Easy sourdough bread

Sourdough is one of my favorite types of bread ever, and I can’t believe it’s so easy!

If you don’t have your own sourdough starter, you can find instructions on how to make one here. But I got mine from a lady giving it away in a Facebook group post; and if you know anyone who makes their own bread, chances are very good that they have a sourdough starter to share with you.

It’s very simple: you start with this 8-oz jar of bubbly liquid. You can store it in the refrigerator, and once a week, you take it out and empty out half (4 oz.).

You can use this to give to a friend so they have starter, or you can use it for baking bread or a myriad of other sourdough things: muffins, biscuits, crackers, pizza dough, bread, English muffins, even sweet breads and muffins like blueberry or banana. Then you add 4 oz. of water and 4 oz. flour, and mix well. Now you have starter for next week.

sourdough starter

By the way, you can also keep your starter at room temperature and discard/feed it every day, but who has time for that?! That method is for people who have the time to bake a loaf of bread every day.

Here is a simple, quick bread baking method (no, really, this IS quick, most sourdough bread recipes require at least 12-24 hours for proofing and rising). You can make this in one evening after work or weekend morning/afternoon.

Easy Sourdough Bread

  • 4 3/4 cups bread flour*
  • 3 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
  • 2 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (0.25 oz.)
  • 1 cup warm milk
  • 2 tbsp. softened butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp. water

First, combine 1 cup of the flour with the salt, sugar and yeast, and mix well. Add the wet ingredients (sourdough starter, milk and butter) and once fully incorporated, slowly add the rest of the flour.

Turn dough out onto a flour-covered surface and knead for 5-10 minutes, then put it back into the mixing bowl (add a little oil first to prevent sticking). Cover and let the dough rise for about 1 hour.

After about an hour, punch down the dough and form into loaves (you can use traditional rectangular bread loaf pans, or form the dough into a ball and bake it in a round cake or pie pan). Let rise another hour.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, then sprinkle the egg wash (a large egg scrambled with 1 tbsp. water) on top of each loaf. Then bake another 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

sourdough bread

*Tip: You can totally use all-purpose flour for this recipe, and it will make a fine loaf of bread. But bread flour is much finer and softer, and will lead to a softer and better piece of bread.

There’s a great post to read about bread makers here.

Need more tips for your starter? Check out these tips and tricks on the King Arthur Flour blog.


Easy Holiday Favorites: Healthy Kale-Apple Slaw and Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheez

These are two of my favorite seasonal side dishes.

They’re easy to make, easy to transport, easy to reheat or make ahead. They’re perfect for holiday parties, potlucks, or just to make to accompany any seasonal meal.

Healthy Kale-Apple Salad

  • 2-3 red or Gala apples, grated or shredded
  • 1 bunch Lacinato kale, shredded
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. whole grain mustard
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp. sour cream

kale and apple salad

Whisk the lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, and sour cream, and coat the shredded kale and apples. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Keep chilled until ready to serve – up to overnight. You can even add extra crunch with some crushed walnuts.

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This next one isn’t quite so healthy, but it’s practically as easy. Don’t be psyched out by the white sauce if you’ve never made it before, either … it’s a cinch.

mac and cheez

Baked Mac ‘n’ Cheez

  • 1 lb. penne pasta
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1 lb. shredded cheddar and jack cheese
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 2 tbsp. herbed goat cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups crushed cheesy crackers
  • salt and pepper

Boil the penne pasta to al dente and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a white sauce by whisking together the butter and flour, and slowly adding milk until a thick sauce is formed. Add the goat cheese and shredded cheeses and stir until the cheese is fully incorporated.

Mix the cheese sauce with the cooked pasta and add the eggs. Pour into a baking dish, season with salt and pepper, and top with the crushed crackers. Bake covered for 20 minutes, then uncovered for another 10-20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

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Spicy Fall Quiche

I love all types of quiches … my mother used to make great ones when I was a kid. We were always busy during the week, but often on the weekends, she would wake us up with the smell of ham and mushroom quiche, or sometimes one with spicy sausages and spinach. They would always be stuffed with lots of delicious things, and topped with tons of melty cheese.

This is a great one using Autumn vegetables, and adding a little bit of spice.

browned delicata squash

I used a vegetarian soy-rizo for this recipe to keep it meat-free, but feel free to substitute real beef or pork chorizo if you prefer. Just make sure it’s fully cooked before you put it in the oven.

spicy fall quiche

Spicy Fall Quiche

(makes 2 quiches)

  • 2 deep dish pie crusts
  • 12 eggs
  • dash of whole milk
  • 1 lb. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 delicata squash, sliced
  • 1 12-oz. package of soy chorizo
  • 1 lb. of cooked potatoes
  • 1/2 sliced mushrooms

Brown the slices of squash in a cast-iron skillet and set aside. Scramble the eggs and milk together, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat the chorizo and potatoes together until fully cooked, then split the mixture between the two pie crusts. Add the mushrooms and squash pieces, then fill each pie crust the rest of the way with the egg mixture. Top each pie with all of the cheese.

Bake covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for another 10 minutes, until the quiche is firm when a knife is put through the center. Serve warm.

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African Chicken Peanut Stew

It felt so good to be back in the kitchen this week! I’ve been out of commission the last few months due to chemotherapy, but I am feeling great and back in the saddle again – at least for now.

This time of year, regardless of your health, a thick and comforting soup is always perfect. But in the weeks after Thanksgiving we all start to daydream about food that wasn’t at one point the turkey or ham centerpiece of the holiday meal. I love turkey rice soup (and turkey noodle soup, etc.) as much as the next guy, but it’s time for something new.

And spicy.

This is really one of my favorite soups. It’s best if you start with a homemade chicken stock – as in, you get a chicken carcass (like one you have roasted or smoked), or even a few chicken parts, and boil it down – so you can get as much good chicken meat as well as broth. If you only have canned or packaged chicken stock on hand, add pieces of chicken as well – or substitute extra vegetables to fill it up. The rest of the items are probably in your pantry already, so it’s a great way to use up a few potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots.

African chicken peanut stew

African Chicken Peanut Stew

  • 2 quarts of good chicken stock (with meat pieces)
  • 1 8-oz jar of chunky natural peanut butter
  • 1 can of roasted, diced tomatoes
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 red potatoes, diced
  • 2-3 sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and diced
  • 2 cups roasted peanuts
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • dash of lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. sriracha or fermented hot sauce (homemade if possible)

Start by sauteeing the shallot and hot sauce in the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the carrots and diced potatoes. Add cumin and salt and pepper. Once the vegetables are coated and starting to cook, add the can of tomatoes and the chicken meat and stock.

Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked. Slowly stir in the peanut butter (you may have to mix it first in the jar) and about half of the roasted peanuts. Taste to make sure you don’t need to add more salt, pepper, or cumin, and adjust accordingly.

Add a dash of lemon juice or vinegar to the pot as you turn off the heat. Garnish with fresh cilantro and whole peanuts. Serve immediately.

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Curried Cauliflower Soup

I love a good soup, and I love a versatile dish. This amazing soup can be ready in 30 minutes, and it’s delicious served at any temperature. Right now, it’s a muggy 80 degrees in southern California, but my CSA box hasn’t gotten the message … the produce sections everywhere are full of cauliflower and other fall-like vegetables … so I ate this cold, too! This is also a super-healthy recipe, and will be a big hit during the October Unprocessed challenge next month.

For just a few cheap ingredients (either fresh, or probably in your pantry), you can have a simple filling, yummy, spicy soup. Customize it any way you like: I made mine extra spicy, and I used smoked chicken stock (homemade of course), but if you don’t like spicy foods, you can use a lighter curry paste or less of it than I did … and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can use vegetable stock.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 large head of fresh cauliflower
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 head garlic, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 quart of chicken stock (or use vegetable stock to keep vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1/2 cup Thai curry paste, any type (I used red)*
  • 1/2 cup ghee or butter (or olive oil to keep it vegan)

First, dice the vegetables and saute them in the ghee for a few minutes, and add the Thai curry paste and ginger. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender.

curried cauliflower soupRemove from heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the ingredients. Add the coconut milk (be sure to shake the can first), and then taste and season accordingly.

* Depending on how spicy your curry paste is, you might want to add more broth or more salt. I like mine spicy, so I use an authentic red curry paste. If you don’t like it hot, use less than a tablespoon, or use a milder paste. For this brand (see below) a tablespoon is more than enough to fully flavor an entire pot of soup.

red curry paste

Sprinkle with a bit of chili powder on top and serve with some good bread. It will be spicy, but it’s worth it.

curried cauliflower soup

Try your leftovers chilled the next day. 🙂
curry cauliflower soup recipe card

Easy squash and vegetable soup (perfect for the holidays)

This is a great, easy soup that is perfect for Thanksgiving or other family dinners. It’s vegetarian (although it can be adapted to include chicken or meat stock), and it’s great for an appetizer or as part of your holiday meal.

As usual when cooking with butternut squash (or any squash or gourd that has a very hard outer shell), I made the process easier on myself by cutting the giant squash into a few manageable chunks, then I dry-roasted it on my grill until the peel was charred. Let it cool down until you can handle it with your bare (clean) hands, and it’s super-easy to peel the rind off and cut up the sweet squash inside.

Butternut squash and vegetable soup

Easy Squash and Vegetable Soup

  • about 2 lbs of butternut squash, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • one container (about 14 oz.) soft tofu, chopped
  • one large onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 small red potatoes, diced
  • 3 heads garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dried sage
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. ginger
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 bottle of good beer
  • salt and pepper
  • crumbly feta cheese or blue cheese, for serving

Feel free to clean out your fridge when picking the vegetables to use … I just used the few items I had on hand, but a few stalks of celery, maybe sweet potato, some fresh fennel, or some fresh leek(s), would be a great addition to this recipe.

I simply added all of the ingredients (no pre-cooking needed except for the butternut squash), and cooked everything together in my slow cooker overnight. Cook it for at least 6 hours on the low setting, but the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will develop. Then puree the entire contents of the pot with your trusty immersion blender, taste the soup, add more spices if necessary, and serve.

Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey – plus a bonus recipe

You may have read about my previous attempts with smoked beer-can chicken … one of the tastiest and coolest-to-adapt  and insane-leftover-making smoker dishes out there. I have switched it up several times, trying it with different types of beverages and liquids inside the beer can, and changing up the seasonings I put on the outside.

This year I wanted to try the same procedure with smoking my Thanksgiving turkey, and it worked out beautifully.

smoked beer-can turkey

It’s really a super-simple procedure: oil and season your bird on the outside, and stuff it with a beer can for the smoking process. Cook it to 160 internal temp, and you’re done. The hands-on time that you have to actually spend doing things is maybe 10 minutes.

Since I have done this a few times, I wanted to offer some tips before I get to the specifics.

  • Get a good digital thermometer. My smoker is vertical, so every time I lift the lid to take the meat’s temperature, some of the precious, sweet, sweet smoke escapes, and flavors the air instead of my dinner. I don’t like it when that happens. I invested in a good digital thermometer that tells me both the meat temperature AND the oven/inside of the smoker temperature. It even has an alarm so it will let me know if my smoker gets too hot or when my meat is finished. This is the one I have and it has served me well.
  • Experiment with  different seasonings. I use a Misto, which I can fill with extra-virgin olive oil and spritz the outside of the chicken or turkey, then I sprinkle it with seasoning. Since most of the flavoring is from the wood smoke, you can literally coat your bird in salt and pepper and it will be awesome (I like to use a pre-made Cajun seasoning — I am a huge fan of the Cajun Power company). But use what you like.
  • Experiment with different types of wood chips with different types of meat. For this turkey, I used hickory wood chips, but I also really love mesquite wood chips for smoking poultry.
hickory chips for smoking

Soaked hickory chips on the smoker.

So this is the deal (and this works the same with chicken and with turkey):

  • Clean and trim the turkey (I had to cut off a bit of the fatty part by the neck, etc.).


  • Spritz the outside of the turkey with a light layer of oil, then sprinkle your favorite seasoning blend over the skin (I like a Cajun seasoning mix).
  • Situate the beer can inside of the turkey. Since turkeys are generally much bigger than chickens, I used a larger beer can. I also, just to avoid wasting beer, poured most of the beer from the can out into a cup, then when the bird was situated on the smoker (and didn’t look too wobbly), I poured the beer back into the can through the top of the bird. Depending on the size of your turkey and the dimensions of your smoker, you may have to maneuver a bit to get the beer can in there and get the turkey legs around it so the turkey is literally sitting on the can. You want to be able to look down into the neck cavity and see the top of the can.
Rosemary sprigs are optional. :)

Rosemary sprigs are optional. 🙂

  • Smoke until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. For a chicken that is 5-6 lbs., that takes about 3 hours. For a turkey that weighs about 11 lbs., it took six hours.
halfway done

Halfway done!

Temperature is more important than time, and depending on your smoker, it might take considerably less time … or for that matter, considerably more time. Also when the turkey is done, the smoking process leaves it with a pink-colored smoke ring, and sometimes people can confuse pinkness with doneness. Just make sure the temperature is high enough and you should be fine.

Fully-cooked smoked turkey ... look at that color!

Fully-cooked smoked turkey … look at that color!

  • Let it rest for at least 20 minutes after smoking before you cut into it. Just like a juicy steak, all of those juices inside the turkey will spill out right away if you don’t give them a few minutes to redistribute. Try to cover your bird with foil and keep it away from grabby hands until it’s time to eat. 🙂
Before and After.

Before and After.

smoked turkey recipe card


Oh, but wait!

Don’t forget to save those insides!


So, every turkey you buy in the store comes with that little packet inside, that has the turkey’s heart, gizzard, liver, and usually also the neck bone. It’s Thanksgiving tradition in my house to (obviously) remove these from the turkey before roasting (or, in this case, smoking), and putting the offal either in a pot on the back of the stove and out of the way of all the other Thanksgiving dishes, or in the slow cooker, and making a big pot of turkey and rice soup.

One would think that a huge pot of soup would be kind of superfluous given the huge bounty of food going around on T-Day, but you’d be surprised! After the initial meal, then the dessert, then the subsequent football game/ food coma, you might want to eat a little bit more, but not like, a full meal again … and then, this soup is perfect.

Trust me.

  • offal packet from your store-bought turkey (liver, gizzard and heart, plus the neck bone)
  • 1 cup of rice (add more later if needed)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2-3 stalks chopped celery
  • 2-3 chopped carrots
  • 2 gloved garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 diced jalapeno (optional)

Of course, you could also wait until your turkey has also been smoked, and add some of the smoke turkey bones to the soup for added smoky flavor. No one would blame you. Smoked chicken and smoked turkey carcasses make some of the best soups you can imagine. (Seriously, take any chicken soup or turkey soup recipe and substitute smoked chicken or smoked turkey. The meat or just the stock. It will change your life.)

turkey rice soup

You can also use the liver (plus a few more chicken livers) to make an insanely delicious pate for your Thanksgiving appetizers. Toss the livers on the smoker for a while (they will probably take less than an hour) and try this smoked chicken liver pate recipe. To. Die. For.