Saturday, February 27, 2010

Cinnamon Rolls

My sister-in-law Sarah is embracing her inner baker. Strangely, she doesn't see this as a good thing. She reported yesterday that late winter compells her stay at home, bake and eat - but only because she is feeling too grumpy to do anything else. Her latest project was cinnamon rolls.

Cinnamon rolls are one of those recipes which makes a ton and is best right out of the oven. This puts the baker in a predicament. Should she try to find a way to preserve the rolls in a way that doesn't compromise the quality? Or use them up as quickly as possible? I find that freezing the rolls and microwaving them for 20 seconds is the next best thing to fresh. I always make a big batch of cinnamon rolls and, after we eat our fill, I freeze the rest to pull out in small portions for quick breakfasts on weekdays. Sarah prefers to have them out of the house entirely after the family's immediate tastes are satisfied. So she practices this lovely little technique, known by some as Sharing.

Sharing is one of the best parts of baking, in my opinion. My BFF Rebecca told me about a note in one of her local cookbooks, in which the recipe donor shared the story of Doughnut Day in her childhood home. The little girl watched her mother spend the morning making dozen after dozen of raised yeast doughnuts. It smelled of heaven on earth while she fried them all in the hot fat. Out came the sugar and cinnamon or powdered sugar to coat them. And then the dad would pile all the children in the truck to deliver most of them to nearby friends and neighbors. The family at home each got One Doughnut to enjoy.

Here is the recipe for Sarah's Cinnamon Rolls:

1 package dry yeast
1 c. warm milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/3 c. margarine
1 t. salt
2 eggs
4 c. flour

1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in milk.
2. Add sugar, margarine, salt, eggs and flour to the yeast mixture. Mix well.
3. Knead with floured hands into a large ball.
4. In a covered bowl, let dough rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
5. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough out to approximately 21 inches x 16 inches.
6. Melt 1/3 c. butter and spread over the surface of the dough.
7. Make a mixture of 1 c. packed brown sugar, 2 1/2 T cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over the buttered dough.
8. Roll like a jelly roll.
9. Cut into 1 3/4 inch slices.
10. Place in a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes at 400.*

The Delicious Icing
8 T butter
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. cream cheese
1/2 t. vanilla
1/8 t. salt

Beat until fluffy. Ice onto the hot rolls.

*Now, here is where Sarah showed her genius. Instead of putting the rolls together in a baking pan, she sliced the rolls a bit thinner and put each roll in a hollow of a muffin tin. This gave her perfectly round, uniform rolls and kept them to a manageable portion. The recipe claimed to make 12 rolls, but preparing them in this way yielded 24. Isn't that smart? These were also the SOFTEST cinnamon rolls I have ever had the pleasure of grubbing.

If 24 is too many, be sure to share with your sister-in-law.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


So my friend, Jen, and I went yesterday to a newish eatery on Main Street. It's become fashionable to eat local food and choose locally-owned restaurants to patronize. With the economic crisis deeply affecting our Midwestern county, I am spurred to support local farmers and restauranteurs for reasons other than trendiness.

Our restaurant of choice, Mattern's, took over a storefront inhabited for generations by a ladies' clothing store called Newell's. When Mattern's moved in last year, the 1970's facade came off the front of the building and actual STAINED GLASS with the Newell's name was revealed! I ask you, what heathen made the decision to cover it up in the first place?

Mattern's advertises itself first as a butcher shop. It doubles as an old-fashioned deli. It has become popular with downtown shoppers and merchants looking for a quick lunch. There is a long, vintage cold case running the length of the building, filled with lunchmeats, cheeses and custom cuts of beef, pork, chicken and fish. They sell a few basic kitchen ustensils, spices and condiments, including a line of mustards that came in EIGHT (!) different flavors, by my count, including raspberry wasabi, horseradish and chipotle, to name a few.

The owner was working behind the counter and he seemed to know me from the three times I've visited since November. (I just love small towns!) I had in mind that I'd like a liverwurst sandwich with swiss and onion. They didn't list that meat on their sandwich menu, but they had some Braunschweiger in the cold case and were happy to use some for my sandwich. It was tasty and generously proportioned. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it was toasted. I wonder if they could have toasted it for me? I didn't think to ask.

I ordered a cup of butternut squash soup as a side and it was the winner of meal. The squash was pureed silkily and included some chunky ingredients like sausage, corn and wild rice. Nom, nom, nom. I finished with a slice of homemade coconut pie, which was delicious.

I suppose I paid more here than I might have at another location, but at businesses such as these I always remind myself that we are not comparing apples to apples. Would the manager at McDonalds have known me from past visits? Would there be sweet vintage furnishings? Would Ronald aim to please me with an off-menu item? Ah, no. I considered it money well spent. Go check it out!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Grandma's Thick Potato Soup

A question I love to ask people is: If your mother offered to make you anything you wanted for a birthday meal, what would you ask her to make? It seems to be a question that might reveal in it's answer what your mother's best meal is, or maybe what your favorite meal from childhood might have been. My dad is #2 of 6 kids in the family. He and most of his siblings have answered that question with, "Mom's Thick Potato Soup."

Dad grew up in the 1940's enjoying Grandma's cooking, and a favorite meal was this hearty soup with potatoes, onions and bacon. It was always distinguished by the descriptive word THICK, because GRANDPA'S preferred potato soup was thin and milky, and he liked to float homemade croutons in it. Grandma often made both soups for the meal to please everyone. (This smacks a bit of Short Order Cook to me. I aim to please, but if, after all my preparations, someone wishes aloud for anything different, I sniff, "There's bread and peanut butter in the pantry if you are not satisfied.")

Last night we had a simple meal - the hearty potato soup, fruit and crackers. Some of us are under the weather and the idea of soup seemed bolstering. I also like to think that Soup Days are numbered as we get more frequent glimpses of the sun these late February days.

I guarantee that I never saw my grandmother or mother (who learned this recipe early in marriage) look at this recipe when making the soup, but a recipe DOES exist, and here it is:

Grandma Carrie's Thick Potato Soup
Boil together - 6 c. diced potatoes and 1/2 c. diced onion and cook until tender. Drain.
Combine - 1 c. fried, crumbled bacon, 1/4 c. flour, 2 t. salt, 3 c. milk.

Mix these last 5 ingredient until lump-free and add to potatoes and onion. Stir over low heat until thickened.

Some may wish to add more crumbled bacon or shredded cheese as a garnish, but I arch my brow and assure you that this soup will stand on its own. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

To Blog or Not to Blog?

Look, does the world really need another food blog? I don't know. I guess I just need another food blog. The ones I've seen have certainly been pleasant reads: inspiring, challenging, gorgeous... and perhaps a bit too specific for my daily practices.

I live in a small Midwestern town. I am no more than ten minutes away from any family member, including my in-laws, who are literally over the river and through the woods (well, orchard), and my childhood home, where my father still lives. On the farms and in the gardens, local and organic food is varied and plentiful. On the store shelves, not so much. Gourmet and ethnic ingredients are somewhat harder to manage.

My kitchen work leans to Midwestern farm food, as taught to me by my mother, who is long gone. I have cookbooks by Paula, Julia, Rachel, Betty and Nigella and I use them all. But my favorites are the church cookbooks, or the ones celebrating the events of the local towns... the ones full of local names like Miller, Beachy, Yoder and Bontrager. More treasured still are the well-worn handwritten recipe cards. They are faded and marred with kitchen spills. Most of them are such proven favorites that I don't really need to look at them to prepare the dish. But when I see Mom's careful schoolteacher script on the recipe card for Apple Crisp, I am in her kitchen again, and it's yet another flavor of the process for me to enjoy. I take great pride in emulating her and all our foremothers. We women pass along tradition, nutrition, empowerment, training, and most of all LOVE... happy side effects all, in the process of getting our families fed.

The photo is of my first birthday. I don't know that the composition is so great, but I think it says everything that I want this blog to be. There is food, simply prepared - sometimes special because of the occasion - served at home from the hands of our mothers. These days the hand offering the food is mine and my children happily play the roles of willing recipients and students, learning the skills and recipes for their own homes one day.