of kitchen failure


These artichokes are pretty, aren’t they?

So pretty.

Looking at them now, I have that same warm and fuzzy feeling I experienced at Meijer, when I grabbed them, like a puppet, pulling them from their big green mountain and into a clear plastic bag, wheeling away with no idea of what I was doing, smiling that I’d found them on sale.

Beyond what it says about me that my big weekend plans are, more often than not, pushing a four-wheeled grocery cart around aisles of a supermarket, I want you to know there are other reasons never to shop on Friday nights. There’s the chance you’ll be followed by a middle-aged man, for example, one who never picks anything up, just follows you, getting closer and closer and shifting back and forth on his legs, forcing you to, in desperation, abandon your cart, hugging the borders of a happy family walking to their car, breathless and scared as you drive home, without anything you needed. Another week, you might be addressed with “Hey, how you doing” by a leather-clad stranger who brushes past you, and when you don’t respond, he may shout, “Fine, great to meet you, too. That’s just fine” while you try to find your friend or really, anyone else.

But worst of all, Friday nights at the quiet grocery store have been known to wreak other kinds of damage. Damage like, say, the purchase of four beautiful artichokes, just because you saw them and they were on sale and, what with your need to be on guard about other things, you don’t know what else to do but throw them in your cart and keep moving.

peeled artichoke

Things started off O.K., I guess. When I got home, I researched online: I watched a video about peeling an artichoke, I read articles that explained what the heart was and how to remove the choke. I also flipped through several cookbooks and a couple good blogs, and I saw what my options were.

But here is what happened: I got confused. In the midst of my excitement over learning something new, I half-followed every guide and, in the end, followed none.

My first artichoke (pictured above, peeled), I kept peeling all the way to the center, and then I didn’t know why I had. So I found an article that said you should really trim each of the leaves to remove their sharp bits, and I tried that with the other three. That same article suggested steaming the clipped artichokes in a bath of water and wine and salt, which I did, but in a pan that was too small.

artichoke with clipped leaves

The end result was dark, tough artichokes, along with my original peeled one, and a big mess on the counters. The recipe I was working with (for artichoke soup) said to chop the heart and blend it in a food processor, only I couldn’t figure out which part of the cooked artichoke was really the heart, despite all the diagrams and articles. After spooning out the fuzzy, ugly choke, there was a wet, gel-like section left, with a color like dark ivory and teeny-tiny holes along the side where the choke had been. Was that the heart? If so, you’ll be glad to know I chopped it. And it was awful looking. In a weak moment, I threw it all away.

It could be disheartening, I suppose, to read this story of failure, but I’m afraid it’s all I have today. So I have an idea—a request, really—Tell me what I did wrong? Tell me what artichoke recipe you would suggest instead?

Or, for those of you who are very kind, tell me a story of your own kitchen mistake? I’d love to hear it. You’d make my day.

And in exchange, I’ll bring you something very special Friday. Really.


  1. says

    i love how in movies it seems like they always show people randomly meeting at places like grocery stores, when in reality you only get hit on by the weirdos. or you make eyes with someone right before their girlfriend walks up. oh life.

    at least the photos of the chokes are pretty. :)

  2. says

    this is a great artichoke tutorial:

    we boiled a globe choke two nights ago [took 30-35 minutes to finish cooking] – dipped the leaves in aioli and scraped the artichoke goodness off with our teeth. the prior night we roasted baby artichokes with their chokes removed [scraped out from the bottom with the tip of a paring knife] – with this method, you can pop the entire chokes into your mouth and enjoy!

    i hope this helps!! they are too fantastic to miss out on…



  3. says

    I love this post. I’ve never messed with fresh artichokes. I’m a big fan of everything fresh, but I’ve always been a canned artichoke hearts girl. Maybe that’ll get me kicked out of food blog world, but I’m okay being honest. Good for you to try it! I hope your next endeavor is more encouraging, and I hope you’re not followed by anymore creepy men in the grocery store. That’ll take away anyone’s appetite.

  4. says

    “a leather-clad stranger who brushes past you, and when you don’t respond, he may shout, “Fine, great to meet you, too. That’s just fine””

    Sorry, my bad. I’m just SO lonely! :)

    Funny article, artichoke FAIL! Try it again with what you learned from this experience and you will get the hang of it. Or just partially clean them, stuff and then fry them till tender, that’ll work every time!

  5. says

    I applaud you for giving the artichokes a shot. I’ve never cooked with them fresh before, and I know I would botch it. But at least you learned something, right?

  6. says

    Artichokes are hard. I sort of just fumble around with them until they become edible. I think I need a trained person to show me how to properly disassemble one of the beasts.

    Kitchen disaster: I one time put a 9X13 baking pan in the oven with a plastic lid on. It melted down into my mac and cheese I was drunkenly trying to heat up and then caught on fire.

    My girlfriend forgave me eventually.

  7. says

    don’t feel bad… artichokes are way over my head, too.

    my failure? i wanted to make a batch of vanilla pudding extra vanilla-y, so i went to add some extract. accidentally added lemon extract… and i’m not into lemon pudding at ALL. it was a sad day haha

    and hey, i like your blog!

  8. Vicki P says

    I bought avocados that were BOGO at Jewel and I have no clue what to do with them other than to maybe attempt gucamole. My effort to get a few slices for a salad at lunch took 5 minutes. Also I am not always careful about reading recipes and have actually ruined one meal cuz I put in waaay too much salt.

  9. says

    Well. If it makes you feel any better, we just posted our recent cookie failure today, so it’s funny you shared your story as well. Just imagine doubling a cookie recipe, but not doubling the eggs. The result? Dry, crumbly cookies. We revisited them by adding an icing on top, but we could still taste the failure. Oh well. You learn.

    Artichokes can be beastly. We’ve never worked with raw ‘chokes before, so we think your courage is tremendous!

  10. says

    Last week I added 1/2 cup of sugar to a pie dough that only called for 1 1/2 teaspoons. It was a mushy mess.

  11. says

    I’ve never tackled fresh artichokes myself, but I shot this video demonstrating how to trim/cook them (http://www.jsonline.com/multimedia/video/?bcpid=1869637852&bclid=1859715506&bctid=1873066696)

    They might have looked gross because they discolor very quickly. I learned from shooting the above video that you should squeeze lemon juice on the heart immediately when it is exposed.

    And don’t feel so bad – I used baking soda instead of baking powder in some muffins and they were narsty. I also cracked my crock pot by trying to use the removable bowl on the stove – whoops!

  12. says

    Sad day. :-(

    My kitchen failure: I was baking brownies once when I was 17. I wanted to do something really special with them, so I decided it would be fun to melt chocolate, drip it all over the top of the brownies (once they cooled, of course) and add crushed up Snickers pieces to the “goo.”

    I grabbed some chocolate out of the pantry (lucky we had some up there) and went to work. I thought the brownies looked great! I waited awhile for the melted chocolate to set, and then I tried one before I had planned to give them to a boy I liked.

    DIS-GUS-TING! I cried, asked my mom to try one. Although she felt bad, she kinda chuckled, grabbed a box out of the pantry and showed me that I used baking chocolate, which is not meant to be eaten by itself. My sweet brownies turned into a bitter batch of… just plain yuck!

  13. says

    I looooooooooooove artichokes ! We eat them often when they are in season ! Super easy way to make them … steam them !! Whole. Then we eat the fleshy part of the leaves dipped in mayonnaise or if it’s just the heart you are after, you can peel it and scoop out the insides leaving just the tender, yummy heart !!

  14. says

    I have never peeled an artichoke…rather I’ve steamed them whole and then plucked each leaf and dipped into butter. Easy and trouble free.

  15. bets says

    i make artichokes all the time.

    trim the leaves, like you did. also use a potato peeler to peel off just the skin from stem. then cut the artichoke in half, lengthwise (so you have 2 identical pieces, not so you have a top and a bottom).

    pop the pieces in your rice cooker (if you don’t have one, just use a pot on the stove) and steam them. when it’s cut in half like this, it’ll fit :)

    also, cutting them half makes it really easy to figure out which part is the choke and which part should be eaten. personally i like the stem too, but it has to be peeled because the skin tastes bitter.

  16. says

    My biggest FAIL (so far, that is, because I’m sure there will be more!) was years ago. As a shiny new wife of less than 6 months, I fixed banana cream pies using some Jello brand recipe: milk, instant pudding mix and graham cracker crust. Pretty simple, right? But at the time we were being supplied with farm-fresh milk from one of my husband’s student’s family who were big dairy owners. I used that milk to make the pies. At a big family dinner, I proudly brought them out and served them. Every person around that table took a bite and looked furtively around, not wanting to spit it out, not daring to swallow it.
    Something about the raw milk clashed with the pudding mix and made it all taste like–wait for it–Soap! I’ve never made another pie since, with any kind of milk!

  17. says

    Phew! I hardly know how to respond to all your very, very kind comments.

    Thank you?

    That doesn’t sound like enough somehow.

    Thank you for the links to artichoke recipes, the typed-out instructions, the bits of advice you offered. Thanks for telling me you get it, you understand and you’ve made crazy mistakes, too. Thank you for making me laugh (I’m looking at you, “lonely” Nick) and for making me feel a whole lot better.

    You guys are as good as it gets. And thank you.

  18. says

    i adore artichokes but i keep it very simple. i just boil it until soft, peel each leaf and scrap off with my teeth. very simple. if i want a more full artichoke experience, i just grab the jar or canned versions.

    kitchen mishaps occur often and it’s always a learning experience. the one time i can think of was when i made a lasagne for jason and didn’t use the right cheese, we didnt have any when i started cooking. i used cheddar cheese instead, and made it more mexican inspired. he refused to eat it and i threw a tantrum and dumped the entire thing in the trash. i didn’t cook for him again for years.

  19. says

    i tried to make artichokes last year and had a similar result. i’m excited to try some of these suggestions though.
    on a side note, meijer is the best store ever! it sounds weird, but i miss that giant supermarket. we don’t have anything like that here in brooklyn.

  20. says

    Lan – See, it’s terms like “scrape off with my teeth” that get me confused – what are you supposed to eat? I am so lost! Oh, and I love the story about Jason and the lasagna. That’s something I would do, throwing it in the trash. Funny!

    Kelly – Really? You too? That’s comforting. And you like Meijer! Ha! I guess it’s all in perspective, and I’ll try to remember that!

  21. Lise says

    You eat half the leaf – the lighter colored part, not the end facing outward, which has a layer of edible artichoke on a thin layer of fibrous leaf. That’s what “scraping off” means.

    I just clip off 1/4 inch of all the leaves, cut off an inch from the top, cut the stem off (and keep the stem, peeled, and steam that as well – also edible & delicious), and mark an X on the bottom part of the artichoke (about 1/4inch cut in an X shape, just in the whiter/heart portion on the bottom). Steam upside down (top down) in a covered pan full of water/flavored broth/whatever for 15 minutes, upend/reverse it and place it bottom down, steam 15-20 minutes more. Test doneness by sliding in a knife into the bottom or pulling off a leaf and tasting (should be soft artichoke on the leaf). Pretty easy, imo – well, easier than “clean raw artichoke hearts.

  22. says

    omg, I just made a horrible green curry and then the rice came out all soggy and wet and the whole thing was awful…everything was overcooked, and the coconut cream I used ended up making the whole thing thinner than the last time I’d made with coconut milk.

    So yeah. Fail! But it’s ok *hug* and it’s also nice to know that we all have fail moments, no matter how brilliant we may be normally :)

  23. Rachel says

    I’ve had my share of kitchen failures as well, but I think it’s all part of the learning process with cooking/baking, and I LOVE when these failures make such entertaining stories (as yours certainly did). I recently watched a movie with my kids called “Meet the Robinsons,” about an orphaned kid who is an inventor, and he keeps turning off perspective parents with his wacky inventions. There is a great scene, when he finally finds a fitting family (for reasons too complicated to explain), and they completely celebrate his latest failure, going so far as to all shout, joyously, “YOU FAILED!!!” and clap and dance and be so excited that he tried and learned from it. The motto of the film…keep moving forward. Which he did. And so did you. Thanks so much for sharing the story here.

  24. Rachel says

    I’ve just got to correct a typo in my post, as it is bugging me. It should say he keeps turning off “prospective parents,” not perspective parents. Although those might also be interesting, hee hee.

  25. says

    Lise – Excellent directions. When I work up enough courage to try this again—I’m not promising it will be soon—I’ll give your suggestions a try.

    Zo – I agree. It’s good to know we’re all capable of making something really, really bad – or at least, I am. I’m still wrapping my mind around the idea of Julia Child failing.

    Rachel – Your story made me smile. And so did your follow-up comment. I cannot tell you how many times I have written a quick typo somewhere on the Internet. Loved that you corrected it.

  26. Scott says

    OK, here are two; first, a whole artichoke is best when steamed. I remove the lowest, or first outer ring of leaves entireley, sometimes the second as well. Trimn off the bottom 1/2 inch or so of the the stem, and peel the outer skin off the remainder (still attached). Using shears I clip the first 3/4 inch or so off all the rest of the leaves, and then using a good carving knife I remove the first 1/2 inch off the top, most tightly packed leaves. Using a steamer in a deep pot I invert the choke(s) and steam covered for 35 minutes. Make sure you don’t boil dry! (gr) Take it/them out and cool for a few minutes while you prepare aioli, or just use plain Mayo, or your fave salad dressing even. Peel off each outer leaf and dip the “fat” end, then scrape off the tender meat with your teeth. Once you get to the choke, scrape it away with a spoon, then eat the core and stem.

    Part two: I use canned artichoke hearts (I’m lazy). Two 14 oz cans artichoke hearts, 1 cup fresh grated parmesan or romano, 1 cup grated smoked gouda or cheddar, 1 cup grated havarti or jack. 4 garlic cloves minced ( or more, I like garlic). Two french baguettes; 1 cup sour cream, 3/4 cup melted butter. Cut the baguettes in half and carefully scrape out the inner soft bread (I use my hands) in small bits, without breaking through the crust. Saute the minced garlic, then add the crumbled bread bits. Remove from heat. Dice the artichoke hearts, and then blend together the sour cream, havarti or jack, parmesan or romano, artichoke hearts, and add in the sauteed bread bits. Stuff the mixture back into the bread shells, top with gouda or cheddar. Bake at 350 for 15 to 20 minute or until bubbly. Cool for 5 minutes and cut into 2 inch wide slices. An alternate is to leave the bread “unscooped” and use the rest of the mix as a topping blend, simply melting it over the bread. I find baguettes are a bit too narrow for that, so I switch to regular french loaves. Experiment with the cheeses as well; I happen to really like Gouda and Havarti….

  27. says

    Wow, Scott. Short of having someone standing next to me and showing me, I think your instructions were as good as it gets. If/when I tackle this again, your tips will be even more appreciated. Thank you!


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