“Pop” goes the weasel

Standard

‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

Popovers were not a Peterson Family Food Tradition. Lutefisk, yes. But I felt no compulsion to master that dish. See ‘Krampus is Coming to Town’ for deets

I stowed the popover pan in the cabinet on top of the refrigerator (where all sad utensils go to die) and tried to forget. It was actually pretty easy after Aunt Eleanor moved to Kentucky to live with her daughter, since no one else we knew made popovers. At least not when we were their dinner guests. Oh, I heard a rumor that her son Jack made a mean popover, but never got to taste any evidence. He lives in Florida most of the time; for all I know he’s whipping them up every night for his Palm Beach Pals.

Now pie I can make. After years of experimentation, I finally found the Holy Grail of Crust. And yes, Dude Man is having pie for breakfast here

So why, after all this time, did I try making popovers? Eleanor again. She moved away, true. But lo and behold, her daughter Christine turned out to be the apple that fell not far from the Culinary Tree. According to Eleanor, with whom I have frequent phone chats, Christine bangs out that roast beef dinner — complete with that heavenly potato concoction — on a regular basis. And makes stunning popovers to go with. (Again, see perfect examples in that photo up top. If you can stand it, that is.)

Something else I do know how to make. I can whip up a great batch of chili with my eyes closed. See ‘Paradise by the Kitchen Light’ for my secret

Eleanor: “Do you still have that popover pan?” Me: mumbling noncommittally E: “Well, you should get it out and make some popovers for The Dude (only she didn’t call him ‘The Dude’) for Christmas dinner.” Me: “I’m not sure I have your recipe anymore.” (Notice Lutheran Lie here; “I’m not sure I have the recipe.” Not “I don’t have the recipe.”) E: “Oh, don’t use that recipe. Christine found the perfect popover recipe on Cook’s Illustrated. I’ll get her to send it to you. But, oh. It won’t get to you in time.” (Aunt E still believes in clipping and mailing. She is an absolute dear, but doesn’t believe in technology like my internet-savvy mother.)

My Mom, not making popovers, but wielding her iPad and iPhone at the same time

“No worries, Eleanor,” I say. “I’ll google it.” “You’ll what?” “Never mind. I’ll find it. And I’ll text Christine when I do.” “What?

After some chat about books and politics and whatnot, we wished each other “Merry Christmas,” and after we hung up I set about googling.

Well! Turns out that one can find the Cook’s Illustrated popover recipe — and even read tantalizing portions of it — but one must get a subscription to get access to the whole thing. So I did. Signed up for a free trial subscription, downloaded the recipe and printed it out.

My beloved Garland Stove. Julia Child had this stove. Not this specific one, but still. Note two, count ’em two, ovens. One for the pot roast, the other for the popovers

I can’t ethically reprise it here, but suffice it to say that, even though Eleanor had sworn it was “easy” and had “only three ingredients,” this recipe reads like a chemistry experiment. The butter must be melted and “slightly cooled.” The milk must be “low-fat” and heated to “110 degrees.” (Who takes the temperature of milk?) Bread flour is called for, which my IGA does not stock. (Well, not true. In theory they stock it; it’s just never there when I am.) One must whip eggs till “frothy and light.” One must let the batter “sit for one hour.”

Well. I did it. Made those darned popovers. For insurance, I also made pot roast. I know how to make a fabulous pot roast. See “This Christmas is Going to Pot(roast)” for my method

The popovers turned out so well that I decided to make them for New Year’s dinner too. I swear I did everything just the same but, you guessed it, they were flops. (I would say “flopovers”, but they didn’t rise high enough to flop.)

Another shot of the successful popover batch — before they got devoured

And, to add insult to injury, when I tried to cancel my free Cook’s Illustrated trial, I had to do so by phone. And the wait time on hold — I kid you not; they told you this — was twenty minutes. Hah. Was I daunted? I put that phone on speaker and spent my hold time finding photos for this post. So there! And when the Nice Lady asked me why I was canceling my free subscription, I told her the truth: That I wanted that popover recipe, got that popover recipe — and that’s all she wrote.

Lunch. At last.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

 

 

 

This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

Standard

‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

Festive Whitmores live it up at an Eleanor Christmas

Then, when The Child entered our lives, we marked the Season with our Tree Trim Party. (See “(N)o Tannenbaum”) Where, like Tom Sawyer, I tricked my friends into doing something I didn’t enjoy (substitute tree decorating for fence painting), then rewarded them with a pot roast dinner with all the trimmings. This Seasonal Highlight was repeated for nigh on 15 years.

Christmas Crackers were deployed — and crowns worn — at Tree Trim

Time, as is its wont (a favorite word, “wont”) marches on. And those Christmasses are gone. With all those wonderful traditions haunting my memories, it’s hard to muster the proper spirit to establish a new one. So, instead, we’ve focussed on Thanksgiving, and sort of glossed over Christmas. Some years Dude Man and I even fled the country.

In a rare year that we did not flee the country, we got Chinese Takeout for Christmas Dinner

Last year, though, I managed to rustle up some pot roast for The Child and the BF (now The Beau, praise the Lord) before we left for Christmas on the Amazon. I hadn’t made pot roast in years — had to call my Mom to remind me how to do it. But it turned out so well that The Beau begged me to make it again when they (safely; pandemic precautions having been made) visited this summer. Me: “Sorry; I adore you, but pot roast is just not happening in August.

Last Christmas, when we had a tiny tree and a large pot roast

In fact, The Beau loved the pot roast so much that I “gifted” him my cast iron pot roast pot. (I just had to say “gifted,” a term I find vaguely hilarious. Why not just say “gave,” a perfectly good word that already exists?) He likes to cook, and, besides, we were downsizing. Now, ironically, that same cast-iron pot, after having been lugged to Boston in a backpack on a train, got lugged right back here this summer and stored in our attic for the time when The Affianced Couple is no longer living in an RV. (See “Her Personal Truck” for cozy details.)

Before the pot roast pot got stored in our attic, it did pandemic duty as a no-knead-bread pot

Incidentally, The Child just texted me wanting my pot roast recipe. She’s up in Canada chez Beau’s Clan after having successfully quarantined and I guess she wants to impress them. Fingers crossed she can locate a suitable pot. The one in the attic is way too heavy to ship.

Meanwhile, guess what I picked up at the IGA just this morning? Yup, a nice chuck roast that I plan to “pot.” I decided it was high time to resurrect that Holiday Classic. Who cares if it’s just the two of us? The leftovers taste mighty fine. If we have any, that is.

We will certainly have no leftovers of this

Amagansett, New York. December 2020