More Grocery Shopping Tips

grocerylistGrocery shopping is a chore for most folks. We bachelors are particularly prone to putting off that trip to the store as long as possible. But there are ways to make that trip easier and save money at the same time. We’ve covered some shopping tips before. But people are always coming up with new ideas and schemes.

You’ve probably heard this before, but most of your food should be coming from the fresh, whole foods around the outer edge of the store’s sales floor rather than the inner aisles, where most of the food is bagged, boxed and processed. There are some foods that are not processed, or minimally so, in those center aisles. Things like rice, cooking oil and baking supplies can be found there. Know where those aisles are so you can skip most of the others. In fact, knowing where different categories of products are located in the your usual store will help save a lot of time.

The sad thing about all those processed foods in the center aisles is they are usually cheaper than if you were to buy the ingredients to go into them. But buying the whole, real foods give you better health and more flexibility. Those processed foods are loaded with salt, fat and sugar. We used to like the box baking mix. Now we buy flour, baking powder and shortening to mix together when we need them. That’s the beauty of learning to cook for yourself. It may take more time, but nearly all the time, what you make will be better and healthier than what you can buy.

Always make a list, even if you’re only picking up a few things. While this is not completely stop impulse buys, it will shorten your trip through the store and make it less likely you’ll stop to consider the offerings in the candy aisle or other tempting foods.

Start by reviewing the store’s weekly ad.Weekly-Ad Most grocery stores have one. Many are available online. Store websites may also have other features like recipes, coupons and event information. Select recipes or meal ideas that go along with what’s on sale in the store. Be sure to include all the ingredients on your list. And if you eat before you go shopping, you reduce the temptations of impulse buys even more.

When you hit the produce aisle, pay close attention to what’s in season and what’s not. If the asparagus is imported, not only are you going to pay more for it, but it’s unlikely to be very fresh or very good. Anyone who buys a tomato in the winter is asking for a beautiful red ball of tastelessness. Food that must be imported usually has to be picked so early to survive the journey that it never fully ripens or develop flavor. At those times, reach for canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.

You’ve probably heard that we should be eating less meat. Not only is that healthier and more environmentally friendly, it saves money. Vegetable protein from beans and tofu is lower in fat and usually uses less polluting fuel to grow and harvest.

One of the best things about lettucelettuce is that it’s usually available all year. But don’t buy those pre-packaged, pre-washed bags of salad. First of all, many of them have been found to contain contaminants like e coli and salmonella. Secondly, you get a lot more for your money if you buy the whole head of lettuce. Investing in a greens spinner will make those fresh homemade salads even easier.

If you’re lucky enough to shop at a store that has bulk foods,Bulkfoods you can save a lot of money by buying just what you need. For example, some spices don’t get used so much and you have to buy a whole jar when all you need in a few tablespoons. Getting just what you need from the bulk foods aisle is a big saver. Also, the spices won’t lose their flavor before you get around to using them the way a whole jar might.

You also save money on lots of other ingredients when you use the bulk foods aisle. But not all stores have this section. They take up a lot of space and can leave behind quite a mess.

Another great reason to study the weekly grocery store ad is you can see when staple items you buy all the time are on sale. That’s the time to buy even if you don’t need it now.

Another thing to buy when on sale is chicken.chickenbreasts It can always be frozen. Whole chicken is cheaper than parts, especially the boneless, skinless variety. Those parts are convenient, but only buy them on sale. A whole chicken can be baked or roasted and used on so many ways, including making your own chicken broth.

Make grocery shopping less of a chore and save money at the same time. It just takes a little planning and a little thought.

Avoid those holiday extra pounds

It’s that time of year again. There are holiday parties and big dinner celebrations. We’re often busy running around and fall back on fast food to get through the day. It’s not surprising that so many people gain a little extra weight around this time of year.

It’s not just the feasting, although that is bad enough. No, it’s all the little things. Someone brings cookies to the office. Fudge at a little company get-together. Shrimp as a holiday buffet.

And that’s not all. In our busy running around preparing for the holiday, we are more likely to stop for a quick bite along the way at a fast food restaurant, the food court at the mall or at a chain restaurant to reward ourselves for getting through it all.

But wait, there’s more. There’s the kids holiday concert or performance where they have concessions to raise money. Social gatherings at work, neighborhoods, churches and spouses’ social events. And food will be there every time.

Here are some ideas to help your holiday battle with the bulge.

Make It Ahead

If you plan quick, healthy meals at home, you’re less likely to make that stop at the drive-through. A slow cooker is great for this. You can put things together, turn it on, and have a hot healthy meal ready by the time you get home.

Can’t I Eat Healthy While Out?

In a word, no. It is true that more restaurants are offering healthier fare. But chances are that seemingly healthier meal will still have more calories than you would have eating at home. Their portions will be larger and you’ll be more likely to finish it even if you’re full. Also, you still don’t know exactly what’s in it or if it’s the same as you would make at home.

Don’t Deny Yourself Too Much

There you are, facing the buffet table at the holiday party. There are a wide range of foods, some of them quite tempting. You see a tray of mini-quiches, something you know you really love to eat. But, you think, they’re so loaded with fat. So, you decide to be good to yourself and stick ti the dried fruits, nuts, olives and a cracker or two. Sadly, you feel unsatisfied later, after you’ve washed that food down with a bit of alcohol. So, you reach for those mini-quiches anyway. End result: you’ve eaten more that if you had gone for what you really want in the beginning. Hey, it’s a holiday. Go for the goodies. Just concentrate on taste rather than volume. And go easy on the alcohol.

Don’t Over-Treat Yourself

Those delicious-smelling coffee drinks seem like just the thing to pick you up during those marathon shopping trips. But remember, you’re going to be consuming more calories at holiday events and some of those drinks pack a walloping 500 calories or more. Instead, go for the skinny latte made with skim milk. Skip the sugar and reach for the no-calorie sweetener. You’ll get a nice jolt without all the extras.

Write Down Your Indiscretions

Grazing is something that happens a lot during the holidays. But you’re not a cow or sheep, are you? Keep a small notebook and pen with you at all times, something that can slip into a pocket easily. Then write down everything you eat. Yes, every cookie, chocolate, mini-sandwich or cocktail shrimp. Just being more aware of what you’re eating will make a big change in your behavior.

Work Out Your Stress

Walking or doing an extra workout at the gym will not only help burn off those extra calories, but it will help reduce your stress level. You see, it works like this: when your boss yells at you, your body sees it as a threat and initiates the fight-or-flight response, pumping adrenaline into your blood stream causing your arteries to constrict and your heart to beat faster. But you can’t fight your boss nor can you run away. You swallow your anger and that response will quickly lead to high blood pressure. But when you exercise, it burns up that adrenaline, causing your blood vessels to relax and your heart to operate more efficiently. Even if you’re out of shape, a walk around the block can do wonders.

Cooking Vegetables: Potatoes – Part 2

Sometimes when I’m writing, I suddenly look up and notice that something has gone on way too long. That happened when I was writing a post about cooking potatoes. I had barely tackled the subject when I noticed it was running long. So, I’m continuing that post here.

As a reminder, we’re talking about eating more vegetables and learning about all the many ways they can be cooked and prepared. Potatoes are a common vegetable that lends itself to many, many different ways of preparation. We’re talking about some of the leading ways in hopes it will spark your creativity the next time you’re fixing potatoes for a meal.

We’ve covered boiling, steaming and mashing. So, let’s look at some more cooking styles.

Simmer or braise: This is not a common technique for potatoes, but it might be one worth trying. Cut potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces and add to a large, cold skillet. Stir in 1/2 cup of broth, 1/2 cup milk and a teaspoon of butter. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer, then cover and lower the heat. Cook for about 20 minutes or until nearly all the liquid is absorbed.

Baked: The good thing about this method is that it adds little or no additional fat, which makes it a more healthy way to prepare potatoes. Russets work best. There are many ways to do this, but I’ll tell you my favorite. Scrub the potatoes well, I like to eat the skin. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. On a square of foil, coat the potato with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of kosher salt. Wrap the potato completely and bake for about an hour. You can speed up the process by putting the potatoes unwrapped into the microwave for about 4 minutes. I don’t like to completely bake potatoes in the microwave because I find the ends get hard.

Microwave: Potatoes are one of the best vegetables for this method. You can bake a whole potato this way, but as I just said, I don’t think it works that well. But they can be roasted in the microwave wonderfully. My favorite way is to cut the potato into 1/2 inch chunks and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder and dried parsley. This goes into a plastic dish that’s mostly covered (allow steam to escape) and microwave on high for three minutes, stir and cook for at least another 2 minutes.

Roasting: If you’re not in a hurry, you can use the same preparation outlined above for roasting in an oven. It should be preheated to a temperature of 450 to 500. The potato pieces should be laid out in a single layer after being coated in oil, herbs and spices. About 20 to 25 minutes should give you potatoes with a crispy outside and a fluffy inside.

Frying: There are a number of different frying styles you can use. French fries are usually deep fried. Slices or small chunks fried are called home fries. Sliced thin and fried give you potato chips. Shredded gives you hash browns. Shredded, squeezed and formed into patties gives you latkas or potato pancakes.

International Flavor: In South America where the potato originated, it’s used largely as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. One of the most interesting versions uses cooked, diced potatoes as part of a filling for chili rellena, a sort of stuffed pepper. It’s also a common ingredient in many soups and stews, including Ecuadorian locro de papas, made with potatoes, squash and cheese. There are many British dishes that feature potatoes: fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, bubble and squeak, and bangers and mash. Boxty pancakes are found throughout Ireland and Irish communities in the U.K. Those are made with grated potatoes which have been soaked to release the starch and then combined with flour, buttermilk and baking powder. In Eastern Europe, grated potatoes are made into puddings like kugel or bobka. Italians make a potato dumpling pasta called gnocchi. Fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce is a common Spanish tapas dish. In Canada they have a dish called poutine, french fries topped with fresh cheese curds and gravy.

All of these only touch the surface of how potatoes can be cooked. But that’s not all. Other uses for potatoes are to make art, including pottery; to make liquor, like vodka or potcheen; and as animal feed. Potato starch is a common industrial food additive used to thicken and bind soups and sauces. Some potatoes are used to make adhesives. And just lately, scientists are using potatoes to make plastic and biodegradable packaging. Many a young student has made a potato battery.

I’m sure with all this, you can find plenty of ways to make potatoes a part of your eating plan without getting bored.

Cooking Vegetables: Potatoes

We’re not done yet talking about how to cook some of the most popular and most unlikely vegetables on your dinner table. Why? Because we all need to eat more vegetables. But many of us don’t because we say we don’t like them. Maybe you just don’t know what you can do with them. So, here are some ideas.

This time, we’re talking potatoes, a staple on nearly all American tables. There are nearly 4,000 varieties of potatoes, all descended from a species originally grown in South America, specifically around what is today central Chile. The name was given us by the Spanish Conquistadores, who found this staple crop being grown by the South American aboriginals. They brought this tuber back to Europe. Today, it is the fourth largest food crop in the world.

No other vegetable I’ve seen has had such a well-known history. Nor is there any vegetable that’s become so versatile in the kitchen. They are in the Nightshade family, which includes Deadly Nightshade, Henbane and Tobacco. These plants contain glyco-alkaloids, which are toxic and can affect the nervous system. Cooking will neutralize most of these. The largest concentration of the toxins are in the stems, leaves and just below the surface of the skin of the potato. They can cause weakness, confusion, headaches, diarrhea, cramps and even coma or death.

All this information also applies to the sweet potato, which may have been the original version and is considered a nutritional powerhouse by food scientists. We’ll talk about that separately. For now, we’re talking about what is sometimes called the white potato.

There are three varieties usually found in our supermarkets: red, russet and gold. There are also yellow and blue varieties but we don’t see them often. Red potatoes are called “waxy,” and tend to hold together better when being cooked than others. That’s why these are the type most often boiled or steamed. Russets are used for most other applications, such as baking, frying or mashing. Golds have qualities that are between reds and russets and are often seen as the “all purpose” potato. Golds are hybrids with a slightly golden flesh and skin and have a slightly buttery taste.

While the potato is no stranger to most of us, we may sometimes not realize how many ways they can be prepared. We’re going to explore just a few of those ideas to help you see more possibilities for cooking them.

Shopping: Look for potatoes that aren’t too big with firm skins that aren’t wet or papery. Also look for skins that have not been punctured or cut, which allows rotting to set in quickly. As these tubers grow in dirt, the cleanliness of the skin is a secondary consideration. If potatoes are packaged in a bag, smell them. Yes, put that bag right up to your nose and take a whiff. That’s the best way to tell whether they are good and have been stored correctly. You should smell dirt. If there’s any hint of ammonia or any strong smell, those potatoes are bad. You may not see it, but there’s a bad potato somewhere in that bag. It’s a trick some sellers will use to get rid of product they might otherwise throw away. If they’re in a plastic bag without holes, you may want to steer clear, as there’s probably some bad ones in there you won’t find until you get home.

Storage: Potatoes should be kept in a dark and cool place. They should be well ventilated and between 50° and 70ºF. Refrigeration is not recommended unless you have new potatoes. If possible, they should be spread out a little rather than on top of each other. Putting them in a paper bag rather than plastic will also help keep them from going bad. These things will keep decomposition and sprouting to a minimum. While commercial warehouses can store potatoes for months, in your home the maximum time they should be stored is about three weeks, depending on your storage conditions. Preferred storage time in the home is one to two weeks. Light will create green spots. And they should be kept away from pears since the odors of these fruits will ruin the flavor of potatoes.

Preparation: Keep a vegetable brush or scrubber sponge set aside for cleaning potatoes and other root vegetables. Don’t use soap. Just scrub the skins well under running water, removing all dirt. Pay particular attention to the little dents and eyes. Sprouts should be removed and, if not peeling, cut the eye underneath the sprout away. Peeling is optional depending on how they’re to be used. The peels contain lots of fiber and nutrients, but in soup or long cooking methods may come away from the rest of the potato pieces. Any rotted areas, green or black spots should be cut away. Do not put the peels in the garbage disposal, which turns them into a glue that can cause expensive problems. Nor should these be saved for stock since the starch will make a clear stock near impossible. I prefer peeling potatoes over the garbage can or over old newspaper to make disposal easier. They make great compost if you have a place for it. The alkaloids will keep away many pests in the garden.

Boiling: This is one of the most common ways of preparing potatoes and works particularly well with small, new potatoes. Potatoes should be peeled. If larger than about one inch in diameter, they should be cut into halves or quarters. Put the pieces in a pot just large enough to allow about an inch of space above the potatoes. Fill the pot with water until all the potatoes are submerged. Allow room for the water to boil without overflowing. Put the pot over medium high heat without a lid. Be prepared to lower the heat to medium low once the water gets boiling. A pinch of salt in the water once it gets boiling is all the seasoning you should do at this point. Cooking should take about 10 minutes. Test for doneness by seeing if a spoon will break a piece in two. Drain and then add other seasonings as desired or needed.

Steaming: Follow similar procedure as above, but put the pieces into a steamer basket over boiling water for about 10 minutes until the pieces are fork tender.

Mashed or Smashed: Start by boiling potato chunks as above. Make the pieces about a 1/2″ thick and as uniform as possible. Boil just a little longer than usual so the pieces fall apart when prodded. Drain all but about a half cup of the water and return to pot. Add about 2 tablespoons of butter or extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder and a splash of milk. Use a hand masher to break the potatoes up and stir in the ingredients. Add more milk if needed. Don’t use a mixer as that gives you glue instead of potatoes. The only difference between mashed and smashed is that mashed is usually fairly smooth. But be careful not to overmix them or you get glue again. Many people like lumpy mashed potatoes.

Here we are with only three different cooking methods discussed, and we’ve hardly touched the surface of this topic. As this post is getting long, we’re going to continue this in another post in a couple of days. Stay with me, folks!

More Fish In The Sea

Lots of people like to eat cod and salmon as their seafood choices. In fact, these two fish are so very popular that they are being fished to death, literally. Many people complain about the taste of farm-raised versions of these breeds. But there are lots of other fish in the sea that are both delicious and sustainable.

Monkfish.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA This ugly brute is sometimes called the “poor man’s lobster.” In fact, the tail meat of this fish really does taste like lobster tail, sweet and meaty. This Atlantic bottom-feeder is a type of angler fish, meaning it uses a spiny extension from its head to lure other fish, which it swallows whole.

Spiny Dogfish. As you can see, this fish is a type of shark and is sometimes called the Cape Shark or Mud Shark. It likes shallow waters and has two dorsal spines. Its meat is oily and ideal for deep frying. Spiny_dogfishThis is the fish you would most likely get in an English fish and chips shop. It is also popular in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Right now, it is so popular in Europe that some conservationists have classified it as “vulnerable.”

sturgeonSturgeon. Yes, this ugly fish is the one that gives us caviar. There are several varieties, both fresh water and sea-going. They are farmed in British Columbia and make fine steaks. They are one of the oldest of the boney fishes and have been around for at least 400 million years.

Wahoo.wahoo They look fast and they are, one of the fastest fish in the sea. They are found in the Pacific around Hawaii. In fact, the name is a mispronunciation of the Big Island. The Hawaiians call this sleek fish “ono,” meaning good to eat. The taste has been compared to albacore tuna. When grilled, people say it tastes like chicken or veal.

Artic Char is considered to be one of the least “at risk,” most sustainable wild fish. This cold water species is related to salmon and lake trout. Some chefs call it “salmon lite.”

There are many more fish you can enjoy instead of cod or salmon.

‘Soup’-er Baked Chicken

Have you ever wondered why there are so many recipes for cooking chicken? It’s one animal protein that you can find all over the world. And it’s inexpensive. We are more likely to eat chicken in some form more than twice a week than any other meat. And, let’s face it, it often seems like there are just so many ways to prepare it.

The answer is there are and there aren’t. Many chicken recipes are just modifications of older recipes. And that’s what we have for you today. This dish takes it’s cue from the nifty ‘Fifties when food companies were out to find easy ways for housewives to put dinner on the table every night without disturbing those June Cleaver pearls with sweat.

This is a very easy dish that can be adapted in all sorts of ways to fit your personal tastes. For even faster service, this can be put together in just a few minutes. For accompanying dishes, I’d go with a salad or sautéed green beans, and rice or stuffing if you happen to have some around. Also, you don’t have to use chicken breasts. Use the cheaper bone-in thighs. But trim off the fat and skin.

Souper Baked Chicken

Prep Time: 5 Minutes; Cook Time: 1 Hour; Ready In: 1 Hour 5 Minutes

Makes 4 servings.


  • 2 pounds chicken parts
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • 1 (10.75 ounce) can Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup (Regular or 98% Fat Free)


  1. Place chicken in 2 quart shallow baking dish. Drizzle with margarine. Bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  2. Spoon soup over chicken and bake 30 minutes more or until chicken is no longer pink. Remove chicken. Stir sauce.


  • Tip: If you remove skin from chicken before baking, mix 2 tablespoons water with soup.
  • Tip: To melt butter, remove wrapper and place in microwave-safe cup. Microwave on HIGH 30 seconds.

Nutritional Information

  • Amount Per Serving:  Calories: 382; Total Fat: 24.7g; Cholesterol: 103mg; Sodium: 659mg; Total Carbs: 6.2g; Dietary Fiber: 1.2g; Protein: 32.5g

Turkey or Whatever

This is another repeat post from previous years’ discussions about preparing a Thanksgiving dinner. While turkey continues to be the biggest dinner entree for this holiday, ham, duck and chicken are also popular. For a bachelor, a smaller featured protein might be a better idea. 

Don’t feel like you have to have, or cook, a turkey for Thanksgiving. There are lots of choices out there. You have to take into consideration your tastes and your circumstances. I won’t be cooking a turkey this year. Most likely, I’ll go with a chicken. But for those of you who will be doing a turkey, there are some things you might want to think about, even if you’re a seasoned cook.

Almost everyone will be buying a frozen turkey. Just make sure you have yours a week ahead of time. No later than Sunday, you should have your turkey thawing in the refrigerator, because it will take anywhere from two to four days depending on size.

When buying your turkey, remember they are all NOT just the same. Some are going to be what’s called “self basting.” That means they’ve been injected with a solution of salt, broth and seasonings. While these birds don’t dry out as easily, they are loaded with salt. If you brine the turkey, and you should, you won’t need that. But if you wait too long to buy your turkey, you may have limited choices. As always, check the label. It should tell you if a solution has been added and tell you what’s in it.

Most people buy too big a turkey. If you’re a bachelor like me, you might be eating turkey for weeks. Figure you need about a pound per person per meal. Remember that the turkey weight includes bones and all. So, a ten-pound turkey should feed five people two meals each. There are lots of leftover turkey recipes floating around. Maybe you have a favorite you might share with the rest of us. Just enter it in the comments.

Brining means soaking the turkey in a salt-water solution. The best solution for a container is a clean five-gallon bucket. You can find them at a hardware store if you don’t have one available. Another possibility is a large metal or plastic cooler. You need a cool place to keep it, too. If you have access to a walk-in fridge, like they have at restaurants, that’s ideal. Also, a good option is if you have a spare refrigerator or one you can borrow the use of for a couple days. The turkey and the brine have to remain below 40°F to keep it safe from bacteria. You might think the salt solution would be enough, but there are bacteria that thrive in salty environments. Don’t put the container outside if it’s cold. Animals can smell it and will try to get to it if they can. A cooler works well as long as you can keep adding ice to keep it cold. Just make sure it’s big enough to keep the turkey completely submerged.

You’ll want to make your brine first and then wash your turkey while the brine solution cools. First, thoroughly clean your sink. Use bleach if you have it. Make sure you rinse the sink completely so there’s no soap or bleach left behind. Wash the turkey inside and out. Don’t forget to pull out the bag of goodies inside. Don’t throw it away, it’ll be used later.

There are many recipes for brining solution out there. If you don’t already have one, here’s a simple one.

  • 1 gallon water
  • 1 gallon ice
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each of rosemary, sage, thyme, and savory or 4 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon each of optional seasonings such as cumin, oregano, black peppercorns, basil or red pepper flakes
  1. Combine everything except the ice in a large stock pot and turn the heat up to high.
  2. Bring it to a boil, stirring to make sure everything is dissolved and mixed.
  3. Remove from heat and let it cool completely about two to three hours.
  4. Put the turkey into the container breast side down, legs up. Pour in the solution and add the ice. If the solution doesn’t completely cover the turkey, add more water. Make sure the cavity is filled.
  5. Put the container, covered, in a cool place where it can stay below 40.
  6. Brining should take at least ten hours, but not more than 48.

Brining works by using the salt as a conductor for the other flavors. Don’t worry, it won’t make the turkey salty. But it will make it cook faster and retain more moisture.

When you remove the turkey from the brine, drain off as much as you can and then pat dry before preparing it for the oven.

Vegetable Cooking: Artichokes

Lots of people are urging us to eat more vegetables. If you’re like me, you might not find a lot of vegetables very good raw. At least not without heaps of Ranch dressing or something.

Many of you may not be that familiar with cooking vegetables. So, here are some ideas. We’ll be looking at how to cook several common vegetables over the next several posts.

Artichokes. If ever there was a food that looks unappealing, it’s the artichoke. This is the flower of the thistle plant, a common weed. The globe artichoke, the one most of us are familiar with, is grown mostly around the Mediterranean, especially Spain and Italy. In the U.S., all artichokes come from California, mostly around the town of Castroville.

Artichokes are usually harvested in the spring, but another peak harvest time is mid-autumn. The California artichokes are harvested continuously through the summer.

When shopping for artichokes, look for full but small heads with no brown spots. The leaves should be tight and not easy to pull off. The rule is the smaller the better.

Trimming takes a little time but is easy. Take your kitchen shears (You do have kitchen shears, don’t you?) and remove the tough outer leaves closest to the stem. Then snip off the pointy ends of the outer leaves so its easier to handle. This is a thistle, remember. Wash thoroughly by turning it upside down in clean water. Trim off most of the stem so it sits flatter, but take care not to damage the base, which holds the whole thing together. Rubbing a halved lemon over the trimmed leaves, or bracts, will keep them from browning before cooking.

Most commonly, we see this leafy head steamed. Just put a steamer basket in a large pot with about two inches of water in the bottom. Steam the trimmed artichoke for about 20 minutes and you’re done.

In addition to steaming, there are lots of ways to cook this funny looking vegetable. Usually, you’ll like it best with a melted butter dip. When serving, keeping it in its own bowl works best. You should have another bowl on the table to discard the outer parts of the leaves after the good bit has been scraped off.

The part of the vegetable that’s edible is the meaty base of the leaves and the inner base, called the heart. Above the base, buried under all the leaves, is the choke. You can take a spoon to scoop out the feathery, fiberous choke if the thing has been cooked well. But be careful. The choke is called that for a reason, so you should try to remove all of the fibers.

Personally, I think it’s a lot of work for the amount of edible food you get. But I have to admit that heart, once you reach it, seems well worth the effort. That’s why pickled or jarred artichoke hearts are so popular, especially on a salad.

Another popular cooking method is braising. This is best done with baby artichokes. Just cook in a large skillet with some olive oil. After a minute or two add a cup of white wine, a cup of water (two cups of water if not using wine) and a teaspoon of dried thyme, rosemary or tarragon. Cover and cook for about another 15 minutes. Artichokes are done when you can easily insert a knife into the base.

To grill artichokes, open up the center of the head to scoop out the choke. Cover with extra virgin olive oil and kosher salt. Grill over medium-high heat until tender.

Round vegetables are great in the microwave. Just placed the trimmed artichoke in a glass or microwave safe dish. Add 1/2 cup of white wine or water, some dried thyme and salt. Cover tightly with plastic wrap using a toothpick to make a very small hole near the dish side so it doesn’t explode. Microwave on high for about 8 minutes for an average size artichoke. Be careful removing the plastic as the steam will be very, very hot.

In addition to cooking and eating, artichokes make colorful houseplants with a brilliant bloom. You can also make a herbal tea. If you’ve ever had the Italian liqueur Cynar, that’s flavored with artichokes. A chemical compound in the leaves is a useful diuretic which also aids in liver function and lowering cholesterol.

Kitchen Intermediates – Part 1: Dutch Oven

Money of you readers of The Bachelor’s Kitchen will remember a few months ago when we talked about the basics every kitchen should have to cook and feed yourself. That’s one of the goals of this blog — to show singles that you don’t have to have a big kitchen or a lot of money to make some great food. We also have to think about what’s the minimum equipment we need and what we can do without. We also have to think about things we’d like to have, useful items that are a bit more than a basic but still won’t overrun your small kitchen.

The single most useful pot or pan in your kitchen is the trusty cast iron skillet. It’s cheap and durable. You can even expect to pass it down to your children, grandchildren or other members of future generations. It’s precisely this durability that has made this an American cooking basic for centuries.

This skillet’s cousin is the dutch oven. There are three basic types of dutch ovens, only one of which is a true dutch oven. Most dutch ovens are really just big pots.

Of the big pot variety, there are two basic types which are defined by their materials. The most common is the enamel-covered metal pot with a lid. When choosing this style, make sure the handles on the sides and the lid are oven-proof. This can be made from steel, cast iron or aluminum.

A newer version of this style is the all-aluminum pot, also called a stock pot. These are high quality pots that can go from stove top to oven easily with even heating and easy cleaning.

The traditional dutch oven is made of cast iron and has a upward-lipped lid and short legs on the bottom. This is where this pot gets its name. Back a few centuries ago when most European and American settlers still cooked over open fires, the dutch oven was the only way to bake. It would be placed over hot coals, with more coals placed on top, which is why the lid looks sunken into the pot. This type of pot should be treated just the same as a cast iron skillet. These are also the least expensive models.

Dutch ovens are larger and heavier than the skillet to handle larger cuts of meat and cooking liquids for braising. They also are commonly used for deep frying because they hold heat well and are taller than the skillet.

Dutch ovens can range in price from as little as about $30 up to nearly $300 for the stainless all-aluminum model. Look for the widest you can find.

Never use soap and water on a cast iron dutch oven. Cure it the same as with a skillet and clean it the same way. Not only can it be used for cooking soups, stews and other large-pot items, but you really can bake in the cast iron model.

Vegetable Cooking: Beets

As we continue our series of posts about cooking vegetables, we now take a look at one that many people think they don’t like even though they haven’t tasted it. Personally, I think this is due to some sort of childhood experience, but I’m not a shrink, by any definition.

If we’re going to eat more vegetables, and we should, we need to know how to shop, prepare and cook them. That’s the point of these posts.

By the way, if you have a favorite recipe along these lines, please feel free to share it with all us Bachelor’s Kitchen readers. Just click on the Comments link at the end of this post or send me an email to

Beets. I’ve talked about this root vegetable before when we were discussing winter vegetables that are still available now at the farmers markets. There are several varieties of beets, but not all of them will you see at the market or in the produce aisle at the supermarket.

One of the remarkable things about the beet is that almost everything can be eaten. The green top leaves, or chard, can be cooked like spinach or collards. The stalks can be cleaned and cut into chunks to flavor soup. But the root end is what we think of most and use most from this vegetable.

The beet has been grown for about 4,000 years, mostly around the Mediterranean and Middle East. It became popular in Northern and Eastern Europe because of its hardy nature. Like most root vegetables, it will keep in a cool, dry, dark place for several months.

When choosing beets to cook, look for bulbs that are dark red or bright orange in color. Wash and trim off the greens and tap root. How you cut them will depend on how you plan to cook them.

Roasted or steamed beets are the most popular way to prepare them. Cut into 1/2-inch chunks. For steamed, put into a steamer basket over a pot of boiling water for about 15 minutes or until tender. To roast, spread the pieces out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or baking sheet. Coat with olive oil and bake in a pre-heated 500-degree oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over about halfway through.

Beets can also be microwaved. Cut the beets into 1/4-inch rounds and put into a glass pie pan. Add a 1/4 cup water and cover tightly in plastic wrap. Heat on high for 10 minutes, then allow to stand for 5 minutes before serving with butter.