Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cook Food - Your Mouth Will Thank You

When we decided to change our diet to local foods, I will admit that it was a transition. One of the first things I learned to make was flour tortillas for Heuvos Rancheros. My tortillas aren't as good as the ones I get in the store, and I don't like to use them for wraps. I can't seem to get them thin enough - even with the crappy tortilla press I bought.

I also learned to make homemade pasta, which is a lot better than the store-bought dried stuff.

Over the years, I've added a lot of foods to my menu - foods I didn't grow up eating. I make a pretty awesome dumpling, and I learned that the egg noodles that I've been making for years and years (from a recipe my mom passed down to me) are actually slippery dumplings. I also learned that the basic recipe - flour and eggs - is the same for pasta.

I was incredibly wowed by my own prowess in the kitchen when I learned to make pita bread and Naan (Indian grilled flat bread). Those foods no longer hold any mystery for me.

Likewise sauces, marinades and dressings are all easy, and if I know, sort of, what I want to cook, but it's something knew, I've learned how to do a quick Internet search, which has led me to discovering some pretty incredible dishes. My spice cabinet is so full stuff drops out all of the time, and there aren't very many spices in there that aren't used on a weekly basis. One of my favorite spices is cumin. Why didn't I know about cumin sooner?

I've even learned to cook with some pretty exotic ingredients - well, exotic to a woman who grew up thinking that the Chef Boyardee pizza kits were homemade pizza.

Tonight, I made nettles soup. It was so good that for the next hour after we ate, I was still buzzing from the yumminess of the meal.

And that's what food should be about. Americans don't enjoy food. We don't enjoy cooking it, and we don't enjoy eating it. At least that's what I have to assume from the neon horizon of blinking fast-food signs and the mega-stores filled with prepackaged, quick and easy to prepare meals that taste mostly like salt or sugar. When I started experimenting with different flavors, my salt hand grew incredibly light, and I can't even stand overly sweet foods anymore.

Since Deus Ex Machina and I have changed our diet, since we started eating, mostly, whole foods (most of which I have to cook), and since we started incorporating foraged foods into our diet, eating has become fun. Dinner is an event - not just a satisfying of our bodies' need for sustenance. I like food, and I don't mean that in a way to imply that I eat from an addiction position. I don't eat for some kind of endorphin rush. I enjoy meals of home cooked foods eaten at the table with my family, and I eat slowly, savoring each bite, because - not to brag - but honestly, sometimes, the food tastes just that good.

I know people will eat and then, after having stuffed themselves (like at Thanksgiving dinner, for instance), will rub their bellies and loosen their belts and exclaim how good the meal was.

But have you ever had a meal, after which your mouth retains the memory of how good it tasted? It's like a craving, but you're not craving it, you're remembering and savoring the flavor.

That's what good food should do.

I was talking to my daughters one day about wine (because we heard some drink responsibly advertisement on the radio). I said that drinking shouldn't be about "having a good time", but rather about making a meal better. I told them that a good wine makes the food taste better. It's true.

There was a time in my life that I ate because I was hungry. I didn't particularly enjoy eating. It was just something I had to do ... like paying taxes. Learning to cook using whole foods has taught me to enjoy my food, too (I still don't enjoy paying taxes).

This morning my daughter asked me if I would make cinnamon rolls. My daughters almost never ask for something special, and so I was happy to oblige. Homemade cinnamon rolls sound daunting - at least when I've made them for other people (other than my children, who take for granted that "made from scratch" is the way it's done and can even make their own food "from scratch") they've expressed how impressed they are. I don't think cinnamon rolls are that hard to make. In fact, it's kind of easy, and it doesn't really take that much more time to make than it does to make the ones that come in the can from the refrigerator section of the grocery store.

Here's the basic recipe I use, but I don't do a lot of measuring, especially for the cinnamon and sugar. It's mostly just a "to taste" kind of thing.

I encourage you to try it, and once you do, you'll wonder why you didn't do it all along.

Cinnamon Rolls

1 1/2 c warm water
1 1/2 tbsp yeast
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
3 to 4 cups flour

1. Combine water, sugar and yeast in a bowl. Mix and set aside to allow yeast to proof (five to ten minutes, and during that time, I'm usually doing something else).
2. Add salt to yeast mixture.
3. Stir in flour one cup at a time until you have a workable dough. It should not be too sticky or too stiff. If it's too sticky, add more flour. If it's too stiff, you'll just have to work with it, and it won't, really, change the outcome much.
4. Flatten the dough into a 12" x 12" square (or so. Measurements don't have to be exact. The point is to get it flat and squarish, because you're going to fill it and roll it).
5. Sprinkle liberally with sugar and cinnamon. Approximately 1/2 sugar and about a 1/2 tbsp of cinnamon +/- to taste. Experimentation is half the fun of cooking.
6. You can add dried fruit (raisins, currants, cranberries, cherries), as desired - or not. My girls don't like dried fruit and so that doesn't get added.
7. Roll the dough into a jelly roll. Be sure to keep the ends even.
8. Slice the roll into 1" pieces. It will make 10 to 12 cinnamon rolls.
9. Place into a round, buttered baking dish (like a spring form pan, or a deep dish pie pan).
10. Bake at 375° until golden brown.

For the icing, I use 1/2 cup butter, softened, mixed with enough powdered sugar to make it almost stiff. When the rolls are finished cooking, but still hot, spread the icing. Serve warm.

They are delicious.


  1. Mmm, cinnamon rolls.. I used to cook them in a round pan, all squished together, but they took forever to cook, so now I just do them separately on a tray, and they are done in 15 minutes.
    I hear what you are saying about food. I have had two amazing meals like that in the last two weeks. One was local pan grilled salmon, cooked absolutely to perfection, and one was chicken soup, with stock made from the carcass of the chicken, before adding extra chicken, noodles and greens to the broth the next night. It was just the most nourishing and satisfying food.
    And nettle soup - sounds amazing. I wouldn't even know where to start looking for a nettle, but there must be some around here somewhere..

  2. Nice recipe, and nice writing above it.