Comfort and Joy- Rachel’s recipes and essays of home |

Comfort and Joy- Rachel’s recipes and essays of home


Let it rise

My maternal grandmother June isn’t known for her cooking. Her mother, who owned a beauty shop in their small town, routinely burned carrots trying to cook dinner and juggle all of the other tasks required to run a household and work fulltime in 1940-something with five kids. When June wed, carrots were on the menu one evening for dinner and she cooked them just as her mother always had- burned into wrinkly, charred shadows of their former selves. I can only imagine my grandfather trying to explain that just because that’s how your mother makes them, that’s not how it’s actually done.

My grandparents lived near Emmy Wright, who was known for her donuts. Wanting to impress her young husband (and recover from the burned carrots) my grandmother went to Emmy’s to learn the recipe.

The recipe was safe and sound in Emmy’s head and so as she added ingredients, my grandmother would carefully measure and take notes. When they were done, the donuts were glorious, and the recipe was written down.

My grandmother followed the recipe to a tee, and her donuts were a disaster, despite carefully following the recipe based exactly on Emmy’s additions. This serves as proof that a recipe in hand is one thing, but experience is something that just can’t be measured.

Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Rolls

YIELDS: 40 – 50 servings

PREP TIME: 2hours

COOK TIME: 30mins



1 qt. whole milk

1 c. vegetable oil

1 c. sugar

2 packages active dry yeast

8 c. (plus 1 cup extra, reserved) all-purpose flour

1 tsp. (heaping) baking powder

1 tsp. (scant) baking soda

1 tbsp. (heaping) salt

Plenty of melted butter

2 c. sugar

Generous sprinkling of cinnamon


1 bag powdered sugar

2 tsp. maple flavoring

5 1/2 c. milk

1/4 c. melted butter

1/4 c. brewed coffee

1/8 tsp. salt

Directions For the dough: Heat the milk, vegetable oil, and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat to just below a boil. Set aside and cool to warm. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let it sit on the milk for 1 minute.

Add 8 cups of the flour. Stir until just combined, then cover with a clean kitchen towel, and set aside in a relatively warm place for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the towel and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the remaining 1 cup flour. Stir thoroughly to combine. Use the dough right away, or place in a mixing bowl and refrigerate for up to 3 days, punching down the dough if it rises to the top of the bowl. (Note: The dough is easier to work with if it has been chilled for at least an hour or so beforehand.)

To assemble the rolls, remove half the dough from the pan/bowl. On a floured baking surface, roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 30 x 10 inches. The dough should be rolled very thin.

To make the filling, pour 3/4 cup to 1 cup of melted butter over the surface of the dough. Use your fingers to spread the butter evenly. Generously sprinkle half of the ground cinnamon and 1 cup of the sugar over the butter.

Now, beginning at the end farthest from you, roll the rectangle tightly towards you. Use both hands and work slowly, being careful to keep the roll tight. When you reach the end, pinch the seam together and flip the roll so that the seam is face down. Slip a cutting board underneath the roll and with a sharp knife, make 1/2-inch slices. One “log “will produce 20 to 25 rolls.

Pour a couple of teaspoons of melted butter into disposable foil cake pans (or regular 9-inch round cake pans) and swirl to coat. Place the sliced rolls in the pans, being careful not to overcrowd. (Each pan will hold 7 to 9 rolls.)

Repeat the rolling/sugar/butter process with the other half of the dough and more pans. Preheat the oven to 375˚. Cover all the pans with a kitchen towel and set aside to rise on the countertop for at least 20 minutes before baking. Remove the towel and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden brown. Don’t allow the rolls to become overly brown.

While the rolls are baking, make the maple icing: In a large bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, butter, coffee, and salt. Splash in the maple flavoring. Whisk until very smooth. Taste and add in more maple, sugar, butter, or other ingredients as needed until the icing reaches the desired consistency. The icing should be somewhat thick but still very pourable. 8 Remove the pans from the oven. Immediately drizzle icing over the top. Be sure to get it all around the edges and over the top. As they sit, the rolls will absorb some of the icing’s moisture and flavor.

This cinnamon roll recipe works like a charm every time.


Sandy was our neighbor when I was growing up and her kids were in 4-H a few years ahead of me and my sister. Sandy grew up in Truth or Consequences, N.M., and made green chile like she meant it. Warm tortillas, green chile, rice, and beans were on the table in her kitchen daily, all the while Reba and George crooned from the radio in the corner.

She was the most glamorous woman I knew, especially in Wranglers, a crisp white shirt, and Roper boots, which was her uniform of sorts. While we were all bouncing awkwardly at 4-H dances at Kirk Hall, Sandy and Topper would take to the concreted dance floor with a two-step or waltz that would make me only wish I could dance like that.

For my Homecoming dance, I didn’t want the flouncy numbers popular in the early 1990s and my mom and Sandy set out on a mission. My mom sewed tiers of fabric to the bottom of a black tee and Sandy hand painted feathers on the tee that matched the shimmery pink, purple and turquoise feathers on the fabric. They were both women skilled at feathering their nests and making a home, especially one with green chile bubbling on the stove.

Sandy’s Green Chile

1 tablespoon canola oil

2 cups browned pork (see note)

1 cup finely chopped onion

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon ground cumin

salt and pepper, to taste

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1 ½ cups chopped roasted and peeled peppers

1 teaspoon dried oregano

In a Dutch oven, brown chopped pork in oil. (There are plenty of cuts that work for this. I like to use uncured ham steak, pork shoulder, or even leftover chops. Sandy’s instructions were always to brown the pork until it was almost burnt, so the dark and rich color could be pulled off the pan by the broth.) Remove pork and saute the onion and garlic over medium-high heat, until tender (about 3 minutes) in the same pan. Stir in the flour, cumin, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the stock, deglazing the pan. Simmer until thick and smooth. Stir in the chiles, oregano, and return pork to Dutch oven.


The best oyster stew recipe I’ve found begins with a roux. Maybe I’m drawn to it because of the roux. My grandmother Margaret (pronounce Maaaagrit) knew a good roux when she saw one and had the tiny burn scars on her hand to prove it, earned over the years stirring roux for gumbo. Gumbo roux is cooked longer than one for oyster stew. Gumbo roux is stirred past a blonde roux to a reddish color before mixing in the holy trinity of onion, green peppers, and celery. A good roux is as important as good olives garnishing a hurricane party Bloody Mary and that, cher, is pretty important.

Oyster Stew

4 T butter

3 T flour

I onion chopped

3-4 stalks celery, with leaves, chopped

2 dozen canned oysters

2 c. milk

¼ c. reserved oyster liquor

1 T Cajun seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

¼ c parsley chopped

¼ c green onions chopped

3 cloves garlic minced (follow your heart on this one- I add more)

Dash of hot sauce

For garnish as desired- extra butter, red pepper flakes, extra hot sauce, oyster crackers.

For the roux-

Melt ¼ cup butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir the flour into the melted butter and stir constantly about 5 minutes until the roux is deep blond in color.

To the roux, add onion and celery and cook to crisp tender. Stir in the milk, oyster liquor, Cajun seasonings, salt and pepper to taste. Cook 3-4 minutes until it begins to thicken.

Add parsley, green onions, garlic, hot sauce, and oysters and cook another 3-4 minutes until the edges of the oysters begin to curl. Remove from heat and garnish with dots of butter, red pepper flakes, green onion, a dash of hot sauce, and crackers.

Patty, my mom’s friend who I, as an adult, have claimed as my own, smocks. Last week, she mailed two completed custom orders to London. The top is Imperial Broadcloth, a delicate cotton blended fabric. Christening gowns of Imperial Broadcloth are the type that can be carefully hung on tiny wooden and wire hangers before a window, and they have an almost ghostly, backlit quality. Every stitch and pleat and gather is lit differently and it’s no longer apparent which decade it is.

The Peter Pan collar on this particular outfit is outlined with a tiny lavender piping and below that, delicate lace a half a shade darker than the broadcloth. Sleeves with a tiny puff reveal perfect, tiny pleats with more lace woven with lavender ribbon that will fall right above chubby, dimpled baby elbows. On the front, tiny, stitched flowers sit atop vertical pleats. Each lavender flower is made up of wrapped Bouillon stitches and stitched green leaves. The lavender bottom buttons to the top with small, pearly buttons. It is truly beautiful.

Patty is the keeper of a family recipe for plum pudding, a hundred-year-old treasure that has adorned Christmas tables for generations. She doesn’t share the recipe, but said it is a creamy mixture of sugar, bread, raisins, currants, suet, and spices steamed for hours in a scalloped pan. The recipe, much like the tiny, perfect stitches, are precious, shared only with those she loves. She is the keeper of the plum pudding and the Bouillon stitches; both of which are her legacy of beauty and comfort to the world, and both must be held closely and celebrated.

Christmas Bread Pudding

8 cups day-old bread cubes, crust removed

2 medium tart apples, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup dried cranberries or raisins

6 large egg yolks

3 large eggs

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup whole milk

1 cup sugar


1 cup heavy whipping cream

3 tablespoons sugar

1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla or rum extract

Dash ground cinnamon and nutmeg


1. In a bowl, combine the bread cubes, apples and cranberries. Transfer to a greased 11×7-in. baking dish. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, eggs, cream, milk and sugar. Pour over bread mixture. 2. Place dish in a larger baking dish. Fill larger dish with boiling water halfway up the sides. Bake at 350° for 50-55 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from water bath. Cool for 15 minutes. 3. For the cream sauce, in a saucepan, combine cream and sugar. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Serve warm with pudding.

Portions are excerpted from Gabel’s upcoming book The Gospel of Scotch Caps and Squash Blossoms.

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