Wednesday, February 25, 2015

No-Fail Homemade Bread

The reason they invented the treadmill, elastic waist pants, and naps. 
The reason my supper was served an hour late tonight, I forgot to start the bread until 4:00!(And bread is a necessary bribe to get my children to eat their lentils).
The reason ham, cheese, and mustard exist. 
Ok. That may have gone a little far.  
But, in all seriousness, what would a sandwich be without bread?
A mess, that's what.

Is there anyone out there who doesn't adore bread?
The homemade kind that's soft and still warm.
Maybe slathered with a little butter for good measure. 

Now, I know that some of us may avoid eating too much of the white stuff for fear that those full panel maternity pants may become a permanent fixture in  the wardrobe rotation.
And some have food sensitivities that prevent consuming all that gluten-y goodness.
But, at the end of the day when it's just you and a piece of homemade, white bread staring you in the face, things get real, fast.

One of my favorite bread recipes is a very close cousin to Julia Child's sandwich bread recipe.
And if Julia made it, you know it has to be good. 
It's an easy, no-fail recipe.
I wish I could say it's quick, but it's not.
The good news is most of the time is not spent actively working on the bread, but rather inactive rise time. 
Maybe a good time to hit the treadmill? 
Or clean?
Or Netflix binge?
So many possibilities for your bread making down time. 

Homemade White Bread

2 1/2 cups warm water
1 T. active dry yeast
1 T. sugar
6 cups all purpose flour
2 t. salt
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil

  1. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar, let stand for a few minutes until foamy.
  2. Add the rest of the water and half of the flour. Stir until blended.
  3. Add the salt, oil and the rest of the flour.
  4. Stir until well combined. 
  5. Continue to let the dough hook knead the dough for 8-10 minutes. 
  6. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover with a towel and let rise for an hour.
  7. Grease 2 loaf pans. Punch dough down and divide in half. 
  8. Shape each half into a 9x12 rectangle.
  9. Start at the short end and fold the dough in thirds. 
  10. Place seam side down in the loaf pans, cover with towel and let rise for another hour.
  11. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  12. Bake for 35 minutes, until browned and hollow sounding when tapped on.
  13. Immediately turn loaves out of pan to cool

What'd You Do This Weekend Featured

Friday, February 20, 2015

Homemade Chicken Stock, Crockpot Style

Making your own chicken stock may, at first glance, seem like a tedious, time consuming and even extreme task.
Especially when you can easily walk into any supermarket and have multiple choices at your fingertips. 

I mean seriously, we don't have enough to do without adding "make chicken stock" to the to-do list?!

I get it. 
And if this recipe wasn't so incredibly easy, fast and delicious, I would be right with you.

But it is easy, fast and delicious, so I'm going to have to insist that you give it a go. 

Okay. Now that we have that settled, let's make some stock. This stock is perfect in chicken noodle soup, or anything else that requires chicken stock. If you're not going to use the stock right away, it freezes very well. Simply portion the stock into freezer bags and freeze for up to 6 months(truthfully, it will probably stay good in the freezer much longer than that).

Chicken Stock

All of the leftover bones, drippings, skin, etc. from the crockpot chicken
2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
2 large carrots, roughly chopped
1 onion roughly chopped
Before straining.

  1. Leave all of the leftover chicken parts in your crockpot after you've removed all of the meat.
  2. Add celery, carrots, and onion.
  3. Fill the crockpot with water and cover.
  4. Cook for 8-10 hours on low. I usually let this cook overnight.
  5. Carefully strain the stock through a mesh strainer. 
  6. Use right away, refrigerate or freeze.

Soup's On!

I love me some soup.
And why not?
Healthy, check.
Easy, check.
Crowd pleaser, check.
Inexpensive, check.
Freezes well, check.
Kid pleaser, check.
And the options are endless...vegetable, noodle, tomato, creamy, lasagna, meaty, brothy, spicy, pizza, cold, hot...

I could really go on about the virtues of soup for quite a while.
But I won't.(Maybe I already did?)
Because we need to get on with the making, so we can get on with the eating.

This is my own chicken noodle soup recipe. 
I add two secret ingredients to make this soup extra special.  

I'm going to use the chicken stock I made in my crock pot using the leftovers from my whole chicken recipe
If you don't have homemade chicken stock, and aren't inclined to make any(I've had those days too!) use the store bought variety that comes in the carton. 
The same goes for the chicken. I'm using leftover chicken from the whole chicken in the crockpot recipe. If you don't have any leftover chicken, a store bought rotisserie chicken will work very well.

Chicken Noodle Soup

8 cups of chicken stock
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced**secret ingredient**
2 Tablespoons Olive oil
1/2 package egg noodles, make it more or less noodley depending on your taste
2 cups cooked, chopped chicken
Juice of 1 lemon**secret ingredient**
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped celery, carrot and onion. Cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes.
  3. Add minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and cook for 45 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook egg noodles in a separate pot according to package instructions.
  6. 10 minutes before serving, add chicken, cooked noodles and the lemon juice. Heat through and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Chicken, Of Course!

When faced with the age old question, "what's for dinner," chicken, of course can become a pretty reliable answer. 

I don't know about you, but I get really bored with the old standby; boneless, skinless chicken breasts.
I know that they're healthy, but truthfully rather bland. 
And the other parts of a chicken are great too, and equally as healthy and much tastier!

A little comparison to put your mind at ease...

Chicken Breast  
156 calories, 7 grams of fat, 23 grams of protein 

Chicken Leg
183 calories, 10 grams of fat, 23 grams of protein

As you can see, all chicken is a relatively healthy choice. 

Cooking a whole chicken can seem a little intimidating, although it really shouldn't. It's actually a cost effective and delicious notion.

Do not be afraid.
Using the crock pot method is a no fail solution for cooking a tender, juicy, flavorful bird. 
It won't be dry or overcooked and it couldn't be easier.

Try to remember to take out the giblets that will be found in the cavity of your chicken. 
If I'm being honest, I forgot to do that once and it still turned out just fine.

One tip, try to find a locally raised, pastured bird. It really does make a huge difference in flavor as well as nutritional value. I will warn you that this type of chicken will cost more than the factory farm poultry found at the supermarket, but we are going to use every bit of this little chicky, so it will be money well spent. 

We have chickens on the farm, but I don't have the heart to use them for anything other than egg layers and pets. If you're local, you can find free range chicken at All Good Things Natural MarketTierra Verde Farms  .

Okay, let's get started. The following recipe will be to cook a whole chicken and it will be similar to a rotissire chicken when it's finished. We will then use all of the leftover bones, drippings, spices, etc. to make a flavorful stock right in the crock pot, perfectly suited for Chicken Noodle Soup. I certainly did not invent this method, but I have used it countless times and it's always great. 

Whole Chicken

Chicken, somewhere around 5 pounds
2 teaspoons paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 onion, loosely chopped

  1. Combine spices in a small bowl.
  2. Place the chopped onion in the bottom of the crock pot.
  3. After removing giblets, rub spice mixture all over the chicken.
  4. Place chicken on top of onions and cook on low for 8 hours or high for 5 hours. There is no need to add additional liquid to the crockpot.
  5. Save all leftover bones, skin, liquid and onion in crockpot to make chicken stock!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Valentines Day, And Other Fluff

The dead of winter.
Depressing turn of phrase, but oh so true.
Nothing much is growing in northeast Ohio.
No major holidays or celebrations.
Activities are at a minimum.

Around now I try to look for anything to boost morale, including making a big deal out of a little holiday called Valentines Day. 
It's a holiday devoted to love!
Who doesn't love that?
Ok. A lot of people.

It's cheesy and commercialized. 
It's silly and frivolous.
We should express our love everyday, not just in mid February.
I get it. 

But, it's February and we need a reason to celebrate, so I'm going for it. 
I hope you drape everything in pink, cut out a million paper hearts and make these special treats.

Cheese is good, in moderation.

Homemade Marshmallows
I often make these at other times of the year without cutting them into heart shapes, so if you're short on time, skip that part and just use a knife and cut them into squares.

2 1/2 Tablespoons unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
Confectioners sugar-for dusting
Chocolate wafers-for melting

  1. Combine gelatin and 1/2 cup cold water in the bowl of an electric mixer. Let this stand while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
  2. In medium size heavy saucepan, combine granulated sugar, corn syrup, salt and 1/2 cup of water. Cook over low heat until sugar has dissolved.
  3. Wash down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to dissolve sugar crystals.
  4. Clip on a candy thermometer and cook on high without stirring until the syrup reaches 244 degrees.
  5. Immediately remove pan from heat.
  6. With mixer on low speed, slowly pour the hot syrup into the gelatin mixture. 
  7. Add vanilla.
  8. Increase speed to high. Beat until the mixture is very thick, white and has tripled in volume. Approximately 15 minutes.
  9. Generously dust a 9x13 pan with confectioners sugar.
  10. Pour marshmallow mixture into prepared pan and smooth into an even surface. Dust the top with confectioners sugar and let dry overnight.
  11. Using a heart cookie cutter, cut hearts out of marshmallow.
  12. Melt chocolate wafers in the microwave 30 seconds at a time, stirring each time until melted.
  13. Using a toothpick, pierce the side of the marshmallow heart and dip in chocolate. Let excess chocolate drip off and place finished heart on waxed paper to dry.