brass bra popovers

Have you been outside recently? It’s gives new meaning to the phrase “It’s colder than a witch’s tit in a brass bra!” Seriously, it’s the kind of cold that makes you want to pack the family up and buy a beach shack in Fiji. (The cost of living has to be better than New Jersey and think of all the tourist worthy souvenirs the kids will learn to craft out of coral and palm fronds!) Yup Fiji definitely seems to be the way to go, but until those change of address cards hit the mail I’ve been doing my best to keep the family warm with knit hats, flannel pj’s and giant comforting pots of hearty soups and stews.

I’ve been the butcher, baker and candlestick maker behind the famous (or is it infamous) beets and blue cheese dot com for three plus years, and in that time I’ve posted twenty-three recipes in my soups and stews category. Twenty-three… that’s a lot! I’ve given you everything from Fish Chowder with Bacon and Butternut Squash to Slow-Roasted Tomato BisqueHomemade Wonton to Curried Carrot & Parsnip. Creamy Broccoli & Kale to Cold Cucumber and Potato. Not to mention recipes for Chicken Stout StewTurkey and Bean Chili or good ol’ Classic Beef Stew. And with each recipe I suggest you serve it with homemade rolls or rosemary soft pretzels, bialys or blue cheese crackers; something wonderful and freshly baked. Usually I take my own advice and bake something yummy to serve on the side, but recently I’ve been feeling restless. I’m tired of the same old drop biscuits or cornbread, I want adventure!

Hello popovers.

Back in the day popovers were my thing to make at Thanksgiving. They seemed fancier than your standard roll, required special equipment (something this new cook was happy to go out and buy) and made everyone ohh and ahh when they came out right. When being the operative word. I’m still not positive which recipe I was following, my guess it was it mash up of two, but while they worked like a charm one day they were a giant flop the next. Annoying, aggravating and enough to make this gal shelve her popover pans for years. I came upon those pans the other day and since I happened to be feeling invincible, decided it was time to give them another whirl. However this time I went directly to the source; King Arthur.

When it comes it baking the folks at King Arthur really do seem to know a thing or two. They have blogs and hotlines, recipes and communities, products and classes… they are the undoubtedly the end all and be all of baking information. My family and I actually visited the King Arthur Flour Vermont campus this past summer and honestly if they would have agreed, I would have moved in. It’s an amazing place filled with baking, eating, learning and buying opportunities all set in the beautiful Vermont countryside. A total baking mecca. Anyway back to those popovers— According to the baking gurus at K.A. the ultimate popover is in fact not the result of starting them off in a cold oven, nor does it matter if you use a blender or whisk the batter by hand. No according to them it’s the temperature of your ingredients that are the key to perfectly puffy popovers. Interesting. So armed with some fresh popover baking advice and a King Arthur recipe I focused my attention on baking up a batch of my own. And guess what? Perfectly puffy popovers!

Oh yeah, I’m back baby. I am back.

Super Simple Popovers
These are truly so easy to make you’ll find yourself enjoying popovers all the time.

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4 large eggs, warmed in a cup of hot tap water for 10 minutes before cracking
1 1/2 cups low-fat milk, lukewarm
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/2 cups Unbleached Bread Flour
3 tbsp. melted butter

  1. Position the oven racks on a lower portion of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F.  
  2. Thoroughly grease* a popover pan (or standard 12-cup metal muffin tin, one whose cups are close to 2 1/2″ wide x 1 1/2” deep).
  3. Traditional method: Whisk together the flour and salt. In a desperate bowl whisk together the milk, eggs and melted butter. Add the flour mixture and blend until just combined.
    Blender method: Place the milk, melted butter, flour, salt and eggs, lightly whisked, into the jar of a blender. Blend on high for several seconds, 
    then stop to scrape the sides. Blend for an additional few seconds but do not over blend
  4. Pour the batter into the popover tin, filling each cup about 3/4 full.
  5. Bake the popovers for 20 minutes without opening the oven door. Reduce the heat to 350°F (again without opening the door), and bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until they’re a deep, golden brown.
  6. As soon as you remove the popovers from the oven stick the tip of a knife into the top of each to release steam and help prevent sogginess. Let the popovers cool slightly in the pan then remove and serve.

*I’ve experimented with several types of fat to grease my popover pans including butter, vegetable shortening and bacon grease. The bacon grease seemed to work the best, followed by the butter. But you be the judge.

**adapted from King Arthur Flour
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eggs florentine for justice

As you know by now I cook A LOT. I consider myself fairly well versed in the kitchen and I’d like to think that at least 89.9% of the time I serve my family something that qualifies as tasty (no one can be perfect all the time, right). But for all the success I have in the kitchen there is one area where I’m a big ‘ol failure… bread baking. Bread baking is without a doubt my kryptonite. I’m inexplicably drawn to it and it kicks my butt each and every time. Sure I can make tasty drop biscuits or simple yeast rolls, but what I truly and with all my heart long to make is an eye rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so delicious it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention! I have yet to participate in either, but I’m head-strong and hell-bent on conquering this bread baking thing and so I intend to keep on trying.

Last week, while my kids were busy visiting their grandparents, I took the opportunity to cook things that I don’t ordinarily get to. While I didn’t make another attempt at my dream loaf, I did do a little baking with surprisingly successful results. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making homemade english muffins for some time now, however most of the recipes I’ve come across require special muffin rings, which I don’t have and I wasn’t sure if I felt like investing in. And so the english muffin idea had kinda been put on the back burner. Then I stumbled upon a recipe that not only called for a standard biscuit cutter, but also for the SAF instant yeast (which I had bought thinking it was the golden ticket to my boule success) I had sitting in my freezer begging to be used. The opportunity was too good to pass up. Once again I found myself giving into the bread baking monkey on my back and giving Buttermilk English Muffins a try.

I was stunned by the results. Seriously, stunned. They weren’t perfect but they were pretty damn close. I met my husband at the front door baking tray in hand singing “I made english muffins…I made english muffins…” (by now he’s become immune to singing and dancing over baked goods.) I couldn’t believe that I actually managed to pull it off. So how’d I do it? Believe it or not, I just followed the directions…

I know just as well as anyone that cooking is about taking what exists and making it your own. Baking on the other hand is nuclear physics. You could do everything according to the book and on the final step set the dial on the particle accelerator just a touch too far to the right and— disaster. Yeah, that about sums up my experience with bread baking. So far so good…so far so good…so far so good…kablooie! But this time I was determined for the outcome to be different. Recipes often give dry ingredient measurements in weights and volumes. I have a kitchen scale but I always considered weighing my flour to be way to Alton Brown and not enough Barefoot Contessa. Turns out I thought wrong. (Damn, I hate when that happens!)

Anyway after the glow of my muffin success wore off I realized I had almost two dozen english muffins on my hands and no kids to help me consume them. Simple toasting and slathering with butter and jam would be fine, but I didn’t feel it did these babies a proper justice. No they really begged for special treatment, something like a key ingredient in a fancy-dish-I-love-but-would-never-make-for-myself. Well there’s only one dish that comes to mind that I love, would never make for myself and includes english muffins— Eggs Florentine baby.

Homemade English Muffins
These are fairly simple to make and will make you feel like the rock-star baker you always pictured yourself to be.

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2 cups light buttermilk
3 3/4 cups (1 lb. 5 oz.) bread flour, plus more as needed
4 1/2 tsp. instant dry yeast (such as SAF brand)
2 tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
2 tbsp. honey
1 tbsp. canola oil

  1. Warm the buttermilk over low heat to 120°F. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 200°F and then turn off.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, add the bread flour, yeast, sugar and salt and mix together with a whisk. Turn the mixer on and add the buttermilk in a steady stream, then add the honey and oil and allow to mix on med-high speed until the dough is almost smooth but still a little shaggy. Reduce the speed to low and allow to mix until all the flour is fully incorporated, about another 3 minutes. (Add a little more flour if the dough is very sticky.)
  3. Place dough in a non-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the still warm oven to rise until doubled, about 1 hr.
  4. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough onto a work surface well dusted with cornmeal and roll it out to about 1/2″ thick (scatter the top of the dough with cornmeal to prevent it from sticking to the rolling pin). Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, cut the dough into rounds. Transfer the dough rounds onto the prepared baking sheets and repeat with the remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, slide back into the turned off oven and let rise, about 1 hour.
  5. Remove the baking sheets and preheat the oven to 350°F. Gently transfer the rounds to a dry skillet or cast-iron griddle (trying not to distort their shape in the process) and over medium-low heat lightly brown each side, about 1 minute per side. Return them to the baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough rounds.
  6. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. Let cool on a rack before splitting (with a fork) and slathering with butter. (We actually like our english muffins split and toasted, but you can eat them however you like.) Store in a ziploc bag or bread bag for future use. Makes about 21 muffins.

*adapted from williams sonoma

Eggs Florentine
I made the english muffins and the hollandaise sauce for this recipe from scratch, you are under no obligation to do the same. Pick up a pack of store bought muffins and an envelope of hollandaise mix and get to poaching up some eggs.

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1/2 tbsp. butter
5 ounces baby spinach leaves, rinsed but not dried
1/4 tsp. salt and pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. white vinegar
4 large eggs
homemade (or store-bought) hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the spinach, season with salt, pepper and garlic powder and cook until it just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach in a sieve, pressing gently to remove some, but not all, excess liquid, and set aside
  2. Fill a glass bowl with hot tap water and set aside. In a high-sided saucepan, combine 4 cups water and the vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir the water to create a whirlpool. Crack an egg into a small shallow bowl and gently slip the egg into the center of the swirling water.
  3. Allow the egg to cook until the white is opaque and the egg is just firm enough to hold its shape, about 3-4 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, gently lift the egg out of the water and carefully transfer it to the bowl of hot water. Repeat with the remaining eggs.
  4. To serve, use a fork to split each english muffin and lightly toast. Place one english muffin on each plate. Top each half with a mound of spinach and then a poached egg. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of hollandaise over each egg and serve. Pour remaining hollandaise in a pitcher for additional saucing. Serves 2.

Hollandaise Sauce
This sauce contains raw egg yolks. If this bothers you look for a recipe that involves cooking the eggs or use store-bought hollandaise (you have my permission).

4 large egg yolks
juice of a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tsp. warm water
8 ounces (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted

  1. In a blender, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, salt, black pepper, cayenne and water. Pulse once or twice to lightly blend, then with the blender running slowly add the warm melted butter, processing until the sauce is thick and smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water to thin it.
  2. Transfer the hollandaise sauce to a glass bowl. Cover with saran wrap and place over a saucepan of hot, but not simmering water, to keep warm.

*adapted from williams sonoma