When I first tried giving James cornbread he was three years old and decidedly not a fan. I included cheese in the recipe but he was not to be fooled. All manner of changes were made to the recipe but to no avail. Then one day I asked, “Jamesy, would you like some Johnny cake?” Johnny cake is usually baked on a griddle, flat and thin. I didn’t even have to do that. I baked up the usual cornbread in my cast iron skillet and he scarfed it down. He was sold. My boy had heard the word “cake”. That’s all it took. Don’t you wish all eating problems could be solved so easily? James has since grown into a young man who is confident in the kitchen and more than happy to eat Mama’s spicier version of cornbread. This recipe is roll-your-eyes delicious. By baking it in a pre-heated iron skillet the bottom of the cornbread becomes crispy and the flavor of the cornmeal is heightened. I’m fully aware the addition of sugar in cornbread is individual and also more common up North. However, in the south it’s just not done by us old timers, at least not this one. Corn is naturally sweet…there’s no need to add sugar. But scallions and jalapenos are always welcome in cornbread. It bakes up so beautifully and pairs well with so much. Can’t have collards without cornbread. Or chili. Served with fish chowder or southern BBQ, cornbread is tradition . Both black eyed peas and tortilla soup demand a healthy wedge. Quite simply, there’s nothing like cornbread crumbled over a small bowl of cold buttermilk. Now THAT’S southern!
Simple, fast and cheap, this recipe will become a family favorite. Although 1/2 cup of chopped jalapenos seems like a lot, the peppers lose quite a bit of their heat during the baking process. However, feel free to cut back on them if you’re not crazy about heat or you’re feeding little ones. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet I suggest you save this recipe until you do have one. It just won’t crisp up and will be a huge disappointment. Most importantly, don’t forget to be super careful about grasping the handle of the skillet while moving it in and out of the oven. It’ll be screaming hot so make sure you have several dry kitchens towels available to make maneuvering easy.
1 large bunch (approximately 7-8) scallions, thinly sliced
1 large egg
2 cups buttermilk, not reduced fat
2 cups medium ground cornmeal, I like white best but that’s just me
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pre-heat oven to 425°.
Place the oil in a 10″ cast iron skillet. Spread the oil all over the pan so that it coats all of the bottom and up the sides. You can use your fingers, a basting brush or simply swirl the oil all over.
Immediately place the skillet in the pre-heating oven.
In a small bowl combine the chopped jalapeno, scallions, egg and buttermilk. Mix thoroughly. Set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until combined.
USING A HOT MITT OR DRY DISH TOWEL remove the hot skillet from the oven and pour the batter into it.
CAREFULLY return the pan to the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Allow to cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.
I wasn’t planning on serving an appetizer Thanksgiving Day. The family dinner was at our house this year. Everyone was in town and coming late in the day. I couldn’t wait to have all my people gathered together again. The house was ready, the dining room table glittered. I wasn’t going to have a starter course because there was going to be so much food… for crying out loud, it’s Thanksgiving! But then I thought it would be more fun to have a little something to nibble on with champagne and drinks before dinner. Not wanting to break the bank OR break my back I decided a holiday stuffed bread was in order. And because my motto is “more is better” I made two. My husband, Jimmy, looked at me as though I had two heads. “I know, I know. It’s a lot of food but if no one eats it, well, we just wrap them up and have them tomorrow.” He knows not to argue when it comes to food, bless his heart. Let me just cut to the chase. When the two loaves had been plated and my nieces began to make their way through the house serving, you have never seen so many faces light up. My family pounced on them as if they hadn’t eaten in weeks. Grownups were licking their fingers. My brother followed the girls with their trays around the house tearing off chunks of warm, cheesy bread and making happy boy sounds. My son, James,
was not happy when he saw me tucking fresh cranberries into the cheese but after his first bite was in complete agreement that the berries were the perfect clean foil against the gooey, richness of the cheese, olive oil and garlic. Both loaves were gone in minutes. Minutes! This recipe is extremely adaptable in that you can substitute the brie for Gruyère, cheddar, mozzarella or the gooey cheese of your choice. You can tuck in gorgonzola crumbles or shredded parmesan. Red pepper flakes are wonderful for a little heat. Not a fan of cranberries? Try blackberries or raspberries. I used whole grain boules but white bread would be fine. Good looking on a table or passed by hand, this starter is perfect for the holidays. It can be assembled hours ahead, only make certain to wrap it tightly so the bread doesn’t get stale. Make certain you have plenty of napkins and enjoy!
1 1-pound boule or round loaf of bread, 6″-7″ diameter works well
1/4 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, grated
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste, a healthy pinch of each will do
1/4 pound brie cheese, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded Italian 5 cheese, I believe I used Kraft but any brand is fine, store brand or whatever’s on sale
1/2 cup or more fresh cranberries or berry of choice
thyme sprigs for garnish, optional
Pre-heat oven to 375°.
Making certain not to cut all the way through to the bottom, slice the bread in roughly half-inch slices. Turn the bread 90° and make 1/2″ slices, again not cutting all the way through. I find if I hold the bread firmly it keeps it from shredding or tearing too much. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine olive oil, garlic, thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Gently stuff the brie vertically in the bread slices.
Pour half of the olive oil mixture as evenly as you can into the open bread spaces. Set aside remaining oil.
Toss the thyme leaves with the Italian cheese blend.
Gently stuff the Italian cheese horizontally down into the bread.
Pour the remaining olive oil mixture evenly on the bread.
Tuck the fresh cranberries onto the top of the nooks and crannies of the stuffed bread.
Spray a piece of tin foil with non-stick cooking spray and wrap the bread tightly with the foil.
Place on a baking sheet and bake covered for 25-30 minutes.
Carefully unwrap the bread and bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and bubbly.
Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and serve immediately.
What a week, huh? And it’s only Tuesday! I learned a dear, dear cousin of mine in Puerto Rico is sick. The family here stateside was devastated. My cousin in Tallahassee and I were in the process of planning a last minute trip to PR, furiously texting back and forth, when suddenly I received not a text but a phone call from her. She had been pulled out of her grad class and was on her way to the emergency room and would I please say a prayer for her. Her oldest of three had been hit by a car while riding his bike home. She knew nothing else of his condition but that. She heard my voice calm and soothing assuring her my siblings and I would immediately start a prayer circle. She heard my words of quiet strength and hope. She could not see my knees buckle with fear nor did she see my eyes fill up with tears. Hours later I received the text stating he was fine! His face and hands were all bloodied up. His glasses were lost and his bike mangled but he was more than okay. He had worn his protective helmet and it had done its job. I wanted to do something for them. I wanted to jump in my little car and 400 miles later show up at her door arms filled with baked goods. I wanted to wrap her entire family in my arms because family is everything to us.
And this is what I would have taken. It’s an easy quick bread that when baking fills your house with the warm smells of fall. The smells that make you feel cozy and safe from harm. Whether you have a slice with a cup of coffee or hot tea or even a glass of milk, this quick bread is satisfying and positively luscious. I use reduced fat cream cheese in the icing because it’s a bit tangier than whole fat and that tang is more than welcome in the rich frosting. It also marries quite well with the piquant ginger. Here’s to hoping the rest of the week is a little easier to handle. I heard a rumor today’s election day but after last night I can handle this hands down. Good luck everybody!
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
Cover a 1.5 quart glass loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, allspice and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a separate bowl use a hand mixer to combine pumpkin, eggs, brown sugar, butter, canola oil and vanilla. Mix until all ingredients are well combined and mixture is smooth.
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir by hand until there are no more flour streaks.
Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for 55-60 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
Place pan on a cooling rack for 15 minutes then turn bread out of pan and allow to cool completely on cooling rack.
Ginger Cream Cheese Icing
1 8-ounce block cream cheese, I prefer reduced fat, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons ginger paste or finely grated fresh ginger. Ginger paste is in a tube found in the produce department of your grocery store.
1 cup confectioners sugar, sifted
Using a hand mixer, beat cream cheese, butter and ginger until completely combined.
Add the confectioners sugar and mix until smooth.
When the pumpkin bread has completely cooled mound the icing on top and smooth to your liking.
If you’re not serving the bread for a day or two keep the bread in the refrigerator. Just prior to serving mix up the icing, top the bread with it and serve. Or serve the icing dolloped on top of individual slices.
Okay, so I guess I slowly climbed on the pumpkin band wagon. It’s not the pumpkin flavored coffees at Starbucks. I can’t stand flavors in my morning coffee…too much like candy and certainly not enough kick. Nor is it the stand of cinnamon brooms whose scent assaults my olfactory system like a WWII blitzkrieg the moment I step foot in Publix. No. It was something as simple as two girl’s weekends, both with girls from college, one was sorority sisters and the other girls that I love. It got me to thinking about college days. And Fall. I went to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia where we had seasons. That’s where I saw leaves change color for the first time. I thought how I walked across the beautiful southern campus; orange, yellow and red leaves bouncing and spinning on gusts of wind as if doing cartwheels. Kind of like sorority sister Anne B. who, drunk and making her way across campus late one night, fell on her face in the middle of a cart-wheel and knocked out her big front tooth. The whole thing. Yup. Serves her right, though. She was never particularly nice to me plus she had borrowed a very expensive pair of gold earrings and when she finally returned them to me one had been completely destroyed. Apparently she had stepped on it. But she was very, very sorry. Anyway, where ever she is, she’s running around with a fake front tooth. Those Autumn nights were chilly for us Florida girls. In my mind’s eye I can see the wool plaid tweed car coat Daddy had special ordered for me. A soft, tobacco brown with ebony black and pumpkin gold flecks. It was sumptuous and luxurious. Striding across campus to get to class on time, I’d turn the collar up and dig my hands deep into my pockets to stay warm. In the dorm it was cozyand comfortable and on weekends music would spill out of our rooms into the halls as we got ready for our dates and went from room to room sharing cocktails before we went out. Those were the days of albums and turntables. We listened to everything! Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Marshall Tucker, Allman Brothers, the Eagles, Grinderswitch, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Wet Willie had us singing and dancing like you wouldn’t even believe. That was our kind of finger poppin’ music. As I walked out of my dorm with girlfriends or on a date with my boyfriend, you could almost touch the excitement in the darkness, the sensation of anticipation in the frosty, brittle darkness. Our eyes sparkled from the cold as we laughed, chatted and guzzled booze in the chilly night air. Fraternity parties were held outdoors on the patio of the lodges. Mammoth speakers were set up inside and out, as were the kegs and garbage cans filled with grain punch. More Atlanta Rythym Section, Doobie Brothers and Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Boston. Lord, I think back and laugh. Those days celebrated the folly of youth and the good looks that come with it. I’ll stop at the risk of divulging any ancient secrets. But, hey! Try this way easy bread pudding. It’s Fall and time for a little pumpkin!
Why is it no one makes dinner rolls anymore? I understand the time crunch and lack of energy when you finally get home from work and then have to crank out dinner for the fam but weekends are the perfect time to stock up on these little luxuries that can be stashed away in the freezer to be enjoyed weeks later…maybe some evening when it’s dark, chilly and rainy. Well, this recipe is one of those kind of keepers. Soft and fluffy, slathered with warm butter and perhaps a drizzle of that honey you picked up at the farmer’s market, these rolls are a rare treat yet exceptionally easy to make. They mix and roll up quickly. There are two risings but the dough sits quietly in the corner while you go about your business.
The recipe makes 24 rolls so you’ll have plenty of leftovers to freeze, (and they freeze beautifully), or they can be served at breakfast as is or pulled apart and stuffed with a sausage patty or egg. The slight sweetness of this bread pairs well with a scoop of homemade chicken salad or spicy crab salad served in the opened middle. With cooler weather right around the corner consider stocking up on these little golden treasures. You’ll pat yourself on the back for planning so well!
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional if needed
1 sachet active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, melted, to brush on before serving
1 tablespoon honey, to brush on before serving
In the bowl of a stand up mixer fitted with a dough hook combine flour and yeast.
In a small saucepan combine milk, 1/4 cup honey, sugar, 1/4 cup butter and salt, stirring until all ingredients are combined and heated to 105° and 115°.
Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and beat until just blended.
Add the egg and beat the dough for 3-4 minutes until the dough becomes thick and soft and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. It will probably be very sticky depending on the humidity in your area. If the dough is too sticky to handle add one tablespoon of flour to the bowl and beat another minute or so. If needed add another tablespoon of flour to thicken and continue beating.
Beat the dough until smooth and elastic about 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease the top as well.
Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm corner to rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Lightly spray 2 muffin pans with non-stick cooking spray.
Punch dough down and cut in half with a bench knife or large, sharp knife. Cover half of the dough and set aside.
Cut one half of the dough into 12 equal pieces.
Cut each of the 12 pieces into 3 equal pieces, you should have 36 chunks of cut dough.
With your hands gently roll each chunk into a small, fluffy ball and drop three into each muffin cup.
Continue in the same manner with the 2nd half of the dough that was set aside.
Cover both muffin tins and set aside to rise for 45 minutes or until double in size.
Bake in a pre-heated oven for 8-10 minutes or until slightly golden on top.
Remove rolls from the oven and cool for 5 minutes.
Mix the melted butter and tablespoon of honey until well incorporated. Brush on top of each roll.
Warm any leftovers in a pre-heated 300° oven for 5-7 minutes.
We are a house divided. Jimmy and James are Greek Orthodox and I am Roman Catholic. However, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the Greek church and nothing thrills me more than when I discover a new dish. Several years back while we were in Boston, we went to church with Jimmy’s brother, George. Jimmy and all his siblings grew up in the cathedral, with all the big city hustle and bustle of downtown. All the Greek families grew up in the church. The church was the religious and social nucleus of the Greek community. The cathedral’s youth group was enormous. All the kids went to the church after school and on weekends for pick-up basketball games, church dances and just to hang out. It was where most of Jimmy’s friends met their future wives and husbands. Here we were, years later, and as always, in the church hall after Sunday service. While my husband and brother-in-law caught up with old friends I strolled the perimeter of the coffee table. A pretty, little basket caught my eye as it held some sort of coffee cake or bread or maybe it’s cake…I didn’t know but I sure was going to try it out. It was life altering. Chewy on the outside yet moist and yielding on the inside, its mysterious, warm flavors caught me off guard. Turns out it was a bread called Artos, redolent with the flavors of the Middle East. At first bite I was reminded of the gifts the Magi offered the Christ child because of the heady fragrance of cinnamon, cloves and ground aniseed. I had to make it. I had to! Well, here it is. Artos is an easy bread to make but it is a bit messy and does require a little rising time. Well worth it if you ask me. The recipe can be doubled and I feel you may as well make two then you can give one to a friend or someone special. The recipe is adapted from Anissa Helou’s book “Savory Baking From the Mediterranean”. The bread is fabulous with almond butter or Nutella accompanied by a cup of tea or coffee. It’s great as breakfast or as a snack and is fabulous as sandwich sliced, stuffed with bananas and nut butters then grilled. Try it. You’ll amaze yourself!
These Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls are the stuff dreams are made of. They are a twice a year indulgence. These are the cinnamon rolls you fantasize about serving Christmas morning but are too exhausted from all the hustle and bustle to actually make them. But I’m going to tell you how you can. Huge, soft clouds of sweet golden dough are perfect to sop up the rich caramel sauce and barely tangy glaze. I don’t know what made me want to make them. I enjoy baking; I love working with dough. But I’ve got to tell ya, I had to make these over and over again. Without thinking I dumped cup after cup of flour into the mixer bowl and suddenly thought, “Wait…how many cups was that?” Into the garbage went butter, egg, sugar and who knows how much flour. Now, you can buy ready-made dulce de leche but let’s at least start out with homemade. Over and over I’d realize mid-way through baking the caramel that I had forgotten to cover the pan tightly with tin foil. Or I forgot to put the pan with the condensed milk into a larger pan filled with water. Or I just plain forgot what time I put the pan in the oven and cooked the milk way too long and, again, had to trash it. I didn’t remember the butter chunks had to be added to the top of the rolled out dough until the pans had been baking for a good 10 minutes. It went on and on like this. What could be so important that I couldn’t count 5 cups of flour? My boy. That’s what. My boy will be 25, twenty-five tomorrow. How did that happen? I’ll tell ya how. We blinked. Yesterday I was yelling at him that if he made me late for work ONE MORE TIME I was going to leave him at home and he would have to take a cab to grade school. A cab. When he was six. As if. Now he leaves for work in Miami and takes the early train, never late for that! Nuh uh. So the years have sped by…flown by actually. I’m certain all parents feel this way but when he was born we knew he was special. And there was nothing, NOTHING, I wouldn’t do for that boy. When it was snack day for us in Pre-K I agonized over what I would bake. Lemon muffins with a key lime topping and seedless grapes? Or would chocolate chip granola bars and apple slices be better? And I know some of his classmates parents thought we were the meanest parnts on the panet. We didn’t take him to Disney World until he was in, I don’t know, first grade? Awful, huh? No video games in our house, either. No, tennis, baseball and friends were priorities. And reading. Jimmy and I would get our cocktails and we took turns reading out loud to James. We read fabulous British and French story books, hooting and hollering all the while at the atrocities committed. Pirate fights, naughty children getting spanked and the odd child losing both parents at sea to be reunited months later in a Paris bistro were our favorites. Jimmy had James surfing the web at two years old. Our boy was expected to participate in the oratorical competitions at church…all of them. As a result he grew up relaxed and comfortable speaking before large groups of people and, to this day, holds his own quite well in all social settings, from the homeless shelter to Harvard’s Kennedy School. James embraced his Greek and Puerto Rican roots even when some of his classmates ridiculed him. As a parent it’s so easy to dismiss any schoolyard taunts by telling your child, “Oh, honey, just let it roll off your back. Don’t pay attention to them.” Now I know that boy’s not perfect but he held his head high and that’s not easy. He never started a fight but he never ran from one. And after all that school ridiculing he speaks Greek and Spanish. Jimmy teases me and says I’m James’ biggest cheerleader and guess what? I AM. I am so proud of him. He gives of himself unconditionally. He gives time to his elders. He respects and appreciates their opinions. He’s curious about the world and wholeheartedly receives other cultures with open arms. We pushed him to discover other countries and off he went. We’re just plain crazy about him. We like him and he likes us. So when my boy wakes up tomorrow, on his 25th birthday, he’s getting these decadent, crazy good cinnamon rolls. Happy birthday, boysie!!!
There’s nothing like the scent of caramel and cinnamon baking to make you smile and be glad you’re alive. These pillows of sweet delight can be almost completely assembled the night before and, while they’re chilling in the fridge and you’re asleep, they’ll also be rising, ready to be baked the following morning.
These rolls can now rise overnight covered in the refrigerator or in a warm corner of your kitchen for 20 minutes. In one of my kitchen drawers I keep a thin, plastic ruler to measure dough, the size of pans etc. This is my favorite ruler because it has measurements on one side and the presidents on the other. I know… geeky. Anyway, mark off your dough so that all the rolls are the same size thus baking evenly. This recipe yields 12 colossal cinnamon rolls or 24 regular servings.
And this is the only way I cut them. With unwaxed, unscented dental floss. Any knife you use, I don’t care how sharp it is, will smash the soft dough and, to add to your woes, force out the dulce de leche filling. After lightly scoring the dough to mark your 12 or 24 portions, slide the dental floss under the dough “log” and align the floss to the first marking on either end. Cross both ends of the floss as if you were going to tie a knot but instead of looping the floss to tie it continue pulling both ends and the floss will slice the dough cleanly and evenly. For the dulce de leche, it may be store-bought but it’s so simple to make that I strongly suggest you try it, if you haven’t already, and then you won’t be giving your family all those chemicals we all like to avoid. A quick recipe is in the archives. Just put in “dulce de leche” in the search box toward the upper right of this page. When the rolls have finished baking and have cooled just slightly, slide them whole, not pulled apart, out of the baking pan onto a large serving tray, preferably on with a lip. Drizzle the glaze all over the hot rolls and let it ooze down the sides. Heaven! To re-heat after they’ve cooled completely 10-15 seconds in the microwave will have them tasting as though they just came out of the oven.
Pumpkin and Dulce de Leche Cinnamon Rolls
Servings: 12 colossal rolls or 24 smaller single portions
Place yeast and warm water in a small bowl and allow yeast to bloom or “foam”, 5-10 minutes. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl or stand-up mixer cream the 1/2 cup butter and pumpkin until light and fluffy.
Add the sugar and beat well.
Add the yeast mixture and mix well.
Add the salt to the flour and mix well then add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture. Beat well.
Knead the dough with a dough hook or by hand until it’s smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.
Lightly butter a large bowl, place the dough in it, cover and allow to rise in a warm corner of your kitchen for 1 hour or until double in bulk.
Punch down the dough and, on a lightly floured counter, gently roll the dough into a 24″X12″ rectangle. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you do want the height to be even and flat.
Spread the dulce de leche evenly over the dough leaving a 1″ border around the rectangle.
Sprinkle the cinnamon evenly over the dulce de leche followed by the cold cubes of butter.
Working from the long side, tightly roll up the dough. Pinch the dough to make a seam along the loose length.
Measure and mark your dough. Cut with floss into even pieces; either 12 or 24.
Place in a buttered 9″X13″ pan, 2 buttered 9″X13″ pans if you’re making 24 rolls.
Loosely cover pan/pans with wax paper and allow to rise in a warm corner for 20 minutes or place, covered, in the refrigerator to rise overnight. Let the dough warm up outside the refrigerator 15 minutes or so prior to baking.
Place in a pre-heated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until they are golden brown on top and fully baked.
Remove from oven and, in pan, cool on rack for 10-15 minutes.
Transfer from baking pan to serving tray and pour glaze over the tops of the rolls allowing to spill down the sides.
1/4 cup cream cheese, room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt
1 cup confectioners sugar
With a whisk, combine cream cheese, butter, milk, vanilla extract and salt.
Add confectioners sugar and whisk until completely smooth.