Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread

My dear friend Virginia and I have started cooking together recently. Whether the meal is simple or complex, I treasure the experience, the knowledge, and the stories that are shared. Cooking is never as simple as it seems. Taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a meal is a powerful thing. Preparing food for someone is one of the first and most primal acts of caring for others. It is a deeply meaningful and nurturing act that is as powerful today as it was eons ago. Cooking with someone creates a meaningful experience that is more than just the food involved. It is a transfer of knowledge and skills passed down through the ages and refined through a lifetime.

At its heart, cooking is about taking a few simple ingredients and creating a meal. This is true magic, taking seemingly nothing and transforming it into that which sustains life. This week my friend Virginia and I made bread. While I have tried a few bread variations before, the technique and feel of this experience was more valuable than a thousand cookbooks. Virginia talked about the look and feel of the ingredients. While I will try and give measurements here, this is an experience that must be done with your hands, as what you are creating is so much more than just numbers and ingredients.

More than just Bread

Talking with Virginia, it’s easy to see how a recipe is more than just the food it creates. This technique for bread making came from her mother-in-law and was passed on to her as she joined this new family. In turn, it is something that she always made for her own family as she raised her children and grandchildren. Homemade bread was a staple at holiday dinners and the recipe made so much that everyone got to take home a loaf. Something as simple as a loaf of bread can hold such deep meaning and emotion when it is tied to family and time spent together. When you bake this bread, it is more than just bread you create. It is lasting memories and connections, carried down from generations ago to the generations yet to come.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
Food is more than just ingredients.

Simple Yet Powerful

Start with about half of a stick of butter (¼ cup). Let the butter sit for awhile until it is room temperature. You want it to smoothly and evenly mix in with the other ingredients. Before you begin mixing ingredients you’ll want to activate or ‘proof’ the yeast.

Virginia tells me, “The most important thing to remember when baking bread is that yeast is alive. You have to nurture it in order for it to grow. Too hot or too cold can kill the yeast.”

To activate the yeast, Virginia pours one packet (or 2 ¼ teaspoons) of dry active yeast into a coffee mug. Sprinkle just a pinch of sugar over the yeast to feed it. Then, fill the coffee mug halfway with very warm water from the faucet and give it a quick stir. The water must be warm enough to activate the yeast, but not too hot, or the yeast may die. The feel of the water will tell you.

Virginia: “You must be able to touch the water, it can’t be scalding.”

Try and keep the mug warm as well. If the mug is too cold simply hold it in your hands a minute, creating a warm and nurturing environment for your yeast to grow. The yeast is ready when it ‘bubbles’ to the top of the mug.

Don’t Rush

Virginia reminds me, “Don’t rush it. Give it time to grow.”

When making this bread, don’t be overly concerned with timing or measurements. Feel it out and enjoy the process. While your yeast is activating, heat a medium pot of water on the stove. Don’t let it boil. Like before, this water shouldn’t be too hot to touch. Just pleasantly warm for the yeast to thrive. Once your yeast is activated and the water warmed, it’s time to start mixing your ingredients. Your butter should be room temperature by now. In a large stock pot, pour over the butter, most of a 5 lb. bag of Ceresota Flour. This flour is natural and unbleached, so it makes a delicious and nutrient filled homemade bread. I would estimate about 4 ½ lbs. at first, saving the remaining ½ lb. for dusting the table to knead.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
You have never kneaded dough until you’ve tackled this monster!

Kneading the Dough

This is such a big recipe that it must be mixed in a stockpot, as I have yet to find a mixing bowl large enough! Sprinkle some sugar over the top to feed the yeast. About a tablespoon should do it. Also, add just a pinch of salt. When Virginia and I made this, I measured by cupping my hand and filling just the very center of my palm. This ends up being about a teaspoon. Then, pour in your yeast and add just enough of the warm water to form a dough. When the dough is combined, dump it out onto a floured table or counter top to knead. Let me tell you, you have never kneaded bread until you’ve tackled this 5 lb. monster.

Virginia was much better at kneading than me. Even after flouring my hands, I still ended up with dough sticking to me all over. The trick to kneading it is to lift a corner of dough up and over, onto itself, then press down and out, mixing the dough firmly into the center. Turn the dough one quarter turn each time so that your are always working with a new corner. As the dough is kneaded it will become stronger and more firm. This helps the dough to hold it’s shape as it rises. When the dough feels firm enough (after about 5 minutes of kneading) add a little oil to your stock pot and rub it along the bottom and sides to grease. Place your dough back into the stockpot and set it in a warm place to rise. Cover the dough with a clean towel and wrap it with another. This provides a warm, nurturing environment for your dough. Once the dough is all tucked in to rise, your can prepare your baking pans. This recipe makes about 5 loaves of bread, but you can use a pie pan for circular loves as well.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
All tucked in!

Shaping the Loaves

Virginia: “I usually make bread for the holidays, then everyone can take home one of the extra loaves.”

Oil your pans well to prevent sticking, making sure to rub oil into the corners. Your dough is done rising once it has doubled in size (about an hour).

When ready, dump your risen dough onto a lightly floured table or counter top. Knead just a few times to push all of the air bubbles out. Then cut the dough into 5 even sections. For loaf pans, pull the two short ends over the top, just a little. Then pull up the long end closest to you. Use that end to roll the loaf up into a log. Place the shaped dough into a loaf pan and cut slits across the top. This allows the dough to stretch as it rises and vent as it bakes, as well as looking nice. Let the dough rise another half hour to forty five minutes. Don’t rush this part, or your bread will be rather dense, instead of light and fluffy. Once the dough has doubled in size, it is ready to bake. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Your bread should be golden brown on top and make a hollow sound when tapped.

Cooking with Virginia -Homemade Bread
Nothing is better than fresh homemade bread!

Look, Feel, and Sound

Virginia explains, “If the bread doesn’t sound hollow, there is too much moisture in there and it needs to bake longer”

Once your loaves are golden brown and sound hollow, turn them out onto a wire rack for cooking. Be sure to cover the loaves with a clean towel while they cool, to keep moisture in. Homemade bread is best eaten fresh, but to save a loaf for later, wait until it has cooled completely, then wrap it tightly in plastic and cover with aluminum foil to freeze. Loaves that have become a bit dry after a few days, taste excellent when sliced and lightly toasted!

Virginia:  “You know that you’ve done a good job if the bubbles within a slice of bread are evenly spaced. That means it was kneaded well!”

Making bread with Virginia has been a great experience and I can’t wait to practice this simple yet delicious bread recipe at home.

Marinated Veggie by TheLookingGlassCraft.com

Marinated Veggies

I’m absolutely in love with this new recipe that was shared with me for marinated veggies! These veggies are perfect for any occasion. Feel free to alter the veggies used, adding in your favorites. The flavors will blend well together for a variety of veggie combinations. Marinated veggies can be served warm or cold, as a side dish or overtop lettuce to turn your salad into a meal. This recipe is perfect for summer parties!

Your Favorite Veggies

What a great way to get in your daily dose of veggies! Mix up a big batch of marinated veggies and you’ll have no problem eating your greens this week. I love to throw in a variety of bell peppers for an extra splash of color, making this dish fun and bright. Slice and chop all of your veggies into bite sized pieces. For more color add in extra bell peppers, or substitute a yellow squash for a zucchini. Pour all of the chopped veggies into a large ziplock bag.

Delicious Dressing

In a small blender or food processor, pour in ½ cup Vegetable Oil and ½ cup Olive Oil. Add in ½ cup White Wine Vinegar and ½ cup Sugar. This is the base for your marinade and will make a sweet vinaigrette type dressing. Then mince 3 cloves of fresh Garlic to season your marinade. I love garlic and tend to add in a little extra if I’m making this for the family. Finally, finish the seasonings with 1 tablespoon Salt, 1 tablespoon Mustard, and 2 tablespoons Tarragon. I like to use stone ground mustard whenever possible, it adds the perfect balance of flavor, but you can use any kind you prefer. Blend these ingredients until well combined.

Perfect for Summer Parties

Pour the marinade over the veggies. Seal the bag tightly and refrigerate overnight. Since this marinade is essentially a salad dressing, you can eat the veggies right away. The flavors, however, will combine and develop after marinating overnight. I’ll occasionally make an extra batch of the dressing to use on salads throughout the week, since it’s delicious on it’s own as well. These veggies are wonderful for summer parties. You can make them up the night before and let them marinate until you’re ready to leave. Perfect for cookouts and potlucks! Have fun mixing up your favorite veggies this summer and enjoy!

Marinated Veggies

2 Bell Peppers

1 lb. Carrots

1 lb. Mushrooms

1 bunch Broccoli

1 bunch Cauliflower

2 Zucchini

5 Stalks Celery

½ cup Vegetable Oil

½ cup Olive Oil

½ cup White Wine Vinegar

½ cup Sugar

3 cloves garlic

1 T. Salt

1 T. Mustard

2 T. Tarragon

 

Slice and chop all veggies to bite sized pieces and combine in a large ziplock bag. In a small blender or food processor combine both Oils, Vinegar, and Sugar. Add in Garlic, Salt, Mustard, and Tarragon for seasoning. Blend until fully combined. Pour the marinade over the veggies and let sit overnight, sealed, in the refrigerator. Enjoy your veggies!

Marinated Veggies by TheLookingGlassCraft.com
This delicious dressing will have you coming back for more!
Spicy Cajun Pasta

Spicy Cajun Pasta

Opposites attract, in the best of ways, with this creamy, spicy dish. This rich and smooth Fettuccini Alfredo kicks it up a notch with colorful peppers and spicy seasonings! Our Spicy Cajun Pasta is a step away from the ordinary with a unique, colorful dinner that’s quick and easy to prepare. This spicy variation of an Alfredo sauce came together one night when my husband brought home a Siracha seasoning mix for me to experiment with. That night a new family favorite meal was born. The calm Alfredo sauce balances out the intense spices in this dish and the colorful peppers make it as pretty as it is delicious.

Classic Dinner with a Spicy Twist

Using fresh ingredients and a homemade Alfredo Sauce makes this a meal bursting with flavor! Peppers can be sliced and stored ahead of time, making this dinner a breeze to throw together.

Prepare your Homemade Alfredo Sauce in a small stove pot , or heat a pre-made Alfredo over low heat. Add ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. This can be adjusted for taste. Next mix in ¼ teaspoon Garlic Powder and ¼ teaspoon Onion Powder. This will give the sauce a rich, hearty taste, without a lot of extra effort. It lays a great foundation for the additional spices. Now comes the hot stuff. Add 1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning. I love this seasoning as it adds just the right amount of spicy flavor, without being too hot or overpowering. Stir in ½ teaspoon Siracha Powder to really kick up the spices a notch. Siracha powder is an intense spice, so don’t overdo this one! ¼ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes adds some extra bits of color as well as enhancing the flavor and adding an extra bite of spice. Finally, stir in 1 teaspoon of your favorite Hot Sauce. I usually use Franks or Louisiana hot sauce. Combine all of these seasonings together with the Alfredo sauce to create the perfect balance between smooth and spicy. Continue letting the Alfredo thicken or heat until it is the right temperature and consistency for you.

While the sauce is heating, slice 1 Bell Pepper of each color (red, green, yellow, and orange). Sauté the peppers in a large skillet with 1 or 2 tablespoons Butter. When the peppers are soft throughout and no longer crisp on the inside, remove from the heat. Pour the finished sauce and peppers over cooked noodles and toss to combine. Serve immediately for the best taste. Enjoy!

Spicy Cajun Pasta

Alfredo Sauce

½ teaspoon Salt

½ teaspoon Pepper

¼ teaspoon Garlic Powder

¼ teaspoon Onion Powder

1 teaspoon Cajun Seasoning

½ teaspoon Siracha Powder

¼ teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

1 teaspoon Hot Sauce

1 Green Pepper

1 Red Pepper

1 Yellow Pepper

1 Orange Pepper

Cooked Noodles

Heat or prepare Alfredo Sauce in a small stove pot. Mix in all seasonings for a spicy kick. Slice 4 different colored peppers (Green, Red, Yellow, and Orange) and sauté in a large skillet. Pour the Spicy Alfredo Sauce and Sautéed Peppers over cooked noodles. Toss to combine and enjoy!

Raspberry Sauce

Raspberry Sauce

I love springtime. Bright flowers, warm weather, and fresh berries are just some of the wonderful things this season brings. Fresh berries are wonderful. They are sweet and tangy, make a delicious snack, and flavor almost any dessert wonderfully. Not to mention they are packed with vitamins and antioxidants, which make them wonderful for you as well. Unfortunately, berries can be expensive, especially if they are not in season. So I like to make the best use of my berries when they are in season and try to extend the time I have with these little fruits throughout the year. So with that in mind I’d like to share my recipe for homemade Raspberry Sauce. Not only is this so much more delicious and better for you than any store bought sauce, but you can make it with fresh or frozen raspberries.

Raspberries Year Round

Fresh raspberries don’t last long, so if I’m not going to use them right away, I will freeze them to make this sauce later. It adds the wonderful taste of fresh raspberries to almost anything. Mix it in shakes or smoothies, drizzle it over ice cream or cheesecake, add it to yogurt or applesauce, the possibilities are endless.

First get 1/3 cup Water in a small pan on the stovetop. Dissolve in 1/3 cup Sugar and turn on low heat. Add in 1 tablespoon Cornstarch, then add in 6 oz of fresh or frozen Raspberries to your syrup. Mix well and keep heat low as the berries slowly start to cook. The berries will break up and the juice from them will create the sauce. Let this mixture simmer for about 15 minutes, or until it starts to thicken. To check if it is done, taste a small amount of the syrup, if it has a ‘powdery’ taste from the corn syrup, let it simmer a few minutes more.

When the mixture is thickened remove from heat and prepare your jar to store the sauce. Set a clean mason jar on the counter, with a funnel in the top to avoid spills. Place a small wire mesh strainer in the top of the funnel. Pour the sauce into the strainer, a little at a time and stir with a spoon to help the mixture through. A cheese cloth can also be used in place of a wire strainer, just squeeze to push the jelly through the holes in the cloth. You should be left with a small amount of seeds and pulp to discard and a beautiful, delicious Raspberry Sauce to enjoy.

Raspberry Sauce

6oz Raspberries

1/3 cup Sugar

1/3 cup Water

1 tablespoon Cornstarch

Dissolve Sugar and Cornstarch into Water to form a syrup. Mix in Raspberries and simmer over low heat, about 15 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Strain through a wire mesh strainer to filter out seeds and pulp.

Chicken Avocado Burritos

Chicken Avocado Burritos

I originally created this recipe to use as a freezer meal. I wanted a healthy alternative for lunches that could be made ahead of time and easily brought to work. But after my husband tried these Chicken Avocado Burritos they seldom make it to the freezer anymore, sometimes they don’t even make it onto a tortilla, and he will eat the filling by itself, before I have rolled any together. So this is absolutely a new favorite for us.

One Simple Filling, So Many Uses

My favorite thing about this recipe is how versatile it can be. You can wrap the filling in tortillas for a simple snack. You can bake them in the oven, covered in enchilada sauce and cheese for a delicious dinner. Or you can freeze them for a quick on the go meal.

These burritos could be made using leftover chicken, or turkey, but the best flavor comes from cooking the chicken on the skillet with seasoned oil. Mix together 1 tablespoon Oil, 1 teaspoon Chili Powder, ½ teaspoon Cumin, ¼ teaspoon Turmeric, ¼ teaspoon Salt, and ½ teaspoon Pepper. Pour this seasoned oil over 2 cups of cubed chicken in a skillet and combine. Cook until the chicken is white all the way through.

While the chicken is cooking, mix together ½ cup Sour Cream, 1 teaspoon Chili Powder, 1 teaspoon Cumin, and ½ teaspoon Pepper in a small bowl. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups chopped Avocado, 1 cup Shredded Cheese, 2 tablespoons chopped Fresh Cilantro, the seasoned sour cream mixture, and the cooked chicken. Stir to combine.

Fill each tortilla with this chicken avocado mixture and roll them up. Place seam down in a baking dish and cover with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. Bake at 325 degrees just until cheese is melted.

Chicken Avocado Burritos

(Seasoned oil for cooking Chicken)

1 tablespoon Oil

1 teaspoon Chili Powder

½ teaspoon Cumin

¼ teaspoon Turmeric

¼ teaspoon Salt

½ teaspoon Pepper

2 cups Chicken, cubed

½ cup Sour Cream

1 teaspoon Chili Powder

1 teaspoon Cumin

½ teaspoon Pepper

2 tablespoons Fresh Cilantro, chopped

2 cups Avocado, chopped

1 cup Shredded Cheese, any kind

1 package Tortillas

Optional: Enchilada Sauce and Shredded Cheese to Bake

Mix together the seasonings and oil for cooking the chicken. Combine seasoned oil and chicken in a skillet and cook until no pink is left in the centers. Mix together Sour Cream, Chili Powder, Cumin, and Pepper. In a large mixing bowl combine Avocados, Shredded Cheese, Cilantro, Cooked Chicken, and Sour Cream mixture. Use as filling in tortillas and place burritos, seam down, in a baking tray. Cover with enchilada sauce and shredded cheese, then bake at 325 degrees until cheese is melted.