aaron. an appreciation post

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A couple of months ago, the beautiful Amanda from i am baker posted a recipe for a classic vanilla cheesecake with a double-thick graham cracker crust. But it wasn’t just any cheesecake recipe, it was her husband’s favourite… right down to the extra-thick, buttery crust.

The aim of this post wasn’t just to share her husband’s favourite cheesecake recipe. It was the first of a series of ‘Appreciation Posts’ written by bloggers across the globe, the aim of which was to say ‘thank you’ to our long-suffering partners for their support, love and (endless) patience as we’ve embarked upon our food blogging journeys. A worthy cause indeed.

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Now, if you read the list of existing ‘Appreciation Posts’ in Amanda’s original publication, you’ll realize that I’m a little behind in publishing my own. The main reason for this is the fact that I wanted my own appreciation post to tie in with our second wedding anniversary, the date of which is next Tuesday: 12th November 2013. Sentimental, yes. But hey, that’s me.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to my ridiculously handsome love, Aaron:

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He’s my husband, best friend, encourager and creative partner. He’s been there through the highest and lowest points of my life, gently encouraging, challenging and supporting me as required.

Aaron kindly agreed to answer the set of routine questions posed in the ‘Appreciation Post’ series. His responses are as follows (with a few of my italicized notes in brackets):

1. What are the best and worst things about being married to a food blogger?

The obvious answer is that you get to eat incredibly well. But I also like seeing Laura have a passion for something that motivates her to learn and improve. And it’s great that she enjoys cooking for others. I get to have my good friends come over, have an amazing feast, then play a game of Settlers. I think that Kings didn’t live so well. Maybe the worst thing is going to the shops with her and watching her take 5 minutes to choose between identical loaves of bread.

3. Out of the props that Laura uses, what’s your favourite?

I’m a big fan of natural materials. Anything made of wood… Or things that are old and worn. I like our chopping board (Aaron made this for me out of a piece of discarded Jarrah. He polished it with organic beeswax and it’s become one of my very favourite things).

4. What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve seen her do for a blog post?

Honestly, the weirdest thing for me is that she will intentionally get up an hour earlier every morning before work to write posts or respond to messages. I would choose sleep every time.

5. What’s your favourite recipe of Laura’s (not necessarily on the blog)?

Laura makes the most amazing salads. But my favourite is always crispy skinned salmon with some asparagus and roast potatoes*.

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6. If you had your own blog, what would it be called?

I have the beginnings of one on my website, MonsterBot.net. But if it was a food blog, it would probably be called ‘Steak is Good Enough’.

7. Do you have a favourite blog?

I constantly go back to boingboing.net. It’s a site with a number of contributors who write about a lot of different things. Some geeky, some arty, some political. It’s interesting.

8. How do you cope with the constant photo-taking/social media/blog world craziness?

Haaa, I love it because when Laura is working on her blog, I get to go play (PC) games.

9. Who does the dishes?

Laura used to insist on doing them because “…[she] made the mess”. I used to insist on doing them because Laura’s the one that cooks everything. Now it’s whoever gets to them first. Laura does more than me though.

10. What do you do for your day job and what are your favourite hobbies?

I used to be a bricklayer, which I am still sometimes involved in. Every now and then I go to a local film studio to work on an animation they’re doing. I spend most of my time working on a design and illustration business. As far as hobbies go, I love visiting cafes with friends, reading sci-fi/fantasy, playing games, watching movies and going to the gym or for a run. In summer, the beach and late-night volleyball are the go. Then there is art, travel and music… finding a good bar or chill out spot down some forgotten alleyway in the city. Car trips down south, nice wine. There is so much to do! I believe strongly that work-time is not time that’s written-off. In fact, it’s a privilege and something to be thankful for (even when work is sometimes horrible). But the best of life is in the in-between bits.

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So, that’s a very short introduction to the amazing man on the other side of the messy table (or more frequently, the couch). If you’d like to get to know him a little more, he’ll be sporadically blogging over at MonsterBot (where you can also see his evolving illustration and design work).

To Aaron: thanks my love, for two years of marriage. Thanks for being the strong but gentle, inspiring, loving and God-fearing man that you are. Thanks for putting up with my quirks, weaknesses, inadequacies and flaws… you’re constantly helping me to grow and to become a better version of myself. Thanks for believing in me, even when I succumb to doubt. I love you endlessly and I always will.

Laura & Aaronblog

Concluding photograph courtesy of Lance Chicote @ Lanceshotme creative photography. Other photographs by myself and Aaron during various walks around Perth city.

*I intended for this post to be accompanied by a recipe for crispy skinned salmon with asparagus and smoked roast potatoes (Aaron’s favourite) but an exceptionally busy week has defeated me. I hope to post the recipe some time in the next fortnight with a link back to this post.

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globe artichokes with lemon aïoli

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Fresh globe artichokes are a relatively new addition to the dinner rotation at our house. Whilst I’ve always loved the tender sweetness of preserved artichoke hearts in jars, the fresh version just seemed too messy and time-consuming to prepare.

However, whilst wandering my local market last week, I spied a pile of glossy green artichoke buds. Their purple-flecked exteriors and squeaky fresh petals were dripping with the dew of harvest. They were too beautiful to resist, so I quickly squirreled two into my shopping basket. I carried them home, wrapped in paper, with no distinct plans for preparation.

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Two days later, the artichokes were still neatly wrapped in the corner of my fridge crisper. I caught sight of a torn petal that had oxidized in the refrigerated air. The browned surface inspired action before my artichokes transformed into mush.

Enter Google, a pen and paper, roasted almonds and rooibos tea. Click, scrawl, crunch. Repeat. By the time the final almond was crunched and swallowed, I had the bones of an idea: steamed artichokes with thick, lemon-infused aïoli. Simple and delicious, a perfect celebration of spring.

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The pairing of artichokes with aïoli appears to be common across the fabric of the internet; where it originated, I’m not sure. However, after scraping the tender, sweet flesh off each petal with nothing more than my teeth, I felt like I was sitting on a cobbled street somewhere in Southern Italy. Each bite was more buttery, earthy and delicious than the last, beautifully accompanied by creamy olive oil, garlic and lemon aïoli.

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As the debris piled higher on my plate, the tough outer petals, fibrous stems and fuzzy choke gave way to the sweet, soft artichoke heart.

Aaron and I ate these the following day, sliced into wedges and crisped in a pan with smoky pancetta. A drizzle of lemon oil, some cracked pepper and parsley was all that was needed for a deliciously satisfying dish. We ate ours with aïoli-drizzled new potatoes, as the leftovers were too good to waste; however, I’m already imagining it piled high upon smoky, charred ciabatta. Next time.

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When choosing an artichoke, look for one that is bright green with a tight petal formation. A light squeeze at the head of the bud should yield a ‘squeaking’ noise that indicates freshness. Avoid artichokes that appear dry, brown or have split petals. Once purchased, artichokes should keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days (however, as with all vegetables, the sooner you eat them the better).

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Steamed Globe Artichokes

The recipe below was written for people like me, who don’t have a pot with a steamer basket. Your artichokes will half-boil and half-steam in broth (if you’re lucky enough to have a steamer basket, feel free to suspend your artichokes above the broth for maximal nutrient retention). *note: as artichokes are the immature flower buds from a North African thistle, I have used the word ‘petal’ to describe each individual leafy component. Occasionally, sources may interchange the word ‘leaf’ but rest assured, it’s one and the same.

  • 2 whole globe artichokes
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 smashed garlic cloves (I just hit them once with the back of a knife)
  • water

Wash your artichokes well under cold running water. With a sharp knife, remove the stalk, leaving 1cm from the base of the artichoke. I like to cut off about 2cm from the top of the artichoke for both presentation and cooking purposes (removing the top allows more moisture/steam to penetrate the internal artichoke) however this is entirely optional. I also use kitchen scissors to cut off the spiny tops from each petal; again, for aesthetic purposes.

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Rub all of the cut surfaces on the artichoke with some lemon juice to prevent oxidization (the cut surfaces will start going brown immediately). Pull off any smaller petals towards the base of the artichoke as they will likely break off during the cooking process (they won’t have much edible flesh on them anyway).

Fill a large saucepan with about 2 inches of water. Add in the 2 cloves of garlic, the bay leaf and the other half of the lemon (squeeze the juice and then toss in the lemon skin). Place the artichokes in the water, base/stem end down. Cover the pot and bring the mixture to the boil.

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When boiling, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. At the 20 minute mark, carefully turn the artichokes upside-down and then replace the pot lid. Cook for another 20 minutes, or until the artichokes are puffed and tender (a petal should tear off easily from the base of the vegetable). Remove the artichokes from the broth with a slotted spoon, allowing excess fluid to drain away. Set aside to cool slightly before eating with aïoli (recipe and more ‘eating info’ below).

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Lemon Aïoli

Makes 1 cup

Making aïoli is a very individual thing. Once you’ve mastered the art of a basic emulsion, you can play with different flavours to suit your individual palate. This version is a rather basic garlic, mustard and lemon aïoli with additional lemon zest. The quantities specified will result in a moderate-intensity aïoli with some garlic heat, the kick of lemon zest and some lingering savoury qualities from the mustard. I like it in small amounts with prepared artichokes; however, if you have a more sensitive palate, I’d switch half of the extra virgin olive oil for refined olive oil (which has a much milder flavour), reduce the garlic by half (you can omit it completely, if you like), omit the lemon rind and perhaps add in a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs. I’ve also drizzled in 1 tsp of truffle oil with a heavenly result.

From experience, I’d recommend that you make the aïoli by hand, with a hand whisk. It takes a bit of elbow grease but you have far more control over the emulsion than if you use a food processor.

  • 2 large fresh egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • pinch of rock salt
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • finely ground white pepper, to taste
  • water, as required

Place your egg yolks in a medium bowl with the mustard. Combine vigorously with a hand whisk until the yolks begin to appear viscous and opaque; the mustard should be completely emulsified.

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Start adding your olive oil, one drop at a time (being as patient as possible pays off here), whisking well to incorporate. Ensure that each drop is well combined before adding another. Gradually, your mixture should start to thicken to a creamy, emulsified consistency (if the mixture separates, stop adding oil and whisk well until the mixture comes back together. You can then resume the process).

When all of the oil is added, you should have a very thick, mayonnaise-like mixture (below). Set aside whilst you prepare your flavourings.

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With a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic and salt into a paste.

garlic mortar

Add to the aïoli with the lemon juice, whisk to combine (add a splash of water if required, until the mixture is of your desired consistency. Taste, then season with salt, pepper and lemon rind.

Place your finished aïoli into a jar or bowl, then refrigerate until use.

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Points to note: Add your oil slowly to prevent the mixture from splitting. As aforementioned, patience is everything if you desire a good emulsion. However, if your mixture does split, don’t panic: just get another fresh bowl, whisk an egg yolk in it, then gradually add in your separated mixture, a teaspoonful at a time, until the mixture starts to emulsify properly. Whisk in any oil that you have left.

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To eat your glorious creation: tear off a petal from the artichoke, then dip it into a little bit of creamy aïoli. Scrape the flesh off the leaf with your teeth, sucking up any juices. Discard the fibrous component of the petal, which is inedible. Repeat until all of the petals are gone.

Towards the centre of the artichoke, you’ll notice a soft, meaty base (the artichoke ‘heart’) and a fuzzy, fibrous core or ‘choke’. This needs to be carefully scooped out with a spoon, as per the images below (it’s pretty easy, but here’s a video from Ocean Mist Farms if you need a little extra assistance).

artichokeheart

chokels choke

When choke-free, you can cut the heart into little wedges and eat each with a tiny bit of aïoli (or alternately, smother it onto garlic-rubbed charred ciabatta with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, some black pepper and parsley. Delicious).

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Other great tutorials on preparation of artichokes:

*AND NOW… for something entirely different: you may or may not be aware that my husband, Aaron, works in design, illustration and 3D animation. He’s just updated his website MonsterBot. Click over to say hello (want something illustrated? Ask him!) and see some pretty pictures/videos here. Some of his artwork is also available for sale here (quality art prints, iPhone/iPad covers, textiles, hoodies and t-shirts, pillows, bags).

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