Category: cornmeal

Cranberry walnut corn muffins.

It’s December already. Can you believe it? Time really flew by this year, it seems. Every year seems to go by faster and faster, actually, the older I get. It really seems just like yesterday I was gardeningcanning peaches. And now Thanksgiving is over and we’re sprinting toward a new year. I can’t believe my Christmas tree will be up by the end of next week!

Cranberry walnut corn muffins.

The day I first made these was the day after the horrific Paris restaurant & nightclub attacks, back in November. I felt like I needed to bake something, as I usually do when bad things happen. As someone whose husband has been in Paris (and all over Europe), performing in nightclubs and bars similar to Bataclan many times… it’s even harder. I can put myself in that situation very easily. I know what it’s like to know someone you love is many miles away and you’re waiting for the call when the show is over. For some, that call didn’t come.  These bad things seemingly happen a lot in today’s world- and for me, when they do, it’s comforting to come into my little kitchen and make something warm and delicious.

And you know how it is- you have like, three random ingredients you need to use, and you want to moosh ’em all together and make something. So that’s how these were born. I found a recipe I liked, and added walnuts to it. These are basically a one-bowl wonder.

They’re also kind of a go-between of sweet and savory, tart and sweet. Great warm with butter and just as great as a side to a meal. They do make a wonderful breakfast, too, though.

Cranberry walnut corn muffins.

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Hearty black pumpernickel bread for a freezing winter’s day.

It was so cold, that there was ice caked on the storm windows. It hadn’t snowed (although there was plenty of snow on the ground already), there was just ice. So cold that the heating system couldn’t keep up and the house temperature was about 10 degrees lower than what we set it on. In other words, IT SUCKS.

And here’s the deal: I know cold. I’ve gotten up and gone to school in knee socks and a skirt in cold weather (for 6 years). I’ve walked in cold weather (and in snow) with a portfolio and box of paints, from the train to school and back. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve waited in it. I’ve stood in it. I’ve shoveled snow in it. I know I live in NY and cold weather is part of the deal. But -8° is NOT normal NY weather. That’s some Minnesota/Wisconsin/ mid-western shit. So before anyone says, “OMG Northerner stop bitching, it gets cold up there” just remember that. This is abnormal. We haven’t had temps this low since 1994. Usually we have 30° temps, sometimes 20°, and occasionally- maybe a few days every winter- in the teens. But in the negatives? Uh, no. Understand? Good. Moving on…

Delicious pumpernickel bread.

Anyway Jay had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and be at work by 7, so I of course was awake early. No matter how quiet you are, you will always disturb your significant other when you wake up before them. So despite my efforts to go back to sleep in my warm, cozy bed piled with down comforters and Irish wool blankets with the blinds tightly shut, by 6:45 a.m. I was up, browsing Facebook on my phone, thinking about warming the place up. And by 7:30 I had opened the blinds to see… ice. Remember when I said that sometimes all I did was creep out of bed to bake (or eat) and then I crawled back in? Uh huh.

But I don’t give up easily and so I stayed in bed until almost 9, when I realized I was not falling back to sleep and it hadn’t gotten any warmer out. That’s when I decided to bake.

Baking is awesome in this weather because you can “preheat” your oven a long time in advance. Leave that shit on and have some coffee, watch TV, lazily make your way in to get the flour, the eggs, etc, etc. No rush. And because I have a gas oven, it gets so hot so quick it can warm pretty much the kitchen, dining room and living room (and some of the hallway) immediately. Which is a blessing now, in the summer it’s a different story.

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds baked in a salty honey pie.

A few months ago, back during the height of “pie season”, my mother sent me a link to Daily Candy that featured this pie. The name intrigued me: Salty honey pie. Sounded awesome. As far as I’m concerned salted anything is pretty delicious- salted caramel, salted chocolate, etc.

I know of this pie shop & the name is pretty awesome. Not only that, but the cover of the book is awesome too:

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie book.

So anyway, now that the holidays have wound down & I’m not on a baking schedule of specific traditional treats, I thought I’d make this salted honey pie & see how it is. See if it lives up to the idea of deliciousness that I (& everyone else) has in my head. I made it twice (this is the second one). The first one didn’t look that great because I used a larger pie plate than I should have for the sake of convenience, and the crust slid down into the filling. This one was ultimately the better-looking one, so aesthetically speaking it “won.” However both tasted fantastic.

Salty honey pie recipe from Four + Twenty Blackbirds pie shop.

I think it’s Jay’s new favorite pie.

And I am always, ALWAYS bad at pie crust. Always. I just can’t get it perfect, ever. Oh well.

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No pain, no gain.

Of course by pain I mean the French word for ‘bread.’ Duh. And by gain? I mean weight. Haha. Yeah I know, I shouldn’t quit my day job.

Don’t you just love bread? I certainly love bread. All kinds of bread. Soft white bread, dense 9-grain bread, whole wheat bread, sandwich bread, artisan bread, ciabatta bread, sourdough bread… you get the idea. I’d never go on a diet where bread was a no-no. Actually, I’d never go on a diet, period. Thankfully I’m blessed with good enough genes so I can fit into my jeans. Hah. Lately I’ve been on sort of a carb-kick, well actually a bread-kick, and the desire to make my own was upped to the highest levels possible. Especially after making some garlic knots. I have been craving homemade bread with salty, creamy butter for ages now. I just needed to get off my lazy ass and make some, which is where this post comes in.

Abby’s Sweets has a recipe for French bread from Taste of the South magazine and just looking at her pictures of it sold me. It sounded very easy, the rising times didn’t seem incomprehensible, and I figured it was worth a shot. And it really was easy. I made it and when I was finished I actually looked at the clock and was amazed; it hadn’t taken much time at all. I was sitting there, eating warm slices of delicious bread before I knew it. Therefore, I put it in the ‘quick & easy’ category, although I’m aware that those words to some people imply opening a can or defrosting something in the microwave. Those people should either close this page right now, or attempt to make something more complex than a Hungry Man dinner. YOU CAN DO IT. I promise. This bread does not involve a starter and it comes together really easily.

Okay so, I love making breads, but the thing that I hate is the kneading. Sure, I could just leave it in the mixture & have the dough hook mimic the kneading, but I think hand-kneading really makes a difference, so I always try to do it. But boy, did I get a workout with this one! 10 minutes of kneading this bread and my muscles rivaled Popeye‘s, without the benefit of spinach. It really is a stiff dough. I used 5 cups of flour and it was more than enough, but it’s one of those things, you have to play it by ear. Or uh, by hand? Add more flour as needed, if the dough is sticky, add more. If it’s not, then don’t.

Lola wanted some face-time again, and I can’t blame her. She did all the heavy-lifting & hard work. All I did was buy the ingredients, measure them out, knead the dough, grease the bowl, divide the dough, shape the loaves, bake them… hey, wait a minute. I did most of the work! Sneaky mixers, tryin’a take all the credit. She’s still beautiful though, so here she is. Love her. Appreciate her. Be jealous of her. My mixer can kick your mixer’s ass any day, and not get the slightest chip in her enamel.

(Honestly, if there’s anyone out there reading this who doesn’t have one of these & bakes a lot or is contemplating getting one but is on the fence- stop whatever you’re doing & just order one. It will change your fucking life. BUY ONE. NOW. Go. I’ll wait for you… *lengthy pause* Done? Good. You won’t be disappointed.)

FRENCH BREAD (from Abby’s Sweets/Taste of the South)

Le pain ingredients:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 (.25 oz) package active-rise yeast
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 5 ½ -6 cups bread flour, divided
  • ¼ cup cornmeal

Le pain directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Let stand until foamy, approximately 10 minutes.
  2. In the bowl of a large stand mixer, combine yeast mixture, 1 tablespoon oil, salt and 3 cups flour. Using the dough hook attachment, beat for 2-3 minutes, scraping sides of bowl as needed. Stir in enough of remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, approximately 1o minutes.
  3. Grease a large bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Place dough in bowl, turning dough to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size. About 1 ½ hours.
  4. Punch dough down, and divide in half. Shape dough into 2 (approx. 17″ x 3″ inch) loaves.
  5. Spray 2 baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with cornmeal. Place each loaf on a prepared baking sheet. Make 4 cuts diagonally across the top of each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  7. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Just a side note: Only use stainless steel, Pyrex or plastic bowl for the dough. Don’t use aluminum or any other reactive metal- it’ll mess with the rising. It’s also important to use bread flour, or a flour with a high-gluten content. That gives the bread it’s heft, and it has a higher protein content which results in the perfect texture. You could use all-purpose, and get a decent bread out of it, it just won’t be as chewy or have the right feel to it. I’d just use the bread flour if I were you. And if you do not have a KitchenAid stand mixer, or a stand mixer at all, especially one without a dough hook… I don’t recommend using a hand mixer. Even if it has a dough hook attachment. You’ll end up with a burned-out motor and a doughy mess. You’re better off using your hands if anything. But like I said- get a stand mixer!

I don’t like measuring, and I certainly don’t like being told how big or small to make my bread. So when it came to shaping them into loaves, I just winged it. No idea how long or wide they were. They were not 17″ though. I made mine more misshapen/rustic, and slightly shorter & wider. It’s an absolutely gorgeous bread when finished baking; it would make a beautiful grilled cheese (especially with this recipe), an amazing bruschetta, and a perfect hearty sandwich bread.

However… like I said, it’s fantastic alone with just butter.