Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls

I had quite a bit of leftover frosting from my Green Velvet Whoopie Pies and needed a way to get rid of it.  My husband suggested cinnamon rolls.  I happened to have some bread dough in the refridgerator that would work perfectly.  It was meant to be. 

They turned out perfectly: a late spring snow, a cold Saturday morning, yeasty, cinnamon-y bread smells, warm rolls covered in icing.  What a wonderful morning.

To make the cinnamon rolls - just the recipe for the easy yeast bread.  Pull off about 1-1/2 pounds of the dough (about the size of a canteloupe). Sprinkle it with just enough flour to make it not sticky and pull it into a ball.  Then, on a flour dusted surface, roll out into a large rectangle until it is about 1/8" thick.  Spread evenly with this mixture:

6 T. soft butter
1/8 C. white sugar
1/4 C. brown sugar
1-1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
pinch black pepper
mix all of these together to make a sugary-spicey-butter paste

Roll it all up and then cut it into about 8 even pieces.  And arrange the pieces (swirl side up) in a 9-inch round cake pan (use a spring-form pan if you have one).

At this point you can let them rise for 40-minutes to an hour on the counter then bake at 375 for 30-40 minutes (until evenly golden brown). 

Or, if you prefer to not wake up early just to make breakfast, you can do like I did and make these the night before: Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refridgerate.

Then next morning, let rise for an hour.  (Or - put the pan on a cooling rack with a pan of hot water underneath and it will cut the rising time in half.)  Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375.

Cover with icing while still warm.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy (belated) St. Patrick's Day!!

I belong to a "Friday Lunch Club" at work.  Every Friday someone brings lunch for everyone. Around 15 people are in this exclusive club - it's hosted by the Social Studies department chair at the high school where I work.  I also teach in the Social Studies department - that's how I got in.  It wasn't for my witty peronality or extensive charm.

At the beginning of the year all the members sign up to bring in a main dish or dessert.  The Fridays that aren't filled are picked up by our fearless leader. 

Anyway, I had picked March 18th - the day after St. Patrick's Day to bring in dessert.  I thought it would give me a great chance to get creative with green treats.  Instead I got sick with a pretty bad case of tonsilitis.  My doctor also thought there was a pretty good chance I also had strep throat, but didn't run the test because he would have prescribed the same meds whether it was or not.  He put me on antibiotics and narcotics for the pain, and in a few days I was good as new.

This past Friday was my next time for dessert, and since I had everything on hand, went ahead with my St. Patty's Day treats....GREEN Velvet Whoopie Pies with a Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting.  Had it actually been St. Patty's Day, I think I would have tinted the frosting green, too.

Green Velvet Whoopie Pies
Slightly modified from Food Network Magazine

1 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 oz. milk chocolate chips
1-1/2 sticks butter, melted
1/2 c. sour cream
2 eggs
1-1/2 t. apple cider vinegar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T. food coloring (I used green, of course.  Use red for red-velvet (duh).  Or whatever color strikes your fancy)
2-1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. sugar
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 375 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In the microwave, melt all the chocolate chips together (about 2 mins on 50% power) and stir until smooth.  Set aside.

Mix together the butter, sour cream, eggs, vinegar, vanilla and food coloring.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet: about 4 equal batches, mixing well between each addition.  Stir in the melted chocolate.

Use a cookie scoop to spoon the batter onto the cookie sheets.  I used the standard-size, smallish cookie scoop and got 48 halves, or 24 finished cookies.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes.  Let sit on the sheet for about 5 - 10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To assemble: put (or pipe - that's what I did) about a heaping tablespoon of frosting on half of the cookies and then top with the other half.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting
Slightly modified from Joy the Baker

1-1/2 sticks butter, softened
8 oz. cream cheese (or neufchatel), softened
1/3 c. light brown sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
4-6 c. powdered sugar
2-4 T. milk

The cream cheese and butter should be at room temperature.  With a mixer, cream the cream cheese for about a minute, then add the butter and cream together for another minute or two - there shouldn't be any lumps.  Add the brown sugar, vanilla and salt, and mix well.  Add 2 -3 T. milk, and mix well.  Add 4 cups powdered sugar and mix well.  Test your consistency.  If you want it stiffer, add more powdered sugar.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thai Chicken and Rice

Sometimes I stray from the recipes as written in my cookbooks.  I often times will use the recipe as inspiration only, and make changes according to what I have on hand, or add and subtract ingredients according to my (or my family's) tastes. 

I haven't always been this way.  I used to always make a recipe strictly as written once, and then adjust after I'd tasted it the way the author/creator/cook/etc had intended.  This is something that would occasionally irritate my husband.  He's pretty good cook himself, and has his hand in most of the recipes on here - whether its cutting vegetables for the prep work (his favorite job, I think), doing the dishes (his 2nd favorite job, I think), helping to come up with ideas, or some other task; we generally work as a team.  He would see a recipe and want to change it right away, because never know how long it will be before we get to making that particular recipe again.  Over time, I've realized that he was right.  (I'm secure in myself, and my relationship...I have no problem admitting that he was right.  Heck, it had to happen sometime.)

Problem is: it doesn't always work out as planned/hoped.  This Thai Chicken was good.  But not great.  Definately not geat. It was lacking in...well, flavor. I have ideas though; ideas that will make it better.

First off, I used chicken, because that was what we had, when the recipe called for beef.  I'll use beef next time.  Then, I think I'd kick every spice up by about 1/2, at least.  And swap out the little bit of cayenne pepper with a hearty scoop of chili paste.  I might add some lemon juice to add a little bit of tartness. 

Now I'm anxious to try this recipe again, and this time to get it right.

I'm not posting a recipe here.  I don't want you to make this.  Not until I try again and make it better.  But I do want this blog to be honest.  And honestly, not everything is great and perfect.  But, I'll keep trying, and keep getting better.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Oven Fries

Sometimes life gets busy.  We're trying to sell our house.  And by that, I mean that we've hired a realtor to try and sell our house.  I hear it said that the "market is picking up," but no one seems to want a beautiful century-old home with a large yard, trees, flowers, a gazebo even.  What is wrong with people?  Ok, I shouldn't complain.  The house has been on the market barely a month.  It still is kinda depressing.

I need to get back on track.  Selling the house means losing the majority of the past five Sundays to open houses.  Open houses, although they only technically last two hours in the afternoon, are a whole day affair at my house because first, we have to clean, and then my two-year-olds need to nap - and that is a long story but it means that we have to leave the house around 11:30am for a 2:00pm open house.

Sundays are typically the days where my husband I menu plan, grocery shop, and prep food for the coming weeks meals.  This is where life gets busy.

And sometimes when life gets busy I forget about having stuff ready for dinner.  And sometimes when I forget about having stuff for dinner, we eat cereal.  Or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  With a side of chips.

But sometimes when life gets busy and I forget to have stuff ready for dinner, I make these oven fries.  So quick and easy.  And so much better than chips or frozen fries from a bag.  And, I'm betting, so much better for you.

Oven Fries
Adjust this to use any quantity of potatoes.  You can also probably use any variety.  I used Russets this time, but have done it with red, Yukon Gold, even sweet.

Preheat oven to 375.

Clean 4 medium sized Russet potatoes.

Cut in half, then slice each half into quarters, making the pieces into wedges.

Put all of the slices into a large bowl and drizzle with about one tablespoon of olive oil.

1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper
1/2 t. garam masala*
1/2 t. alspice*
1/4 t. powdered garlic*

Stir well to evenly coat wedges

Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the foil.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Flip (this can be a little tricky, sometimes they stick to the foil) wedges, then bake for another 10 minutes. 

I like mine extra crispy, so then I turn on the broiler for about 3 - 5 minutes for each side.  Only do this if you can keep a close eye on them.  They can go from perfect to burnt very quickly.  (You can see in my picture that a few of them were getting close to burnt on the edges...they were still good, though.)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Moroccan Lentil Soup

I find food - cooking it, smelling it, eating it, taking pictures of it, writing about it, reading about it - fun and relaxing.  BUT, I'm also a busy mom. As much as I sometimes enjoy toiling away for hours over the perfect meal...I don't really get the chance to do that very often.  And when I do get the chance to toil away in the kitchen for hours, I think I'd actually prefer to be decorating sugar cookies, or cakes, or making cake-pops or something fun like that.   This is why I love my slow cooker.  And why I love this book. Written by this lady. 

And...why I love this soup:

**Note: this made a lot of soup, so we had left-overs.  When we went to indulge in the leftovers, we also had some left-over roast beef which I cut up and added to the soup.  LOVED it with this addition.  When I make this soup again, I will certainly be adding some beef.  Or maybe chicken.  Or maybe I'll get a little crazy and make it lamb.**

Moroccan Lentil Soup
(adapted from Make it Fast, Cook it Slow by Stephanie O'Dea)

2 stalks celery, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1- 15oz can garbanzo beans (rinsed and drained)*
1 - 15oz can pinto beans (rinsed and drained)*
1 C. dried lentils
2-3 tsp. minced garlic
1-1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper -OR- about 1 Tbsp chili paste (a yummier option, if you have it)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp groun nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
8 C. vegetable broth (can substitute chicken or beef broth/stock)
1- 28oz can diced tomatoes (do NOT drain)
1 tsp. ground ginger

Add all ingredients to the slow cooker in the order given.  Give it a quick stir.  Cover and cook on low for 8 - 10 hours.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Creamy, Cheesy Pasta

Whenever my husband (who does the vast majority of the shopping - grocery and otherwise - in our family) is at Sam's Club, he picks up a rotissere chicken.  You can get a nice sized one there for about $3 cheaper than our other local super markets.  We've found this to be one of the most convenient, and tasty, ways to satisfy recipes that call for "X amount of cooked chicken".  For awhile, the only way that my girls would eat any sort of meat (at my house, anyway...sometimes they eat things for grandparents that they would never dream of touching for me) was when I was breaking down a rotissere chicken.  They couldn't get enough and would have eaten the whole thing if I'd let them.  When I used the same chicken in a recipe, however, they'd pick it out.  Two-year-olds.  Sheesh.

Anyway, the last time we had one it ended up sitting around the fridge for a few days.  A chicken without a plan.  I rummaged through the fridge and pantry trying to find some way to throw together a decent meal.  Actually, more than just a decent meal because we were having company for dinner. From what I had on hand, I created this creamy, cheesy pasta - and it was pretty spot on.

Just a note - Since I rarely cook for people outside my immediate family, I was terribly nervous about not having enough food. I over did it.  This recipe makes a lot.  I would probably recommend cutting it in half if you don't want to eat it every night for a week.  The first night we had it, it served 6 (plus 2 picky girls who I don't think really ate anything and weren't served a full serving between them).  Then, over the next week, we made 4 additional meals out of the leftovers.

Another note: when reheating leftovers, mix in a splash of milk.  This works expecially well when reheating on the stove, not the microwave.

Creamy, Cheesy Pasta with Chicken
Briefly saute 1 small onion, diced, and about 2 cloves of minced garlic in olive oil.

Then add:
2 packages of cream cheese
1-1/2 C. sour cream
1/2 C. parmasean cheese
1/2 t. (ish) salt
1/2 t. (ish) pepper
1-1/2 to 2 t. (ish) dried basil
1/2 t. (ish) italian seasoning
Milk (enough to give it a creamy texture), probably somewhere around 3/4 - 1 C.

Seperately, saute:
about 1-1/2 sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, orange or a mixture of those three), diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
sprinkling of salt, pepper, and dried basil.

Add the sauteed veggies to the sauce, along with about 6 cups of diced, cooked chicken.

Serve over pasta - the sauce turned out to be just the right amount for a full box of cooked pasta.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Peach Butter

There is no butter in Peach Butter.  The name "butter" comes not from the ingredient list, but from the texture.  "Butter" when associated with a fruit is basically a lightly sweetened fruit puree that is cooked down until it is quite thick with a very smooth texture: supposedly reminiscent of actual dairy butter. 

I'm not so sure that when I have this Peach Butter I recognize the texture of real butter.  But I do recognize the taste of awesomeness. 

I had never had this stuff before...but had heard of it.  Back when I was in 2nd or 3rd grade and completely and totally obsessed with everything Laura Ingalls Wilder, I think that my mom and I made some Apple Butter.  As much as I wanted to love it back then (because, Laura wrote of it fondly...and I was oh-so-fond of Laura), I was not "wow-ed".   But when, in preparation for some summer canning escapades, I read the recipe for this Peach Butter I knew I had to give the fruit butter another shot. I had some frozen peaches left over from last summer in the freezer so I didn't even have to wait until August.  And I'm very glad that I tried this.

So, what does one do with Peach Butter?  Use it like you would any jam or jelly.  Have it on a PB&J ( this case would it be a PBPB? Or perhaps a 2PB?).  On toast.  On freshly baked bread.  Or...on some ice cream.  This was fantastic.

This might...just my new favorite spread.

Peach Butter
adapted from: Put 'em Up! A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook
                       by Sherri Brooks Vinton

2 C. water
1/4 C. bottled lemon juice
8 pounds ripe peaches
2 C. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Combine the water and lemon juice in a large pot.  Skin the peaches (drop them 2 at a time into boiling water for about 30 seconds then immediately into an ice bath; the skins should slide right off). Cut the peaches in half and remove the pit, then squeeze them (over the pot with the water/lemon mixture) to crush and add to the pot.  Simmer the peaches for about 10 minutes, until they are soft, then puree.  A stick blender works great for this, but you could also transfer to a food processor, blender, or food mill, and then put it back in the pot. 

Add sugar and cinnamon, then simmer over medium-low heat until reduced and thickened, about 45 minutes.  The mixture is done when you can put a small dollop on a plate and no water "weeps" away from the perimeter.

This makes about 6 cups.  You can refridgerate, or can (boiling water method, 1/4 inch headspace, process 10 minutes).