Orange Cinnamon Rolls

If you can’t tell from my posts, I’ve been on a sweet kick lately. I guess that happens after you pass 40. This is a really simple recipe for making “almost homemade” cinnamon rolls. I love orange cinnamon rolls so I added orange zest to the rolls and orange juice to the icing, but if you prefer a more traditional cinnamon roll, leave the zest out of the roll and replace the orange juice in the icing with milk. The hardest part of making these is finding the frozen bread dough. You’ll have to check a real grocery store; I don’t think Walmart has frozen bread dough but I could be wrong.

 

Roll dough:

  • 1 1# loaf frozen bread dough, thawed
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated orange zest
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Icing:

  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter, softened
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2-3 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice

On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-in. square. Spread butter over dough. In a small bowl, combine the pecans, sugar, brown sugar, orange peel and cinnamon. Sprinkle over dough.

Roll up jelly-roll style; pinch seams to seal. Cut into 1/2-in. slices. Place cut side down in two greased 9-in. round baking pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Bake at 350° for 14-16 minutes or until golden brown. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, butter, vanilla and enough orange juice to achieve desired consistency; drizzle over warm rolls. Yield: about 2 dozen.

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Country Gravy Potatoes

One of the biggest drawbacks to running a daily cafe in corporate dining is that you have the same customer base each and every day of the week. That’s great, when it comes to cooking food you know your customers like, but not so great when it comes to keeping ideas fresh and changing regularly. No one wants to eat the same sides more than once or maybe twice a week, so I’m constantly trying to come up with new ways to cook familiar dishes.

In the cafe, I normally offer 2 entrees, 1 or 2 starches, 4 vegetables and a hot dessert on the line each day at lunch. Mashed or creamed potatoes are a customer favorite. They would probably love to eat my mashed potatoes the same way EVERY day, but my creative mind won’t let me put out the same food like that. Because my grocery company missed our scheduled delivery last Thursday, Friday’s menu had to be changed last minute to include food I had in stock. We normally offer fish on Fridays but seeing as I had no fish in stock, we ended up serving country-fried pork chops. Well, pork chops didn’t go with the rice pilaf I was planning to offer with the fish; they called for some good ole country mashed potatoes. Since I’d already served mashed potatoes twice last week (on different days), I had to fire up the creative juices and come up with something a little different. That’s how this recipe came about and this recipe was incredible. My customers bought all the potatoes and I caught my dishwasher scraping the empty pan with his fingers before washing it, so I figured I’d share this “hit” with you. It’s really quite simple so I’m omitting the steps where you boil your potatoes and starting the recipe where I started it. Give this a try sometime and I think you’ll be as impressed as my customers were.

First, I boiled unpeeled russet potatoes (I wanted a smashed effect rather than I mashed effect, so I cleaned them well but left the skins in tact).

Once the potatoes are cooked (until tender) and drained, put them in a large bowl. With the back of a serving spoon, mash the potatoes so that they have some larger “chunks” in them for this country-style recipe. Set the potatoes aside and work on the gravy (which can be made while the potatoes are cooking if you’re multi-talented in the kitchen).

For the gravy:

  • 4 tbsp fat (bacon grease, butter or oil, your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, scalded
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp salt

In a large skillet or a saucepan, heat the fat over medium high heat. Saute the onion until tender, then add the flour and cook into a roux, stirring constantly, until the mixture is a light tan color. Whisk in the scalded milk and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of basic biscuit gravy (which is really all this is). Add the salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Pour as much of the gravy into your smashed potatoes to get a soupy wet, loose mashed potato (it will thicken as it sits). At this point, taste the potatoes and adjust seasonings to your taste. You can add some snipped chives or some Parmesan cheese, or even some roasted garlic if you prefer. If for any reason you over-pour the gravy and get your potatoes too loose, you can thicken them back up by sprinkling some flour over them and stirring well (old kitchen trick that works in the recipe because you have a flour based gravy).

If you’ve got any gravy you didn’t use, it can be refrigerated for another use. It will thicken in the frig, but you can thin it out with a little milk.

Mushrooms Au Gratin

Thanks to Betty Crocker, most people associate the words “au gratin” with cheese sauce, but in the culinary world, au gratin is a cassoulet with a browned crust on top, usually breadcrumbs and cheese. This recipe is delicious but not low fat. It’s great with a grilled steak or a beef tenderloin so it’s usually a dish I reserve for dinner parties or holiday gatherings. Nothing like a nice piece of beef tenderloin with this dish and some truffled mashed potatoes to impress your friends and guests! If you love mushrooms like I do, give this one a try!

  • 3 pounds sliced crimini mushrooms (sold in grocery stores as Baby Bells)
  • 1 pound thinly sliced red onion
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 8oz butter, quartered and melted
  • 8oz heavy cream
  • 8oz Panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375F. Spray a baking dish with PAM. Add one layer of mushrooms to the bottom of the dish. Top with 1 layer of onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, top with some parsley. Drizzle with 2oz of melted butter and 2oz of cream. Repeat the layers 3 more times. Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top is golden brown.

 

Homemade Cornbread

Until I was asked by a reader, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’ve never shared my recipe for homemade cornbread. I never realized so many people use a pack to make cornbread (not that there’s anything wrong with a pack, but if you don’t have one in your pantry you can easily make cornbread out of stock pantry items).

I’ve been making cornbread since I was a kid. I’ll never forget the recipe my grandmother gave me over the phone to make hers. It was, 2 handfuls of cornmeal, 1 handful of flour, 1 egg, a pinch of soda and enough buttermilk to make it wet. I’ve added butter to my recipe for a richer cornbread but I still use my grandmother’s recipe when making cornbread for dressing at Thanksgiving.

The trick to good southern cornbread is a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. I have several, but the 2 I use for making cornbread are an 8.5″ diameter pan (for enough for 2 people) or an 11″ diameter pan when I need enough for a few people. This recipe is using the smaller pan but I’ve made notes for the larger.

If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, you can still make cornbread using a muffin pan, sheet pan, etc. The advantage to the cast iron is you get a nice brown crunchy crust where a sheet pan or muffin pan will yield a more “cake like” cornbread.

First, put 2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil in a room temp skillet. Put the skillet into a cold oven and preheat to 400F. While the oven and pan are preheating, mix up your cornbread as follows:

  • 2 cups hot-rise (self-rising) cornmeal (I use white but yellow works just the same)
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (I have always used non-fat cultured buttermilk because my grandmother did)

Whip up well using a wire whisk.

When the oven has preheated, remove the pan and pour the hot oil into the cornbread mix. Stir well to incorporate. Sprinkle bottom of skillet with cornmeal, lightly. This will ensure the cornbread won’t stick in the case that your iron skillet is not well seasoned. Pour the batter into the skillet. You will hear it sizzle as the batter is poured in.

Bake at 400F for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown and set.

If you’re using a larger pan, double the recipe. Also, if you don’t have self-rising flour and cornmeal, put a pinch (about a teaspoon) of baking soda in for a small pan or a couple of pinches for a large pan.

I’ve got a pan in the oven right now to go with the fried pork chops, mashed potatoes and fresh green limas I have cooking on the stove. Nothing like a good country Sunday dinner!

 

California Swiss Casserole

 

At work, I feed about 400 people each day and I try to have as little repetition as possible in my vegetables during the week, so I have to get creative and come up with different, less common recipes. The inspiration for this casserole came from one of my grandmothers, who always made her broccoli casserole with Swiss cheese. This is more of a “mixed vegetable” casserole. If you don’t have the fresh vegetables on hand, you can substitute 2 bags of California Blend mixed vegetables, available frozen at most supermarkets. That’s where the name of this recipe comes from.

California blend is a common foodservice vegetable blend of broccoli, cauliflower and carrots that I’m sure you’ve had, or seen, at catered dinners, luncheons, etc. Usually, the vegetable blended bags contain “less than superior” cuts of vegetables with a lot of stalk and stem, so I try to make this with fresh vegetables whenever I have time to plan ahead.

  • 2 heads broccoli, chopped
  • 1 head cauliflower, chopped
  • 1 1# bag of baby carrots
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 can Cream of Celery soup
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 tbsp melted butter
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/4 cup minced onions
  • 1/2 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 cup French Fried Onion pieces (like you put on a green bean casserole)

Cook broccoli, cauliflower and carrots in a pot of lightly salted simmering water for 10 minutes or until tender but still colorful. Drain. Add the onions and Swiss cheese to the vegetables.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, flour, soup, milk, melted butter, sour cream, mayonnaise, salt and pepper and mix well. Fold in the vegetables.

Spoon mixture into a lightly greased (I spray with PAM) 9″x13″ pyrex baking dish.

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes, then sprinkle with the French fried onions and bake 10 minutes more, until casserole is bubbly and onions are browned.

 

Caramel Apple Crisp

A couple of weeks back, my sweet tooth kicked in late one night, so I went in search of something to make. I found some really fresh Granny Smith apples, so I decided to whip up a “crisp”. A crisp is like a cobbler; the difference is the top. You could easily make this a cobbler by topping with a dough crust.

  • 5 ripe Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a mixing bowl, toss all above ingredients and mix well. Spread evenly into an 8″x8″ glass baking dish.

CRUMBLE:

  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1 cup butter, softened

Mix together ingredients in a small bowl and top the apple mixture with the crumble.

CARAMEL SAUCE:

  • 1 14oz packaged of individually wrapped caramel candies, unwrapped
  • 1 5oz can evaporated milk

Combine caramel candies and milk in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Spoon the mixture over the crumble top of the crisp and bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes, until the apple mixture is bubbling and the top is golden brown.

Serve with a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream!

Redneck Cobbler

This recipe is so simple, I almost feel bad for sharing it, but it was so delicious and so ridiculously simple, I thought why not share it with everyone. Cobblers are made all over the south. They are a great way to use up ripe fruit from the trees in your yard, or fruit sold out of pickup trucks and car trunks on the side of the road all over the south come summer. Everyone loves a cobbler and this is probably the easiest cobbler I’ve ever made that tasted like a homemade dessert. Sure, you can open a couple of cans of fruit pie filling and throw on a pre-made cobbler crust, but this recipe actually tastes homemade. Give it a shot and you’re sure to impress your family and friends!

  • 2 pounds of fresh fruit (your choice of fruits including peaches, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, etc) OR you can purchase a 2 pound bag of frozen fruit from the grocery store if making out of season
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 box Duncan Hines BUTTER recipe yellow cake mix
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • Sliced Almonds or Pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. In a heavy bottom saucepan, cook the fruit and brown sugar until hot and bubbly. Pour fruit into a greased casserole dish (I use a deep dish Corningware French White lasagna casserole, about 3″-4″ deep so it won’t bubble out when baking). If you want to add nuts, sprinkle them liberally over the top of the fruit.

Open the butter cake mix and pour over the top of the fruit. Don’t mix up the mix, use the mix in its dry form straight from the box. Melt the butter in a glass measuring cup and pour over the top of the cake mix, covering as much of the surface with the butter as possible.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.

If you really want a rich version of this recipe, use 3 sticks of butter instead of 2. It’s delicious, but will surely clog your arteries. We’d call the 3 stick version the Paula Dean Redneck Cobbler!