Easiest French Bread Ever! (With Variations)

French-BreadThis bread recipe is from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe and is the easiest and most consistent bread recipe I’ve ever used. It uses a clever proofing method, where you don’t even take the dough off the mixer, and you use ice cubes to create steam while it’s baking.

We love toast and jam and this simple, delicious bread is perfect for that and for sandwiches. I made two loaves yesterday with a cup of whole wheat flour substituted for a cup of the white flour, and I really liked the flavor and texture.

I’ve made this with lots of different flavorings – dying to try it with rosemary and olives!

Variations:

Rosemary & Herb version:  Add 2 Tbsp of chopped Rosemary and 1 tsp Italian Seasoning mix with the flour.  Crazy good.  Especially good warm from the oven with a little slather of butter.

Sesame Seed version: Add 1/4 cup sesame seeds with the flour, and sprinkle some on top before baking. I’ve been on a sesame seed bread jag lately and it’s so good!

Dill, Garlic and Cheddar version:  Divide dough after first rise, and to half the dough, add several fronds of fresh dill weed, chopped, or 1/2 tsp dried dill weed, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 2 tsp onion flakes and 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated. Let rise a second time, slash and bake as usual.  (I wanted one loaf plain, but you could double the additions and do two loaves at once.)   Heavenly…

INGREDIENTS

2 1/4 cups warm water
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1 Tbsp kosher Salt  (Mel uses a little less)
2 Tbsp olive oil
5 1/2 – 6 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour and 4 1/2 -5 cups regular flour)

Mix water, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl.

Cover the bowl and/or mixer with a clean dishtowel and let the yeast get bubbly for 5 or so minutes.

Add the salt, oil and 5 cups of flour. Mix with a dough hook, or spoon for 6 or 7 minutes, adding flour as needed- 1/2 up to 1 cup flour, until dough is forming a nice solid mass. It will hang onto the dough hook and “slap” the sides a bit when it’s ready. If the dough it sticking to the bottom of the bowl, add more flour a little at a time. If kneading by hand, knead for several minutes until it’s smooth and elastic.

Leave the dough in the bowl and the dough hook in the dough. Cover the stand mixer and bowl with the kitchen towel again and leave it to rise for an hour.  Remove from bowl and knead on a floured surface.  I actually just use my silpat mat in the baking sheet with a little flour.

Note: if you’re adding herbs or anything else, keep the dough in the  mixer and add them.  Let the dough hook knead the additions in for a minute or so.  You can also remove half the dough and only flavor one of the loaves if you want.

Split dough in half, and nudge each half out into a sort of rectangle.  Roll it along the long end and pinch the ends and bottom so the dough holds together. Lay the loaves side by side, seam side down on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat.  

Cover again with the kitchen towel and leave to rise for an hour.  Slash the loaves with a very sharp knife at an angle 2″ apart.  Cover again while you preheat the oven.

Heat oven to 375. Put the bread in to bake, and toss 3-4 ice cubes on the bottom of the oven and quickly close the oven door to create a burst of steam.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating pan half way through. It should rise up and get nice and brown. Check it for doneness by turning the loaf over and knocking on it. If the loaf sound hollow, it’s baked.

Let cool before slicing. Slather with butter and call it a day.

Borracho (Drunken) Beans

I’d never heard of Borracho (Drunken) Beans until just a few days ago. This recipe is from Kiki810 on Allrecipes – with a few minor changes.

Kiki uses two cans of tomatoes and 1/4 cup of pickled jalapenos. Being as there a quarantine and all, I didn’t have that but thought a can of diced tomatoes and one of Rotel might do. I also added a little cumin and bacon for a more smokiness. The beer cooks out for the most part, but leaves a nice complex flavor.

You honestly don’t need to soak the beans overnight, and there is some consensus that the beans taste better if you don’t.

Ingredients:

1 pound dried pinto beans, washed
2 quarts chicken stock or water
1 Tbsp Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 (12 fluid ounce) can or bottle dark beer (can also use  light beer)
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (10 oz.)can Rotel tomatoes with jalapeno peppers (regular or mild)
1 onion, diced
6 cloves garlic, chopped or 1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 bay leaves
1 tsp ground cumin
1 ½ Tbsp dried oregano
1 ½ cups chopped fresh cilantro (I used stems also, roughly chopped.)
1 strip of bacon, chopped or 1 Tbsp bacon drippings

Wash beans and put in a large pot, covered 1″ deep with boiling water. Simmer 2 hours, stirring from time to time to prevent beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot and add water as needed.

Add all other ingredients, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally for another 1 1/2 hours. Liquid should reduce quite a bit – so it’s not soupy, but more stew-y.

Mash a few beans to thicken the sauce. Makes a great side dish, topped with a little cheese, more cilantro and sour cream. It’s also great as a taco with with cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh tomatoes and salad greens.

Leave out the bacon drippings for a great vegan version.

Kale, Apple, Cabbage, Carrot and Goat Cheese Salad

This is based on a recipe from the Pioneer Woman and Natalie Perry, but features substitutions based on what I had in my pantry. It’s a really substantial and flavorful salad that was very satisfying as a main dish. Lots of bright flavors and colors!

Salad ingredients:
6 oz. baby kale
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbsp olive oil
6 ounces grated cabbage and carrots – about 3 cups? Can also use brussel sprouts
2 medium apples, cored and diced
1 cup candied pecans (see note #1)
4 oz. goat cheese
1 1/2 cup roasted butternut squash or baked sweet potatoes (see note #2)
handful craisins

Dressing:
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
4 tsp whole grain mustard
4 tsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

In a large salad bowl, add kale, lemon juice and first Tbsp of Olive Oil. Gently massage the kale for a minute until it has softened a bit and started to turn a little darker green.

Add the shredded veggies, chopped apples and candied pecans.

Make the dressing in a mason jar, shaking vigorously for 30 seconds until well combined. Add to the bowl, and mix gently until everything is coated.

Drop goat cheese, sweet potato (or butternut squash) and craisins on top and serve.

Note #1: To make candied pecans, in a small frying pan add pecans, 1 Tbsp maple syrup and 1 Tbsp whole grain mustard. Cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has dried up. Be careful – it burns easily!

Note #2: peel and dice butternut squash into 1″ squares, toss with 1 Tbsp olive oil and a generous pinch of salt. Or, do the same for sweet potatoes. Roast at 425 until browned and soft about 15-20 minutes. Poke with a fork to make sure they’re done. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Vegetable Paella

I’ve had my eye on Caroline’s Vegetable Paella recipe from TasteLoveandNourish.com for a long time, and I finally decided to give it a go.  She has wonderful plant-based recipes with tons of flavor.  Here is a link to her completely vegan original recipe. Caroline adds artichoke hearts to her, but I think it was fine without them.

Fortunately, I had almost all the ingredients in my pantry, and was able to make a few substitutions that worked well.  I don’t know about you, but during this time of social distancing and staying home, I’m learning to be much more creative!  I roughly halved her recipe since I’m only cooking for three right now.

Ingredients

1/2 tsp saffron threads
2 Tbsp hot water
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil or bacon drippings (to add smokiness)
1 large onion, diced
4 ounces mushrooms, sliced (I used half regular button and half baby bellas)
2 big cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 very small zucchini, halved and sliced

1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups short-grain rice (I used Arborio)
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
14.5 ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes (or regular diced tomatoes), drained
1/2 cup frozen green peas
2 Tbsp capers, drained
1/4 cup big green Italian olives with pimentos,halved

handful fresh parsley
drizzle extra virgin olive oil

In a small bowl, pour hot water over the saffron. Set aside for at least fifteen minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Move a rack to the bottom third of your oven.

Keep the onion, mushrooms, zucchini, garlic, spices (see below), rice, white wine, broth and saffron/water in bowls near the stove – you’ll be adding them separately and cooking them fairly quickly.

Heat the olive oil in a large oven safe skillet over medium high heat.
Add the onion and cook for just two minutes.
Add mushrooms and cook without stirring for about two minutes. Stir and cook for two more minutes or until just beginning to brown.
Add the garlic and cook for one minute.
Add the zucchini slices and continue cooking for three minutes.

In a small bowl, mix the spices: paprika, smoked hot paprika, cayenne, thyme and bay leaves, salt and pepper. Add to skillet, stir and cook for a minute or two.

Add the rice and stir to coat.
Add the white wine. Simmer until reduced by about half.
Add the vegetable broth and the saffron with the water. Stir gently and bring the pan to a simmer. Cook for a couple of minutes.
Scatter tomatoes over the top.
Transfer the pan to the bottom third of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes.
Scatter the peas, capers and the olives over the top.
Continue baking the paella for 10 minutes or until the rice is tender.
Remove the bay leaves.
Garnish with fresh parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Warm Cabbage with Apples and Bacon

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image by Isara Somboon at Unsplash.

Love this recipe that came from a local grocery store around St. Patrick’s Day!

So much so that I’ve made this beautiful, colorful dish twice in the last three weeks.  It’s delicious but also such great comfort food – which is something we all need right now.  I serve it with a cheddary sausage and they’re really good together.

The lovely thing is that cabbage is so hardy – you can use half the cabbage now, and then make this again in a few weeks.

Ingredients:

6 slices bacon, chopped into 1/2″ pieces (if using turkey bacon, add 2 Tbsp Olive Oil)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chopped green cabbage (1″ pieces are fine) about 1/2 medium cabbage
1 apple, cored and chopped into 1/2″ pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup dark beer (or the equivalent in cider, plus a Tbsp of cider vinegar)
1/4 cup apple cider (or apple juice)
2 tsp brown sugar or honey
1 tsp caraway seeds
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp butter (optional)

In a large cast-iron skillet, cook bacon sprinkled with black pepper until crispy. Remove from pan, but leave drippings. Add onions and cook for a couple of minutes, then add cabbage and apples. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl, mix beer, cider, brown sugar, caraway seeds and salt. Add to cabbage mixture and cook 5 minutes more until everything is soft the liquid has reduced a bit. Drop bits of the butter on and give a final stir.

Serve as is on a baked potato, or with a lovely cheddar-ry sausage! (If you start pan-frying the sausage at the same time, the sausage should be done when the cabbage is.)

For a vegan version, leave out the bacon, and add a bit of chipotle pepper for that smoky flavor and a bit more salt to make up for the saltiness of bacon.

Vegan Parmesan

Even if you aren’t vegan, you’ll flip over this vegan parmesan recipe from Minimalist Baker.  It’s  so delicious I can’t stay away from it – I’ve literally been stealing spoonsful from the container!  It’s super easy to make and keeps for a couple of weeks, if it lasts that long.

3/4 raw cashews
3 Tbsp nutritional yeast (I used Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast.)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp kosher salt

Buzz all in a food processor until mixture is in small crumbles. Be careful not to overprocess, or you’ll end up with cashew butter.

This is wonderful in all the places you might use Parmesan, but is also tasty on top of any veggies.  Enjoy!

Perfect Roasted Brussels Sprouts

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Beautiful Brussels Sprouts by Keenan Loo on Unsplash.

This recipe from Mark Bittman is a really delicious way to prepare Brussels Sprouts.  It’s perfect for big events like Thanksgiving, because you can get it totally prepped the day before and then roast it the day of. It’s also vegan and gluten-free!

Mark made it slightly differently – he browned the brussels sprouts in a cast iron skillet first, but I wanted to make a larger batch, so I just roasted them in the oven.   The key is to let them get so dark they appear to be burning.  But that just brings out the sweetness that makes them so delicious.

2 lbs brussels sprouts, washed and halved
1/3 cup olive oil
5 big cloves of garlic, cut into thin slices
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar (optional – I forgot it and the dish was still delish!)

Mix oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a ziploc bag. Add brussel sprouts and shake well to coat the sprouts.

At this point, you can refrigerate them until you’re ready to bake or go ahead and roast them on a rimmed baking sheet at 450 for 30 minutes.  You may want to go in halfway through and shake them up a bit.  Check seasoning and serve. They will literally disappear.

Potato Poblano Bundles

There is something about a potato that’s been baked in a buttery, spicy sauce that is incredibly warming and satisfying.  This dish is easy and cooked in little foil bundles that are super fun to open at the table.

The recipe is from The Pioneer Woman magazine with slight variations.

2 lbs. thin skinned potatoes cut into 1″ chunks
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2 large poblano peppers, seeded and cut into 1″ pieces
1 stick of butter (or 1/2 cup Olive Oil for a vegan version)
1/2 cup half and half (or veggie broth for vegan version)
2 Tbsp paprika
2 tsp granulated garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley or 2 Tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, mix butter, half ‘n half and all seasonings. Mix well, and add the potatoes, onions and peppers.

Take aluminum foil and cut off 8 18″ pieces. Place 1/8 of the mix in the middle of each foil square and fold up the edges to create a pouch.

At this point, you can grill them for 25 minutes (you’ll have to turn them so make sure they are tightly sealed.) If you prefer you can also bake them at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Check one for doneness – the potatoes should be super soft.

Serve right in the foil packets.

 

Grilled Flank Steak with Charred Eggplant and Mint

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Eggplant by Deviyahya on Unsplash

This is another great recipe from the Slow Food Fast column in the Wall Street Journal,  from chefs Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hersheimer.

We made this with the last of the eggplant from the garden tonight and it was easy and good. It’s also a great way to use mint before the first freeze.  Makes enough for 4 hungry people.

Ingredients:

2 lbs. flank steak
6 tbsp Olive Oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small globe or Japanese eggplants, halved. (If you use regular size eggplants, cut them into 1″ slices, lengthwise.)
Juice of 2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
2 cloves garlic, smashed or 1/2- 1 tsp garlic powder (use more if you love garlic!)
a good pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Pat steak dry and use a sharp knife to lightly cut a crosshatch pattern on both sides. Drizzle with Tbsp olive oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper on both sides.

In a big bowl, mix lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the eggplants and stir until everything is well coated. Remove the eggplants to a plate and to the remaining sauce in the bowl, add garlic, red pepper flakes and mint leaves. Stir gently to blend.

Grill steak on high heat until browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side, then remove from heat, cover and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

While steak is resting, lay eggplants cut side down and grill 4-5 minutes. Then flip and grill 4-5 more minutes. Remove from heat and add back into the bowl with mint sauce. Toss gently to coat.

Slice steaks thinly across the grain, and serve with eggplants and mint sauce. So delish and so fast!

Note: this recipe would also be wonderful with lamb, or for a vegan version, with cauliflower steaks!

Butternut Squash Salad with Warm Cider Vinaigrette

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Butternut Squash Image by Nick Collins on Pixabay.

I’ve made this salad from Ina Garten a dozen times and it is so good there’s never any left.  It’s a perfect fall salad with all the gorgeous colors of the squash, arugula and walnuts.  Thank you Ina for another wonderful recipe!

Ingredients:
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4″ pieces (about 4 cups)
2 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp real maple syrup (you can substitute honey if you want to)
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp Craisins

For the warm cider vinaigrette:
3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice (I use Martinelli’s Apple Juice in the little apple bottle if we don’t have cider on hand. It’s so good – you should keep some in your pantry.)
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
2 Tbsp minced shallots
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 oz baby arugula, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese  (use Vegan Parmesan if you wish)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix 2 Tbsp olive oil, maple syrup, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper. Place squash on a sheet pan and pour mix over. Toss with your hands until well coated.

Bake for 15-20 minutes until tender, turning squash over after 10 minutes. Add Craisins for last 5 minutes. When you add the Craisins, add a small baking pan with the walnuts and let toast for 5 minutes. Watch that the walnuts don’t burn!

Let squash sit at room temperature for 5-10 minutes while you make the vinaigrette.

In a small saucepan, combine the apple cider, vinegar, and shallots and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 6-8 minutes until about 1/4 cup is left. Take off heat and whisk in mustard, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp black pepper.

Place the arugula in a large salad bowl and add the roasted squash mixture, the walnuts, and the grated Parmesan. Pour 2/3 of the vinaigrette over and toss well.  (We don’t like our salad dripping with dressing but if you do – be bold and toss it all in.)

Serve immediately while the dressing and squash are warm. So good!