Sunday, April 20, 2014

Hot Cross Buns

My strongest memory of hot cross buns takes me back to my childhood in an itchy Easter dress at my grandparents' house in Watford City, ND, back when it was a sleepy little town that smelled of dust and motor oil and sweet prairie grass.

After the early morning Easter egg and basket hunt with my brothers, a few handfuls of chocolate and jelly beans would be consumed for breakfast. Reluctantly changing from pajamas to church clothes, we'd attend service and afterwards, in the big white room that served as a cafeteria of sorts, coffee would be served in Styrofoam cups along with hot cross buns. As a kid, I always skipped the coffee, but I never skipped the bun.

Today, as I mix the hot cross bun batter, I think of my grandparents and Easters past. As the dough rises, I think of the future, carrying the hot cross bun tradition forward with my little one, hoping he carries a memory of the special bread as a sign of spring and renewal and grace. As I finish the last icing cross and share them with my family, I think of the present, how the sunrise is perfect today, how thankful we are for our daily bread, how blessed we are in this little life.

Happy Easter.

Hot Cross Buns
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman. If I would've had cream cheese on hand, I would've softened a couple ounces and mixed it into the icing to give it more flavor and thickness. Noted for next Easter!

2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup grapeseed or canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 package (2 1/4 tsps) active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (heaping) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (scant) baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

1 egg white
Splash of milk

1 whole egg white
Powdered sugar
Splash of milk

Combine 2 cups milk, oil, and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan. Stir and heat until very warm but not boiling. Turn off the heat and allow to cool until mixture is still warm, but not hot--about 30 minutes. Sprinkle yeast over mixture. Add 4 cups of flour and stir to combine. Mixture will be very sticky. Cover with a towel and set aside for 1 hour.

Add 1/2 cup flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir till combined.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar with cinnamon, set aside. Lightly flour counter surface. Press to slightly flatten dough. Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Sprinkle on about a third of the raisins. Then fold the dough over on itself and flatten again so the dough is "plain" again. Repeat the sugar/raisin process, then fold the dough again. Repeat a third time until all the raisins are used. (You won't use all the sugar/cinnamon mixture.)

Pinch off ping pong or golf ball-size bunches of dough. With floured hands, quickly roll it into a ball, then turn the edges under themselves slightly. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for at least 30 hour-plus is better.

Meanwhile, prepare glaze by mixing egg white with splash of milk. Brush onto each roll. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake for 20 minutes or until tops of buns have turned nice and golden brown. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack.

To prepare icing, mix 1 egg white with enough powdered sugar for icing to be very thick. Splash in milk as needed for consistency. Add icing to a small Ziploc bag and snip the corner. When rolls are completely cool, make icing crosses on each roll.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Big Nachos

You know the best part about making a huge pan of nachos? Eating a huge pan of nachos. 
Now that the snow has melted, as the joke goes, if you haven't mowed your lawn yet, you are already behind on yardwork. It's mid-April and some ambitious homeowners already have the tell-tale lawnmower lines running through the dry grass of their front yards that, just a week ago, were covered in snow.

We have not mowed our lawn yet, although my husband keeps talking about this mysterious thing called "power raking." I have troubles imagining a rake with an engine attached to it, but apparently that needs to happen soon.  I'm more focused on my garden, my lovely little vegetable and herb garden, and how I can make my garden space even larger this year. Less lawn = more veggies = happy me.

While the boys were out in the yard diligently raking up the pine needles and leaves that we didn't quite get to last fall, I made nachos. A big 'ol pan of nachos, baked in the oven, with venison, black beans, cheese, peppers, green onions, salsa, cilantro and lime. Using crisped up tortilla slices instead of chips gave it more of a forkable, dinner-like quality - almost like an open-faced Mexican casserole - but I love me some corn tortillas, and I like how the tortilla soaks up more of that savory flavor than a regular chip could.

Being a hungry bunch, we cleaned up half the nachos for lunch, but I kept going back for more. A little snack, then another plateful to call dinner. Nachos for breakfast? I'm all for it.

Big Nachos
Adapted from the May 2014 issue of Family Circle Magazine

About 20 corn tortillas (approx. 12 oz total), cut into 6 wedges each
1 Tbls. olive oil
1/2 pound ground venison (or beef or turkey)
1/2 green pepper, seeded and chopped
One 14-oz can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, whirred in blender quickly to make a chunky tomato sauce
1 pkg taco seasoning
One 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 c. salsa
2 green onions, sliced
1 c. shredded cheese
Cilantro and lime to garnish

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Spread tortilla wedges on two baking sheets. Bake for 5 mins, flip over, and bake for 5 mins more or until crispy and starting to brown.

Heat oil in a large skillet. Add meat and green pepper, cooking until meat is cooked through. Stir in tomato sauce (from the canned tomatoes) and taco seasoning. Cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce over temp to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of 13 x 9" baking pan with tortilla chips. Spoon meat mixture, beans (I used about 3/4 of the beans here, saving the rest for another use), and salsa over the chips. Top with green onion and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Scatter cilantro on top, serve with lime wedges.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

When planning my son's birthday party, I fell into the Pinterest Trap, sucked into the bright Photoshopped images of picture perfect children's parties: the fondant cakes, the balloon sculptures, the jumpy castles, the matching accessories for each child that fits the party theme.... After an hour of late night Pinning, I woke up my sleeping husband.

"Hey, love, do you think we should get blue or red bandanas?"

"Hmmh, uhh, wha?"

"For Ben's party. I can buy a dozen kids' train conductor hats online, but they need bandanas too. We can hang them from the railing with clothespins and twine and each kid can wear them and they can have train whistles and if we can find a big refrigerator box we can build our own engine..."

"I don't think we need hats."

"What? Really? But that's the whole thing. The hats are part of the thing. You know. Trains? Conductor hats?"

"We really don't need hats. I mean, do whatever, but..."

"You don't like the hats? But think about it with the bandana!"

I'll spare you the details, but as I came down from my Pinterest cliff and returned to my senses, I realized that I'd much rather spend cash on good eats vs. cheap trinkets. I whipped up some hummus with veggies, stocked the fridge with beer and juice boxes, and had a slightly Pinterest-y moment with the kid-friendly snack train made out of aluminum loaf pans.

And I made this pulled pork in the slow cooker, which turned out to be so, so delicious. I'm not a big fan of pork - yes, I'm fully aware that it's practically criminal in the food scene to not adore all things pig - but even I dug into this with gusto. Throw it on a bun with a dab of barbecue sauce and some crunchy coleslaw, and I'll take that over a cheap train conductor hat any day.

(Ps, for any parents who can relate to the situation described above, here's a great article that reminds us one simple thing: as parents, we don't need to make our children's childhood magical. Childhood is inherently magical already, even if it isn't Pinterest perfect. Right on.)

Crock Pot Pulled Pork
Adapted from this recipe on 100 Days of Real Food

3 tablespoons paprika
1½ tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
½ cup honey
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, peeled and cut into thick slices
4 to 5 pounds pork shoulder, cut in half

In a bowl, mix together the first five ingredients (all of the spices). Pour in the honey, vinegar, and olive oil and stir to form a paste. Place the onion in the bottom of the slow cooker. Top it with the 2 pieces of pork and then pour the honey paste over all sides of the pork pieces. Turn the slow cooker on to low and cook for 7 to 8 hours or until the meat is tender enough to be easily shredded with a fork, draining any excess liquid. Serve warm with fixings like coleslaw and cornbread. Refrigerate or freeze leftovers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Classic Chocolate Birthday Cake

Why do I insist on homemade birthday cakes? It's all about The Moment.

You know what I'm talking about.

You think about what kind of cake you are going to make, the birthday boy's favorite. (Chocolate with chocolate for this kid this year)

You wonder about decorating the cake, what is going to make his eyes sparkle when he sees it, what is going to get a giggle of delight. (The more trains, the better)

You find just the right recipe because you want the cake to be the best it can be, knowing that it will shared with your nearest and dearest friends and family. (If you are going to eat cake, eat CAKE)

As you prepare the cake, you remember past birthday cakes, and past birthdays, and how quickly these last five years have flown by. (Since you are baking from scratch, you have time to think about such things)

You assemble the cake and frost the layers, perhaps with a mild amount of trepidation (just enough to make you stand a little taller when you see, hey, it turned out pretty darn good)

You await The Moment.

And when it comes, and you see that smile... know it was all totally worth it.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Based off of this highly-rated recipe from a source I trust, this is a classic chocolate cake recipe. I baked it in a 10" Springform and two 8" round cake pans to get the stepped layers I wanted (I trimmed one of the layers down for the top piece), but you could easily use this recipe for cupcakes - just reduce the cooking time. I usually make butter cakes, but the oil in this cake makes it ultra-moist and light. And please, please make the frosting - you will never go back to that icky frosting-in-a-jar again. 

For cake layers 
3 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For ganache frosting 
1 pound semisweet chocolate
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 300°F. and grease pans (either two 10" round cake pans or do as I did with one 10" pan and two additional 8" pans). Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

In a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth. Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable (depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency). Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides.

Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Green Goddess Salad

This salad is me in a nutshell right now for three reasons:

1) Spring! It's spring, right? We're getting close to it, anyways. The stacks of seed potatoes at Runnings are my key indicator there, even as a blizzard warning threatens North Dakota this evening. But spring makes me crave anything green, everything fresh - big salads included.

2) The flavors of New Mexico. Returning from vacation in the southwest, I left all the turquoise and silver jewelry in Santa Fe and instead stuffed my suitcase with chili powder, chocolate, and chile lime pistachios. After so many great New Mex meals, I'm even more obsessed than usual with all things avocado, cilantro and lime.

3) Being what you eat, namely, a green goddess. Staying with my dear friend Jenny in Albuquerque, she whipped up big goblets of green kale-cucumber-apple-celery-ginger juice to kick off our morning adventures while describing how Kris Carr has changed her food life for the better. Ever since, I've been noshing on lots o' veggies, and I don't think it's coincidental that I've been feeling pretty darn good too.

But you don't need a reason to make a great salad, nor do you need to embrace your inner green goddess. I just know that I'm always a little happier after enjoying a big bowl of the good stuff.

Green Goddess Salad
Adapted from Edible Santa Fe magazine, Spring 2014 issue

Romaine lettuce or a spring lettuce mix
1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
1/4 c. walnut pieces
1 ripe pear, sliced
Shavings of Parmesan cheese

Handful of cilantro
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 and 1/2 tsp. honey
1/2 avocado
1/2 jalapeño
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Wash and dry lettuce and set on platter. Blanch Brussels sprouts for 2-3 mins in salted boiling water, then plunge into ice water bath to cool. Drain and set aside.

Toast walnuts for 8 mins. at 350 degrees until starting to brown. Remove, roughly chop and set aside.

Place all dressing ingredients except olive oil in a food processor and blend thoroughly. Slowly drizzle in oil while continuing to blend until smooth and creamy. Taste the dressing and add more lime or salt as needed.

Toss Brussels sprouts in some of the dressing to coat. Top dressed Brussels sprouts on lettuce, add more dressing to taste, and toss. Garnish with walnuts, pear and Parmesan and serve.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spanish Tortilla

If you put tomatoes in a Spanish tortilla, top it with cilantro and then serve it with salsa, does it then become a Mexican tortilla? A Mexican Spanish tortilla? No lo sé.

Regardless, it's tasty. Spanish tortilla is one of the few dishes I make on the regular, obsessed with these simple slices of egg and potato omelet since 2001 (yes, that long ago) when I did my study abroad semester in Spain. Believe it or not, my Spanish university cafeteria made a mean tortilla. My attempts have never reached the fluffy egg heights of the tortilla in my Spain memories, but I've made plenty of pretty darn good ones (and a few fails) in my home kitchen since then.

I am not a Spaniard, and because of this, I have no qualms about my refusal to flip the tortilla. The traditional way to make a tortilla is to flip the entire thing to cook the other side. I happily prefer to set my pan under the broiler for a few minutes and avoid the clean-up and not-so-nice language that would surely result from my flippin' flip. Choose your adventure.

Aside from the flip, another key to good tortilla is soft (but not too soft) potatoes. I posted about making Spanish tortilla five years ago - check it out here if you'd like, but I no longer boil the potatoes and go for more of a thin slice instead of chunks, sauteing the slices with a bit of onion until soft but still holding themselves together. Tortilla is one of my favorite ways to use leftover roasted potatoes, but alas, I rarely have them on hand because I am a monster who cleans up the potato plate every single time (especially the crispy ones).

Aside from that, making tortilla is an easy, flexible meal that I make for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sauteed onion and potato are traditional, but if you throw in some grape tomatoes that are starting to get on the wrinkly side of fresh, or maybe a bit of sauteed garlicky kale, or some leftover ham or bacon, I say good on you.

Spanish Tortilla
2-3 potatoes, cut into small thin slices
1/2 an onion, diced
Olive oil
6-8 eggs
Salt and pepper
Any extra add-ins (I put in a handful of grape tomatoes, sliced in half)

Heat a few Tablespoons of oil in an 8- or 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat - don't be stingy with the oil. After 3 or 4 minutes, drop in a potato slice. When tiny bubbles appear around its edges, add potatoes, onions, a good pinch of salt and a liberal sprinkling of pepper. Gently turn mixture in oil with a wooden spoon, and adjust heat so oil bubbles lazily.

Cook, turning potatoes gently every few minutes, until they are tender when pierced with a small knife. Adjust the heat so they do not brown. If potatoes begin to break, they are overdone; stop cooking immediately. As potatoes cook, beat eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Pour eggs over potatoes in skillet. As soon as edges firm up, after a minute or so, reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 5 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat your oven broiler and move oven rack to highest position.

After those 5 minutes are up and the tortilla seems to be firmly set on the bottom (but not burnt), slide pan under the broiler for 2-4 minutes. Watch carefully - you want to remove the tortilla when it is set and starting to brown. It will burn quickly if left a moment too long under the broiler.

When the top of the tortilla is set and starting to brown, remove tortilla from broiler. Using a spatula and a little jiggle of the pan, loosen the tortilla to ensure it will slide out from the pan.  Slide or flip it out of the pan onto a large plate - serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature.