Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pop over some time.

Rainy morning breakfast. :)

My kids love popovers. They're simple, they're fun, and you can fill them with ridiculous quantities of jam before your parents notice that you're doing it.

My family rediscovered popovers during a summer visit to our favorite, place, Acadia National Park in Maine. The Jordan Pond House, which is on a lovely lakefront spot inside the Park, has been serving afternoon tea for about 100 years, so you can sit and partake of refreshments there and imagine yourself among the Rockefellers. The popovers and strawberry jam are very nice, though the rest of the menu is unspectacular. It's really more about the setting than anything else. It's especially not about the restaurant itself, which began its days as a lovely grand structure with hulking fireplaces and porches all around. A fire destroyed it in 1979, which was spectacularly bad timing, because it meant that the redesign happened in the early 80s - not really a high point for American architecture. It's not ugly, exactly, just not quite what you imagine as you wander around the park and see the imposing stone bridges and gatehouses built by John D. Rockefeller.

Jordan Pond House used to look like this:

And now:

Oh, well. The park is still gorgeous and popovers are still worth eating. If you go there, just sit out on the lawn and face the water, where troublesome views of the building won't distract you. Perhaps you can recreate the 19th century experience for yourself by wearing a large hat and uncomfortably constricting undergarments.

Or you can just make popovers at home. The process is great for work with kids because there are so few ingredients and it's so quick; my kids just take turns pouring things into the blender and then peeking through the oven window. You'll need:

1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 T butter, melted and cooled, plus more for preparing the pan

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly brush the cups of a popover pan with melted butter. Mix all the ingredients in a blender for 30 seconds, then pour into your prepared pan (the cups should be no more than 1/2 full). Bake for about 20 minutes in a convection oven, 30-40 minutes in a regular oven. The popovers are done when they've puffed and turned a deep golden brown.

As my favorite guy Alton Brown points out, the popovers puff because of steam created inside, so once you remove them from the oven, it's wise to make a tiny cut in the top of each one to prevent disappointing sogginess.

I like mine with tons of butter. My kids prefer, as I've mentioned, to use popovers as an excuse to eat a full half pint of jam in one sitting. They're also very nice filled with chicken salad. Give it a try.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pickled Pink: Rhubarb

There's certainly never a dull moment with rhubarb. Consider these fun facts:

- The leaves of the Rheum Rhebarbarum plant are potentially toxic, but the beautiful red stalks are edible (ooh - danger! intrigue! flirting with death while eating a vegetable!).*

- Legendary Brooklyn Dodgers broadcaster Red Barber used to say that players were "havin' a rhubarb" when fights broke out on the field. Not only did the phrase become one of his trademark expressions, but it stuck so well that Ebbets Field was often called the "Rhubarb Patch."

- When film and stage directors need to create a scene with a crowd stirring in the background, extras are often told to shout the word "rhubarb" repeatedly, thus evoking a sense of hubbub and general excitement.

As if that varied and colorful background weren't enough, rhubarb can also make lovely pies, compotes and even wine. My father loved rhubarb cobbler, and my husband considers the first fresh strawberry rhubarb pie a more critical harbinger of summer than Memorial Day. All that's fine, but yesterday I decided to take rhubarb in a different direction, and pickled it.

Well. Why on earth did I wait so long to consider this application? These rhubarb pickles are tender and tangy, with a nice spicy kick at the finish. I think they'll be fabulous with simple grilled meats. I'd also consider using pickled rhubarb to top a baked sweet potato or a green salad with some cheese. It's quite simple to make:

Pickled Rhubarb

4-5 large fresh rhubarb stalks, chopped
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup white sugar (I prefer cane sugar)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1-2 T kosher salt
a pinch of dried cloves
a small (1-2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1-4 small dried peppers such as jalapeno or habanero

Combine the vinegar, sugars, salt, cloves and peppers in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and stir until sugars dissolve. Remove from heat and let the mixture cool for about 5-10 minutes. Place the rhubarb pieces in a large glass jar, and pour the hot liquid over them. Let cool for 30 minutes, then refrigerate for 24 hours before serving to allow the flavors to mellow. The pickles will keep, refrigerated, for 4-5 days.

A note on the dried peppers: I used two small dried habanero peppers, and the resulting pickles were pretty hot - not blisteringly, tongue-numbingly hot, but hot. Jalapenos would make a milder pickle, and if you really don't want much heat you could omit the peppers altogether or use 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes for brightness without strong heat. The ginger also spices it up a bit, and next time I make these I'm going to use twice as much, I think, to make the flavor a little more complex.

*OK, so you'd have to eat pounds and pounds of bitter rhubarb leaves before you suffered any significant consequences, but it's more fun to say the plant is really dangerous.

Saturday, May 23, 2009


More fresh spring radishes today. This one just cried out for a little transformation.

I also used the radish greens in my all purpose Good for You Green Soup. I've been used to tossing them into the compost and dismissing them as nasty, bitter and generally inedible, and for that I repent. The soup made with these greens had a bit of watercress flavor - it's certainly worth a try.

Good For You Green Soup is one of my favorite versatile comfort foods, easy to make and pretty reliable, and, if you don't indulge in the last minute splash of dairy, actually pretty low in calories. The base is nice and simple, and almost any spring vegetables work as accents. I've made it with asparagus, radish greens, spinach and kale. The soup is forgiving because you really don't need to measure ingredients - just toss in a handful or two of what you like. Mix the greens (spinach and asparagus are nice together). Leave out the leeks if you don't want to be bothered with them.

For 2-4 servings, you will need:

6 or 7 new potatoes, peeled and diced
Chicken or vegetable stock (about 2 cups)
Salt to taste
1 sprig of fresh herbs such as thyme, marjoram, oregano (or about 1 tsp dried - use what you like, and use more if you like the flavor)
1 medium shallot, sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, sliced
1-2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), finely chopped
Any of these spring greens: 8-10 asparagus spears, woody ends removed; 1-2 large handfuls of radish greens, spinach, watercress or kale (if using kale, remove the leafy green parts from the ribs and chop)

Put the potatoes, stock, salt and herbs in a saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 6-8 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the butter or oil in a small skillet and gently saute the leeks about 1 minute, then set aside. If you're using radish greens, add them to the skillet, stir a bit and cook over low heat, covered, until the greens have wilted, about 5-8 minutes.

When the potatoes are soft, add the leeks and asparagus or greens to the saucepan and simmer, covered, about 5 more minutes (if using asparagus, cook until it can be easily pierced with the tip of a paring knife). Allow the soup to cool a bit, and then puree (I use a stick blender, but you could cool this more and puree in a regular blender, too).

You can serve the soup hot or at room temperature. If you'd like, heat in a saucepan before serving, and stir in a splash of cream, stirring until heated through. The potatoes will make the soup thick and creamy enough, but adding dairy at the end does give it a nice velvety texture. Then top with fresh ground pepper, crumbled bacon, or chives.

A final radish note: after feeling very pleased with myself for creating the delightful radish art pictured up top, I learned about La Noche de Rabanos, a Mexican Christmas festival that celebrates local agriculture in Oaxaca. Let's just say the carving gets a little more elaborate than mine.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


This is what came home with me last week. My daughter and I drove past Verrill Farm in Concord, MA, and I was completely taken in by these gorgeous things out front, all local. Fiddleheads, ramps, radishes, asparagus. Heather, who is 4, is highly suspicious of all vegetables (we're working on that), but even she had to admit that those radishes were beautiful. She asked me if they would taste like their colors, and for a moment I was tempted to say yes, but I know that a 4 year old expects bright pink to taste...well, nothing like a radish tastes. They were bitter and crisp and peppery and I ate all of them in one fell swoop. Sliced, on really great crusty bread with really good rich butter and some salt. If you're wondering what one does with the rest of that stuff, especially the fiddleheads - just blanch them, saute them in olive oil for a few minutes, and eat. I did the same thing with the asparagus, chopped up the ramps and added them to the saute pan, and that, with what was left of the good bread, was dinner. I'm telling you, I don't do recipes if I can avoid it. I figure that food that grows in more or less the same place and is ready to harvest at more or less the same time can all be eaten together and will taste good.

And it did. It tasted like spring.

And so it begins...

I love food. I love to look at it, cook it, read about it, learn about get the idea. From time to time I'm struck by the fact that this is all an unimaginable luxury. And that's when I find myself wanting to talk about food the most - to share that deliberate appreciation, even if it borders on the ridiculous, with other people.

So here we go. I want mostly to write about what I think of as "real" food - beautiful, delicious things that come straight from the earth, or a fabulous combination of those things. Things that don't come from boxes or bags or machines. There's so much available for us to eat that I think we often lose sight of what real food is. And yes, I know you've read enough about whole food and local organic produce and sustainable agriculture and celebrity chefs...that's not really what I want to write about. I just want to write about food that I love, food that I think looks beautiful and tastes wonderful and just happens to be good for us at the same time. And let me say for the record that, while I'm admittedly a bit of a food snob, I don't think that all processed food is evil. I just don't really want to look at pictures of it or talk about it. You may give in to a craving from time to time, but I'm certain that you've never looked at a fast food hamburger, squashed and soggy after sitting in its wrapper, and thought it was beautiful.

I hope you'll join me and celebrate with me. Thanks.