Spring, Easter, and Dill Pollen (plus cornbread and macaroons)

The lazy weeks of March have somehow turned into the nonstop work days of April. All of a sudden, spring showed up with daffodils and sunshine. There are many peas to shuck and many visitors with whom to sup. I can tell it’s going to be a vibrant and exciting next couple of months.

I hosted an Easter brunch for 10 or 12 of my East Bay friends this year. On the overloaded table, I served a version of food52’s pomegranate ham, deviled eggs with smoked paprika and Maldon, Southern-style biscuits, mustardy potato salad, bitter greens, strawberries, coconut macaroons, pine nut blondies, and very strong mimosas. Amidst all of the eating, chatting, drinking, and general merriment, I managed to snap only this one photo:

Photo Mar 31, 11 19 44 AM

This was quickly instagrammed and tweeted, and then my social media presence disappeared for the day. Should I have made time to carefully document all of the rest of the food that day? Perhaps, but I was having too much fun to bother. Does that make me a poor blogger for the day? Maybe. Win some, lose some. And even though I don’t have a picture of them, my favorite part of the meal was by far the macaroons. These cookies come from a recipe handed down from my mother, who in turn got it from her friend Nicole. These are not the sickeningly sweet towers of Angel Flake seen on many a spring-time table. Instead, they are slightly sweet domes of desiccated coconut, held together with egg whites and just a little sugar, laced with vanilla and miniature chocolate chips. These macaroons are supremely moist and tender on the inside, and have a crisp caramelized bottom that makes all the difference.

Dill pollen

Right before Easter, I was invited to take a tasting tour around Rockridge Market Hall in Oakland. I’ve gotten to know some of the folks that work in its Pasta Shop and they’ve shared many great ingredients with me over the past few months. During my tour, I got a chance to try an awesome gluten-free almond and browned butter cake (working on my own version right now) from the bakery, a veritable ton of awesome cheeses including their creamy housemade mozzarella, and some pretty fantastic California extra virgin olive oils. Their most unique and fun to use ingredient right now has got to be Pollen Ranch Spice’s dill pollen. I was given a small tin of the spice during that tour, but it languished on my pantry shelf for a few weeks before I got a chance to play with it. I’m glad I did.

Unlike dill seed (which frankly gets a little soapy to me), dill pollen tastes purely of the lush green—it’s tangy, sour, and herbaceous. The pollen would work great in a pickle—you wouldn’t have to worry about the weird murkiness that comes from using the whole herb—or potato salad, but I used it in a yogurt drizzle for a warm beet and wheat berry salad. The addition of the dill moved the salad into Eastern European borscht territory and made for a surprising twist on an otherwise basic dish. The recipe for the salad will run in a later Berkeleyside piece, and I’ll be sure to link to it once it goes live.

Photo Mar 17, 4 39 48 PM

Long before Easter and even longer before discovering dill pollen, I sat down with an old version of a family cornbread recipe and tried to remake it with fewer cans and no Jiffy mix. I made my own self-rising (or so I thought) cornbread mix with cornmeal, all-purpose flour, and baking powder. To that, I added corn kernels pureed with buttermilk to mimic cream-style canned corn, whole corn kernels, cheddar cheese, green chiles, eggs, honey, and some more buttermilk. I poured this big slop of a batter  into a preheated 9×13 generously coated with butter and let it bake for almost half and hour.

The final result certainly tasted good, especially when hot, but it was far too dense to be called anything except for corn-cheese-loaf. Not exactly what I was going for. I went back and looked at the recipe again, and realized that I probably neutralized most of the leavening from the baking powder by using buttermilk in the batter. Most buttermilk-based cornbreads include baking soda in lieu of or in addition to the powder, and I think that would have solved the problem.

Instead of offering a half-hearted version of cornbread, here is my take on my mom’s take on Nicole’s macaroons. Eat with abundance all spring long:

Nicole’s Chocolate Chip Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 18
2 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 cup sugar
2 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch fine sea salt
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, combine coconut, sugar, egg whites, vanilla, and salt until well mixed. Stir in chocolate chips.
3. Dampen hands with cold water. Use tablespoon to form compact domes of mixture and gently transfer to prepared baking sheet. You can place the macaroons fairly close together; they will not spread during baking. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through cooking. Let cool completely on a wire rack before serving.
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