Friday, July 30

Cinnamon rolls

I like cinnamon rolls. No, I love cinnamon rolls.

All of these pictures were taken on the dashboard of my car!

Cinnamon rolls and I have a special relationship. My mom wasn't a star in the kitchen so I didn't get too many "Sunday" breakfasts where there was a veritable spread of homemade goods. I used to marvel in awe when, after a sleepover, my friend's moms would make pancakes and/or french toast and eggs and sausage and - well, you get the idea. I did, however, used to get warm cinnamon rolls almost every weekend - straight out of a Pillsbury can. Sometimes I would watch my mom open the can, thinking how wild it was that the can popped open. When I got old enough, the job of popping the can open fell on me; I would cringe waiting for the 'pop' because I was always afraid that the can was going to explode.  Even now, some 15 to 20 years later, we still have an occasional can of Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for breakfast.  So, you see, cinnamon rolls have become our "thing."

What promise this picture has...

I have, of course, eaten other cinnamon rolls. I've always wanted to experience that freshly baked, just warm from the oven, ooey, gooey cinnamon goodness. I tried some from delis, grocery stores, and even Cinnabon; each time, however, the idea was always better than the reality. They never tasted like I imagined they would; quite frankly, the ones from the can were better.  This was, unfortunately, the case with these cinnamon rolls, too.

Seriously, how good do these look?

Ever since yeast and I became friends, I've been wanting to make my own homemade version of cinnamon rolls. Only problem is that all the recipes I've seen make at least 12-15 rolls; Tara doesn't really like them and my will power when it comes to these things is nonexistent. So I had to wait for an occasion where I could give most of the rolls away. Ever the optimist, I made some dough to store in the freezer until I was able to actually make the cinnamon rolls. When I had the perfect opportunity, I took the dough out to defrost and then decided it wasn't the perfect opportunity and promptly refroze it. And then, I did it all over again!

Best team name, ever!

I was finally able to make them for our softball team for Softball Sunday. There are about 12 ladies on the team, so I knew I would be able get most of the girls to eat at least one. All of the girls loved the cinnamon rolls, even Tara - shocker! I, on the other hand, thought they were just so-so. It's hard to pinpoint what it was exactly, but they definitely needed a little something. Maybe it was because I used a vanilla icing instead of a cream cheese version?

That's my finger grabbing some of that extra icing.

I plan on trying Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls (watch the video) and Ree's, of the Pioneer Woman Cooks, recipes.

Cinnamon Rolls
(Barely) adapted from Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything

I'm including the directions for a cream cheese icing/glaze because I think it'll be loads better than the vanilla icing.  I encourage you to go that route.

  • 3 1/2 cups AP or bread flour (I used APF)
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tb sugar
  • 2 Tb. cold butter
  • 2 eggs
  • About 1 cup milk, preferably whole
  • Softened butter for the pans

  • 2 Tb ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar

     Vanilla glaze
    • 1/4 cup cream, milk, or a combo of both 
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 3 cups confectioner's sugar 

         Cream cheese icing (from Alton Brown)
    • 2 1/2 oz (~1/4 cup) room temp cream cheese
    • 3 Tb milk
    • 5 1/2 oz (~1 1/2 cups) confectioner's sugar


    Combine the flour, yeast, salt, sugar, and cold butter in a food processor. Pulse the machine on and off until the butter is evenly distributed in the flour, but not completely blended in. Add the eggs and pulse a few more times. With the machine running, slowly add 3/4 cup of the milk through the feed tube.

    Process for about 30 seconds, adding more milk if necessary, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tablespoon or two of milk and process for another 10 seconds. If the mixture is too sticky, add flour, a tablespoon at a time.

    Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead it a bit by hand. Form a smooth, round dough ball, put in a bowl, and cover with plastic wrap: let rise until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. (I ended up freezing the dough after it had risen. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and freeze for up to a month; defrost the dough in a covered bowl in the fridge or at room temperature.)

    When the dough is ready, form it into a ball. Put the ball on a lightly floured surface, sprinkle with a little flour, and cover with plastic wrap (I used the same wrap from above). Let rest until the dough puffs slightly, about 20 minutes.

    Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. In a small bowl, prepare the filling by combining the cinnamon and sugar.

    Press and roll the dough into a large rectangle, about the size of the baking dish. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly all over. Wet your hands and shake a few drops of water over all; use a fork to rub the cinnamon sugar and water into the dough a bit; it should be a light paste. (Note: I read on another blog where someone nixed the water and brushed the dough with melted butter before dusting with the cinnamon sugar mixture; maybe that would have helped with the richness.)

    Roll the dough up lengthwise and seal the seam as best as possible. You'll have a long log. Slice it crosswise into 15 pieces. Put each piece, cut side up, into the prepared dish or pan: 3 across and 5 lengthwise. (I put the pan in the fridge at this point and left it in over night. I took it out in the morning and let it come to room temp. while the oven was heating.)

    Heat the oven to 350F and set your rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for about 30 mins. After the rolls have cooled a bit, you can pour the vanilla glaze over them.

    For the vanilla (or cream cheese) glaze, combine all the ingredients and beat until combined and smooth: it should be about the consistency of thick maple syrup - just pourable. Use immediately or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

    Monday, July 26

    Avocado on toast

    I go through phases where I get stuck on eating the same thing for lunch over and over.  For  a while, it was fruit smoothies and then it was Moroccan harissa hummus and pita chips.  Lately, though, I've been alternately enamored with homemade popcorn and these slices of bread slathered with avocado.

    I'd read about it in some other blog and at first, I thought it was too simple and couldn't possibly taste good.  Well, recently, I was at home for lunch (one of the perks of living 5 minutes away from the job) and I had no idea what to eat.  There was some leftover artisinal olive oil bread (not sure of the brand, but you can find them locally in Winn Dixie and the deli section of the Big Blue Devil), picked up at the grocery store while Tara and I were driving home from the Keys.  Also, I had a Hass avocado, purchased on a whim, sitting in the fridge.  So, I smashed some avocado on lightly toasted slices of the bread, cracked a little salt and pepper on top, took one bite and wondered where in the hell that treat had been all of my life.  Seriously, it is ridiculously good!

    I have to add, of course, that Tara is not so fond of this combo, but I've decided she must be crazy; there's no other explanation.  This stuff is so good that I even attempted to make a loaf of olive oil bread at home; I was mildly successful.  I will definitely try again.

    I hate to even call this a recipe...

    Avocado on Toast

    I have tried this on other types of bread, so you'll do fine if you don't have the olive oil bread.  Just be sure it's not too dainty because you don't want it to collapse under the weight of all that avocado goodness.

    •  4 slices of bread
    • 1 Hass avocado


    Toast the slices of bread.  While they are toasting, prep the avocado.  (I know this is pretty straight forward for a lot of people, but, for those not in the know, it can be a bit difficult.)  Slice the avocado lengthwise down the middle.  Twist one half against the other and pull apart.  Take your knife and smack the blade onto the pit; the knife should now be stuck in the pit.  Twist the knife and the pit will come free.  Using a spoon, loosen the flesh by scraping along the edge of the skin - be careful not to cut too much into the flesh.  You should be able to separate the flesh from the skin cleanly.  After that, slice each half of the avocado into about 5 slices.

    Once the bread is done to your liking, spread a slice of the avocado onto each slice of toast.  I find about one slice of avocado is perfect for smashing on the toast.  I don't like it too thick, but your preferences may vary, of course, so adjust this as you need to.  

    Sprinkle the toast slices and any remaining avocado liberally with salt (we use a Himalayan sea salt, but if you're using table salt, be careful not to put too much on).  Crack a generous amount of pepper on the slices, but not the leftover avocado (personal preference, here).  

    Revel in the yumminess!

    Sunday, July 25

    Salty treats: A review

    After my Cheater's homemade pita chips post, I wanted to do a review of some salty snacks that I was able to find at my local grocery store.  You will certainly find more options at Whole Paycheck or any other health food type store, but my intention here is twofold: (1) not everyone has access to a health food store and (2) you'd be surprised at how many products at Whole Foods contain items on the Restricted List.

    Check the ingredient lists; you'll find all good stuff.

    First up: Kangaroo Pita Chips

    Tara thought these were good, if a little plain and needing a bit more flavor.  They were a little softer than some of the other ready-made pita chips we've tried; soft is important to Tara since she recently got braces.  Also, she thought they were a little "fun" when you got the square ones because they had a puffiness about them.

    I don't know if I would buy them again, because, quite frankly, my homemade ones are better and cheaper.  (I recently checked the price of the Toufayan pitas and they are only $1.29; these pita chips are about $3.)  These might be good for an on-the-road snack or when making your own pita chips isn't an option.

    I mentioned these already in the Cheater's homemade pita chips post.  I gotta say that I really, really liked these.  When Tara first tried them, she thought they were glorified matzoh crackers; however, after she had a few, she realized that they were pretty good and flavorful. 

    It's hard to explain why these are so good, but they just have a nice flavor - kind of like a really good loaf of plain bread.  I will definitely continue to buy these. 

    These were surprisingly good.  I picked these up because they were in the deli section next to all the other snacks that I bought, not even because I was looking for pretzels.  It's a good thing, though, because when I checked the ingredients of the pretzels in the regular chip section, they all had at least canola oil, if not soy oil or other things. 

    We don't eat pretzels frequently, but when we get a hankering - I like to dip them in my homemade tuna salad - we'll definitely buy these.

    Final notes:  You should be able to find all of these at your local grocery store's deli section.  I don't claim to have checked out all the selections in the regular chip section of the grocery store, but almost all the ones that I have checked out have ingredients on the restricted list.  Furthermore, those that are OK are undoubtedly not super healthy - think Lay's plain potato chips, Frito's, and Tostito's (plus, Tara's sensitive to corn).      

    Make sure to always check the ingredients of whatever you're trying to buy.  Companies change ingredients and formulations occasionally.

    Also, be wary of multi-grain and flavored selections.  The mult-grain varieties may have soy or seed flours and the flavored varieties usually have way more ingredients, often on the restricted list.

    Have you tried any other salty treats that didn't have restricted ingredients and were tasty? 

    Friday, July 16

    Cheater's homemade pita chips

    Tara and I have been trying to find a healthy alternative to potato chips and crackers for salty treats. Recently, we've gotten into pita chips. We really like the Stacy's Pita Chips brand, especially the "Simply Naked" flavor. The ingredient list is relatively short and there's nothing unpronounceable in them. So, this should mean that they're a go for Tara, right? WRONG! As I was chowing down the other day, I read the ingredient list again and realized that they were made with canola oil. This was a major bummer for us as canola oil is on the Restricted Foods list. We're finding out that even the so-called "healthy" foods can be difficult for Tara because many of them contain items that are restricted, most notably soybean or canola oil.

    Since then, I've been racking my brain for ideas on what to do for a salty snack for Tara. I mean, just because Lay's Classic potato chips contain all allowed ingredients doesn't mean that she should eat them, right? I've toyed with the idea of making homemade pita chips out of homemade pitas, but that just seemed like a lot of work for a snack to me, especially with my budding bread making skills. In the interim of finding a solution, we've continued to eat the Stacy's brand and tried out other brands. (We did find these Sensible Portions Pita Bites, which are quite tasty, but they're more cracker-like than pita chip-like.)

    Well, a couple of days ago, I was rooting around the fridge and I found a bag of Toufayan Pita Breads buried in the back. I peeped the ingredients and, lo and behold, there was nothing on the restricted list!

    They weren't fresh enough to make a pita sandwich with, but they were perfect for making cheater's pita chips! I was super excited when I thought of this because now I don't have to go through the effort of making pita bread just for the chips.

    They're ridiculously quick and easy to make. All I did was cut up the pita into relatively even triangles, split them (optional), brush with a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle some salt and pepper (and garlic powder for me), and toast in the toaster oven for about 5 minutes (depending on how crispy you want them). Oh, and as an added bonus, you can make as much or as little as you want; one pita works for us.

    (I was so hungry for these that I forgot to split the pita before toasting.)

    Cheater's Homemade Pita Chips

    These are great plain, but they are also nice with some hummus.

    • Pita bread
    • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Salt
    • Optional: Pepper or any sort of powdered seasoning


    Preheat oven (if using) to broil. Slice the pitas into 6 triangles. Split the triangles; this should be relatively easy, but don't fight it if they won't separate. Brush the slices lightly with oil and then dust them with the seasoning(s). (I don't see why you couldn't prep the pitas with oil and seasoning before you slice the pita into sections, but then it might get a bit messy when you try to split the pieces.)

    Arrange the slices on a baking tray and place in oven. If you're using your toaster oven (which I highly recommend), use the toast setting. Flip the pieces midway through. I like my chips only lightly toasted, about 5 minutes in the oven. Keep an eye on the oven after you've flipped them because you don't want them to get burned.

    Wait for them to cool slightly and then enjoy.

    Sweet version: I haven't tried it, but I imagine you could do a sweet version of these by subbing a cinnamon sugar mixture for the seasonings and swapping the olive oil with either butter or a neutral oil like grapeseed.
    UPDATE: I finally made a cinnamon sugar version. They were delicious! For 2 pitas you'll need about a tablespoon of slightly cooled melted butter (or neutral oil), ~1/4 cup of sugar, and ~1 tsp of cinnamon (I'm guesstimating on the amounts for the cinnamon and sugar because I totally forgot to measure). Slice the pita into triangles, but don't split it; Tara and I both agreed that they were definitely better thicker. Mix the cinnamon and sugar. Arrange the pieces on a pan. Brush one side of the pita with the butter, then sprinkle liberally with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Stick the pan in the toaster/regular oven on about 350 until slightly toasted (but not too much). Then, take out the pan, flip the pieces over, brush with the butter, and sprinkle with the mixture again. Put it back in the oven to toast the other side. Be careful when removing the pieces from the pan as the sugar will have likely caramelized and it is not pleasant; I speak from experience, folks.
    Note: If you're interested in trying the chip brands that I mentioned in the post, check the deli section of your local grocer. I only linked to Amazon and any other web pages for reference.

    Tuesday, July 13

    Restricted Foods

    While there has been lots of cooking going on at my house, there hasn't been much blogging about it.  No worries, though, I'll be back up and running soon.  In the mean time, I have been updating the Restricted Foods Page regularly.
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