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

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
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!

Mushroom Onion Soup

Mushroom Onion Soup

This recipe was discovered by accident one day when I was learning how to make French Onion Soup. I had run out of beef bullion and decided to substitute a Chicken Stock instead. After trying the soup I was reminded of Miso Soup and added in sautéed mushrooms to make a simple version. This mushroom onion soup is incredibly easy to make and is a delicious lunch or companion to dinner.

Simple, Elegant, Delicious

This soup can be a simple meal or an elegant side, just depending on what you pair it with. When serving this as a main course, I double the amount of onions and mushrooms, then add them over-top baked potatoes with some sour cream.

Sauté 2 sliced Onions in a skillet with 1 tablespoon Oil, until they turn clear.  Add in 2 cups sliced Mushrooms and sauté until the onions are caramel in color. In a medium pot, bring 6 cups of Chicken Stock to a boil, then add in the cooked onions and mushrooms. Reduce heat and let simmer 15 minutes. Serve with noodles for a simple Asian inspired meal.

Mushroom Onion Soup

1 tablespoon Oil

2 Onions, sliced

2 cups Mushrooms, sliced

6 cups Chicken Stock

Sauté Onions and Mushrooms with Oil in a skillet. Add to boiling Chicken Stock and reduce to a simmer. Let cook about 15 minutes and serve.

Spinach Mushroom Alfredo

Spinach Mushroom Alfredo

This dinner looks and tastes like it was ordered from a fancy Italian restaurant. Your family and friends would be shocked to know it only took a few ingredients to prepare and was done is less than 30 minutes! Looking to get more vitamins in your diet? Don’t hide veggies in your food; fall in love with them using this delicious twist on Fettuccine Alfredo. Both spinach and mushrooms are high in potassium, which helps reduce your blood pressure. Spinach Mushroom Alfredo is sure to be a family favorite.

Rich Flavors and Colors

This elegant take on a simple dinner will be the star of the show at your next dinner party! The rich taste that comes from sautéing the onions and mushrooms together, combined with the vibrant colors of the fresh spinach will leave you craving this dinner again and again. To make the most stunning version of this recipe, you can make a Homemade Alfredo Sauce to use with it. This delicious sauce can be made in the time it takes to sauté your vegetables.

This recipe comes together very quickly, so go ahead and cook your noodles while you prepare the vegetables and sauce. To start sauté 1 chopped onion in 1 tablespoon of oil. When the onion is just starting to turn clear, add in 2 cups of sliced mushrooms. I use regular white mushrooms for this, but you can easily change it up with your favorite variety. Cook the onions and mushrooms together, in the skillet until the onions start to turn a nice caramel, brown color. Then add in 3 cups of Fresh Spinach. You may want to add the spinach in a little at a time. Stirring it in with the onions and mushrooms will make the spinach start to wilt, and it will take up less space in the skillet.

When the spinach is wilted, turn off the heat and pour your Alfredo Sauce over the vegetables to better combine the flavors. You can use a store bought can of Alfredo, but nothing can beat this recipe for Homemade Alfredo Sauce. Toss the sauce and veggie mixture over cooked and drained noodles. Serve with slices of French Bread and Parmesan cheese for an elegant, healthy dinner.

Spinach Mushroom Alfredo

1 tablespoon Oil

1 Onion, chopped

2 cups Mushrooms, sliced

3 cups Fresh Spinach

Alfredo Sauce

Cooked Noodles

Sauté Onions in a skillet with Oil. Add in Mushrooms when the onions turn clear. Once the onions start to caramelize mix in Fresh Spinach, just until wilted. Turn off the heat and pour Alfredo Sauce over the vegetables. Toss the sauce and veggies in with cooked and drained Noodles. Serve immediately for a quick and impressive dinner.

Apple Pie Filling

Apple Pie Filling

On the shelf and ready to go, canned foods are everywhere. Most of the time, we reach for them without thinking. While having food canned or already prepared can save us time, the store bought versions of these items are packed with preservatives, salt and sugar! However, you don’t need fancy equipment, or a day set aside for canning to make some of these short-cut items at home. This quick recipe for Juicy Apple Pie Filling can be thrown together in minutes and is the perfect alternative to store bought apple pie filling. You could easily can this recipe for a longer shelf life, but it will keep well in the fridge for use that week in a sealed mason jar.

Fresh and Juicy Apples

My favorite part about this recipe is how quick and easy it is to make. Chop up 4 Apples and mix in 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice to keep them from turning brown. Melt 1 tablespoon of Butter and mix in 3 tablespoons Water. Pour this over the apples. In a separate bowl combine 2 tablespoons flour, ½ cup Brown Sugar, 1 teaspoon Cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon Nutmeg. Pour the dry ingredients over the apples and mix it all together. Then add in 1 tablespoon of Honey and stir to combine.

Some recipes will cook the filling over the stovetop at this point to soften the apples and thicken the sauce. You could certainly do that with this recipe, but I prefer the crisp taste of the fresh apples and the juicy quality of this pie filling that is lost when you pre-cook it. When baked into a pie, this recipe creates the juiciest apple pie, without creating a soggy crust. It can also be served over ice cream, for a fresh burst of flavor or mixed into yogurt for a sweet treat. The ways to use this delicious filling are limitless. What’s your favorite?

Apple Pie Filling

4 Apples, chopped

1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

1 tablespoon Butter, melted

3 tablespoons Water

2 tablespoons Flour

½ cup Brown Sugar

1 teaspoon Cinnamon

½ teaspoon Nutmeg

1 tablespoon Honey

Combine chopped Apples, Lemon Juice, and Water together. In a separate bowl mix the remaining ingredients except the Honey. Pour over apples and stir to combine. Mix the Honey in last. Use immediately or store in a mason jar or sealed container in the fridge. Enjoy!

Apple Pie Oatmeal

Apple Pie Oatmeal

In the age of microwave meals and fast food, slow home cooked staples of the past are falling rapidly behind us. Today breakfast means cereal, frozen waffles, or fast food sandwiches more often than not. But there is something special about starting the day with a home cooked meal. Whether it’s a meal with family or a treat for yourself, this is a great way to set a positive tone for the day.

Wholesome and Delicious

Oatmeal is a great homemade breakfast for busy mornings. It takes little effort and is a healthy way to start your day. This Apple Pie Oatmeal is one of my favorites, because it tastes like a dessert, but is low in calories and high in nutrients. I use steel cut oats because they have a creamy texture and fullness that keeps you from craving snacks before lunch. Although they take a little longer to cook, I start the oats when I wake up, and simply stir the pot occasionally as I get ready. This delicious homemade breakfast can be made effortlessly if you chop the apples the day before and add the lemon juice to keep them from browning overnight.

Start with 2 Apples, peeled and chopped. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon Lemon Juice over them to keep from turning brown. Then mix them in a stove pot with 1 cup Steel Cut Oats and 1 cup Milk. Add in ¼ cup Brown Sugar and 1 tablespoon Butter. Season with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon nutmeg. Add 4 cups water and heat to boiling. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 to 30 minutes. I usually cook mine for at least 30 minutes so they are nice and thick.

This thoughtful homemade meal takes almost no effort to prepare. Just throw the ingredients in a pot and stir occasionally, for a delicious and nutritious breakfast that’s as sweet as apple pie. Let the oats cool on the stove for a few minutes before serving, they will thicken as they cool.

Apple Pie Oatmeal

2 Apples, Chopped

1 tablespoon Lemon Juice

1 cup Steel Cut Oats

1 cup Milk

¼ cup Brown Sugar

1 tablespoon Butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

4 cups water

Combine ingredients in a stove pot. Heat to boiling, and then simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Pie Crust

Pie Crust

For generations cooking and recipes have been handed down through the family. The recipes you knew by heart were the ones taught to you by your mother, grandmother, neighbors, or friends. Now, with all the fast and convenient alternatives available, we sometimes miss out on learning these basic recipes and skills. In my family we all would like to preserve these special recipes from my grandmother, but our busy lives and the distances between us make it hard to keep these traditions alive. So in honor of this, I’ve decided to share with everyone a special recipe taught to me by my grandmother, handed down from her mother before her. This is Great Grandma Stuckey’s Homemade Pie Crust.

Less of a recipe, and more of an Art

I always remember the pies that grandma would make for Thanksgiving. I wish now that I had learned more from her, but I will always treasure her teaching me this special pie crust recipe. Grandma’s cooking can only be described as an art. You could write the recipe down and measure it out, but her cooking was always more of a process and a feeling than an actual recipe. That is where the fun comes in, and you can appreciate cooking as more than just numbers and measurements, but as a beautiful and simple act of creating.

Start with 3 cups Flour and 1 teaspoon Salt.

Mix in 1-¼ cup of Lard with your hands.

That’s right, with your hands. For the perfect pie crust you want to pay attention to the unique texture as you mix it. Mix the lard in lightly, breaking it into small, pea sized bits. Don’t over-mix; it should still be very lumpy with a consistency similar to wet sand.

Grandma’s Secret Ingredient

Grandma always used lard, not shortening in her pie crust. You can substitute shortening, but the effect is not quite the same as when you use real lard.

Next, beat 1 Egg and add it to the flour mixture along with 1 teaspoon Vinegar. Add 5 to 6 tablespoons Cold Water.

I recommend starting with 5 tablespoons cold water and adding just a little more if you need it. Again, don’t over-mix! You want to combine the liquid just enough to make a dough that mostly sticks together. It should still be slightly flaky and a few bits may break off.

Roll out the Dough

Sprinkle some flour over your counter top, so the dough doesn’t stick, and turn it out. Divide the dough in half and pat the first half down into a flattened circle before rolling out. As you roll out the dough, frequently flour and turn it, very gently to keep it from tearing. Once the dough is about an inch wider than your pie pan on all sides, gently lift the edges and slide your pan underneath.

If the dough tears in a few places, just patch it in at the end with an extra piece from the edges. Gently press the dough into the pan and poke holes in the bottom to prevent air bubbles underneath. Cut away the excess around the pan with a knife.

Filling and Baking

You can pre-bake the crust now at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes and use the second half of dough for another pie. Or you can add a filling of your choice, and then roll out the second half of dough to cover it. This homemade apple pie filling is one of my favorites, and ready in minutes.

When the filling is covered by the second sheet of dough, press all around the edges with your thumbs to seal and cut slits in the top to vent. For apple pie bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and bake another 40 minutes or until golden brown on top.

Don’t Forget!

Whether you bake the crust plain or filled, always remember to cover the edges in tin foil first then remove the foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes of baking. This will keep them from browning too quickly.

Homemade pie crust can add such a meaningful addition to special holiday events or just as an extra treat. It can also be wrapped and frozen to bake later. This is a fairly simple recipe that is easy to master, with a great effect. You can try all different types of filling or use the scrap dough to create decorative shapes on the edges. Have fun, get creative, and share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!


Pie Crust

3 cups Flour

1 teaspoon Salt

1-¼ cup Lard

1 Egg, beaten

1 teaspoon Vinegar

5-½ tablespoons Cold Water

Mix the Flour, Salt and Lard until it “crumbles” then add the beaten egg, vinegar and cold water. Mix lightly until just combined and roll out on floured surface. Press lightly into a pie pan and poke holes in the bottom with a fork. Always cover the edges in foil before baking and remove for the last 5 to 10 minutes until it browns. Baking time will vary based on the filling used. For an empty pie crust, bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. For an apple pie, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees for another 40 minutes or until top is golden brown.