Cocoa Yeast Rolls


When I was a child, I enjoyed reading Little House on the Prairie books.  I found it peculiar how Laura Ingalls enjoyed bread and butter sandwiches.  “Just bread and butter?” I wondered.  After all, a slice of plastic-wrapped supermarket bread with butter isn’t all that special.  However, thinking about it now, I imagine a slice of Mrs. Ingalls’s homemade bread, no doubt made from freshly milled whole grains and slathered in farm-fresh butter, would be quite spectacular.  While I can’t take us back in time, I can assure you that today’s addition of cocoa powder is enough to make this bread recipe sing with just a dab of butter.  You could just as easily form the dough into a loaf of bread, but I prefer rolls for tucking into lunchboxes.  Go ahead, have a Laura Ingalls day.

Ingredients (makes 14 rolls)

2 teaspoons yeast

1 cup lukewarm (not boiling hot) water

1 tablespoon soft (not melted) butter

1 egg

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups white flour

1/4 cup finely ground pecans

Cornmeal (for dusting the baking pan, optional)


picture169Step 1)  In a large bowl, combine yeast, lukewarm water, and sugar.  Stir, then let sit for a minute or so to allow the yeast to “bloom.”  The surface of the water will look a bit frothy.

Step 2) In a small bowl, combine butter, egg, cocoa powder, salt, and ground pecans.  Mix well.

Step 3) Add butter mixture to yeast and water.  Stir gently until well blended.

Step 4) Add flour.  Stir together and dump out the contents of the bowl onto a floured table or countertop.  Your dough will look like a mess at this point, and that’s OK!

picture760Step 5) This is the fun part… knead your bread dough for five minutes.  Don’t just use your fingers, but really put some muscle into it by using the heels of your palms.  Turn the dough over a few times, sprinkling the table and the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.  After five minutes, your dough should look like this:

Step 6) Grease a large mixing bowl – rubbing the paper wrapper from a stick of butter along the inside of the bowl works well.  Place your kneaded dough in the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for 60 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.  Hint:  If you turn on your oven for one or two minutes (no longer), then turn it OFF, your oven will be just warm enough to provide a cozy place for your bowl of dough to rise.

Step 7) After dough has doubled in size, use a serrated knife to cut the dough into 12 – 14 equal size pieces.  Gently pull the top of each piece of dough to smooth the roll, tucking the dough into itself underneath.  Each piece should look smooth and round.

picture761Step 8)  Set your rolls 2 – 3 inches apart on a large cookie sheet (with shallow sides) that has been greased and dusted with cornmeal.*

*Cornmeal is optional, but it helps keep the rolls from sticking to the pan and also helps create a pleasant bottom crust.

Step 9) Begin preheating your oven to 375 degrees after your rolls have been shaped and are resting on the pan.  They don’t need a full “second rise,” but will benefit from the few minutes of resting time it will take for your oven to preheat.

picture764Step 10) Bake your rolls at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped on the top with your fingernail.  Let cool, and enjoy with a simple pat of butter.

Amazing Oatmeals


I can’t think of a breakfast more devoted to overall wellness than a bowl of properly dressed oatmeal.  I really can’t.  For only 150 calories, a single cup of oats contains about 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber.  The soluble fiber in oats, called beta-glucan, is special.  This fiber has repeatedly been shown to lower cholesterol levels, which in turn lowers the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.  Still not convinced?  What if I tell you that the beta-glucan in oats has also been linked to more stable blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes?  It’s true.

How much of this special fiber does it take to improve your health, you ask?  Only the amount found in a daily bowl of oatmeal.  So, let’s do ourselves a favor this morning.  Let’s both agree to say “No” to preservative-laden boxed cereals, skip the donuts with our coffee, and instead enjoy properly dressed bowls of oatmeal together.



Stir together the ingredients for the blend of your choice, below, in a small mixing bowl.  Pack into a pint size mason jar.  For each serving, scoop out 1/2 cup of mixture from the mason jar and place in a microwave-safe bowl.  Add 1 cup of water and microwave for 2 minutes or until water is absorbed.  Enjoy!

Apple Walnut Blend (makes 4 servings)

1 1/3 cups rolled oats

1 tablespoon flax seed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/3 cup chopped dried apples

1/3 cup raw walnuts

Blueberry Quinoa Blend (makes 4 servings)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/4 cup quinoa

1/4 cup dried blueberries

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Cherry Almond Blend (makes 4 servings)

1 1/3 cups rolled oats

1/3 cup raw almonds

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/3 cup dried tart cherries

Coconut Almond Blend (makes 4 servings)

1 1/3 cups rolled oats

1/3 cup raw almonds

1/4 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/3 cup dried, shaved coconut

I feel better already, don’t you?

Vegetable Sound Off!

Summertime is the perfect time to eat your veggies!

***What is your favorite way to prepare your favorite vegetable?***

COMMENT below for a chance to win a copy of Annie Spiegelman’s fun book, Talking Dirt!

Talking Dirt

A few Crowded Earth Kitchen favorites (past and future):


Mushroom Matar


Asian-Inspired Brussels Sprouts


Roasted Thai Chilies


Ingredients for I-Miss-My-Garden Sauce

Roasted Grapes


I’ll be brief.  This recipe compliments our last dish, Moroccan-Inspired Lemon Chicken, perfectly.  It requires 4 ingredients, takes 20 minutes, and requires absolutely no kitchen skills.  If you don’t love it, I’ll come over and wash dishes.  Deal?

Ingredients (makes 4 – 6 side dish servings)

2 pounds grapes, whichever  variety you prefer, washed and stems removed

2 tablespoons coconut oil*



*Why are we using coconut oil?  Good question.  Emerging reports of health benefits aside, coconut oil has a higher smoke point than, say, olive oil.  This means it will hold up better (i.e., maintain its molecular integrity) in the hot oven we need for this recipe.


Step 1) Set oven to 400 degrees.  Place two tablespoons of coconut oil on a large pan with shallow sides, and set pan in oven for just a few seconds to melt the coconut oil.

Step 2) Remove pan from oven, and add grapes to pan.  Roll grapes around to coat them in oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

picture704Step 3) Roast grapes for 20 minutes, stirring gently once.  Allow to cool for one minute, and serve.



Moroccan-Inspired Lemon Chicken


Remember those Moroccan-Inspired Preserved Lemons we made not too long ago?  Well, go get a jar, because we’re going to put them to good use here!  If you don’t have preserved lemons, I’ll walk you through a pretty good substitute using a fresh lemon, below.  The taste of preserved lemons can’t be duplicated exactly, but just about any combination of lemon and chicken is darn good.

picture692Ingredients (Serves 4 – 6)

1 fresh, whole chicken, cut into pieces

1/2 cup preserved lemons, rinsed*

1/4 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic

1/2 teaspoon peppercorns

*Alternatively, use the zest and the “insides” (juice and pulp) of a whole, organic lemon – everything except the seeds and the thick white pith underneath the zest.  Also, only if you are using a fresh lemon, add 1 teaspoon of salt to the puree.


Step 1) Place lemon, garlic, olive oil, and peppercorns in a small blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth.

picture694Step 2) Score each piece of chicken several times with a sharp knife.

Step 3) Generously rub each piece of chicken with the lemon puree and set in a pan.  Sprinkle with torn bay leaves (optional) and whole cloves (optional).  Bay leaves and cloves should be removed before baking.

Step 4) Pour any remaining lemon puree over your pan of chicken, cover with foil, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but no more than 24 hours.

Step 5) Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking, and rearrange chicken so that it can bake in a single layer.

picture698Step 6) Bake in a preheated, 350 degree oven for 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the meat (but not against a bone!) reads 165 degrees.  Tip:  I bake the smaller pieces (wings, drumsticks) on a their own pan, as these pieces are usually ready to come out of the oven at least 10 minutes before the larger pieces (breasts, thighs).

Serve with a salad and your choice of sides.  I’ll show you my choice of a side dish in my next post!

Dark Chocolate Coconut Muffins


These muffins manage to taste like they fall into the “may as well eat a jumbo chocolate éclair” category when, in reality, they are nutritionally superior to most pastries.  Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are high in antioxidants and plenty delicious without a lot of added sugar.   These muffins freeze well, and make awesome lunchbox treats.  Go ahead, indulge.

picture767Ingredients (makes 12 muffins)

1 cup white flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup shredded coconut

1/2 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup skim milk

1/4 cup canola oil


Step 1) Line a dozen standard size muffin cups with foil liners (preferable), or grease the muffin cups well.  Do not use paper liners, as they will stick.  Set aside.

Step 2) Combine all dry ingredients and mix well.

Step 3) Combine egg, milk, and oil in a separate bowl and mix well.

Step 4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Don’t get carried away… it’s OK if the batter is a little bit lumpy!

Step 5) Fill muffin liners or muffin cups 2/3 full.

Step 6) Bake at 400 degrees for 18 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for a few minutes, and enjoy!

Moroccan-Inspired Preserved Lemons

picture667I can’t think of many foods that offer the versatility and flavor potency of a freshly picked, unsprayed, wax free, organic lemon.  Unfortunately, I can’t think of many foods that are more difficult to find most of the year, either!  Sure, tired looking lemons coated in shiny, slightly sticky wax can be rescued from the corners of the produce section at any time, but really, who wants those?  This recipe will help you elevate your kitchen into the realm of Great Cooks, by helping you make the most of culinary gems such as crazy-fresh lemons whenever you can find them.

Moroccan cooks have long known that lemons need only a little help in retaining their magnificent flavor.  By stuffing lemons into jars, layering them with salt, allowing them to bathe in their own juice and a few spices, Moroccans have mastered the alluring art of preserving lemons.  Months later, silky pieces of preserved lemon can simply be rinsed off with water, chopped, and added to any dish needing a citrus punch.  In North African kitchens, these dishes might include couscous or tabouleh.  In your own kitchen, the sky’s the limit – try preserved lemons in a marinade, a vinaigrette, or a pasta salad.  Let me know how these lemons inspire you, and how your meal turns out!

picture668Ingredients (for each pint size canning jar)

2 large or 3 small organic lemons (Remember, you’re using the peel!)

1/4 cup salt

1 bay leaf

1 small cinnamon stick

2 whole cloves

2 whole black peppercorns

2 whole allspice


Step 1) Wash lemons really, really well.  Trim ends, and cut lemons into chunks.  You can simply cut the lemons in half, or cut them into smaller pieces, whichever you prefer.  I cut my lemons into about 16 pieces each, because l want to just “rinse and add” bite-size pieces when I use these lemons in recipes later on.

Step 2) Stuff your lemons into sterilized canning jars.  Don’t be gentle… you want the lemons to soak in their own juice!

Step 3) As you fill the jars, sprinkle the lemon layers with salt and add your spices.  Each jar should end up with 1/4 cup of salt (a little more is fine, but don’t use less).

Step 4) It is important that your lemons are covered in juice.  If they are not, add juice from additional lemons, until the jars are full.  Leave 1/2 inch headspace.

picture676Step 5) If you are canning your lemons for long-term storage, cover with lids and bands and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Properly sealed jars will last a year or longer on a pantry shelf.  Alternately, simply place your covered (but unsealed) jars in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for 3 months or longer.

Step 6) Be patient… your preserved lemons will be ready to enjoy after 1 month!  Don’t forget to rinse before using.