A Better Built Cinnamon Roll

One thing I’ve not totally given up since we’ve transitioned to a plant-based diet is my sweet tooth.  All of my life I’ve just loved sweet foods, especially the real junk foods, like Sour Patch Kids, Swedish Fish,  and Good and Plentys.  Over time, as my tastes have changed from eating a much more healthy diet, however,  I don’t crave sugar like I used to.  I can go days without it, in fact, and I don’t even miss it.

One of the ways that I’ve learned to kick the sugar habit is to follow a short rule laid down in a Facebook post I read.  I regret that I don’t remember the author, or have the exact quote, but the gist of it is:  don’t bring any pre-made snack foods into your home.  You are free to eat the snack foods that you, yourself, make from scratch.  The idea behind this rule is that, if you have to make it yourself, you will be more likely to use more wholesome ingredients, and, since it won’t be a ready source of calories, you’re more likely to consume far less — I can definitely attest to both of these facts, especially the second one – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a craving for something sweet, late at night, but the thought of having to haul out all of the bowls, measuring cups, ingredients, recipes, put it all together, wait for it to bake or set, and then clean it all up put that craving right to bed!

This morning, I was having a hard time deciding what to make for breakfast.  It was already eighty degrees at 9am, so oatmeal was out of the picture.  I thought about doing something simple, like toast with a large side of fresh fruit from the garden and a smoothie, but that’s exactly what I ate yesterday for breakfast, and there was no way I was going to have that again so soon (I have a thing about eating the same thing twice in a row).

Then, a glorious idea popped into my head…cinnamon rolls.  Everyone in my household adores these things.  Just one problem…I’ve sworn off of the canned ones, and there wouldn’t be time to wait for a true yeast dough to get ready for assembly.  So, I adapted a recipe for buttermilk buns that I found in an old cookbook of mine.  The result?  pretty amazing, if I do say so myself!  I love that there is very little fat, not much sugar, and that the traditional cream cheese or powdered sugar frosting on top has been replaced with 100% spreadable fruit.  It’s definitely a recipe I’ll be making when I get that craving for a good old fashioned cinnamon role, and because it takes some effort to pull together, it’s definitely not going to be something I’ll be making on a daily (or maybe even a weekly or monthly) basis — translation: get it while you can, ’cause you ain’t gonna see these babies  for a while!

Here’s how I made it:

Ingredients:

1 tbsp. coconut oil

3 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1 tbsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup rice milk

3 tbsp. ground flax meal mixed in 3/4 cup water

1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

3 tbsp. brown sugar

100% fruit jam for the topping

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease a 13 x 9 x 2 inch pan.  In a small bowl, combine flax meal and water and set aside to “gel” while proceeding with other ingredients.  In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt.  Then, add the coconut oil and mix with a wire whisk until the coconut oil is well incorporated.  Mix in rice milk and flax mixture until it forms a nice dough.

In another small bowl, combine applesauce, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  The dough will be very soft and sticky.   Dust the top of the ball of dough with flour, flip over and dust the other side.  Roll dough into a 24″ x 12″ rectangle, sprinkling more flour on the dough, as needed to keep it from sticking to the rolling pin and surface beneath.  I like to roll it out a little, then flip the dough over, flour it a little more, then roll a little more, and repeat that process until I get it to the size I need.

Spread the applesauce mixture over all of the dough – all the way to the edges.

Roll up the long side of the dough (so that you have a 24″ log – or somewhere around that length ;)).  Pinch edges of dough to seal, then cut roll into approximately 1 inch pieces and place into pan.  (I was able to get 15 rolls out of my log).  Don’t worry if they are touching each other – they don’t spread like yeast rolls do.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (mine took 25), or until light brown on the top.  Remove from oven and immediately top with the 100% fruit jam.  Let cool for a few minutes and enjoy!

What do you think about the idea of only eating snacks that you make yourself?

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How to Make Use of an Under Ripe Melon

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my gardening experiences, this year, it’s that I’m a horrible judge of melon ripeness.   I’ve scoured the internet for sources, talked with other gardeners, and tried every one of their tricks to help me determine when the best time is to pick a melon, but with not much luck.  Out of the dozens of melons I’ve picked from my garden, a few have been the perfect ripeness, most have been overripe, and some have been under ripe.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s just no sure-fire way to tell when a melon is at its peak ripeness.

Today, I picked the first honeydew melon of the year from the garden.  I was really looking forward to eating some of the sweet slices alongside of a freshly baked whole wheat cinnamon role.  Unfortunately,  it turned out to be an under ripe one.  It tasted like a cucumber.

“What a waste!” I thought, and I started to add it to the compost bag —

…but, then I had an idea!

Using half of the melon, I cut off the rinds…

Cut the flesh  into cubes…

Tossed the cubed melon into the blender, filled it the rest of the way with frozen strawberries, added a tablespoon of lemon juice, and topped it off with 100% apple juice.

Then, I liquified the whole thing and ended up with this amazing breakfast smoothie to enjoy with my nice, warm cinnamon roll…

…voila!

Who says a melon’s only good at peak ripeness, and that there’s only one way to enjoy eating one?  Certainly not me, anymore.

So, I’m going to fearlessly approach my melon harvesting from here on out because I know that, perfectly ripe or not, all melons are perfectly edible — if I’m willing to think outside the box and get creative in my use of them.  I’ve already started thinking about how wonderful they would be in fresh summer salsas and salads!

Do you grow melons?  How do you tell when they are ripe?  How do you use those that are over or under ripe?

Strawberry Jam That’s Made With…Tomatoes?

What’s the question I’m getting asked by people, all the time, these days?  “What are you canning?”

…”canning?” I reply.

“Uhhh…I don’t really can.”

I know, it’s a shock.  I guess, when you grow as much food as I do people just assume that you know how and are an expert when it comes to preserving.  The truth is, I avoid canning like the plague — it totally intimidates me!  I mean, have you heard  about all of those “canning gone wrong” stories?  I don’t care how easy people say canning is – for them – I just have this fear that I’m going to botch it up and end up dead.

The only time I will can anything is when I am under the tutelage and supervision of an expert canner, like a woman named Sandy, whom I met at church, about a year ago, who is willing to spend an entire day with me, take me by the hand, and walk me through every step of the treacherous canning process, making sure that everything is properly sterilized, that I don’t contaminate anything, fill jars to just the right height, get rid of all of the air bubbles and foam, and process everything at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time.  Yes, that’s a lot of stuff to worry about!  And, it’s why I don’t can alone.

However…

I was getting ready for bed, last night, and realized that we were plum out of jam for our breakfast in the morning.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Why not just go to the store and buy a jar in the morning?”  Well, with my husband out of work, right now, we are in a “no spend” mode — and jam costs money.  So, I allowed a crazy idea to pop into my head — desperate times call for desperate measures, right?  (No, I didn’t call Sandy  to come over at 10 pm and help me can some jam – although she probably would have, had I done it…she’s just that sweet of a person!).

I can do this!” I thought.  “Jam is one of the easiest things to make!”  “All I need to do is find an easy recipe, one that calls for a simple water bath, or maybe no water processing, at all, and, one that uses – wait for it – tomatoes!”

What?  Tomatoes, you say?  Yes!  That’s the only fruit I’ve got to make jam with, right now, so the internet search for tomato jam was on!

As I was searching, another question popped into my head, “I wonder if I can make strawberry-flavored tomato jam?”  Sandy had shown me, last year, how to make strawberry-flavored plum jam by simply adding a packet of strawberry-flavored jello to the mixture.  Aha! I thought, “Why not do the same thing with tomatoes?”

Well, wouldn’t you just know it?  A recipe for Strawberry Jam Made from Tomatoes popped right up at Cooks.com.  and, it exactly fit the requirements  I was looking for:  three ingredients,  and no hot water or pressure cooker processing.  So, I went for it!

First, I selected my meatiest tomatoes — a paste variety, called “Orange Icicle”.   It has very little water and few seeds.  (I also added a few beefsteak type to get to the required two cups, later on).

I peeled the tomatoes and sliced them up into tiny pieces, then placed them into a colander to drain as much  juice from them as possible.  (Usually, I blanch my tomatoes, first, to make them easier to peel, but it was late and night, and I didn’t want to take the time, so I just peeled them with my fingers.  The skins came right off.)

I let them sit for a few minutes in the colander, then used my hand to swirl them around a bit more, to release even more of the juices.  When the tomatoes measured two full cups, I transferred them into a stock pot, added a cup and a half of organic cane sugar (man, that’s a lot!), and cooked them over high heat, constantly stirring, for five minutes.  At the end of that time, I added in one packet of strawberry-flavored gelatin, and continued to cook the mixture until the gelatin was completely dissolved.

When that was finished, I poured the mixture into pint sized, wide-mouthed, glass canning jars — it made about one and one-third jars full.  Then, I popped the jars into the refrigerator to cool, and thicken up, over night.

In the morning, I was the first to test it out.  I slathered it on top of a piece of toasted, sprouted whole wheat bread.

looks just like strawberry jam, doesn’t it?

The results?

Well, it was a little more liquid-y than I would have preferred.   It wasn’t bad, though.

Next time, I’m going to leave the gelatin out, altogether (do you know what that stuff is made of?) and replace it with pectin or agar agar, as a friend suggested.

In terms of taste – it was very sweet, and definitely tasted like strawberry-flavored jam (and I emphasize strawberry flavored).  Unlike the real thing that’s made from real strawberries, I could definitely tell that this jam was artificially flavored, and so could my youngest son.  Again, it wasn’t a bad taste, and you definitely couldn’t taste the tomatoes.  It just didn’t have that authentic strawberry taste that comes  from the 100% spreadable fruit jams that we’re used to eating, and, since I’m not a big fan of artificial coloring or flavoring, this is another part of the recipe that I’m going to be looking to replace the next time around.

However, I am not at all disappointed with this jam.  It was totally easy (and safe) to make by myself, made great use of my excess tomatoes, and saved us from having to fork over more money at the grocery store that we’re so desperately trying to conserve, right now.

As long as times remain tough for us, financially, I’m probably going to be cooking up a lot more of this type of jam for us to consume.  Plus, I think it’ll be fabulous in a  P B & J!

You know what the best part of this little experiment was, though?  The next time someone asks me, “What are you canning?” I’ll actually have an answer for them:  “Strawberry Jam that’s made with tomatoes!”   Who would’ve thunk it???

Are you a regular canner? What do you think about giving this tomato jam a try?  Perhaps you can improve on it, make a more healthy version of it.  If you do,  send me your version to try!