Pecan Sticky Rolls

Although I frequently make my own bread and make pies in the summer, I’ve never thought of myself as a baker. Too precise, down to a science; in order to have something come out right, you can’t have the “improvisational flair” I tend to have when I’m creating a dish. You have to follow the recipe exactly and I always tend to veer off in another direction when I’m told what to do.

But when I actually DO follow a recipe, sometimes the most wonderful things can happen; the air in your kitchen will be filled with cinnamon and sugar and you will have small pillow of deliciousness to sink your teeth into. These sweet rolls, which came from the September 2008 issue of Cooking Light, is one of those recipes. I make it only on special occasions and no one will know it’s “low fat,” which I do use loosely; one roll has 275 calories and 7.6 grams of fat, yet it’s considerably less than one you’d pick up in a bakery. And you can be pleased you made it with your own two hands. This receives nothing but raves when I bring it along to family gatherings.

I will preface the recipe with the facts I used five bowls and a saucepan and I was up at 5 a.m. for these to be finished cooking by 9 a.m. And I found myself humming Christmas carols because cinnamon always reminds me of the holidays. But it’s well worth the extra effort in the end. And if you hum Christmas carols when you’re doing the dishes, it seems to make the job go quicker!


Pecan Sticky Rolls
(Note: As you’ll see I can’t help myself, there ARE some changes that I’ve made within the recipe, although none change the outcome, although using 1% milk might change the calorie and fat content.)

3/4 cup warm skim milk (100° to 110°) (Cook’s Note: I use 1%)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (Cook’s Note: I use 1/4 teaspoon)
1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
1/2 cup egg substitute
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
18 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 cups), divided
Cooking spray

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons hot water
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans, toasted (Cook’s Note: I don’t toast the pecans, I like their fresh flavor.)

2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted

1. To prepare dough, combine the first 3 ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water in a small bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Stir yeast mixture into milk mixture. Add egg substitute and 3 tablespoons melted butter; stir until well combined.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add 16.8 ounces (about 3 3/4 cups) flour to yeast mixture; stir until smooth. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will feel slightly soft and tacky).

4. Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; turn to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 45 minutes. Punch dough down and turn over in bowl; lightly coat with cooking spray. Cover and let rise another 45 minutes. Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

5. To prepare sauce, combine brown sugar, 3 tablespoons butter, and 2 tablespoons hot water in a small bowl; stir with a whisk until smooth. Scrape sugar mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking pan coated with cooking spray, spreading evenly over bottom of pan with a spatula. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly with pecans, and set aside.

6. To prepare filling, combine 2/3 cup granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; pat dough into a 16 x 12–inch rectangle. Brush surface of dough with 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter. Sprinkle sugar mixture evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Beginning with a long side, roll up dough jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut roll into 15 slices (approximately 1 inch wide). Arrange slices, cut sides up, in prepared pan. Lightly coat rolls with cooking spray; cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in size.

Before the final rise.

7. Preheat oven to 350°. (Cook’s Note: I turn my oven to 325° because mine tends to heat high, so I use a lower heat and a longer cooking time.)

8. Uncover rolls, and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Let stand 1 minute; carefully invert onto serving platter. (Cook’s Note: This can be a little daunting and scary. I usually say a little prayer and hold my breath! Taking a spatula or knife to go around the edges can make the inversion easier. I do this on the counter with a plastic cutting board underneath the serving platter, just in case!)

Calories: 275; Calories from fat: 25%; Fat: 7.6g; Saturated fat: 3.8g; Monounsaturated fat: 2.6g; Polyunsaturated fat: 0.8g; Protein: 4.9g; Carbohydrate: 47g; Fiber: 1.4g; Cholesterol: 15mg; Iron: 2.2mg; Sodium: 146mg; Calcium: 37mg

Dining With “The Tiger”

I thought this would be fun to share this morning!

The other evening I had my monthly book club. This month we read John Vaillant’s The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (well, actually, I only made it to page 60). We decided the theme for dinner would be food related to the tiger and his menacing trek in Russia, near the China border. The main dish was a delicious, just-right spicy rice noodle and pork stir fry that I’m still dreaming about, made by my friend Deb, and my assignment was appetizers. Instead of the location, I opted for the colors of the cat: orange, black, white, and red (for the obvious). After much consideration, this is what I made.

Orange Crudités with Black Olive Tapenade
This is basically the olive vinaigrette I make in this recipe. In a blender or with a mortar and pestle (I chose the latter, but that’s only because my beloved Oster is no longer with us, and I don’t like his replacement. A mortar and pestle make it more “rustic”; in other words, more chunky than if you used a blender.). Take about half a cup of black Kalamata olives, a couple of garlic cloves, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, a little bit of roasted red peppers. Blend or grind all the ingredients together until it forms a somewhat thin paste. Place in a small bowl and surround it with the tiger’s orange stripes—orange pepper slices and baby carrots!

Smoked Salmon with Fresh Radishes
On a serving platter, add thinly sliced radishes and top them with a tiny piece of smoked salmon. In a small bowl, take some low-fat sour cream and snipped chives, about 2 tablespoons or so, and mix. Add a dime-size dollop of the sour cream mixture atop each radish. If you’re feeling really artistic, arranged chive spears on each hors d’oeuvre!

Have you ever had a themed dinner? What did you make?

Yummy Fish Toppings

Since I don't have any food photos today, I thought I'd share this picture of my crabapple tree. Purchased 13 years ago for $5, it was a leftover from our library plant sale. A tiny thing when planted, look at her now!

I usually go grocery shopping on Saturday, which tends to mean fish for dinner. Since looking into the fish case these days is mind-boggling (Which fish shouldn’t I be eating? What is swai? Char?), I tend to stick with what I know: cod, haddock, and wild-caught salmon. Here are two sauces to top white fish and salmon that are both delicious and super easy!

Spicy Fish Sauce (for white fish)
Sorry, no measurements here, I just place everything in a small bowl, approximate, and taste along the way. If you have a pound of fish, about a 1/4 cup of sauce will be plenty. Topping with panko crumbs is a nice contrast, making the creamy fish crunchy.

Sour cream
Dijon mustard (optional, I frequently leave this out [or forget] and it’s still tasty!)
Lemon juice
Panko crumbs (optional)

In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients together. Lightly sprinkle the fish with cayenne pepper, if desired. (Cook’s note: I once saw the famous chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten  explain that he always preps white fish with a dash of cayenne and I’ve been doing it ever since. Just a tiny bit, as cayenne is extremely potent!) Cover the fish with the sauce and top with panko crumbs, if using. Bake at 350 degrees until fish is flaky, about 15-20 minutes or so, depending on your oven.

Maple Balsamic Marinade (for salmon)
You won’t believe it, but this recipe is based on one from those little cards you find near the fish monger at the grocery store! Years ago, a friend made it for me, gave me the recipe, and I’ve been making it ever since!

1/4 Cup orange juice
1/4 Cup maple syrup
3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, minced

Place all ingredients into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes or so, or until sauce becomes slightly thick. Place the fish in a pan lined with aluminum foil, top with the sauce, and partially cover. Bake at 350 degrees until flaky, 20-25 minutes or so. If you’re grilling, brush the fish periodically until it is finished cooking.

A Little Bit of This and a Little Bit of That

At least once a week I get asked the question, “What’s for dinner?” with which I promptly answer, “a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” That’s my code for I’m not really sure. I usually cobble something together, which as a rule turns out pretty good. Please note, while I am a good cook, I have been known to make on several occasions absolutely terrible meals, which go directly to the compost pile. (Like the rhubarb pie I recently made. I took lovely photos of it and was so excited to share. Note to self, always use more sugar than you think with rhubarb!) Dinner on those evenings ends up being cereal or eggs.

That was my answer to what was for dinner the other evening. I wasn’t really sure. I had leftover chicken and rice, but without a microwave, reheating these can be tricky. I had a new container of mushrooms, a couple of sad-looking carrots, a cabbage that needed to be used up, and realized I could make a pretty good stir fry. It was ready in about 15 minutes and there were leftovers for lunch!

In a skillet, heat 2 teaspoons of olive or canola oil. Add a little bit of chopped onion and carrot and cook for a few minutes. Add some sliced cabbage and chopped mushrooms  and sauté until they start to lose some of their moisture. (Don’t worry about the veggie measurements, you never can have too much!) Your stir fry is now basically done, just add the cooked chicken and rice to warm. I added a few drops of fish sauce, which is optional. To be honest, fish sauce smells like bad sneakers, but it brings out flavor and I sometimes add it to dishes sparingly, since it is extremely salty. A couple teaspoons of hoisin sauce, stir, and turn the burner to low to heat everything through for a few minutes. I topped mine with some tiny polka dots of sriracha sauce for a little extra spice. A delicious dinner with a bit of protein and lots of vegetables!

There’s No Place Like Home

One of my favorite movies is “The Wizard of Oz,” which I usually watch outdoors on the town green on one of the last evenings of August, when the crickets are slowly fading and school is right around the corner. While I can recite every line and I know exactly what is going to happen next, it’s the final line of the movie that is its truth, “there’s no place like home.” This phrase always has rung true for me; a self-confessed homebody, leaving the nest is, at times, difficult for me even though getting away (or as I sometimes view it as running away) from my current existence is something I yearn for, desire, and need. And coming home to me means returning to the place I feel the most at home in my home, the kitchen.

I returned late Sunday afternoon after spending four days in Maine. On the drive, I started to think of the coming week and what I’d make for dinners. Last week was a wash, buttoning everything up before we left and making sure I didn’t have too many perishables on hand, I relied on my old standbys of salad dinners. A quick stop at the grocery store for some chicken before we got home and I knew where I was going to be for a couple of hours that evening.

Opening up the vegetable bin, I found a bunch of forgotten vegetables that were still fresh enough to be cooked in a variety of ways. Atop a baking sheet, I placed thinly sliced turnip, carrots, and the rest of a Vidalia onion, added a couple teaspoons of olive oil and salt and pepper and popped them in the oven at 400 degrees while the oven was preheating for the chicken. Cooked  until they were crispy and crunchy, they were delicious enough we munched on these as more of an appetizer than a side dish.

I found a small bag of green beans I had bought in anticipation of making my grandmother’s side salad. Even though it was cold and rainy, I was ready for a shot of summer. I took the tops off each bean, a quick rinse,  placed them in a steamer over hot water, and steamed them for just a few minutes until they were done, yet still crunchy. I let them cool in a bowl, added a bit of diced red onion, a couple splashes of white vinegar, a couple sprinkles of dried dill, and a couple tablespoons of low-fat sour cream and mixed everything together. This is even better the next day, which I finished off with Monday’s lunch.

An avocado on the counter was perfectly ripe. This is the easiest of salads: sliced avocado, some sliced onion, salt and pepper, and a few dashes of rice wine vinegar or another light vinegar. I had this in a Cuban restaurant in Los Angeles once and this has been my go-to side salad ever since.

Fresh chicken thighs cooked at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then cooked at 325 degrees until they were done, which took about an hour. Add a side of ordinary brown rice and it was the best dinner I had eaten all week.

While it is always nice for me to get away from the humdrum of my regular life and I love to have someone bring me dinner, a diet of restaurant food is unfulfilling and unsatisfying; there is something about making a meal with my own hands, the slicing, mincing, cutting that is therapeutic and rhythmic. I even found myself happily washing the dishes after supper. It was nice to come home to the kitchen.

Foodie Book Review: Eating, by Jason Epstein

I’m heading off to Maine this morning and dinners have been sparse this week, so I thought I’d bring you something different this morning. I’ve been writing short book reviews for books I’ve read on a social networking website called “Good Reads” since 2008. Here is the review I recently wrote on Jason Epstein’s food memoir, Eating

3 stars (out of 5).

A review from Newsweek on the cover says, “An unpretentious chronicle of an extraordinary life well lived.” Unpretentious? I don’t think so. Epstein, an editor with Random House, has worked with some of the finest writers including Norman Mailer and Nabokov and edited Alice Waters’s cookbooks, a definite name dropper. Unpretentious he is not. We hear he went to Columbia at least twice, he has a penthouse in Manhattan and a house in Sag Harbor, he lived next door to Craig Claiborne and Sheila Lukins, and the way he wrote about his career, he made it sound like he was the one who thought of publishing hard cover books into paperback was his idea. (Maybe it was, but still.)

Yet, this hoity toity Manhattanite does have a great story to tell, and have to admit I wanted to run out and get a two-pound lobster to make the lobster roll recipe he gave. (I’ll have to wait until I go to Maine, though.) Each chapter was sprinkled with his take on recipes he’d either eaten in restaurants or had cooked for him by a chef. Although my pocketbook doesn’t lend itself to affording duck or lobster on a regular basis or eating at upscale restaurants like Lutece and 21 in the city, imagining what it would be like to live the life of a privileged editor in the country’s greatest city, where you could walk and find all sorts of sights and smells of food in your own neighborhood did appeal to the cook in me.

I was disappointed in this, because when I saw Judith Jones speak a couple of years ago (Julia Child’s editor, how’s THAT for name dropping?! :-)) Epstein is a friend of hers and she mentioned the book, which is why I bought it.

Asian Chicken Pasta Salad

(Photo © EMR)

This recipe is loosely based on one I used to make from an Eating Well cookbook I received as a Christmas present many years ago. Since I no longer have the cookbook, I can’t tell you how similar this is to the original, as I’ve adapted and changed things through the years to make it even healthier. Since there are a few steps here, cooking the chicken and pasta, I tend to make this in advance, so dinner is ready to go on those busier evenings. But it definitely can be made on those nights you have a little more time, as well.

As always, proportions are approximations. If you want less pasta and more chicken (or vice versa), create away! If you’re a vegetarian, you can substitute tofu or different vegetables in place of the chicken. I usually load up on the vegetables in my salads, more filling and less calories!

Asian Chicken Pasta Salad
3 cups farfalle (bowtie) pasta or any other small-shaped pasta
2 large boneless chicken breasts, cooked and diced into bite-size pieces
1 red pepper, sliced
1 1/2 cups diced celery
Chopped scallions, about 1/4 cup or so
Chopped fresh ginger, a tablespoon or so
A few dashes of sesame seeds

2 teaspoons sesame oil (you can definitely use more, but I find sesame oil very rich and I try to keep the fat content down)
1 Tablespoon miso paste*
Rice vinegar, enough to make a thin dressing with the miso

In a large mixing bowl, add the pasta, chicken, pepper, celery, scallions, sesame seeds, and ginger. Add the sesame oil and stir until incorporated. In a small bowl, add miso paste and enough vinegar to thin it to the consistency you desire. Add to the salad and thoroughly mix. Serve on its own or over greens.

*Miso paste  is made from rice and/or soy and is used as a base for soups and dressings in Asian cooking. I find a 13 ounce tub to be on the pricey side, upwards of $6 or so, but it lasts for years and adds a nice nutty flavor to whatever you are cooking. It is fairly salty, so be sure to taste your dish before adding any additional salt.

Happy Cinco De Mayo!

I don’t know about where you live, but it’s been nothing but rain, rain, rain here all spring in Vermont. April was the rainiest on record ever, and the first week in May hasn’t been any different. It’s eye-popping green outside, but no sunshine to enjoy it. My tulips sadly hang in the garden; I don’t think they dare to bloom for fear of drowning. Although Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on Thursday this year, I got home on Wednesday night, cold and wet. I needed something warm and spicy to shake the chills, so I came up with this.

I already had soaked and cooked a pot of black beans Saturday evening and had kept the beans with their cooking liquid in the fridge, but you can easily make this with canned beans and water. I mashed the beans with a potato masher for a more rustic version, but you leave them intact the dish will be even quicker to make! My version was on the table in just about 30 minutes. If you are vegan, just warm the tortillas and skip the cheese.  Served with a side salad and you’re good to go! Olé!

Black Bean Tostadas
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 small onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 cups black beans
Cooking liquid from beans or water
Dash of oregano
Dash of cumin, coriander, or a mixture (to taste)
Salt and pepper

4 corn tortillas or burrito shells (whichever you prefer)
Cheddar cheese (I like sharp)

Fresh lime juice
Avocado slices
Salsa or sriracha hot chili sauce, if desired

In a skillet, heat olive oil until fragrant. Add garlic, onion, and carrot and sauté until just soft. While that is cooking, preheat oven to 350 degrees, slice or grate cheese, and place atop the tortillas. Pop in the oven when you’re ready and bake until cheese is nicely melted and bubbly, pull out of the oven and set aside.

Add the beans to the skillet and spices to taste.

Version 1: If you’re not going to mash them, stir to heat through and you’re done!

Version 2: Add a bit of water to the beans and stir. For a  more rustic version, like refried beans, take a potato masher and mash the beans. (This is also a great way to get out some of your aggression if you have any at the end of the day!) Eventually the water will get absorbed. Keep adding water until you feel the beans are done, or completed to how you want to eat it. With the still-warm tortillas, top with beans, lime juice, avocado, and sriracha, if desired.*

*My newest find these days is sriracha sauce. It is everything I’ve been looking for in one bottle! It is a hot chili sauce, with garlic, sugar, salt, and vinegar. I love anything spicy, so this brings a little kick to everything. Note, it took me a little while to figure out exactly how much to use, it is potent with a capital “P,” so start out with just a tiny bit and go from there. I made polka dots on my tostadas, so you know how spare you need to be, but it is so good! You can find this in the Asian food section at your grocery store; I find the font very faint, but you can identify it with a rooster on the front of the bottle.

Paying it Forward…With a Loaf of Banana Bread

Snow tires in winter are a must in Vermont, so every April and November I find myself at  the car shop having them taken off or put on. I’ve been mulling over getting a new car to replace my ’03 Toyota for a while now, and since I got rid of my almost bald tires last fall, I knew I either needed to get a new car or new tires this spring. But I didn’t want to spend $400 on a set of tires that wouldn’t see me through the years, so to Craig’s List I went.

I spent a week looking for a set of tires that had been used for a couple of seasons. I figured I’d spend anywhere from $100-$150 for them, I was getting a deal either way I looked at it. Finally, late Friday afternoon, I had scanned far enough back to find an ad that had been posted a couple of days previously. The right size, used one summer, were $60(!), and about an hour from home. Perfect, and a response came Friday evening that they were still available.

I called Paul Saturday morning and he was fine with letting me stop by on Easter Sunday; we were going have dinner with family just a few miles away that afternoon, so the timing worked wonderfully. I was so pleased I found such a great deal on the tires that wanted to give him something additional.

Sunday noon we arrived and after getting the tires in the car, I paid him, then gave him a loaf of banana bread to share with his family. I think I surprised him with this a little bit, and as I left, wondered what if they are a gluten-free, lactose-free, nut-free family? It didn’t matter. I hate to equate the adage “food is love,” but in this case, for me, food was just saying an additional “thank you.”

Banana Bread
I got this recipe from my mom  when I started baking many moons ago. Through the years I’ve tried to make it a little bit healthier with a combination of wheat and white flour and less oil, but the original is much tastier, in my opinion.

Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees, depending on your oven

1/4 Cup canola oil
3/4 Cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
2-3 extra ripe bananas, mashed*

2 Cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons buttermilk or sour milk**

1/2 Cup chopped nuts if desired

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream the oil and sugar together in a small bowl. Add the beaten egg.

2. In another bowl, sift together the dry ingredients.

3. Alternate adding dry ingredients with the buttermilk or sour milk. When completely mixed, add nuts, if using and mix completely.

4. Place mixture in a well greased loaf pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, depending on your oven.

This is served best warm with a little bit of butter and a cup of coffee on a lazy weekend morning.

*Whenever I have bananas that are getting a little too ripe for my liking, I’ll pop them in the freezer, whole and unpeeled. When I decide I want to make something with them, I’ll just defrost them on a plate and then peel. They just slide out, and no mashing is necessary!

**If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make sour milk by taking 3 Tablespoons of milk and slowly adding lemon juice or white vinegar until it starts to become thick.