Cinnamon Rolls

Friends, it is the weekend.

And weekends call for all manner of things that don’t usually happen on a typical day.

Things like baking. Things like the smell of cinnamon dancing out of your oven and caressing the noses of everyone in your house, torturing them for the duration of your baking endeavor.

I’ve been wanting to make cinnamon rolls for a while, and for some reason last weekend just felt like The Weekend for Cinnamon Rolls. Every now and then, I get the need to knead, y’all.

Here are some images of the work in progress:


Cinnamon Rolls Recipe (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen):

Dough
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise or instant yeast (from 1 envelope yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

Filling
3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Pinch of salt

For dough: Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, about 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add additional 2 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

For filling: Mix brown sugar, cinnamon and pinch of salt in medium bowl.

Press down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon mixture evenly over butter. Starting at the longer side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, trim ends straight if they are uneven cut remaining dough crosswise with thin sharp knife (a good serrated worked well here) into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Lightly grease two baking pans or sheets. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.
(The double-rising process is important, don’t skip it!)

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up and EAT.

(Note: You can find many versions of cinnamon roll frostings and glazes on the Internet, but we opted for none of the above since we prefer our sweets not too sweet.)

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Spinach Salad with Kiwi, Red Peppers, and Black Grapes

This salad was so great to make and then eat.

I want to say it looked so good that I didn’t want to ruin it by eating it.

But that would be lying.

Spinach-Grape salad

Food in our house: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

So, if you’ve seen my food posts you’ll know that some of them are really fresh, health-conscious, meatless, and light. Other posts are- well, not so much.

It’s kinda like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in this kitchen sometimes.

Family:
“Mama! I want Drumstick Chicken!” (i.e. a whole rotisserie chicken that he can pull the drumsticks off of)
“Lulu! How about some lamb tonight? The one you made last time mmmm.”
“We have a new jar of hazelnut butterrrrrrrrr… Cookies?” (Accompanied by huge grin and a mountain of anticipation in father and son’s eyes).

Me:
“Salad!”
“Vegetables!”
“Meat? Nah. Asparagus!”
“Vegetarian? Vegan? Gluten-Free? Non-GMO? Low-fat? ALL OF THE ABOVE, BRING IT ON!”

Hopefully, it means more (vs. less) of you are interested in reading about the food we eat. Maybe I’ll try to stick to certain themes every now and then to be a bit more consistent.

For this post, we will explore the Food of Fools*:

Foul - Fava Bean Dip

Foul - Fava Bean Dip

Rice with broad beans and lamb

(*In Arabic, Fool means bean/beans)

The first dish (pronounced Fool) is a bean dip made of Fava beans. It is traditionally eaten in Egypt, but has been adopted all over the Middle East for its amazing taste and its ability to both satiate you as well as cause you to enter a waking state of food coma that’s accompanied by a perma-smile that stays plastered on your face until the moment your system is done “processing” it.
(A good thing, because your whole household will become very aware of your system, um, “processing” these beans, which is why you’ll want to all eat it together and share in the bean by-product loooove).

In our family, it’s the man of the house who’s responsible for this dish, and he wins the title of King Fool. Oh yes I did.

The secret to perfecting Fool is the topping, which is a mix of crushed hot chili peppers (we use serrano), crushed garlic, lemon juice, diced tomatoes, and olive oil.

The second dish, rice with broad beans and lamb, is a favorite of ours since I can pick out the rice and beans, and my husband and son can inhale the lamb. A truly versatile, multi-purpose dish.

Recipes! Read on..

Foul/Fool Fava Bean Dip:
(This is based on my observations, but King Fool will have to be the one to correct any inaccuracies)

Ingredients:
1 can (approximately 15 oz.) of Fava Beans (you can get these at your local Middle Eastern or Persian store)
1 hot peppers (we use serrano, you can also use jalapeno)
2  cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon – 1 lemon (we love us some lemons, so the more the merrier!)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 tomato, diced

Directions:
Prepare topping:
Seed the peppers, then slice them and place into a mortar, if you have one. (Otherwise you can dice really really finely and put in a small bowl).
Add the garlic and salt, and grind until you get a paste. Mix the lemon juice in with the paste.
Empty contents of Fava bean can into a deep skillet or saucepan.
Heat beans over medium-high heat.
When beans have been heated through, scoop out onto a plate and use your spoon to create a trench about 1/2 inch away from the edge of the plate – the trench will catch the oil/lemon juice/etc.
Assemble the tomatoes around the middle of the plate, leaving some space in the middle for the topping.
Pour the topping onto the middle of the plate, then drizzle the olive oil on top and around the rest of the plate.

Voila! You can use little pieces of pita or your favorite bread to scoop the beans out and enjoy!

Rice with broad beans and lamb

Ingredients:

About 3 pounds of lamb, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes/pieces
1 bag of frozen broad beans (can find in Middle Eastern/Persian stores)
2 cups of basmati rice
4-5 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1.5 teaspoons allspice
1 Tablespoon olive oil

In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the lamb pieces and spices, stirring frequently until the lamb starts to brown.
Add the broad beans, stirring until they start to soften.
Pour 3 cups (or until beans and lamb are covered) of water on top of the lamb and beans, and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium, cover the pot, and simmer the beans and lamb for 20 minutes.
Add the rice to the lamb, beans, and water, and add just enough water to cover all the ingredients in the pot. Once everything comes back to boiling again, cover the pot and simmer for another 20 minutes, or until water has evaporated and rice is tender.

We LOVE eating this dish with a really fresh side salad or with plain greek yogurt.

Avocado Beet Goat Cheese Salad

Sometimes, things come together on a plate and it’s Just Right.
This salad from last week was just that. A delight.
I took my time making it, savoring every step of the process, then savoring every. single. bite. Slowly. Mindfully. Joyfully.

Wanted to use the beets that were left over from my beet panini from the other day, and I had just bought some delicious-looking goat cheese and pears. The stars were aligned, and then I aligned them all on my plate.

The play between textures and sharpness of flavors between the pears and the goat cheese was wonderful, and was nicely complimented by the fresh earthiness of the greens.
I actually enjoyed some parts of the salad that had no dressing on them, as it allowed me to really taste the ingredients.

Ingredients:
Mixed salad greens, about 2 cups
1 pear, sliced
1/3 can sliced beets
1/4 to 1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled (mine was an herbed chevre)
1/2 avocado, sliced

Dressing:
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 – 2 teaspoons olive oil (I tend to keep the oil to a minimum, but if you enjoy  more oil on your salad, go ahead and use more)
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried or fresh rosemary
fresh black pepper to taste
Using a fork or small whisk, whisk the dressing ingredients together

To prepare the salad, assemble the greens on your plate, then place the beets, avocados, and goat cheese on top of the greens. Assemble the pear slices around the plate, then either drizzle the dressing on top of the salad, or keep it on the side.

Here’s to a greener, healthier us! After eating this salad you will feel both satisfied (by the healthy fats in the olive oil and avocado), and light – a great combination in my opinion.

Food Shortages, the Arab Spring, and Obesity

In an article published today in the Economist, titled Food and the Arab spring: Let them eat baklava, the magazine investigates an issue that it argues is rooted in as well as is a result of the Arab Spring: food shortage in the Middle East.

I became interested in food shortages and their effect on communities around the world back in 2008, when I started to read more about the issue. Some articles from that time include Food: The Silent Tsunami, and Food and the poor: The new face of hunger.
I distinctly remember reading these articles and feeling a sense of deep concern about what the next few years would bring.

Would the world rally together and come up with practical, targeted solutions to relieve the suffering of millions of people threatened by hunger?
Would societies rise up against their governments and demand a solution, forcing those regimes to take a hard look at their tradition of corruption, and finally take steps that will be in the best interest of their people?

In the Middle East, the answer to the latter was Yes. The popular movement started with Mohammed Bouazizi, a street food-vendor, nonetheless, protested Tunisia’s lack of concern for its citizens’ rights to basic human dignity by setting himself on fire. His act subsequently set the Arab world on fire, starting the string of uprisings we now refer to as the Arab spring.

As events unfolded, I continuously questioned how desperate people in the region I come from, Palestine/Jordan, were for change. How deeply were/are they feeling the need for reform, for renewal, and for the restoration of their own dignity and basic human rights?

How hungry (in all senses of the word), are we, as a society?

The article in the Economist brought to light a link between food shortages and the uprisings that I hadn’t considered before, and it made me consider what our future holds all over again.

One thing governments have been trying to do in order to quiet the revolutions is provide food subsidies to their people. I have heard stories of corruption even in the distribution of these subsidies that have left me sick to my stomach. Why does it seem that the ones who are always the most in need are the ones that are most easily brushed aside and ignored?

This corruption, coupled with non-targeted, blanket subsidy policies will backfire. In my opinion, Arab governments need to do more to reform themselves by weeding out the corruption (something that apparently only changes when the movement is driven by the people), target subsidies to those who really need them, and cut costs in other areas.

One effect of cheap food subsidies that concerns me, since it touches me and my family members that live under these regimes personally, is the sharp rise in obesity levels. I am troubled by the statistic in the article that says that 35% of Jordanians are obese.

Obese. Not just overweight. Our need for cheap calories has caused us to consume the worst kind of calories, the ones that cause us to balloon in weight while at the same time contributing to our levels of disease and health decline.
Obviously, there are other factors causing our obesity rates to rise, besides thoughtless, nutrition-empty food subsidies, such as the rampant spread of fast food consumption, but still, I believe a large part of the issue is the need to buy the cheapest food possible.

Our society is at risk of being killed by the one thing that is supposed to sustain us: food.

What will we do about it? What can we do about it?

These are questions I will be contemplating myself over the next months and years. Although I might not be able to affect others, I can start with my own family and encourage a focus on health in addition to cost consciousness.

I realize that this is not enough. I realize that we need change that targets those most in need, and I hope that by collectively thinking about the issue, people will be driven to take action.

Must. Stop. Eating. Guac.

This needs to stop.

Guacamole addiction

Recipe here. Enjoy.

And good luck trying to “just have one bite!” (That was me, a few pounds ago. Thanks a lot, Costco, for all those cheap-ish avocados!)

Slow-cooked herb chicken with vegetables

This past weekend, I ventured into unchartered culinary territory.

Ever since we got our slow-cooker – probably a year and a half ago, I’ve been trying to come up with different ways to use it. So far, I’ve used it to make vegetable soups, bean soups, and lamb dishes – like the one I posted the recipe for here.

For some reason, I’ve shied away from making chicken in the slow cooker – it just hasn’t sounded appealing to me at all.

This weekend, I decided to give chicken a chance. I had some chicken breasts that had been thawing in the fridge, and I really needed to cook them before they went bad. I also wanted to avoid throwing out some other ingredients – in the spirit of not wasting food. The end-result was actually better than I expected, so I decided to share!

Slow-cooked herb chicken with vegetables

Ingredients:
4 chicken breasts, cleaned*
(*Note: If there is interest, I will share in a separate post what I mean by ‘cleaning’ the chicken before cooking it. It involves a little more than just rinsing it with water, and is a tradition passed on by grandmothers and mothers to get rid of any residual ‘chickeny odor’. It really makes a difference in the freshness and flavor of the chicken!)
1/2 lemon
3 russett potatoes, cut into wedges
6 medium carrots, quartered or sliced into circles
2/3 red onion
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
any combination of the following: 1 Tablespoon Dried rosemary, 1/2 Tablespoon dried chives, 1 Tablespoon za’tar (dried thyme/spice mix – can be found at middle eastern/Persian markets)
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Directions:
Clean the chicken and trim off excess fat.
Once the chicken is cleaned, use your knife to create a couple of grooves in each chicken breast.
Season the chicken with salt and pepper to taste, then the cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice.
Place chicken aside.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the tablespoon of oil.
Place the rosemary, chives, and/or za’tar in the skillet and wait until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
(Note: If you have access to za’tar, I really recommend using it here – heating it in the skillet and searing it onto the chicken lets off the most heavenly smell)
Place the chicken breasts in the skillet and cook on first side until light golden brown, about 2 or 3 minutes.


Flip the chicken breasts over to the other side and cook another minute or 2.

Place the chicken breasts in the slow cooker, and squeeze the half lemon on top of them.
Add 3/4 cup of water, and place the potatoes, carrots, and onions on top of the chicken.
Season the vegetables with some salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the almonds on top of the vegetables (Optional – I wanted to try them out in this recipe, but after trying it out, I think next time I’ll skip the almonds. They were a bit too crunchy and distracting).

Set the slow-cooker to cook on Low for 8 hours, cover that baby up, and go about your day!

Come back almost 8 hours later and behold!

The chicken is under there somewhere, I promise. By this point the chicken is cooked to the point that it almost just melts in your mouth.

Serve with a side of rice, or some really nice bread and salad.

Bon appetit!

Beet Mozarella Panini

Lunch.

It’s a concept that has been reduced almost to non-existence, a practice that has been reduced to eating heated up brown rice out of a paper cup and a side of microwaved frozen veggies. Yuck. But, when time is tight and your stomach is rumbling, you figure out how to make it work, even if it means eating like a college student all over again.

Today I had the fortune of being able to work from home, since I needed to be here for some furniture that was getting delivered. As I was typing away on my computer, the daily tummy rumbling began, and suddenly I realized: I have ingredients! I am right here in my kitchen and can whip something up that’s delicious AND nutritious, and keep working!

So, in the spirit of trying and using ingredients I don’t usually use, I looked in my pantry and saw some canned beets that I didn’t really have a plan for. Perfect candidate!

I was in the sandwich mood, so I opened up my fridge, pulled out a few other ingredients, pulled out my grill/griddle/panini press that’s been accumulating dust in the back of my cabinet, and got to work.

Here’s the result:

Beet Mozarella Panini

Here’s the recipe, in case you’re interested:

Beet-Mozarella Panini
Ingredients:

1 Can of red beets
Your favorite bread
Handful of baby spinach
Slice of light mozarella cheese (I just used one light string cheese, which I pulled apart and put on the bread)
Couple slices of avocado
Pepporcini peppers (optional)

Heat your griddle or panini press, or, alternately, heat a skillet over medium-high heat.
Layer the cheese, spinach, beets, peppers, and avocado on your bread, and place in your panini press or skillet until bread is toasted and cheese has melted.

Bonus: I loved dipping my sandwich in a side of balsamic vinegar. It gave the perfect extra little bit of flavor.

Enjoy!

Slow-cooker lamb with rice

Dinner this past Sunday was one of those dinners that just begs to be shared with others. I wished that I could invite you all to dinner that night – I admit I am not one of those people that appreciates or loves lamb or really meat for that matter, but even I enjoyed this meal!
Since I can’t feed you all virtually, I can at least share the recipes and maybe one day you will attempt this yourself – your families will thank you, yum yum yum.

Here’s what dinner looked like on the plate:

Leg of lamb dinner

On the menu:
Appetizers:
– Homemade guacamole + chips
– Green salad with tri-color bell peppers

Main:
– Slow-cooked leg of lamb
– Golden raisin apricot rice “pilaf”

Since there’s a lot to share here, let’s jump right in:
Read more of this post

Hazelnut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Hello friends! It’s Friday, a day to indulge in the leisurely, the entertaining, the delicious. In that theme, I thought I would share a recipe for a cookie that has quickly risen to the top echelon of recipes in our household.
It is the go-to, default dessert request I get from my family (to the point where sometimes I ask “Are you SURE you don’t want to try something else????”

I’m not namin names here, but I HAVE had to wrestle trays of these cookies away from the hands of someone in this house to prevent them from eating the whole batch. (Ahem. Proud of youuuu!!)

It might be a bit of a challenge to find the Hazelnut butter for this recipe, (only 1 of the 3 Whole Foods in the city I live in carries it!) but once you get your hands on some, it’s SOOOO worth it. Trust me.

*Tip #1: Make sure you mix the hazelnut butter really well before using, since the oil tends to separate and sit on the top of the container. If you don’t mix the oil back in you will end up with a really dry cookie.
*Tip #2: You can use varying amounts of unbleached white and whole wheat flour for this recipe, depending on your taste!
*Tip #3: We don’t like our cookies very sweet, so feel free to use 1/2 cup of each of the sugars instead of 1/3 if you prefer a sweeter cookie!
*Tip #4: (Phew, last one, I promise!) I’ve also used 1 Tablespoon of ground flaxseed + 3 Tablespoons of water as a substitution for the 1 egg listed in the ingredients. It works!!

Hazelnut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies (or maybe a bit more – they seem to disappear before I can count them :)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened (I usually put it in the microwave for about 20 – 30 seconds, until just a little bit of it starts to melt, then take it out)
1/2 cup Hazelnut butter, stirred
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar (lightly packed)
1 egg
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2/3 cup unbleached white flour (you can also just use 1/2 cup + 2/3 cup unbleached white flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips (you can use more if you like more chocolate chips per cookie)

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F, and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper.

Using a hand-held electric mixer, blend the two butters together until well incorporated (about 2 – 3 minutes).
Add the sugars, and blend for another 2 minutes, or until the sugars have been incorporated well into the butters.
Add 1/2 cup of the flour (I usually add the whole wheat flour here), the egg, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla, and mix well.
Once the above ingredients are mixed, add in the rest of the flour, mix for about a minute, then gently fold in the chocolate chips.

Using a tablespoon measure, measure out tablespoons of batter and place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Flatten the dough balls a bit with the palm of your hand.
Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the cookies start to brown at the edges.

Remove cookies from oven, and place on wire racks to cool for about 5 – 10 minutes.

While cookies are cooling, chase your cookie monsters away with a large spatula as you practice sprinting from one end of the kitchen to the other (must incorporate some sort of fitness training into the process, OBVIOUSLY).

Eat. Enjoy. You’re welcome.

Oh, I lied. One more tip:
*Tip #5: These cookies are best enjoyed dipped into bitter black coffee (for the adults), or a glass of cold cold milk (the kiddos and kiddos at heart!)

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