Guest Post: Baking Newbie

This is a suuuuuper crazy time of year for me. Think laughing/crying/exhaustion with a never-ending to-do list. I love my job…it just that I have the whole  year’s worth of stress compacted into only a few months. I love that folks wanted to help me with guest posts. Today I have Amy of Wicked Good Travel. You’ve met Amy before, here, and she was here, and I was on her blog here.

Baking and I are not friends. I was always more than happy to reap the benefits of baking that others did, but I wanted no part of hangin’ out with baking on my own. Cooking and I are serious BFFs though. We get along like a house on fire…is that a bad metaphor for cooking? Anyway, whenever baking and I got together it ended in tears, shouting, and hopping up and down in anger. This came along with a huge mess that looked like I’d murdered a platter of cupcakes and then tried to cover up my sins with a bag of flour. Seriously. It never went well.

But lately as I’ve gotten increasingly better and more confident at cooking I felt like I needed a challenge. It started with homemade pasta. The first batch of pasta dough failed miserably, but then I watched a video and tried again and it worked! Then recently I wanted to make biscuits and gravy, but I didn’t have any pre-made biscuits I could pop in the oven, and I thought ‘well, if I’m really a food blogger, then I should be up for the challenge of making stuff from scratch as much as possible.’ So, I decided to try my hand at homemade biscuits. It all was going so well, until I failed to read the ingredients that said “self-rising flour” and used “all-purpose flour” instead, without adding any baking powder or baking soda. You might think at that point I would throw in the towel. But, that simple mistake suddenly flipped the switch in my brain, and seeing what happened to the biscuits minus that ingredient made it easier to understand why I needed to follow baking instructions more carefully.

I know, it all sounds so obvious. And honestly, I did always know why following measurements and not swapping out ingredients on a whim while baking was important. But alas, I’m a creative, passionate type and I didn’t want to deal with that rigidity as I saw it. I wanted to be free to throw this in and add a pinch of that, or totally mix it up or sideways and get downright crazy! Since I couldn’t do that with baking, despite my valiant efforts, I shunned the activity.

Yet, with this recent hiccup regarding the biscuits I found myself getting right back on the horse and the following weekend I made them again. And they came out perfectly. Suddenly, I had found that freedom I always thought was nonexistent with baking. I also found that yes, I could bake. I just had to pay attention as a beginner. Now, I was free to rule the world of baking should I wish! So, with that in mind, I decided to get seriously crazy. I decided… to make scones.

Blackberry Scones

modified from Baking Bites

Ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup butter, chilled
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup blackberries, fresh or frozen (I used frozen, actually kneads a bit better into the dough)
1 tbsp coarse sugar, for topping (I didn’t have any so I did without)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into 6-8 chunks and add to flour mixture, tossing to coat. Using your fingertips, rub the butter into the flour until mixture is sandy and butter is well distributed, with no pieces larger than a big pea.
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Combine milk and vanilla extract and pout into flour mixture. Stir until dough comes together.
guest_scone_590_390Add blackberries and gently knead into the dough. It is ok if some berries get slightly squished.
guest_scone_berries_590_390 Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and flatten dough into a disc about 3/4-inch thick.
Use a knife to divide disc into six triangles. Place scones on prepared baking sheet.
Sprinkle generously with coarse sugar.
Bake for 20 minutes, until scones are golden brown.
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Again, everything seemed to be going so well, so I snapped photos away ready to blog my triumph. But as the dough came together and I had to roll it out, all seemed lost. It was so sticky and seemed too wet – I couldn’t cut the dough as perfectly as I had expected so I cut rough triangles and gingerly put them on the baking sheet. Hence the lack of photos of the dough. Imagine my surprise when I pulled them out of the oven as the timer bell went off, and cut a piece off with some serious trepidation, and I realized I had made a bonafide scone. They tasted so amazing!! I couldn’t believe it. I’ve already started my next baking venture- I’m going to make oatcakes. The batter is sitting on my kitchen counter as I type, patiently waiting to be rolled out tomorrow, per instructions.

Well, thanks so much to Emily for allowing me a little space on her corner of the Interweb to share my success with you all! I encourage you to give the recipe for Blackberry Scones a go, which can easily become Raspberry Scones, or Blueberry Scones, or Walnut Scones…all I know is we’re gonna be bakin’ away in this house going forward. And I have learned that there’s enough room in my heart and my skills to be BFFs with both cooking and baking.
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Cheers!
Amy

Interested in being a guest blogger? Email emily@thethreebiterule.com for more details!

Biscuits and Gravy…it’s not just for Breakfast

Sometimes I’m full of dinner ideas and others I’m racking my brain. I don’t know how I came up with biscuits and gravy but I was feeling especially southern. This is more of a what-I-ate rather than a recipe but I wanted to share my biscuit success!
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Some of my thought was I haaaaad to prove it to myself that I could make a biscuit. I tried to make some that looked simple enough for thanksgiving that were a huge flop.

I made simple bisquick biscuits and they came out great! I used a juice glass to cut them. I brushed the tops with butter after cooking for a few minutes. They were light, fluffy, and absorbent.
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I crumbled 2 sausage links and made a simple creamy gravy. The sausage and gravy topped biscuits.
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I felt like we needed something else so I baked apple slices with some brown sugar, maple syrup, and oatmeal.
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Stop, drop (cheddar biscuits), and roll!

I got an itch I had to scratch. TMI? Well, I was itching to make biscuits. I figured they were do-able since bread & yeast seems scary. They were amazing! I loved them!
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They had so much flavor and were simple to assemble. I don’t bake a lot but these made me feel like a successful baker! Just wait till my kitchen is bigger than a shoe box!

Cheddar Buttermilk Biscuits

(adapted from Epicurious)

Ingredients:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal (preferably stone-ground; not coarse)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 oz extra-sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated (2 cups)
1 1/3 cups well-shaken buttermilk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Whisk four, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
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Blend in butter until the mixture is crumbly. A pastry blender will work best but fingers will do a good job too.
Stir in cheese and add buttermilk, stirring just until combined.
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Drop 12 lumps onto a greased or parchment lined cookie sheet.
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Bake until golden, about 15 minutes.
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I nixed the Parmigiano-Reggiano and scallions but I’m sure both are great additions. I also made my own buttermilk since buying buttermilk seems unnecessary for a small amount so rarely. Epicurious also thought there would be 8 large biscuits. I’m here to tell you I made mine pretty colossal and there were 12.

To make buttermilk: mix 1 ⅓ cups milk with 1 ½ white vinegar or lemon juice. Let it stand a few minutes before using.

I was feeling very southern so I served these with some honey barbecue wings. The wings had been chillin’ in my freezer forever and it was time to clear some room in there. I defrosted them and marinated them in barbecue sauce and honey. Honey Barbecue…duh! I also made slightly freezer burned green beans since it’s not dinner in my book without a veggie.
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I was so excited about the biscuits. It made a lot and I ate them for breakfast for days on end. Mr. J isn’t in love with drop biscuits to the extent that I am because of the cornmeal and the crumbly nature, rather than the flakiness of regular biscuits. I attemped some other biscuits for Thanksgiving and they weren’t good so I’ll stick with these guys.

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Here’s a variation on these biscuits as a Chicken Pot Pie Biscuit Topping.

Piggy Went to the Crockpot

I’ve been just on the edge of my seat to share my pulled pork with you! HUGE win for me. See, I attempted this once before. I cooked my pork butt for HOURS over the course of 2 days and it was terrible and undercooked. I tried to salvage it but it was a wash. I was annoyed, felt betrayed by the pork, and felt wasteful.

This time was different since I used my shiny red crockpot for the pork butt/pork shoulder. Fun fact: pork butt and pork shoulder are the SAME thing. Pulled pork cooks low and slow for hours. Mr. J and I work too long for most crockpot items to be weeknight dinners. I was out of ketchup so I improvised with my fav tomatoes and some vinegar, salt, and sugar.
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The prep was super fast  in the morning and then it cooked low and slow for 10 hours all while the pup was probably drooling. I always wonder if he is driven crazy by the food smells or if he loves it. Well, he loves most things in life so I’d guess he loves it.
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Ingredients

4 pound pork shoulder/pork butt
1 onion, chopped
2 tbs garlic, chopped
1 cup canned tomatoes (or ketchup)
2 tbs white vinegar (omit if using ketchup)
⅓ cup cider vinegar
⅓ cup packed brown sugar
2 tbs paprika
3 tbs spicy brown mustard
2 tbs salt
2 tbs pepper
1 tsp liquid smoke

Directions

Mix onion, garlic, tomatoes, vinegars, sugar, paprika, mustard, salt and pepper.
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Cut pork into quarters being mindful if it is a bone-in cut (mine was).
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Add everything into the crockpot.
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Set for 10 hours on low and return home to delicious barbecue smells!
Gently remove pork and reheat the sauce on high or in a pot to thicken.
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I was so excited! This was good and really different from meat I typically serve. I used tongs to get it out of the crockpot and it FELL off the bone. Success! I didn’t even have to fork the meat appart…it separated enough just when I picked it up with the tongs a bit!
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There was a lot of meat here given I’m feeding two of us. We ate it a few times then I froze the rest with the sauce. I’m curious to see how it is defrosted.

I served it with some cornbread muffin tops I made. I rarely use my muffin top pan for actual muffins but I did this time! I used a mix but they’re easy enough to whip up.
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Bacon Bread

Hi, my name is Emily. I am Pintrest obsessed. “Hi Emily!”

Do you pin? It’s addicting. Pinterest is a virtual pin board.  I just love the creativity being shared on it!  It seems like such an efficient way to keep track of foods I want to make/attempt my twist on. I love introducing people to it, though I’ll warn you…if you’re on Pinterst and don’t pin then you’re a mooch! Go ahead, follow me.
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I saw a pin from somebody’s blog that became widely popular. Cheesy bacon ranch bread. Duh, why wouldn’t that be popular?? It seems to have originated on a fun blog called Plain Chicken. Also, today is Monday and I’m worried you might not have had enough bacon in your life over the weekend. Oh, I forgot. Today is a holiday for some lucky people to continue their weekend life…not me though.

Mine wasn’t exactly to-die-for, but I think I’d attempt again. Without further ado, I give you Cheddar Bacon Ranch Pulls (from Plain Chicken)

Ingredients

1 round loaf sourdough bread
8-12 oz shredded cheddar cheese
3 oz bacon (I used 3 slices, chopped)
½ cup butter (I used ⅓ cup but should have used more)
1 tbs ranch dressing mix

Directions

Cut bread in 1 inch slices going almost all the way through, in both directions
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Sprinkle cheese and bacon between the cuts
Mix ranch powder and butter together and drizzle all over the top
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Cover with foil and bake at 350-degrees for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 10 minutes

I think more of everything would have made mine better. Mine didn’t open up like Plain Chicken’s. Hers is beautifully separated just waiting to be pulled apart.

I think more is more in this case, and I think it would be easier with another set of hands to separate while filling & drizzling. Maybe if there was just so much cheese & bacon then it would automatically separate the bread pulls.
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I see the potential. That blogger also made a brunch one with cinnamon & sugar which sounds good. This is a dish to eat with close friends or family. I can’t imagine a shy group getting in there and pulling it apart with you! I made this at my parents house so I prepped everything and assembled there. Can’t you tell the beautifully bright photos after I sliced in my windowless dungeon of a kitchen?

A Tasty Catastrophe

Once upon a time, Ms. S wanted to bring something to a weekend away with friends but what would travel well on a bus from NYC all the way to the far away land of Massachusetts?

BEER BREAD (mix, to be made on the spot)

It was such a great idea. It was easy, goes with everything, didn’t take up room, and didn’t create any leftovers! Yum! I was new to the world of Tastefully Simple but it sounds like fun and I’m glad to be in-the-know (recently I was feeling old/out-of-it after having to google flash mob).

Ingredients

mix
12 oz beer or carbonated beverage
3 tbs butter (optional)

Directions

1) Empty mix into a big bowl
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2) Stir in beer

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3) Melt butter and pour over the top of the mixed batter
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4) Bake according to package
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I hesitate to share the commotion this bread caused before telling you how yummy it is! We loved it and ate it all. For beer Ms. S chose a winter beer which was great, thought I hadn’t had it anyother way. The buttered top made it crispy and delicious.Ok, so, we’re in a rental house with a full kitchen. Ms. S followed all instructions perfectly and baked it until she realized the oven was smoking. It smelled like chemicals so we fanned it out, wiped the bottom of the oven, let it cool and turned it back on. It seemed fine at first but the smoke came back! It was crazy, let me tell you. One of us would open the oven and stand back from the fumes, another one would hold a small fan pointing into the oven, three was taking photos, and four was opening doors and fanning the smoke detector.

The smell was very intense and the property owner had to come over to look at the oven. We still attest that it wasn’t our fault. We THINK the previous tentant may have used oven cleaner on a self-cleaning oven (serious no-no).

Anywho, it baked part way, then the oven had a hissy fit then it baked more. It didn’t taste like the smoke at all and turned out fine. We loved it and hope to have it again!

Increasing the Fall in Pumpkin Bread

Nothing is more fall than pumpkin bread BUT with walnuts and Craisins that fall factor was just amped up about 10 times. I don’t bake much but bread seems more manageable than cookies. I have to say, while it won’t make me a baker, I’m quite proud of the results! Can you say breakfast for the week?

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Ingredients

-1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
-4 eggs
-1 cup vegetable oil
-2/3 cup water
-3 cups sugar
-3 1/2 cups flour
-2 teaspoons baking soda
-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
-1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
-1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
-1/2 cup Craisins
-1 cup walnuts 

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Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease three 7×3 inch loaf pans or one regular and 2 mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin pie spice. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended.

Pour into the prepared pans. Add Craisins and walnuts to taste. Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.