PW Cinnamon Rolls


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I sort of get on these quests for the holy grail of whatever recipe.  Please tell me I'm not the only one.  The cinnamon roll holy grail recipe quest is not yet ended, but this one is definitely a top contender.  First I tried out Peter Reinhart's Cinnamon Rolls, and they were very good.  They were a more substantial bread than these were, which is why my quest continued.  The cinnamon roll recipe has to be one of the absolute most popular Pioneer Woman recipes, and PW and others have created a lot of great variations.  This recipe makes a flip ton, and Pioneer Woman was right, if you give these as gifts, the recipients will want you to make them again.  This could be my fault, but they spread out/rose more than I'd expect the Holy Grail Recipe to do, which is why my quest continues.  Still, if I stopped here, I'd likely not be disappointed.

The dough- all rolled into a long rectangle.

The mess after.

This recipe is simple, and I halved the recipe because of its magnitude.  I still got something like 4-5 pans of cinnamon rolls.  Sometimes playing with baking ratios, even halving things, can mess with it, so as I said, I could be to blame for the bread to filling ratio not being exactly what I want.  Either way, do try this.  Regardless of my ratio comment, these are wonderful.  Especially the topping.  The topping is oh-so-good and to die for.  One good thing is that you can break the whole project up into stages, making for less to do on the day you want to serve them.  Serve these with a nice cup of coffee.  Or another cinnamon roll.

I am posting the halved recipe, as I made it.  Visit PW's website- the recipe title is the link- for her full recipe, beautiful step-by-step photos, and variations.

PW Cinnamon Rolls (original recipe)
from Pioneer Woman

2 cups Whole Milk
1/2 cup Vegetable Oil
1/2 cup Sugar
1 packages Active Dry Yeast, 0.25 Ounce Packets (about 2 tsp yeast)
4 cups (Plus 1/2 Cup Extra, Reserved) All-purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon (scant) Baking Soda
1/2 Tablespoon (heaping) Salt
 Plenty Of Melted Butter
1 cup Sugar
 Generous Sprinkling Of Cinnamon
1 box (4 cups) Powdered Sugar
1 teaspoons Maple Flavoring
1/4 cup Milk
2 Tb Melted Butter
2 Tb Brewed Coffee
Dash teaspoon Salt

For the dough, heat the milk, vegetable oil, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat to just below a boil. Set aside and cool to warm. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit on the milk for 1 minute.
Add 8 cups of the flour. Stir until just combined, then cover with a clean kitchen towel, and set aside in a relatively warm place for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the towel and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the remaining 1 cup flour. Stir thoroughly to combine. Use the dough right away, or place in a mixing bowl and refrigerate for up to 3 days, punching down the dough if it rises to the top of the bowl. (Note: dough is easier to work with if it’s been chilled for at least an hour or so beforehand.)
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
To assemble the rolls, remove half the dough from the pan/bowl. On a floured baking surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 30 x 10 inches. The dough should be rolled very thin.
To make the filling, pour 3/4 cup to 1 cup of the melted butter over the surface of the dough. Use your fingers to spread the butter evenly. Generously sprinkle half of the ground cinnamon and 1 cup of the sugar over the butter. Don’t be afraid to drizzle on more butter or more sugar! Gooey is the goal.
Now, beginning at the end farthest from you, roll the rectangle tightly towards you. Use both hands and work slowly, being careful to keep the roll tight. Don’t worry if the filling oozes as you work; that just means the rolls are going to be divine. When you reach the end, pinch the seam together and flip the roll so that the seam is face down. When you’re finished, you’ll wind up with one long buttery, cinnamony, sugary, gooey log.
Slip a cutting board underneath the roll and with a sharp knife, make 1/2-inch slices. One “log “will produce 20 to 25 rolls. Pour a couple of teaspoons of melted butter into disposable foil cake pans and swirl to coat. Place the sliced rolls in the pans, being careful not to overcrowd. (Each pan will hold 7 to 9 rolls.)
Repeat the rolling/sugar/butter process with the other half of the dough and more pans. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cover all the pans with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise on the countertop for at least 20 minutes before baking. Remove the towel and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t allow the rolls to become overly brown.
While the rolls are baking, make the maple icing: In a large bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, butter, coffee, and salt. Splash in the maple flavoring. Whisk until very smooth. Taste and add in more maple, sugar, butter, or other ingredients as needed until the icing reaches the desired consistency. The icing should be somewhat thick but still very pourable.
Remove pans from the oven. Immediately drizzle icing over the top. Be sure to get it all around the edges and over the top. As they sit, the rolls will absorb some of the icing’s moisture and flavor.

Be Mine- Recipes for the Ones You Love



Happy Valentine's Day!  Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is huge, and is impossible to avoid if you don't live in a cave or on a desert island.  Whether you're into making something for family, friends, or that special someone, here are some ways to ditch the heart shaped box of surprises, avoid the restaurant crowds and show your love:

Chocolate Truffle Cookies- these are my absolute favorite of the food gifts for Valentine's Day.  Rich and chocolatey, fudgy and delicious, they're wonderful.

Cake Balls- small, customizeable.  Use strawberry cake mix with strawberry or cream cheese frosting and coat in chocolate or vanilla.  Use red velvet, cream cheese frosting, and chocolate coating.  The possibilities are endless and delicious.

Oreo Truffles- Much like cake balls, these are easy and delicious, and no baking is required.

If you're into planning that cozy dinner for two, try these ideas:

Start off with Kale Salad.

Move on to Sole Meuniere, Chicken Paillard, Salmon in Parchment with Spinach and Orange, or Braised Short Ribs

Finish with molten lava cake or this decadent mocha cheesecake.

Snow Day= Baking! Mini Vanilla Bean Scones


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This is the view into my back yard right now.  I am in snowy heaven.  It started snowing yesterday, which in the foothills of Western NC is a rare sight.  The entire Western half of the state, if not the entire state, is completely shut down.  You from the North, go ahead and laugh it up.  The bread and milk sections of grocery stores here are entirely depleted, and I'm all "darn it, I don't have enough butter to make croissant dough," or "what if I want cauliflower?!"

My breakfast this morning- the scones and french pressed coffee, on a tray and sitting on my couch while watching snow.  Perfect.

When it snows, we hole ourselves up in our homes, sometimes make snow cream and hot chocolate, and enjoy the falling snow.  I also get the urge to bake, and yesterday I chose to make mini vanilla bean scones, from Pioneer Woman.  I love the Starbucks version, but who wants to pay that much for baked goods?  While not a perfect imitation (and who said it had to be?), these are good.  They're pretty quick to whip up, and they're pretty easy.  I made them as-is, but for cost reasons will likely modify the recipe when I make it again.  I'll post that in the notes section.  Visit her website (link is the recipe title, below) for detailed, step-by-step photos and instructions.

Mini Vanilla Bean Scones
from Pioneer Woman

3 cups All-purpose Flour

2/3 cups Sugar
5 teaspoons Baking Powder
1/4 teaspoon Salt
2 sticks (1/2 Pound) unsalted butter, frozen
1 whole Large Egg
3/4 cups Heavy Cream (more If Needed)
2 whole Vanilla Beans

5 cups Powdered Sugar, Sifted
1/2 cup Whole Milk, More If Needed For Thinning
1 whole Vanilla Bean
 Dash Of Salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Split the vanilla beans down the middle lengthwise and scrape out all the vanilla "caviar" inside. Stir caviar into cream and place empty pods inside cream as well.  Set aside for 15 minutes.

Sift together flour, 2/3 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt.

Using a cheese grater, grate the butter, half a stick at a time, into the flour mixture, and cut in with fingers, a pastry cutter, or two forks. Keep going until mixture resembles crumbs.

Mix vanilla cream with egg, then combine with flour mixture; stir gently with a fork just until it comes together.

Turn dough onto a floured surface and lightly press it together until it forms a rough rectangle. (Mixture will be pretty crumbly.) Use a rolling pin to roll into a rectangle about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Use your hands to help with the forming if necessary.

Use a knife to trim into a symmetrical rectangle, then cut the rectangle into 12 symmetrical squares/rectangles. Next, cut each square/rectangle in half diagonally, to form two triangles.
Transfer to a parchment or baking mat-lined cookie sheet and bake for 18 minutes, removing from the oven just before they start to turn golden. Allow to cool for 15 minutes on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To make the icing, split one vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the caviar. Stir caviar into milk; allow to sit for awhile. Mix powdered sugar with the vanilla milk, adding more powdered sugar or milk if necessary to get the consistency the right thickness. Stir or whisk until completely smooth.
One at a time, carefully dunk each cooled scone in the glaze, turning it over if necessary. Transfer to parchment paper or the cooling rack. Allow the glaze to set completely, about an hour. Scones will keep several days if glazed.


  • Vanilla beans- World Market has good prices, if you have one near you or are planning to be near one in a city.  Some supermarkets and health food stores carry them, and of course you can always order online.  They are EXPENSIVE, though, and for this budget-conscious cook, they're at a bit too much of a premium for this to not be a "special" ingredient.  I did some searching online, though, and most likely I'd use a vanilla bean for the glaze, since it's the most visible, and use 1-2 Tb vanilla extract in the scones themselves.  That is the alteration I'd make
  • These were crumbly, and some fell apart during the glazing process.  I ended up dunking the bottoms and then pouring the rest of the glaze over the top.  That worked pretty well.  Just make sure you put them somewhere the excess can drip off, like a cooling rack.

Meatless Monday: Smoky Black Bean Mexican Lasagna


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This dish is a variation of this recipe, which I got out of the January 2011 issue of Everyday Food.  I played with the ingredients and spices even further and came up with this tasty spin.  Even my husband, who does not like mushrooms, likes this dish.  Aside from seeing them, you do not taste a mushroom-y taste.  This "lasagna" is, however, satisfying.  It's warming.  You'll be a little embarrassed to realize you've eaten 1/4 of the pan, by yourself, in one meal.  Oops.

Smoky Black Bean Mexican Lasagna
serves 4

2 Tb vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1- 15 oz can black beans or 1 1/2 c prepared black beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 lb button or cremini mushrooms, rinsed and quartered
10 oz spinach (if frozen, thawed and excess liquid squeezed)
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1- 16 oz jar salsa
4 oz cheese, grated (I suggest monterrey jack but use chedder, pepper jack, or any combo)
5 medium sized flour tortillas, halved
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

In a large sauce pan, heat the vegetable oil over medium to med-high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until they begin to soften and start to become translucent, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and the spinach if using fresh and continue to cook the mixture another 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked and softened.  If the spinach is cooked, just add in with black beans.  Add in the black beans and warm through.  Add in spices and stir for a minute or so.  Add about 1/2 cup water and cook, stirring occasionally until liquid is reduced to just coating the vegetables, for about 5-10 minutes.

Assemble your lasagna:  spoon out half the bean mixture into the bottom of an 8x11 inch rectangular casserole dish (can be done with a 9x13).  Pour over 1/3 of the salsa (about 2/3 cup) and 1/3 cheese.  Top with 3 tortilla halves, covering the mixture.  Repeat this layer, and sprinkle on the remainder of the salsa and cheese.  Bake in preheat oven for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and allow to sit a couple minutes before cutting.  Serve with avocado, small salad, rice, chips and salsa- whatever floats your Mexican- inspired boat!


  • If you're not quite convinced about the meatless thing, just add in 1 lb any ground meat in place of the mushrooms.
  • You may need more cheese.  It depends on how cheese-loving you are.
  • I used jarred salsa here, and suplemented it with the PW's restaurant style salsa.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookie Bars


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For the love of all things sweet, make these as soon as possible!

These are so good; so very, very good.  If I follow the guidance of previous teachers, good is a bit of an understatement.  They're delectable.  They're scrumptious.  They are among my Pinterest Hall of Fame pins.  Gooey cookie, fluffly marshmallow, salty pretzel, peanut butter, and chocolate converge to form something that is so rich, and so much greater than the sum of its parts.

They're also easy.  The ingredient list is short, the prep is quick, and if you use pre-made cookie dough, it's all semi-homemade.  I'm that obnoxious person who made the dough from scratch, so I can give some pointers there.

This wonderful creation comes from the kitchen of the author of the food blog, Cookies and Cups, which I would never have found without Pinterest.  See the original blog post by clicking the recipe title.

Peanut Butter Pretzel Cookie Bars
from Cookies and Cups

1-16.5 oz roll of cookie dough, or same amt. homemade dough
3 cups miniature marshmallows
2 cups peanut butter filled pretzels
1/2 cup chocolate or peanut butter chips
1 tsp shortening

Preheat your oven to 350.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with foil or parchment and spray or butter the foil.  Press the cookie dough into the pan to form an even layer.  Bake in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes or until the dough is lightly golden at edges.

Remove from oven, sprinkle marshmallows over the top, and return to the oven an additional 1-2 minutes, or until the marshmallows are puffy but not done.  Remove from heat and sprinkle pretzel. Uh gets over the top.  Press the pretzels into the marshmallows and cookie dough.

Melt chocolate or peanut butter chips and the shortening in microwave in 30 second intervals until melted.  Drizzle over the bars with a spoon and allow the bars to cool before cutting.


  • I used the original Nestle Tollhouse cookie dough recipe.  I already had all the ingredients for cookie dough on hand but would have had to go to the store to buy the pre-made dough.  If you go this route, make the dough ahead of time and chill in fridge, or more will end up on your hands than in the pan.  Also, weigh the dough or don't use the whole recipe.  It took my dough a lot longer to bake.  It ended up working out ok, but I was concerned about them being underdone.
  • The original recipe called for peanut butter chips, but I already had chocolate chips on hand, and it turned out great.  I wonder if mixing chocolate chips and peanut butter instead of shortening would yield similar texture and more flavor?
  • Do not skip the step of lining the pan.  It makes removal so easy, and I think that otherwise a lot more cookie bar would have been stuck to the pan.
  • These are, like so many baked goods, best the day they're made.  They're pretty good the next day, too, but after that the pretzels start to get a little stale.  
  • Because there's so much going on, they can be cut small and you can get quite a few servings out of them- 20+.  They're great for a crowd! 

Chicken and Dumplings


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This is your captain (obvious) speaking.  It's cold.

We enjoyed our second snowfall of the fall/winter season this week- well I enjoyed it.  I love snow!  But let me stay at home with my hot chocolate and my bathrobe, and I'll be mesmerized by the beautifully, slow falling flakes for hours.

When it's bitterly cold outside, few things really warm you like chicken and dumplings.  They're so good!  My aunt is known in our family as the queen of chicken and dumplings.  Her soup is thick and creamy, and her dumplings light and dense at the same time.  It's crazy good, and defies science.

I went a couple years ago to see how she made it.  I watched her from start to finish, and then got to enjoy the fruits of her labor.  She demonstrated every step and explained why she did things the way she did.  I took notes.  It was a real "snatch the pebble, grasshopper" moment.  By the way, if you want to learn how to make something, I love the method of watching someone or helping someone do it.  You spend some good, quality time with that person and you learn how to make it.  Whether it be a family member, friend, lady at church, whoever- don't be afraid to ask them to help you learn.

Now it may seem a bit crazy after talking about how awesome her stuff was to say that I decided to alter it, but I did.  She used some pre-packaged/convenience items.  Not that there's anything wrong with that (quick, name that sitcom)!  There's truly not, but being the kitchen nut I am, I wanted to know how to do it, truly from scratch.  The method stayed the same, but the approach/ingredients changed.  Here is my experience:

Take a whole chicken, and cut it into the 8 separate body pieces.  Use it, along with vegetables and herbs/spices to make stock.  Remove the meat when it's cooked so it doesn't get overcooked and return the bones to the pot to keep making the stock more flavorful and richer.  Separate the ingredients and return the chicken and stock to the pot.  Bring to a boil, and add your dumpling dough.  Cook through, 10-15 minutes, and enjoy!  It took me a couple times to get the dumplings, and the second time I used a slight variation on Alton Brown's recipe.  Those came out much better than mine, which were a variation on my regular biscuit recipe.

By the way, I am a Chicken and Dumplings purist, meaning that I don't need other vegetables in my soup.  It's literally just chicken and dumplings in a broth.  If you're looking for more, maybe that will come later, but this is all I've ever needed.  Also, dumplings to me are cloudy, pillowy floating biscuits and not flat.  Just FYI, should you be shocked at the results, expecting flat noodly things.

Chicken and Dumplings
whole recipe inspired by my Aunt Jenny; dumplings by Alton Brown
serves 6-8

1 whole chicken, cut up but bones and skin left in tact
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 inch sections
1 onion, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery, cut into 2 inch sections
3 garlic cloves, smashed
1 Tb whole peppercorns
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 Tb butter, chilled or frozen
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, place the chicken and all the vegetables, whole peppercorns, and 2 tsp. salt.  Cover with about 1- 1 1/2 inches of water.  Bring to a boil over medium-high or high heat, and then back the heat down to med-low or low to simmer.  Skim foam off the top.  Simmer for 45-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.  Cut off the heat and allow the pot to cool most of the way.  Remove the chicken and take the skin and meat off the bones, loosely shredding the chicken as you go. Discard the skin but reserve the meat.  Add the bones back to the pot, and bring back to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and simmer another 60 minutes, or until the bones begin to soften and the vegetables are limp.  Remove from heat and cool.  Strain through a cheesecloth lined strainer, and discard the vegetables (or eat them, as we did) and discard the bones.  This can be done in stages.

Return the now made and strained stock and the shredded chicken to the pot, and bring back to a boil over medium-high heat.  Salt and pepper to taste.  While heating the chicken and stock, make the dumpling dough:  In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, and baking soda.  Cut or grate in the butter (see my grating tip below) until you have a mixture that looks coarse and pebbly.  Add the buttermilk and stir until just incorporated.  You will have a very moist, shaggy dough.  When the chicken stock is boiling, drop the dough in with a small disher or large spoonful, about 2-3 Tb.  Cover the pot and allow the dumplings to cook through, about 10-15 minutes.


  • From Rachael Ray and Ina Garten, I recently learned that cooling the chicken in the stock liquid fortifies the stock further and keeps the chicken moist.  You could skip the step of allowing the chicken and stock liquid to cool, but I liked the results here.  I also liked returning the bones to the pot and further cooking the stock.  The flavor was great.
  • From my Aunt Jenny, I learned that you need a loose dough/batter, which she says is the secret to her light and fluffy yet dense dumplings.  She uses a Southern style biscuit mix and adds vegetable oil to the mix until it's about as runny as pancake batter.  I wanted to make my own dumplings, but the first trial of chicken and dumplings proved that my standby biscuit recipe was not going to hack it.  Thankfully, the slight variation of Alton Brown's dumplings in his I'm Just Here for More Food worked well.
  • I can't say that it's an original idea of mine to grate butter rather than to cut it into cubes, but I can't remember where I got it, so I'll just tell you that I've found a trick for cutting butter that really works for me.  About 10 minutes before you need the butter, place the butter and a larger hole cheese grater in the freezer.  When you get to the part of your recipe that tells you to cut the butter into the dry ingredient mixture, grate the butter into the mixture, using the cheese grater.  The trick is to keep the butter and everything that touches the butter as cold as possible during this process.  Some will stick to the grater, but that shouldn't affect your final outcome that much.