elizabeth kirby

life in the plumper: chronicles of lard and laughter


Thousand Oaks, California, USA
May 06


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JANUARY 17, 2012 7:41PM

When I Die: Two Things My Kids Want to Know

Rate: 35 Flag


      When I kick the bucket, my kids will ask two questions: 1) how much cash is left in the mattress for them and 2) who’s going to make artichoke soup when the old broad is pushing up geraniums?


         Oh, might be ugly but it’s true. Once the moolah is in their mitts, assuming I haven’t managed to bounce my last check, they’ll move on to number two. And when my babes realize their soup slave has relocated to that great bouillabaisse in the sky, their agitated faces will make Munch’s Mr. Scream look like he’s just returned from a week at the Golden Door.


         How did I create such a jambalaya? About 33 years ago, I enrolled in a cooking class with Chef James Sly of L’Orangerie, a swankily stupendous Los Angeles restaurant sporting cuisine à la française, eclipsing my tacos à la crapola. Neither a swanky nor a stupendous cook, I figured it was time to amp up my game from bean dip to something with more syllables.  


         Entrée Crème Purée D’Artichaut aka Artichoke Soup......

         This was the first course on the recipe manifesto. And after Annihilating the Fine Art of French Cooking, I was an eager student. Oh yeh, I had Julia’s book and worked over a few of her numbers. Worked ‘em good. Fried my eyebrows as well as the chicken when I flambéed the Coq au Vin. And by the time I got the Ratatouille on the table, I was underneath it, lying prone in the dead bug position after swirling those veggies like a tarantella. To say nothing of the sponge cake which was as light and frothy as the village smithy’s anvil.

         Back to class. At age 26, with my hair in a “Farrah” and the rest of me poured into something impractical, I had Chef Sly’s attention. Bonjour, Monsieur.

         Noting that I needed specific direction, zee Chef tossed an artichoke to me along with a knife that would make Jack the Ripper drool. He (not Jack – he wasn’t in the class) told me I was only as good as my utensils. Now that’s a line for the ages. At which point I recalled Mom rolling out that pie crust with a vodka bottle just minutes before she flung it (the dough, not the vodka of course) across the room. I refrained from sharing how a Smirnoff bottle was considered a useful tool in my house and decided I’d let my tight sweater do all the talking.

         Mano a mano with a mean looking artichoke, I began to work. I couldn’t pare a banana, let alone something green, coarse and prickly, with fifty leaves and a bad attitude. Reminded me of an old boyfriend.

          Vigorously, with coaching from the big Kahuna in the tall white hat, I trimmed that puppy down to the heart, then using a melon baller (how do they say that in French?), I scooped out the choke. Voilà. I was au courant. Au proficient. Au boobalicious. Julia, you might be a master but I look better in a tight sweater and I can tap dance, too. Neener neener neener.

          I tossed that artichoke heart into a pot of simmering chicken stock with a few other goodies à la française, then pureed, while whisking a little of this and a little of that. Un peu et un peu. Edible music appeared. The Rach 3 was translated into the first course.

          And the taste …oh the taste….was something way beyond Campbell’s vocabulary. Or mine. It was as smooth and sultry and delicately sensuous as anything I had ever devoured and I couldn’t wait to make it for my family, who would be impressed that I could not only sing all the words to the UCLA Fight song but I could ALSO cook.

         Thus began my soup saga which flourishes today. And when I kick the proverbial bucket, my kids who order out, order in, and fall into the “clueless cooks” category, will be soupless.

         It’s not my bod they’d want to cryogenically preserve. Rather, my ravenous offspring would prefer I get to work making massive batches of the stuff, transferred into the deep freeze right next to Ted Williams and the Cherry Garcia.

        So here, for the ages, is my Crème Puree D’Artichaut. Labor intensive but oh, très merveilleuse! C’est formidable! No tight sweater or vodka required. Still, an endangered species in my house. C’est la vie.


Crème Puree D’Artichaut

Per person:

1 large artichoke

½ cup of chicken stock

½ cup of crème fraîche

1 oz. sweet butter

½ egg yolk

2 T. dry sherry

1/4 tsp thyme

1/2 bay leaf,

salt, pepper, cayenne to taste

Crème fraiche

It’s easy to find crème fraîche in grocery stores today, but Chef Sly taught us to make it ourselves. So I do. I whisk several tablespoons of plain yogurt with a quart of cream, let sit at room temp (a day or two depending on how hot your kitchen is, baby) and suddenly, you’ll find that it thickens, considerably, like sour cream. Crème fraîche doesn’t “break” as easily as sour cream, that’s why it is used. Up to you…or ….buy it.



The time “intensive” part is prepping the chokes. Find the fattest, freshest, nicest artichokes available.


Wash the chokes well. Prepare a bowl of acidulated water – that’s water with a bunch of lemons to toss the prepared “hearts” in while you are cleaning the other artichokes. Don’t be alarmed as the trimmed raw chokes turn “brown.” They taste the same and for the most part, the color of the soup won’t be too terribly affected.

 With a sharp knife, begin trimming the choke down, carefully, until you get to the center. The heart. The good stuff.


 One you have a clean heart, remove the choke with a spoon or melon baller.



 Drop into the acidulated lemon water to prevent discoloration.


 Once all the chokes are cleaned, drain from the lemon water and drop into chicken stock with bay leaf, and thyme.


Simmer until very tender - about 20-30 minutes.


 Let cool slightly, then puree in batches.



        At this point, you've made "the base" which freezes perfectly. So that means when artichokes are in season, cheaper and more plentiful, you can make the base to be used at a later date.

        On the day I plan to serve the soup, a few hours before, I will whisk the egg yolks with half the crème fraîche and set aside. Then in a large pot, I'll drop in the soup "base" to begin heating, along with the remaining crème fraîche and the sherry, while whisking and warming. Once the soup base is warm, I'll add a bit of the warm soup base/creme fraiche mixture to the egg yolk/creme fraiche mixture, tempering the eggs. Then return the entire egg mixture into the pot and warm gently. Do not boil. Bring to a barely simmering point, cooking the egg mixture for about 7 minutes, and now...time to taste. Add a knifepoint of cayenne or just enough to give it a slight kick. Add butter to taste. (I actually add very little butter - I don't think you need too much.) Taste for salt and pepper. And I always add a bit more sherry. And a swirl of paprika. Bon appetit!


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You really take me back...I've eaten there many times and each one more delicious than the last. I'm printing this out and am eager to try it! THANKS!!!
OH BUFFY go for it! It is a true pain in the derriere...but exquisitely so.
Why, these are some lucky kids. Excellent read, and thanks, again, for the recipe. R
OMG! This sounds good!
Mmm-mmm good. And not in a campbell way. Will give it a whirl. Great story,too.
Delicious reading! I can only dream about it. My culinary skills have greatly diminished.
Thanks for this heavenly soup served up with some great storytelling. :)
Somebody needs to give you a TV show. I'm drooling.
Looks fabulous! Is there a way to make it all dairy, substitute for chicken stock? Thanks! :-)
wow That is one of the most interesting, decadent soups I have ever heard of. Thank you Thank you
Peeling...you could substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock. But I think if you use all cream, it could be a little bland. Try veggie stock...
Wow, your kids are lucky to have such a chef. Thanks for the recipe, Elizabeth! r.
Sounds good, much to my amazement, especially with the creme fraiche. Love your writing style.
The recipe and your wonderful photographs are just fine, but it's your story telling that has me fallen in love with this piece. What an excellent writer you are!
Rated - with a heart of lightness ♥
You've nailed a wonderful recipe and piece -- sounds delicious and not so intimidating as the "A" vegetable might be. I'm so glad to have lived a pastry chef's existence in this life -- I often tell my son after he's grouching at me, all the while eating forkfuls of some yummy food I've prepared for him, "it's hard to stay mad at your Mom when she cooks that good!" Thanks for sharing. Lovely.
el - artichokes; ARTICHOKES!!!!!!

My first solo gormet experiment include one egg plant and one artichoke. Cut the eggplant in half to see what was inside. Looked like something you could fry with a slice of Kraft cheese and some ketchup on toast.

The artichoke was something else. While munching on the egg plant sandwich I set the artichoke down on an open newspaper and began to divest it of individual leaves. The leaves just kept accumulating. Smaller and smaller until there was nothing left but a fuzzy stump and a pile of leaves. Useless vegetable........

I still really really want a pressed artichoke sandwich. Really. A TV guy in Israel had one cooked up between a couple of hot bricks. Is this something that can actually be done?
I cannot wait to make this.
EJDavid - Sure. Take your shears, and cut those nasty tips off the artichoke. Cut the stem off also, and wash well. Cut in half, vertically, and pull out the center choke. Make sense? Then oil well with EVO, rub with a clove of garlic, salt and pepper - then toss on a LOW grill...turn...turn...turn...will take a while. Until tender. What do you think?
finally the recipe......i have waited 22 years for that recipe....your writing is better than ever
So what are the two things that YOU want your kids to know? I bet they are good, too!
I'm drooling...and packing up my car in hopes to head to your house for a cup of this yummy soup!
Jennifer - now that's a GREAT open call...what do YOU want your kids to know...AFTER you've hopped over to that couturier row in the sky. Better than Occupy America... which is getting old.
Michelle - come to my house!! All of you....come to my house...for useless conversation and lots of dirty dishes.
I read your post yesterday and was disappointed that the comments were closed. I'm happy to see this on the cover and comments opened up. This was a fantastic post, in every way delicious. R
♥╚═══╝╚╝╚╝╚═══╩═══╝─╚╝...FRIEND Thanks for sharing this and more...
YUM. This I have to try.
I love artichokes and this sounds fabulous. As for the creme fraiche, I'd buy it. You may flip over this question but - I wonder how much difference it would make using canned artichokes over fresh. I'lll bet your tacos a la crapola are delicious too.
Sounds wonderful, but a lot of work.

Would you adopt me?
Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing. Did you learn anything else from Le Chef? B^) Wren
MMM. I must try it. Some time when I have a couple of days off and no plans. I love the sound of it, love your writing. This is the way cooking should be...not just the facts, but yacking too.
Hmmmm. Thanks for the recipe! When I kick the bucket; my step-children will be: where's the cash?! [assuming I haven't spent it all] and my own son will be: wait, I don't think we're finished here!
I hope your kids are paying attention. There are certain recipes I'd like to pass on as well, but I'm never sure they have the interest.
We will try this in our family and see if it is a hit, as well. It looks (and sounds) beyond delicious! I must say, artichokes are right up there with lobster dipped in butter for me - nothing finer! Thanks for sharing.