Monday, September 28, 2009

Mall-Style Cinnamon Buns

This past weekend I learned a new-to-me Yankee idiom. Apparently, we are having what is described as a "dividing rain." It's a term used to describe the rain that comes between the seasons of summer and fall and heralds the commencement of autumn's rainy season (as if our summer hasn't been rainy enough!). It's generally a week of steady downpours that brings down the autumn leaves before we've had an opportunity to enjoy the full flush and peak of their vibrant colors and beauty.

So what do I do to cheer myself up? I bake! I went to our local library and borrowed several cookbooks, one of them entitled 150 Best American Recipes by Fran McCullough and Molly Stevens. I think I want to try virtually every recipe in the book and it's one I'm going to look to buy when I'm next at Border's.

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? I leave that for you to answer. This recipe will make either 12 or 18 buns. Because I was craving something sweet for breakfast and because I was feeling extravagant and because I don't have two 9 inch by 13 inch pans, I went with twelve buns. As you can see, four buns almost spill over a cake plate, and one bun generously fills a dessert plate. These buns are huge!

You will need a good sized space to roll out this dough (it's rolled into an 15 inch x 20 inch rectangle). The dough is absolutely gorgeous to work with. For those who are familiar with working with yeast breads, you'll know what I mean when I say the dough was soft and silken after kneading.

A frosted cinnamon bun used to be my all time favorite and these buns really are very good. Would I make these again? It's quite likely. This recipe calls for a ton of butter and cinnamon sugar, which I found I did not completely use. I ended up saving nearly a cup of the cinnamon-sugar mixture in a jar to use on cinnamon toast. If you like deadly sweet and gooey then by all means go for it, grins, and use the entire amount. I never thought I'd hear myself say it, but yes, for me, there can be too much of a good thing.

For flavor, I much prefer my Lion House Orange Rolls; they're more work, but are still the best breakfast roll I've ever made.

The directions look long and tiresome, but it's not really not so bad once you get into it. Read through them first, get your ingredients ready, and it all goes pretty quickly, with a little down time in between while the dough is rising to do other morning activities. You'll win smiles and Wows! with these.

Cinnamon Buns From Heaven
(The 150 Best American Recipes by Frank McCullough & Molly Stevens
They credit "The Oregonian" as their source)

1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 envelopes active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon plus 2/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk, heated to lukewarm
10 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons salt
7-8 cups all purpose flour, more or less as needed, sifted

16 tablespoons (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)
1 1/2 cups raisins (optional)

10 1/2 tablespoons (1 1/3 sticks) butter, melted and cooled
4 cups confectioners' sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 - 1/2 cup hot water (using only enough to make a desirable spreading consistency)

Making the Dough
In a small bowl or large cup, combine the warm water, yeast, and one teaspoon of the sugar; stir and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the milk, 2/3 cup sugar, melted butter, beaten eggs, and salt. Stir well; add in the yeast mixture.

Add 3 1/2 cups of flour and beat until smooth (it will be like a thick pancake batter). Stir in enough remaining flour until the dough is slightly stiff ~ it will be sticky. More flour will be added for kneading so don't despair.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, adding small amounts of flour by sifting flour over the dough as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Once a small, elastic ball has been attained, place the dough in a well-buttered bowl, flipping the dough over in the bowl to lightly coat the dough with the butter (helps with rising). Cover and let rise in a warm place (or place in the oven with a pot of warm water beneath the dough and close the oven door) for 60-90 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size. Punch down the dough and allow the dough to rest for five minutes (this will help to relax the dough to make it easier to roll out). Lightly flour a clean surface and your rolling pin and roll the dough into a 15 x 20 inch rectangle.

Making the Filling
Spread half the melted butter on the dough. In a small bowl combine the 1 1/2 cups of sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the buttered dough. Sprinkle the walnuts and raisins if you're going to use them. Roll the dough up, as for a jelly roll, and pinch the edges together to seal.

To cut into twelve near even sizes (grins) I take out my ruler and cut the roll in half. I line up the two halves in front of me, one behind the other, measure, cut the two halves in half (there should now be four rolls of equal size). After that I just eyeball it and cut each quarter into thirds, making 12 rolls. I cup the rolls in my hands to bring them back to a nice circular shape as cutting the rolls can slightly flatten them.

If you're making 12 buns, use the remaining butter to generously grease a 9 x 13 inch pan and an 8-inch pan. If you're making 18 buns, use two 9 x 13 inch pans. Sprinkle the pans with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Place the cinnamon buns, cut side down, close together in the pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the rolls are a delicious golden brown. Allow to cool slightly before glazing.

Making the Glaze
In a medium bowl, combine the first three ingredients, and then add the hot water, one tablespoon at a time, stirring in between, until you have a spreadable glaze. Spread the glaze over the buns and serve.

An Afterthought: I know that this is already a long post, but I have to share this with you. I'm not going to share the recipe but I wanted to share the picture. Some folks are a little shy about making yeast products. Want to know what I have problems with? No Bake Cookies!!

The picture on the post that I saw showed these as beautiful glossy morsels of delight. **Sigh** I think the question that was raised by Ole Sweetie-Pi was "Have we been visited by a giant rabbit?"

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Stuffed Green Peppers

Ever wonder what to do with the white rice that comes with your meal at the Chinese restaurant that most people ignore? I don't like wasting food so we bring it home, and I'm typically the one who eats, just reheated with a pat of melted butter. Ole Sweetie-Pi doesn't care for rice; to him it just has no flavor and looks like lice eggs.

However, with a little doctoring, even Ole Sweetie-Pi will eat rice, and one of our old time favorites is stuffed peppers. This is just a basic recipe, something that my mother made from time to time and it's still as good now as it was then. I think you could add additional spices and it would be even tastier.

Stuffed Green Peppers
from the Betty Crocker Cookbook

6 large green peppers
5 cups boiling, salted water

1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon garlic
1 cup cooked rice
1 can (15 oz.) tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 350F.

Find a pot large enough to hold all the peppers and heat the water with salt added.

Cut a thin slice from the stem end of each pepper. Remove all seeds and membranes. Wash inside and out. Add peppers to the boiling water and boil for five minutes. Remove peppers from pot and drain.

In a saute pan, cook and stir ground beef and onion until onion is tender. Drain off fat. Stir in salt, garlic, rice and one cup of tomato sauce. Heat through.

Lightly spoon each pepper with about 1/2 cup of the meat-rice mixture. Stand peppers upright in an ungreased baking dish. Pour remaining tomato sauce over peppers. Cover; bake for 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake 15 minutes longer. I personally add a little sprinkle of cheese.

The next night, with my leftovers, I make my version of Spanish rice, depending what I have on hand. I start off by scooping the rice out of the cooked green peppers and chop them up. I'll likely add more green peppers, add more onion, maybe some celery. Cook through add the leftover rice. And here I'll add my spices: paprika, black pepper, chili powder, a little cumin. If I have it and if I think it needs it, I might add more tomato sauce or even some salsa.

So good!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

German Apple Cake

One of my pleasures of fall is abundance of fresh apples. This crunchy, juicy, sweet-tart relative of the rose, is available year 'round, but to me there's just nothing like an apple plucked fresh from branches, bowing heavily, with this wonderful, versatile fruit. Apple pies and cakes, apple butter, cider, jams, apple sauce, apple chutney, tarts, dumplings (and even as an ingredient in my turkey stuffing) ...oh, I love them all!! And yes, in my younger days, I was even seen sipping Boone's Farm apple wine.

To start my apple celebration, I wanted to make you this German Apple Cake. It's one of my beloved recipes from the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook. Be prepared to dirty up several bowls as ingredients are mixed separately from others and then added, but to me the kitchen clean up is worth the effort. Apple-y, cinnamon-y goodness in a moist cake makes it all worthwhile. So perfect for a weekend breakfast sweet. Stays fresh for a couple of days when it's well covered.

German Apple Cake

Preheat oven to 350F. Generously grease and flour a tube pan or bundt pan (could even use a spring form pan if you wished) and set aside.

Apple Filling

3 large apples, peeled and sliced as if for a pie
lemon juice (optional, but nice to aid in prohibiting sliced apples from browning)
5 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon


3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar

4 eggs

1/4 cup apple juice (milk can be substituted, but use the apple juice if you have it)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Prepare the apple filling first: Pare and thinly slice the apples (as for an apple pie). Sprinkle with the lemon juice. Mix the sugar with the cinnamon but do not add to the apples. Set aside.

Make the batter: Combine the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, add the sugar and oil and beat for 2 or 3 minutes, until creamy in appearance.

In another, small bowl, beat the eggs until light. Add the juice (or milk) and the vanilla, mixing well. Add to the sugar and oil and beat thoroughly. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients (but not the apples) and gently fold together.

Putting it all together: Pour one third of the batter into your pan. Add a thick layer of apples and generously sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the apples. Repeat layers again, ending with a layer of batter. If you really like cinnamon, lightly sprinkle the top with a little more cinnamon.

For a bundt pan or a tube pan, bake for 50-60 minutes.

For the springform pan, bake for 60-70 minutes.

I use a tube pan that has a dark coating, and sometimes my baked goods cook will cook too fast on the outside and the center hasn't had time to catch up. (Dark bakeware can cause heat to absorb too fast on the outside, leaving cakes with an unsightly hump in the middle, which is why I tossed out my dark cake tins and purchased the lighter aluminum alloy. No more humps! However, I haven't made the switch yet on all my baking pans.) I covered with a piece of tinfoil to continue baking without further browning.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Corn Bread Pie

I mentioned in an earlier post that Ole Sweetie-Pi is a train brain. He must have at least a 1,000 model trains (no exaggeration), his favorite lines being Lehigh Valley and Penn Central, though he collects them all from what I can see.

We are owed by five cats. Back in the day of dining and sleeper cars, the Chesapeake and Ohio had a logo and a series of advertisements, called Chessie, the Cat ("Sleep Like a Kitten"). The sweet, sleeping kitten, tucked in a fluffy blanket, captured the hearts of travelers and non-travelers alike, and you can see the silhouette of the sleeping kitten in the "C" in their logo. The Chesapeake and Ohio later became the Baltimore and Ohio. Anyway, because of the kitty connection, I am Chessie Systems and B&O collector.

Ole Sweetie-Pi, who is extremely happy at sharing his railroad rabidness with me, surprised me with a yellowed B&O pamphlet of recipes that were served in their dining cars. I think by today's standards the recipes are plain; however, considering the constraints of railway cooking, the food was interesting, regional, and satisfying. This corn bread pie caught my eye as it is a dish many of us still enjoy today. It could easily be "modernized" to reflect today's tastes of spicier food, maybe some added cheese in the cornbread would be tasty. I think I saw a similar recipe where someone added canned green beans; that sounds good too. I did use the full tablespoon of chili powder (big surprise as we are not spicy), and it was good, but for us, on the verge of being too hot.

This was a fun meal, one that we would likely enjoy again. I'm thinking that one of those little boxes of cornmeal muffin mix (they're like 3 or 4 for a $1.00 the last time I looked) might be good here as well if you didn't want to invest in a whole package of cornmeal that you might not use straight away.

There are so few railroad dining car recipes on the web, I thought I'd pass this one along as presented.

Baltimore & Ohio Railroad's Corn Bread Pie

1 pound of ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 can tomato soup
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 cup green peppers
1 can whole kernel corn, drained

Have ready a greased casserole dish, set aside.

In a good sized saute pan or fry pan, brown the beef and onion together. Drain off fat. Add the tomato soup, water, and seasonings. Stir well to combine and allow to simmer for 15 minutes, with an occasional stir so it doesn't scorch. Pour into prepared casserole dish, allowing ample room for the corn bread batter, remembering that the corn bread is going to rise.

In the meantime, prepare the corn bread.

3/4 cup corn meal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon of melted fat

In a medium bowl, sift the dry ingredients together. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until just combined.

Pour batter over the meat mixture and bake for 15-20 minutes at 350F, or until the corn bread is golden brown.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Cream of Chicken Soup and 30-Minute Rolls

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the earthy smells and aromas seeing and the abundance of harvests dot our countryside with stands and farmers' markets. It seems everywhere we go we see signs for bags of apples, freshly picked corn and pumpkins. Farmers markets are selling jams and pies and homemade fudge, and bundled cornstalks and grapevines to decorate our doorways.

I even saw one local enterprising farmer selling hay and bagged manure for $3.00 a bag.

The green meadow across the road from me is golden and the uncut hay sways in the breezes. In my own yard, my lavender phlox perfumes the air, and the last of my rose buds their valiant final flush before the killing frost.

As the night air and harvest moon usher in the waxing summer sun, there is a new coolness, welcomed but nonetheless foreboding of more frigid weather in the short months ahead. (The cats do not want to even stick their little noses outside; they are content open up one eye, give one long lazy stretch in acknowledgment of our presence, and then curl up again into the late morning.) My attention is on soups and breads to warm our stomachs and our hearts. The heat from the oven warms the kitchen, and its warmth draws us in, inviting us to linger.

The cream of chicken soup was very good. I think the chicken, as cooked according to the recipe, was too dry. It definitely needs less cooking than specified in the directions. The good news is, I absolutely loved the foundation of this soup; this is the soup base I've been looking for to make other chowders such as corn and clam. The onions and potatoes were perfectly flavored by the bacon, the flavors intermingling and blending and fully complimenting each other.

We have certain "go withs" when I make soup; one of them is a nice hot roll. I saw these 30-minute dinner rolls on The Sisters' Cafe, and I could not resist the temptation to have hot dinner rolls without all the rising times. Melanie states in her post that she thought they weren't fluffy enough; I thought the fluff factor was quite satisfactory, grins. (I made two pans of eight rolls, so perhaps mine were a little larger?) Also, even though her recipe didn't specify, I lightly kneaded the dough for several minutes to make a smoother looking dough and added additional flour to roll into balls. I used active yeast for these, and I'm wondering if these might not have been a little better with instant or rapid rise yeast. (They require less rising time than active yeast.) What I did find to be a drawback is the lack of the signature yeasty flavor that is imparted with long risings. I thought these were a tad on the bland side. That would not stop me from making these again, as I think they're terrific in a pinch, though I do have other hot roll recipes that I much greatly prefer when time allows.

Cream of Chicken Soup

3 slices bacon, chopped
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast (about one breast)
2 tablespoons butter
3 large potatoes, chopped
3 large onions, chopped
2 1/2 cups milk
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup heavy cream
fresh parsley for decoration and color

In a good sized stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the bacon and chicken, and without any added fat, fry for about ten minutes. Stir frequently to ensure that these do not burn or stick to the pan.

Add the butter, potatoes, and onions, and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring all the time.

Add the broth and milk; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30-45 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper. Just before serving add the cream and simmer (do not boil) for another 5 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

I was thinking that this needed another spice to really round out the flavor. Thyme maybe?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Railroad Cookies

Pictured: 1957 Lionel Flatcar courtesy of Earl aka Ole Sweetie-Pi

Do you like model or toy trains? We do. Ole Sweetie-Pi is a model train collector and now I've caught the bug. Model or prototype, there's just something magical about trains. Maybe because trains remind me of slower times, old-fashioned values, romance coming and going via rails, or maybe it's those black and white Christmas shows that had magical scenes of electric trains circling beneath glorious Christmas trees.

And no surprise to anyone, I am equally as interested in the foods served in the dining cars. (How handy to be able to tie in two interests.) To my knowledge, these cookies were not served in any dining car (those recipes will follow someday soon, I think), but they are called railroad cookies as their pinwheel look reminds some people of spinning train wheels. Whatever the origin of the name, these cookies are something special.

They remind me of a filled cookie in that they have a luscious, sweet date and nut filling. They are alternately soft and crisp at the same time due to the sugar cookie that encases the filling. These cookies take time to make, though most of the time is refrigeration time. I found the sugar cookie portion a little difficult to work with; it wants to crack and crumble as it's being rolled out, out and crack and crumble again it's rolled around the filling. I had to keep pinching the dough together as I worked with it so that the filling would not spill out. I found that the dough worked a little bit easier if I let it slightly come to room temperature before trying to roll it (even though the directions say otherwise).

In spite of my angst, I really like this cookie for its uniqueness and flavor and would definitely make it again. I think of this as a special occasion cookie, probably more for the holidays than for everyday.

Railroad Cookies
(Heirloom Recipes by Marcia Adams)

1 cup vegetable shortening
2 cups sugar
1 cup packed, light brown sugar
3 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Date Nut Filling

2 cups dates, finely chopped
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup pecans, ground

In a medium sized bowl, cream the shortening and the two sugars until well blended. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.

In a separate bowl, combine and whisk 2 cups of flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cream of tartar and salt. Add to the creamed mixture; beat well. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of flour; dough will be firm. You'll probably need to do step by hand as the dough is quite heavy. Divide the dough into two equal parts, wrap in plastic wrap, and set in your refrigerator to chill, for at last two hours, or overnight.

When read, take out one of the halves. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 9" x 13" rectangle, 1/3" thick. Spread half the filling over the entire surface, then starting at one long edge, proceed to roll the dough into a cylinder. Cover the roll with plastic wrap and again refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Repeat with remaining second half of dough and filling.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Slice each roll into 24 slices, abut 1/2" thick and place on a lightly greased or parchment-lined cooking sheet. (I strongly recommend using parchment because the sugar in the filling can caramelize and make the cookie difficult to remove.) Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Let it rest on the cookie sheet a minute or so as the cookies are soft and then remove to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a tightly covered container, with waxed paper between layers.

To make the filling

In a medium saucepan, combine the dates, sugar, and water and cook over medium heat for about three minutes, stirring constantly. The mixture will become nicely thick but will still have some texture to it. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Cool. Add the ground up pecans and stir well.

When spreading the filling on the dough spread to the edges of three sides, leaving a narrow margin along one long side so that the filling does not ooze out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes

Weekend breakfasts are a time for us to luxuriate and a time of celebration of our relationship that we don't always make for each other during the week. I'm a morning person (a lark) and Ole Sweetie-:Pi is the quintessential night person (an owl). We share the same roost but not the same hours. When the summer weather is in our favor, we have been known to have our morning coffee on the back deck, catching up on each others news, and watching our cats chase each other about. Ole Sweetie-Pi tries to impress me with his identification of the different bird calls, and I am always impressed.

This summer has been a dashed disappointment, rain with intermittent sun, unseasonably cool, too soon autumn. Thoughts and feelings of cool weather bring out heartier foods, and thus when I saw these pancakes, I had to try them.

Oh my! These are a heavy pancake, filled with wonderful, warm flavors, evocative of oatmeal cookies. The buttermilk makes the pancake a little more tender, and the cinnamon and nutmeg add just the right spiciness. (I don't care for raisins, so I substituted currants.) Topped with warmed maple syrup, we did not mind the too early autumn weather.

I burned the first batch as I cooked these on too high a heat; I would suggest a medium low heat to give them plenty of time to cook through and for the tell-tale bubbles to appear on the top so you know when to turn them. Turning them too soon will cause them to splash about, looking uncomely, but a decisive trimming with the spatula will make them beautiful again.