Saturday, November 22, 2014

My Favorite Baked Item to Give as Gifts: Cinnamon Rolls

When it comes to baking, my motto is "bake and share." I love making goodies to give away. I mean, I can't eat a whole cake... really I can, but I really shouldn't. 

One of my favorite things to bake and give as a gift is cinnamon rolls. I mean, if I give you a container of cinnamon rolls, I must really like you (or I'm trying to win you over). 

While cinnamon rolls aren't hard to make, they do take some time so make sure you have several hours to spare. 

Here's how I make my cinnamon rolls!

First is the dough. I like to use this base. I also use this dough recipe for regular rolls as well and they are fabulous (but when I make the dinner rolls, I sub out honey for the sugar! That's another post!).

To start, put the warm water, warm milk, egg, butter, sugar and salt into your mixer with the dough hook.

Then add 2 1/2 tsp. of instant yeast. I don't use the packages anymore, I just buy a whole block of instant yeast and keep it in jars in the fridge/freezer. Mix everything together.

Once everything is mixed, start adding the all purpose flour. I start with two cups, once that's incorporated, I add the third cup. Then I add 1/4 c. at a time. The recipe says 3 3/4 c. which is pretty accurate. Depending on how humid it is, that'll determine how much flour you end up using.

Once the dough starts to pull away from the bowl, that's when you're almost done with the kneading process. Feel the dough and make sure it's not too sticky. If it's too sticky, add a tablespoon of flour at a time to get a drier dough. You want the dough to be tacky but not to where it sticks to your fingers.

The dough should come out of the mixer smooth like this. I love using this silicone baking mat for pies and doughs! Great piece to add to your kitchen gadgets.

I do need it by hand for a minute to make sure it's fully incorporated and smooth.

For the dough into a smooth ball and drop it into a large bowl sprayed with some vegetable spray. Cover with a kitchen towel, store it in a warm place and let it rise until it doubles in size (approx. one hour). When the temperature is cold, I usually like to put my oven on "keep warm" setting and then the oven off and put the dough in there to proof. 

This is the dough after the rise. Puffy and a beaut. 

While you're waiting for the dough to rise, you make the delicious cream cheese frosting and cinnamon filling for the rolls.

You'll need some cream cheese. I use the low fat cream cheese to off-set all the butter and sugar. Hey, cut the calories where you can! This is 8 oz. block but you'll only need 4 oz.

Put the 4 oz. softened cream cheese and 1/4 c. softened unsalted butter in the mixing bowl with the paddle attachment.

Mix on high until incorporated.

Then add 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar. Make sure you start the mixer on low or you'll have sugar EVERYWHERE.

Then add 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract, plus a pinch of salt. I've been making my own extract so I use this stuff. Even if you don't make your own extract, don't use that imitation nonsense. 

To cut the sweetness of the frosting, I like to use 1 to 2 tablespoon of buttermilk. This will also loosen the frosting. Add more or less of the buttermilk to get the consistency you like.

Beat on high until everything is incorporated and smooth.

Then I scoop all the frosting into a container and put in the fridge until I'm ready to use it. It holds in the fridge for weeks, so you can make the frosting ahead of time if need be. (Do you like how I reuse HEB sour cream containers?)

The sugar mix is 3/4 C. brown sugar and 1/4 C. white sugar, pinch of salt and 2 tbsp. of Vietnamese cinnamon. Mix everything together.

If you haven't used Vietnamese cinnamon, you are missing out. It's like a cinnamon candy! The picture above has a shot of a large bark of cinnamon. When I have family coming from Vietnam, I always ask them to pick me up some cinnamon. The stores charge really high prices for this stuff. I just get the bark and grind my own.

The smell is seriously intoxicating. Get yourself some! I can be your dealer. ;)

Once the dough has proofed, get it onto a floured surface.

Roll the dough out to a rectangle approximately 20x14.

Then lather the dough with 2 tbsp. of softened butter. You can use more butter if you want. I'm not going to judge you.

Then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture all over the buttered dough. Keep the top and bottom edges free of sugar so it's easier to roll and seal.

Slowly pull the edge closest to you and roll it tightly. I usually work from the middle out.

Keep the roll tight as you continue to roll up the dough.

When you're at the end, you'll see that the seam needs to be shut.

Just pinch the seam together to close everything up.

This roll ended up being 18 inches long. Cut the dough in half and then into thirds. 

Then cut the thirds in half. I ended up with 12 rolls.

Butter your pans. When I give these as gifts, I use this paper baking pans. I double up the pans because the ones I have have little holes in them so it can potentially leak (I'm going to have to get a different brand next time).

In this pan, I was able to fit seven rolls.

Once the rolls are in the pan, put a towel on them and put them in a warm spot to rise a second time. It should approximately one hour until they're puffy and ready to bake.

Pre-heat your oven to 400°. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes. I usually check the rolls at 15 minutes and then go from there. Bake until they're golden brown.

Take the rolls out of the oven and then put a lovely layer of cream cheese frosting on top. I don't go too heavy on the frosting, but that's a personal preference. 

Allow the rolls to cool, wrap up the container in a large gift bag and share the love!


Dough (based on this recipe)
  • 1/2 C. warm water
  • 1/2 C. warm milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 C. unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 C. white sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 3 3/4 C. all purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
Place water, milk, egg, butter, sugar, salt and yeast into a bowl and mix. Once everything is mixed, start adding the all purpose flour. Start with two cups, once that's incorporated, add the third cup. Then add 1/4 c. at a time. The recipe says 3 3/4 c. which is pretty accurate. Depending on how humid it is, that'll determine how much flour you end up using.

Mix on medium until dough comes together. If the dough sticks to your fingers, add a tablespoon of flour at a time until you get a dough that is smooth and doesn't stick to your fingers.

Once the dough is done, take it out of the bowl and knead it by hand for a minute. 

Then place the dough in a large bowl that has a light spray of vegetable oil. Cover will a towel and let rise for one hour.

Sugar Mixture
  • 3/4 C. brown sugar
  • 1/2 C. white sugar
  • 2 tbsp. vietnamese cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
Mix everything together in a bowl and set aside until ready.

Cream Cheese Frosting
  • 4 oz. softened cream cheese
  • 1/4 C. unsalted softened butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 C. powdered sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp. buttermilk
  • pinch of salt
Mix cream cheese and butter together on medium until smooth. Add powered sugar, mix on low until incorporated. Then add vanilla and salt. Then add the buttermilk until you get the consistency you like.

Making the Rolls
  • 2 tbsp. extra of unsalted softened butter
Once the dough has risen, flatten it out and roll until approximately 20x14 rectangle. Using your fingers, spread the softened butter all over the dough.

Then sprinkle the sugar mixture all over the dough, except for the 1/4 inch at the bottom and top of the dough. 

Slowly roll the dough up and pinch to close the seams at the end of the roll.

Cut the dough into 12 rolls and place into a buttered pan. All 12 rolls should fit in a 9x11 pan. 

Put a towel over the rolls and let it rise for another hour. 

Once the rolls have doubled, bake in a 400° for 20-25 minutes. When the rolls are golden brown, take them out of the oven, cover with frosting and enjoy! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Discover Great Music While Stuffing Your Face With Bacon!

While I enjoy good music, I'm not sure I have the energy and mental capacity to go to ACL Fest for a full weekend! Besides, tickets are expensive. I would consider going for one day, but even the idea of dealing with crowds, lines and body odor is not my idea of a funfilled day. I'm a pooper. Micah would be an even bigger pooper.

I will, however, go to a party hosted by VH1, MTV and Pizza Hut! 

Pizza Hut traveling 18wheeler!

oink oink

This year, Pizza Hut was promoting their #baconstuffedcrust pizza. While I enjoy bacon, this obsession with bacon is out of control. I don't want bacon on everything! Micah doesn't even eat bacon (or any form of pork for that matter). 

Because it was all hail to the bacon, there was even a bacon drink. It was basically a margarita with vodka bacon -- which ended up being more smokey than bacony. 

You can see Jim filming on the far left.
My favorite VH1 host, Jim Shearer was also on hand to do interviews with the bands playing that night. 

The list of bands playing at the party. Sundy Best started off the night with some country twang. Bernhoft had to cancel for an unknown reason, he apparently cancelled his ACL show as well. 

Ludwig & Stiegler played sets inbetween the bands that were playing outside. While they're not a full time traveling duo, they do shows. The trumpist, Spencer Ludwig also plays for Capital Cities.

This team knows how to get a party started! The music is a fun mix of keyboard, trumpet and awesome beats! I can dance to them all night long! Plus, their outfits are ridiculously colorful.

The other band that had a fun crowd was the Kongos. You've probably heard their song "Go With Me Now" on a tv commercial -- well, that's how I came across them anyway.

They did fun a mashup of "Come Together" and a old school hip hop song. The last half of the video is their "Go With Me Now" song. If you're at ACL this weekend, check them out on Sunday!

I just loved these balloons some folks showed up with. I guess it's smart to have this as a marker if you're looking for friends in a large crowd at Zilker Park.

And I had to take a picture of a guy who is rocking an American flag tank. I mean...

AND THEN THIS HAPPENED. This traveling photobooth trailer is the coolest photobooth I've come across. The company, Amurica, is based out of Memphis.

It's the perfect way to end a jamming night!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Turning TABC Data Into a Map All About Beer

When Austin Beerworks started this whole 99-pack of beer thing, the story was pitched in my editorial meetings several times. I never even pitched it once! I thought it was genius marketing but I never brought it up in a meeting... and I'm known for pitching beer stories!

After two weeks, we finally did the story. You can watch it here:

While my reporter was working on the story, I wanted to know how many brewery and brewpub licenses were actually in our area. After some queries on TABC's website, I plotted this map:

I don't get to do fun data sets often, but sometimes I do! I think the last map I did was where Google Fiber asked for permits (nowhere near my hood).

These are all active and pending permits with TABC. Some places haven't even opened yet.

I didn't even know these places existed:

  • Bluebonnet Beer Company (Round Rock)
  • Bull Creek Brewing (Williamson Co.)
  • Solid Rock Brewing (Spicewood)
  • Strange Land Brewery (West Lake)
  • Last Stand Brewing (Dripping Springs)
  • Smoke'n Hops (Dripping Springs)
  • Sean Patrick's (San Marcos)
  • Aquabrew (San Marcos)
Here's hoping these new places have some good brews on tap!

Have you been to all of these places? Which new place are you most excited about?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Recipe: Homemade Rice-a-Roni!

Micah rarely ever craves anything. The only thing he really ever requests is Rice-a-Roni. I guess it's a childhood thing? Because I'm awesome (and because I really like ANY rice dish) I succumb to his demands and make my version of rice-a-roni -- which is usually once a month.

If you buy the boxed version, stop! Stop, right now. The boxed stuff has entirely too much sodium! When you make it from scratch, you can control the sodium intake and make it even better! This dish is really easy and you can easily make it in 30-40 minutes.

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 2 C. long grain rice (rinsed)
  • 30 g. thin spaghetti 
  • 3 1/4 C. chicken stock
  • 3 C. frozen broccoli florets (you can use fresh if you have it)
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 onion diced
  • 2 garlic gloves minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. tumeric
  • 1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

To start off, heat a large pan with some olive oil and a pat of butter. I use this large frying skillet that has high sides so the rice cooks evenly.

Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper and put it into the pan.

Cook each side for 5-7 minutes until the chicken is pretty much cooked through - it's ok if there is still some slight pink in the thickest part of the breast -- the meat will cook for a few more minutes at the end. Remove from the pan and let the chicken rest on a plate.

While you're cooking the chicken, heat up the chicken stock with the poultry seasoning and keep it warm. I always have homemade chicken stock in the freezer, but if you don't, just use a low sodium chicken stock or veggie stock (if you so choose).

Also take this time to rinse the rice until the water runs clear. You're getting rid of the starches that would make your pilaf gummy.

Mince up the garlic and dice the onion.

After you take the chicken out of the pan, add the onions and garlic with a touch more olive oil and butter. Saute until soft.

Then add the rice and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and toast the rice over medium heat. After two minutes, add the thin spaghetti.

I like to just grab a handful and then break them into 1/4 inch-ish pieces into the pan.

Add the tumeric and dried thyme and watch the color turn! The tumeric gives it the vibrant yellow color. Cook everything on medium heat for another 5 minutes or until the the pasta shows some color.

While the rice is "toasting," put the frozen broccoli into the stock pot. This takes the chill off the broccoli.

Then add the chicken stock/broccoli mixture into the main saute pan. Stir everything together, bring it to a boil, put a lid on it and then bring it down to a simmer. Let it simmer for 15 minutes.

While the rice simmers, cut the chicken into cubes.

After 15 minutes, take the lid off, using a large fork, fluff the rice (don't use a large spoon!) and then add the chicken and all the juices on the plate -- don't waste it, that's the good stuff!

This is also the time to taste the rice. It'll still be slightly al dente. I usually add another splash or two of reserved chicken stock. Put the lid back on and simmer for another 5 minutes.

Once the last five minutes is done, fluff again and enjoy!

I also love this dish because it keeps really well and is perfect for me to bring to work and reheat!

See, it's not just the San Francisco treat!