Really Delicious Cinnamon Rolls

Winter is for cinnamon rolls, I’m just sure of it.

Cinnamon rolls are one of those foods that have been so re-created by the food industry so as to bear but a shadowy resemblance to the real thing. These rolls are treats, to be sure, but they are real food. I love them muchly. I think I shall be making them today.

And here is how you can make some, too:

Dissolve a heaping tablespoon of dry yeast in ¼ cup of warm (not hot) water. Set aside.

Melt 1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter, and stir in 1/3 cup sugar (I like to use organic fair-trade evaporated cane juice). Stir in 1 cup of whole milk that’s been warmed up slightly, 1 beaten egg, 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract and 1 and ½ tsp. salt. To this add the yeast-water mixture. Gradually stir in 4 to 5 cups bread flour (up to half whole-wheat), changing the stirring to kneading once necessary. Knead 5-10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic, wipe dough all over with butter, cover, and set aside for one hour.

Meanwhile, mix together 1/2 cup firmly-packed brown sugar and 2 to 2 ½ tablespoons ground cinnamon. Set aside. Soften another stick (1/2 cup) butter and set aside.

When the dough has risen, gently push it down, and begin to stretch and pull it to fit an 11″ × 15″ baking sheet. Take your time and push it down evenly. Using a pastry brush (or your clean fingers), spread softened butter all over the dough, except for the long side that is farthest from you, leaving a 1″×15″ strip CLEAN.

Then carefully spread the cinnamon sugar over the butter. Roll up from bottom edge loosely — not firmly — and use the “clean” edge to seal up the roll. Saw the log very gently with a serrated knife into 1.5 inch pieces; it helps to score the log lightly before you cut. Lay the slices almost touching in a buttered 9″ × 13″ pan.

Cover and allow the rolls to rise for an hour.

While you wait, make the frosting by creaming together 2 ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup of butter, 1 cup of powdered sugar, and 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract.

When the rolls have risen again, bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. Tip onto a large plate immediately, and when slightly cooled, spread with frosting. Yum.

Eat them with friends! And coffee! And JOY!

Soup Season

It’s cold!

Time for soup.

This is one of my favorite soups, not least because it’s one that my children are sure to eat. Plus, it is creamy and cheesy and full of wonderful vegetables. I was twelve or so the first time I had it, and it was served to me in beautiful pumpernickel bread bowls. I’ve never made bread bowls, but croûtes are just as good, if not better.(Simply slice a baguette on the diagonal, brush with olive oil, and put under the broiler for a few minutes on each side. Watch them carefully so they don’t burn!)

Cauliflower-Cheese Soup

~adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook~

Place the following in a pot and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer 15 minutes:

2 cups potato chunks

2 cups cauliflower, chopped

1 cup chopped carrot

3 cloves garlic

1 large yellow onion, chopped,

1.5 tsp. salt

4 cups water

Allow to cool, then blend in a blender (or with an immersion blender if you are lucky enough to own one) and return to pot.

Meanwhile, steam 1.5 more cups cauliflowerets. Drain and reserve.

Whisk in over low heat:

1.5 cups grated cheddar cheese

3/4 cup milk

1/4 tsp. dill weed

1/4 tsp. ground caraway seed

black pepper to taste

reserved cauliflowerets

You can thin it with a bit more milk if it’s too thick. You can also use leftover mashed potatoes in place of the potatoes–just whisk them in with the second group of ingredients.Delicious!

My New Favorite Cookbook

Okay, so well before “buy nothing day” I bought myself a present: The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2,000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine. I love Cook’s Illustrated (though I’ve never subscribed) and the previous cookbooks from America’s Test Kitchen, which also produces the magazine, although I don’t own any of them.

There are a few reasons why the recipes, magazines, and books from America’s Test Kitchen appeal to me–first, I love how obsessively they test each recipe. Have you had recipes from cookbooks fail? I certainly have. And let me tell you–it’s not always your fault. What I love about the recipes from ATK is that they’ve been tested and re-tested to achieve a very particular result (hence the very different recipes–ingredients and techniques–to produce soft and chewy chocolate chip cookies versus thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies.)

Related to this, each recipe comes with an explanation for why it’s formulated as it is. I love knowing why a recipe works as it does–why it’s important (or unimportant) to cream the butter and sugar first when making muffins, why to use a certain variety of flour, why to cook things over a certain temperature. It seems to me that knowing some of the theory behind the choices of ingredients and techniques makes a better cook, and ATK resources provide just that.

Much of that theory includes science, which is the third reason I love this new cookbook. I was never too keen on science in school (except for biology, because I liked dissecting things and learning about genetics and the digestive system) but this cookbook delivers just enough practical cooking science so as to make me take delight in the earthy job of cooking.

As Robert Farrar Capon wrote:

“Creation is vast in every direction. It is as hugely small as it is large. The number of water-filled interstices in my three tablespoonfuls of flour runs the interstellar distances a fair second; the appeal to size [implying that people, small in relation to the universe’s magnitude, are insignificant] is a self-canceling argument. Plying my whisk, I know that what goes on here is neither less mysterious nor less marvelous that what happens there…saucepan in hand, I refuse to be snowed.”

{Fr. R.F. Capon, The Supper of the Lamb}

So all that to say, I heartily recommend this cookbook. Take up, read, and follow closely–with lots of love and attention!–and the results are very likely to bring you (and others!) joy.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

I don’t know about you, but I love Thanksgiving–a day for feasting and giving thanks for God’s good gifts.

Since there are relatively few truly American food traditions, Thanksgiving has always appealed to me–even though I realize that, of course, the historical origins of the holiday are not as clear-cut as they appear in the Magic Tree House Thanksgiving book:

(A very different story that’s actually true is Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving. It tells the story of writer Sarah Josepha Hale, who wrote letters to American presidents to ask for the creation of Thanksgiving for 40 years!)

Anyway! Now that I’ve said that about loving traditional Thanksgiving food, I might as well confess that I’m not cooking a turkey. No one in my family likes turkey all that much, and they’re expensive, especially if you buy a free range heritage bird (which I’d like to try.)

I’m going to make a chicken instead, which I’ll brine for 1 hour in 2 quarts of water + 1/2 cup each of sugar and salt.

The other traditional Thanksgiving dishes–cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, stuffing, and sweet potato casserole–I can’t give up. Occasionally I read about “updating” Thanksgiving with steamed veggies tossed with toasted nuts, or roasted sweet potatoes tossed with olive oil, and it just makes me feel depressed. I don’t go so far as to include mini-marshmallows on my sweet potatoes–everyone, including me, is just as happy with some pecan streusel on top–but my green beans must be lovingly bathed in a cream sauce or Thanksgiving is not complete.

What makes your Thanksgiving complete, food-wise?

Here are some links to recipes very similar to the ones in my Thanksgiving recipe file:

Green Bean Casserole (Cook’s Illustrated)

Cranberry Fruit Conserve (Ina Garten)

Classic Bread Stuffing with Sage and Thyme (Cook’s Illustrated)

Sweet Potato Casserole with Pecan Streusel (Cook’s Illustrated)

And I wish you and yours a peaceful Thankgiving full of joy and gratitude!

(See you on Friday.)

In Which I’m a “Good Girl”

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook has a classic recipe for French pots de crème [say “po de khrehm”] a delicious, airy, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse. I made it for Mr. and Mrs. S a few weeks ago and again on Saturday as the finish to a meal of green beans and pasta with meat sauce.

Actually, despite what Fannie says, I think these are not true pots de crème–according to the Wikipedia article, pots de crème are baked in a water bath, like a custard. These are, I think, mousse au chocolat. Oh, well. Fannie was not necessarily known for her command of French cuisine.

Any Francophiles want to weigh in on this? Nora?

Whatever you call it, this stuff is good. Fair warning, though: they contain copious amounts of raw egg. I’m pretty comfortable eating raw stuff–provided that I know it has come from a clean environment–but I don’t feed it to my kids.

Which means more for me, hooray!

Oh, yes. And the “conscience” part. Mousse au Chocolat or pots de crème or whatever you call them typically call for melted chocolate. Yes, I could buy fair trade chocolate bars (see yesterday’s post) but I didn’t have any on hand. What I do have is some lovely fair trade organic Dutch-process cocoa, which we use for making chocolate birthday cakes and hot chocolate.

{here are some cocoa farmers in Uganda who are able to make a living wage selling their beans for a fair price.}

And it can be used to make mousse au chocolat, too!

Maybe not the classic recipe or technique, but it sure was good, especially with super-fresh farm eggs. Be sure your cocoa is Dutch-process–it makes a big difference; it’s milder and much, much smoother.

[Mrs. S. said: “This was delicious. You’re a good girl.”]

Well, shoot. Just when I think I’ve given to someone who can’t repay, she goes and does just that.

Here’s my recipe:

Melt together over low heat:

6 tablespoons butter

6 tablespoons fair-trade Dutch process cocoa powder

6 tablespoons sugar (fair trade!)

2 tablespoons water

Meanwhile, separate:

4 eggs

Beat the whites until stiff and glossy and set aside.

Beat the yolks until very thick and lemon-colored, and then beat in the cooled, melted chocolate mixture. Beat in:

1 teaspoon each of vanilla extract and rum or brandy

Gently, gently, gently fold in the whites. Spoon into small cups or glasses (about 1/2 cup in each). Chill, covered, for 12 hours.

Serves 4-6