Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sticky Buns

Mmmmmm.... sticky buns.... one of the best ooey gooey tasty indulgences ever, if I may make so bold a claim, and not as hard to home bake as one might think.  No, I'm not talking about one of those jack-in-the-box for adults tubes of dough that you buy in the store, pop open while trying not to scare yourself, and stick in the oven.  I mean from scratch, let the dough rise and make your own sugary glaze type of home baking.

The original Bon Appetit recipe for these sticky buns can be found here: The Ultimate Sticky Bun. I've also copied the recipe below, marked of course with my own adaptations and changes. Before you get started, you should know that this isn't a quick or clean home bake, so be prepared to be in and out of the kitchen for a few hours at the very least (not counting rising times), and to be willing to clean a lot of dishes (or do what I do and clean as you go - saves on time later).  Especially if this is your first time making these.

As always, I recommend following the recipe the first time around.  After that, have fun and experiment.  This last time I added orange juice to one half of the glaze, rose water to the other half, and used roasted/salted pistachios instead of pecans for the batch covered in the rose water glaze.  Delicious.  Mixing it up in terms of flavors, spices, nuts, fruit, etc. can be really fun and lead to amazingly tasty results, but it's good to know that the recipe works first, and I don't suggest messing with the dough too much (at least for these).








Dough

    ⅔ cup whole milk
    5 tablespoons sugar, divided
    1¾ teaspoons active dry yeast (from one ¼-ounce envelope)
    2 large eggs, room temperature
    2¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, room temperature, plus ½ tablespoon, melted

Topping

    1¾ cups chopped, toasted pecans (about 8 ounces) - You can use other types of nuts as well, depending on your personal taste
    ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
    ¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
    ¾ cup heavy cream
    ⅓ cup honey
    ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
    ¼ teaspoon finely grated orange zest (optional)
Lemon zest, orange juice, rose water, etc. also make good optional additions.  For this latest batch I split the topping recipe in half, did one half with roasted/salted pistachios and rose water, and the other half with roasted pecans and the juice from a large orange.

Buns

    ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
    ½ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
    ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
    ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
    All-purpose flour (for dusting)
    1 large egg
    Coarse sea salt (optional)

The original recipe calls for an 8x8x2" metal baking pan - I used 2, 8x10x2 glass baking pans and was still hoping the risen buns wouldn't spill over the edges.  The original recipe also says this makes 9 buns - I easily made 12 and could have even made 18 while still ending up with sizeable sticky buns.

Directions:
Dough

Heat milk in a small saucepan over medium or in a microwave until an instant-read thermometer registers 110°–115°. Transfer milk to a 2-cup measuring cup; stir in 1 Tbsp. sugar. Sprinkle yeast over milk and whisk to blend. Let sit until yeast is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs; whisk until smooth. Combine flour, salt, and remaining 4 Tbsp. sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add milk mixture. With mixer running, add ½ cup room-temperature butter, 1 piece at a time, blending well between additions. Mix on medium speed 1 minute. Knead on medium-high speed until dough is soft and silky, about 5 minutes.

Brush a medium bowl with about 1 tsp. melted butter; place dough in bowl. Brush top of dough with remaining melted butter; cover with plastic wrap.

Let dough rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 1–1½ hours.

Chill dough 2 hours.


Topping

Set 1¼ cups nuts aside for buns.

For the glaze I made two half batches, though I think next time I would just make two full batches and figure something out with whatever was left over.  The directions also called for prepping only the one pan, but as I stated above, I use 2 pans and as you can see in the pictures, the risen buns fill up every corner of both.

Melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in brown sugar, cream, honey, salt, and orange zest, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until glaze is golden brown and glossy, 3–4 minutes. Pour 1 cup glaze into baking pan, tilting to coat bottom and sides. Set aside remaining glaze. Sprinkle ½ cup toasted pecans over bottom of baking pan and let cool.


Buns

Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat butter, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and kosher salt in a medium bowl until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Set filling aside.

At this point I split the dough in half.  Roll half of the dough on a lightly floured work surface into a rectangle about ¼" thick. Arrange dough on work surface so 1 long side faces you. Spread half of the cinnamon-sugar mixture over dough, leaving a 1" border on the side farthest from you.

Sprinkle 1/4 of the remaining chopped pecans over cinnamon-sugar mixture. Beginning with the long edge closest to you, roll dough into a log, tightening as you roll and patting in ends if they begin to taper. Pinch together the seam where the long side meets the roll to seal. Arrange log seam side down. 

Repeat this process for the other half of the dough.

Using a large knife, cut each log crosswise into 6 pieces (lightly flour knife between slices if dough is too sticky). Turn buns cut side up and gently pat top to flatten slightly. If needed, reshape to form round edges by cupping lightly floured hands around each bun and gently pushing and turning them in a circular motion. Transfer buns to prepared pans, spacing evenly apart (buns should not touch each other).

Loosely cover pans with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Let buns rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in size, 45 minutes–1 hour (I did an hour and a half, though my house was pretty cold).

Arrange a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Whisk egg with ½ tsp. water in a small bowl. Brush tops of buns with egg wash. Bake, rotating pan halfway through and tenting with foil if browning too quickly, until buns are golden brown, filling is bubbling, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of buns registers 185°, about 50 minutes (for my oven it took just over an hour, so cooking times vary). Let cool 5 minutes. Spoon remaining glaze over each batch then sprinkle remaining pecans over the top of that. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.

Lightly sprinkle sea salt over (I did not do this step, but I have heard from others that a bit of sea salt works really well with this recipe). Serve buns warm or at room temperature.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Spicing it up - my approach to mixing spices

Before I continue, I should probably put down a disclaimer about spices I use for my original recipes:  I don't measure out my spices. 

I know, I know, how terrible, right? I also almost never follow spice measurements from recipes when I'm cooking either (not when baking, though - I follow the recipe at least once when baking).
 
Most of a lifetime of lurking near a stove or taking up space in a kitchen has infused me with a pretty solid sense of what flavors mix well according to my tastes.  That's the big caveat, I know what I like and I cook to that preference - a touch more salt (pink or sea salt), a dash of extra cayenne, a light hand with coriander, toasting cinnamon sticks before grinding, a cupboard full of cloves and cardamom and star anise.... Little preferences here and there that I've found work well with my casual culinary style.  The other side of this is that I don't always have the spices I want or prefer for a recipe on hand, so I've become quite adept at experimenting until I find a another herb or spice that works well enough instead.

I highly encourage those with the budget or bravery to head to their local spice store, community grocer, or unexplored cultural marketplace (there's an Indian grocery not far from my house that I particularly like) and spend some time in the spice aisle.  Look at what's available, look up anything that isn't familiar, pick one or two to try out.  Start small and find highly rated recipes.  Then move on from there.

I like buying whole spices when I can, and grinding them at home. While it's possible to toast pre-ground spices, I find it easier to toast whole spices then grind them. I put them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, pop them in the oven for a few minutes with the door just a touch ajar (the optimum temperature will depend the oven and humidity, but I usually start with 175*F).  I don't toast every spice I plan on using.  Generally speaking if it's green, I avoid toasting, if it's red or brown, it usually hits the heat before I grind it up and add to the cooking.


Endnote: I may turn this into a Page, but until then I plan on coming back and adding to this post with further suggestions, experimental recipes, new discoveries, etc. So check back periodically, as there is more to come!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Musings on Yellow: Kitchen Colors

I love the color yellow for kitchens.  The first chance I got to pick wall paint colors for the house I was living in I pointed to a soft, daffodil yellow and said “I want that for the kitchen.”  There was no question about it, and the next time I can paint my kitchen - it will be to as close a yellow to that soft, happy sunshine color as I can find.  It can totally transform a drab, dark kitchen to an open, bright space, which is good for me because I spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Who wants to cook in a kitchen where even the walls seem lackluster and dreary?

Yellow only belongs in the kitchen though, as a wall color at least.  Too bright for a bedroom or even a communal space, I fully believe yellow paint should be used sparingly, letting other less brilliant pastels soften the edges of each room in a house.  The kitchen is the room that needs that little bit of extra sunlight, or at least the appearance or feel of the sun streaming through the windows. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Steak Stew - A bowl of community

2016 is over and gone, 2017 has begun.  I decided to start this year with a recipe post - my own stew recipe that I make once a year.  Stew Day, as it has come to be called in my house, is the day in which I take out the biggest pot I own and make enough stew for a small army.  After about 5 hours of prepping and cooking, family and friends descend upon my house - sometimes with bread or salad or other side dishes - and we make merry until the last of the pot is gone (only once has there been a little left over for the next day, and that was when I made 3 pots of stew and set some aside to give to friends who could not make it).

Stew Day in my house is about community, about coming together to renew our strength as kith and kin over bowls of steaming hot steak stew.  For that reason it seemed like a good recipe to start the year with.

The ingredient list is given in ounces and weight - since every time I've tried to share this recipe using cup measurements the result from others was way off.

Steak Stew 

Ingredients
11 ounces Roma or beefsteak tomatoes, chopped very finely (or 1 standard 15oz can of crushed tomatoes)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Approximately 13 ounces extra virgin olive oil (first cold press)
1 pounds 12 ounces very coarsely chopped yellow onions (about two onions cut into 12 pieces each)
2.4 ounces shallots (2 to 3 shallots)
1 ounce garlic, finely chopped and mashed a bit (a few cloves)
Approximately 5 pounds stew meat (you can buy this in most grocery stores or places like Costco - or you can use 5 lbs of chuck roast or flank steak and cut it up into large chunks).
2-3 tablespoons of My Spice Mix (don't worry - I'll write it up and link to it soon)
4 three-inch sprigs of fresh rosemary (fresh is best - truly)
32 ounces vegetable stock or water mixed with bouillon
1.5 cups Merlot (or a very dark red wine but Merlot I found is best)
Approximately 6  to 6.5 pounds russet or Idaho potatoes, sliced into half-inch triangles (but don’t use these if you plan to freeze the stew - the texture gets horrible - yellow potatoes or small reds work better for that)
1.25 pounds carrots, thickly sliced
Scant pound of celery, thickly sliced
1 pint cream or half and half

Instructions
Sprinkle the brown sugar over the tomatoes and set the tomatoes aside until it is time to add them to the stew.

Pour olive oil in the base of the pot. A taller pot with a base about 12 inches around works best for this though a wider short pot will work just fine as well.  The goal here is to pour the olive oil into the bottom of the pot until it just comes up the curves of the bottom edge. You are going to steam the meat with the olive oil without things burning on the bottom, so you need enough for that.

Layer the onions, shallots, garlic, and meat (in that order) on top of the oil.  The meat should be in as close to a single layer as possible above the onions, shallots and garlic, and should not be touching the bottom of the pot.

Sprinkle the herb mixture over everything.

Carefully remove rosemary leaves from the twigs and sprinkle the leaves on the meat.

Cover and start cooking on low heat.

After 20 minutes, increase heat slightly and turn meat over. What you are looking for is for the meat to start to brown ever so slightly. Continue to cook. Keep checking the meat and turning it until each piece is lightly browned on all sides.

When the meat is browned on all sides (after about 40 minutes of cooking), add the vegetable stock. Increase heat to medium and bring to a simmer.

After it reaches a simmer (about 5 minutes), add the wine, tomatoes, and potatoes. Stir to make sure all the potatoes are covered by the broth.

Add the carrots and celery. Stir. Keep covered and keep cooking on medium heat. If it starts to boil over, remove the lid or you can also spoon out about two cups of the fluid, whisk in a few tablespoons of flour, and save it to thicken the stew later.

Cook for ten minutes, then add the cream. Cook on low for about an hour, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables are done.  At this point you can add back in the extra cups of broth with flour and mix well (if you do this let the stew cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer before serving).

Serve and enjoy!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Making Art in a Time of War: Part One - We Must Keep Creating

"I can't believe I'm etching cups with birds at a time like this."

"My art is so useless."

"I feel sucker punched. What's the point of trying to finish NaNoWriMo this year?"

"Everything I do feels trivial."

In the past couple of months I have had a large number of conversations with friends who, with each new socio-political announcemnet, fatal disaster, and world news event, questioned the worthiness and validity of their artwork.  Usually prolific writers I know put down their pens or spent hour staring at blank screens before giving up entirely on getting words down for a day, then for a week, then for a month.

With each new blow to the artistic community, I have listened to sculptures, painters, and writers question the importance of continuing to tell stories and create art.  It is disheartening to hear artist who know the collective value of art question their own worth within the community and up until now I have had difficulty in articulating my own internal railing against both the state of things in the world and my friends' despair in responding to them.  So here it is: when making art feels useless and writing fiction seems trivial or unimportant, it is even more imperative that we continue to (as said recently at the Night of Writing Dangerously) "battle our dragons" through our fiction and paint our stories in canvas and clay.

It boils down to this: 
We Must Keep Creating.

Artists and writers throughout history have been warriors in their own right.  Continuing to create art and stories in the face of disenfranchisement, overwhelming hatred, and violence is, and has been throughout history, a subversive act.  I would posit that not only should artists and writers continue to create beauty and splash their messages across the social environment for all to see, but that we also have a responsibility to do so.   Whether through our writing, or our photography, art, sculpture, music, or dance, we must put our stories out there. The stories and art of individuals are important! They are vital and necessary, and without them we are lesser as a whole.   

We Must Keep Creating.

"If I see someone hurting, I must speak.  Even if I am afraid, I must speak.  My fear of speaking puts us all at risk."


Fear of speaking puts us as risk, in many ways just as much as speaking out puts us at risk.  Silence in the face of violence kills.  Silence takes lives and destroys souls.  Not everyone is a fighter, we cannot all take up arms against oppression and destruction.  But we are all warriors.  Yes, even you, whose clay sculptures and handmade fairy dresses are sold at local art fairs, whose fictional heroes and heroines battle demons and ride dragons across blogs and novel pages, whose paint is often washed from the side of walls or the underside of bridges.  If you doubt this, or feel burdened by overwhelming fear or sadness, channel that into your work.

Our art is our speaking out. Our stories are our voice, sometimes when we have no other way of fighting back.  Our words and our creations are our responsibility.  And for those whose voices are at risk of being drowned out in the storm surge, we must reach out and lift them up as well.  Share, credit, reblog, quote, point a giant flashing sign, or in some way bolster those whose voices are being lost to tragedy, to prejudice, discrimination, or pain.  If we help hold each other up then perhaps the next hurdle won't feel like climbing Everest when you've never even hiked through the woods.  Stay strong, my fellow writers, artists, musicians, dancers... and lift each other up.  Now is the time to make sure that our stories are written and our voices stay strong.

We Must Keep Creating.