cartoon by marc johns.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Cinnamon Roll-ish" Cake!

So!  This is a delicious, easy cake to make that I created because of the fact that I always crave cinnamon rolls.  For those of you who don't bake often, here's the deal: making cinnamon rolls takes FOREVER.  You have to make the dough, then wait like 2 hours for it to rise, and then roll it out, etc. and bake it.  It is a pain and by the time I finish making cinnamon rolls I never want to eat them because they took so long (I guess that might be a good thing, though!).  Anyway, I started to think of how I could recreate the flavors of a cinnamon roll in an easy and less time-consuming way, and this is what I came up with!  Let me warn you up front: although this is not ooey-gooey like a cinnamon roll, it is delicious and makes the whole house smell like cinnamon, so if you don't want to eat this, you shouldn't make it.  Once it's made, it's addictive and will be eaten up really quickly.  I think this would be a great cake to serve at a brunch.  This cake tastes best when warm (just like a cinnamon roll) so I recommend heating up each piece before you eat it (or just eat it right out of the oven)!

1 box of yellow cake mix (a butter cake mix would also work well)
4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon

Onto the baking:
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
2. Grease a 13x9 baking pan.  
3. Mix the cake mix, eggs, oil, and sour cream together until there are no lumps.  
Wet ingredients.
Cake batter all mixed up!
4. Spread the cake batter into the baking dish.
Batter in the baking dish.
5. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon mixture together in a separate bowl.  (P.S. It's also delicious if you want to add 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts into this mixture and blend it into the cake.)
Brown sugar snowball dusted with cinnamon!
All blended up.
6. Sprinkle the cinnamon/ brown sugar mixture on top of the cake batter.  There should be a relatively thick layer all over the batter.  
Brown sugar/ cinnamon on top of the batter.
7. Using a butter knife, swirl back and forth over the cake, mixing the cinnamon/ brown sugar into the cake batter.  You will have to do this for a minute or so to make sure that the cinnamon/ brown sugar is mixed throughout the cake.

The final all mixed up cake.
Knife swirls to mix batter and cinnamon.
Close-up of the mixed cake.
8. Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until baked through.  While the cake cools, mix up the frosting (which, as we all know, is the most important part of a cinnamon roll).
The cooling cake.
Close-up: look at all that cinnamon-y goodness!
9.  The frosting!! Ingredients:
Frosting Ingredients.
3 ounces of cream cheese, softened (if you buy a package instead of a tub, it is pre-measured out on the wrapper like a stick of butter)
1/4 cup of unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups of confectioners sugar
1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon of salt
4 or 5 tablespoons of milk

10. Beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt.  Slowly add the milk until you hit the desired consistency.  (I used 4 tablespoons).
Frosting ingredients ready to be blended.
Blended up frosting.
 (Sorry I know it's hard to see; I shouldn't have used a white bowl!)
11.  After the cake has cooled 10-15 minutes, spread the frosting on the cake.  I like to sprinkle cinnamon on top of the frosting.  Makes 12-15 pieces.  And then, ENJOY!!!
The completed cake!
A hot, cinnamon-y piece, ready for the eating!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hearty Vegetarian Chili

Veggie Chili!
This is a hearty, yummy, healthy, filling vegetarian chili, especially delicious on these cold rainy days.  It's chock full of veggies, beans, and soy protein.  It has some spice, but it isn't too spicy; to me, it is just right.  If you like spicy food, increase the chili powder and cayenne.  The sweetness and smokiness of the baked beans really mixes nicely with the spiciness of the chili powder.  This is also a very forgiving recipe; you can't really go wrong - it all goes in the crock pot and the flavors blend on their own.  (If you do change the ingredients, just make sure there isn't too much liquid or you'll make a soup, or conversely, if there isn't enough liquid, it will just become a big mush.)  The longer this is in the crock pot, the better!  The flavors just get better and better.  This is also one of those recipes that taste better the next day.

I serve it with shredded cheddar cheese, chopped onions, and corn bread.  I adapted this recipe from a recipe on allrecipes.com .

It makes 8-10 servings.

1 (17.5 ounce) can/ box black bean soup
2 (15 ounce) cans of mixed chili beans (black, pinto, kidney), drained and rinsed
1 (16 ounce) can of vegetarian baked beans
1 (14.5 ounce) can of dices tomatoes in puree (I used garlic flavored tomatoes, but it is also good with jalapeno flavored tomatoes if you want the chili to be more spicy.)
1 (15 ounce) can of whole kernel corn, drained
1 package of soy meat crumbles
1 white/ yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, chopped

Spice Ingredients
Dried Spices:
Use them proportionate to your own taste.  These amounts are what I use when I make this chili.
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 teaspoon of coriander
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper

Onto the cooking!!!

1. Drain and rinse the cans of mixed chili beans.
Draining and rinsing the mixed beans.
2. Pour the beans in the crock pot, along with the black bean soup.
Black bean soup in the crock pot.

Beans on top of the black bean soup in crock pot.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juices.
Tomatoes in the crock pot.
4. Drain and add the corn.
Corn in the crock pot.
5. Add the baked beans (and the sauce from the can) to the crock pot.
The baked beans in the crock pot.
6. Dice the onion and begin heating olive oil in a skillet on medium heat.  When the skillet is hot, add the soy meat crumbles and the onion.  Follow the instructions on your soy meat package for heating it.  (For me, it said 6-7 minutes).
Sauteing the soy meat crumbles and the onions.

Just to show the texture of the soy meat up close -
in a chili like this, you really can't tell the difference!
7. While the onions and soy meat saute, stir the beans, corn, and tomatoes in the crock pot.  Then, add the garlic.
8. Dice the green pepper and celery.  Add the green pepper to the crock pot.
Green pepper.
9. Add the soy meat crumble and onion mixture to the crock pot.
Soy meat and onions.
10.  Stir the soy meat mixture into the bean mixture.  Then, add the celery to the crock pot.
11. Add the proportion of dried spices you choose.
Dried spices.
12. Mix all the ingredients.  Turn the crock pot on low.  Heat for at least 3-4 hours, longer if possible.  Enjoy!!!

Close-up of the finished product.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Happy Purim! Hamantaschen

Wild Blueberry and Four Fruit Hamantaschen - Yum!
So, today was the Jewish holiday Purim.  Purim is kind of like Halloween in that there are costumes.  Like all Jewish holidays, Purim commemorates something that happened to the ancient Jews.  In this case, it celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the destructive plot of the evil Haman.  (It's fun to go to temple on Purim because every time the Rabbi says "Haman," everyone boos loudly and makes lots of noise with their noisemaker.)  Basically, Haman was like the man-in-waiting to King Ahasverus of Persia and he had a plan to kill the Jews.  Fortunately, Queen Esther and Moredechai (who was Queen Esther's adoptive father) figured the plan out and the Jews were saved! (It's a little more complicated than that, but whatever - this is a cooking blog, not a Jewish history blog.)  Purim is one of the most fun holidays as a kid, not only because of the noisemakers in temple, but also because there is always a Purim carnival with rides, etc. where the kids get to go in their costumes.  The girls (myself included) dress almost always as Queen Esther (because she is the only girl in the story) and the boys dress as one of the male characters.
Anyway, the reason I am telling you all of this is because I made hamantaschen (pronounced ha-men-tash-en) today to celebrate Purim.  What are hamentaschen?  They are triangular cookies with fruit filling.  Really, you can put any filling you want into the triangular pockets, but traditionally it is fruit (raspberry, apricot, or prune) or poppyseed.  I made a 4 fruit flavor (with raspberry, strawberry, cherry, and lingonberry) and a wild blueberry flavor.  The reason I learned as to why the cookies are triangular is because they are supposed to represent the hat that evil Haman wore, but there are also other explanations out there.  

Now, on to the recipe!!  I adapted this recipe from allrecipes.com. It makes about 40 cookies.

4 eggs
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 stick unsalted butter
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup orange juice
5 cups of flour (I used 3 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of white whole wheat flour)
1 tablespoon baking powder 
1 to 2 jars of fruit preserves (flavor of your choice) 

On to the baking:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease some cookie sheets.
2. Whip the butter and sugar together.  
The butter an sugar all fluffy.
3.   Add 3 of the eggs.  (Make sure to reserve one egg for later!)
4. Beat the mixture again.  Zest one small lemon (until you get about a teaspoon of zest).  Add the zest and the vanilla extract.
Added lemon zest and vanilla extract.
5. Add the orange juice and vegetable oil and blend again.
Added orange juice and vegetable oil.
6. Blend the flour into the dough one cup at a time until it is the desired thickness.  I ended up using 5 cups, so that is what I put in the ingredients list, but it may be plus or minus half a cup.  (The white whole wheat flour I use is thicker and denser than all-purpose flour, so you may have to use more if you use only all-purpose flour.)
The first cup of flour.
After the third cup of flour. 
A close-up of the final dough.  
7. On a floured counter surface, roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick (or a little less).  Using a drinking glass or a round cookie cutter, cut out circles of the dough.
The rolled out dough. 
Cookie cutter! 
Just for size reference, a picture of a cookie circle with my hand.
8.  Put the circles on the cookie sheets and then put about 1 teaspoon of preserves in the center of each circle.
Circles with preserves in their centers.
9. Beat the final egg with 1 tablespoon of milk.  With your fingers put the egg/ milk mixture on the edge of each circle.  Just moisten the edges.  This prevents the preserves from leaking out during baking.
The egg and milk beaten.
10.  Fold the circles into triangles, pinching the corners.
Step One: fold up the back of the cookie.
Step Two: fold the final side, tucking the preserves into the cookie.
The finished, folded triangles.
11. Bake the triangulated cookies in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Allow to rest on cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Enjoy!

The final product (four fruit flavor).

The final product (wild blueberry flavor).