Sunday, February 24, 2013

Grandma D's Cinnamon Rolls

I seem to awaken earlier each morning, these days. I have no idea what's going on because I have always been a sleepy head in the mornings.

This morning I woke up at 5:30 a.m. thinking about my grandma's wonderful cinnamon rolls--big, soft, yeasty pillows of goodness, not too sweet! So, I got up and made some. I watched dawn approach as I worked in my warm, cozy kitchen. Outside, it was snowing--big, fat, wet flakes. I thought about how many times my grandma had done this very same thing.

My grandma was a lovely woman--soft and sweet like the cinnamon rolls she made! She always smelled of Ponds lotion, which she kept on the sill of her kitchen window. She was an expert at making things out of not much. And, isn't that the amazing thing about so much of women's work? She took a few scraps of material and made warm, colorful quilts with delicate hand stitches. She took a few seeds, some soil and water, and created a most beautiful garden. And, she took a few simple ingredients and made platters of food for her big family. The result always was Gestalt: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Making anything with yeast is easy work, but it takes time because the dough needs to rise. It was worth it this morning. My sleepy-head kids followed their noses into the kitchen, which was warm and cinnamon-y smelling--a lot like my memories of my grandma's kitchen.

Note: if you prefer to make these the night before, I've included overnight directions at the end of the recipe. This recipe makes a lot of rolls; I suppose you could cut it in half. But, since you are making them, why not make a full recipe and freeze half for later, if you like.

Grandma D's Cinnamon Rolls
Makes about 24

2 (1/4 ounce) envelopes yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup soft butter or shortening
7 to 7 1/2 cups flour

1/4 to 1/2 cup butter

Glaze (if desired):
2 cups powdered sugar for glaze
2-3 teaspoons milk for glaze

Pour lukewarm water into a bowl and sprinkle yeast over. Let sit for 5 minutes, then stir well.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the milk just until lukewarm (it's like when you used to prepare bottles for your baby--test on your wrist--if you can't really feel the temperature of the milk, it's perfect!) Add the 1/2 cup sugar, salt and yeast mixture.

Beat the eggs and stir into the mixture, along with the 1/2 butter or shortening. Pour into a large bowl and begin adding flour. Stir flour in with spoon and then by hand as the mixture comes together. My grandma's recipe says: "For excellent eating and keeping quality, keep dough as soft as possible." Add just enough flour so that the dough can be handled without being sticky.

At this point, you can knead the dough by hand or with your mixer's dough attachment. Knead about 5 minutes. If you have aggressions to work out, I recommend the by-hand method :)

Cover bowl with a tea towel and place in a warm spot. (I have a microwave above my oven and a light below the microwave that illuminates the stove top. I turn the light on and place the dough inside the microwave. The light's warmth rises, making this a perfect spot for letting dough rise). Let dough rise for one hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Punch dough down and place on a well-floured counter. Roll the dough into an oblong shape--about 1/2 inch or so thick. The long side of the dough should be nearest you. Spread softened butter over and then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon. I keep the cinnamon and sugar pretty light, but you can add as much as you want, depending on your sweet tooth.

Beginning with the longest side opposite you, tightly roll the dough toward you, creating a log. Cut the log in half. Then cut each log into 1 inch slices, making about 12 rolls per log.

Place 12 rolls in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan. Repeat with a second greased 13 x 9 pan and the second log.

Cover each pan with a dish towel and allow to rise another hour, or until rolls have doubled in size.

Bake 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown.

If you like, prepare a quick glaze by pouring 2-3 teaspoons of milk into the powered sugar. Drizzle glaze while rolls are still warm.

Overnight directions: Place cut cinnamon rolls into pans, as instructed above. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and place in fridge overnight or up to 16 hours. In the morning, remove from fridge, remove plastic wrap, cover with dish towels and place in warm spot until doubled. Bake as above.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pork Tenderloin, A Dinner-Fast Idea

Poor pork tenderloin--it is virtually unknown on most weeknight dinner tables.

Why is that? Many people think pork is fattening, hard to cook, time-consuming and tends to be dry.

However, pork tenderloin is a great weeknight, healthful meal. It is low in fat and high in protein. If you buy good pork (I like to buy it at Whole Food's meat counter), it will not be soaked in salty chemicals. In fact, a plain piece is lower in sodium than chicken. Its cholesterol level is comparable to other meats. Click here for the complete nutritional information.

It also is delicious. And versatile.

Here is one of my favorite ways to cook a basic pork tenderloin. I've included a recipe for a quick glaze at the end.

One note about cooking pork: I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to make certain the pork doesn't get overdone. It is pretty much inedible when overcooked. I like a meat thermometer like this one because the probe is left in the meat, in the oven, while the display sits on the counter. And, it alerts you when the meat's internal temperature hits the mark. You can get all sorts of fancy meat thermometers if you want to pay a price, but a good, basic digital will work just as well.

A final note: In 2011, the government lowered the required internal temperature for pork from 160 degrees to 145 (you can read about it here). This leaves the pork a little pink in the middle, very juicy and perfectly safe. No wonder pork has had such a bad reputation for being dry.

How to Roast a Pork Tenderloin
Serves 4-5

1 pork tenderloin
1-2 tablespoons canola oil
Sea salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and remove meat from fridge about 30 minutes before cooking. This is a good time to prepare a glaze or rub, if you are using one.

Add a tablespoon or so of canola oil to the bottom of an oven-proof pan. I love to use my large cast-iron pan for this. Apply a rub, if using, or sprinkle the meat with a bit of sea salt if desired. Set the pan over medium high heat and lay in the tenderloin. Sear on all four sides for about 5 minutes each. Remove from heat and apply a glaze, if using.

Place skillet in oven, insert the meat thermometer probe, if using, and roast, bringing the internal temperature to 145. It will take about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and tent with foil for about 5 minutes.

Tangy-Sweet Glaze for Pork Tenderloin
1 1/2 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1  1/2 teaspoons molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon canola oil
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon sea salt, if desired
1 - 2 drops hot sauce

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk. Add to tenderloin after searing and before sliding it into the oven.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

ZZ and me

New Orleans at Carnival
Do you know the bluesy Miss ZZ Ward? If you don't, you must go right now to her website and listen to her: ZZ Ward. "Put the Gun Down," is her very popular song, but I love all of them and have downloaded them to my ipod, which I listen to when I cook. Just ZZ and me in the kitchen.

There are obvious problems with this song. Guns are not anything to sing about these days, although the "gun" here refers to the Other Woman. And, secondly, this song assumes that men don't always think with their brains (okay, there is some evidence to support this) and that they are easily lead into temptation. C'mon guys, use your brains. How could you do ZZ wrong?

But, I digress.

So, what does a very young woman from Pennsylvania know about singing the blues? A lot, it turns out. It makes me feel better about being a woman from Kansas who loves to cook all sorts of ethnic foods. Just because you weren't born there, doesn't mean you can't learn to sing the blues...or cook Cajun.

And, with Mardi Gras right around the corner (February 12 this year), one of my favorite cuisines is front and center. Talk about being led into temptation! Gumbo, Shrimp and Grits, Dirty Rice, Shrimp Etoufee! Definitely not diet food. Not necessarily good for the body but a tonic for the soul. A balm for the world weary. Kinda reminds me of the blues. Take it away, ZZ!

Here is my recipe for Jambalaya, which actually is not too fattening, if you control the amount of sausage you add. Measure and prepare all ingredients in advance before you start and it is an easy dish to make, leaving you with plenty of time to catch beads and drink Hurricanes.


Serves 4-6

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
2-3 links fully cooked Andouille sausage, sliced (I love aidells)
2 green peppers, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
A dash or two of hot sauce
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can tomatoes (your choice--diced or whole)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken broth
1 cup white rice, well rinsed
1 pound shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Fresh parsley

Heat olive oil and quickly saute chicken and sausage. Remove and set aside. To the same pan, add vegetables, spices and hot sauce and saute until veggies are tender-crisp. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, broth and rice and  bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is done. Add in chicken, sausage and shrimp and cook just until shrimp is done.

Remove from heat and sprinkle with parsley. Serve with extra hot sauce, if desired.