Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Do you ever get on a kick with a certain food or ingredient? I seem to get a bit obsessed with cranberries every winter. Even though cranberries are in season in the fall, I always associate them with winter. Maybe because they're red, which I associate with Christmas, which goes with snow, which goes with winter. Or maybe it's because their tart flavor is perfect for brightening even the dreariest of winter days. Besides, pumpkin keeps me plenty busy all fall, so a girl's gotta have something to obsess over when it becomes less acceptable to put pumpkin in everything.

So when my mom and I were discussing cinnamon rolls the other day while plotting to make some in our respective homes, and when I started thinking about what kind of twist I could put on them, cranberries sprang to mind. (I had just made pumpkin oatmeal cinnamon chip cookies the previous weekend so didn't think I could get away with making pumpkin cinnamon rolls that weekend.)

I poked around on Google to get a feel for good ratios of cranberries:sugar:dough. By far, Smitten Kitchen was the best version and most informative I came across, though I added some embellishments of my own. For the cranberry filling, I added a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, with inspiration from the cranberry crostini from a couple years ago. I also used butter and cream cheese in the filling, since I think cream cheese adds a delightful extra gooeyness factor to cinnamon rolls. And I sprinkled in some almonds as well.  I was also tempted to add a bit of fresh thyme, since the cranberry thyme scones recipe I found a few weeks ago was superb. That may still happen the next time I make these rolls.

For the dough, I wanted to let my bread machine do the mixing and kneading, so I used the cinnamon roll dough recipe from the little book that came with the bread machine, but added some orange zest per Smitten Kitchen's recipe.

My other adjustment to the dough was to leave out the yeast. No, this was not intentional. No, the dough did not rise very well at all without it (funny how that works). An hour into the rising time, the dough didn't seem any larger, but I attributed it to the cold weather. After a couple more hours, I started thinking through what could be wrong, and it finally hit me: I had no recollection of getting the yeast out of my fridge and measuring any into the dough. So I worked some yeast into the dough, and after another 2-3 hours of rising time, it finally puffed up a bit. So if you make these rolls, do yourself a favor and add the yeast at the beginning like a normal person.

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and my bread machine's recipe book
Yield: 12 rolls (more if you cut them a bit thinner)

Note: Plan to prepare the dough and shape the rolls the night before, then let them rise overnight in the fridge, then bake the next morning

Zest from 1 orange or 1-1/2 clementines - use about 3/4 in the dough and 1/4 in the filling
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. oil
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

3 Tbsp. butter, softened
2-3 Tbsp. cream cheese, softened (I used reduced fat)
1 to 1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries (thawed, if frozen)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 of the orange zest from above
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/16 tsp. nutmeg
A couple handfuls of sliced or chopped almonds (optional)

2 cups powdered sugar
About 1/4 to 1/3 cup water (or orange juice)
Smidge of maple extract (or vanilla)

Make the dough and let it rise: Following your bread machine's directions, measure all dough ingredients into the bread machine, then use the dough cycle. (Alternatively, if you don't have a bread machine, just use your preferred yeast dough making method. Smitten Kitchen's recipe and instructions are great and include directions for those who have a stand mixer and those who don't.) Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down before rolling out and shaping into rolls. (Note: many bread machines include this rise time as part of the dough cycle. If yours does, you don't need to let it rise twice before shaping.)

Make the filling: If they're not already out on your counter, get out the butter and cream cheese to let them soften. When they're soft, stir them together in a small bowl; set aside. Pick through your cranberries and discard any suspicious ones. Use a food processor to pulse the cranberries until they're pretty finely chopped but aren't a puree (or just chop them finely by hand). Scrape out into a small to medium bowl. Then add the brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir to combine well. Set aside.

Go ahead and spray a baking pan. I think the pan we used was an 11 x 7 glass baking dish.

Roll and shape the dough: When the dough has risen, punch it down and work out any large air bubbles. At this point, you may need to let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes before rolling out. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Spread the butter and cream cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Then spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the dough. For both the butter/cream cheese and the cranberry mixture, I used a basic soup spoon to scatter dollops of filling around the dough, then used the back of the spoon to spread it around. It doesn't have to be perfect. Sprinkle in the almonds, if using.

Now, use a knife or pastry cutter to cut your rectangle in half, into two 9 x 12-inch rectangles (this will make it easier to roll. Starting with one of the 9-inch edges near you, roll the dough up and away from yourself, rolling as tightly as possible. There will be some cranberry juice leaking out. Embrace it. Using your knife or pastry cutter, cut the log into 6 or 7 slices, each about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. Carefully transfer each slice/roll to the prepared baking pan. Repeat the process with your other 9 x 12 rectangle.

Rise again, then bake: Cover your baking dish with plastic wrap, then place in your fridge overnight. The next morning, remove rolls from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want them to go into the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Make the icing: While the rolls bake, measure powdered sugar, water, and maple extract into a medium bowl. Use an electric mixer to mix until well combined and smooth. Start with less water; add more as needed to reach your desired consistency. When the rolls come out of the oven, drizzle with the icing.

  • If you have a favorite cinnamon roll dough recipe, just use that but add orange zest.
  • I was a little worried that the fresh cranberries would release too much juice and result in soggy rolls. But that wasn't the case at all! To quote from Smitten Kitchen, "that puddle of cranberry juice run-off jams into a gooey brown sugar cranberry caramel and winds around and through the buttery, tender yeast-raised spirals." Yes, please!
  • These rolls were quite sweet, but not quite too sweet for my taste. I think they would have been equally good with about 1/4 cup less brown sugar in the filling. 
  • For the almonds, I used a very light hand. So they were barely there but didn't add a whole lot of taste or texture. I think walnuts or pecans would also be good.
  • I made my icing with water, but orange juice would have been lovely. Also, the quantities above yielded more icing than we used; you may prefer to use more icing than we did.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Spiced Roasted Nuts with Paprika and Thyme

Over a year ago, I earmarked a spiced nuts article in the Food Network Magazine's Thanksgiving edition. And for over a year, this spread sat untouched by me. Occasionally I'd see it on my list of recipes I want to try, and think, "Oh yeah, those sounded really good. I need to make those soon" . . . and then promptly decide to make something else. Well, when the time came to decide what to do for Happy Winter (i.e., Happy Late Christmas) gifts for my coworkers, these roasted nuts finally got their time to shine!

The Food Network article is a mix-and-match recipe of sorts. Kind of a like a "choose your own adventure" book, but with snack foods. They suggested a number of nuts, mix-ins, and flavor combinations, and I went with the paprika-thyme combo with almonds, walnuts, pecans, and pretzels. It seemed to go over well with my coworkers, and I've enjoyed snacking on the leftovers.

Nuts and pretzels are tricky to measure accurately, so I erred on the side of too much. After doubling the recipe below, I wound up with enough to fill a dozen half-pint mason jars plus about half of a quart jar. While I'm quite fond of the nuts/mix-in/flavoring combination I used, it's definitely worth checking out the Food Network article for more ideas.

Spiced Roasted Nuts with Paprika and Thyme
Kind of adapted from Food Network
Yield: 5-1/2 cups 

1 egg white
1-1/2 cups raw unsalted whole almonds
1-1/2 cups raw unsalted walnuts
1 cup raw unsalted pecans
1-1/2 cup mini pretzels
3 Tbsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1-1/2 tsp. paprika
3/4 to 1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 tsp. mustard powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. black pepper

Preheat oven to 350, and line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, beat the egg white with a whisk until frothy. Add the nuts and pretzels; use a rubber spatula to mix gently but thoroughly so everything is coated with egg white.

In a separate small bowl, combine the remaining ingredients (sugar through pepper). Mix them well, then sprinkle them over the nut mixture; again, mix gently but well.

Spread the mixture in a single layer on the baking sheet(s). Bake for 15-20 minutes or until nice and roasty, stirring every 3-5 minutes. If using multiple pans, rotate them halfway through the baking time. Let cool on the baking sheet(s) before eating or sharing.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Easy Creamed Corn Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those things that seems like it should be really easy and basic, and yet it somehow manages to be oddly tricky. It can easily wind up too dry, too wet, too sweet, or too bland. This recipe, though, is a winner in my book. It has a nice level of sweetness, and the creamed corn adds some texture and helps keep the cornbread moist. Since I don't usually have milk on hand, I also like that this recipe doesn't call for milk or buttermilk, nor does it require a packaged mix.

Easy Creamed Corn Cornbread
From The Kitchn
Yield: one 8-inch pan, or 9 moderately-sized squares

1-1/4 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1-3 Tbsp. sugar (I used about 1-1/2 Tbsp., and mine came out pretty lightly sweet)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 (14.75-oz) can cream-style corn

Preheat oven to 425. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Melt your butter and allow to cool a bit while you mix up the rest of the ingredients.

In a medium to large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, melted butter, and cream-style corn. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry; stir just until incorporated.

Pour batter into your prepared baking dish. Bake for 17-21 minutes, until cornbread is golden and just barely starting to brown. Mine baked for 20 minutes and was still borderline underdone in the middle. If using a 10-inch skillet, your cornbread would be less thick and, therefore, probably take less time in the oven.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Lemony Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Ham and Kale

I don't know how the world looks where you live, but where I live, it looks a little something like this.

So in honor of the thin blanket of ice and dusting of snow outside my door, and in honor of New Year's Day, I made black-eyed pea soup yesterday. This soup was hearty and earthy without feeling heavy, and the lemon zest made it taste happy and bright.

Lemony Black-Eyed Pea Soup with Ham and Kale
Adapted slightly from Serious Eats
Yield: 4 servings

12 oz. hickory smoked ham, chopped
1/2 to 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 large stalks celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary, divided
2 Tbsp. lemon zest (the zest of 2 lemons), divided
2 (15-oz) cans black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (I used 1 regular and 1 with bacon)
1-1/2 quarts chicken or vegetable stock (I used 1 quart chicken stock and 1/2 quart reduced sodium vegetable stock)
2 bay leaves
1 bunch kale, trimmed, washed, and roughly chopped (perhaps a little less; see notes)
Salt (optional) and black pepper, to taste

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat until it becomes shimmery. Add the ham, onion, and celery; cook until onion and celery are tender, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, half the lemon zest, and half the rosemary; cook, stirring, for about 30 seconds.

Add the black-eyed peas, stock, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove bay leaves.

Scoop about 2 cups of soup into a quart-sized mason jar, then use an immersion blender to puree it. (Alternatively, scoop out about 2 cups of soup, let it cool slightly, then puree in a regular blender. You'll need to remove the part of the lid that allows steam to escape, but hold a folded washcloth over the hole to contain splatters.) Return pureed soup to the soup pot.

Add kale to the soup pot, and cook for about 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. Taste; add salt and pepper if needed. You may not need any extra salt, depending on the sodium levels in your ham, broth(s), and beans. Right before serving, stir in reserved rosemary and lemon zest.

  • If you prefer, use mild Italian sausage instead of ham. Brown it in your soup pot before adding the onions and celery.
  • If you prefer to start with dried beans rather than canned, see instructions on the original recipe linked above.
  • Now let's talk about kale. First, you'll definitely need to remove the thick center rib from each leaf as part of your kale prep. Then chop it roughly and rinse well since it's easy for dirt and grit to get nestled inside the curly leaves. The recipe I was following said to use 1 bunch, or about 2 quarts chopped kale. Bunches can come in many sizes, and I'm not entirely sure how to accurately measure leafy greens. So here's what I did: chopped my kale, let it float around in a (clean!) sink of water so any grit would settle to the bottom, then transferred the kale into a colander that's about 2.5 quart capacity (about 11 inches in diameter). The kale pretty well filled my colander without me packing it down at all. Then I used only about 2/3 of it in my soup. While kale is yummy and good for you, it can sometimes leave soups tasting a little bland if you add too much of it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Food Goals for 2015

Happy New Year!

While many people use this time of year to think about how they want to better their lives in the coming year, I like to think about how I can challenge myself in the kitchen. To be clear, this is not to say that I don't also focus on improving myself and my life in other areas. As a perfectionist, I do this constantly in my everyday life.

Before launching into my 2015 food goals, let's see how I did on my 2014 goals.

  1. Lasagna -- done! While I thought I might go for a more out-of-the-box variation like butternut squash and b├ęchamel, I wound up with this basic, traditional, amazing lasagna.
  2. Gnocchi -- also done! Though I didn't blog about it, I did make some pumpkin ricotta gnocchi with a creamy mushroom sauce. Mine ended up a little dense, but they were quite tasty, and I felt so accomplished after making them.
  3. Cook more often -- this one was not terribly successful, but not a total flop either. I hardly cooked at all this summer (I blame grad school), but cold weather always seems to inspire me with endless possibilities of soup, casseroles, roasted vegetables, and all things pumpkin and squash.
  4. Stovetop popcorn -- I make this regularly now, and it's super easy! Here's a good tutorial from Cookie and Kate. I like to use coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, and my go-to flavoring to sprinkle on top is Penzey's Sicilian salad seasoning.
  5. Tomatillos -- this didn't happen.
  6. Fresh herbs -- this goal didn't go well. Most of my indoor herbs died pretty quickly or got really shrimpy (sadly, I did not inherit my granddad's gardening skills), and when most herbs are at their peak in the summer is when I was hardly cooking at all. 
  7. Recipe index page -- ta-dah!
And now, here are my 2015 food goals. Apparently the letter P was inspiring me as I compiled my list.
  1. Paella -- I've never actually eaten paella, so I'm not even sure I'll like it. But it keeps popping up in various places including a food blog I follow, a computer game, and a TV show. So I'm going to try it. Because who doesn't want their menu to be influenced by silly computer games?
  2. Panna cotta -- Liz on the Splendid Table podcast raves about how easy panna cotta is, but the contestants on MasterChef seemed to have a harder time with it (maybe that was more because of time constraints than technique?). I'd like to find out for myself. Besides, my desserts are usually more gooey and homey (or cookies) rather than fancy and refined, so it will be nice to add something a little more upscale to my repertoire.
  3. Pasta -- a couple friends discovered they had two old-school pasta rollers, so they shared one of them with me. I'm looking forward to trying it out!
  4. Poach an egg -- this seems like one of those hard-but-basic cooking techniques that every competent cook ought to know how to do. 
  5. Polenta -- I've eaten it a couple times and really liked it, and I tried making it myself once with grits and it just wasn't the same. So the real deal needs to happen on my stove this year.
  6. Prickly pear jelly -- confession: canning terrifies me. It seems really intricate and dangerous if you don't do it correctly. But there's still a ton of prickly pear juice in my freezer, and I plan to harvest more in August, so gifting homemade prickly pear jelly to my friends sounds like a marvelous idea.
How about you? What foods or techniques do you hope to try out this year?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Browned Butter Banana Bread

If you're like me, you never manage to use up all your bananas before they turn brown and mushy. I think it's just a rule for life: no matter how few bananas one purchases, at least one of them will be destined for banana bread (or for the freezer for banana bread later). And you know what? I'm okay with it . . . because who doesn't love a good loaf of banana bread?

This recipe is particularly lovable. The browned butter adds a warm, cozy depth of flavor. It tastes sufficiently banana-y, and has just the right amount of sweetness for my tastes. The topping adds a nice crunch and lets you alternate sweeter bites (with topping) with less sweet bites (without topping).

This banana bread uses only one banana, and thus less of the rest of the ingredients. So it yields a slightly shorter loaf than most quick breads, which also means it's easier to cook it all the way through without the outside being overly cooked and dry.

Also, happy Christmas!

Browned Butter Banana Bread
Adapted from The Faux Martha
Yield: 1 loaf

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour*
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/3 cup milk**
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ripe banana

1 Tbsp. butter, softened
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2-4 Tbsp. chopped pecans and/or walnuts

Brown the butter: Melt 1/4 cup butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Continue to cook until it's golden brown and smells like heaven, swirling the pan periodically.*** Allow to cook completely.

While the butter cools, make the crumb topping: In a small bowl (I used a cereal bowl), combine 1 Tbsp. softened butter, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Use a fork or knives to combine the ingredients until they're crumbly. Add the chopped pecans and walnuts and stir to combine well.. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 300. Spray a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients for the bread: flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients: cooled browned butter, milk, egg, and vanilla until well combined. Add banana, mash, and whisk well. At this point, my butter decided to solidify again, but my bread still turned out just fine. Just whisk it well so you have small clumps of butter instead of giant globs.

Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and stir just until combined. Don't work it too much. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle with the crumb topping. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Place the pan on a wire cooling rack, and allow the bread to cool completely in the pan. Then loosen the loaf from the pan, and turn out onto a cutting board to cut and serve.

*The original recipe called for 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 white whole wheat. Use whatever combination strikes your fancy and fits with what you have on hand.

**Original recipe called for 1/3 cup liquid comprised of 1 part milk and 1 part plain yogurt. I didn't have yogurt on hand so went with all milk, and it was fine. If I'd added a bit of lemon juice or vinegar, I may have gotten a slightly fluffier loaf, but I'm completely happy with how mine turned out.

***If you're tight on time, you can simply melt the butter in the microwave. But do try it at least once with the browned butter--it tastes wonderful! Also, it'll splatter quite a bit. I recommend using a pan that's bigger than what you need, so the taller sides will help contain the splatter. Or use a splatter screen if you have one.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2014 Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness

Thanksgiving week is upon us and ample hours for hanging out at home or with friends is just around the corner, so it's time for this year's edition of a tradition I like to call Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness (see similar posts from 2013 and 2012).

This year's Thanksgiving tastiness was actually inaugurated with my house church's Thanksgiving feast on Friday, and I'm including my contributions to that with the rest of the recipes below.

This year, it looks like my brother will be here for at least part of this week, which means I theoretically can make even more food since there will be two of us to eat it. :) Without further ado, here's what I've got on my list to make this week:

Mains and Sides:
Desserts and Drinks:
What are you eating this week?