January 22, 2015

Dutch Oven Cheddar Cheese Bread

I am not great with being a team player, I never have been. Growing up I was naturally drawn to running, swimming, and dance. If I did well it was me doing it, not me relying on numerous other people to have success. Yes, they were team sports, but only in the larger sense, your team could lose and you could still medal. Awesome. My lack of ability to play well with others was readily apparent when I started work. At first I thought it was all in my head, until we had one of those horrible team building days. One of the activities was to find your personality type and break into groups based on them. I was the only one in my group. All the other groups had bunches of people. Not me, my personality type was just me. While many people would be upset by this finding, I was ecstatic. It wasn't all in my head, I really am not great working with others. So I blame my lack of cooperation on my personality, and I blame my personality on my mother who was the oldest of 12 kids. Being a natural born leader is in my blood, I learned quickly growing up to get out ahead of the pack before the chaos ensued. Sometimes being in front isn't so bad, even if it means you aren't part of the group.

Before I got married I had never made homemade bread. My mother never made it and I had no idea where to start. It took me many failed attempts until I learned that making bread has to start with a  great recipe. Over the last 10 years I have tried so many recipes that failed to live up to my expectations. The following recipe has worked every single time I have made it. I make it at least once a week to go with soups and it is delicious!

Dutch Oven Cheddar Cheese Bread

  • 3 1/2 cups bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 cups water (70-75 degrees)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 4 ounces diced or shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Cooking Directions
  1. Dissolve yeast in the warm water.
  2. In another large bowl mix the flour and salt.
  3. Add the yeast/water to the flour.
  4. Using a plastic spatula or wooden spoon mix dough until smooth (do not knead).
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
  6. Uncover and punch down dough.
  7. On a lightly floured surface pat the dough into a 9 inch square.
  8. Fold the dough into thirds creating a 9 by 3 inch triangle.
  9. Fold the rectangle in thirds to form a 9 inch square.
  10. Turn the dough over (so the seam is on the bottom) and place into a greased bowl.
  11. Cover and let rise at room temperature for 1 hour.
  12. Punch dough down and repeat folding process above.
  13. Return dough to greased bowl, cover, and place in fridge overnight.
  14. Oil the bottom of a dutch oven and dust with 1 tablespoon cornmeal.
  15. Sprinkle cheddar cheese over dough and knead until incorporated (8-10 times).
  16. Shape the dough into a 6 inch round loaf and place into the greased dutch oven.
  17. Cover and allow to rise at room temperature for 1 1/4 hours.
  18. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.
  19. Make a 1/4 inch slash across the top of the loaf.
  20. Place lid on dutch oven and bake for 25 minutes.
  21. Turn oven down to 450 degrees F, remove lid, and bake for an additional 20-25 minutes.
  22. Let completely cool before slicing.
  • This bread can also be made with dried cranberries. Omit the cheddar cheese and in step 15 add 1 cup dried cranberries and 4 teaspoons grated orange peel. The cranberry bread is great for turkey or ham sandwiches, my family loves it! 
  • The cheese bread makes delicious grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheese in the bread makes for a cheesy and gooey sandwich! 
  • This recipe can look a little intimidating with all the steps, but trust me it's actually pretty easy. Most of the time involved is when the dough is resting, the actual hands on work is minimal. 
  • This is a good base recipe to experiment with different mix ins. Just add whatever combination you desire in step 15 or leave out the cheddar cheese completely for a great plain rustic bread. 

January 19, 2015

Elvis Snack Mix

I used to love weekends. After having kids I look forward to weekdays and when my kids go back to school. I thought I was the only one until I decided to ask my husband, thinking maybe staying at home made my opinion slanted. Nope, my husband is the same way. While work maybe stressful and busy, it doesn't have two boys yelling in my husband's ear all day. It also doesn't have 1,000 errands to do like every weekend seems to, or the family obligations that always crop up. When my husband and I were first married weekends were a time to relax and sleep in. I haven't slept in on the weekend since I was 27, my weekend morning normally start at 5:30 am when my youngest wakes up and demands breakfast. Then my day involves errands, laundry and cleaning up after 3 males. By the time Monday roles around I'm exhausted and spend most of the day cleaning up the messes that didn't get finished the last two days. I love my kids dearly, but I also enjoy when they wave goodbye from the bus Monday morning.

I tend to make snacks in batches. For a few weeks I make various muffin recipes, then breads, cookies, etc then switch to a new batch of snacks. Last week was Chex Mix week. I made a number of recipe variations and then stored them in the cupboard in air tight containers. It's nice since they stay fresh for a decent amount of time. The following is a recipe for Elvis Snack Mix.

Recipe adapted from Redbook Magazine.

Elvis Snack Mix

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 4 cups Rice Chex
  • 2 cups banana chips
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Over medium heat melt the butter, peanut butter, sugar, and salt.
  4. Toss with cereal.
  5. Spread cereal mixture evenly on the baking sheet.
  6. Let bake 10 minutes, stirring once.
  7. Toss with the banana chips, peanut, and dark chocolate chips.
  8. Let cool and then break into pieces.
  • The dark chocolate chips can be replaced with semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips depending on your preference. 1/4 cup dark chocolate chips and a 1/4 cup peanut butter chips would also be yummy. 
  • The Rice Chex can be replaced with Corn Chex (or other corn or rice cereals such as Crispix). 
  • My husband prefers this mix with 2 cups of peanuts and 1 cup of banana chips. He has never been a banana chip fan, so experiment until you find a combination that works for your family (everyone is different!). 

January 17, 2015

White Chocolate Pistachio Snack Mix

Both of my kids are in school this year. That should be a good thing, it turns out it has brought about a lot of drama. My oldest was officially diagnosed with ADHD this summer (after 6 months of testing, doctors etc.) which has brought about a lot of changes. Just when my oldest got everything under control (he has straight A's in school this year), my younger son started having severe separation anxiety. I'm not talking about a little crying at the bus. Last week he had a full meltdown and wouldn't even get on the bus, leading me to carrying him almost a mile to school. Who needs cross-fit when you can carry a 45 pound child a mile everyday. He has his good days and bad days. Some mornings he wakes up and is ready to go, other days start with an hour of crying and me crossing my fingers he will actually get on the bus. I love both of my kids, but I never knew how hard it can be to deal with emotional/health issues. Luckily the more I deal with my kids issues the better parent I am becoming. I just wish that kids came with a manual, it would make everything so much easier.

In addition to the separation anxiety issues my youngest is skinny. So skinny that if he loses anymore weight it will become a problem (he has always been below the 5th percentile for weight, but he hasn't gained much weight in the last year). My oldest also stays thin and eats all the time, so I keep a constant supply of snacks in my house. Snack mix is always popular and can be made in big batches, which is always nice. The following is a recipe for White Chocolate Pistachio Snack Mix.

Recipe adapted from Redbook Magazine.

White Chocolate Pistachio Chex Mix

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 cups rice Chex cereal
  • 1 1/2 cups shelled pistachios
  • 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
Cooking Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Melt butter, sugar, vanilla and kosher salt (to taste) over medium heat.
  4. Pour mixture over rice cereal.
  5. Toss to make sure cereal is evenly coated.
  6. Place mixture on the baking sheet in an even layer.
  7. Bake until golden brown, approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Toss cereal mixture with pistachios, dried cranberries and white chocolate chips.
  9. Let cool and they break apart.
  • This cereal mix can also be made with corn chex if you prefer. 
  • The original recipe kept the chocolate chips whole at the end. My family loves it when the chocolate chips melt into the cereal and nuts. Either way works, so experiment to see which version you prefer. 
  • I use salted pistachios, but if you prefer to reduce the sodium use unsalted nuts. 

January 7, 2015

Roasted Beets and Garlic Sautéed Beet Greens

I hate adults this time of  the year. It's the beginning of the "when I grew up" stories. You know what I mean, the stories that start with a phrase about school never closing when they grew up and they walked 12 miles in the snow. Good for you, do you want a cookie for your efforts? I too grew up in a school district that never closed. Until I was in grade school and we had a severe storm on the middle of the day. The school district decided to wait it out, it was just a little bit of snow. Finally at 1 pm in the afternoon they let released the school district. Bad idea. I was one of the kids that actually made it on a bus (a lot of my friends ended up staying at various schools with little food and blankets to go around). The bus took until 9pm to get to my house. Well mostly to my house. I was let out three blocks away, across a very busy intersection. I walked across that busy street, while watching accident after accident happen in front of me, but I did make it home. 8 hours after we left school. My poor father had to leave our car on the side of the road and walk part of the way home. He got home at almost midnight. I never talk about my experience as a reason that my kids are soft and need to suck it up and go to school. I do talk about my experience as a reason that sometimes it's better to be in school until June instead of being stuck alone crossing a busy street in a snowstorm. People that like to tell about how kids are soft, keep it to yourself. Honestly, I for one don't care, let the schools close.

Now that my rant is done (trust me it really is one of my big pet peeves), on to the recipe! I love roasting vegetables. We eat a ton of roasted veggies in my house, especially in the fall and winter. The following is an easy way to prepare beets (I promise beets are really delicious when prepared correctly).

Roasted Beets

  • 1 pound beets, scrubbed
Cooking Directions
  1. Wrap beets in foil packets (2-3 beets per packet).
  2. Place on a baking sheet and cook at 425 degrees for 50-60 minutes.
  3. After beets have cooled rub off skins (they should come off easily, if they don't use a small knife).
The beet greens can also be used and they are a great source of vitamins (and delicious). Just heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet, add one or two sliced garlic cloves. Let cook over medium heat until garlic browns. Remove garlic and add greens. Cook until the greens are wilted, approximately 3-4 minutes. That's it, so easy! 

  • Roasted beets are great by themselves or with a small amount of salt and sour cream. 
  • They also make great salad additions. I love adding roasted beets and sunflower seeds to salads, yum! 
  • Finally, you can add them to smoothies. It sounds a little strange, but they are a great source of vitamins and don't add a root taste to smoothies, the taste is barely noticeable amongst the other smoothie ingredients. They are great with strawberries, I make beet/strawberry smoothies about once a week to help with my potassium levels. 

January 2, 2015

Almond Meal Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

It seems food guilt is everywhere these days. Every month there is a new article meant to scare people about the dangers of various foods. You thought soy was good for you, wrong, same goes for eggs, butter, and almond flour. Then 6 months later the opposite. Oh wait, eggs aren't as bad as we thought, maybe agave syrup isn't as great as we stated 6 months earlier. Honestly, we all need to calm down a little. It seems that a constant state of panic is what many people thrive on today. Food companies and various interest groups have picked up on this panic and made millions of claims. We all want to live longer, but if you are constantly worrying about the foods that you eat your stress level will be higher, which is not a good thing. For me personally, I eat a small amount of everything. Over the years I have been a vegetarian, a vegan, and an anorexic. I gave into the hype in my 20's and my relationship with food was horrible. I spent so much time obsessing about what I should or should not eat that I didn't each much of anything. Currently I have a great relationship with food. I am thin, in great shape, and my cholesterol levels are as low as non-meat eaters. Most of all I don't limit any foods, I just don't overdo any of them either. I do have one piece of cake, not three, but the one piece of cake that I do have I enjoy every moment that I'm eating it. Food should be enjoyed, not obsessed over. None of us remembers the food we didn't eat, but almost all of us remember at least one great food memory.

Almond flour has had a bit of a controversy in the last 10 years. Some people love it, others have a list of reasons why it should be avoided. I'm not going to list either side here. I use it occasionally. If I buy a bag for a recipe I experiment with the remainder of the bag in baked goods. The texture is different than other gluten free flours and it can be a bit expensive, but you can make your own almond meal (flour) in a food processor and most recipes take less than a cup. My advice with anything gluten free is to try all the options and then pick the one that works best for you. None of us are the same and neither should our food choices. With that said, the following is a recipe for Almond Flour Banana Bread/Muffins.

Recipe adapted from Jan's Sushi Bar.

Almond Flour Banana Bread

  • 3 cups almond flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 bananas, mashed
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking Directions
  1. Combine the almond flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl combine the eggs, butter, sugar, and vanilla.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with wet ingredients.
  4. Beat until combined.
  5. Pour into a 9 X 5 inch greased loaf pan.
  6. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 50-60 minutes.
  7. Tent the top of the loaf during the last 15 minutes of baking if needed.
  • You can add chocolate chips or walnuts if desired. 
  • This recipe can also be made as muffins (as seen in my pictures above). Just make sure to decrease the baking time to 15-20 minutes of total time. Also muffin liners are best since the almond flour tends to stick a little without a liner. 
  • If you don't eat butter, coconut oil can be used as a replacement. The same goes for the granulated sugar, date or coconut sugar would also work. 
  • As with all bread recipes check the loaf after it has cooked for approximately 40 minutes. Tent the top with foil if it starts to over brown and check the middle of the loaf for doneness before taking out of the oven. The total cooking time can vary greatly based on a number of factors so don't be alarmed if your bread takes longer than the total stated time. 
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