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A couple months ago, David Lebovitz posted a recipe for sugar-crusted popovers, which I immediately bookmarked in my, “Ooh, those look good!” file.  With school, traveling, and life, I forgot about them until, well, now.

I haven’t used my muffin tin in a while.  The cupcakes I posted about were made at my mom’s house, and other than those I don’t remember the last time I made a muffin or a cupcake.  It was so nice to pull out the muffin tin, butter the nine bowls, and admire its little rust spots and dings.  This is a happy, well-used muffin tin.

I like things baked in muffin tins, or things prepared into individual portions generally.  It’s an amazing sense of accomplishment for me to survey 30 servings of spanakopita, or 24 iced cupcakes, or the multitude of Christmas cake pops.  Cookies don’t do it for me in the same way, unless they need to be iced or decorated.  The accomplishment comes in the repetition of a process, which I get with these popovers.  Once they’re baked, you brush them with butter and roll them in cinnamon sugar.  Pioneer Woman has a similar recipe for French Breakfast Puffs that are less popover-like and more muffin-like, but still delicious.  I’ve made them several times, but Handsome now prefers these.

I’ll be honest:  I’ve never had a popover.  I don’t know what one is supposed to taste like, look like, or feel like.  I’m unaware of the appropriate texture.  I’m not able to tell you how these compare to other popovers you may have had, but they tasted like nothing so much as a fried, sugary donut.  Except it’s baked!  The donut similarity was a nice surprise for me, and invites lots of variations.  The addition of nutmeg or cinnamon to the batter, rolling in glaze and sprinkles….

The preparation, however, left a bit to be desired in my kitchen.  A blender is recommended for beating the ingredients together.  I don’t have a blender.  I have a tiny food processor, and I hit its limit making these popovers.  I received the food processor as a gift, and I love it.  It’s wonderful.  But it’s very, very tiny, so I should have either halved this recipe or made it in two batches.  I was too busy running around to find washcloths for the pool of batter that appeared out of nowhere below my food processor to take a photo, but suffice it to say that I could have gotten ten popovers out of this recipe had I been able to use a blender and not made the world’s largest medium-sized mess.

If you have a blender, though, this recipe is so, so easy.  No bowls, no mixing by hand, nothing hard.  Just toss in all the ingredients but the flour, mix, toss in the flour, mix, and pour into greased muffin tins.

In David Lebovitz’s photos, his popovers sink quite a bit in the center.  Mine did not.  They puffed up a lot, actually, and only dented a little in the center.  After reading some of the comments on his post, though, I think that may be okay.  I didn’t mind, in any case.  Be prepared for a very eggy flavor, which took me by surprise initially.

Sugar-Crusted Popovers
Adapted from David Lebovitz

You will need:

Popovers
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk (David recommends whole; I used 2% and they came out fine)
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 c. flour

Preheat oven to 400, and grease 9 cups in a muffin tin.

Combine all ingredients except flour in a blender or food processor and blend a few seconds. 

Add flour to blender, all at once, and blend until smooth.

Fill nine muffin cups about 2/3 full.

Bake 30-35 minutes (I baked mine a little less than 30), until popovers are dark, golden brown.

Remove from pan as soon as popovers are cool enough to handle, and cool on wire rack.  They will deflate a little; that’s okay.

Sugar coating
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 c. melted butter

Combine cinnamon and sugar in a bowl and whisk to blend.  When popovers are cool enough to handle, brush each popover all over (even on the bottom) with melted butter and roll them in the cinnamon/sugar mixture until coated.

Enjoy!

Thanks to David Lebovitz for allowing me to adapt this recipe for this site.

When Handsome and I had just started dating, he clued me into the miracle that is Tillamook cheddar cheese.  Tillamook, which comes in medium, sharp, and extra sharp varieties, melts well over nachos, tastes great on its own, and happens to make the best grilled cheese ever.  This cheese is not expensive, and over the past several years I have seen it show up in more grocery stores.  My local HEB grocery store carries it for about $5 a pound, give or take, and it keeps well in a ziploc bag in the fridge.

Our hometown grocery store has a “Good and Grainy” variety of bread that also makes the perfect grilled cheese, and I always forget to stock up when I go home.  Alas, I have not been able to find a sufficient approximation in my current locale,  but the nine grain bread made by my local grocery store does the trick just fine.

I also have a trick for keeping my bread fresh, as I don’t eat bread that often.  I keep my bread in the freezer, properly sealed, all the time.  The bread melts on the skillet, and the thawing bread also gives your cheese more time to melt.

I understand the appeal of a good ole Wonderbread and Kraft singles sandwich.  It hearkens back to childhood memories of grilled cheese and tomato soup, and it has its place (particularly when the eater is about eleven years old).  I’m an adult now, and my grilled cheese has grown up as well.

Growing up is hard, though.  I frequently get overexcited and set the burner to a higher heat than is appropriate for my grown-up grilled cheese, resulting in either burned bread or cheese that hasn’t melted.  No fun.  But when I do it right, this grilled cheese stands up well to dunking in tomato soup or serving alongside a simple snack.  It also makes a quick and easy snack.

A word about the bread: A grainy bread adds a nice nuttiness to the sandwich, but will completely overpower milder cheeses.  If you get ambitious and decide to do a caprese salad-style sandwich, for example, you will want to change the bread you use as mozzarella will disappear behind a flavorful bread.  Trust me, I’ve tried.

If you are counting calories, too, you can easily substitute olive oil for butter, or use half the butter and a drizzle of oil.  Tastes great!

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese

You will need:
2 slices whole-grain bread per sandwich
1 pat of butter per sandwich
Several slices of cheese, to taste

Heat a small skillet on medium heat.  Place the butter in the skillet to melt it; when melted (you can let it brown– browned butter is delicious!), swirl it around in the pan.

Meanwhile, slice the cheese.  I use the sides of my box grater, but a knife would work fine.  Cover one slice of bread with the cheese, place the bread (bread side down!) on the skillet, and top with the other slice of bread.

Use a spatula to press down on the sandwich, allowing the bread to soak up all that delicious butter.  Then, leave it alone for a few minutes.  You want the skillet to be no hotter than medium, even though it takes longer, so the cheese melts properly; this will take 3-5 minutes per side.  When the first side is done (all crispy and brown), flip the sandwich over and do the other side.

When done, cut the sandwich into triangles and consume. Triangles, people. Triangles.

If you must cut the sandwich into something other than triangles, I will allow you to cut it into small squares, to serve as croutons in a bowl of tomato soup.  You must seek my written permission first, however.

Handsome is gone this week on a work trip, so I am all by my lonesome.  Incidentally, Handsome is on a totally awesome trip: He rode his motorcycle from Texas to California for a conference and drive through rain, wind, and snow (seriously) to get there.  He feels completely badass.  Sorry if that word offends, but I think it entirely appropriate, and it’s the one he used.  He has my camera because I wanted him to document all the sites and critters he saw on his way.

That’s just as well, because while he’s been away I’ve been practicing in the kitchen and the results have been… shall we say… not anything I want preserved for posterity.

I got excited about making pizza margherita again this weekend.  I had a craving for it, and I was all alone, so I indulged.  I mixed the yeast in with the water and flour.  I mixed everything else.  I kneaded.  I had a beautiful ball of dough.  I let my dough rise in a bowl on the stove while the oven preheated.

Since the oven was preheating to 500 degrees, the bottom of the dough ball got all crusty.  When I tried to stretch the dough out, it kept tearing.  Sigh.  Kitchen: 1, Lacey: 0.

I also bought these awesome little bocconcini to put on the pizza, which I sliced first.  Bocconcini come in a container with some sort of liquid, and I neglected to dab them dry, so one portion of my pizza kind of liquefied.  The crust was dry, but the cheese and the sauce came together in a strange way and the result, while totally edible, was severely unattractive.  Score another one for Kitchen, who was apparently working against me.

I also had no basil, and decided not to buy any as I had a metric ton of fresh parsley.  I know that basil and parsley are very different, but I also know that one can make a parsley pesto, so I was curious about the results.  I did not use any dry basil, and I really missed the basil.  I was so sad without my basil.  The parsley had a vague celery taste to it, which was off in my pizza.

And I overloaded the parmesan cheese.  I never, ever thought I would say this, but once the pizza was out of the oven, I used too much parmesan cheese.  All in all, a completely edible pizza, but by far less stellar than my first effort.

To make myself feel better, I made chocolate chip cookies.  Nothing special; I just used the recipe on the back of the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag.  I had some leftover mini chocolate chips, so I used a mix of mini and regular chips.

I usually made these cookies on a whim, so I seldom soften the butter.  I just slice it, put it in a bowl in the preheating oven, and let it melt about two-thirds of the way.  Then I mix it in.  The results are always, always perfect.  This time, I thought, I will do these cookies the way Toll House intended.  I will soften the butter.

I should not have softened the butter.

I don’t think it was the butter’s fault.  It was probably my fault: my oven may have been too hot, I may have overmixed the batter, I may have been off my game because of the pizza fail, but I think it all started when I changed my technique and let the butter come to room temperature all on its own.

I made the cookies in three batches, and I burned the first and last batches.  The middle batch was not burned but those cookies looked… weird.  Not like my cookies.  Sort of oddly puffy, and they didn’t crinkle down the way I like. Le sigh.

A year or two ago, these kitchen setbacks would have sent me into tears.  I made Handsome a dish called Arroz con Pollo that I’d never even tried right after we moved in together.  I was so overwhelmed by the flavor of cumin, which I have since learned that I don’t like in large amounts or as a primary seasoning, that I could not eat the dish.  I found it inedible.  I was crushed, and spent an hour in the bathroom crying.  Handsome, being the man he is, swore he loved it, finished off three servings, and took leftovers to work the next day.  It was about a year before I could use cumin in anything again.

I am not that woman now.  I ate my ugly, tough-crusted pizza and reminded myself t0:

  • Let the dough rise on the counter
  • Use fresh basil, as nothing else will do
  • Use the big mozzarella balls, even though they cost more, or at least towel dry the bocconcini
  • Be gentle when stretching the dough

I’m also making my way through my strange, burned, crunchy chocolate chip cookies by dipping them in milk.  I will lower my oven a little next time, and melt most of my butter.

I’m glad I’m becoming the kind of cook who can make mistakes.  My mom told me once that she thought I needed to learn to fail.  She thinks that failing once in a while teaches you to get back on the horse, or something like that. Mom: Arroz con Pollo, pizza, and cookies.  Check.  I ate dinner with a friend tonight, but I have a baby shower to go to this weekend and I think I am going to try and make my own thin mints to take with me.  Handsome loves thin mints, so I will save him some, too.  I had a bad weekend in the kitchen, but not every day in the kitchen is going to be a good one.  But just so no one thinks that any magic happens here, I want to share my failures once in a while, too.

Coming soon: Polenta or Risotto alla Nana, as soon as Handsome is back with my camera and I decide which one sounds the most delicious.

Since I started this blog, I’ve had a couple of emails from family members to the tune of, “If you like, here is my recipe for ___.”

All I can say is, yay.  In the past week, I have been offered recipes for jam, polenta, risotto, and bread, to name a few.  This has made me think of recipes that I have made with family members: mom’s lasagna; my stepmom’s peach cobbler that, if I recall, has only four ingredients; Dad’s deer jerky; other Dad’s sesame chicken.

My great-grandmother on my father’s side passed away just over a year ago, and she was famous in our family for her ways in the kitchen.  In particular, she made chocolate pie that would make you drool just to see it.  Thankfully, a cousin of mine was interested and geographically close enough to learn many of Nanny’s recipes in her own kitchen before she passed.  My grandpa has sent me a couple of her recipes, and I will be hounding him for more as the years pass.

My mom, I know, has expressed frustration in the past at not being able to reproduce some of her grandmother’s recipes.  She tells a story about being on the phone with her grandmother, who was narrating her recipe for homemade biscuits.  She instructed my mom to add milk to the mixture, and when Mom asked, “How much?” her grandmother replied, “Oh, just until it looks right!”  For me, this highlights the ephemeral nature of recipes and of meals in general.  After my great-grandfather passed away, my dad gave me one of the last jars of pear jelly he made.  It’s been in my fridge, unopened, since he passed, because I feel like I should do something special with it.  It shouldn’t go on toast while I have my coffee in the morning.  Or should it?

I have a unique family.  I have a mom, a dad, and a stepdad.  I have six siblings, three to whom I am close, and only one of whom shares my last name.  By extension, I also have more grandparents than a lot of people.  I have family members whose only link to one another is me.  In my stepdad’s family, there are five of us with four last names.  I have a grandmother who lives thousands of miles away, but with whom I email pretty regularly.  I learned at an early age that family is not predicated on blood, or geography, or nomenclature.  Your family are the people who welcome you at their dinner table, no matter how long it’s been.  I once heard my grandfather say, “If you claim us, we’ll claim you.”

Recently, Esquire magazine did a feature on Roger Ebert, who you may or may not know has, due to illness, lost the ability to eat and speak.  In the article, Roger Ebert tells the interviewer about how he and his wife continue to go to restaurants for meals.  Friends stop by and everyone converses, in a fashion.  In discussing this article with a friend, she quoted another Ebert article, this time from his blog: “for me, unless I’m alone, it doesn’t involve dinner if it doesn’t involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, ‘Remember that time?’…. You don’t realize it, but we’re at dinner right now.”

Food not only facilitates conversation, but is often the occasion for conversation itself.  We get together over pasta, coffee, dessert, queso, homemade cookies, frozen pizza, Chinese takeout, and the best sushi in town not to eat, but to experience each other.  The food is good, sure.  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t converse over it.  But the food serves a greater purpose: it brings us together.

In much the same way, I am in conversation, or “at dinner,” in the words of my friend, with relatives who had no idea that I was a foodie, whose shared love of food was unknown to us both, and with whom I am not frequently in conversation.  I am happy to have these recipes passed on to me, so that I can pass them on to you.  I hope, as they get posted, you can enjoy them as much as I am sure I will.  But even more than that, I am happy to be virtually “at dinner” with so many of my family members, and happy to take the time to share this blog like a dinner table.  I can’t promise to make your recipes in anything resembling a timely manner, but I would love to try them, if only to share some time with you.

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