Exploring Cooking

In these times of hunkering down and staying close to home there are reports about ingredient shortages as folks apparently starting cooking more from home. Many folks out there are first-time cooks, while others returned to their roots and made family favorites. There were folks who took up cooking to take some sort of control over all the craziness out there. Others took up cooking out of necessity to stretch their shrinking budgets. I’ve always cooked at lot from scratch for both enjoyment and for better health. Staying home was not going to change that, but it did.

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love making pies.

My cooking style was influenced by my grandmas, all three. I came from a blended family and I had an amazing group of women who influenced my life in so many ways. They all brought something different to the table in my cooking experiences. One of my grandmother’s belonged to a cookbook club and made one new recipe a week for as long as I could remember. So experimental cooking seemed to me to be the norm. Another of my grandma’s was the queen of comfort foods, feeding others, and was well known for her pie skills. She gave to me the importance of sharing food with others and the ability to make pastry by gut instinct. My third granny lived in the city and she exposed me to all sorts of foods with her statement that I had to try two bites of everything on the table. It was a taste palette expansion I don’t think I would have had any other way.

Pandemic cooking has brought two things to our home. Learning to really cook for two and making meals that I had never imagined before. RangerSir always was a trouper about eating leftovers and trying new things. I have always loved to browse cookbooks looking for something new to make. Unfortunately for me my collection of cookbooks is old and full of tried and true, but not much new in there begs to be tried anymore. Cooking magazines are outrageously expensive so they are a very rare guilty pleasure. Lucky for me Amazon “gave” a full year of The Food Network app away just after the lock down started and I suddenly had more recipes to try than I had days in the week.

Half of a chicken dinner done on a sheet pan. Thank you Marc Murphy of The Food Network

The Food Network started me thinking about foods I didn’t really use and provided me with new recipes without breaking the bank. We would watch a food show while we ate lunch. Sometimes it was a “What???” moment and other times it had us thinking we should make that. This chicken was suppose to be a spatchcock chicken cooked on roasted vegetables. Once I split the whole chick down the back bone and flattened it on the pan, I got to thinking ‘why am I cooking both haves at one time?” I put the second half in the freezer for another day. The roast vegetables included leeks, something I saw in the store many times. I had always bought onions, shallots and garlic so did I really need leeks too? This recipe got me to try them. They are one of my new favorites to add when doing fall and winter root vegetables. There are now a staple and no longer shy from recipes that call for them.

Another fun thing about using a TV network show is it has turned into a group effort cooking. I know I can print the recipes, but that makes it a one sided affair. Now days I am in the kitchen prepping foods and RangerSir is assigned remote control. His job is to stop, rewind and start the video as I get out of sync with the TV chefs. It makes this cooking a joint effort and we laugh at ourselves in this crazy synchronization of making dinner. He always asks about the food we eat and this way he is much more informed because he was part of the cooking in a way.

Are you cooking more during these times? If you’d care to share I love to hear about what you are making.

Kitchen Workhorse

We have a Sunbeam Power Plus stand mixmaster that we got 38 years ago when we got married. It was a big splurge at the time.  Both RangerSir and I enjoyed baking and so we used some of the wedding gift money and got a little crazy.

The Sunbeam has been the workhorse in our kitchen that has outlasted every other kitchen appliance we have owned.   I have occasionally looked at the current Kitchen Aid with some lust, but the price has always made me step back and wonder what could it do, that my trusty old workhorse could not do.   My Sunbeam probably has more metal gears and a more substantial motor than what is found in today’s stand mixers.

I recently used it to make a new dinner roll recipe.   I enjoy making bread by hand and have done so for years.  I decided with this new recipe, that I was going to try using my stand mixer as called for in the recipe.    The directions called for me to knead the dough using hooks/paddle for 20 minutes.   I wasn’t sure that the old girl could handle the length of time and the challenge of a yeast dough.  I marched forward and the old workhorse did not fail me.

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The recipe was for flaky dinner rolls with many layers of butter and dough.  They turned out nicely, though I must admit I missed the process of kneading my dough.  There is something sort of calming and peaceful about it.    Do you have an appliance in your kitchen that keeps on plugging along?

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Cooking for the Love of It

I love to cook .   I recently saw a survey that said people now spend more on dining out than at the grocery.   It is something I have a hard time getting my head around.   I think it is so because I not only love to cook, I love to feed people.    To me cooking is part art, and part escape.  Definitely an expression of love.  When I cook I get to vicariously by making a meal go to other places and make things that I might never get a chance to taste otherwise.  Today I had a roast and a busy schedule full of work,so I wanted a recipe that I could crock pot this and turn it into something fun.   I went  online and sought out a  new recipe using the ingredients I have on hand.    I found a recipe that I truly wondered how it would turn out, time was running out and because I had everything I went with it.   My rule of thumb is the first time  on any recipe is by the book, so I did just that.   By lunch time   I  had decided that pie was in order  to go with my roast dinner and put together a cherry pie.

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My baking creation today, cherry pie.

Tonight when RangerSir got home he was greeted by the smells of our crock pot roast and his eyes feasted on a cherry pie worthy of Instagram.    I put a dinner feast  on the table worthy of the love for RangerSir.

Photo Challenge Day 3 – To Do List

This one was one I wanted to do but with a twist. I didn’t want it to be a chore list, or a list of all the things that needed to be crammed in to this month.   Instead I wanted it to be a list of the sweet treats that I would like to make.

I got lucky tonight and this is exactly as I took it.   No Photoshop help at all.

I got lucky tonight and this is exactly as I took it. No Photoshop help at all.

I am not sure how many of these I will actually get made this year, as I am back full-time for the this month and next.   It is the busiest time of the year for my employer and hence my free time gets pretty scarce.  With this list there is a starting place if I get some free time.

Easter Caramel Cinnamon Rolls

Each year we spend Easter with friends, and my job is to bring rolls.   Over the years I have brought rolls from various recipes, when I stumbled in 2011 the one that has been declared the winner.    It is based on a recipe I got from the following cookbook: A Montana Table, Recipes from Chico Hot Springs Resort by Seabring Davis.

It is a favorite such that when these arrive the women chatting in the kitchen are known to eat these  a quarter and a half roll at time.   Often by the time the actual brunch time arrives there are only a couple of rolls left   These rolls are decant in every manner, but once a year it is OK to make a small indulgence in half a roll.  If you fall off the “good” eating wagon, make sure you had something rare, tasty and enjoyed it.   Make it worthy of no regrets.

My Buxton Caramel Rolls

Ingredients:
Rolls:
  • about 3 cups good white flour (I use Montana Wheat White), extra as needed
  •  1/4 plus two tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, general all purpose
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Crisco
  • 1 egg, room temperature
Filling:
  • 1/2 pound butter, soften/room temperature (no margarine)
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar (it should hold its shape when taken out of the measuring cup
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon ( 1 teaspoon general all purpose cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon Vietnamese cinnamon) this is a critical secret I am sharing.
Topping:
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Instructions:

Melt the Crisco and butter in warm water (120 degrees).   When it is at 110 degrees add 1 tablespoon sugar and yeast.   Set aside about 5 minutes.   You want a layer of bubbles on the yeast mixture (you are making sure that the yeast is active).   Add the room temperature egg, mix well.   (Do not use a cold egg!)

Set aside about 1/2 cut of flour.   In large bowl mix all dry ingredients except that flour you held back.   Add yeast mixture and mix well.   Using your hand add remaining flour until the dough cleans the side of the bowl.  Do NOT add too much flour as it will make your rolls dry and tough.     Rub with oil, cover bowl with plastic wrap and towel.   Allow to double in size, about 45 minutes.

Here is the topping in the pan before I put the rolls on it.   This will turn into a caramel topping as the rolls cook in the oven.

Here is the topping in the pan before I put the rolls on it. This will turn into a caramel topping as the rolls cook in the oven.

 

While the rolls rise make the filling and topping. Mix filling ingredients until like a paste and set aside.  Mix topping ingredients with mix-master until it reaches the consistency of a frosting  or a cream that will hold its shape when the beaters are removed.  Pour into a 9 x 13 pan.

It is a paste of cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar ready to be rolled up in to the spiral of the rolls.

It is a paste of cinnamon, butter, and brown sugar ready to be rolled up in to the spiral of the rolls.

When the dough has risen, dump out onto a floured board.   Roll  out into a rectangle 18×10 (yes I use a ruler, because you don’t want it to get too thin)  Spread with filling.   Roll up.  Cut into 12 equal pieces.   Put pieces into the 9×13 pan.

Yes there is a ruler on the bread board.   Making sure that the rolls are of uniform size is critical for even cooking.

Yes there is a ruler on the bread board. Making sure that the rolls are of uniform size is critical for even cooking.

Spray with oil, cover with plastic wrap and towel.  Let rise until double in size about an hour.  (they should nearly be touching)   Bake in preheated oven at 350 about 30-45 minutes.  It is about 35 minutes for me in the convection oven.

It is important to cover the rolls with oil and plastic to keep the rolls soft and make rising easy.

It is important to cover the rolls with oil and plastic to keep the rolls soft and make rising easy.

 

When you remove from oven, immediately flip plan, scraping any sauce left in the pan over the rolls.   Allow to cool slightly and serve.

These are for me some of the absolutely best caramel cinnamon roll that I have ever made or ate.

These are for me some of the absolutely best caramel cinnamon roll that I have ever made or ate.

 

Last Weekend Before Christmas

OK it is not really the last weekend before Christmas, but if you hope to ship anything it is the last weekend before Christmas. It is.

This is where the rubber meets the road.   Time for procrastinating is over.   Time for a reality check is due; what can be done for Christmas and what can’t be done.       The family of years ago with everyone living within a couple of  hours of their parents is long gone.   We are now scattered to the four corners of the continent and even a few have settled across the pond.  It is no longer possible for everyone to descent on the old home place for the holidays.   We no longer meet up with family members we love to see and a few we would rather skip seeing.    If you are not going to be home for the holidays it is now time things ready to ship.

This long distance family has been a boon for the commercialization of the holiday.   When you lived near your family it seemed that you saw them often enough, that if you wanted to give a gift, you knew what your family member would appreciate or need.    Your family knew more about your business than you wanted, but there was a quiet understanding when times were tough that your gift may not be as expensive or extravagant as you wished, but it came from the heart. Instead today we feel we must spend to show our love and that we are thinking of family.   That shipped gift without your face, well it has to make up for something.   So we tend to overspend and send gifts we aren’t really sure are right.   Some how we think anything less would not say I love you.

I wrote this because I am struggling with the reality that I am not going to do any  Christmas baking this year. I usually bake dozens of cookies or all sorts and sizes.  I am that person you hate to get behind at the post office.   It is I who lines up with 25 or so priority mail boxes to ship to family and friends all around the country this last shipping Monday before the holiday.   Those boxes are lovingly packed to the brim with just enough for each family member to have one or two of each kind.      Cookies are my love in a box,and some how not doing it seems like I don’t care enough to make time.   Though my  logical brain understands the circumstances this year,  my heart feels some of that Lutheran guilt.

Today I thought for a couple of minutes about running to town and buying 25 made in Montana  goodie food boxes and shipping them apologizing for it not being homemade.   Then something kicked in, those that know will understand.   Those that would not have understood, should not have been on my list anyway.  I have made peace with this decision.   I have also promised myself that this year, when they least expect it, I plan to mail those on my Christmas cookie list some love in a box.     Not because it is a holiday, their birthday or some significant day, but because I thought of them and wanted them to know someone in Montana loves them.

It feels a little weird, but I know it is alright.   The presence of a gift or not does not change how I feel about them.   Those who we love know that.

Make My Cookie Choices

I am biting of a big chunk of responsibility here in the midst of the holiday season that can be so busy, I plan to blog daily.    I plan to share each day my steps working up to Christmas.  So without further ado I kick of the first of hopefully 25 consecutive posts.

The first of December brings the time that I look over old recipes, dig out cookbooks and look for new one to try, visit Yummly.com, visit the ever popular pinerest.com, tv cooking show sites and lastly recipes.com.   This is a big deal in planning for me because I pull my list together and make one trip to the warehouse store, purchase what I need and call it quits.    Planning my baking is also an early effort because they need to be shipped to family and friends back in the Midwest.   Off to plan.   I will let you know what I decide to make this year.