Sunday, June 8, 2014

Building a Bread-baking Frenzy

It's been awhile, I know ...

This past fall, I completed my student teaching. Life was a little crazy.

When February began, I began my first full-time teaching job. I took over for a teacher who retired, mid-year ... three weeks or so before mid-term. Life was a little crazier.

Blogging is one of the elements of life that fell by the wayside. So was baking ...


School just ended. While I'm still hunting for the right teaching job, I'm finally having a bit of down time to fill with long-neglected loves. Getting out for a walk or a run on a regular basis, hang out time with my kids, getting my home in order, and, of course, a bit of cooking and baking ... It's a beautiful thing.

Yesterday, I decided it had been a while since I'd made tortillas, so ...

Admittedly, the dough isn't fancy.

Though it does the job ...

And who can argue with a tortilla that pretty? Even if I'm not obsessive enough to make them perfectly round ...
Today, it was bread. (What can I say? I run so I can embrace my true love -- carbs, carbs, and more carbs.)

To give you an idea of just how much dough this actually is, the bowl it is in doesn't actually fit in my sink. This is eight loaves worth of dough.
This is one of my favorite bread recipes. It works equally well whether you use all white flour -- all-purpose or bread, all wheat flour, or a mix that involves both. It's nearly fail-proof and has a fantastic texture. Grandma VanDoren's White Bread from is a great recipe for those who think bread-making is too hard.

This time I doubled the batch. It was enough to make this:

You  can't tell, but that fourth pan in the right corner is full of pull-apart rolls.

And this:

Four full-sized loaves of dough, ready to thaw and bake ...

The only problem I see now is leaving the loaves alone instead of eating until I'm bloated and incapable of thinking due to the carb-induced, food coma.

Obviously, I'm on the losing end of this battle. (Don't get me started on how the bread enlisted the homemade, strawberry freezer jam. So unfair!)

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Black Bean Soup in a Slow Cooker

I have a bad habit. I don't generally cook with a recipe. If I do, I generally tweak things as I go along ... a lot. There are several advantages to this. I can make a tasty meal out of almost nothing. I can switch things up to suit my family's tastes and moods. We eat with a lot of variety. So, why is it a bad habit, you ask? Well ...

It sort of makes it hard to pass a recipe along. It also means that even when we have recipe repeats, they're not usually an exact repeat. Last night's dinner was that kind of thing ...

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
I used a 7 qt. crock pot. Lots of soup, but it freezes and reheats well ...

Bacon Grease or Olive Oil or Butter to saute the veggies
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped fine
5-6 mini sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
Dried, minced onion
Jarred, minced garlic
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon chili lime Cholula sauce
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can Diced Tomatoes, drained (I used the western family brand that has the Chipotle whatever ... )
1 can Rotel Diced Tomatoes, drained
32 oz. dried black beans, rinsed and sorted
Chicken broth (I used probably 10 c. of homemade chicken broth and added water until the crock pot was as full as I wanted.)
Red wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Dried parsley
Dried oregano
Worcestershire sauce
Tortilla chips
Sour cream
Shredded cheese

Heat your oil or grease in a saute pan. Toss in the carrots, celery, peppers, dried onion, and minced garlic. Saute for a few minutes until they're aromatic and changing colors. (Since they'll be in the slow cooker all day, don't worry about cooking them until they're soft.) Toss them in your crock pot.

Add the diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, Cholula, cayenne, and black pepper. Add your dried beans (no, they don't need an overnight soak) and your broth. Stir to combine. Add enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two. 

Cook it on high for a few hours. (If your beans are still hard, keep it on high at this point. If they are getting quite tender, switch your crock to low.) Let it cook all day.

Taste your soup. Mine needed something more at this point, so I tossed in dried parsley (about a tablespoon, I think) and dried oregano (about a teaspoon.) I also added about a teaspoon of kosher salt, a couple of decent splashes of worcestershire sauce, and some red wine vinegar. (I eyeballed all of these, including the vinegar, so I don't have an exact amount. It was a big crockpot, so I used somewhere between 1/8-1/4 cup of vinegar. Splash some in, give it a good stir, and sample it. You can tell by smell and taste when you hit the right amount.)

After you finish tweaking the taste of things, let it cook for another half hour to an hour so the flavors get to blend. If you want it thicker, puree about half your soup or let it cook down with the lid off. I pureed half and left it a bit runnier because we were adding sour cream, etc. when we served it.

To serve:
Crumble tortilla chips in a bowl. Top with soup. Add some cheese, sour cream, and avocado. Stir it up and enjoy!

Monday, August 5, 2013

And That is Why I Run ... Musings on Chocolate Gravy

Some mornings ...

You just have to have chocolate gravy and biscuits.

Some of you know just what I'm talking about. However, I know there are some of you thinking, "Ew! Ew! Ew!" or rolling your eyes. Stop it! I know it sounds a little bizarre, but you should try it. I think you'll like it.

Start with your favorite biscuit recipe. This one is mine: South Georgia Biscuits (
I usually use skim milk. It turns out fine every time. But, next time I think I'll try buttermilk ... just 'cause I've discovered that I like cooking with real buttermilk ... a lot.

While your biscuits are baking, mix up a batch of chocolate gravy.


Keep stirring ...

Move that glorious goodness away from the heat and toss in some butter and vanilla ...

Give it a quick stir or two ...

Nothing left to do but top your biscuits with that yummy, pudding-like gravy. If you want, you can plate it prettily ...

Ha, ha! Look an accidental smiley face. Oops!

But, c'mon people! It's chocolate gravy. Live a little!

That's what I'm talking about. I'm not certain where I got the chocolate gravy recipe. I've been using this one for years. I think I looked at several and tweaked the ingredients to match our family's tastes.

The recipe, you say?

Chocolate Gravy

3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 C. white sugar
Dash of salt
2 1/2 C. skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. butter

In a large skillet, whisk your flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt. Add your milk while the heat is off. Whisk everything together until it's well blended. Turn the stove to medium heat. Keep stirring until the gravy is as thick as you like it. Pull your skillet off the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Serve warm over fresh biscuits.

Notes: I usually put the stove setting just over the middle mark. On my stove it's between the 5 and 6. That way it's hot enough to get a bit bubbly a bit more quickly.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Roasted Laffy Taffy (and More)

Every good campfire could use a few good accessories. Meet a couple of my favorites ... Before this camping trip, I knew you could roast marshmallows. I figured that if you could do that, then Laffy Taffies were a sure bet.

They're certainly easier to keep on the toasting forks.

Just like marshmallows, candy likes coals ...

The kids were pretty excited about the Starbursts too.

And that's how you tell they're done. Yum! The outside gets almost crunchy, and the inside is soft and melty. So good!

Of course, marshmallows are grand too. Vanilla flavored star marshmallows, fruit flavored mid-size marshmallows, and big, square s'more-sized marshmallows ... We're equal opportunity marshmallow roasters.

Note to self:
The smallish marshmallows are my new favorite. You get a perfect proportion of golden brown crispy, toasty outside to inner gooey guts. Delish!

Of course, no camp out is complete without a S'more or two ... This one has a hidden surprise --

a couple of roasted Laffy Taffies.

Next time, we'll make the roasted pears we planned on. (Before I forgot to bring the cinnamon sugar ... 'Cause I'm good like that. Mind like a sieve. It's a problem ... ) But, for a first camping trip, it turned out to be a delicious experience in nearly every way!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Channeling My Inner Pioneer (Chef)

This week, I took the kids camping. It's our first vacation ... ever. So, I wanted it to be fun .. and memorable ... and memorable for good things, not for all the things that could have gone wrong.  Luckily, that's kind of how things played out. This post is a bit picture heavy, but it's a form of journaling for me.

As you may have noticed, food is kind of a big deal in our world. It's important to me that we eat well, regardless of the situation. This was kind of the guideline in my head as I planned our camp food.

Dinner the first night was pretty simple ... After all, everybody loves playing with fire just a bit, right?

Bratwurst or hotdogs were the menu option. The girls learned how to use toasting forks to toast their buns. The kids loved being able to roast their own food. M and I had sauerkraut on our dogs. L thinks it's poisonous and abstained ...

Because I caved to pressure and mixed up the homemade potato salad at home instead of at camp, that part of dinner was already taken care of ...

True, it's not plated beautifully, but it sure tasted good!

By the next day, I was ready to try actual cooking using a real fire. I'd brought my cast iron skillet and griddle along for the party.

Yup, those are the same pans I use on a regular basis in my kitchen at home. I was a little concerned about temperature control since I've never cooked for real over an open fire or its coals. Somehow, though, it worked out perfectly. I managed to have just enough coals in just the right spots to cook the bacon, the turkey sausage, and the hash browns perfectly.

The kids toasted their own bagels, topped them with cream cheese, and added all that stuff to a plate of fresh cherries and grapes.

This one's mine. The kids don't get all the fun ...

Both girls were so full that they sat happily in their camp chairs until things shifted enough to roast a couple of marshmallows ... in the middle of the morning ... with my blessing. 'Cause everybody needs a little junk food to chase the bacon. I'm just sayin' ...

When dinner time rolled around, I was feeling pretty confident in my abilities. (Don't worry! I know the saying about pride and what it goes before ... Luckily, this time it didn't.) So, we got a bit fancier.

Corn on the cob (I pulled the husks back, removed the silk, rinsed them with cool water, sprinkled them with a bit of salt and pepper, dotted with butter, pulled the husks back up, and wrapped them in about three layers of regular tinfoil.) was matched with asparagus and sweet potatoes. Five packets later -- one for each ear of corn, one for the sliced sweet potatoes (also dotted with a bit of butter and sprinkled with about a tablespoon of water so they wouldn't dry out or burn) and two for the asparagus (see sweet potato prep.)

After I tucked the packets in the coals, I popped the grate down and warmed up my cast iron skillet again. (I'd cleaned it that morning and seasoned it with some of the bacon grease from breakfast.) It's hard to tell in that picture, but those are lovely pieces of chicken cooking to golden perfection.

See what I mean? And, just because they were so pretty, I can't resist sharing another pic ...

Um-hmm ... That's what I'm talking about. Forty-five minutes or so after I tossed my foil packets in the coals, they were ready to come out.

The 9 yr old wanted to play Vanna White
 Pretty as the packets were all wrapped up, what was inside was even prettier.

Perfectly roasted corn on the cob

Sumptuous sweet potatoes

and Campfire Asparagus. (M said, "Mmm! Campfire asparagus. It's SO yummy I could die!")

Again ... Because I couldn't resist one more shot.

Dinner was a smashing success.

It's not plated all that prettily, but it was so tasty that the aesthetic aspect of things wasn't missed much.

As always, I really enjoyed my time in "the kitchen" even if that kitchen was a lot different than the ones I usually work in. It was nice to channel a bit of my inner pioneer. I learned that, at least now, if that were my only means of feeding my family, we wouldn't starve. We'd probably eat alright. I learned that I can try new things and, if I've built some basic skills along the way, I can easily adapt to new situations. Impressing my children with my new found abilities? That was a total bonus.

All told, I can't wait to try it again sometime.

P.S. I know that pioneers didn't use tin foil. I count myself fortunate ...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

One of my favorite things about summer?


Simple, delicious, and filling ... We love it sauteed until it's still crisp-tender. This time I tossed in some fresh tomatoes, canned mushrooms (it's all I had) that I sauteed first in a bit of butter, onions, and garlic. Finished it off with a bit of homegrown tarragon and basil, a little cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Tossed a bit of real Parmesan cheese on top ...

It's not fancy, but it's about as easy as dinner comes. We paired our summer dish with some quinoa (a complete protein AND a grain) for a complete meal.

Best part?

It took about 15 minutes to prepare, and both kids liked it enough to head back for seconds.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Strawberry Season

A good deal, eight lbs. of yummy strawberries, and a very happy freezer ...

 Washed, sliced, and stirred with sugar ...

Bagged and tagged.

A bit of heaven in my freezer! 

Company for last month's freezer jam.