A Southern Grace: April 2010

April 27, 2010

ruefully ridiculous standards*


When I requested your go-to recipes for cinnamon rolls, many of you urged me to try the now completely famous version from the now completely famous (and deservedly so) Pioneer Woman.

Since I want nothing more than to please my belly readers, I did as you recommended and made myself a batch.

Frankly, I don't even know where to begin in describing this phenomenal product. The rolls resulting from Ree's recipe (gadzooks, I love alliteration*) were as close to perfection-in-edible-form as I've certainly ever come. They were fluffy and tender enough to dissolve straightaway, and topped exquisitely with a maple glaze that I'm now tempted to add to anything and everything I bake.

Another bonus about this recipe is its convenience to prepare. You can take care of a bit of the leg-work early and then let the dough sit around until you're ready to proceed. I like that.

I've been told once or twice or 79 times that my standards are too high in general, and I'm beginning to become unable to deny that. You see, although these rolls are sensational and delicious and utterly amazing, I want to do even better. I simply can't stop here, although I really can't pinpoint any one thing that I'd change. In fact, as I write this, I can't remember what it was about these that I didn't find completely perfect. Sigh--I guess I'll have to make them again to try to figure it out...

Practically Perfect Cinnamon Rolls*
(adapted from the one and only Pioneer Woman)

2 cups milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
4 cups + 1/2 cup flour, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (heaping) baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon

4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavoring
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons brewed coffee
pinch of salt

Make ahead: Combine milk, 1/2 cup sugar and oil in a large pot over medium heat. Heat, stirring to dissolve sugar, until just before boiling. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for about an hour or until lukewarm (between 105° – 115°F; use a thermometer to check). Sprinkle the yeast into the warm milk mixture and allow to sit for a few minutes. Add 4 cups of flour and stir together until a sticky dough forms. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and let rise somewhere warm for about an hour. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining 1/2 cup of flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add to dough and combine thoroughly to form an elastic dough. Spray the inside of a large bowl with cooking spray. Put dough in the bowl, cover tightly, and store in the refrigerator overnight, or up to a day.

Assembly: Spray 3 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray. Generously flour a clean, dry surface. Place half the dough on the floured surface and using a rolling pin, roll out into a large rectangle. Gently spread 1/2 cup of softened butter over the dough with a butter knife. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 1/2 cup of sugar over the buttered dough.

Starting on the longer side of the rectangle, roll dough in a tight spiral toward the other end and pinch the seam shut. Slide a strand of dental floss under the rolled dough 1-1½ inches from the end. Cross the ends of the floss over the top of the roll and pull in opposite directions, slicing off a section of dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough, placing buns in the prepared pan. You will have space between the buns.

Repeat with the second half of the dough. (If you only want to make one batch of buns, you can tightly wrap and freeze the other half at this point. In that case, use half the amount of the ingredients for the glaze.)

Set aside to rise for 30-45 minutes. Bake in 350°F oven for 15-18 minutes, or until lightly browned on top.

Make glaze: Mix together all ingredients and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Taste and adjust as needed. Generously drizzle over the warm rolls.

*Told ya.

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April 23, 2010

perfect for the lazy lover of alliteration


If you look back through my post titles, the first thing you'll probably note is that they're absolutely useless if you're trying to figure out the recipe being featured (I know this from frustrating personal experience). The second thing you might notice is that I adore alliteration.

Post titles, recipe names, my random comments describing the posts and recipes of others--I like to make use of this totally titillating tool as often as possible. That said, when I learned that today was National Cherry Cheesecake Day (thanks, Louise!), I instantly became giddy. Yes, although I don't really care for cheesecake (or non-homemade cherry pie filling, but does anyone?)(no offense if you do--more power to ya), I know some people who are pretty fond of the creamy treat, so I whipped one up.

Don't you just love the look of bold red on creamy white? I do. Except when it's red ink all over my calculus homework back in high school. My beloved teacher (a major Civil War buff) always said our papers looked like the Battle of Antietam. Doh.

My goodness, the sacrifices I make for the sake of alliteration. But it's a deserving device, wouldn't you say?

Cheery Cherry Cheesecake
(based on this recipe)
1 3/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
3 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted

2 pounds (four 8-ounce boxes) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/3 cups sour cream

1 (15 oz) can cherry pie filling (optional)

Make the crust:
Butter a 9-inch springform pan that has sides that are at least 2 3/4 inches high.
Stir the crumbs, sugar, and salt together in a medium bowl. Pour over the melted butter and stir until all of the dry ingredients are uniformly moist. Turn the ingredients into the buttered springform pan and use your fingers to pat an even layer of crumbs along the bottom of the pan and about halfway up the sides. Put the pan in the fridge while you preheat the oven.

Center a rack in the oven, preheat the oven to 350°F and place the springform on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes. Set the crust aside to cool on a rack while you make the cheesecake. Reduce the oven temperature to 325°F.

Make the cheesecake:
Beat the cream cheese at medium speed until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar and salt and continue to beat another 4 minutes or so, until the cream cheese is light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one by one, beating for a full minute after each addition. Slowly beat in the sour cream. Scrape the batter into the springform pan. Put the springform pan on a roasting pan, place it in the oven, and pour enough boiling water into the roaster to come halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake the cheesecake for 1 hour and 30 minutes, at which point the top will be browned (and perhaps cracked) and may have risen just a little above the rim of the pan. Turn off the oven and prop the oven door open. Allow the cheesecake to sit in the water bath for another hour.
After 1 hour, carefully pull the setup out of the oven and lift the springform pan out of the roaster. Let the cheesecake come to room temperature on a cooling rack.
When the cake is cool, cover the top lightly and chill the cake for at least 4 hours, although overnight would be better.
Before slicing and serving, pour cherry pie filling or whatever fruit topping floats your boat over the cake.

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April 19, 2010

a simple turn of phrase


I don't think I've ever tried to hide the fact that I like my cookies chewy in the middle (not jaw-achingly chewy, mind you...although that does tend to deter second helpings) and a bit crispy on the outside. Cake-like cookies have no place in my kitchen or belly. (My hollow leg is reserved for such less-than-ideal things.)

Hello, hunk o' raisins.
A cookie-like cake, on the other hand, is apparently welcome. I didn't realize how acceptable, nay, amazing such a creation would be until now.

I found a recipe for oatmeal raisin muffins that I felt had the potential to make interesting and unique mini-loaves and I was right. Yes, the texture was enjoyable (hearty yet still fluffy and light) and the preparation couldn't have been simpler, but what excited me most of all was that the stuff that came out of my oven tasted exactly like an oatmeal raisin cookie.

It's the little things, folks. The little things.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookie-Like Cake
(adapted from this recipe)

1 cup quick oats
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup raisins

Combine the oats and buttermilk in a large bowl and let stand about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Spray or line your baking vehicle of choice.
Add the eggs to the oatmeal mixture one at a time, whisking thoroughly after each addition. Whisk in the sugar, then the butter.
In a smaller bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Fold this dry mixture into the wet ingredients. Once the flour is dispersed, but not completely moistened, gently stir in the raisins.
Divide the batter evenly between the molds. Bake until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean, 25-30 minutes for mini-loaves or 13-18 minutes for muffins.

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April 15, 2010

patent that!


Imagine it: A pillow that you can eat, or alternately, a tasty treat on which you can rest your weary head. No more raiding the fridge for a midnight snack! Any takers?

Perhaps not. If you're anything like me, these bars would never have a chance to be used as a pillow as they would be gobbled up before one's eyes could even flutter closed.

Yes, these are some soft and tender treats. I'm not enamored of Dorie Greenspan as so many people seem to be, but I do often enjoy the recipes she's created. Really, I think this particular concoction makes up for any disappointments I may have previously had using her cookbooks.

Not even the nuts damage the fluff-affect.
The Tuesdays with Dorie group made these applesauce spice bars a while back, and as I'm wont to do, I trailed behind and finally made them myself months later. They really do deserve high praise--they're pillowy, as I think I've mentioned, as well as moist, aromatic (yes, before you ask, I did increase the cinnamon), and flavorful. I used apple butter in lieu of unsweetened applesauce, so they were quite sweet. For this reason, I skipped the (amazingly appetizing) glaze. That was a tough call, but I think it was the right thing to do. I didn't lose any sleep (see what I did there?) over my decision; after all, the glaze would've had a detrimental effect on the functionality of these bars as pillows.*

*Sorry if you found this post utterly ridiculous. In my defense, "one cannot enjoy food without at times putting one's tongue in one's cheek" (a quote from one of the most useful and interesting reads ever).

Applesauce Spice Bars
adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup apple butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins (I used golden)
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt.
Melt the butter over low heat or in the microwave. Add the brown sugar and stir with a whisk until it is melted and the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time, mixing until they are well blended. Add the apple butter and vanilla and whisk until the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is once again smooth. Switch to a rubber spatula and gently stir in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they disappear. Fold in the raisins and nuts. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 23 to 25 minutes, or until the bars just start to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

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April 11, 2010

sometimes you feel like a nut...


...sometimes you don't.

Remember that jingle for Almond Joy and Mounds? Apparently it was most prevalent in the 70s, but since I remember it and I hadn't yet graced the earth with my presence (I kid, I kid--is there actually anyone that smug?), I guess it carried on over into the 80s.

Although I often feel like a nut (in more ways than one), I won't lie--I prefer Mounds. There's something annoying to me about a big ol' hard hunk of almond in the middle of an otherwise soft, sweet bar. That said, I won't turn down an Almond Joy; I just wish the almonds were sliced and scattered.

The cake I made for our Easter meal (which incidentally doubled as my birthday celebration) was no massive undertaking. I had limited resources with which to work, and this was the best I could do. Thankfully, even though I was forced to morph into Sandra Lee for a hot second, the cake was delicious.

Inspired by the undeniably tasty Almond Joy bar, I combined a devil's food cake mix with the usual suspects, as well as almond extract (hardly a suitable replacement for almonds, but what can ya do?), coconut cream pudding mix, and flaked coconut. If I had had some sliced almonds at my disposal, they would've gone in as well.

The result was a perfectly pretty and quite tasty dessert. It was a wee bit on the dry side around the edges, but that was effectively remedied with some vanilla ice cream or, even more deliciously, some leftover cream of coconut.  I briefly considered going all out with the semi-homemade notion and frosting with Cool wHip, but regained my senses just in time.

Almond-less Almond Joy Cake
(based on this recipe)

1 box devil's food cake mix
1 (3.4 oz) box coconut cream instant pudding and pie filling
4 large eggs
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup flaked coconut

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a bundt pan.
Combine the cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, water oil, and extract in large bowl. Beat until moistened. Stir in coconut and pour into pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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April 7, 2010

adding insult to injury


Poor bird. Even those with the hardest of hearts has to admit that the disgrace suffered by this particular fowl is quite extreme.

First--how can I put this gently?--she left her body and this world and went on to a land made of birdseed and earthworms.

Then her lovely feathers were removed, among other things which we need not discuss. Finally, adding insult to injury, she got an apple unceremoniously stuffed up her rear end.

All that for me?

Isn't that demeaning? Geez.

Thanks, little lady--I appreciate your sacrifice.

Ravaged and Roasted Rosemary Hens
2 cornish game hens, completely thawed and dry
2 small apples
2 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 375F. Stuff an apple and 1/2 sprig of rosemary into the empty cavity of each hen. Place on a roasting pan or dish sprayed with non stick spray, and rub oil over each hen. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and remaining chopped rosemary and rub into skin. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, bring the oven temperature up to 400 degrees to brown the skin. Just make sure that they are in the oven for an hour total or until juices run clear. Let rest 5-10 minutes before serving.

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April 3, 2010



What would Easter be without carrot cake?

Corner porn.
A bit of a disappointment, that's what.

No bones about it, I love carrot cake. In the past, the cream cheese frosting typically applied has been the major draw for me, but I've recently come to appreciate the cake itself for its intricate and amazing flavors and textures. I've tried many versions, some basic and others complicated, and the recipe I had come to love the most was a happy medium involving carrots (duh), pineapple, coconut, and walnuts.

Yep, I wrote that last sentence in the past tense. It seems I have a new favorite, and I have Jaime of Good Eats and Sweet Treats to thank for it. I'd had her recipe for carrot cake bookmarked since she posted it over a year ago, but I procrastinated making it because cream of coconut isn't something I keep stocked in my pantry. When Jaime challenged me to compare my go-to recipe with hers, I had no choice but to give it a try.

Feeling inspired and on a mission, I purchased some cream of coconut and set to work. Now, I'm sorry, Jaime, but I didn't follow your recipe exactly. I used my recipe but with the addition of the cream of coconut in lieu of some of the oil. Baby steps, right? I also changed up the frosting, eschewing the cream cheese (contain the violent outbursts, please) for a buttercream-of-coconut-type concoction.

Can you say 'winner by a landslide'? How about 'no competition'? The cream of coconut did something magical to the cake, making it all the more moist and decadent. What's more, my frosting was amazing, if I do say so myself--light yet creamy and with just the perfect amount of coconut flavor.

Yes, somewhere along the way, this cake stopped being about the carrots and became focused on the coconut. I have no regrets.

Carrot Coconut Cake
(thanks be to Jaime)

1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup cream of coconut
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon coconut extract
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 cups shredded carrots
1 cup flaked coconut
1 cup walnuts, chopped

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup cream of coconut
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon coconut extract
4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour two 5x9-inch loaf pans. (Yeah, I made two loaves, but feel free to do the traditional layer cake if that's what you're craving!)
In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, oil, and cream of coconut. Add the eggs one at a time and mix well. Beat in the extracts and pineapple.
In a smaller bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Add to the wet ingredients and beat just until moistened and smooth. Stir in the carrots, coconut, and walnuts. Divide evenly among the pans and bake for about 40-50 minutes (less for round pans), or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat together the butter, cream of coconut, salt, and coconut extract until well-blended. Slowly beat in the powdered sugar until smooth.

Hoppy Easter!

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