Easy French Bread

Recipes

Going into 2019, I knew I wanted to make some changes to my everyday life. Some of these changes included more physical activity, a period of detox and some food changes, but overall I think my main focus is becoming more self-sustainable. This is fairly broad but to me it means making more of my own food, or growing it, and depending less on the idea that I have to spend money to take care of myself. This also ties in with the idea of sustainability, such as reusing items, buying less, and contributing less to our growing garbage problem. Basically, I want to buck societal norms and get back to a simpler way of life. Maybe I’ll do another post on my reasoning and inspiration behind this entirely, but for now let’s just stick to one point specifically.

One of my main resolutions for 2019 is to become more self-sustainable with my food. This includes making more of my own items from scratch, such as breads, sauces, jellies etc., as well as growing a larger garden than I did last year. Obviously with it being January, starting the garden is a couple months away, so to keep myself busy until then, I’ve been learning how to make things that I can do inside away from the blustery weather. My favorite of these so far is bread. Bread is one of those things that I think makes a kitchen feel homey and inviting. The smell, the process and the feeling of being able to create something so simple and yet so widely consumed is very special to me. I remember my mom making bread and rolls and pastries and thinking that she must possess some kind of magic to be able to create things that were even better than store bought. As I got older, I seriously thought that I needed some kind of special training or voodoo to be able to accomplish the same thing. The whole process seemed so complicated. The yeast rising, the kneading, the rolling – it all felt so out of reach. What if I messed up? What if my bread didn’t rise? What if I fail? It seems very dramatic, I know, but I do feel like this is the stigma around bread (or dough in general)! Finally, I mustered the courage to give it a shot, and I’m happy to report that tasty baked goods aren’t just for those with fairy dust. With no tricks up my sleeve, and no magic bread-wand, I am able to confidently create warm loaves of bread that make my house smell as if a bakery exploded in my kitchen.

The most difficult part of making bread, I think, is the time consumed to create it. It’s not like making cookies where prep time takes 20 minutes and you bake each batch for 8 minutes and voila! – cookies for everyone! It’s at least a 2-3 hour process because of the rising times. Now, don’t get me wrong, waiting for dough to rise is not difficult in the slightest. You literally do nothing but wait (which for those of us without patience can be quite trying). With a stand mixer, your job is even easier. Pour contents into mixer, wait; pull contents out of mixer, wait; put contents into oven, wait. OK, so maybe it’s not THAT simple, but it’s close. This bread recipe is one of the first that I’ve tried that isn’t a “30 Minute Roll” or a quick bread recipe (like banana or pumpkin). The first time I attempted it, I doubled the recipe and was able to give one loaf away. The bread was good, don’t get me wrong, but it was a little more dense than I had hoped it would be. So, for my second try, I did only one loaf and I tweaked the recipe a bit to what I thought might provide a better outcome. And boy, was I pleased when my fragrant and golden brown loaf was ready to come out of the oven. Not only did it smell divine, it looked like one of the prettiest things I’ve ever been able to bake. As I pulled it out and checked it for done-ness (a fully baked loaf of bread should sound hollow when you tap on it) I think my eyes may have welled up a bit, like I was holding my very own baby for this first time. It was perfect. I slathered the baby in melted butter and waiting for it to cool a bit before digging in. OK, comparing the bread to a baby now sounds wrong… and quite gross. Anywho, I paired this perfect loaf with my Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup and could not have been happier with the results. It was light, it was buttery and filled with carby, bready goodness.

I guess what I’m getting at here, is if I can make bread, so can you. You’d be surprised at how much money it could save you versus buying bread at the store. We’ve used this bread now for french toast, dipping and just for snacking, but I think it could also be used for sandwiches, homemade croutons, bread pudding and pretty much anything else. And money isn’t the only thing you’re saving. Think of all the plastic wrapping and those little plastic bread clips and zip ties you aren’t throwing away. I like to keep my homemade bread in a small paper bag on the counter, but I’ve also heard you can wrap it in foil or make fabric bread bags (which I may do with some fabric scraps in the future). So cast your doubts aside and get your butt in the kitchen. You don’t need any special skills or bread fairy dust for this recipe, just a few hours to wait for the dough to rise and a bit of optimism.

Do you like to make your own bread? What are your favorite recipes? And what are some ways that you try to make your home more self-sustainable?

<b>Easy French Bread</b>

1 packet of active dry yeast

2 Tbsp sugar

1 cup warm water (for yeast activation)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for coating large bowl

  1. Dissolve sugar in warm water. Once sugar is mostly dissolved, add yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes or until foamy.
  2. Once foamy, add the salt, vegetable oil and half of the flour. Stir to combine (I use my stand mixer with a dough hook throughout this whole process).
  3. Add the rest of the flour and mix until a dough ball forms. I let this knead in the mixer for about 4-6 minutes.
  4. Coat a large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough ball inside to rise. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a dish towel to keep any drafts out. Let sit for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  5. Once doubled, remove dough and work with your hands for a few minutes. Stretch it out in a rectangular shape and roll into a loaf, folding the ends under to create the rounded edges.
  6. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicon baking sheet and let rise for another hour. At this point I like to slice little lines into the top of my loaf. Some people wait until the rising time is complete – to each their own, do what makes you happy. I like my lines to be smaller so that’s why I do it before.
  7. After the hour is up, preheat your oven to 375°F and bake for 25 minutes.
  8. Enjoy the smell coming from your oven and prepare for goodness.
  9. Once the bread has finished baking (tap to ensure that it’s done), remove from the oven and brush melted butter over the top. Move to a cooling rack and let rest before slicing.
  10. Pat yourself on the back, because you just made your very own French bread! Well done!



Easy Egg Muffins: Meal Prep

Recipes

Sunny California hasn’t been so sunny the last couple of days, at least in my part of California. Pouring rain and whipping winds are starting to make it feel like I’ll be stuck inside for the unforeseeable future. To make things even better (insert sarcasm here), this weather is supposed to continue through this week and into next weekend. Goodbye, Sun. See you never. But in all seriousness, the one great thing about all this gloom? All of the things I can accomplish at home. Today’s challenge: meal prep for the week and make more bread (because we’ve pretty much demolished almost the entire loaf from last night, oops). So I settle in, batten down the hatches and preheat the oven as I try and ignore the whistling wind sounds coming through my overhead vent. My first meal prep task of the day is breakfast.

I feel like breakfast has become a bit taboo as of late with the trend of intermediate fasting. Basically what that is is a fast that lasts 12-16 hours every day and a window for eating that is the length of the remaining hours (web search for more info). People have had great success with this method from what I’ve seen, of course still based on at least a semi-proper diet and some exercise. I tried out this fasting thing for about a month. I stopped eating at 7pm and didn’t eat again until at least 12pm every day, and while I did seem to notice slight results, I really, really missed the ability to have breakfast. I’m not necessarily a “breakfast is the best meal” kind of person but I enjoy the occasional morning meal every now and then. And having something small to eat during the week sometimes seems to perk up my brain and energy levels while at work (not sure if this is an actual thing, but hey). So I say, eat breakfast when you want, don’t when you don’t want, at least that’s what I do. And when I do eat breakfast, I like it to be something small, tasty and filling and preferably something that won’t break the bank (meaning no drive thru or coffee shop breakfasts). These egg muffins fit that bill perfectly.

Egg muffins are perfect for a weekly breakfast snack. They are easy and quick to make and only require a few ingredients or less if you prefer (seriously, you could make these with just eggs if you like your snacks plain). I like to keep the ingredients fairly simple for these but I imagine you could also probably go a little crazy if you wanted to. I make eight muffins at a time, for my husband and I – that’s two muffins per day for four days. Four fit perfectly in a square flat container and each of us gets one to take to work for the week. The final day of the week we usually sub in something like oatmeal or a breakfast shake (or donuts). I love how easy they are and think having a little mini frittata muffin for breakfast is pretty special. I mean, more special than a prepackaged instant oatmeal for instance. Just pop in the microwave for 30-45 seconds and enjoy!

Do you eat breakfast? What are your favorite breakfast meal prep recipes? And, what would you add to your own egg muffin?

Easy Egg Muffins

These are the filling ingredients I use for mine, but you can really put whatever you want in there!

12 red grape tomatoes, halved

1/4 cup green onion, sliced

8 large eggs

Muffin pan

  1. Grease 8 cups on a muffin pan, if needed (my pan is nonstick so I skip this part). Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Beat eggs in a large bowl until light and fluffy.
  3. Using a 1/4 cup, spoon eggs evenly into 8 prepared muffin cups.
  4. For each muffin cup add 3 halves of tomatoes and a finger pinch full of green onion (use more or less to suit your taste).
  5. Bake for 25 minutes or until cooked through (use the toothpick out clean trick).
  6. These will puff up quite a bit during baking, don’t worry! They will settle once you pull them out of the oven. Remove from oven and let rest.
  7. Once cool enough, remove from tin and place in desired container. Refrigerate.

Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup

Recipes

We are now 5 days into the New Year, and I gotta say, I’m pretty proud of myself so far (cue laughter – a whole 5 days – wooo!) But seriously, everything is going just swimmingly. Still no alcohol, smokes or sweets, which is making me feel incredibly good and energized at this point. My meal plan and shopping for next week is complete. I purchased the majority of my produce from local vendors at my city’s farmer’s market this morning (as well as some other goodies I will share with you), and I even made “chicken” noodle soup from scratch as well as a loaf of French bread to go with it. I am on a roll (or on a loaf?)!

The farmer’s market this morning was amazing despite the freezing cold temperatures and the wind – oh the wind. At one point one of the vendors tents started to flip over, the poor young girl underneath didn’t really know what to do as I grabbed the leg of the easy-up and pulled it back down to earth. Luckily, the vendor next to her was able to tie their tents together and provide some weights for the legs – it was an all out event. Anyway, I was up before the sun this morning, which NEVER happens. I am going to attribute this burst of morning energy to my lack of toxic intake the past 5 days. It was so nice to have coffee and get ready at my leisure while the sun rose. I went to the window every ten minutes or so to see how the sun’s progress was going along with my own. I met my mom at the farmer’s market and we were able to pick up several items including carrots, potatoes, broccoli, celery and even some olive oil and homemade lotion. Here’s a little picture of the things I got that weren’t produce related:

I haven’t tried the biscotti or the spices yet, but both look and smell divine. I cannot wait to enjoy the biscotti tomorrow with my morning coffee. The biscotti comes from a local baking company called The Upper Crust Baking Co. They’ve been around for about 30 years and source their ingredients locally which I think is pretty cool. You can even order some of their products online and have them shipped to you (seriously, if you try this let me know how it goes). The olive oil is from a company called Theofani’s and is possibly the most delicious olive oil I’ve ever tasted. It’s difficult to explain, but something about the flavor is so fresh – so fresh that I wanted to sip the olive oil straight from the sample cup (which I did – no shame). I’ve decided to dub this my “special olive oil” which will be used only for dipping breads and making dressings and not cooking – this stuff is too delicious to be mixed with other ingredients. The last two items come from one of the nicest booths my mom and I met during our visit. Herban Wild is a family run business that offers everything from all natural lotion bars to spice mixes to loose tea blends. The lotion bar is made with local beeswax and feels and smells absolutely amazing. They were also offering samples of their Wild Nettle Chai tea that I cannot wait to purchase (although, my mom did buy some so I guess I could steal some of hers until I get my own). The owners made the tea with sweetener and a little bit of almond milk – it was absolutely divine! It was also a nice touch on a gloomy day that really required you get something warm to drink. All in all, there weren’t as many vendors as there usually are on a good weather day, but I’m grateful to have found the ones that were willing to brave the weather like my mom and myself.

Now, back to the produce… The carrots, celery and potatoes were a part of my meal plan for the week. With the weather being as gloomy and as cold as it is I knew I wanted a soup mixed in for the week. And the only thing better than soup is bread – which I also made and will post about later on. My go-to soup is usually tomato bisque with a good old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich, but this week I really felt like switching it up (especially since fresh tomatoes aren’t in season). I made the quick and easy decision of tagging in some vegan “chicken” noodle soup. I put chicken in quotes because I do not eat chicken and instead used Beyond Meat’s grilled chicken strips, which are actually just some type of plant protein formed and marked to look like grilled chicken. It really is a great substitute and worked out perfectly for my purposes. This recipe was fairly easy to make as well – as usual I did some research into a couple different chicken noodle recipes (vegan and non-vegan) and sort of mixed them together to create the perfect version for me and what I had on hand in my kitchen. (However, big shout-out to http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com who gave me the idea for using the Beyond Meat chicken strips in soup. I have used them as a substitute in many other recipes such as salads, sandwiches and even enchiladas, but I hadn’t tried a soup yet. Check out their blog for loads of other great vegan recipes and meal planning info.) The result – a comforting and tasty soup that will not only provide loads of leftovers for the week of rain ahead but provide a warm nostalgic feel of winters past with mom’s or grandma’s homemade chicken noodle.

What’s your favorite soup recipe to make when the weather is gloomy? Do you buy your ingredients from a farmer’s market? And, are there any go-to products that you’ve found from local or small shops?

Vegan “Chicken” Noodle Soup

3 medium sized carrots, cut into rounds

2 larger sized red potatoes, cubed (you can peel these too if you like)

3 stalks of celery, cut into slices

3 tsp olive oil

1 1/2 tsp onion powder (equal to about 1/2 onion diced)

1 bayleaf

1 1/2 tsp garlic, minced (equal to about 3 cloves)

1 1/2 cups ditalini pasta (or whatever pasta you prefer)

1 bag of Beyond Meat chicken strips (make sure to get the unseasoned variety)

4 cups vegetable broth

3-4 cups of water (depending on the consistency you like your soup to be)

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Place olive oil, celery, bayleaf, onion powder and garlic in the bottom of a large soup pot and cook over medium heat until they just start to soften or about 5 minutes.
  2. Add in the rest of the ingredients (start slow with the water to build up your consistency, keep in mind the soup will cook down so you may have to add more water as you go) and stir to combine.
  3. Bring mixture to a boil, stir occasionally.
  4. Once the soup comes to a boil, place a lid on the pot and reduce heat to low and let simmer until the pasta and potatoes are cooked through. This should take about 15-20 minutes. Keep in mind, you can let the soup simmer longer to enhance the flavors, but the liquid will dissipate and the ingredients will become softer the longer you cook it.
  5. When finished, add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Serve with homemade bread or rolls for a real crowd pleaser.
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Easy Homemade Granola Nut Bars

Recipes

This week has been a lazy one filled with late mornings, take-out dinners and lots of free time. Not having to work has been a blessing and a curse when it comes to sticking to my New Year’s resolutions. It’s a blessing because I don’t feel the need to take smoke breaks or have a drink after a long work day, but a curse in that I find myself with a lot of free time and the desire to go out instead of staying home. In an effort to spend less money eating out, I finally went grocery shopping today. I sat down and planned out meals for the week that I can prep on Sunday and set a guideline for dinners and extras that will be needed in between. Meal prepping is part of my New Year’s Resolution #4: Become more self-sustainable when it comes to food (you can read a full post about that particular resolution here).

Shopping went fairly smooth with list in hand, and I actually decided to wait to buy my vegetables and herbs until tomorrow when I can hopefully find everything I need at my local farmer’s market (rain and farmers willing). Things only went slightly awry when I realized I had forgotten to include any sort of snacks or in between foods for my husband and I to take to work – things like granola bars, nuts, crackers, etc. Thankfully, I remembered (because I cleaned out my pantry recently) that I had a bag of raw almonds and a bag of raw peanuts at home. This lead me to the idea of making homemade granola nut bars. I’d never done it before, but how difficult could it really be? All you need is some of your favorite healthy ingredients, some oats, and something to make it all stick together. I hit the bulk section of my local grocery store and picked up some more items to throw into the mix. I love this section of the grocery store because it feels like you can get the exact amount of everything you need without all the extra packaging. You could even bring your own bags to cut down on waste. The prices can look a little daunting – the cashews were marked at $11.99 a pound – but considering you only need about 1/2 cup of each ingredient for this recipe doesn’t make the cost too bad. What I ended up with was a bag of raw cashews and a bag of dried cranberries (I got about 3/4 lb of each and still had enough leftover to make this recipe a couple more times). I knew I had a pretty exciting thing going so I headed home to start on my creation.

Many of the recipes I looked up online had way too much sugar for my taste, others used vanilla and that’s not really my thing either. I wanted these to be as natural and close to the flavor of the ingredients as possible. Eventually, I was able to come up with my own mixture, which I think worked out pretty well and was easy to do. My husband enjoys the dark chocolate drizzle over the top (which took me a thousand tries to get just right) and I love the tart snap of the cranberries mixed with the assortment of raw nuts. It should also be mentioned that this recipe could work with any multitude of ingredients. I would just be aware with chocolate or marshmallows (if you’re more into sugar) to add them when the mixture is closer to room temperature so your ingredients don’t melt all over the place. Let me know what I should try as my next combination and if you’re taking any steps to live life more frugally or sustainably when it comes to food!


Easy Granola Nut Bars

2 1/2 c. Oats, old-fashioned

1/2 c. Almonds, chopped

1/2 c. Cashews chopped

1/4 c. Pumpkin seeds, sprouted

1/4 c. Peanuts

1/4 c. Dried cranberries

1/4 c. Honey

1/4 c. Brown sugar

1/4 c. Butter, unsalted

1/4 tsp. Kosher salt

1/2 c. Dark chocolate bar, broken into pieces

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF and place oats, almonds and cashews on a baking sheet. Once oven is preheated, bake them for 9 minutes or until lightly toasted.
  2. Line a 9” square (or round if you don’t have square) baking pan with parchment or foil.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine honey, brown sugar and butter. Stir over medium-low heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.
  4. Add the oat/nut mixture, honey/sugar mixture and the rest of the remaining ingredients to a large bowl and stir until well combined.
  5. Once the ingredients are combined, press the mixture into the prepared 9” pan with a spatula making sure there are no large air bubbles in the mixture. This was the most challenging part for me – I thought I pressed enough, but will press twice as much next time to really make sure the ingredients are firmly stuck together.
  6. Place the pan with the mixture in the freezer to set – about 20 minutes or so depending on how thick your mixture is and how well you pressed.
  7. To make the drizzle, melt the dark chocolate in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring in between until melted. Be very careful not to overheat, if you have tiny pieces of chocolate left I suggest heating at 10 second intervals and stirring until completely melted.
  8. Remove 9” pan from freezer and cut granola/nut mixture into desired shapes/sizes.
  9. Drizzle melted chocolate over the top of your pieces and let rest until chocolate sets/hardens.
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Slow Cooker Hot Chocolate

Recipes

Christmas this year was extra special to my little family for a couple of reasons. First, it was basically our one year anniversary in our new house. The previous Christmas we had moved in only a couple days before and so we were only able to accomplish minimal decorations and a small Christmas breakfast. This year was the complete opposite. The house was filled with decorations (actually, still is), a giant tree and the smell of fresh bread and Christmas cookies. I even had time to make a dried orange garland – more on that in another post. Not only was our house filled with Christmas spirit, but our hearts were as well as we were able to host not only my family but my husbands family as well. Christmas Eve was dinner with my in-laws, their other children, their children’s children and a couple other in-laws of the in-laws (phew!) that tagged along. I cooked a big prime rib dinner per my husbands request and let the festivities begin. Since I knew children would be present, I wanted to make a special after-dinner drink for them (and the kids at heart).

Rosemary Bread

Recipes

Bread, bread, magical bread. Is there anything better than bread? It’s even better when you can make it at home and serve and eat it warm right from the oven. I had never been one for making bread before. Sure I had tried a couple easy roll recipes now and then, but I had never gotten into making actual loaves or rounds before (other than quick bread recipes like pumpkin or banana). But, this year for my birthday, I bought myself my first ever Kitchenaid – lucky me my birthday is always near Black Friday ;). And ever since having this beautiful piece of equipment, I’ve been baking up a storm. Cookies, cheesecakes, muffins, but best of all bread. I’ve been making about two loaves with every recipe I try so that I’m able to make one and give one away to my carb-loving friends. Their favorite recipe so far? This amazing rosemary bread. I’ve been told it’s identical to the bread from Macaroni Grill, but since I haven’t been there in several years I can’t say for sure. Either way, this bread is delicious, flavorful and perfect as a side or all on its own.