS roll a jelly roll cake when it is still warm and pliable. How could Martha do this to me???
I was so sick about it I didn't even want to try to salvage it, but my mom did and it tasted great. It just wasn't picture perfect for Christmas dinner. Always trust your intuition over Martha.
16 | Joy | August 6, 2006 11:02 PM
if it makes you feel any better, a few weeks back, the stuffed baby artichokes at Nice Matin were nearly impossible to eat due to unchewable pieces... so it isnt just you - it must be this year's baby artichokes ;)
17 | bridget | August 7, 2006 11:16 PM
Some of Martha's recipes have problems. You should try plowing through one of the old editions of Entertaining. Wugherty.
I don't have a microwave and that makes me happy.
Personally I hate her show. It always reminds me of something out of the 50s retarded TV “Mum should be at home cleaning and cooking looking pretty for Dad to get home” bollox. And she is simply boring and completely ignorant.