Garlic and Butter Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls (make ahead!)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow,  and I have been strangely absent.  My mom is hosting, and I am in charge of making dinner rolls, an appetizer, and 2 vegetable dishes for our 12 person Thanksgiving dinner.  So far I’ve got the rolls and the appetizer prepped and ready for baking.  Tomorrow I’ll get the roasted vegetable dishes done.

This is my first time making homemade dinner rolls from scratch, with yeast.  While I have baking issues when it comes to desserts, I have quite a handle on yeast doughs.  Usually it’s the other way around for people, they are intimidated using yeast, maybe for the time commitment (I can understand that), but making desserts is a piece of cake (pun intentional).

The greatest part about working with yeast is it allows you to multi-task.  Once the ingredients are put together and the dough kneaded and shaped, you can fuhgit about it for 45 minutes.  That’s an episode of “Glee.”  Or, the responsible route, it’s enough time to prep an appetizer for Thanksgiving.

I don’t have final pictures yet since the rolls haven’t technically been served.  But after taste-testing the dough, I’m pretty sure they will be a hit.  They are buttery with a touch of sweetness from the sugar and random kicks of garlic from the minced cloves.  If you don’t like garlic, try chopping up some fresh rosemary, or add chives.  This dinner roll recipe is a blank canvas.  I will update about what my family thought of the dinner rolls.  Let’s hope I don’t burn them.

Click here for the printable recipe.

Garlic and Butter Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls

Makes 15-16 rolls

1 cup fat-free half and half
6 tablespoons softened butter, cut into 6 chunks
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 packet (2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon minced garlic (4-5 cloves)
1.  In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter in the half and half.  As soon as the butter is melted, turn off the heat.
2.  In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.
3.  Mix one third of the half and half/butter combo into the dry ingredients, and use a spoon to combine; you should have small, pea-size chunks.  Add the next 2 thirds in the same manner, a little at a time.
4.  Add the egg, 2 egg yolks, and garlic to the dough and mix to combine.  At this point, your hands may make the combining easier.
5.  On a clean work surface, knead the dough about 5 minutes.  Place the dough in a clean mixing bowl and cover with a dark kitchen towel.  Let it rise in a warm place for 45-55 minutes.
6.  After the dough has doubled in size from rising, spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish (preferably glass) with cooking spray.
7. Divide the dough into fourths.  working with one fourth at a time, roll it into a log shape about 6 inches long.  Cut the dough in half, then cut each half in half again so you end up with 4 pieces.  Roll one piece at a time into a ball and arrange in the baking dish in rows or randomly.  Repeat this step with the remaining dough.
8.  Cover the baking dish again and set the rolls in a warm place to rise for another 45 minutes.  (Optional let the rolls rise for 30 minutes, then place then in the refrigerator for the next day.  If making the rolls ahead of time, set them on a kitchen counter for about 20 minutes before baking them.)
9.  Position an oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.  Bake 20-25 minutes, until the rolls are puffy and golden brown.  Serve immediately with extra melted butter brushed on top if desired.
This recipe was adapted from The Weekend Baker by Abigail Johnson Dodge.

Quinoa Fruit Bars

This recipe is a make-over for quinoa, transforming the unglamorous side dish into a sweet and hearty dessert bar that doubles as a to-go breakfast or quick energy snack.  For those of you who have never tried or heard of quinoa, you are in for a treat.  For those of you who have only use quinoa as a side dish for your dinner, you are also in for a treat.  This nutritious grain is much more versatile than I originally thought.

Up until this point, I had only used quinoa, an ancient grain from the Andean highlands of South America revered by the Incas, as a quick grain option.  It’s very easy to cook and has a rich, nutty flavor.  It is one of my favorites. Then I rented from my local library The South American Table cookbook by Maria Baez Kijac.  This book is a collection of 450 recipes from South America, a culinary jewel often overlooked by cooks in the US who are generally more familiar with Mexican recipes.

I wanted to use quinoa in a different way other than relegating it to the side lines and figured that Peruvian or Bolivian cooking would guide and inspire.  After all, Peru and Bolivia were the geographic centers of the Incan empire where quinoa was the “mother of grain.”   I adapted this recipe slightly from a Quinoa Bars recipe in The South American Table by adjusting the spices moderately and taking out the anise seeds, since I don’t like licorice flavor.

Quinoa Fruit Bars uses quinoa like flour, making a “cake” that holds and binds the dried fruit and nuts.  Orange juice and spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg add an autumn holiday flavor.  These bars are moist and versatile.  Since quinoa has no gluten, these bars are an excellent gluten-free baked good option, just use rice flour instead of all purpose). Make variations of these bars by substituting other dried fruit or nuts.  Cut up the leftovers into ready-to-go bars for a quick breakfast or snack. Store at room temperature in covered Tupperware containers for 3-4 days.

Click Here to Print

Quinoa Fruit Bars
adapted from The South American Table
makes 24 bars

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place 1/2 cup of raisins in a cup of warm water for 15 minutes to plump them.

2.  Toast 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts (or other nuts) in a small saute pan over medium heat, about 4 minutes.

3. In a medium sauce pan, over medium-high heat, add
2 cups water and
1 cup rinsed quinoa (See How to: Cook Quinoa for preparation instructions)
Cover the pot and cook 12-15 minutes until all the water has been absorbed.  The quinoa will be light and fluffy.

4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the following:
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup all purpose flour (for gluten-free use rice flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 -2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped dates (or dried apricots, cherries, etc.)
plus your toasted nuts and plumped raisins.

Mix these ingredients together.

5.  Add the quinoa to the dry ingredints.  Mix to combine.

6.  To the dry ingredients mix in the following:
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup fresh orange juice, and
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

7. Pour the batter into a 13 x 9 inch pan that’s been lightly coated with cooking spray.  

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Buen Provecho!

Feeling Discouraged? Bake Bread

Has it been one of those days?  The kind when discouragement is your companion all day long.  When anxiety seems to follow you like a cat that’s been run over looking to you for a place to die.  It may be your health.  Worries over someone else’s health.  Your job or lack thereof.  Maybe your closest relationships have been on edge.

Everything needs a breath of faith.  A booster shot of peace.  Some days when we are fixated on hoping some problem will resolve, we need a reminder of the power of process.

My recommendation: bake bread.  The real kind.  Yeast, water, a little sugar, flour, salt, oil.

There is something visceral about baking bread.  The feeling of taking basic ingredients and transforming them.

Its inherent creativity gives us a sense of accomplishment.  Baking bread is not an instant gratification, the entire process reminds us to be patient; we can’t control things.  We have to let things take their course.  The good thing about bread baking is its course takes a couple of hours, whereas we have no clue with life’s other problems.

Start with the yeast.  A simple creature, easily overlooked.  These drab brown-grey granules are the size of sand.  But when we give it a little coaxing, we awaken it.  Yeast needs 4 basic things: sugar, warmth, darkness, and, most importantly, time.

First, by dissolving the yeast in warm sugar water, we start the initial prompting.  The yeast eats the sugar and emits carbon dioxide in the form of bubbles fizzing to the surface.  If the yeast is good, the bubbles will form a beige film on top and you’ll start to detect that quintessential yeast smell.

After about 10 minutes, we add ordinary staples.  Nothing special.  In fact, they are all quite bland on their own, but that’s what baking is, a creative act of combining ordinary items into something warm and comforting.

Kneading follows.  It is the process of mixing it all together, creating a round ball of dough.   Here’s the one act of baking bread that requires work.

Then we cover it with a dark kitchen towel and leave it alone.  We have to trust that it will rise, but we have no power to hurry this process.  The change is subtle at first, invisible, but after the rising time, we see proof of abundance, the dough has doubled in size.

Finally, we bake it, and the final transformation occurs.  From the oven we take out a symbol of comfort and sustenance.  In about 2 hours’ time we have a warm, fresh loaf of bread, a reminder of what can happen when we let something naturally run its course.

2 baking disasters

Let’s start with a confession.  I am not a baker.

Here’s a more positive spin: I am a wannabe baker.  I love the result, hate the process.  For me, baking is like taking a hike up a mountain in a straight jacket.  Love the view, hate the climb.

Baking is everything that I am not: methodical, precise, sweet, scientific.

I have a few baking recipes that I’ve posted.

Triple Caress Mocha Chocolate Chip Cookies
Double Tree Hotel Chocolate Chip Cookies
Zucchini Bread from the Ancient Spice Routes
Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Half of these, I might add, have been adapted from cookbook geniuses like Crescent Dragonwagon and David Lebovitz.  That’s why the recipes are good- because the adjustments I made are superficial – some extra spice or vanilla, a variation in process.

The truth is, I can open my refrigerator door, grab 10 random ingredients and have a 3 course meal, appetizer, salad, and entree ready in 45 minutes.  But I become weak in the knees when it comes time to make dessert.

This is where my local library and its 2 aisle-long cookbook collection comes in handy.  Recently I checked out Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from my home to yours.  It’s considered a classic.  (Don’t worry I didn’t know that fact until a month ago and I didn’t know Dorie Greenspan from Dora the Explorer)

Let’s just say that learning to bake is like learning to drive a clutch, it’s punctuated with stalls and re-starts.  Here are my two most recent baking disasters.

Disaster #1

For baking attempt #1 I tried making, for the first time ever, a cake from scratch.  Really they were cupcakes since I was taking them to a friend’s work site for her birthday. Some muffin paper cups with Snoopy holding Woodstock’s hand and “It’s good to have a friend” written on them may have also influenced my decision to make cupcakes.

The recipe called for 1 egg and 1 egg yolk.  Eggs, God help me, are for binding all the ingredients as they cook; eggs are the glue of baking.  I know this, but for some reason while I was mixing the ingredients, a bout of amnesia hit.  Really, I was being cheap.

1 egg yolk?  What am I going to do with the leftover egg white?  I can’t just toss it.  Throwing out food is sacrilegious.  I ixnay the 2nd egg.  Instead I substitute 1/4 cup of buttermilk, wrongfully thinking that the extra buttermilk, in addition to the already 1/2 cup the recipe called for, would make the cupcakes super moist.  1 egg, that’s equal to about 1/4 cup of buttermilk, right?

The result: A fragile batch of brown crumbs holding together like a pair of awkward, desperate teenagers caught kissing under the football stands.  These cupcakes shattered at the slightest bite.  We resorted to eating them over the sink because of how crumbly they were.

The lesson: I gotta learn the basics of baking before I go all mad scientist creating something else.

Disaster #2:

Also came from my measly attempts to emulate one of the cooking world’s matriarchs.  This time I was making Dorie’s recipe for pastry cream.  Kris’ uncle was in the Bay Area and came over for dinner.  The plan was to macerate (fancy word for coax the juices out of) a few nectarines, bake up some puff pastry (obviously from a box), and top it off with some homemade pastry cream.

Pastry cream is the ambrosia they put inside chocolate eclairs.  In order to get it out, people either (A) lap it out from the eclair-shell with their tongue, French-kissing style or (B) dig their finger into the eclair-shell, pull the cream out, and gratifyingly lick it off their fingers.  I am part of the B-category of eclair eaters.

I halved the recipe since there was only 3 of us, and I didn’t want this custard-temptress hovering in my fridge.  Still recovering from the previous baking disaster, I decide to follow the ingredient list and recipe scrupulously.  This recipe, halved, called for 4 egg yolks.  This time I heroically decided not to balk at all the extra egg whites.  (At least with 4 I could make an omelet.)  Even the tempering went well.  (Tempering is when you SLOWLY mix hot milk into raw egg yolks, all in an effort to avoid scrambling the eggs)  I have no trouble tempering because I paranoically do it 1/2 cup of milk at a time.  Making homemade custard-based ice cream was how I learned a slow, patient tempering.

Here’s where I went wrong.  I missed reading a sentence (or two…or three) in the recipe.  I was supposed to return the liquid to the stove and cook it a little longer to ensure that the pastry cream would solidify into a luscious custard after a stint in the fridge.

Instead, as soon as I finished tempering the milk into the egg yolks and sugar, I let it cool slightly, then unwittingly covered it and put it in the fridge.  Of course I took a taste of the liquid custard, and of course it tasted like heavenly bliss, and in an hour, it’d have the texture of pudding.

Except later, when I pulled it out of the fridge, it was still the liquid custard I had put in an hour prior.  It had failed to thicken because I missed the crucial step of warming it all up one last time.  Dessert was still fabulous, though next time, when I correctly make the pastry by reading and following every precise direction, it will be delectable rather than laughable.

Scottish Oatcakes a la Game of Thones

Skip the woman’s gibber-jabber and get the recipe: Oatcakes with Apple Compote

I’ve been MIA for a few months now because I have trouble lifting my face out of George R.R. Martin’s epic series A Song of Ice and Fire.  Mainstream, out of the fantasy-genre-loop people, like myself, learned of the series from the HBO hit TV show named after the first book, A Game of Thrones.

Martin has been called the “American Tolkien” for his epic masterpiece that so far is 5 books; I’m on Book #4, A Feast for Crows.  Aside from the brilliant plot twists that keep me up so late I feel like a college student again, Martin has absolutely delicious and thorough descriptions of the food the characters eat.  Usually this kind of description is something I gloss over in my hunger for story.  Ironically enough, I first noticed how often Martin writes about the food as I was participating in a food/body cleanse, in other words, I noticed how often he writes about food while fasting.

For the cleanse itself, my husband and I had a liquid meal for both breakfast and dinner.  Lunch was our only solid meal of the day, and let me tell you, when you only have 1 meal a day that you can chew and feel all the textures and complexity of tastes, your tongue riots in delight and seeks out that window of pleasure each day.  Flavors seem to magically multiply a hundredfold when they are in such scarcity.

Here’s how a typical evening read would go:

It’s evening and I’ve had my bowl of raw, blended butternut squash and spinach puree enhanced with filtered water.  I can only stomach half of the soup because the flavor has a bitter uncookedness about it that makes me gag.  To forget my half eaten watery squash-spinach soup, I seek escape.  Curled up on the couch with a book to distract my mind and stomach from its hunger, I read this, “They broke their fast on black bread and boiled goose eggs and fish fried up with onions and bacon…” (311) or this “The eight soon-to-be brothers feasted on rack of lamb baked in a crust of garlic and herbs, garnished with sprigs of mint, and surrounded by mashed yellow turnips swimming in butter….  There were salads  of spinach and chickpeas and turnip greens, and afterwards bowls of iced blueberries and sweet cream” (445) or this “Jon was breaking his fast on applecakes and blood sausage…” (515).  All quotes are from the first book, A Game of Thrones.

It’s torture.  Martin’s tantalizing descriptions of meals and feasts only reminded me that all I could have was water.  And so, I drank.  Water helped me persevere through his meticulously detailed food descriptions.

One of the most common food items in Westeros, one of the fictional settings of the series, is oatcakes.  Many characters break their fast (translation eat breakfast) on oatcakes which are a grain staple of choice in Scotland.  With a little research, an idea here, another there, I came up with my own version of oatcakes.  PS the recipe is at the beginning of the post.  I’m so flatter that you decided to read my gibber-jabber in lieu of just seeking the recipe.

Start with your dry ingredients:

Fluff these together until mixed.

Now we’ll add our wet ingredients.  The baking soda needs something to react with, so I’m adding buttermilk which also helps with soft chewiness in baked goodies.  This is 1/4 cup of buttermilk and 1/4 cup of water.

I got a little excited which is why the measuring cup is so close and slightly out of focus.

Next, pop a stick of butter, 1/2 cup in the microwave for 30-45 seconds until melted.  Then add it to your mixing bowl.

Mix it all together.  It should have a sticky, thick, but well integrated consistency.

Now lay it out flat with a rubber spatula.  Aim for about 1/2 inch thickness.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Oatcakes are a rustic, everyday food item in Scotland; your edges do not need to be absolutely straight edged.  It’s not like we’re feeding a queen here.

At this point, you can score the dough,  by lightly running a knife over the batter to mark the portion cuts enough, just a gentle line here.

Then, bake at 350 degrees for 13-15 minutes until GBD, golden, brown, and delicious.  For impatient people, like me, once they come out of the oven they fall apart easily.  When allowed to cool, they stick together better.

While the oatcakes bake, make your apple compote.

Using a paring knife, peel the apples by starting at the stem and moving just underneath the peel in circles until you get to the end.  Don’t worry if you lose your flow, just place the knife under the skin again and keep circling around and around.

Core the apples by chopping chunks away from the center.

Then rough chop them into 1 inch pieces.  Place them in a saute pan over  medium high heat.  Add lemon juice, sugar and cinnamon.  Cook for 8-10 minutes until apples are softened.

Note about apples: I recommend you use Gala apples because they are soft and some pieces will begin to disintegrate and create liquid apple gravy as you cook them, while other pieces will remain intact giving you the best of both worlds: chunky and creamy.

In the final shot here, I used Granny Apples which are, like any grandmother, hardy and built to last.  Every piece maintained its chopped form, and I didn’t get any of the oozing apple gravy I got the previous week I made the compote with Gala apples.  It was still a taste of fall on my mouth, but i most definitely will always make this compote with Gala apples.  

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Emita is the kind of friend that the second you see each other again, it’s like it was yesterday, except it’s been really almost a year since you both live on opposite sides of the country.   Such is the reality of the mobile generation I belong to.

I met Emily while studying in Chile for the year.  We were both finishing our last years of college and enjoying a state of non-responsibility abroad, truly one of the best experiences for any college student.  I loved it so much, I studied abroad twice because I couldn’t get enough.

Em came out to California around Christmas to visit friends here in Nor Cal and family in So Cal.  Kris and I were very excited to show her our house, and I wanted to bake something with her.  I have realized that one way to make our house into a home is to create memories of cooking and eating with friends.  Not only that, but in my quest to join the farm to table movement, I wanted to use ingredients from our own yard.  I had many stories to tell her of my meager attempts to utilize our edible landscape.

Emita’s visit in December inspired me to try my first recipe using our persimmons.  It comes from David Lebovitz’s book Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes that I procured from  Since it was a baking recipe and my first time using persimmons, I was very faithful to his protocol, adding in only a few extra spices to experiment and make the recipe a teensy bit mine.  I also added extra lemon flavor to the cream cheese frosting.  We used lemons from our tree, and the taste exploded on your tongue. Although there is a large amount of persimmon puree, the persimmon taste is very mellow.  It was a good thing that Emily left with half of the cake because it would not have lasted long in our house, and I’m a much faster eater than Kris is.

Persimmon Cake with Cream Cheese Icing
Adapted from David Lebovitz
Makes one 10-inch Bundt cake; 12-16 servings

Cake Ingredients:
¾ cup raisins
½ cup brandy or whisky
3 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 cardamom pod (optional, but fun if you have some laying around)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
¾ cup unsalted butter
1 ¾ cups persimmon puree
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

4 ounces cream cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (depends on lemon taste preference)
3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
4 or 5 teaspoons water

1.     Preheat oven to 350° F.  Coat a 10 cup Bundt cake pan with cooking spray.

2.     In a small saucepan, bring the whisky or bourbon, raisins, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pod to a soft simmer for about 5 minutes.  You want most of the liquid to soak up into the raisins, but not all of it.  Discard the cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pod.  DON’T strain it, you risk losing the infused alcohol.

3.     In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients to combine: flour, baking soda, ground cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir in the sugar.

4.     In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients: butter, persimmon puree, eggs, and vanilla.

5.     Make a well in the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry.  Gently stir.  Fold in the raisins, their liquid, and the nuts.  Mix until everything is just put together, maybe even less, you don’t want to over mix, only until things are roughly combined.

6.     Scrape every last bit of the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. Bake for about an hour, until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted.  Remove from the oven, and let cool.  Once it’s cooled, flip the cake onto a serving plate.

7.     Make the icing: in a stand mixer, beat the cream cheese and 1 tablespoon of butter until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla and lemon juice.  Gradually add the powdered sugar a little at a time.  After each addition of powdered sugar, beat until combined and smooth.  Add in 1 teaspoon of water at a time until the icing has thick liquid consistency.  How much you add depends on amount of lemon juice used. Pour on top of the cake and let it run messily along the sides and crevices.