#31 – Bake bread from scratch

My mom is the best baker in the world. I know you think your mom might know how to bake your favorite goodies, but my mom’s are better.

Growing up, my mom was not the person who sat and watched TV or movies, read books, or crocheted. She never liked to sit still. For her, when she wasn’t working, she was gardening, golfing, or baking some delicious desserts.

But only today do I realize why she only made her amazing caramel rolls a few times a year.

For one of my 40 in 40, I wanted to make bread from scratch, so I thought I’d tackle her caramel rolls. I made them with her before (or, really, watched her make them), but I don’t know if I wasn’t paying enough attention or just never realized, but it is a whole-day project.

First you make the dough, which takes a longer than one would think after boiling milk and water, letting it cool, adding the yeast, etc. I forgot to add the eggs, but my mom assured me it would be okay, so I pushed on.

After you finish the dough, it has to rise for at least an hour. As it’s rising you make the caramel and put it in the cake pans, but by the time the dough rises you have to punch it and let it rise for at least another hour. When it’s done rising again, then you roll it out, cut up the rolls, put them in the pans with caramel, and let it rise for at least another hour.

After hours of prep and rising, finally you’re ready to bake the rolls, which only takes 20 minutes. After all that, 20 minutes and they’re done. It’s kind of anticlimactic at that point because it’s been almost SIX HOURS.

My mom’s look better and are all exactly the same, perfect size, but these taste pretty good. I might not have cooked the caramel enough because every once in awhile it tastes a little sugary, but I’m calling this a success.

And I’m going to take my mom’s lead on this one and leave a project like this for special occasions. She would make these a few times a year, sometimes more if we begged, but I thinking I’ll only do this again once every few years, if that. 🙂


New cookbooks

A year ago I started a different blog, one just for cooking, and declared I was going to work my way through some cookbooks. I’m not the best cook, but I can make a meal when I have a good recipe, so I was going to finally start making more of the recipes in the cookbooks I’d been collecting over the years.

That blog no longer exists. I was updating the blog once every couple months because I wasn’t enjoying only blogging about cooking. It’s one reason I started this site, because I wanted to blog about anything and everything, including cooking.

My friend Leah didn’t know I got rid of the other blog. She just sent me two cookbooks that she wanted to “donate to the LeAnn cooks project.” That project still exists, but on this blog instead, so the cookbooks are not in vain. Check out the two she sent me.

cookbooks from Leah
I’ve read part of the Amy Sedaris book because that’s Amy Sedaris. She’s hilarious. I’ll read anything she writes. I never tried any of the recipes in the book, though, so I can’t wait to dive into that one.

I’m a little intimidated by The Smitten Kitchen. It looks very posh with some recipes calling for things like mussels and vermouth. I’ve never had a mussel in my life and I had to Google “vermouth.” But the good thing is that I don’t think I like mussels, so I can just skip that recipe.

There are other recipes that look good in this book and totally doable. I am very excited to try the Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes. Doesn’t that sound great? And I almost don’t want to tell you how awesome the Chocolate Raspberry Rugelach looks. (I had to Google “rugelach,” too, and I don’t really know how to say it, but it’s a pastry. Who doesn’t love pastries?)

Thanks, Leah! Your cookbooks will be put to the test.

In which I talk about cupcakes & cookies

I grew up with the best mom ever. I know you think your mom was the best, but she wasn’t. Mine was. You should just learn to accept that fact.

For every birthday I had, my mom would stay up late decorating me the most beautiful birthday cakes. The cakes were full of wacky designs, beautiful flowers, and one year I even had a Garfield the cat birthday cake.

Her decorating skills haven’t exactly passed down to me. I still don’t correctly know how to stack one cake on top of the other and decorate it without the top cake sliding all over the place. And if I have to write something on the cake, forget about it. My cakes would totally end up on the blog Cake Wrecks.

But recently I have been decorating some cupcakes and cookies.

It all started with the garden cupcakes I made with a friend for my mom for Mother’s Day a few years ago.

garden cupcakes
We didn’t come up with the idea ourselves. We modified a design from the book Hello, Cupcake, but I think we did a great job. We use ground up Oreos for dirt, colored Tootsie Rolls to make carrots, potatoes, radishes, and pea pods, and green M&Ms for the actual peas. We also rolled the potatoes and carrots in cinnamon to make them look dirty.

After that creation, I started to get the decorating bug.

With my mom’s help, I made some pie cupcakes.

These really are cupcakes, but with some colored M&Ms and frosting, they were transformed into pies.

And then I started decorating sugar cookies.

ice cream conessandals butterflies

My family and friends have loved these cookies, so now I get cookie cutters for gifts. I got these cookie cutters last year, and I’ve been so busy so I haven’t had a chance to make them, but I can’t wait to make Elvis and zombie cookies.

cookie cutters
I have a long way to go, and I probably need more lessons from my mom, but it’s a journey. Stay tuned for more decorating wins.

So good. So simple.

stuffed jumbo shellsIf you had been to my house the other night, you would’ve thought I was Chef Boyardee.

Wait. Maybe that’s a bad example.

You would’ve thought I was Antonio Carluccio.

What? You have no idea who that is? Yeah, me either, but he’s number one on this list of famous Italian chefs, so he’s probably good, right? (Did you see who number two was?)

But, seriously, I made a really good, really easy pasta dish. Don’t get too excited, it’s not like I made my own sauce. I used the sauce from the jar, but I still think this counts.

This recipe comes from my good old Anyone Can Cook cookbook.

Spinach-Stuffed Pasta Shells

12 dried jumbo shell macaroni
1 10-ounce package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 26- to 32-ounce jar pasta sauce

Drain the thawed spinach and set aside.

Cook the jumbo shells, drain and set aside.

Mix together spinach, eggs, 1 1/2 cup of Italian cheese, and ricotta cheese. Spoon the mix into the shells (about 2 tablespoons in each).

Put in baking dish and cover with jar of pasta sauce.

Bake, covered, at 350 for 40 minutes. Sprinkle with rest of Italian cheese and eat.

Pro tip: I had 16 shells. Maybe I didn’t fill mine enough, but I had extra filling so I filled extra shells.

Vegetarian friends, take notice, this is what you’ll be eating the next time you’re at my place. It won’t disappoint.