Blog - biscuits and such
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Corn Bread

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, an online challenge that has bloggers (and presumably other home cooks) baking their way through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. This book, I have come to discover, is a bastion of bread baking tips, the ultimate home baker’s guide to bread.  It’s been slow going because I can do, at most, two loaves a week, but I’m really enjoying it.  I didn’t originally intend on sharing the recipes here because a lot of people are participating in this project and the last thing you need is my take on something that’s been said 1000 times.  Unless it’s me reiterating for the 1000th time that I love pie.

The reason I decided to post this particular cornbread recipe, however, is because it knocked my socks off.  It was out of this world good- brown sugar and honey in the bread itself topped with delicious bacon.  Thank you Mr. Reinhart, I will never make another cornbread.  Until the next amazing recipe I find.  God, I love cornbread.

Anyway, this week for the zillionth time this year I’m sick and since the weather had been rainy, I indulged in a favorite comfort meal- chili and cornbread.  I won’t lie and say it healed me (it’s not magic cornbread), but it did make me feel warm, happy, and totally loved.  Bacon has that effect.

A side note about bacon, this recipe calls for rendered bacon fat.  Which, is not a problem because I had to cook bacon for the recipe, but sometimes you want the essence of bacon without, you know, the bacon.  Which is why I like to keep a few tablespoons of bacon fat in the freezer.  I simply pour it, while it is still hot, into a glass measuring cup and then when it’s cooled a bit (but not solidified), I pour it into small glass jars and freeze.  Then, I have it ready whenever I need it.  Bacony advice from me, to you.

Corn Bread
Source: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Bakers Apprentice

1 cup (6 oz) coarse cornmeal (or grits)

2 cups (16 oz) buttermilk

10 slices (8 oz) bacon

1 3/4 cups (8 oz) all purpose flour

1 1/2 tbsp (.75 oz) baking powder

1/4 tsp (.05 oz) baking soda

1 tsp (.25 oz) salt

1/4 cup (2 oz) sugar

1/4 cup (2 oz) brown sugar

3 large eggs

2 tbsp (1.5 oz) honey

2 tbsp (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted

2 1/2 cups (16 oz) fresh or frozen kernels

2 tbsp (1 oz) bacon fat

I give the ounces here along with the normal measurements because that’s how Pete does it.  Is it too familiar to call him Pete?

The night before you want to make your cornbread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk, covered, and at room temperature.

When you’re ready to make the cornbread, start by making your bacon.  Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown.  Drain the fat into a glass or metal container and let the bacon cool.  When it’s cool, crumble and set aside.  Lower the oven temp to 350.

Mix together flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.  Stir in sugar and brown sugar.  In another bowl, beat eggs, lightly.  In yet another bowl, melt your butter and dissolve the honey in it.  Stir the honey mixture into the eggs, and add that to the cornmeal mixture.  Add the cornmeal mixture to the dry ingredients and stir with a large wooden spoon.  Mix in corn kernels (make sure to drain them if you buy them frozen).

Pour the bacon fat into a 10″ round cake pan (or a 9 x 12″ baking pan) and stick it in the oven.  Keep in the oven for 7-10 minutes or until it’s piping hot.  With an oven mitt on, swirl the fat around and make sure all the sides are greased.  Pour the batter into the hot pan.  Sprinkle the bacon over the top evenly.  Bake for 30-45 minutes until the center is solid and it’s golden brown.

Let cool 15 minutes and serve.  And enjoy!

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Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

I started this post all “this recipe came to me in a dream” but then I realized that sounded a little silly, mystical, and very B-movie-esque.  So now that I’ve acknowledged that it sounds like, you know, something Phoebe Buffatwould say, let me tell you about my dream.  In the dream, I was talking with this pie maven.  I’m not sure who she represents in real life, but in the dream she was the be all end all of pies and pie dough, so I went to her with my pie concept and asked for her advice.  I knew I wanted to make hand pies with strawberries and rhubarb, but I was stuck on how to get the dough right- light and fluffy.  So she looks me square in the eye and she says sour cream.

Not one to turn down what is clearly a sign from the pie gods of my subconscious, I listened to my maven and incorporated just a tablespoon of sour cream into the pie dough.  And I’m so glad I did because damn was she right.  It was light, flaky, tender, and so delicious I was left annoyed with myself for only making three (I was test running the recipe).  It was so spot on, I’m considering taking future dream advice as literally as possible.  UNICYCLING IN ZERO GRAVITY?!? DONE!

The filling was pretty top notch too.  A combination of strawberries, rhubarb, and orange juice, it’s tart with the achingly familiar spring strawberry flavor.  And I know that a) I just posted a rhubarb recipe a few weeks ago and b) it’s just barely spring and these fruits are hard to find but I am going so stir crazy in March that I just had to.  This is my way of saying, INTERNET, THERE IS HOPE.  One day soon, there will be rhubarb and strawberries everywhere, and when there are you can scoop them up, throw them into hand pies, and DANCE.

I may be getting carried away, but I’m not kidding about the stir craziness.

Strawberry Rhubarb Hand Pies

filling:

3 rhubarb stalks

1 cup strawberries

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tbsp corn starch

1 tbsp orange zest

1/8 cup sugar

dough:

1 3/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup vegetable shortening

1 1/4 sticks butter

1/4 cup water

1 tbsp orange juice

1 tbsp sour cream

1/2 tbsp orange zest

Pinch of salt

1 egg, for wash

Sugar for dusting

Start with the dough.  First off, all ingredients should be cold, so an hour before you’re ready to start, put all ingredients in your fridge.  When they’re cold, combine flour, sugar, salt, shortening, and butter in a food processor.  Blend until it is coarse in texture.  In a separate bowl, whisk the water, zest, orange juice, and sour cream together.  If you have a food processor with a lid that allows you to add things while its running, turn it on and slowly add in the sour cream mixture.  If you don’t, just pulse, add a little liquid, repeat until they dough forms a coarse ball.  You may not have to use all your liquid- use just enough so that your dough forms a nice ball.  If you add too much liquid, just adjust with a bit of flour.

Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap, transfer the dough onto it, wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

While your dough is cooling, get your filling going.  Remember, these pies are small, so you want your fruit to be cut into smallish pieces.  Not minced, but diced.  So dice your fruit, and combine it with the remaining ingredients.

When your dough is cooled, take it out of the fridge and flour you counter.  Make sure the dough is heavily floured and gently roll it out to 1/4″ and get out your biscuit cutter.  My largest biscuit cutter (the largest I’ve been able to find) is 2 1/2″ wide.  If you can find one that is 3-4″, that’d be great.  Either way, cut your dough into rounds.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop 1/2 tbsp to 1 tbsp of filling into each round, placing center-right.  Fold the dough over the filling and press the edges together.  Use a fork to seal the edges and line the pies on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.

Whisk the egg together and brush the egg wash over each pie.  Cut a slit on the top of each pie and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

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Growing, Harvesting, & Drying Basil

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Hey party people!  So I spent this past week in New Jersey with family, which means that I spent the week not really cooking and thus not really producing anything for this little corner of the internet.  And yesterday it was all I could do to curl up on the couch and lament the crummy weather, so I wasn’t really that productive here in Maryland either.  And when I woke up this morning I was all jazzed to make something but then it was cold and rainy and the thought of cooking another in between season vegetable made me hide under the covers.

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So I’m using my get out of jail free card for this week.  I dug up an old post that Dan  was supposed to author started and decided that today, when all I want are huevos rancheros with salsa fresca, I would share how we grow, harvest, and dry basil.  In the interest of full disclosure I’ll admit that while we had the same two basil plants (grown from seeds) going strong and producing for over a year, they died this past summer because the only place in our living room that gets direct sunlight is also where the air conditioner is located.  We’re really hoping our next place has outdoor living space.

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Growing basil, like any other plant, means finding the right combination of light, warmth, and water.  Basil needs a good 4-5 hours of direct sunlight and temperatures of 60 and up.  To begin from seeds, fill your pot with dirt, poke a hole with your finger 2-3 inches deep, and sprinkle seeds inside.  Cover with dirt and water, but do not soak.  Water a little daily, sparingly.  Soon you’ll see sprouts.  It’s okay if you have multiples, when they’re 4-5 inches tall you can separate them, leaving 1 per pot.

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Your basil plant will grow steadily until the stem is thick and it’s producing large amounts of leaves.  The key to getting the plant to continue to produce is to keep it from flowering.  This means trimming it once or twice a month, depending on growth, and pinching off any flowers that form.  If you’re regularly using the plant for fresh basil, you shouldn’t have to actually cut it back frequently.  If you’re using it for fresh basil occasionally and would also like to dry some, simply cut off the amount you would like to dry and hang it upside down, from the stem, in a cool dark place.  The leaves shouldn’t get any direct sunlight and should hang until they are fully dried.  Then grind, chop, or leave them whole and enjoy!

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