When it comes to comfort meals, pasta is right up there at the top of the list. Spaghetti, ziti, rotini, fusilli, linguine, cavatelli, and Fettucine are just a few in a vast number of shapes. They are served in a variety of delicious sauces or gravies, depending on who you ask, but the bottom line is, the sauce feels and tastes like love.
With a plethora of responsibilities at work and at home, taking the time to make pasta and a Bolognese sauce during the week isn’t something that aligns with most schedules. However, if you want to treat your family, friends, and yourself to something wonderful, this recipe for homemade pasta and Bolognese sauce is for you.
Homemade pasta is a snap. It can be made with an old-fashioned pasta machine. If you have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, you can buy the pasta attachment. Both are reasonably priced and make for a good investment.
This recipe has been adapted for:
Gluten-Sensitivities or Celiac Disease
Fresh Whole Wheat Homemade Pasta by Love and Lemons adapted by Still A Chick Lit
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour plus ½ cup white whole wheat flour, spooned and leveled (gluten-free all-purpose flour)
3 large eggs (Just Eggs liquid vegan egg replacer or ¾ cup silken tofu pureed with ½ teaspoon baking soda)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Place the flour on a clean work surface and make a nest. Add the eggs, olive oil, and salt to the center and use a fork to gently break up the eggs, keeping the flour walls intact as best as you can. Use your hands to gently bring the flour inward to incorporate. Continue working the dough with your hands to bring it together into a shaggy ball.
Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes. In the beginning, the dough should feel pretty dry, but stick with it! It might not feel like it’s going to come together, but after 8-10 minutes of kneading, it should become cohesive and smooth. If the dough still seems too dry, sprinkle your fingers with a tiny bit of water to incorporate. If it’s too sticky, dust more flour onto your work surface. Shape the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Dust 2 large baking sheets with flour and set aside.
Slice the dough into four pieces. Gently flatten one into an oval disk. Run the dough through the pasta machine three times on level 1 (the widest setting).
Set the dough piece onto a countertop or work surface. Fold both short ends in to meet in the center, then fold the dough in half to form a rectangle (see photo above).
Run the dough through the pasta roller three times on level 2, three times on level 3, and one time each on levels 4, 5, and 6.
Lay half of the pasta sheet onto the floured baking sheet and sprinkle with flour before folding the other half on top. Sprinkle more flour on top of the second half. Every side should be floured so that your final pasta noodles won’t stick together.
Repeat with remaining dough.
Run the pasta sheets through the pasta machine Repeat with the remaining dough. Cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes.
2 celery stalks, chopped fine
2 carrots, chopped fine
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped finely
3 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons, fresh basil, chiffonade-style
2 tablespoons, fresh parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound ground beef (Vegan Ground Meat)
¼ cup tomato paste
1 can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed,
¼ cup red wine
1 ½ teaspoons Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper
Virgin Olive Oil
In a large pot, heat olive oil over a medium flame until hot. Add the celery, carrots, and onions. Turn the heat down, and sauté for six to eight minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and cook until it begins to darken and begins to caramelize. Add the ground beef and cook through. Add the red wine, followed by the tomatoes, herbs, salt, red pepper flakes, and pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer on low for 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally and taste to adjust seasoning.
Most of the country has been enjoying a longer Indian summer than usual. However, fall is beginning to make its presence known with temperatures beginning to dip all across the country. Although many are sorry to see the warmer temps go, I enjoy the cooler temperatures. Sleeping weather is also a perfect time to enjoy a nice bowl of soup.
Squash is available year-round everywhere, but there are seasons when certain varieties are more plentiful. I love the hearty gourds like acorn and butternut squash. Both are versatile and can be used in many recipes. This Makeover Monday puts the spotlight on butternut squash soup.
This soup has been on my fall and Thanksgiving table for many years. The recipe is very simple, and you can adjust the ingredients according to your flavor palate. It’s a wonderful combination of roasted butternut squash, sweet onions, and ginger. To make it even easier, you can buy butternut squash that’s already prepped. It’s a time saver.
This recipe is vegan/vegetarian, low-carb, and gluten-free.
Total Time: Approximately 1 hour
Active time: 15 minutes Estimate
Inactive time: 45 minutes
Butternut Squash and Ginger Soup
2 large butternut squash (Cut in halves and seeded) (or 2 packages of pre-cut butternut squash)
4 medium sweet onions, rough chopped
1 small fresh ginger root (peeled and minced)
3 tablespoons Canola oil
Virgin Olive Oil
4 ½ – 5 cups Unsalted Vegetable Stock
Preheat oven to 375-degrees.
Split the butternut squash in half and take the seeds out. Line a large sheet pan with foil. Place the squash on the pan, skin down, and drizzle olive oil until the squash is coated. Place it in the preheated oven and roast it for 45 minutes to an hour. When you can easily pierce the squash with a fork, take it out and let it cool to room temperature. Once it’s cool enough to handle scoop the softened squash into a bowl.
In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onions. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook until the onions are soft, then add the minced ginger, and cook until the onions are translucent.
Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock and the squash. Using an immersion blender, blend the onions, ginger, and butternut squash. Add the remaining vegetable stock, one cup at a time, blending well after each addition. Cover, and let simmer on low heat for ten minutes. How thick or thin the soup is up to you. If you like a thinner soup, add more stock, if a thicker soup is to your liking, add less.
You can save money buying fresh butternut squash and cubing it yourself. Split the squash in half, and then into quarters. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the skin, then cut into medium-sized chunks.
You can use unsalted or low salt vegetable broth
You can also use unsalted chicken stock or broth to add a little more depth to the soup
How much ginger you use is up to you. Remember, you can add more ginger, but you can’t take it out. If you use a bit more than intended and it has a little too much bite, you can a little applesauce to add a bit of sweetness and tamps the spiciness down.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a blender. Be careful to do it in small batches, and make sure the mixture isn’t too hot to avoid making a mess.
You can store the soup in the fridge for up to 11 days
This soup freezes beautifully in an airtight container for up to three months.
For more recipes and everything Still A Chick Lit, subscribe to our newsletter
This Monday meal is just right for autumn and football season. When the temperatures drop, this chili will warm you up without weighing you down. It also comes together fairly quickly. Serve the chili alone, topped with cheese or over rice. It also goes well with guacamole and chips.
This is a family pleaser and perfect for Monday Night Football.
The recipe includes adaptations for vegetarians and vegans. It’s also gluten-free and high protein.
Chicken Chili by Still A Chick Lit
4 small or 3 large sweet onions, diced (Vidalia or Texas sweet)
2 green peppers, medium-diced
3 red peppers, medium-diced
1 orange pepper, medium-diced
1, yellow pepper, medium-diced
1 can low-sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can low-sodium pink kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of unsalted chicken stock or broth
3 cans Campbells tomato soup
3 tablespoons chili powder, or to taste
1 pound ground chicken (or ground turkey)
1 pound ground chicken breast (or ground turkey breast)
3 tablespoons Canola oil
Add Canola or vegetable oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add your diced onions and peppers. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground chicken and chicken breast in, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cover and let cook through, stirring occasionally.
When the chicken is no longer pink, add the chili powder and stir well. Add the beans and tomato soup. Mix well. Lower the flame and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
2 Packages of vegan ground meat
1/4 cup to 1/2 unsalted vegetable stock or broth
To Make Using a Slow Cooker
Cook the ground chicken separately in a skillet until cooked through. Set aside. Clean the skillet and add the onions and peppers. Cook until the vegetables are just beginning to soften. Remove from the heat.
Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a slow cooker with the beans, tomato soup, seasoning, and chicken stock.
Cover and cook on high until chili has thickened, about 4 hours. Or cook on low for 6 hours.
For more Makeover Monday Meal recipes and more, subscribe to our newsletter
We are always on the lookout for delicious recipes to start your week off right. To that end, we came across this lovely recipe by the Real mom Kitchen for an unstuffed peppers skillet. Many of us know and love a version of stuffed peppers made by our moms or grandmothers. The presentation was always as delightful to the eye as it was the palate. Laura Powell’s unstuffed recipe is a great take on this classic.
To make this recipe a little more inclusive, we have adapted it for vegans and vegetarians too. Remember, you can season it your way. The seasonings used in Ms. Powell’s original recipe work nicely, but feel free to go with your own palate. It can easily be more Italian with the addition of dried oregano, basil, or parsley too. For an Indian flare, a little curry or Garam Masala might be nice. You get the idea, make it your way and enjoy.
Unstuffed peppers skillet recipe by Real Mom Kitchen adapted by Still A Chick Lit
3 bell peppers, diced (I used one green, 2 red)
1/2 onion, diced
1 lb ground beef or sausage (beef 80/20 or 85/15, 90/10) (Chicken: ½ pound ground chicken breast, ½ pound ground chicken) (Turkey: ½ pound ground turkey breast, ½ pound ground turkey)
(Beyond meat, ground, Gardein ground, Impossible Plant-Based Burger Ground, Farmland Protein, ground, Good and Gather, meatless beef style ground)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (14 oz) can beef broth (chicken or vegetable unsalted stock)
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup uncooked extra-long grain rice
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (Daiya cheddar cheese shreds or vegan cheese shreds of your choice)
additional diced peppers and/or green onion for garnish
3 tablespoons canola or olive oil, divided
In a large skillet with 1 ½ tablespoon of oil, add onion and peppers and sauté until tender. Remove from the skillet and wipe clean. Brown the ground beef or sausage until cooked through. Drain off any excess fat, then add the vegetables back in. * If you are using chicken, turkey, use 1 ½ tablespoon of oil to cook the meat thoroughly until no longer pink. For the vegan ground, you can cook the onions, peppers, and vegan ground together in the oil until the vegetables are tender.
Add garlic to the meat or meatless mixture and cook for a minute until fragrant. Drain off any excess grease (meat).
Add tomatoes, beef broth, tomato sauce, salt, pepper, sugar, Worcestershire, and rice to the skillet.
Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, and cover. Cook for about 20-30 minutes until moisture is absorbed and rice is tender. At 20 minutes check and give a stir and continue cooking if needed.
Once the rice is tender, sprinkle cheese over the mixture and cover to get the cheese melted.
Once melted garnish with chopped peppers and /or green onion and serve. Serves 4-6.
For more Makeover, Monday Meals and other fabulous topics subscribe to our newsletter
It was a dark, cold, grey, January day in Manhattan. The city’s holiday shine had long faded away. Gone from the modern contemporary office lobbies across New York County were the trees, lights, and holiday decorations that made them sparkle. Now, they were more like a rich man’s trophy wife or girlfriend, beautiful to behold, but soulless and cold. At least that’s what went through fifty-three-year-old Clarissa Berman’s mind as she walked through the lobby of her office building on Lexington Avenue.
At 5’8, Clarissa wasn’t considered petite, but tall enough to be above average. A very curvy African American woman, she had big boobs, a generous butt, a smallish waist with a little more tummy than she’d like. Her long, curly, thick hair was a custom mix of Clairol light reddish and cedar red-brown, which played nicely off of the red undertones of her light brown complexion. To say Clarissa was a convert to the natural hair movement, was a bit of a stretch. She’d done so at the suggestion of Mary Ann, otherwise known as her mothership. A woman used to having her will be done, she now suggested things to her adult daughters who’d long discovered that her suggestions were the equivalent of mutton dressed as lamb, but it was still mutton.
From the moment Clarissa and younger sister Elena were able to understand their roles in the family, her mothership Mary Anne Stevenson made it clear that even when they became queens of their own domains, they’d always be the ladies in waiting to her. Growing up, the ‘I am the mother argument’ was the overriding element for almost everything. Everyone from her husband, family, and friends, were in the mothership realm, and therefore subject to her opinions, will, and advice.
For updates and everything Still A Chick Lit, subscribe to our free newsletter
One of the very best things about summer is the availability of fresh fruit and vegetables. With fruits like blueberries, cherries, and blackberries in season, berries are wonderful on their own, on top of yogurt with a little granola, or baked up in a pie.
The same applies to the bounty of fresh vegetables. You can find zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green beans, herbs, and tomatoes (which are technically not a vegetable) in many backyard gardens, farm stands, farmer’s markets, and your favorite market or grocery store’s produce section.
Summer corn is found everywhere. It’s so delicious this time of year and there are so many ways to enjoy it besides boiling or grilling it to indulge in its sweetness. When I came across this recipe by Simply Recipes, which was touted as their very favorite, I was intrigued enough to put aside a few other recipes I’d been eyeing to give this one a whirl. I wasn’t disappointed.
Simply Recipes has this along with many other recipes that feature corn as the star of the show. Check out their website for more ideas to enjoy it to the maximum.
The recipe includes bacon and milk, which won’t work for vegans or vegetarians. I have adapted it so you can still enjoy this lovely bowl of soup.
Sweet Corn Chowder by Simply Recipes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter ( For the vegetarian or vegan chowder: 2 tablespoons unsalted vegan butter, plus 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin or virgin olive oil)
1 strip bacon, or 1 teaspoon bacon fat (omit for vegetarian and vegan soup)
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup small-diced carrot
1/2 cup small-diced celery
4 to 5 ears sweet corn, kernels removed from the cobs (about 3 cups), cobs reserved
1 bay leaf
4 1/2 cups milk, whole or low fat (soy or rice milk)
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and large (1-inch) diced (about 3 cups)
3 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
For vegetarian and vegan chowder, go straight to sauteing the vegetables in the vegan butter/olive oil)
Cook the bacon:
Place butter and bacon into a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Heat on medium heat until the bacon renders its fat, 3-4 minutes.
Cook the vegetables (except the corn and potatoes):
Add the chopped onions, red bell pepper, carrot, and celery, lower the heat to medium-low and cook until vegetables soften about 5 minutes.
Add corn cobs and bring to a simmer:
Break the corn cobs in half (after you’ve stripped off the corn) and add the cobs to the pot. Add the milk and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a bare simmer. Cover the pot and cook for 20 minutes.
Make sure the heat is as low as can be and still maintain a gentle simmer (on our stove we had to use the “warm” setting) to prevent scalding the milk on the bottom of the pan.
After 20 minutes, add the potatoes, salt, and thyme to the pot. Increase the heat to return the soup to a simmer, then lower the heat to maintain the simmer and cook for another 10 minutes.
Finish the soup:
Discard the cobs, the bacon strip, and the bay leaf. Add the corn kernels and black pepper. Again raise the heat to bring the soup to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook for another 5 minutes, until the potatoes are fork-tender.
For more Makeover, Monday Meal recipes and more, subscribe to our newsletter
It’s hard to believe that we are already more than halfway through the month of July. With summertime temperatures rising across the country, light, refreshing, and easy-to-prepare recipes are the order of the day.
In our search to find the best of light, healthy, and tasty, this recipe from Simply Recipes for Tex-Mex Chopped Chicken Salad with Cilantro Lime Dressing fits the bill. Moreover, we were able to adapt it to add protein to fit with vegetarian and vegan diets too.
This recipe fits the dietary requirements for:
Low Sugar or No Sugar diets
Keto-Friendly (don’t add corn or tortilla chips)
Tex-Mex Chopped Chicken Salad by Simply Recipes adapted by Chamein Canton
1 1/2 cups fresh corn kernels (2 medium ears) or frozen and thawed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (1 package of extra-firm tofu, drained or 1 package seitan)
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix (low-sodium taco seasoning or your favorite taco seasoning in the packet or homemade)
12 corn tortilla chips
1/4 cup crumbled Cotija cheese (Feta cheese or Cheddar cheese can be substituted) (For Vegans mozzarella or cheddar shreds are a good choice)
For the dressing
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, lightly packed
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine salad ingredients:
Combine the lettuce, red pepper, cucumber, tomatoes, and scallions in a large serving bowl. Set aside.
Char the corn:
Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a medium or large heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the corn.
Season corn with 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until blackened in spots and tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Season the chicken:
Sprinkle the taco seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon salt over the surface of the chicken, rubbing it in and coating it so the chicken is fully seasoned.
Cook the chicken:
In the same skillet used to cook the corn add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook until deeply brown along the bottom and the flesh turns opaque about halfway up the side, 4 to 5 minutes.
Flip the chicken and continue cooking, until brown on the second side and fully cooked through another 3 to 5 minutes.
Cut the chicken:
Transfer the cooked chicken to a cutting board. Once it is cool enough to handle, cut it into bite-sized pieces.
Make the salad dressing:
Place the lime juice, vinegar, honey, cumin, salt, pepper, cilantro, and olive oil into a blender and blend until smooth. Add 1 tablespoon of water, if needed, to get the blender going.
Alternatively, make this dressing by hand. Finely chop the cilantro and place it in a medium bowl. Combine all salad dressing ingredients and whisk until smooth.
Finish and serve the salad:
Add the corn and chicken into the bowl with the salad ingredients. Crumble the tortilla chips over the top.
Add about two-thirds of the dressing and toss to lightly coat. Add more dressing and toss again, if needed. Divide salad into 4 bowls, top with crumbled Cotija cheese, and serve.
Notes for Vegan and Vegetarians
To replace the chicken, you can use extra-firm tofu or seitan instead. Prepare it as you would the chicken, being mindful not to crowd the pan when sauteing in the pan. To keep it from steaming, cook the tofu or seitan in batches.
For those who don’t like Cilantro
You can use parsley to make the dressing in the same proportions.
To get updates on the new Makeover Monday Meal recipes, subscribe to our newsletter and follow this blog.
Like women, fine wines get better with time. Wines become more nuanced and complex with age, also like women. Our value increases as we age and come into our own. We are powerful. However, we’re vulnerable too. Many women who are north of forty have found themselves facing a chronic illness. It can put a damper on our health and affect our mind, body, and soul. The key is to take ownership of it, so we have the condition, but it doesn’t have us.
What is a chronic illness?
Chronic illnesses are defined broadly as conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. Chronic diseases can include heart disease and autoimmune diseases like MS, Lupus, Epilepsy, and Diabetes. It also encompasses injuries sustained that affect your knees, back, or hips.
According to the CDC, six in ten adults are living with a chronic illness. Four in ten adults have two or more chronic conditions. The leading causes of death and disability are heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. The key risks for these diseases are tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and excessive alcohol use (CDC 2020)
Ben Franklin wisely stated that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Many women who are north of forty and fifty-plus, are used to being the person who is counted on. Whether as a wife, mother, daughter, or sister, women tend to be natural caretakers and nurturers. All of us have a role we play in our families, and it’s something we take to heart. Nevertheless, we must realize that if we don’t take care of ourselves, no one else will do it for us. We are our own best resource. So, find the time to take care and deal with your chronic condition.
The right doctor, nurse, or physician’s assistant is an essential part of your healthcare team. A doctor who is knowledgeable and has your full health history is an important asset in determining the measures taken to mitigate any issues of pain and discomfort that arise from your condition. Talk to them if you’re on medication and would like to add vitamin supplements to boost your health. Vitamins, like over-the-counter medications, can interact with doctor-prescribed medications. Also, if you’re on medication, and you lose weight, be sure to see the doctor particularly if you’re taking something for a condition like hypertension. Your doctor takes your weight and height into consideration when figuring out the dosage. If you lose a significant amount of weight, he or she may want to reevaluate it. The same goes for pain medication.
While your doctor has a lot to do with your well-being, you are always in control. Try to find activities that relieve stress. Low-impact exercises like walking and swimming, provide a workout that lessens stress on your joints if you have issues with your legs, knees, or back. Many things like yoga, pilates, and Tai-Chi, can be modified to accommodate your level of fitness and disability. If you don’t want to join a gym, you can go on YouTube where they have channels dedicated to different types of workouts. Fitbit, Peleton, and more have apps to assist you with finding an exercise program suited to your needs. Find a physical activity you can commit to. You’re more likely to keep up with it when it’s something you enjoy.
Design a diet that works for you
Moderation is the way
Think about your diet. No need to subscribe to any diet program with pre-measured food that comes in a box. Create a diet that works for you. Drastic changes like veganism or no-carb can be a shock to the body. Eating a healthy diet filled with vegetables, lean protein, fruits, and lots of water is a great way to go. Limit processed foods, salt, and too much sugar. That doesn’t mean you are going to graze and eat tofu for dessert for the rest of your life. The key is moderation. Before there were Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, Jenny Craig, or Keto-anything, there was moderation and portion control. Portions in the United States are larger than most countries. In France, they consume butter, cream, and cheese, but they have a low rate of heart disease. By eating smaller portions throughout the day, the French keep their bodies fueled efficiently. It makes a difference.
Focus on your likes and dislikes to come up with a diet that works for you and your lifestyle. If you can afford it, try a pre-made meal service that delivers weekly. If that doesn’t fit your budget, but you’re not crazy about cooking, keep it simple with recipes that require a minimal amount of ingredients and don’t take much time. Eating healthy is possible on a budget. Shop around to find the best deals and sales. Also, change things up with different cuisines. Or try new food. Variety is the spice of life, and it keeps mealtime interesting.
Lean on family, friends, or call a professional for support
We all need a support system. Many of us are used to being the one who is there for others. There are days when even the toughest and strongest of us need an ear and a shoulder to lean on. Allow your friends and family to be there for you. Moreover, feel free to talk to a professional about your feelings. A little talk therapy goes a long way. Then again when all else fails, try chocolate. This one-bowl chocolate cake recipe from King Arthur is low-fat, dairy-free, and a snap to make.
For as long as I can remember I loved to write. My paternal grandmother, was an avid and voracious reader. She went through about three books a week. She was a big Sidney Sheldon fan. The cover for the Other Side Of Midnight still sticks out in my mind. Grandma Salley, my maternal grandmother loved to read, but she was also an epic letter writer. She corresponded with friends and family weekly, and never seemed to run out of things to write about.
Thankfully, as a professional writer and author, I have never been at a loss when it comes to things to write about. Writer’s block is real thing and feel paralyzing. Conversely, the overabundance of ideas can easily result in choice overload, making it difficult for writers to narrow the choices and make a decision. I tend to fall into the latter situation, and heading into the kitchen helps me get over the hump.
I make the most of the tactile nature of cooking and baking to take my mind off the choices and focus it on another task. Nine times out of ten, I figure out my next steps through baking. However, when I’m not sure what I should do next, I take out the big guns and delve into more complicated recipes for pastries, like croissants.
Cooking something that is a bit more complex like paella or a Bolognese sauce, can work, but it’s the order found in baking that’s more effective for me. In cooking, as long as you stick to the basics of techniques, you can adjust seasoning, add more or less of an ingredient, or even omit something. That’s not the case in baking, it’s a science. You cannot add more leaveners like baking powder, baking soda, or yeast. Eggs are important for structure. Milk and butter add to tenderness and texture. Even in gluten-free and vegan baking, the substitutions must do the same thing, which is a challenge, but can be accomplished. The order in baking works for my writing process and channels stress.
Laminating dough creates thin layers of dough and butter through the process of rolling and folding. It’s tedious, but something about it works for me. With each turn, my mind clears and I find the clarity needed to decide what’s next in my manuscript, whether it’s adding another character, or fleshing another character further to add dimension for the reader. Is the dialogue snappy or too smart or overly witty for witty’s sake. Naturally, this is my process, and every writer is different. Some go running or take a walk. Others go to their favorite diner or park to watch people. A long drive is a good option too. The fact is anything that brings you peace will inspire and break your writer’s block or illuminate the path to making the right choice to move your story forward. Admittedly, if you work it out in the kitchen, both you and the people around you receive a very tasty benefit. In my case today, they get croissants. There’s nothing wrong with that.
King Arthur Baker’s Croissant recipe adaptation by me
2 large eggs + enough warm water to make 2 cups (454g) of liquid (6 tablespoons Aquafaba or ½ cup silken tofu pureed with ¼ teaspoon baking soda) **
1/4 cup (50g) sugar, divided
5 1/2 to 6 cups (659g to 723g) (gluten-free all-purpose flour or 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend flour)**
1/2 cup (56g) Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk, optional
1 scant tablespoon (16g) table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional; for sweet pastry)
30 tablespoons (425g) unsalted butter, cool to the touch (vegan butter)**
3/4 teaspoon table salt or ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (60g) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour or 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend flour)**
For the dough: Put the eggs and water in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of the sugar, 3 cups (362g) of the flour, and the yeast. Mix until well blended; set aside to let the sponge work.
For the butter: Cut the butter into 1˝ chunks and combine with the salt and flour at low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment just until smooth, with no lumps. Be careful not to beat too much; you don’t want to incorporate any air. My tip, while the stand mixer with the paddle attachment works well, you do run the risk of add air to the butter. I used my pastry cutter and worked the flour and butter into pea-size clumps, then turned it out onto parchment paper, put another sheet of parchment over and rolled the butter until I had the shape I wanted. Then in the fridge it went.
Spread the butter on a piece of plastic wrap and shape into an 8˝ square. Wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Finish the dough: Add the melted butter to the sponge. Whisk together the remaining sugar, 2 1/2 cups (298g) of the flour, the dry milk, and salt and add to the sponge. Mix until the dough forms. Knead for 5 minutes; touch the dough lightly with your finger. If it’s still sticky, add the remaining flour 2 tablespoons at a time until the dough is the desired consistency. Once the dough is smooth and elastic, pat it into a 9˝ square, then wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
To laminate the dough: Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and gently roll it to a 12″ square.
Unwrap the butter square and place it in the center of the dough at a 45° angle, so it looks like a diamond in a square. Pull the corners of the dough into the center of the butter diamond. Moisten the edges with a little water and pinch the seams together well to enclose the butter. Dust the top with flour and turn the packet over.
Tap the dough all over with a rolling pin, encouraging it into a rectangular shape. Once it’s pliable, roll it to a 20˝ x 10˝ rectangle, picking it up and dusting lightly with flour as needed.
When you’ve reached the proper size, use a dry brush to sweep off any excess flour and fold the dough in thirds, like a business letter. Take care to keep the edges straight and line them up directly over each other. If the dough slides around, use a little water at the corners to tack them in place. This is your first turn.
Rotate the dough out so it looks like a book about to be opened. Roll the dough out once more to 20˝ x 10˝ and fold it as before. This is the second turn. Wrap the dough and refrigerate it for 30 minutes to allow the gluten in the dough to relax.
Give the dough two more turns after its rest, then wrap the dough well and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight before using. You can also freeze the dough at this point.
To shape the croissants: Cut the packet of dough in half. Wrap and refrigerate or freeze one half.
Roll the other half to a 13˝ x 18˝ rectangle. Trim the edges about 1/4˝ all the way around with a ruler and pizza cutter. This removes the folded edges that would inhibit the dough’s rise.
Cut the dough in thirds lengthwise and in half down the center. This will give you six 4˝ x 9˝ pieces. Cut these pieces in half diagonally and arrange them so the points are facing away from you. Stretch them gently to make them a little longer, then cut a 1˝ notch in the center of the base of each triangle.
Take the two inside corners of the notch and roll them up toward you, building a curved shape as you roll the base of the dough toward the tip. Make sure the tip ends up under the bottom of the croissant. Place the shaped pastry on a parchment-lined baking sheet, curving the ends toward each other. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Take the croissants out of the refrigerator, and let them warm and rise for 60 to 90 minutes at room temperature. They should expand noticeably, and when you gently press one with your finger, the indentation should remain.
Towards the end of the rise time, preheat the oven to 425°F. Brush each croissant with an egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven’s temperature to 350°F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes more, until deep golden brown and no raw dough is visible where the layers overlap. Remove from the oven and let cool on the pan on a rack for 20 minutes before serving.
Tips from King Arthur Bakers
Bubbles and leaks: It’s not unusual to have air trapped inside your laminated dough. If this happens, simply pop the bubble with a toothpick and press the dough down to lie flat. If there’s a bare spot where butter is coming through, dust the leak with flour, pressing down lightly so it sticks, and continue on with the fold. Refrigerate the dough as soon as the fold is done, to firm it up.
As you work, keep the dough, work surface, and your rolling pin well dusted with flour. Turn over the dough from time to time. As you roll, you tend to expand the top layers more than the bottom. By flipping the dough over, you’ll even that out. Before folding the dough over on itself, use your pastry brush to sweep off excess flour. This will help the dough stick to itself after folding, so the layers don’t slide around.
When rolling the dough, especially for the first time, be sure the dough and butter are at the same consistency; this will make rolling much smoother and the layers will be more even.
Vegan/non-dairy adaptation tips
** For most vegan bakes that have less than three eggs, I usually list flaxseed or chia seed eggs and egg replacer. We tried that in the test kitchen and both substitutions don’t work as well, it’s too dry even with additional liquid added. To keep the recipe as close to the original as possible the Aquafaba and silken tofu eggs worked beautifully.
**I also normally list more gluten-free flour alternatives, but we found that gluten-free all purpose and the baking blend worked exceedingly well
** Vegan butter is the best alternative. Margarine is too oily and you won’t get the same flaking as you get with butter
A day in the life of a writer can be filled with many things. We have appointments, errands to run, kids to raise, meals to cook, and dry cleaning to pick up. Mix in a day job, career, or business to run, and we have more than enough to keep us occupied. However, I have discovered that in the midst of it all, I find time to write. Most of the time, it’s a welcome relief and a way to put the worries of the day out of my mind. Then there are times when literary inspiration comes at a bad time, particularly when I need to focus on something else that’s pressing. Nevertheless, I’ve got that figured out for the most part.
The most difficult aspect of writing is when we have to cool our jets waiting for an answer once we have had our work submitted to an agent or a publisher for review. No matter the subject, fiction or nonfiction, writers pour a piece of themselves into every page. In fiction, we know every character intimately, the emotions in every sentence, the setting, and every verb. For nonfiction, we have researched the subjects thoroughly, done our due diligence, used our experience in an authoritative yet approachable manner. The work put into it is all about love. Writers love to write and we accept that all the time we put into our writing, may or may not be rewarded with an offer to publish.
Moreover, even if a writer gets a literary agent who is going to represent them to publishers, there is more time built into that proposition as well. Publishing is notoriously slow when it comes to reviewing manuscripts and that’s not a dig about editors. These days the business of publishing in terms of reading manuscript submissions is something that happens outside of business hours. That is true of literary agents as well and I can speak to that as an agent. I almost never have an opportunity to review a submission during business hours. I read in the evenings before and after dinner. I also spend weekends reading as well. This is an industry filled with hurry up and wait
I understand the frustration from both sides. I try to let writers know that the best thing they can do is to keep on writing. It’s also a good idea to incorporate other creative outlets to help ease anxiety. Cooking, baking, painting, sewing, or drawing, are just a few things that let you focus creativity and nerves in a productive way. I have several personal projects happening at the moment and if I stay too focused on them, I will drive myself crazy. As it is the winter, it’s not like I can go out and take a walk like I do in the warmer months. I use my kitchen as my ashram and experiment with different recipes or work on adapting recipes to make them healthier, gluten- free, or no-sugar. It keeps my mind busy. It wasn’t long before some story issues I couldn’t figure out, became clearer and I picked back up writing again. So, time does have its advantages
My advice to writers is always to write. However, when your mind needs a break, use the time to do something else productive. That said, spend time with the people you love, that helps. A little face time with a nephew or a daughter can do wonders. Attend your family’s next Zoom, call a friend, grab a coffee, bundle up and take a walk if it’s a nice, moderate day. Just take a couple of beats. It won’t derail you, but it will help you take your eyes off the clock.
Working on recipes is what I like to do. I also like to share them.
Pasties Pastry Recipe Recipe from New Orleans Kitchen Queens
1 cup all-purpose flour (gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 to 1 gluten-free baking blend, sorghum, sweet rice, or brown rice flour)
In a large bowl combine the flours with the salt. Dice the cold butter into small pieces and add to the flour mixture. With the back of a fork press the butter into the flour until the butter is incorporated (there will still be small pieces of butter in the mixture). Make a well in the center of the dough and pour in the ice water. Gently blend the water into the dough until it forms a solid ball. Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least on hour before rolling.
Chicken Filled Pasties Recipe adapted from Healthy Nibbles
½ pound chicken breast or tenderloins, cubed
1 large- sweet onion or 2 medium sized onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 large Russet or Yukon potatoes, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium sweet potato, diced
1 teaspoon ground thyme
½ teaspoon dried rosemary
generous pinch of salt
1 large egg, whisked (or 1 tablespoon Aquafaba plus 1 tablespoon water, whisked)
Add diced Russet potatoes and sweet potatoes to a sauce pot. Cover with water, then add a pinch of salt. Cook the potatoes on medium-heat until they are fork tender. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, add oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the carrots and onions. Cook until the onions begin to soften, and the carrots are getting a little tender.
Add the garlic in, and cook for thirty seconds. Stir in the cubed chicken and cook stirring until no longer pink and cooked through.
Add the potatoes. Sprinkle the thyme and rosemary over the chicken mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook through until heated adjusting seasoning as needed
Let the chicken filling cool before filling the pasties.
Preheat oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into 4 or six pieces on a well floured surface. Use a floured rolling pin to roll into discs about 8 1/2-inch circles. Turn the dough over frequently to prevent it from sticking to the surface. You can roll all the circles out at once, or do it one at a time, depending on your counter space. If you choose to roll out one at a time, refrigerate the dough in between in circle. Cold is essential for flaky, crumbly, pastry without soggy bottoms.
Take a small handful of filling and place it in the center of the rolled out dough. You want to make sure that there is about an inch of clear space around the edge of the dough. Brush the egg white along this empty space.
Fold the dough over the vegetables to create a semi-circle shape. Do this with confidence! Seal the pastry. You can crimp the edges with a fork or fold it like I did. When I folded the edges of the pasty, I brushed some egg along the edge so that the folds stayed put. Brush some of the egg wash over the entire pasty. Repeat these steps for the rest of the dough.
Place the prepared pasties on the baking sheets and bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the pasties are golden brown.
You can make these vegan. Just omit the chicken and replace with more vegetables. Feel free to add traditional swedes (rutabagas) or other vegetables you enjoy.
I’ve tried this with shortening and it doesn’t come out the same. It’s a little heavier. Stick with vegan butter, even non-dairy margarine is a good choice.