French Macarons

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to share my recipe for making French Macarons. I actually learned how to make macarons last Valentine’s Day, almost exactly one year ago. I took a class and went through the motions, without realizing how difficult it really is to make beautiful macarons! It seems easy when they’ve got everything pre-measured and walk you through it step by step, but there is a sort of intuition that is required to make them successfully. Like bread baking, it isn’t about numbers and timing, but rather, knowing how the texture is supposed to feel and how the consistency is supposed to look. Either way, it took me about 40 failed attempts before I could consistently produce good batches of macarons. With each attempt, I scribbled down notes on oven temperature, timing, texture, consistency, amounts of each ingredient weighed out to the tenth of a decimal in grams. It was a real process. It required multiple taste tests and trials, some of which ended in tears. Each batch takes approximately 3 hours to make, from beginning to end. Little did I know I was going to repeat the process again with bread making, which takes more than 12 hours from beginning to end. But maybe I am purposefully attracted to such processes – for the scientific approach, as well as for the greater reward.

It isn’t easy to do and it may take just as many trials as I to get this right. Don’t give up, because at the end, you can make 40 at a time, instead of spending $2 a piece (or more). Life hack: I made macarons as a side hustle after I graduated dental school. I still do take orders for parties, but mostly from family and friends. Try it as a Valentine’s Day activity with your loved one, or make a batch as a surprise gift!

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French Macarons

The Ingredients:

***Each ingredient has to be measured precisely with a weighing scale. I cannot stress enough the exactness required with this recipe.

  • 7 oz powdered sugar
  • 4 oz almond flour
  • 4.25 oz egg whites at room temperature.
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of cream of tartar
  • 3.5 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp Grand Marnier (or alternative alcohol flavoring you’d like to use …. Baileys, Banana Cream Rum… )
  • Food coloring (I use liquid food coloring, amount of drops depending on the color I want to achieve)
  • Any dry powder flavoring you want to add to give the macarons flavor. I usually make it without additional flavoring, but some ideas would be cocoa powder, teas, and coffee. ***If adding additional dry powder flavorings, please mix with almond flour when you pulse through the processor on step #3. 

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The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. (Every oven is different. Mine in particular is usually cooler than it says on the display. Originally, when I started this recipe, I was told to do 280 degrees F. However, the macarons kept coming out undercooked, so I finally found the temperature that works for me. Also, as a side note, the trays have to be in the center of my oven. The heat from my oven comes from the top, so if the trays are too close to the top, they will burn and end up being crunchier than I would like. Lastly, the difference between conventional ovens versus convectional ovens do matter too. My oven operates with the heat coming from the top, and a fan in the back of the oven distributing air. It may take a few tries, but find what temperature works for your oven. Don’t be afraid to change these numbers to suit your particular situation.)
  2. Prepare parchment paper to line the baking sheets/trays. You can buy a template, or you can make one yourself. I draw 1 inch circles spaced 1/2 an inch apart on a piece of parchment paper to use as a template. (Do not be greedy by trying to make larger macarons when you start. The larger the macarons, the more difficult it is to maintain their shape, therefore, the more likely that you will end up with flat, non-fluffy macarons. Try this size first, and when you feel confident enough, then go bigger and bigger.) This template paper lies underneath the parchment paper where I lay my macarons on. Parchment paper is thin enough to see through. It is not sufficient to replace parchment paper with wax paper, learned the hard way. ***Important note – the parchment paper must lay flat on the tray and not roll up at all. This may require cutting a piece of paper to exactly fit your tray. The macarons are very light and airy, so when they are pipetted onto the parchment paper, they will be influenced by the paper’s shape if it rolls up on the ends or what have you.
  3. Pulse powdered sugar and almond flour in food processor 3 times at 10 seconds each. After pulsing, sift the mixture through a metal strainer into a large bowl.
  4. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk whites, cream of tartar and salt on medium speed until frothy and foamy. Return the speed to 2. Gradually add the granulated sugar to the egg mixture. By gradual, I mean REALLY gradual. I would let the sugar sprinkle in at a constant rate. After adding all the sugar, keep at setting 2 for two minutes. Increase to setting 4, mixing for two minutes, and then setting 6 and mix for two minutes. Go all the way to setting 10, after which, stop the mixer and lift the head. There should be stiff white peaks when you lift the whisk attachment from the mixture. If that is the case, add the alcohol and food coloring, and whisk for 20 seconds more at speed 8. When I first started, this particular step gave me some trouble. It took me a while to discover the 2 minute intervals as the timing that worked for me. Just be aware not to rush the process. Time the 2 minutes with a timer or stop watch. And don’t overdo it either, lest the mixture completely deflates. DSC02815 DSC02819
  5. Sift almond sugar mixture (1/3rd at a time) into the egg sugar mixture. Fold the almond sugar mixture into the egg sugar mixture gently. The folding technique is quite difficult to explain. I use a soft rubber spatula, and I scrape the sides of the bowl twice, then scoop under. I continue to do this until the almond sugar mixture is completely folded in (until you can’t see it anymore). I repeat for the rest of the 1/3rd portions. Total, you may only want to fold 40 times. The best way to check if the consistency is right is to do the ribbon test. Take the spatula, scoop the mixture, and see if you can drip the mixture enough to do a figure 8 shape, without having a break in the dripping. If not, then it isn’t runny enough. You want to fold just enough to be able to do this, otherwise, fold too much and your macarons will be too runny and won’t hold their shape. DSC02822
  6. Transfer batter to a pastry bag with a 1/2 inch round tip, and pipe onto baking sheets, making sure to stay within the confines of your one inch circles. You want the pipette tip to be about 1/2 inch from the tray. The closer the better. You want to start pipetting in the center of the circle, holding it still and letting the macaron expand around the pipette. Do not move the pipette around. To stop pipetting, pull the pipette straight up. Avoid trapping air bubbles as much as you can. DSC02827
  7. Rap the bottom of the baking sheet on the counter to release any air bubbles. By rap, I actually mean, drop onto the counter from 6 inches above, causing a loud BANG! You will see the bubbles rise to the surface as they are released. Bubbles can ruin your macarons when they rise. I bang them on the counters about 3-4 times, just to be sure that I’ve rid the sweets of all trapped air. Just make sure you drop it evenly, to avoid toppling all your hard work onto the ground.
  8. Let dry at room temperature for 15-25 minutes. You will know that they are ready to bake when you can touch the surface of the macaron lightly with a finger and it doesn’t stick.
  9. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees F for 8 minutes, then rotate the pan and bake at 250 degrees F. Remove from oven and place parchment paper on a baking rack to cool. Macarons must cool completely prior to removal from parchment paper. If the macarons are not cool or are undercooked, they will stick to the parchment paper. If that is the case, then you know that you will need extra time to cook the macarons. Maybe you can try lowering the temperature to 200 degrees F after the 16 minutes, and allow to cook for a few minutes more. Just make sure you don’t burn the tops. DSC02833
  10. Once cool, you can use a dough scraper to separate the macarons from the tray. If they are cooked correctly, they may even lift from the parchment paper on their own, without any prying.

Macaron Berry Jam Filling

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*** You can use anything to fill your beautiful macarons with. For me, I am impartial to boysenberry jam, but substitute marmalade or strawberry jam and you’ll be just as happy. Or you can opt for chocolate ganache, in which case, scroll ahead to the chocolate alternative.

The Ingredients:

  • 4 oz unsalted butter (softened at room temperature)
  • 9 oz powdered sugar
  • 3-4 oz jam or marmalade

The Process

  1. In stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth and fluffy (at Speed 2).
  2. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar.
  3. Add berry jam.
  4. Beat until just blended.
  5. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to 1 hr to allow it to stiffen up. I prefer this method because I like to spread them onto the macaron with a knife. If you would prefer to pipette, you can pipette onto a macaron right away. Note, if it is too runny, you can always add a bit more powdered sugar.

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Chocolate Ganache

The Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 oz white or dark chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3/4 oz unsalted butter (softened)

The Process:

  1. In a small saucepan, heat cream over medium heat to a simmer. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour hot cream over it. Let stand one minute.
  2. Slowly stir chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula to combine.
  3. Add butter and stir mixture until smooth.
  4. Let cool, stirring every ten minutes. Once ganache cools, pipe onto a macaron, and use a second macaron to gently spread the filling.

***One final tip! The trick with the filling is to put a very thin layer, so as to avoid detracting from the yumminess of a macaron. Macarons are light in flavor, and adding too much jam or chocolate can turn the macaron into a fruit-flavored or chocolate-flavored crabby patty. I add the thinnest layer I can muster with a bread-knife on the back of one macaron, and skip adding filling to the second side. This is just my personal preference, so go ahead and play around with it, and tell me what you end up liking best! 

Zuppa Toscana

While Mike and I continue to wait for winter to hit, we are doing away with some make-believe in this 85 degreee California heat. There isn’t much to complain about regarding these summery temperatures, except for the fact that the sourdough country loaves that I’ve been making have been with nary a partner-in-crime. And now, with Mike getting interested in the bread baking as well, with the plan to begin fermenting his own starter tomorrow, bread consumption must increase, preferably with the help of some accompaniment such as soup.

In light of that, we made Zuppa Toscana to pair with the bread batches that resulted from my two days off. Mike is not fond of soup as a meal, unless they are of a hearty variety. I, on the other hand, can eat soup for days, as long as it comes hand-in-hand with some gluttonous friend. Luckily, this soup fills one up quite nicely, leaving bellies satisfied and hearts full.

The Ingredients:

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  • 1.5-2 pds. bulk hot Italian sausage
  • 1.25 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbs . garlic, minced
  • 5 (130z) can chicken broth
  • 4 Russett potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, tough stems removed

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The Process:

  1. Remove the skin from the Italian sausage,and cook with red pepper flakes in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crumbly, and no longer pink. I like to cook a bit longer until browned, usually about 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the onions and garlic until onions are soft, usually on low heat so the garlic does not burn.
  3. Pour chicken broth into Dutch oven with onion mixture. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  4. Add the potatoes, and boil until fork tender, about twenty minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the heavy cream and the cooked sausage. Heat through. Mix spinach into the soup just before serving.
  5. Most importantly, serve with fresh, warm bread.

Home-made Granola

There’s something special about sharing recipes from one person to another. Perhaps it’s the coming together that makes the whole thing so great. Acknowledgement that we need to share pieces of ourselves with each other, one of the most valuable being our time. Maybe its the activity producing something sustainable, a necessity ingrained into our very beings. Whatever it is, there is something to be said of gathering over the makings of a meal, the way it connects people on multiple levels.

I always feel joy when I learn a new recipe from someone I know. Even more so when I’ve already tasted said recipe and have decidedly fallen in love with the taste (smell, and sight) of it. Today, I had the privilege of learning my sister-in-law’s delicious home-made granola recipe. I’ve been asking her to come over and teach me how it’s done ever since she handed me a mason jar full of this home-made goodness a few months ago. We finished the jar in just a few days, strewn over yogurt, or eaten simply by the handful. Since then, I’ve been craving it, and so for the past few weeks, I’ve consistently asked for any spare moment she may have so that I might learn to make it on my own. Today was my lucky day.

She came over mid-afternoon, bearing all the ingredients we needed, with her own additional twist: Coconut flakes. The great thing about the ingredients in this recipe is that they can be purchased in bulk, allowing you to make the crunchy goodness without waste. Plus the recipe is flexible, in the sense that the maker can add whatever ingredients they want. Creativity can reign in the production of something as simple as granola. Some of her alternative suggestions included pecans or walnuts. Sometimes you can simply make do with whatever left over nuts and seeds you may have in the pantry. Either way, there’s very few ways to really mess this up. I mean, it’s granola!

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The honest truth: It’s more than granola. It’s magic. It’s versatile. It’s simple. It’s healthy. It’s a great arsenal to have in the pantry. Considered a year-round ingredient in our household, it seems appropriate that we address its production early on in this virtual recipe book. The greatest part is the ease with which the process can be executed. Once in the oven, there is nothing left for you to do, except to rotate the granola every 12 minutes. Now you’ve got time on your hands to read a book, write a novel, or chat like we did, over espresso in the waning afternoon light. Additionally, each batch makes a hefty amount (more than six cups of granola!), thus allowing you to be quite liberal with how you choose to spend it.

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Additional things I loved when making this:

  • The smell of brown sugar caramelizing on the stove top.
  • The sound of granola shifting, when raking it to get an even toasting. 
  • The scent of coconut toasting.
  • The earthy colors of the combination of grains, seeds, and coconut flakes.
  • The warmth of the baking pan as you take it out of the oven to cool. 
  • The “plink” of well-toasted pieces being transferred to a glass mason jar.
  • The crunch of your very first bite.
  • The subtle sweetness it lends to whatever meal your gracing with its presence.

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Home-made Granola

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened)

The Process:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Boil brown sugar, canola oil, water, and vanilla extract for two minutes. Careful not to burn the mixture. We allowed it to heat over medium heat.
  3. Combine all the dry ingredients until the sunflower seeds in a bowl. We will add the coconut flakes at a later time.
  4. Mix all ingredients (wet and dry) together and spread on a cookie sheet.
  5. Bake granola for 36 minutes, stirring the granola once every 12 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and turn the oven off (very important, lest you burn the upcoming coconut flakes).
  6. Sprinkle 1 cup of coconut flakes on top of the granola and return the baking sheet back into the oven and bake for an additional 12 minutes (or until desired crispiness has been reached), stirring once in the middle of the 12 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, and cool before transferring to a container of your choice.

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Quinoa Enchilada Casserole

As temperatures cool, I find myself wanting to envelope myself in the warm comforts of my bed (or the couch) more and more. The urge to jump up and start my day becomes subdued, replaced by the need to hunker down and cozy up. I find myself choosing yoga videos with titles such as “Salve” and “Soften”. My movements are slower, my joints and muscles a bit tighter. It’s a time for self-love, a time to take everything at a steadier pace than usual. I would say that wintry times call for easy-to-make recipes that allow me to enjoy more of, well, me-time. In particular, I am drawn to comfort foods, ones that would come out of my mom’s kitchen. Something warm to my belly, as well as my heart. I draw upon recipes for soups, pastas, and casseroles for the additional comfort that I’m looking for. I like to think that this is also the grub yearned for by our friends and family who gather indoors with us during this cooler season. Possibly only because it’s what I want to serve.

When feeding a large group of people, the easiest way to prepare is hours beforehand. It’s never any fun trying to entertain while also stirring a pot of boiling soup that may overflow at a moment’s notice. I don’t enjoy the rush of moving about the kitchen and adding ingredients last minute in an effort to make the salad taste fresh. I like the kitchen to already be clean as my guests arrive, and I like to have a calm mindset. I much rather prefer an atmosphere where I could place 100% of my focus on the entertaining rather than the cooking. So when board game night came around this past week, and I was looking to feed a group of seven, I pulled out my recipe for Slow-cooker Quinoa Enchilada Casserole, placed all ingredients in a pot, and let my friend, the slow-cooker, do all the work. Made with ground turkey, quinoa, black beans, and other veggies, it’s a much healthier option than ordering pizza. Served in a bowl right when the guests are ready to eat, and topped with an avocado slice (or three), this is the perfect meal to sit down with over a board game. Guests can opt to eat it like a soup, or as a dip for tortilla chips. Let them choose! I keep the slow-cooker on warm all night long, so guests can go back for seconds. And after the last friend has left in the wee hours of the night, the slow-cooker’s ceramic pot is an easy clean up after a good soak overnight. Let that be tomorrow’s problem. We’re taking it slow over here.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 can (15-ounce) diced fire roasted tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 can (10-ounces) enchilada sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican blend cheese
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
  • Tortilla Chips

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The Process:

  1. Cook the ground turkey in a skillet prior to placing in the slow-cooker.
  2. Add all ingredients until the optional jalapeno pepper in the slow-cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and allow the pot to do the work on high for 3 hours or until the liquid is all absorbed into the mixture.
  3. Remove the lid and stir everything again. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Stir in the half the cheese and sprinkle the other half on top. Replace the lid and let the cheese melt. Top with the chopped green onions, avocado, and cilantro.
  4. Serve with the chips at the center of the table. Enjoy!

 

 

Travel: Valle De Guadalupe Eats

Valle de Guadalupe is Baja’s best kept secret. Well known among creatives in the San Diego community, this little pocket is tucked away between the ocean and the mountain about one hour away from the Californian border. It is a flourishing wine region just north of Ensenada, and Mike and I consider it better than the wine regions in Napa and Santa Barbara, judged not only by the wine itself  (not that we are wine connoisseurs anyway), but also by the food, the location, and the overall ambiance. We like it so much that we have visited twice in less than a year and a half, and there was a moment where we looked into planning on buying a retirement home here. We also considered getting married here, but then realized that half of our loved ones wouldn’t make it to the wedding. In retrospect, we should have done it anyway. Valle has that relaxed winery vibe, set in an unassuming Mexican desert, with a lively flair.

Since the main highlight for us revolves mostly around the delicious food we consume here, I decided to post a few of the wineries and restaurants that we have dined at. A majority of the restaurants there practice farm to table practices, and the food just can’t get any fresher. These are definite, must-stop places if you visit La Valle! Enjoy!

Deckman’s En El Mogor

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Finca Altozano

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Corazon de Tierra

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Cuatro Cuatros

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Mike’s House Potatoes with Sam’s Omelets

It’s Sunday, and you know what that means. Brunch! Well, for a bunch of millennials, that is. Sunday brunch is the hip thing to do, and there are many ways to pull off a successful one.

With a group of friends, or as an early morning date with your significant other.

With mimosas in hand, or over much needed cups of Joe.

With baby in tow, or your favorite furry friend by your side.

At a neighborhood café, or the next new restaurant in town.

Breakfast burritos, or croissants and parfaits.

Dressed up in your Sunday best, or dressed down in loungewear sweats.

After church, or after your morning jog.

And many more.

I know, because Sunday brunch used to be what we did best. For me, it was all about going out with a group of friends, mimosas in hand, eating breakfast burritos at the next new restaurant in town dressed up in my Sunday best. Alternatively, it was early morning coffee dates with Mike at the neighborhood café over croissants after our morning jog, in our loungewear sweats. Either way you spin it, it ended in Instagram posts of photos of our food, staged to perfection, taken from the most perfect angle. It ended in “just one more round” of drinks for everyone. It was appetizers and dessert, too. There was a perceived “grown up” eloquence that came with the beautifully plated dishes, but isn’t it just another social status symbol? It’s not that we didn’t enjoy the time with our friends, or the taste of the food itself. But wasn’t it more about being able to say that you ate at the newly acclaimed chef’s restaurant? Or to one up each other in how many drinks you downed at the bar last night. Or to compete in who took the best Instagram photo? Sometimes I wonder which came first, the popularity of brunch itself, or the aspiration to be Sunday chic.

At some point, Mike and I stopped brunching. I think it was an effort to live more frugally, coinciding with the time we decided to eat out less and cook more. Eventually, we discovered simple breakfast recipes of our own, and made them in ways that were more appealing to us. No longer is it the time of $8 avocado toasts. Do people realize how much an avocado costs? A slice of bread? Do they realize that a single avocado can be split between two toasts, sometimes three depending on the size of the avocado in question? Add lime, salt, pepper, or pickled red onions, and you’ve got something much more gourmet. Likely saved yourself $5 (each) too!

Recently, we were feeling lazy and stepped out to grab sandwiches at a corner bakery next to our house. We both ordered sandwiches and soup, and decided that the soup was too salty, the bread too greasy. We looked down at our meal, which cost $20, and confirmed that we could make this way better ourselves. That’s the funny thing. You go back to eating out and realize that it’s not even worth it, most times. The money goes towards the experience and the convenience, more than anything. We aren’t the greatest cooks by any means, but we’ve gotten to the point where we know how to make most dishes, well, better. And cheaper. And healthier.

So in addition to the list above, Sunday brunch, two ways. Out and in. Here are two simple recipes that could cost you $10-15 a plate, if you choose to go out. Possibly $5 total, if you choose to stay in. It’s Mike’s House Potatoes, and Sam’s Omelets. Honestly, everyone has their own way of making these, and ours is considerably much simpler than others. The great thing is, you really can’t mess this up too bad. It’s easy.

Mike’s House Potatoes

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Ingredients:

-1 potato, diced into small cubes

– ¼ small onion, diced

-2 cloves garlic, minced

-1/4 tsp parsley

-1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

-Salt and pepper, to taste

-Teensy amount of vegetable oil

The process:

  1. Fry the potatoes in the smallest amount of vegetable needed until they’re brown and soft.
  2. Throw in onions and garlic around halfway through (7-8 minutes in).
  3. Add spices, and voila.

Sam’s Omelets

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Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ small red onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ roma tomato, diced (optional)
  • Cheese of choice (optional)
  • Avocado (to top)

NOTE: You can literally put anything you want in omelets, so do what you will. Last week it was cheese and spinach for me. This week, it was no tomatoes for Mike. So make do with what you already have or add whatever your heart desires.

The process:

  1. Mix eggs in a bowl with a whisk (or fork).
  2. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil on the frying pan.
  3. Pour eggs into the center of the oil.
  4. Sprinkle the top with whatever ingredients you like.
  5. Wait for the bottom to fully cook before folding half of the omelet onto itself.
  6. Cook for another minute, then flip.
  7. Plate after complete cooking of the egg, to your discretion. Top with avocado.

Part of the purpose of the food section in my blog is to share recipes that are simple in nature, and not at all difficult to make. We kill two birds with one stone by realizing that its saves money, too. Plus, it’s kind of fun when you share the responsibility, and work around each other, in sync, to music, using shared ingredients. And if you miss eating with friends, then why don’t you invite them over too?

Basic Crouton Recipe

I was reminiscing the other day about the lost art of passing down a sense of resourcefulness from generation to generation. Placing an increased value on learning facts from an institution and discovering things that are new, we’ve lost a lot of the wisdom that could be learned from the older generations in our own households. It used to be that the recipes you knew were those taught to you by your mother, who learned it from her grandmother, and so on and so on. And with the loss of this practice dies the art of being resourceful, when it comes to gathering ingredients for said recipes. If you asked my grandmother how she would prepare a meal for her eight children, she will probably tell you that the first thing she would do is to scrounge up the little bits of left-over ingredients she already held in the kitchen and make her meals based off of those ingredients. If she needed some other ingredients, she would try to make it from scratch. If she couldn’t make it from scratch, she would search for the produce that are in season, which would also be more plentiful, and thus cheaper. A meal is planned, and does not involve whimsically grabbing whatever looks good on the shelves.

 

Compare that to today. What most people do when they plan their meals is they go online and look up an exciting new recipe. Usually, it involves grabbing all the necessary ingredients, whether or not they are in season, with hardly a thought about the price. Rather than making teriyaki sauce from ingredients that are already present at home, most would think to go to the groceries and grab a bottle of Teriyaki Sauce, for a hefty $3 or more. Insert other pre-packaged, pre-prepared foods. Frozen foods being the worst.

 

I have nothing against discovering new recipes, since I am one who is also always trying to do such a thing. But I also place a lot of value in being resourceful. Cooking food at home is something I started to do right when I moved out of my parent’s house. I recognized that I can one-up my colleagues who were going out and buying fast food (or food much fancier than that), every day for lunch and every night for dinner. If I’m being honest, I started to cook, mostly to save money. I still consider it to be one of my top frugal life hacks, to date. People don’t believe me when I tell them that I cook meals for a whole week for Mike and I, with a budget of $50. This includes breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for 6-7 days a week. With the advent of trying to eat healthier, we have actually increased this budget recently to about $80 per week, which is still what some of our friends and family spend on one meal, per person. It kills me just thinking about it.

 

Perhaps it is from this resourcefulness which stems my longing to learn how to make bread at home. I decided that in 2018, I will learn to make all types of bread, from scratch. I even started to make my own starter, fermenting flour and water in a plastic bowl, feeding it every day like a child. But what of stale, old bread? Just as people purchase ingredients without a care about the price, they discard food at an alarmingly early stage. Bread is one of the household staples, so I figure it is here that I should start with my recipe series.

 

Mike and I buy bread from Whole Foods or other local bakeries, fresh, and in a linen bag or a paper bag. Initially, this was to avoid all the plastic, but in the end, we can’t go back to that pre-packaged bread that lasts ages. The experience is just not the same. Unfortunately, that comes with the price of quickly occurring stale bread, if we fail to eat it in a timely manner. Specifically, the crust which was once the perfect blend of flake and crunch, turns menacingly hard, so that I fear cutting into it with a serrated knife will rid me of all the serrations. It’s inedible, unless you want to risk fracturing off a cusp from your tooth. Most would just throw it out. But why not make croutons?

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Croutons are another favorite in our household, mostly for my husband. He is obsessed with croutons (as a topping, as a snack, as dessert)! We stopped buying them last year, because, you guessed it, the packaging was always plastic. However, with this recipe, we can make fresh croutons from not-so-fresh bread, while skipping the plastic wrapping. And honestly, it turns out much better than the store-bought stuff anyway. I’ve been discovering that making things at home will always turn out better than the pre-packaged stuff. It’s simple, fairly quick, and uses ingredients that you would already have at home.

So here it is:

Basic Crouton Recipe

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Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of stale bread, cut into preferred crouton-sized pieces.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil (depending on how large the slices are)
  • 1 tbs of Herbs de Provence (or to your liking. We prefer to have a lot of this stuff)
  • A pinch of salt.
  • Optional – Parmesan Cheese. We like it equally, with or without.

The Process:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Simply place bread pieces in a large bowl. Coat with the olive oil and the pinch of salt. Add Herbs de Provence and mix until evenly coated. LRG_DSC01370
  • Place bread on a baking tray. LRG_DSC01375LRG_DSC01378
  • Cook in the oven for 15 minutes, turning the bread pieces for more even cooking halfway through.

Store in a container with a tight lid. I’m particularly partial towards mason jars.

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It should keep for a good few weeks stored this way, although there are no guarantees it would last this long. Not in our house, anyway.