Thursday, May 10, 2018

Quick update! Popsicle book winner!

Shannon, I can't stand that you've had the book in your cart for 2 years! You're the winner! Send me your address, please. Thank you all for chirping in and playing. You are rhubarb lovers and popsicle lovers and lovers period. And I love you so. xo

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Vanilla-Rhubarb Popsicles (plus a buried spontaneous give-away)

These are an almost opalescent green-pink. So beautiful and achingly delicious that it's worth the delayed gratification of needing to wait for them to freeze solid.
It is all I can do not to rush outside into April’s slushy mud to yank up the first stalk of rhubarb and crunch into its juicy pink-and-green silk and strings just to feel slapped awake by spring. But I am a hoarder of the early stalks. I wait until there are enough to make something with: a speckled cake or an oozing crumble or these popsicles or, really, anything that brings the rhubarb into my home and cramps my jaw with the tingly smell of it.

There is nothing like it—the way rhubarb smells. I was just stirring it at the stove, thinking about trying to describe to you, and words failed me. It’s so sharp and strange, like grapefruit-scented bubble bath but with bright green leaves in it, and also a fist that sproings out of the bottle to punch you in the mouth.

This was on our after-dinner walk two nights ago. Couldn't the seasons, I don't know, kind of divide up their treasures a little bit? I'd be so mad if I were one of the seasons that wasn't spring.
Spring is such a relief this year. I feel the way the cats seem to feel, watching the squirrels from the back door in a kind of ecstasy of hunger and excitement. 

Imaginary hunting is very tiring.
The bright mornings! The peepers peeping and the red fox yelling from the woods for a mate! The fresh-faced violets and dandelions! The flying ants in my bedroom! Okay, not so much the flying ants. I have always loved spring, only I used to also tell a story about how I love winter too—the coziness and candlelight and stews and sudden-onset nighttime so you can get early into your pajamas with a very small little glass of whiskey—only I’m not sure it’s true. I mean, I do love all those things, but winter! My god. Except I couldn’t bear to wish it away because our Ben? He is leaving us at the end of the season after this one. I am willing time to pass slowly. Take your time, time! No rush.

Where was I? Rhubarb popsicles! Because not only is it spring, it is actually suddenly the dog days of summer and everyone is broiling and cranky at the end of the school day. At least yesterday they were. So I popped these in the freezer this morning to be ready by the time those poor schoolkins return home. Like every popsicle recipe I post, this one is from the brilliant People’s Pops recipe book, and if you still haven’t bought it on my recommendation, after all these years, then you should buy it now. It is just so strangely brilliant: every popsicle is the perfect flavor and sweetness and texture. You’ll wonder what you were thinking, waiting for so long. (Hey, spontaneous give-away! Comment to enter and I’ll pick a winner next Thursday and send you the book! You’ll love it.)

The only two rhubarb recipes in the book are kind of *perfumed*--one with jasmine tea and the other with elderflower—which is not something my family can deal with. My family who gags and chokes and cries out that they’ve bitten into a seashell-molded bar of guest soap if someone serves them so much as a spoonful of lavender ice cream. (Okay, they don’t actually complain. But they don’t like it.) So I just went with vanilla, which is my favorite flavor pairing with rhubarb, even more than strawberries. I know! That might be the most shocking thing I’ve ever written here. I happened to have a semi-pent vanilla pod in a bottle of homemade extract, so I used that, but you can just use vanilla extract. 
Shoulda saved some for a vanilla whiskey sour, ammiright?
Or skip it. Or sub in some strawberries for the rhubarb, ya animal.

Vanilla-Rhubarb Popsicles
Makes 10 popsicles
Adapted from the brilliant People’s Pops cookbook.

1 pound rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (this will be 3-5 stalks, depending on how robust they are)
1 cup vanilla simple syrup (recipe below)

Pour about ½ inch of water into a shallow, heavy, non-reactive saucepan and add the rhubarb. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally and then more frequently, until the pieces have mostly broken apart into a thick puree, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir until smooth then pour into a large measuring cup with a spout. (And if you don’t have a 4-cup measuring cup, get one for god’s sake. You will use it all the time and wonder why you cheaped out on yourself all these years.) You should have between 2 and 2 ¼ cups of rhubarb mash. Stir in the vanilla syrup, pour the mixture into your popsicle molds (leave a little room), insert sticks and freeze until solid. The recipe says 4-5 hours, but I find it takes more like 6-8 for mine.

Vanilla Simple Syrup
Makes 1 cup

2/3 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
½ a vanilla bean, sliced open or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is transparent. Turn off the heat and add the vanilla bean or vanilla extract. Once the syrup has cooled a bit, fish out the vanilla bean and use a pointy little knife to scrape the seeds into the syrup and then use your fingers to swish the pod around into the syrup and then put the spent pod in your ice coffee, because why not.

And then when you by accident made oatmeal. Sigh. My rhubarb has too much green in it to stay pink, but I swear it is gorgeous-tasting.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Perfect (cough *GF* cough) Banana Bread

Where does the time go? Honestly. Forgive me. Because I know there is nowhere else on the internet you can go for recipes! [crying-laughing emoji] Life sure gets busy, no? We’ve been marching for gun control and packing lunches. Despairing over injustice and reading excellent books. I have been awake more than usual in the night and also going religiously to zumba. I have been an asshole and a good friend, mortified and happy and compassionate and irate in equal measure.

We’ve been watching America’s Funniest Home Videos before bed, in the hope that it will help us all sleep, and we laugh, because the people and animals are so wonderfully crazy, everybody getting hit in the crotch because of  piñatas, and also some of it is so depressingly sad and weird, and people actually get hurt, and I never know what to think anymore. Or sometimes, maybe, I still do.

Anyways, as many of you know if you’re been following along, we are dealing with an Extreme Gluten-Free Situation in our household, and I am doing more baking than ever, trying to nail certain favorite things and create certain other new favorite things. This banana bread is the former, and it’s absolutely perfect: tender-crumbed and moist without being gummy; deeply browned and crunchy-edged without being gritty. 

Only other GF bakers will understand why I need to praise this bread in reverse, by listing its un-negative qualities. There are just so many pitfalls! Like the thing where a loaf or cake comes gloriously out of the oven looking glorious? Only then what it really is is a gorgeous shell filled with a kind of treasure trove of inglorious raw batter.

If you are not catering to the non-glutens, then use whatever mix of flour you like, and it will be delicious! Still totally worth making, because it is actual good banana bread, I promise, not some weird diet loaf. Unless you’re on a weird diet! And then make it with apple water and aloe dust, or whatever you need to do. I am with you 100%. Believe me.

That is an insanely delicious product called "vanilla creme fraiche" that arrives in vast donated cases at the soup kitchen where I volunteer. Soup and vanilla creme fraiche for all! It is crazily good, but cream cheese would be a fine thing to spread on your already-moist banana bread, if you found it just needed a certain something.
Perfect Banana Bread (that is gluten-free—or not)
I think I already said everything I wanted to say up top. xo

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1 cup sugar (I use ½ white sugar and ½ coconut sugar, but you could use a mix of white and brown sugars, or whatever you like. It doesn’t really matter.)
2 ripe bananas (you could use a 3rd banana and skip the sour cream, but I wouldn't)
Sour cream (around ½ cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour (see note below)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
¼ cup small gluten-free oats—the instant kind—or regular gluten-free oats buzzed briefly in a blender

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a loaf pan.

Cream together the butter and sugar in an electric mixer, and leave it creaming while you mash the bananas. Measure the bananas and add enough sour cream to make 1 ½ cups. Stir in the vanilla.

While the butter and sugar is STILL creaming, sift or whisk together the flour(s), baking soda, and salt. Stir in the oats.

Now add the eggs, one at a time, to the creamed butter, beating each one in well. Add the banana mixture and beat well again, then add the dry ingredients and beat just until mixed. (I’m never sure, if you’re using gf flour, if it even matters if you overbeat something! I mean, there’s no gluten to develop, so who really gives a fuck? But still I err on the side of caution because #goodgirl.)

Scrape the batter into the pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until the loaf looks done and a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs on it. Cool briefly in the pan—3 minutes?—then tip onto a cooling rack and really, really try to cool it completely, or for at least ½ hour, before slicing.

Note about the flour: I use 1/3 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour (from Trader Joe’s), 1/3 cup coconut flour, and 1/3 cup of this crazy and delicious whole-grain flour I mix up to make the beautiful breads from this book. That blend is equal parts brown-rice flour, teff flour, sorghum flour, and (gf) oat flour. I know. I might as well add bone meal and pine starch, but what can I tell you. It’s a blend I love. And it has xanthan gum in it—around 1 teaspoon per cup of flour, I think, is how it works out. What I recommend is using either ½ cup of a flour with xanthan gum in it, or adding 1/2 teaspoon to the recipe if none of your flours have xanthan gum. Does that make sense? (I just drank a beer really quickly.)

You could just use 1 ½ cups of your favorite GF flour, or try a mix of almond, oat, rice, whatever you think would be good. Please report back!

A note about oats: Oats are only gluten-free if they say they're gluten-free, and this is for one of two reasons: some oats are grown in fields where wheat seeds blow in and grow companionably alongside, everyone harvested all together to the bellyache of unsuspecting celiac folks; other oats grow unaccompanied by wheat, but are processed in gluten-contaminated facilities. Gluten-free oats are safely unmolested by other sneaky grains.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Slivered Collards with Brown-Butter Pepperoncini Vinaigrette and Toasted Breadcrumbs

I got the idea of making a raw collard salad, like the kindof kale we all know and love, from the “Shaved Collard Greens with Cashews and Pickled Peppers” recipe in the the exciting, inspiring book Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables, which I have now had to return to the library (sigh). 
I am also reading this book, and it is so, so deliciously good.
The collards are a little smoother than kale, a little silkier and stronger tasting, both sweeter and more bitter both, if that makes sense. The pepperoncini is in his recipe; the brown butter is all me. And boy is this a delicious late-winter dish: spicy and zippy, but rich; green tasting, but also deeply brown tasting; leafy and crunchy and well-loved by everyone. You could, of course, make it with kale if you prefer. I haven’t, but I am completely confident it would be great.
Is this a good place to tell you I have a new column up over at Motherwell?
Slivered Collards with Brown-Butter Pepperoncini Vinaigrette and Toasted Breadcrumbs
I have made this salad a number of times, and sometimes I have put grated parmesan in it. You can do that, but I actually think that the flavors are cleaner without the funk of cheese. Although maybe something is wrong with me, since I have never thought that anything ever would be better without cheese, and I am suffering from dementia, and you should ignore my advice. I am mentioning that the collards would ideally be room-temperature because the dressing is butter-based, and it will have a slight inclination to congeal on cold greens in a cold bowl. Starting with everything a little warmer than cold is ideal. (What if you put raisins in the dressing? Mightn’t that be good, in an agrodolce kind of way? I am just thinking out loud here.)

1 bunch clean, room-temperature collard greens (or kale)

For the crumbs:
¼ cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the dressing:
½ stick salted butter
½ cup pepperoncini rings
¼ cup liquid from the pepperoncini jar

Prepare the collards: Strip the leaves from their stems by holding the stem in one hand and hand-jobbing the leaf off with your other hand, if you know what I’m saying. Save the stems to make this. Chiffonade the leaves: stack them, roll them up tight, and sliver them across into fine ribbons. You should have around 5 cups of slivered collards—more or less is fine, just adjust the dressing accordingly—and you should put them in a large salad bowl.

Toast the crumbs: Melt the butter in a small pan over medium heat, then add the crumbs and salt and sauté, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are crisp and golden, around 5 minutes. Scrape the crumbs into a bowl so they can cool without burning.

Make the dressing: Melt the butter in the crumb pan over medium heat, then continue cooking it, swirling the pan constantly, until the butter gets golden-brown and smells nutty and insane, another 3 or 4 minutes. It will foam up at some point, and then the foaming will subside, which is around the time you will notice that it’s just about done. Immediately dump in the pepperoncini and their liquid, and cook for a minute or two, swirling the pan, until the liquid is a little bit reduced.

Pour the hot dressing over the collards and toss well. If you like, you can use your hands to massage the kale, which will soften and excite it, but you’ve already given it the hand-job treatment, so this added sexual favor is totally up to you. Taste for salt (it may not need any), then top with bread crumbs, and serve immediately. 

The prize for reading to the end! This newly minted fifteen-year-old. What the?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Cooked Stems (I mean, Happy Valentine's Day!)

What? Cooked stems don't give you that loving feeling? Whoa-oah, that loving feeling? I understand, but really they should. You think you're all about the Chile Tortilla Egg Bake or the Fall-to-Pieces Ribs, but this. This is the recipe of recipes, I swear to god.

But first, allow me to acknowledge tomorrow, a day you maybe love or maybe hate or maybe have mixed feelings about. Me, I typically love it, what with the near-comical lack of pressure I put on myself. For example, here's the card I'm giving Michael.

It comes from a long and prestigious lineage of such cards. 

I made the first one when I was leading a Valentine-making workshop in Ben's fourth-grade class and we were cutting up an old catalogue of natural history prints. It has proved, as evidenced here, incredible versatile. My other easy-but-good offering this year is this: shirt from Target, embellished with a sewn-on heart, cut from a felted old wool sweater. Birdy's on the hem, Ben's on the sleeve. 

But I have other ideas! Because maybe you are aiming a little higher with your sweeties and children than NEAR INSTANTANEOUS. I understand. I've been there myself.

Valentine's Day Ideas
Heart Beet Valentines
PBJ Valentine Cookies
More Valentine's Day Ideas
Last-Minute Valentines, including Almost-Instant Heart-Shaped PizzaValentine's Day Ideas
Heart Beet Valentines
PBJ Valentine Cookies
More Valentine's Day Ideas
Last-Minute Valentines, including Almost-Instant Heart-Shaped Pizza
Anatomical Heart Freezer Paper Stencil

But enough about love, blah blah, romance, etc., because I am only in it for THE STEMS. If, like me, you make a lot of kale salad or collard rolls or other raw-greens dishes that require you to strip the tender leaves from their vigorous stems, this is your recipe. Also, weirdly, this is my introduction to the Instant Pot, which my brother got me for my birthday in October, and which I am only mentioning here now, for the first time. I know you're wanting a magic recipe where you're at work, thinking about stew, and the ingredients assemble Fantasia-like and cook themselves in your absence, but for now I've just got this. The stems. Because I know you hate throwing them away as much as I do. And, cooked like this, they are a near-perfect food: yielding and mellow, but briny, and with a bit of bite from the vinegar and pepper flakes. Plus, how fun would it be to bring this to, like, a robotics potluck or an algebra party or some other STEM event! Do you feel me?

Cooked Green Stems
These are good hot, room-temperature, and cold. And a container of cooked stems in the fridge is like money in the bank. A really terrible bank, I guess, but still. I love them so. Oh, also, if you don't feel like cooking the stems at the moment you're using their leaves, just stick them back in the fridge until you are. 

1 generous glug of olive oil (a tablespoon or two)
1 or 2 or 3 sliced or chopped cloves or garlic
1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper flakes (or 1/4 teaspoon of something spicier)
The stripped stems from a large bunch of collards, kale, or chard, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1/2 cup water
1 generous splash of white vinegar (maybe 2 tablespoons)

If you're doing this in an Instant Pot, then use the sauté function and cook the garlic in the oil for 30 seconds or so, until it is just fragrant. Add the pepper flakes and stems and stir for a few seconds, then add the salt, water, and vinegar. Cancel the sauté function, put the lid on with the venting turned off, and set the pot to cook at high pressure for 10 minutes. Allow to release naturally for at least 15 minutes before eating. Yum, yum, yum.

You can follow these exact instructions for a regular pressure cooker (which is what I still mostly use), or you can do this in a small  covered pot over low heat, cooking the stems for about an hour and checking the water level occasionally. You could probably slow cook them too! I just never have.