Whole Wheat Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains]

Tip 9: Treats
[Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies]

I had a couple weeks this December (so far) where I fell asleep half a page into reading a book, every evening after I put Willow to bed.  A symptom of total exhaustion.  I work a lot you guys.  Probably too much, but our home is in working order mostly because it is managed by my husband and life partner, Jazz.  He does the laundry (like go to the laundromat, dreadful kind of laundry), cleans the house, does the dishes most of the time (because when it’s my turn I’m frequently too exhausted), makes the bed, shovels the walkway, spot cleans the sofa, runs any middle of the day errands, is enrolled in grad school full time,`and five days a week makes breakfast and dinner for our family.  He is also my personal barista. Besides the fact that I am one lucky son-of-a-gun, we have had to strategize in order to make all this work, and when it comes to food, without a weekly meal plan, our lives would be in utter chaos (ok, that’s a little hyperbolic, but you get the picture).

This series is finally/sadly coming to a close but the entire idea I have tried to portray is that you can eat well and live on a budget.  On average we spend $50-$70 a week on groceries for a family of 3. IN CANADA! And we eat well.  Tonight we’re having tacos with black beans, caramelized onions, fresh pico de gallo, avocado crema and a maple garlic aioli.  Tomorrow we’re having a balsamic spinach salad with candied walnuts and pizza with roasted peppers, onions, basil pesto and goat cheese. Um, hello…yum!  But eating this way takes a lot of work and some planning when your pocket book is slim.  Here are a few tips about menu planning:Processed with VSCOcam with lv01 preset

Before you go grocery shopping, decide what you will have for dinner every night of the week.  Sometimes I look at our grocery store’s weekly flyer to see if any of the items we typically use are on sale and base meals around that.  Sometimes I look what we have left in the pantry and plan around what we already have.  Or in most cases, I do both.  Put the menu out somewhere where everyone can see it.

Use Pinterest//
When I have too much time on my hands, I tend to go Pinterest crazy, but when it comes to meal planning, Pinterest is a really helpful tool.  Type in the search bar the words of some of the ingredients you want to use and an overwhelming number of recipes are at your disposal with really clear images of what that dish will be like.  When I find something I like, I copy the link to that recipe in an email to Jazz and note any modifications I would like him to make (by the way, you can follow me on Pinterest here).

Curate a Grocery List//
I know it sounds silly that something like a grocery list would be curated, but I have come to find that making a well thought out grocery list, one that keeps your buying on track and is not too distracting, is a lot of work.  So, as I’m browsing through Pinterest and choosing recipes, I make a note of the ingredients each recipe requires that we don’t already have.  Then I think about any fruits or veggies we need for snacks, breakfast items we need and ingredients for baking bread (we’ll get there, hold on).  I then sort the items on the grocery list in order of how the grocery store is laid out (for example: produce first, dairy next, dry goods…).  And typically, once that is done, I write how much I expect to pay for each item next to that item and give an estimated total at the top.  This way, if while I’m shopping, I notice a number of things are more expensive than I anticipated, I can remove a few things from the list on the spot rather than being surprised when I get to the check out counter (because that is a really crappy feeling).  In the end, the grocery list has helped you to buy exactly what you need for the week, kept you from overspending and avoided you from running back and forth all over the grocery store.

If you can master the art of meal planning, you will be eating well all the time.

The last recipe I want to share with you in this series is one that is a labor of love.  So, I bake all of our own bread every week.  I know, I know, I’m one of those people.  But I didn’t use to be.  We had a couple hard weeks where we really had to cut corners and baking our own bread saved us a few dollars.  And then we became totally spoiled by it.  First, baking bread by hand is a completely therapeutic experience.  Kneading dough relieves stress but also leaves you with that amazing feeling of “I made something really awesome” after you’ve finished.  And seriously, what can compare to fresh, out-of-the-oven bread (sorry, once again, my sans gluten and grain friends)?  So for breakfast we have an egg or two [as mentioned in a previous post] with a slice of homemade bread.

I had been making an easy, basic, and run of the mill, white loaf a couple times a week, and then I started to get bored.  I was reading a couple blogs who had featured a challah recipe and decided to try it.  Now, I’m kind of obsessed (maybe because of the amazing grilled cheese it makes, maybe because of the french toast. I use a lot of parenthesis, don’t I?).  What I am sharing with you here is my variation of the Kitchn’s Challah recipe.  Mine is made with a whole wheat flour blend.  The Kitchn also gives a detailed description of how to make this gorgeous, 6-strand braid (which is very easy by the way, but if it’s too intimidating, a regular 3 strand braid would be great).  I have also included weight measurements in grams for most of the ingredients.  I think it makes a more consistent loaf of bread.

There’s a good chance, that you may never bake this bread.  And that’s ok (although I do recommend that someday, if you eat bread, that you give bread baking a try).  What I really want, is to demonstrate that the art of eating well does not have to be hindered by a tight budget.  That the experience of enjoying a truly delicious meal is not only for the privileged.  Although it will take you time and some extra thought, it can happen.  I have truly enjoyed writing this series and I hope it can be of use to you.

If you find yourselves having a frugal food moment and want to share it, use the hashtag #frugalfood and tag @keepingwillow on Instagram and Twitter.  I would love to see what kind of culinary nonsense you guys are up to.

With that I give you this recipe and some photos of a large loaf of bread that didn’t last us more than 24 hours.


Braided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping WillowBraided Challah Bread [Frugal Food Series | Tip 10: Grains] // Keeping Willow

Whole Wheat Challah Bread

10 g active dry yeast (2 tsp)
1 cup warm water (like almost hot)
304 g bread flour + extra for kneading and dusting (2 cups +)
232 g whole wheat flour (2 cups)
14 g salt (2 tsp)
58 g sugar (1/4 cup)
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk (keep the egg white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup pure (not extra virgin) olive oil, or another mild flavored oil like canola or vegetable
Corn meal for dusting or parchment paper.

1. Turn the light on in your oven (this will be a warm enough place to proof your dough).  In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the water and yeast along with a big pinch of sugar and dissolve.  Allow to sit while you prep the other ingredients, or at least 5 minutes.  If by 5 minutes there is not a bubbly foam on top, your yeast is probably too old and is dead.
2. In a large bowl, combine your dry ingredients (the flours, sugar and salt) and whisk together with a fork until combined.  Make a well in the center.
3.  Add your eggs, egg yolk and oil into the well.  Whisk the eggs with a little bit of the flour until the eggs have been completely combined.
4.  Pour the yeast mixture over the eggs and with your fork slowly incorporate the flour into the liquid.  Once all the ingredients are almost completely combined, it is ready for kneading.
5. Pour the dough onto a clean, floured surface and knead any remaining flour into the dough.  Once you have a workable ball, begin kneading for 10 minutes.  You will need to continue to add flour if the dough becomes too sticky and sticks to your hands or work surface.  The dough should be fairly round and firm by the time you’re done.
6. In a large bowl, pour a small drop of oil. Put the dough in the bowl and flip once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover in plastic wrap and place in your oven.  (Which is off and has the light on.  If your light is burned out or something, I find turning your oven on at 170 and just setting the bowl on top of the oven is warm enough as well).  Allow to sit and proof until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
7. Take the dough out of the oven and punch down to remove any built up gas.  If you have a food scale, weigh your dough and divide it into 6 equal pieces.  If you don’t have a scale, just do your best to cut 6 equal pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball by cupping your hands around the dough and dragging it across your work surface in a circular motion.  This step will help you roll out even pieces to braid with.
8. Roll each ball into a 16-18″ rope. Start with your fingers together, and begin to roll.  Spread your fingers as you roll to begin bringing your dough outward.  Combine the ropes at the top to begin your braid.  The trick is to take the outside rope and go over two, under one and then over two.  Then take the next rope on the outside and do the same thing.  Repeat until you have a braided loaf.  Tuck the ends of your braided loaf underneath itself.  Place on a cutting board that has been generously dusted with corn meal or a baking sheet with parchment paper, cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 1 hour in the oven.
9. 10 minutes before you are ready to bake the loaf, take the dough out of the oven and turn it up to 350F.  Brush the dough with your egg white.  If you are using cornmeal, dust a baking sheet with corn meal and slide your dough off your cutting board and onto the baking sheet.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through.  Allow bread to cool on a wire rack.  Cut yourself a piece while the bread is still warm.  Yum!



A Modest Tree

It’s kind of strange putting up a tree and Christmas decorations knowing you won’t be there at all over Christmas.  But there is something about doing this together as a family that I can’t get over.  Growing up, in my family, decorating the Christmas tree was a highly regarded tradition.  Everyone had to be there.  My mom always put on the same music [Amy Grant’s “A Christmas Album”, a Gaither Vocal Band Christmas album from the 90’s, and some rendition of Handel’s Messiah] and we decorated our tree with all of the nostalgic Christmas ornaments we had gathered or made over the years.  It was fun and exciting as a child.  I know every harmony part to that Amy Grant album.  But now that we have our own family, we have to decide for ourselves how we are going to celebrate holidays.  We had no intention of making any family traditions.  We just put up our tree.  Our tiny, $20 tree I bought at Meijer before I was even married. But watching Willow learn how to hang the ornaments on the tree (thank goodness I bought plastic ones), and get really excited by each unique ornament we have obtained since we’ve been a family, was a really cool thing to observe as a parent.

A Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowAfterwards we made our way to the Distillery District’s Christmas Market, which is a foot traffic only part of “Old Town” Toronto that is filled with unique shops, restaurants, etc and gets really decked out at Christmas time.  It was a beautiful place to be but was a little crowded for our taste.  And the goods being sold at the Christmas market were $$$$$$$!A Modest Tree // Keeping WillowA Modest Tree // Keeping WillowSo we decided to walk halfway across the city to find one of the three Chipotles in town.  It was SO worth it.  I don’t know if we’ll do Christmas the same every year, but I can guess that Chipotle might be a Christmas tradition we hang on to.A Modest Tree // Keeping Willow



Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Holiday Gift Guide  X  2014 // Keeping Willow1. Intertwine Throw Pillow // Black Rooster Decor  2. Limited Reserve Crown Maple Chocolate Bar // Mast Brothers  3. Drawstring Bucket Bag //Baggu | Need Supply Co.  4. Kiaria Kenya // Madcap Coffee   5. Santoku Knife // Stelton   6. Pearl Cuff Bracelet // another feather  7. Nationale 6/7  // OLO Fragrance   8. “In Clover” Magazine  9. Himmeli Wall Prism No. 1 //HRUSKAA  10. Rope & Yarn Necklace // Have Company

Holiday gift shopping is daunting.  If you’re in need of a little inspiration, here are some items on my wish list. If you’re like me, gifts don’t need to be extravagant.  A bag of coffee or a simple necklace are more than enough.  I hope your holidays are neglecting stress and that your are savoring simple moments with family, friends and laughter.  Making space for yourself to breathe, give thanks, mourn, laugh, run, or gather is the best gift you can give to yourself.  Right now, I am sitting alone in a coffee shop, something I haven’t done in a very long time.  And I feel filled.  Find a moment for yourself, because we can only give from what we already have.  And if you’re spent, the important giving we want to do this time of year will come from an empty well. Relax, smile, and smell the gingerbread.




Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats]

Everyone likes treats.  It’s science.  Our evolutionary minds cannot fight off the temptation of something filled with fat and sugar to help us survive another day.  Because at some point in our history, when we lived off the land, this intuition is what kept us a thriving species.  Now, in our present day, where we don’t have to hunt for our food, etc, etc, it’s what is killing us.  But the real point is that treats are good.  And in my opinion, the most satisfying way to enjoy a treat, as well as the most frugal, is to make them yourself.

So as a general rule we have [that we break often] is that if we do want a treat, we have to make it from scratch.  Putting the time and energy into making a little indulgence helps us to reduce our intake of delectable morsels.  If I buy a bag of chips or a box of cookies, they just kind of disappear.  I have no connection to the pre-made, boxed food and just consume it.  When I bake something, or pop fresh popcorn, I really savor it.  But these cookies I’m about to share with you! I. Can’t. Stop. I found this recipe at Baker Bettie, searching for a sans baking soda, cookie recipe, since we lacked the aforementioned ingredient and Jazz simply HAD to have cookies and ice cream, and we both just loved them.  Listen, I’m not really a sweet tooth, but now I kind of make them all the time.  On the weekend, I make a batch of dough, roll it into a log with plastic wrap– like the store bought kind– and whenever we want a fresh baked cookie we just cut 1 [or 2] cookies from the log and voila! Cookie fix complete. And we indulge maybe a few nights a week.

But then I made them even better.

The French call the magical sensation of caramelizing butter, beurre noisette or hazelnut butter.  That sounds a whole lot more sexy than brown butter, if you ask me.  But regardless of the semantics, brown butter is easy to make and so So SO good. It was the combination of this and a little sprinkling of sea salt on top of these hot chocolatey cookies that simply blew my mind.  The first night I tried it, Jazz walked in from his night class and I told him he was going to die.  He asked why.  I said it was the cookies.  He asked if I wanted him to die.  I said yes.  Our marriage is both beautiful and bizarre [don’t worry, not like Frank and Claire Underwood beautiful/bizarre].

I hope to pass out these cookies as gifts for the Christmas season.  So if I try to give you some, I’m not literally try to kill you.  Just figuratively, with chocolate sea salt and caramelized butter. These cookies are gorgeous and will be easy to package.  Check out this post from The Kitchn for some great ideas for packaging your holiday baked goods.


Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping WillowBrown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies [Frugal Food Series | Tip 9: Treats] // Keeping Willow

Brown Butter Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 16 cookies

1/2 cup [1 stick] butter, divided, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt + extra for sprinkling
1 cup + 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

1. In a small sauce pan, heat half of your butter on medium heat.  Allow it to caramelize.  The milk solids on the bottom of the pan will be brown when the butter is finished.  Meanwhile, in a medium size bowl, combine the remaining butter and sugar.  Pour the brown butter into the sugar and butter mixture and mix to combine.  Place your bowl in the freezer a couple minutes to cool off the butter, mixing occasionally.  Once the butter and sugar are no longer warm [just a couple minutes] you can move onto the next step.
2. Preheat oven to 350°F. Add your egg and vanilla, and with a wooden spoon work the egg into the batter until combined.
3. Add flour, salt and chocolate chips and stir until just combined, being sure to scrape the sides for proper incorporation.
4. You can either a) roll your dough into a log, wrap in plastic wrap and store in the fridge or freezer or b) bake immediately.  Bake on an ungreased baking sheet.  Place 2 Tbsp of dough about 2 inches apart on the sheet pan.  Bake for 9-12 minutes (if your baking from the fridge they might take a couple minutes longer).  I can tell these are done when there is just the tiniest rim or golden color along the bottom.  The tops will still look slightly undercooked, but will continue to finish cooking once taken out of the oven.  Sprinkle with sea salt immediately.  Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before removing them from the baking sheet.  Eat slowly.

Breakfast, Staples

Frugal Food Series | Tip 8 : Eggs

The traditional chef hat is a silly looking thing.  A cylindric shaped hat with numerous folds along the edges, as tall as Abe Lincoln’s top hat.  Here is an old picture of me wearing one (giggle giggle).Frugal Food Series | Tip 8 : Eggs // Keeping Willow

These seemingly meaningless folds were originally a means to mark your masterfulness as a chef, like metals on a solider’s uniform.  Notice how my hat has more folds than my assistant on the right. That’s because I was the team captain of the competition we were competing in, which means, in a way, I held a higher rank. These folds don’t simply display one’s rank.  Each fold represents a different way in which the chef can make eggs.  Yes, eggs.  Why eggs, you ask?  Well, probably because eggs are delicate, temperamental, and can be high maintenance.  It took me a few tries to successfully make a meringue.  But I like to think eggs are the barometer for a persons cooking skills because they are the best food in the world.

I’m not being hyperbolic here.  Eggs are the best.  They are amazing.  There are nutritional rockstars.  They offer a great source of protein (especially for those vegetarians like me).  They are an ingredient in such a wide variety of dishes the list would be exhausting.  They add fluffiness to the most moist cake and substance to a bread like challah. Oh, and did I mention they taste like HEAVEN!  But only if they are properly cooked, right?  Nothing is worse than a rubbery egg white or an overcooked yolk. Duh.Frugal Food Series | Tip 8: Eggs // Keeping WillowIn our family we eat eggs every morning.  If we run out of eggs or time and have something else for breakfast, the day just doesn’t feel right.  Sometimes I’ll have eggs in the morning and eggs for lunch.  Yesterday I had eggs for every meal [It was an accident– kind of].  Some of my closest friendships include fond memories around the eating of eggs.

Frugal Food Series | Tip 8: Eggs // Keeping Willow

Ok, maybe I have a problem. An obsession, if you will.  But can you really think of another protein as frugal and delicious as eggs?  It is the perfect frugal food.

This week, rather than leaving you with a delicious egg recipe (I thought of many ideas…huevos rancheros, eggs benedict, quiche) I am going to teach you how to make a perfect egg, my favorite way, over easy.  An over easy egg is not by any means “easy” to make.  I have been perfecting it for years and still screw it up often.   So many things come into play.  The amount of heat, the time before the egg is flipped, the right kind of spatula and the proper time to let it stay “over” before you remove it from the pan, not to mention the chance that your yolk may break when you crack it, touch it or breathe next to it.  But the skill of cooking the perfect fried egg is invaluable.  You can eat it on toast, over pasta, on a pizza, on a burger.  The possibilities of the fried egg are endless. So to remove the years of perfecting I have endured off your timeline, here is my step-by-step, how-to of cooking the perfect over easy egg.Frugal Food Series | Tip 8: Eggs // Keeping Willow

How to Make a Perfect Fried Egg
1. Choose your pan.

The pan, in the egg cooking process, is very important.  It has to be non-stick in some regards, and be good enough quality to carry heat evenly throughout the pan.  I like to use a smaller pan, generally, but recently we have been cooking EVERYTHING in our 12″ cast iron skillet.  In my opinion, cast iron is the way to go.  It offers a non-stick surface without the fear of teflon flakes getting into your food.  It also has the bonus of adding flavor and natural iron into your food.  But any, good quality non-stick pan will do.

2. Choose your fat.
When it comes to frying eggs, some people are olive oil people, some people are butter people.  I used to be an olive oil person, but lately I have found butter to be the better option.  I find that olive oil repels the liquid of the egg causing brown, crunchy or rubbery edges.  For the perfect fried egg, use a small pat of butter.

3. Choose your tool.
Choosing the right egg flipper, spatula, or whatever you want to call it, is pertinent.  First, it needs to be wide enough to support the width of the entire egg.  Using a spatula that is too narrow leaves your eggs flopping around in the air while you make your flip.  Total risk for breakage.  Second, the spatula needs to be relatively thin.  A thick hamburger flipper is not going to cut it.  You want the spatula to easily get under the egg.  Lastly, it has to be just the slightest bit flexible.  As previously mentioned, a hamburger flipper is to thick and doesn’t offer the flexibility to bend the spatula slightly.  Go too thin and your spatula starts to bend underneath the weight of the egg. Here is what I consider to be the perfect spatula for eggs.Frugal Food Series | Tip 8: Eggs

Now that you are prepped and ready, let’s get crackin’ (oh my god, I’m my father’s child).

Step 1: Turn the heat source onto your pan on medium low.  If you have numbers on your dial, shoot for between 3 and 4, depending on your range, although 4 is generally too high.  Keep the dial on low and don’t touch it.You do NOT  want that loud sizzle sound you are used to when you make eggs.  Having a pan that is too hot is the biggest mistake when frying an egg.  Breakfast restaurants do it all the time.  Either your outside will be cooked and your inside will be too runny and cold or the outside will be brown and crispy and your inside perfectly cooked.  Low and slow is the way to go.

Step 2: Add your butter.  Once the butter had melted and shows just the slightest sign of bubbling, the pan is ready.

Step 3: Crack your egg onto a flat surface, like the countertop, and not the corner of your pan. This decreases the risk of breaking the yolk.  Hold the egg just above the top of the pan and open it onto your pan.  Very gently hold the egg in place with the shell of the egg for about 10 seconds, to keep the egg from sliding all over the pan.  Now we wait.


Step 4: Once the majority of the whites have set, your egg is ready to flip.  Here is a picture of what the egg should look like.  Season your egg with good quality salt.  Run the edge of your spatula around the outside of the egg.  Put your spatula under the white just before the yolk and quickly slide the spatula completely underneath.  When you turn the egg, try to flip it by going slightly up and then down rather than quickly flick your wrist to the side.  Don’t worry, this part will take some practice.

This egg is ready to flip!

This egg is ready to flip!

Step 5: Immediately turn of your heat source and count to 30. Your egg is done.  Quickly removing it from the pan by swiftly sliding your spatula under the egg.  Flip the egg right side up onto your plate.  You have done it.  Enjoy your perfect egg.