Easter Bread Baskets – (Photo Heavy)

 Author: Veronica Hilliard

In the past year I have been trying to become a better baker. Something Cassie is already really good at! And getting good at making breads has been a personal goal for me. Not long ago I was browsing Pinterest (read “wasting time”) and found this post from The Italian Dish. Oh, her food photography is to die for! Anyway, I’ve kept it in the back of my mind for Easter and, surprise! I remembered to do it! Our family is young so we’re still starting some family traditions. I think this will be one that sticks with us year after year.



I didn’t proof my yeast. I use it all the time so I know it works. And with modern packaging and collection methods, fresh yeast is unlikely to fail. I just threw it in with everything but instead of rapid rise like the recipe said, I used my active dry yeast that I buy in bulk and keep in a glass jar in the fridge.

I got everything mixed together and then begged my hubby to take this totally posed picture. He laughed at me but obliged. I almost scrapped it, but I’m trying to be better about accepting myself and letting my daughters see me in front of the camera, loving myself despite my perceived flaws. So there I am! Posed and proud.

One thing my mom taught me about bread is that you just keep putting flour in until “the dough won’t take any more.” This recipe called for approximately 3.5 cups of flour. Mine “took” 2 additional cups for a total of about 5.5 cups of flour! You just learn to let the dough talk to you. It’ll tell you how much it needs.


Then you put it in a greased bowl and cover it. This is when I love having my Misto*. Fill that baby up with oil of any flavor, give it a few pumps, and you have an oil mister with zero chemicals. Love it. Mine always has extra virgin olive oil in it. And I notice that I use way less oil this way.

Cover, and let the dough rise for an hour.


After The first rise. Look at that beauty!


I cut my dough into 8 pieces though it called for 12. And I probably should have tried to do 12 because my bread baskets turned out a little bigger than you’d want to eat at one sitting.


Twist the dough into braids. Tip: Let it sit for a minute so that the dough is workable. It has something to do with the gluten resting or something.


Then you make these pretty little baskets and let them rise, covered with a dish towel for another hour.   


There’s nothing like a beautiful egg wash on bread. Make sure you have some fun sprinkles on hand! Then place a dyed RAW Easter egg in the middle of each basket. Be careful with the raw eggs, my hubby accidentally tried to crack and eat one thinking it was a hard boiled egg before I got a chance to use it. Oops! It made it to the egg wash.

Sharing Time: I am a Mormon.


Yes, we do celebrate Easter. We celebrate the Savior’s life and ministry everyday, but especially on Easter. This special time in the kitchen with my oldest daughter made an excellent object lesson for a discussion about the Savior. We talked about how after the Savior suffered and died for our sins, his body was placed in the tomb and then a big rock was rolled in front of the door. We put some sprinkles in the hole and then put the egg over the “door”.  Then, when we removed the egg after it was baked, the sprinkles were gone! Just like Jesus’ body was gone. His friends were very sad. But he came visit his friends with a perfect body and showed them that he had been resurrected (come back to life!) to live forever with our Heavenly Father. And we can have that as a promise to us that if we make good choices and try to be good people like Jesus was. Just like the sprinkles make us happy and are sweet, Heavenly Father’s and Jesus’ promise to us that we can live with them again makes us happy and is sweet. 

100_4030Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes.


Aren’t they beautiful and festive?!


These taste SO yummy. They are lightly sweet and were a major hit here. Will they grace your Easter table next year?

Recipe can be found HERE.


I also made some naturally dyed eggs the day before when I made our dinner. The blue is made with purple cabbage. Yeah, it turns BLUE! And the yellow is made with turmeric. I wish I’d had some beets for red and some onion skins for a rich brown but I forgot to buy beets and onions were too expensive in our tiny local grocery store. Nothing was wasted. After dying my eggs I made my daughter’s favorite, sauteed purple cabbage, rice, and teriyaki chicken, flavored with turmeric!

So how did you celebrate this Easter? Did you start any traditions this year?

*I received no compensation for my praise of the Misto. It’s THAT good. 🙂


Homemade Granola and Almond Milk

Author: Veronica Hilliard

  Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog 

There are SO many reasons why we have cut out cereal from our diets. It’s ultra-processed, full of refined sugar, potentially full of GMO’s, and to quote Seinfeld’s Elaine, “Fake, fake, fake… fake!”  But my husband is not so keen on never having cereal again. So I have been meaning to make granola for a while now and yesterday, I finally tackled it.

I put the baby down for her nap thinking that would buy me about an hour to get this all put together and into the oven. I am really bad at following recipes. I just use them as a base for whatever I’m planning. In this case I decided I liked the looks of this granola recipe, so I loosely followed that one.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

I compiled all the dry ingredients. Oats, whatever nuts and seed I had on hand which happened to be chia seeds, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, flax meal, and flax seeds, and some dried cranberries. Another reason why I rarely follow recipes correctly is because I rarely have all the ingredients they call for so I just make it up as I go.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

I used about half of everything called for since I didn’t want tons of granola in case nobody liked it. Then I added some brown sugar.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

And DON’T forget the salt! It really brings it to the next level. I use Real Sea Salt.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Next I got all my “wet” ingredients together. Maple syrup, cinnamon (not wet, just forgotten until now), vanilla, coconut oil, and honey. I don’t like most vegetable oils so I substituted Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil and I’m glad I did. It gives this granola a slight coconut flavor and it doesn’t taste greasy. Keep in mind while using coconut oil for cooking that it is higher in saturated fat than butter.

Because I didn’t pay much attention to the directions, this is where I did things VERY differently. The recipe says to put them all together with the sugar in a pan and then drizzle it over the dry stuff. I didn’t do that and it came out fine. But I might try that next time.

I finally got everything ready to go, turned on the oven, and then the baby woke up. She was cranky and still pretty tired so I went to get her and ended up nursing her for the next 20 minutes. I remembered the granola, and the hot oven, when I smelled smoke and went back into kitchen to smoke pouring out of oven from forgotten spilled cheese from hubby’s pizza the day before. Oops! And I hadn’t even put the granola in yet! 

Then my 3.5 year old realized that I was making something and she wanted to help. So she stirred it for a bit while I dealt with the screaming toddler clinging to my leg. I was actually able to snap this picture in between the two of them screaming at each other and wanting to be on the same chair. See said toddler’s curly head in the background.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Finally, with the baby on my back in my Ergo, I was able to spread the granola out onto two cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. I probably didn’t need the paper but it made me feel better and cleaning up was a breeze. I was glad that I had cut the recipe in half now because I wouldn’t have enough cookie sheets to go around and would have had to have done this in two batches. It goes into a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes (again, the recipe I followed is different. It said 20 but mine needed longer.) turning once or twice.

Homemade Granola :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Ta Daaaa! This granola is delicious and lightly crunchy. It’s the perfect blend between sweet and salty and nutty.

Homemade Granola Recipe:

4 Cups Rolled Oats                                     1/4 Cup Brown Sugar

1/2 Cup Flax Meal                                     1/4 Cup Maple Syrup

1/2 Cup Chia Seeds                                   1/4 Cup Honey

1/2 Cup Sunflower Seeds                        1/2 Cup Coconut Oil – warmed

1/2 Cup Flax Seed                                     1/2 TBL Ground Cinnamon

1 Cup Sliced Almonds                              1/2 TBL Vanilla

1 Cup Dried Cranberries                         1/2 TBL Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine dry ingredients, mix. Add wet ingredients, drizzling warmed to liquid coconut oil last, mix well. Spread on two large baking sheets and bake 20-30 minutes, turning once or twice until browned and toasted. Let cool completely on the baking sheets before storing.

**EDIT 3/29/13 

I recommend putting the dried fruit in after you bake your granola. Our craisins got very hard and chewy. Still yummy, but harder to eat. **

Add some homemade almond milk and you’ve got the best breakfast on the block! And to top it off, you know every ingredient that went into it.

Homemade Granola and Almond Milk :: Pen Pals and Cookin' Gals Blog

Almond milk is easy and in my opinion, tastes so much better than the store-bought kind. It tasted closer to skim milk and has no preservatives!

Homemade Almond Milk:

Soak 1 Cup almonds overnight or for at least 6 hours. Drain soaking water off. Blend almonds with 4 Cups of water for a couple of minutes. I strained off the liquid in a sieve and then strained it through cheesecloth. Then to make sure I got all the liquid out I put the almond “meal” into the cheesecloth and squeezed the last bit out by hand.

**EDIT 3/29/13 

I have found that adding 1-2 tsp of honey makes this “milk” that much better. And squeezing the last of the liquid from the almond meal is important. It thickens and flavors the “milk” a little more and helps if you choose to dry out your meal to use later. **

Oh, and after you make your homemade almond milk, take the leftover almond meal, bake it on a pan for about 20 minutes  to dry it out, and add it to your next batch of granola. Or use it to bread your fish for some nutty, crunchy breading. No waste!

Do you have a granola recipe you love? Have you made milk out of any other nuts, coconut, or rice?

Pizza! Pizza! Homemade Thin Crust

Author: Cassie StevensSAM_0369

Dough Recipe

2 1/2 tsp Yeast

1 cup Water

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

1/2 Tbsp Sugar

1 1/2 tsp Salt

3 cups Flour

Mix the warm water and the yeast let sit for 10 minutes. next add the olive oil, salt, sugar. Then add flour mix well knead dough by hand about 3 minutes. Place in a greased bowl and cover let rise for one hour or until doubled in size.  When doubled, cut dough in half. roll out to the size of your pizza pan let rest on pan for ten minutes then add toppings (I added hamburger and pepperoni) and bake at 450 until crispy and golden.

Chocolate Cake & Peanut butter frosting

Cake recipe:
2 cups of sugar
2 ¾ cups flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water.
Heat to a boil 1 cup water. In a large mixing bowl mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder/soda, and salt. Slowly while whisking add milk then the boiling water. Then mix in vanilla extract, and eggs. Batter will be thin. Pour into your cake pan. Bake 350 for 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
Chocolate Frosting: 1 stick butter at room temp 2/3 cup cocoa powder 3 cups powdered sugar 1/3 cup milk 1 tsp vanilla extract. Mix well.
Peanut Butter Frosting: ½ cup peanut butter 3 Tbsp powdered sugar. Mix together place in a microwave for 30 seconds and stir then drizzle over top of cake.

Baked spaghetti inside braided garlic bread

Author: Cassie StevensSAM_0553

1 recipes for basic white bread

Leftovers from spaghetti night

Mozzarella cheese (grated)

Pepperoni (optional)

Topping: Parmesan cheese, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, Parsley, and salt & pepper.


I love Spaghetti with meat sauce, and I like to cook like I’m feeding an army, so there are always leftovers.  This recipe is great for adding a little variety to your leftovers.  It combines two favorites, garlic bread and spaghetti. Around my house we call it spaghetti bread!
Here is how I do it:

I start with a basic white bread recipe. It makes 2 loaves so you can cut the recipe in half if you like but, I like to make a loaf of bread also when I make spaghetti bread.


After the first rise dough I turn it out on to a floured surface and roll it out, not too thin, I would say about 3/8 inch thick.  I like to make sure I get a nice square out of it.


Add a layer of cheese then your spaghetti then another layer of cheese and some pepperoni (optional).

SAM_0544 SAM_0545

Cut the dough then braid.


Egg wash the top of your braided loaf. Sprinkle your topping mix. I then turn my oven on its lowest setting temp (which for my oven it’s 170 degrees) just until it reaches that temp then I shut it off. I then put the spaghetti bread in the oven to proof for about 10 to 15 minutes or so. I just want it to rise a little so the dough is not too thin.  When it has risen to the height I like I turn my oven on 350 degrees and bake it till it’s golden brown. The time will depend on your oven so I always just say to keep an eye on it. I recommend serving it up right away with a side of marinara.  It’s so crispy and delicious.


I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as my family does.  Bon Appetite!

Basic White Bread


Author: Cassie Stevens
Makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups warm water

4 1/2 tsp yeast or two packages

3 Tbsp sugar

3 Tbsp shortening or lard

3/4 Tbsp salt

6 cups flour

There is nothing like fresh bread. Especially when the smells fill your home.  I love, making homemade bread.  There is a certain sense of accomplishment to a good rise and that fresh taste.  Plus, I don’t use a mixer or a bread machine to mix my dough, I like to mix and knead my bread by hand so, it acts as a stress reliever too.

I start with the first three ingredients; mix the yeast, sugar, and water.  Let it sit about ten minutes until it froths up a little.  Then I add the lard, salt, and two cups of flour.  Mix well, add remaining flour one cup at a time, until you reach the last cup. Sprinkle a little of the last cup of flour on top of the dough in your bowl, and the rest onto the counter.  Roll the dough out of your bowl onto the floured surface and knead in the flour that you spread out on the counter. The dough should be soft but not sticky. I usually knead the dough about 8 to 10 minutes by hand. I will work in more flour if the dough is still too soft.  You will feel the dough stiffen up slightly when your kneading it.  That is when you can tell when to stop.  Once you make this recipe a few times you will get the hang of how it should look and feel for you. Every recipe gets better the more you make it.

Once you have the right consistency of your dough, spray a large bowl with cooking spray. and put it in the greased bowl upside down.  Flip it once to coat the top, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise for about an hour. If you don’t have a large bowl (cause it gets big) cut your dough ball in half and place in two bowls to rise.

After an hour or so, and your bread has doubled in size turn out onto a floured surface.  Immediately cut the dough in half and place one half back in the bowl. If you are making two loaves of bread (you could make dinner rolls, buns, or whatever you like), knead both halves for a minute or two, to work out all the air bubbles.  and place in two loaf pans.

Now, its time for the second rise. Turn your oven on to its lowest setting (mine is 170 degrees), just until it reaches it’s temp, then turn it off.  Place your loaf pans in to proof until it doubles and fills the loaf pans evenly. This won’t take long in a warm oven. You don’t want your dough to flow over the edges they will brown faster than the rest of the bread.  When your dough has risen a second time to your liking, pull your dough out and turn on your oven to 350 degrees.  Whip up an egg wash (one egg and a Tbsp water) and brush the top of each loaf (this adds beautiful color). You could even add some seeds, or a garlic Parmesan topping to your bread or rolls. Bake until golden brown.  Keep an eye on it because everyone’s oven cooks differently so time varies. I bake mine about 15 minutes.

Hope you enjoy! Happy Baking


Cousins Making Real Food Real Fun

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