Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Loaf: Little slices of sweet, sweet heaven

I've been doing a lot of waiting lately. Waiting for a Court of Appeals decision that will lift the stays in all of my cases. Waiting for the espresso machine to heat up so I can get my little cuppa joe. Waiting for the BabeMobile to arrive at the dealership so we can install the car seat. Waiting for paint to dry so I can put on another coat. Waiting for the fourth hen to mature and start laying eggs. Patience has never been one of my virtues, which is why I think I tend to get a lot done -- while waiting for one thing to happen, I work on something else.

Today, I waited for dough to rise, twice, so I could get some cinnamon pull-apart loaf in my belly. It was not a tidy project, probably because I haven't done a lot of cooking or baking lately and my tidy work habits seem to have slipped. That, and the fact that I'm less than a month away from my due date makes me slower and less maneuverable around the kitchen (did I mention that there's still a bun in my oven?). So I did a lot of cleaning and tidying while waiting, which helped me kill some time.

Even without having activities to stay busy while waiting, this loaf is well worth the wait. What's not to love? The scent of cinnamon and sugar is tantalizing and you get to savor it as soon as you start building the loaf, not just when it's in the oven. You can pull apart as much or as little as you want. If you're watching your weight, one little sliver comes apart as neatly as a stack of four (in my case, I'm watching my weight go up, so a stack of four was totally appropriate). As Mr. Rose pointed out, it's like a planar cinnamon bun, and who doesn't love a good cinnamon bun? This is just like a cinnamon bun, but the ratio of cinnamon to bun is higher and, in my opinion, better.

Here are your instructions to your own little slices of heaven. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Pull-Apart Cinnamon Loaf
(adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, April 2012)

3/4 c + 2 tbsp milk
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 c butter, melted
1/2 c + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tsp granulated salt
3 c unbleached flour
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c powdered sugar
Orange zest or chopped nuts (optional)

Heat 3/4 c milk until just warm, but not hot to touch. Pour into a large mixing bowl and add yeast. Stir till yeast is dissolved and let sit for 5-10 minus. With a mixer, beat 1/4 c melted butter, 2 tbsp sugar, egg, and salt into the milk and yeast mixture until combined. Add half of the flour, then beat on medium speed to incorporate flour, scraping sides as needed, for 3 minutes. Stir in remaining flour. The dough will not be smooth, but shape it into a ball and transfer to a medium oiled bowl. Cover and set aside in a warm spot to rise and double, about 45-60 minutes.

Butter a 9"x5"x3" loaf pan; set aside. Mix 1/2 c granulated sugar with 2 tsp cinnamon; set aside. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a 20"x12" rectangle. It will be much easier to cut into pieces if the dough is more rectangular in shape, so trim two edges so they are squared off and reincorporate the trimmed dough into the other two edges with a bit of water if necessary. Brush the dough with remaining 1/4 c melted butter and sprinkle surface with sugar and cinnamon mixture. Cut the dough into five (5) 4"strips (12" long). Stack the strips, then cut them into six (6) 2"pieces (4") long. Starting from one end of the loaf pan, loosely stack the 4" strips in the prepped pan, with cut edges up. Stagger them so that every other strip abuts opposite sides of the pan. You will have just enough strips to fill the pan. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes.

Make the glaze while you wait. In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar, vanilla, and remaining 2 tbsp milk to achieve drizzling consistency. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake loaf till golden brown, about 30 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Then remove loaf from pan and transfer to serving plate. Drizzle with glaze. Top with orange zest or chopped nuts if you had the time or patience to prep them. Let cool for a few minutes more, then have at it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The New Menu at Rio Grande, Denver

I got together last week with a bunch of fellow bloggers in the Front Range to taste test the new menu at the Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Denver.

I know what you're thinking: The Rio? The place with the giant neon sign that says "Limit 3" margaritas? They serve food there? The answer is a resounding YES.

In classic Speakeasy Kitchen, I got through eating half of it before I even thought to look for my camera. And then when I did, I realized I didn't have it with me -- purse re-organization took place just two days before and the camera never made it back into place. But I did manage to snap a few pics with my trusty iPhone.

The Rio has been making margs and food for 26 years -- a long time in a business where longevity doesn't usually come with the territory. The owners attribute it to their lifelong friendships, their enthusiastic staff, and the healthfulness and simplicity of the food. Their menu is inspired by their Latin American travels and they carefully source their ingredients, taking pains to get even simple things right. Everything from their black bean recipe from Yucatan to the queso verduras from Belize to the fresh salads was served with pride!

Take, for instance, their shrimp diabla. It was one of my favorite things on the menu. They get shrimp from Mazatlan and the flour tortillas are handmade in-house. The perfectly-cooked shrimp had a brilliant texture and the chili arbol set my mouth en fuego!

Pat and the gang pulled out all stops for us and in addition to having a great meal with great company, we also had a few tasty beverages. While Rio still makes their famous, rock solid margaritas, I was also delighted to learn that they also make a delicious virgin mango margarita for minors, pregnant women, and teetotalers alike.

The Rio Grande... it's not just for the mind-erasing margaritas anymore!

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Butternut Squash Lasagna: A Speakeasy Kitchen Original?

I suppose if you googled "butternut squash lasagna," you might come up with a couple hundred recipes for something like this. But I wouldn't know -- I didn't do any research to come up with this one. Nor have I ever eaten butternut squash lasagna nor seen it on any menu or blog I've ever read. It just showed up over the course of the day, as I puttered around from one activity to another.

A few do's and don'ts before I share the recipe:

1. DO roast the squash in advance. Roasting squash doesn't take a lot of time, but when you're going to make something like a lasagna, where there's also a sauce to compose, pasta to roll, and a giant pan of lasagna to bake, it helps to have a few steps, like roasting squash, squared away a day or two in advance.

2. DO use no-bake pasta from a box if that's what you're comfortable with. I'm no Sandra Lee so I'm not going to tell you to slop a can of squash on top of a box of pasta. But let's face it. Most of us grew up eating lasagna made from no-bake pasta from a box if we were lucky enough to have moms that made lasagna. And it didn't give us less appreciation for lasagna made from fresh pasta. So I say if you don't have the wherewithall to roll out fresh dough, then just go with what you know.

3. DO make sure you have more than enough ingredients before you start. The task of layering of a lasagna is such that you want to make sure there's as much of the good stuff for the top layers at the end as there was for the bottom layers in the beginning.

4. DO NOT substitute string cheese for mozzarella in the event that you didn't follow tip #3 and you ran out of mozzarella. They are not the same thing. Now that I've made the mistake, and knowing what I know about mozzarella because I make it from scratch at home, I can explain how they're different. Mozzarella, once the curds are separated from the whey, is stretched out a bit, but not too much so that it remains tender. String cheese is really dried out mozzarella and has been processed more, to pull out the proteins till it is no longer tender. They won't react the same way when cooked, string cheese being significantly drier and tougher to begin with. And when you put it on top of the lasagna, it will brown before it melts so it looks like this:

The flavor on this bad boy wasn't bad, but the texture of that "mozzarella" on top could hardly be described as creamy... it was more crispy and chewy than anything else.

That's about all the wisdom I have to impart on this experiment. Without further ado, the recipe:

Butternut Squash Lasagna
2 large butternut squash
2 tsp unsalted butter
4 tsp sugar
1 lb ground pork sausage, preferably sweet italian
1/2 large vidalia onion, diced
1/2 lb sliced button mushrooms
1/3 c minced fresh sage
2 c fresh ricotta
2-3 c fresh shredded mozzarella
enough sheets of lasagna pasta to lay down three layers in a 9"x13" pan (freshly rolled and boiled, or boxed no-bake)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Split squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Set squash cut side up on a baking sheet. Cut butter up into small pieces and distribute evenly across the four halves. Sprinkle 1 tsp sugar over each squash half. Salt and pepper lightly to taste. Roast squash in oven for about 20-30 minutes, till lightly browned and flesh easily pulls apart with a fork. Remove from oven and let sit until squash is cool enough to handle. With a fork, loosen squash flesh from skin/rind, shred flesh with fork (or mash with potato masher) and set flesh aside in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Heat oil in large heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Saute onions till tender. Add mushrooms and saute till lightly browned. Add pork sausage, stirring occasionally to break up pieces of sausage, but not so much as to not let the sausage brown lightly, about 10-15 minutes. Add sage, stir, and let simmer for 2-3 minutes. Stir in squash flesh. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread about 1 c of the squash and pork mixture into the bottom of a 9" x 13" pan. Layer noodles. Spread another cup of the squash and pork mixture over the noodles. Spread about 1/2 - 2/3 c of ricotta over the squash and pork mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 - 2/3 c of mozzarella over that. Layer noodles, repeat, ending with mozzarella (but not string cheese!). Pop in the oven and bake till the top cheese layer becomes golden and gooey (which won't happen if you use string cheese!), about 30 minutes.

Remove from oven, let set for at least 15 minutes, then serve and enjoy.