French Bread

Yeah, I don’t have a cute story to tell about one of my sons involving french bread…sorry. I’m just gonna get to the goods.

This is the easiest, softest french bread you’ll ever make. You will never buy a loaf from the grocery store again after making this bread. It’s super soft on the inside and crusty on the outside, exactly how it’s supposed to be.

FRENCH BREAD

2 cups warm water
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 TBS sugar
4-5 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

In your stand mixer, with the dough hook, combine the water, yeast and sugar. Add 3 cups of the flour and the salt. Turn on low and mix while adding more flour 1/2 cup at a time. Stop as soon as the dough comes together and forms a ball. Let the mixer knead the dough for 5 minutes. Every once in a while, check the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little more flour on the dough until it comes back into a ball. Try to use as little flour as possible. Remove the bowl and set in a warm place until it doubles, about an hour. On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough out and cut it in half. Take each half and twist it into a long strand, like a baguette. Take one strand and fold it in half, twisting it onto itself. Repeat with the other half. Place them side by side on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Let rise for 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a shallow pan filled partway with water on the bottom rack of the oven. Carefully place the baking sheet with the loaves on the middle rack. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the tops are brown and the bread sounds hollow when the bottom is tapped. Let cool before slicing.

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Asian Orange Chicken

I’m not much of a fast-food type gal. But, every once in a while I’ll strategically plan my errands around lunchtime in the area of a local Panda Express. I justify that it’s healthier than a hamburger, but it’s probably not. At least I’m getting veggies, right?

I have one son who is allergic to soy, so I don’t make chinese-style food all that often at home, but the rest of us love it, especially this recipe I happened upon thanks to allrecipes. It is one of our favorites. I pull some of the chicken aside before toss it in the sauce for my non-soy kiddo. Another great thing about this recipe is that you can make the sauce ahead of time and freeze it. This tastes the best with fresh squeezed juice from real oranges and lemons (one orange and 2-3 lemons).

ASIAN ORANGE CHICKEN 

Sauce:
1 1/2 cups water
2 TBS fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 TBS soy sauce
1 TBS grated orange zest
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp fresh ginger root, minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 TBS green onion, snipped
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
4 TBS cornstarch
2 TBS cold water

Chicken:
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 TBS seasoned salt
2 eggs
oil for frying

Make sauce by combining everything except the cornstarch and 2 TBS water in a saucepan. Combine well and bring to a boil over medium heat. In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and 2 TBS cold water well. Pour the cornstarch/water mixture into the saucepan. Stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat.

Prepare the chicken by placing two bowls side by side. Crack the eggs into one bowl and whisk well. In the second bowl, combine flour and seasoned salt. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot to 350-375 degrees. I usually throw a little piece of chicken in to see if it immediately starts bubbling around the food, that’s how you know it’s ready. Oil at a correct temp leaves less oil on the food, so it’s fried, but not greasy. If you put your food in too early, it will soak up oil before getting fried, leading to greasy food and higher calories. When your oil is ready, dip chicken in the eggs, then coat in flour and place in the oil. Do not over crowd the pan. At this point, I typically turn my heat down to medium. Your heat will changed based on how much you put in the oil and your stove. Watch how quickly they are browning and change your heat level as needed. Brown on each side. Check the first couple you pull out to make sure they are cooked through. Remove them to paper towels until all the chicken is finished browning. Toss in the sauce and serve with rice.

REAL food alert: Check the ingredients of your seasoned salt for MSG. Look for soy sauce that lists “soybeans”, not “hydrolyzed soy protein“.
ALLERGEN alert: make this gluten-free by using gluten-free flour and gluten-free soy sauce.
HEALTH alert: make this healthier by oven cooking your chicken.

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Roasted Red Salsa

I hate tomatoes.

I’m fine with cooked tomato products, like marinara or ketchup. But, raw tomatoes are disgusting. It’s one of the only foods that I just can not stand. That makes my relationship with salsa an interesting one. Obviously, I’m not a pico de gallo type gal. I prefer pureed salsas with no chunks, and I have always just dipped the chip and gotten the juice and flavor on my chip without actually scooping any salsa on there. Weird. I know.

But then, I went to a Mexican food place called “Burger House”, believe it or not. I was skeptical about the quality of Mexican food there. It’s in a small town where my husband lived in his younger years. Everyone in his family swore by the food there (a Mexican place called “Burger House”? Really?)…and they were right! I craved it for weeks after we arrived back home. For the first time, ever, I poured the little cups of salsa over my burro before taking each bite. It was addictive. I analyzed the salsa as much as possible. Obviously it had tomatoes and cilantro, and chilis that gave it a nice kick, but I also noticed tiny pieces of char that made me believe that something on there was roasted. I was on a quest. I have tried various types of salsa, tons of recipes, and came up with a mediocre one that involved canned fire roasted tomatoes.

Then, I happened upon a post  on one particular kitchen one day:  . I made it and almost came undone. It was amazing. It’s pretty darn close to the Burger House salsa, but so fresh tasting, with a good bite. I made a few simple changes to personalize it. When it comes to spice, homemade salsa is always unpredictable. Chilis vary in spiciness from chili to chili, so it’s always chancy. If you’re concerned about heat, start with two peppers. You can also use jalapenos, which are milder, but I prefer the flavor of serranos.

This recipe makes a lot of salsa and is amazing with home grown tomatoes. It also freezes perfectly. I typically make a huge batch, then freeze them in sandwich bags for future consumption. Make some this summer!!

ROASTED RED SALSA

15-25 fresh tomatoes (about 15 large ones, up to 25 romas)
2 yellow onions
8-10 cloves of garlic
3-6 serrano peppers
1-2 limes
1-2 TBS salt
1-2 bunches of cilantro

Start by preheating the oven to 375 degrees. Halve your tomatoes and onions. Leave the papery husk on the garlic cloves, but separate them into individual cloves. If you want more heat, you will leave the seeds and membranes in the chilis, so remove the caps from the chilis now. If you want less heat, you will remove the seeds later, so keep the caps on. Lay the tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers on baking sheets. It’s a good idea to have the tomatoes on a baking sheets that has sides, as they will produce a lot of juice. Roast until the onions are translucent and the tomatoes and peppers are starting to char, about 45 minutes to an hour. You may have to remove the garlic and peppers before the tomatoes and onions. You may also have to rotate pans while cooking to allow each pan access to the heat source. Just check on them every so often until they are all soft and there’s some charring going on. Pull the pans out of the oven. Let it cool for 5 minutes. If you want to remove the seeds from the chilis, put on plastic gloves (trust me…I did this once without them and seriously regretted it). slice open the side of each chili. Use the cap to pull out the middle membrane with all of the seeds attached, and discard. You may also need to use your finger and wipe any residual seeds from the chili. Place the chilis in a food processor. For the garlic, you should be able to squeeze them, allowing the soft cooked middle to go into your food processor. Whatever method, you want to remove any charred husk and any outside layer that is to tough to puree. Place the tomatoes and onions (you’ll probably have to do two batches) in the food processor with the garlic and chilis. Add the juice from one lime, 1TBS salt, and the cilantro, and puree it all. After your two batches are done, combine it in a large bowl and taste it. Add more lime juice or salt according to your tastes. The flavors will intensify in the fridge. I find that this is the best after about a day in the fridge (and it gets spicier, keep that in mind).

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Coconut Zucchini Bread

We restrict video games in our house. Fridays and Saturdays only. That means, Friday afternoons we typically have a pack of boys in our house glued to various computers, systems and devices. Today I planned to try out a new recipe for coconut banana bread, using the bananas I bought a few days ago. Those of you with sons can probably foresee what comes next…

You see, in a house full of boys, if you don’t specifically designate something as being bought for a recipe, it’s fair game. I went to start the recipe and the bananas were gone. So, I invented something else, after digging through my fridge, eyeing the fruit bowl and taking a gander in the pantry.

Boy am I glad I did.

This may be the best quick bread I have ever made. It’s super moist, sweet and packed with zucchini. It’s a keeper. Both loaves are gone and I’ve been commanded to make more tomorrow.

COCONUT ZUCCHINI BREAD

2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup coconut milk
3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
2 cups zucchini, shredded

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease two 8×4 loaf pans. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar until light and fluffy. Add coconut milk. Be sure you shake the can well before opening. The solids and liquids separate in the can, and you may have to stir it with a spoon before measuring. Mix well. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost flour is almost incorporated. Add zucchini and coconut. Stir by hand just until mixed. Split the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a knife entered near the center comes out clean. Cool in the loaf pans on a baking rack before removing from pans.

HEALTH alert: Make this healthier by subbing 2 cups of the flour for whole wheat. You can also choose a healthier sugar, like raw honey or agave, or a less-processed sugar, like succanat. Keep at least one cup of sugar a “dry” sugar, so sub up to one cup for honey or agave. You could lower the sugar as well, though it won’t be as, well…sweet. (duh.) But, the coconut’s natural sweetness makes up for some of that.

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Slow Cooker Ranch Pork Chops

I love a good slow cooker recipe. The problem with many of those recipes, is that they use cream soups and packaged mixes that are full of MSG and Preservatives. We are an MSG-free family, and so I have found that I need to remake many of the recipes I find for slow cooking. This one I found and it originally used a package of dry ranch mix and creamed condensed soups. That’s a double dose of MSG, not to mention all sorts of stuff in the condensed soups that we steer clear of. It takes a little extra time making a condensed soup substitute from scratch, but it’s only 15 minutes or so. If you have a favorite recipe you’d like me to make over using REAL food, let me know!

SLOW COOKER RANCH PORK CHOPS

4 TBS butter
6 TBS flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp dill weed
1/2 tsp dried chives
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
6 Pork Chops (whatever cut you prefer)

Make a roux, by melting butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and whisk continually until it becomes light brown. Slowly add the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time while whisking vigorously. Whisk out all lumps before adding the next portion of stock. When all the chicken stock is incorporated, stir until very thick. Add all of the seasonings. Place pork chops in slow cooker. Pour sauce over. Cook on high for 4 hours, or low 6 hours. The last hour, you can remove the lid to help thicken the gravy. Otherwise, when done, you can remove the gravy back to your saucepan and boil over medium heat until desired thickness.

REAL food alert: Check your chicken stock for preservatives and MSG. Check your seasoned salt for MSG or “natural flavorings”, which may be MSG.
ALLERGY alert: To make gluten-free, sub a gluten-free flour. To make dairy-free, use 100% vegetable margarine or oil in place of the butter.
You can make the sauce and freeze it for a quick slow cooker meal later!

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Zucchini Chips

I’ve been seeing pictures of zucchini chips floating around pinterest. My sister swears by a baked version, so I tried it. I couldn’t get what I wanted through baking: a crisp, salty, thin slice of zucchini, like a sweeter, greener potato chip. So, I resorted back to deep frying. Yeah, not the healthiest method, and the nutrition factor is questionable, but, MAN! they were tasty. I much prefer them over potato chips.

ZUCCHINI CHIPS

4 cups water
1/8 cup salt
2-3 zucchinis
oil for frying

In a large bowl, add salt to the water. Stir until dissolved. Slice zucchini very thin (think potato chips). It’s easiest to use a mandolin, food processor, or the slicing part of a box grater. Soak the zucchini in the salt water for 15 minutes. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large pot to 350-375 degrees. I usually throw a slice in to see if it immediately starts bubbling around the food, that’s how you know it’s ready. Oil at a correct temp leaves less oil on the food, so it’s fried, but not greasy. If you put your food in too early, it will soak up oil before getting fried, leading to greasy food and higher calories.  While waiting for the oil to heat, dry off your zucchini slices as much as possible. Water hitting hot oil will spatter, so be sure you are wearing an apron, and keep your distance. I quickly blotted the zucchini with paper towels, and didn’t have a spattering problem at all. When the oil is ready, dump a handful or two of the zucchini slices into the oil. You want them to be able to float individually in the oil. Use a wooden spoon to separate any that are clinging together. You essentially want to cook one “layer” of zukes at a time. Watch your heat, If they are cooking too slow or too fast as you go, lower or increase your burner temp. Once you see that they are starting brown, remove to a plate covered in paper towels using a slotted spoon. My kids loved these, and I wish I had cooked a double batch!

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Baked Valentine’s Donuts

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays that you either love or hate. I have found, since having kids, that even the most commercialized, purposeless holidays can be fun when seen through the eyes of a five-year old. Now if we can just get congress to ban the Kay Jewelry “Open Heart Collection” commercials, life would be great.

This year, I decided that baked heart shaped donuts, filled with strawberry filling would be a fun and tasty way to celebrate with the family. And, no…Jane Seymour is NOT getting any.

BAKED VALENTINE’S DONUTS

Donuts:

3/4 cup warm milk
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, whisked
1/2 tsp salt
2 -3 cup flour

Combine yeast and warm milk in your stand mixer bowl, or in a large mixing bowl. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gently mix in butter, sugar and egg (make sure egg is well blended before adding). Add flour, 1/2 c at a time. Add salt in with the first batch of flour. Mix thoroughly after each flour addition. Stop adding flour as soon as the dough sticks together. You definitely want as little flour in your dough as possible. using your dough hook, or hands, if you’re more traditional, knead for 5 minutes. Watch the dough. If it starts to stick to the sides, sprinkle a little bit of flour as needed to coax it back into a ball. Again, use as little flour as possible. When I make this, I typically only use 2 cups of flour.

Remove bowl and place in a warm place to rise until double (about an hour, but this can drastically vary depending on all sorts of factors).

Once it has risen, dump it onto a counter that has been lightly dusted with flour. Roll it out to about 1/2 inch thick. Use a heart cookie cutter to cut the dough into hearts. Use as much of the dough in the first cut as possible, then collect the scraps and recut. If you must, you can do it a third time, but the resulting donuts will be tougher than the first.

Place the hearts on parchment-covered baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Let rise again until double, another 45 min- 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Remove when they are light brown on top. Immediately slide to a cooling rack.

Strawberry Filling:

3 cups strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup sugar
1 TBS cornstarch
2 TBS cold water

Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor (be sure to thaw them first if you are starting with frozen). Add the sugar. Pour into a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Combine the cornstarch and cold water in a small bowl. Stir the strawberry mixture until sugar is fully dissolved. Add the cornstarch mixture and stir over medium heat until thick and jelly-like. Pour into a container and refrigerate until chilled.

To assemble:

Take a donut and poke a hole in one side with a small knife or skewer. Carefully move the knife/skewer around the inside of the donut to allow room for the filling. (A clean finger does this well, if that doesn’t gross you out)

Scoop some filling into a zipper-topped bag. Cut a small portion off the corner, insert into the donut and squeeze the filling into the donut.

Spoon some powdered sugar into a fine-mesh strainer, lightly dust the donuts by tapping the side of the strainer as you pass over them.

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Easiest Mac n’ Cheese

Growing up, when we would friends over after school, occasionally one would stay for dinner. I remember one time that one of my friends hung around long enough to get the dinner invite. When my mom brought out dinner in a steaming 9×13 pan, my friend looked confused. “What IS that?” she whispered to me. “Macaroni and Cheese” I said back to her, not understanding her confusion. “Macaroni and Cheese?” she queried, “ours never looks like that…”. “Oh, it’s homemade.” I nonchalantly said as I helped myself to a heaping spoonful, cheese stretching out between my plate and the pyrex dish. Her jaw seemed to drop to the floor. “I didn’t even know you could make it, I thought it always came from a box” she quietly said under her breath.

That was an eye-opener for me. It was a moment when I realized that my generation (and now my kids’ generation) are different when it comes to exposure to the culinary arts. Now, I don’t believe this is a common occurrence. Especially now, there is a great movement back to scratch cooking and real food. But, mac n’ cheese will always be one of those comfort foods that is SO much better homemade, and it’s not even hard. I see macaroni and cheese recipes pinned on pinterest, passed around on facebook…crockpot recipes, Martha Stewart’s recipe, Paula Deen’s recipe…can I just tell you…macaroni and cheese is one of the easiest homemade recipes to master, and every decent recipe out there is just a variation on the basic recipe: basic cheese sauce over cooked noodles.

This recipe isn’t even my mom’s. I use hers every once in a while, but I like this one best, and it has less steps.

EASIEST MACARONI AND CHEESE

4 TBS butter
4 TBS flour
3 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (mild or sharp, depending on your preference)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
16 oz. package macaroni noodles, cooked

additional shredded cheese (optional)

Make a Roux by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then adding the flour. Whisk together and cook while whisking until it turns light brown. Slowly add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, vigorously whisking out the lumps after each addition. (Click on the roux link for more guidance, if needed). Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring continuously, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and add the cheese, stirring until all the cheese is melted. Add the cayenne pepper. Pour over the cooked macaroni. You can serve it at this point, if you’re in a hurry, or you can fancy it up by baking it. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour macaroni and cheese into a 9×13 pan. Cover with more shredded cheese. Bake 20-30 minutes, until bubbly.

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ALLERGY alert: This can be made gluten free by using rice pasta and subbing a gluten-free flour for the wheat flour. If it doesn’t sufficiently thicken, you can add a combo of 1 TBS cornstarch + 3 TBS cold water to the mix while it is boiling (before adding the cheese).

Mini Hootenanny Pancakes

Hootenanny…hootenanny..hoot, hoot, Hoot!

That’s what we say when eating these pancakes. I’m not sure where that came from, I think I read someone else’s story that their family did it growing up, and it kinda stuck. These are also called “German Oven Pancakes” or “Dutch Babies”. I am not biased against various European countries, so we’ve stuck with Hootenanny Pancakes.

There are also various ways to eat them. Traditionally, they are made in a pie tin, then sliced up kinda like a pizza. My husband likes it with syrup, butter and powdered sugar. I prefer it with fruit of some sort and whipped cream. One thing I love about breakfast is that it’s an easy excuse to eat dessert as a meal without feeling guilty.

This recipe uses a large muffin tin (the kind that makes six muffins, not twelve) to create cute little individual cups to be filled as your heart desires. The optimum fill portion for the best cups is about 1/3 full. if you fill it 1/2 full, they will be thick and not quite form into cups.

HOOTENANNY PANCAKES

6 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 TSP butter, melted

additional melted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend all ingredients in a food processor, blender, or with an immersion blender.  You want to make sure all the flour is well incorporated and the batter is smooth. Put a tablespoon of melted butter in each of the six muffin divots. Fill each 1/3 full with the batter. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until puffed up and golden brown. Invert onto a cooling rack.

Fill with your favorite fruit, syrup, Nutella (ooh, that’s a great idea!), or whatever you please. I filled these with Easy Strawberry Topping.

EASY STRAWBERRY TOPPING

3 cups strawberries
1/2 cup sugar

Combine the strawberries and sugar. Let sit for 30 minutes. Mash with a potato masher, or puree.

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ALLERGY alert: These can easily be converted to gluten-free by using gluten-free flour. They can be made dairy-free by subbing an alternative milk, and using 100% vegetable margarine or oil in place of the butter.

Homemade Hamburger Buns

When I was a little girl, my mom made almost every thing from scratch. I think this was part necessity, and part attempting to show that she could “do it all” as a mom: homemade goodness while working in the home teaching piano lessons and babysitting. She was wonder woman. I remember one thing that she made from scratch was hamburger buns. To this day, I think a phenomenal bun take hamburgers to the next level. Hand-shaped Angus hamburgers from the grill, dripping with mayo and ketchup is still one of my favorite indulgences. Make these buns for your next grill-out and wow the guests…or your family.

HOMEMADE HAMBURGER BUNS

3 TBS warm milk
1 cup warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
2½ TBS sugar
1½ tsp salt
1  egg, beaten
2-3 cups flour
3 TBS vital wheat gluten
2 TBS butter, softened

For egg wash:

1 egg
1 TBS water

In your stand mixer, combine milk, water, yeast, and sugar. Let sit 5 minutes, until foamy. Mix in the beaten egg.  Add 2 cups of flour, the salt and the gluten, and mix with your dough hook until incorporated.  Add additional flour as needed in 1/2 cup increments until dough sticks together. Be careful to add as little flour as possible, just enough to hold the dough together. Mix in the butter. Let mixer knead the dough on low for 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. The dough should be very soft. Remove bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise in a warm place until double, typically about an hour, but it will vary.

Dump the dough on a counter, sprinkled with flour. Divide the dough into eight pieces.  Line your baking sheet with parchment paper (yes, I know I didn’t…and I regretted it). Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place on the baking sheet, 2 inches apart.  Place in a warm area and allow to rise until double, about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Place a pan half-full of water on the lowest rack of the oven. Combine the egg and water. Very carefully, brush the tops of the buns lightly with the egg wash.  Bake the rolls on the center oven rack for 12-15 minutes, until the tops are golden brown.  Cool on a cooling rack.

For the ultimate burger, Brush with melted butter and lightly toast on the grill or under a broiler.

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