Sunday, March 4, 2012

When Life Gives You Coconut Pudding....

Isn't it great to wake up to the aroma of cinnamon, butter and baking bread on a chilly Sunday morning?

It is?

I only ask because you see, I wouldn't know.  Around here, we call cinnamon buns "lunch" because even though I get up relatively early on weekends, enjoying my "me" time and a cup of freshly brewed coffee before anyone else rises, I'm not so good at planning ahead.  The thought of hot, ooey-gooey cinnamon buns strikes at, say, 9:30 or so, and after a half hour of internet time looking for the perfect new-to-me recipe, another half hour scrambling through the cupboards, bread machine dough cycle time, rising time....well, many times Sunday dinner stands around, arms crossed, foot tapping, waiting for its oven time because we're still waiting for "breakfast".

But once I get an idea in my head, there's usually no stopping me.  So this morning I decided to go with a bread machine dough recipe that calls for instant vanilla pudding mix.   Bread machine because I am yeast-bread challenged and if kneading by hand I inevitably knead too much or too little, and instant pudding mix because I knew I had some on hand.  Hubby is one of those people who prefers boxed cake mix to homemade...if I add pudding mix, it not only yields a moister cake, I also feel like I'm adding my own little secret ingredient and actually BAKING something.  Yeah, I know, thousand of people do it, but it makes me feel better!  So I (almost) always have pudding mix on hand.

And like most of my hare-brained schemes, if something can go wrong, it will.  "Bah!" moment number one....I only had coconut cream pudding mix.  I know I bought it for some reason, but can't for the life of me remember what it was!  Ah well, it will have to do.  "Argh!" moment number two, bread machine?  Where are you?  Am I the only one who goes through an insane bout of cleaning and organizing, then two months later can't find anything? Like my potato masher or my bread machine?  Finally found it in the garage.  Potato masher is still MIA, though...

Eventually, bread machine did its work beautifully, handing me this lovely ball of sweet dough, flecked with bits of coconut flakes even!

The recipe, which I've seen countless times online so I'm not sure exactly where it originates from, called for kneading an additional 3 to 5 minutes (again, I trick myself into thinking that I actually made the dough).  I rolled it out into a rectangle and just as I began to spread the cinnamon/brown sugar/butter filling, I idea.

My ideas.  Well, sometimes they work, and sometimes....let us not forget *shudder*  Frankenmeatloaf.  I began to think about that coconut creme pudding mix, and suddenly that decadent brown sugar cinnamon filling seemed to lack something.  So I added 1/2 tsp of ground allspice and 1/4 tsp nutmeg, and spread that over the dough.  I also remembered seeing some shredded coconut and added a bit of that, then rethought my idea of omitting chopped pecans because they go so nicely with coconut.  I almost added chocolate chips....well, we'll see how this incarnation turns out before we go there!  I mean, before you know it I would have been chopping jalapenos or something and ended up with Frankenbuns, Bride of Frankenmeatloaf.

The dough was BEAUTIFUL to work with.  I kneaded it for a few minutes, and even with a very scant amount of flour it hardly stuck at all.  I rolled it out into a rectangle...

...topped with my spiced filling, sprinkled half with shredded coconut and pecans (some of those with whom I live are not enthusiastic about "different" things, like coconut and pecans...)

Rolled it into a log (again, no sticking! It was a miracle, I tell you!), pinched the seams and cut into 1" slices using a serrated bread knife.

Placed them in a buttered 9" x 13" baking dish, covered and let rise for about 40 minutes.

Before rising....
Then I baked for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven until golden and bubbly.  Meanwhile, I combined softened butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and some fat free half and half (you know, just to balance things out...).  Actually, I like using half and half in frostings like this for added richness.  The "fat free" part was strictly coincidence.

I let the buns cool just a bit, then topped each one with a dollop of icing and spread with the back of the spoon (then licked the spoon).  I topped the coconut filled ones with a bit of toasted coconut....


The result?  Decadent. Delicious. Definitely a success.  The original "Soft, Moist and Gooey Cinnamon Buns" recipe posted on Allrecipes is a keeper, so if YOU have instant vanilla pudding mix in your cupboards, I highly recommend this recipe!  Here's my version, based upon what I had on hand....

Coconut Spice Buns

1 cup buttermilk (milk w/ 1 tbsp vinegar works fine)
1 egg, beaten
4 Tbsp butter, melted
4 Tbsp. water
1/2 3.5 oz. coconut cream pudding mix
4 cups bread flour *
1 Tbsp white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
4 Tbsp butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 to 2 tsp milk
1/4 cup toasted coconut

Follow your bread machine instruction recommendations (usually liquids first, dry ingredients, yeast last) and place buttermilk, egg, melted butter, water, pudding mix, flour. sugar, salt and yeast in bread machine. Select Dough cycle.

Remove dough and knead for 3 to 5 minutes.  Roll into a large rectangle, approximately 18" to 20" long.  In small bowl, combine 1/2 cup softened butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg.  Spread over dough.  Sprinkle with shredded coconut and pecans.  Starting at wide end, roll dough into log; pinch to seal seams.  With serrated knife, cut into  1" slices and place in buttered 9" x 13" baking pan.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden and bubbly.  Meanwhile, combine 4 Tbsp softened butter, confectioner's sugar, vanilla and just enough milk to make a thick, spreadable frosting.  Let buns cool for a few minutes, then top with frosting and sprinkle with toasted coconut.  Makes 18 cinnamon buns.

*Note about bread flour:  I never, ever think to buy bread flour, which is basically flour with a higher amount of gluten.  There are two ways to sub regular all-purpose flour for bread flour:  for every 1 cup of flour, add 1 tsp. vital wheat gluten OR for every 1 cup of flour, add an additional 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour.  Either way will get you where you want to be! :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

It's The Little Things....

It's the little things in life that distract you from things like cleaning the house or making dinner.

Today, it was these......

We have a lot of antique shops around here, and before I had my daughter (complete with her father's "Bull-In-A-China-Shop" genes) I would frequent one or two almost every weekend.  My favorite (aka least expensive) one closed a few years ago, and I truly miss it.  I bought these three little knick-knacks for a buck apiece there.  Hopefully I can add to the collection one of these days!  They are not only cute, but functional as well.  

In case you have not yet recognized what they are, here's a subtle hint:

Cute, huh? :)

And unlike some of my other "antiquities", we actually use them all the time....

And when not in use, they don't take up much room and look adorable.

So, dinner's at 10:15 PM.... I'm making a version of my Italian Porketta, but in a crockpot.  I might crank it up on high for an hour or two to speed things up!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Triple (Dog Dare You...) The Ginger Cookies

Ah....sweet memories of holiday baking!

I tried a new to me ginger cookie recipe this holiday season - Triple The Ginger Cookies from Allrecipes.  And they stayed fresh and soft and chewy in an airtight container for three weeks (ask me how I know...go ahead!)  Yup, after the cookie platters and tins were distributed, and the Christmas decorations packed away, I came across a sealed container of these in my cookie storage room (aka home office...where no dogs are allowed...the only place a cookie can remain safe!) and yes, I triple dog dared myself to take a nibble.  
And I'm still here!

No holiday cookie tray would be complete without some sort of ginger cookie.  Or two....or three.  This year I added this recipe to my baking to-do list.  Not only do these cookies have dried ground ginger in them, but also fresh grated ginger AND crystallized ginger.  The recipe scared me a little at first - would the ginger be too predominant?  I mean, it CAN have quite a kick to it.  But I forged ahead and grated some gingerroot and minced some crystallized ginger...and I am so happy I did!

The dough was a bit sticky after mixing, but after just an hour or so chilling in the refrigerator, it was easy to handle.  I rolled it into balls, using my cookie scoop for measuring.

I call this photo "Way too much time on my hands!  Please hire me"
See? It really is a friendly little cookie!

My kitchen was filled with the warm aroma of ginger as the balls of dough were transformed into these...

Absolute perfect crisp-chewy texture, three distinct levels of ginger flavor, but just the right amount of ginger kick, this recipe catapulted itself into my top ten favorites before the first of the cookies had cooled completely.

They store beautifully in an airtight container, but both the cookie dough (rolled into balls) and the baked cookies also freeze well for longer storage.

Perfect with a cup of tea on a cold winter day!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Spicy Cauliflower Poblano Soup

I think the only good thing I can say about being in a cooking rut is getting out of it.  As frustrating as being in a rut is, that split second when you're standing in the grocery store and you spot that ingredient that triggers the avalanche of creativity almost makes it worth the trouble.  That happened to me at Wegman's recently.  The first Wegman's in Massachusetts opened back in October 2011 (same day as the premier of the second season of "The Walking Dead"..... I loved that day...) so yesterday I visited again.  Most of my 2,000 grand opening friends were absent, so I actually got a chance to browse areas I hadn't been able to get near that day.  I knew I had been in a rut.  Sure, I had cooked a few good meals, even a few new-to-me ones, but I hadn't "invented" anything in a long time.   I hadn't found myself inspired enough to do so lately.

The first thing I spotted when I walked into Wegman's this time was a display of huge, beautiful, snow white heads of cauliflower.  Funny, that was the first thing I spotted back in October, too, and now I will forever associate cauliflower with zombies.  It's not just me... in the book "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", there is a reference to the carnivorous undead being tricked into feasting on heads of cauliflower instead of human beings.  So don't call me weird or crazy, okay?  It's a perfectly logical association, I assure you.

I remembered this amazing cauliflower soup I made once or twice and thought about making that again, but I really wanted to be inspired to make something different.   I picked one up...put it down....picked it up again...put it down again.  I decided to come back if nothing else piqued my interest, and started wandering through the rest of the produce department.  Last time I was here, I had picked up two poblano peppers - I had never cooked with them before - and promptly fell into my cooking rut, letting them rot in the bottom of by crisper drawer in the fridge.  I spotted them and thought about giving it another try, but passed with an empty basket and headed over to the cheese department.   Ah, to find something new (to me).

And there it was.... a small selection of cheeses I had never tried before!  Among them some Mexican style cheeses, like Cotija, a sort of sharp, crumbly goat cheese; and Queso Panela, a soft, white cheese; and Queso Blanco, a creamy white cow's milk cheese, kind of a fresh mozzarella texture and flavor, but it doesn't exactly melt, it just softens up.  The sign said it can be sprinkled over, among other things,  soups as a garnish....

Soup, you say?

Egads! I think I feel a recipe coming on!

I grabbed some cheese, then retraced my steps through produce, snagging one of those gorgeous heads of cauliflower, a poblano pepper, a jalapeno, and some of my staple veggies, onions, garlic, red bell pepper and carrots.  I grabbed an avocado, too, because, well, it was there.

Once I got home, I chopped up the poblano pepper, minced three cloves of garlic and separated the cauliflower into bite-sized florets.  I tossed them with some olive oil and seasonings - salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and cayenne.

I spread this mixture on a baking sheet and roasted them, stirring occasionally, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, I diced some onion, celery and carrots and sauteed them in a little olive oil.

When the onions were translucent, I added some diced red pepper.  I like red pepper to stay a little crisper, so that's why I added it later.

After that, I forgot to take pictures, but basically I added some chicken stock and seasonings to the sauteed onion mixture, then stirred in the roasted cauliflower.  I also added a minced fresh jalapeno pepper.  I made a roux out of butter and flour, whisked in milk and added that to the mixture and let it come up to a heavy simmer and thicken up.  I then sort of half-mashed, half pureed the soup.  I like to leave some cauliflower in floret form.  When serving, you can swirl in sour cream and garnish with cilantro, sliced scallions and/or avocado chunks. and maybe a few hunks of that queso blanco or even some shredded cheddar would work..   

Roasted Cauliflower Poblano Soup....Creamy, but light, with a bit of a kick.   Just enough to keep you safe from zombies.

The Recipe.....

Roasted Cauliflower Poblano Soup

1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt & pepper
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced onion
1/3 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp Mexican oregano
1 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Sour cream
For garnish, crumbled queso blanco, sliced scallions, diced avocado and/or chopped cilantro.

Combine cauliflower, poblano and garlic; drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and toss to coat.  Add cumin, chili powder, cayenne and salt & pepper, and toss again.  Spread on baking sheet.  Bake at 375F, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in large skillet or stock pot.  Saute onion, celery and carrot until onion is translucent (about 7 minutes).  Add red pepper and cook an additional 3 or 4 minutes.  Add chicken stock, oregano and roasted cauliflower mixture to the onion mixture, and simmer 15 minutes.

In small pan, melt butter; whisk in flour, then milk.  Whisk until smooth, bringing to a boil.  Add to soup.

Mash or puree soup, if desired.

Swirl sour cream into individual servings and garnish as desired.