Homemade French Bread

Since we have come home from the hospital, every day I feel more and more able to tackle the recipes I have been saving to create over the year. At the beginning of 2011, one of my goals was to bake some yeast bread from scratch this year. My hope was to become a baking machine by Christmas, along with getting a nice baking stone, and make my way through a homemade recipe book for artisan breads. Obviously, some more important things came up early on this year and all of my time and energy were spent helping my husband through chemo and a stem cell transplant (He is still working hard and steadily getting better, he is my hero!). With a week left of this year to go, I thought “hey, we are home, we are hungry, and better late then never, right?”. So, I decided to go ahead and attempt the recipe that had caught my eye and my ambitions earlier this year: Homemade French Bread.

The smell of fresh baked bread in the oven is one of the many reasons I will continue to make this French Bread recipe. The crust is crisp and the bread inside is light, airy and soft…and absolutely delicious. We ate this bread alongside some Irish Stew I made and was great as a stand alone side and also as a dipping bread. And since we can’t eat an entire loaf of bread in one sitting, we used the leftovers for a homemade baked french toast that we could eat the next morning. Yum!

During the process, I decided to take a few shots with my iPhone to get a little bit of the process captured. Below you will find the steps I caught:

Enjoy!






Homemade French Bread

Ingredients:

  • 5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 5 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 teaspoons granulated white sugar
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 2 cups warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon corn meal
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon warmed milk

Method:

  1. Proof yeast by heating up 1/2 cup of water to 110 degrees, add yeast and sugar. Give the mix stir and wait 10 minutes. If the yeast is active, the mixture should produce bubbles on top and rise.
  2. In a large food processor, add 2 cups flour and salt and pulse a few times to mix. (I used a dough attachment in my food processor for this step). Next add the proofed yeast, remaining 3 cups of flour, and pulse together. Slowly add in the remaining warm water until the dough forms a ball and starts to pull away. You may need more or less water, what you want to look for is a well-formed ball of dough – not too dry, not too gooey and wet (you can add a little flour or water depending on your dough to get the right consistency).
  3. Remove the dough from the food processor and transfer to a lightly floured surface and begin to knead the dough. Watch the time, you will want to knead for about 10 minutes getting a stiffer dough that is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and place into a greased (and lightly floured) large bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Set in a warm place and let rise until doubled in size (could be anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hr 30 minutes). If you need to create a warm place – heat your oven to the keep warm setting – around 180 degrees and then shut it OFF, let it cool for about 10 minutes and then place your dough in and let it rise in the warm air.
  4. Once the dough has risen, punch the dough down and then divide the dough in half to make 2 separate balls. Transfer to a lightly floured surface. Roll each half into a rectangle and then tightly roll up the dough using the long side of the rectangle. Moisten the edges with water and seal and taper the ends and seal.
  5. Spray a large baking sheet with non-stick spray and lightly coat with the corn meal. Place the loaves seam side down onto the baking sheet. With a sharp knife, cut 3-4 diagonal cuts into the loaves. Lightly beat the egg white and warm milk together and brush the mixture over the loaves. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and let rise for another 45 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and then bake loaves for 20 minutes. Brush again with egg white mixture and then bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until bread tests done. Remove from baking sheet and let cool on wire rack.

Source: modified from Allrecipes.com’s recipe for French Bread.

Beef & Vegetable Stew

I look out our triple-pane deck window, in the distance I can faintly see the flash of headlights and flicker of blinkers in distant parking lots, no doubt last-minute holiday shoppers getting that final gift or ingredient for supper. As I let my gaze refocus, I see the all too familiar sight of branches that line the forefront of our backyard view – the monotonous brown hue that will grace our scenery for the next few months of Winter. The sky looks like it wants to snow, but is still holding out on us (to my delight, and quite a few family members disappointment). I am reminded of the week, month, year we have had and reflect. I have been doing that a lot this week, just spending time reflecting. Right now, I love the anticipation and comfort that this pre-Christmas week brings. Every single year I have tried to take the time to relish the sense of joy, the sense of comfort, and the sense of wonder that these few short days bring.

Just a few days ago, I was just another person lost in the crowds (or rather running about avoiding them at all costs) while I was finishing off my grocery list to stock us up for our holiday meals. I braved the bad weather we had and drudged through cold rain with one too many heavy bags under my arms and then somehow stumbled inside our apartment – wet, cold, and exhausted. That’s where this stew comes in. For dinner, I wanted comfort food, in the form of hearty stew meat and robust vegetables. Something I could cook easily and then melt into the couch.

The braised beef and stewed vegetables really shine in this stew. The flavors combine very well together in a harmony of succulent beef and bright vegetable tones of carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes. We paired this stew with some freshly baked croissant rolls for dinner that were great additions to really get a full range of the flavors in this stew. What is especially enticing to me about this particular recipe is that it does not require 8 hours and a slow cooker. The prep is just as easy as a slow-cooked meal, but the time is much shorter – around 2 hours. For me, after the initial prep and first phase of cooking, I took the time in-between to finish out some cleaning and chores so that I could enjoy the rest of our night after dinner just relaxing. This one will definitely be on our permanent rotation list this winter as a great way to warm up after chilly days.

P.S. We got a new and shiny addition to our family a few days ago – A Canon 5D Mark II DSLR Camera! Needless to say, we have been happily snapping away since the day it arrived. Today’s post is our first attempts at playing with our new toy – yum, yum!

Enjoy!






Beef & Vegetable Stew

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds beef stew meat, cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 package Italian salad dressing seasoning
  • 1/2 tablespoon oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cube beef bouillon
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (10.5 ounce) can condensed beef broth
  • 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 6 small potatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup chopped baby carrots
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cold water

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, heat oil to medium heat. Stir in cubed stew meat and cook until browned. Add in Italian Dressing seasoning and continue to cook beef until cooked through. (You can add the option of deglazing the pan at the end with a little red wine if that suits your taste – allowing to simmer a little before adding to stew pot)
  2. While the meat is cooking, I like to prepare the stew pot. In a large stew pot, add the following: water, beef bouillon cube, diced tomatoes, beef broth, tomato sauce, garlic, bay leaf, oregano, and pepper. When meat is completed, add to the stew pot, give everything a quick stir and then bring the contents to a boil. Then cover the pot, reduce heat and  simmer for 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is tender.
  3. At the hour mark – start to prepare your vegetables. Wash, pat dry, and cut them all and then throw them into the stew pot. Cover and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Combine flour and cold water until smooth. Add into the stew and bring to a boil for about 2 minutes and stir until stew has thickened. Discard bay leaf and serve in soup bowls. Enjoy!

Source: slightlty modified from Allrecipes recipe for Savory Vegetable Beef Stew

Cranberry-Orange & White Chocolate Caramel Popcorn

I am going to keep this post short, sweet, and to a delicious point: This popcorn is AMAZING.

One of the enjoyable parts of having such a great base recipe for Homemade Caramel Popcorn has been all of the ways we have found to make it unique and take it to the “next level”. Perhaps we have been influenced by our recent obsession with shows like the Next Iron Chef and Chopped on The Food Network. Or perhaps we have made one too many trips to the Trader Joe’s that opened this year in Kansas City. Or perhaps we just can’t get enough of this addicting popcorn and have to find additional excuses to make it (as if we would need one). BUT, I have concluded with all of our attempts to put a “spin” on this caramel popcorn, this may be the most addicting version yet.

For Christmas, we have been trying to come up with new treats this year and try and break away from the traditional cookies and breads and such (which of course, I love!). So, when my mother-in-law found some tasty Cranberry-Orange dried fruit at Trader Joe’s last week, we got to talking and discussing cooking ideas for them. We came to the conclusion that white chocolate + cranberry-orange would be a perfect duo of deliciousness to add to the caramel popcorn. Once I took my first bite of our new creation, I felt confident we made the right decision – my taste buds were jumping for joy! Even the smell that comes from the citrus and the drizzled white chocolate is intoxicating. So, so yummy.

Enjoy!





Cranberry-Orange & White Chocolate Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 8 quarts of popped plain popcorn (be sure the popcorn does not have any butter or salt added)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 bag (12 oz) of cranberry-orange dried fruit
  • 8 oz. melted White Chocolate

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prepare 2 large oven pans and one large bowl (as big as you can find) with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In the large bowl add in popped popcorn and set aside. (we use something like a Microwave Popcorn Popper, so that we can just buy the popcorn kernels in bulk and pop them in the microwave.)
  3. In a medium-sized sauce pan – mix brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and add in baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt (mixture will bubble). Continue to stir for another couple minutes until well mixed.
  5. Carefully pour hot mixture over popcorn and mix with a wooden spoon until the popcorn is covered in the caramel. (This can get messy so having a larger bowl or multiple bowls with high sides will help a lot.) Then, transfer the caramel corn to the baking sheets and spread out evenly. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour. In the last 15 minutes, prepare melted white chocolate.
  6. Remove from oven and pour cranberry-orange dried fruit and melted chocolate over the popcorn. Let cool completely and then bag them up and serve!

Chocolate & Toffee Caramel Popcorn

As we prepare for the holidays this year, there is one tradition that we always try and keep no matter how busy we are: making and baking holiday treats. We try and make big batches for Christmas and hand them out to our friends and family as a special treat. Over the last few years, I have made TONS of different treats (see last year’s mad baking extravaganza) but, despite all the delicious cookies and pretzels I have made – homemade caramel popcorn has always been my absolute favorite.

This year, we decided to go beyond the traditional caramel corn and make our own “gourmet” versions. Thus, our Chocolate & Toffee Caramel Popcorn mix was created. The key to this caramel corn is that the base recipe is stellar. I could eat handfuls of this caramel corn pretty much all day. I could barely believe this popcorn could get any better…that is, until I added in melted chocolate and toffee bits. I almost feel it inappropriate to describe how good this Chocolate & Caramel Popcorn tastes – let’s just say it would involve a gratuitous amount of exclamation marks. :)

One of the best parts of making these treats is that we always make enough to share with our family and friends. My favorite part of the holidays is being able to share our appreciation with others who have impacted our lives. This year, we plan on giving goodie bags to the nurses and doctors at the cancer center who have been working around the clock (seriously!!) to provide the best care they can give to all of their patients. They are truly life savers – they work every single day with difficult, fast-paced, demanding situations and yet they are still able to laugh, smile, comfort, and support their patients who are struggling and in pain.  I am always truly amazed by them every time we go into the clinic.

So, whether you want to make a special treat for the office, friends, family, or just yourself (because you deserve it!), I would recommend this recipe with two exaggerated thumbs up, a little hand-waving and maybe even a happy dance. Just think “crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth caramel with toffee & chocolate goodness” if you need some convincing.

P.S. If giving these away to others – you may want to add a warning label (just in case): Beware: Highly Addictive!

Enjoy!




Chocolate & Toffee Caramel Popcorn

Ingredients:

  • 8 quarts of popped plain popcorn (be sure the popcorn does not have any butter or salt added)
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 bag (12 oz) of crushed toffee bits
  • 8 oz. melted Dark Chocolate

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Prepare 2 large oven pans and one large bowl (as big as you can find) with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. In the large bowl add in popped popcorn and set aside. (we use something like a Microwave Popcorn Popper, so that we can just buy the popcorn kernels in bulk and pop them in the microwave.)
  3. In a medium-sized sauce pan – mix brown sugar, corn syrup, and butter and bring to a boil for 5 minutes. Stirring constantly.
  4. Remove from heat and add in baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt (mixture will bubble). Continue to stir for another couple minutes until well mixed.
  5. Carefully pour hot mixture over popcorn and mix with a wooden spoon until the popcorn is covered in the caramel. (This can get messy so having a larger bowl or multiple bowls with high sides will help a lot.) Then, transfer the caramel corn to the baking sheets and spread out evenly. Place in the oven and bake for 1 hour. In the last 15 minutes, prepare melted chocolate.
  6. Remove from oven and pour toffee bits and melted chocolate over the popcorn. Let cool completely and then bag them up and serve!

Like this one? Check out the next post too! Cranberry-Orange White Chocolate Caramel Corn

Cinnamon Streusel & Cranberry Muffins

I am writing this at home, on my own couch, in my own living room, across from my husband who just got off the treadmill. That may sound like a pretty mundane and boring assessment of our current situation, but for us, this is quite a change from the normal lately. You see, for the last month we have been on quite the journey. Jason, as some of you know from previous posts, has been getting chemotherapy to hopefully cure his latest recurrence of cancer. The chemo was then followed by a stem cell transplant in November. We were told it would be a roller coaster this time around – and boy, they were not kidding! The first few weeks were a whirlwind of side effects, fevers, medications, CT scans, EKGs, PICC line removals, PICC line placements, wary watching of blood counts, emergency trips to the clinic, and hospital stays. Not to mention, a bathroom flooding, a ceiling replacement, and billing confusion battles. All I can say looking back on it all is – it’s good to be home.

So, this post has actually been at the ready and in waiting since before Thanksgiving when I first spotted fresh cranberries at the store. With the month we had though, the time to get any post up seemed pretty trivial compared to the constant battle on our hands. So, I am glad to report now that Jason has been doing better and we are finally home getting back to a little bit of normalcy. I knew this was a recipe I had to share with you all. It is another easy fix-upper when you want something quick to serve your family for breakfast or a snack. We especially loved eating these with a cup of tea!

The idea for this muffin actually came from our stay last Summer at Niagra on the Lake in Canada. We got to stay at a bed and breakfast there that served some delicious cinnamon muffins stuffed with cranberries. I knew when we got home I had to recreate them. So, I patiently waited for the fresh cranberry season to arrive, but by the time the season kicked in, we were already in the midst of the chemo treatments. So instead of from scratch, I decided to make these the “simple” version and share the idea with all of you so that you could make these too – either using a from scratch recipe for cinnamon muffins or my “simple” way when you are in a rush. (And who isn’t in a rush these days?? Especially during the holidays!) I hope you all enjoy this idea for a quick breakfast and give it a “go” soon!

Enjoy!



Cinnamon Streusel & Cranberry Muffins

(this recipe idea is a box mix + homemade streusel topping and fresh cranberries)

Ingredients:

  • Cinnamon Streusel Muffins Box Mix
  • Any additional ingredients called for by box (eggs, oil, and water)
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened

Method:

  1. Preheat oven according to box indications. Then, in a large bowl,  prepare muffin mix according to instructions. Carefully wash and pat dry the fresh cranberries and then fold them into the prepared muffin mix until evenly distributed.
  2. To prepare the cinnamon streusel crumble topping: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Next, cut the butter into 1/4″ cubes and combine into the mix using a fork until the mixture resembles coarse crumbles. OR – You could also use a small food processor instead – just add all the ingredients and pulse until crumbled (watching carefully – do not over mix). Set aside.
  3. Prep a 12 muffin pan with non-stick spray or use cupcake liners and then pour in the muffin batter to about 1/2 full. Then carefully add the streusel crumble topping to each muffin and then place into oven.
  4. Bake for 14-18 minutes (or follow recommended time on the package), done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool for about 20 minutes and serve warm – tastes great with a little bit of butter and a cup of coffee or tea (or hot chocolate!).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries & Hazelnuts

Today’s delicious guest post is from Paige from her family’s blog Speed Bump! She has shared an amazing family friendly recipe for roasted brussels sprouts that are sure to get your mouth watering. I love this side dish, the cranberries and hazelnuts with pancetta really make this an amazing treat. So, save this one onto your recipe list and head on over to Paige’s blog to find more yummy recipes. Thanks Paige!

Fall is the perfect time to serve up roasted vegetables. We first discovered the amazing flavors of roasted vegetables when looking for ways to expose our toddler son to new and varied vegetables. Roasted broccoli was our first try and since then we’ve roasted everything from cabbage and beets to cauliflower and carrots. Roasting brings out the flavor in vegetables while retaining texture and color. The plethora of root vegetables and squash available in the fall makes for easy meal planning when combined with a simple protein or whole grain. But hands down our favorite recipe for fall, or anytime, is roasted Brussels sprouts.

This is not your grandmother’s (or even your mother’s) Brussels sprout recipe. Most people don’t like Brussels sprouts (named after the city in Belgium) because they recall the steamed, mushy, tasteless version of their youth.  Brussels sprouts, however, have made a resurgence and if you haven’t tried this update of the sprout, you are missing out. Resembling miniature cabbages, Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables in the same family with cabbage, broccoli, collard greens, kale and the lesser known kohlrabi.  With a healthy dose of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fiber in every serving, you can’t go wrong with this tasty dish.

We originally had these Brussels sprouts at a local pizza restaurant in Kansas City. They were so good we decided to replicate them at home. As a perfect side dish to fish, pasta, pizza, just about anything really, you won’t need an excuse to make them. They just might become your household favorite.

Thanks Paige! :)



Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries & Hazelnuts


makes 2 hearty portions

Ingredients:

  • 3 T olive oil
  • Approximately 16 Brussels sprouts (depends on size – about 8 per person)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 slices pancetta cubed (about 1/8 –1/4 inch thick)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 c hazelnuts chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees and then rinse Brussels sprouts, trim, and, depending on size, cut in half (or even quarter if large sprout).
  2. Combine Brussels sprouts, pancetta, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl.
  3. Transfer all ingredients to a large cast iron skillet and place in 425 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Stirring often.  With about 5 minutes left, add the garlic.
  4. Remove from the oven and stir in cranberries and chopped hazelnuts.  Enjoy!