There are few things in this world that are better than a fresh, crusty French baguette smeared with salty butter. I’ve learned to bake many breads in my kitchen, which really makes me proud – because dough, of any variety, was something that terrified me for a long time. Even once I was confident in my bread making skills, baguettes always just seemed out of my league.

A couple of weeks ago I started binge-watching The Great British Bake-Off, and the baguette episode piqued my interest. Santa had brought me a baker’s couche for Christmas – that I’m ashamed to admit was still setting in it’s package. I resolved to kick my fears to the curb and give it a go – you’ll never tackle anything new if you don’t at least try!

I’d envisioned it to be very time consuming and tedious, with a bunch of stipulations and fancy equipment needed. And I certainly never thought that if I ever did have the nerve to try it, that they’d turn out anything like a presentable baguette…

Well, I’m happy to report that my fears were unfounded and incorrect on pretty much all of those fronts. Sure, the whole process does take a whole day – as in 24 hours. You start off making a “poolish” overnight , which is pretty much just a fancy word for a starter. The next day, that starter is then dumped into the other ingredients to make the dough, which has a couple rises ahead of itself, as well as shaping and final proofing – before being put in the oven.

I used the same process when I made Italian Bread – it’s what gives bread that chewy and crunchy exterior. It’s definitely worth the extra time while you sleep!

I made my starter on Friday afternoon, and by Saturday afternoon I was munching on the most flavorful and crispy baguette I’ve had in my life! The only special equipment you need is a couche to help the baguettes retain their shape while they rise. They’re relatively cheap (around $20), but you can totally use a flour sack dish towel instead. Word to King Arthur Flour for another winning recipe!

Crispy French Baguettes

For the poolish:
1/2 cup cool water
1/16 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the dough:
1 tsp tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
1 cup + 2 Tbsp lukewarm water
all of the starter
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp salt

To make the starter: Mix everything together to make a soft dough. Cover and let rest at room temperature for about 14 hours; overnight works well.

To make the dough: Mix and knead everything together — by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle — to make a soft, somewhat smooth dough; it should be cohesive, but the surface may still be a bit rough. If you’re using a stand mixer, knead for about 4 minutes on medium-low speed (speed 2 on a KitchenAid); the finished dough should stick a bit at the bottom of the bowl.

Place the dough in a lightly greased medium-sized bowl, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise for 3 hours, gently deflating it, folding the edges into the center, and turning it over after 1 hour. Let rise additional 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface. Gently deflate it, and divide it into three equal pieces.

Round each piece of dough into a rough ball by pulling the edges into the center. Cover with greased plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes (up to 1 hour).

Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough slightly then fold it nearly (but not quite) in half, sealing the edges with the heel of your hand. Turn the dough around, and repeat: fold, then flatten. Repeat this whole process again; the dough should have started to elongate itself. Click here for a video.

With the seam side down, cup your fingers and gently roll the dough into a 16″ log. Taper each end of the log slightly to create the baguette’s typical “pointy” end.

Place the logs seam-side down onto a lightly greased or parchment-lined sheet pan or pans; or into the folds of a heavily floured cotton dish towel (or couche). Cover them with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise until they’re slightly puffy. This should take about 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature (about 68°F).

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat your oven to 450°F with a cast iron pan on the floor of the oven, or on the lowest rack. If you’re using a baking stone, place it on a middle rack. Start to heat 1 1/2 cups water to boiling.

If your baguettes have risen in a dish towel or couche, gently roll them (seam side down) onto a lightly greased (or parchment-lined) baking sheet. If you plan on baking them on a baking stone, roll them onto a piece of parchment, and lift the parchment onto a baker’s peel. Using a baker’s lame (a special curved blade) or a very sharp knife held at about a 45° angle, make three to five long lengthwise slashes in each baguette.

Load the baguettes into the oven. If you’re baking on a stone, use a baker’s peel to transfer the baguettes, parchment and all, onto the hot stone. Carefully pour the boiling water into the cast iron pan, and quickly shut the oven door.

Bake the baguettes — on the pan, or on a stone — for 24 to 28 minutes, or until they’re a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool them on a rack. Or, for the very crispiest baguettes, turn off the oven, crack it open about 2″, and allow the baguettes to cool completely in the oven, until both baguettes and oven are at room temperature.

Store any leftover baguettes in a paper bag overnight; freeze for longer storage. Thaw and reheat just before serving.

Source: King Arthur Flour

There is nothing that says “comfort food” more than a pot of beans bubbling on the stove. I got this recipe a couple of years ago from my friend and part-time neighbor Nancy, I’ve mentioned them before. We met at this bloggers event hosted by Maryland Tourism, and it turned out they have a vacation house next door here on Chincoteague, literally. It’s a small world after all.

Nancy’s husband Len and their daughter Kelsey own and operate Louthan Distilling in Baltimore, who offer amazing locally distilled whiskey and bourbon. Needless to say, we became fast friends, and usually will get together for a potluck type situation when they are down. I always ask that Nancy bring these beans when we do…

Pintos, tomatoes, onions, garlic and spices are simmered in a beer broth for a couple of hours, to make for a flavorful and tender bean – that lends itself great for burritos, or tacos, or on top of cornbread. Also great mashed up and served refried. If you don’t have the time to spare, you can make them in under an hour (from dried state) in the Instant Pot – you’ll find directions for that included with the regular recipe below.

A hefty dose of cilantro stirred in at the end, and a pint of beer on the side – and you’re good to go. Speaking of beer and locally crafted goodness, have you guys heard that we now have a brewery here on Chincoteague Island? The first on the the Eastern Shore of Virginia. W00t!  I know, I know – so exciting!

Black Narrows Brewing Company opened their doors at the end of December, and we couldn’t be happier that they’re here. It’s run by a wonderful family, they use local ingredients, and their beer is epic. If you’re visiting the island make sure to stop by and see them on Chicken City Road – right behind the Brant.

Enjoy a pint, and get a yourself growler (or three!) to bring home. The Louthans are heading into town this weekend actually, and I can’t wait to get up there with them and enjoy a pint. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Instant Pot Macaroni & Cheese

Pressure cookers are definitely the hot “it” appliance right now. I’ve had an old stainless model for years, that I use for canning – but at 16 quarts too big to use for general use in my kitchen. So this fall I hopped on the old bandwagon and purchased an 8-quart Instant Pot, and haven’t looked back since!

I’m hesitant about unitaskers in my kitchen, and I was skeptical how much I’d actually use the thing on a regular basis. Turned out I was pleasantly surprised, using it at least two times a week in my kitchen. To be able to make a quick chicken or vegetable stock in under an hour blows my mind.

Not to mention other tasks like potatoes cooked to perfection in a few minutes, dried beans that taste they’ve been simmering all day long in an hour, or this easy macaroni and cheese – which goes from pot to table in two shakes of a lamb’s tail (just a little over 10 minutes).

You could take it to the next level by pouring the finished mac into a baking dish and topping with more cheese (or breadcrumbs, if that’s your thing) and popping into the oven for a few minutes to melt. But, we usually don’t get that far. I’ve also been known to throw in a cup of diced ham and a chopped head of broccoli to bulk it up and make it a one-dish meal that everyone always loves.

Do you have an electric pressure cooker? What are some of your favorite recipes to make in it? Share in comments!

pepperonistuffedshells

Stuffed shells are one of my favorite comfort meals. Pasta encasing a bunch of fluffy ricotta and gooey, cheesy goodness? You just can’t go wrong. Not to mention the variations and combinations that you can use to “mix up” your filling is endless.

So, when Sugardale Foods reached out to me about creating a recipe using their delicious pepperoni – my mind immediately began brainstorming. And, led me right to the thought of  a pepperoni-studded stuffed shell (say that 3x fast!). All of your favorite flavors in a pizza, but in pasta form. Genius!

Pepperoni is something that I always have on hand in the fridge, it’s a great way to add a little bit of meaty flavor to recipes. I’ll often add it to skillet pastas, or baked pasta dishes…as well as just for snacking purposes. Love having it around for a quick anti-pasta platter when unexpected guests drop in. A few slices of cheese, some pepperoni, maybe a few olives? Bam! Awesome easy appetizer.

But, finding a good-quality pepperoni can be a little bit daunting – to say the least. So many are full of so much fat, by the time you cook it…there’s nothing left. Not the case with Sugardale’s pepperoni.

Sugardale Foods is a family-owned company that’s been in business since 1920. Right here in the good, old US of A too! That’s a feat that seems to be harder and harder to come by these days. You can find their products  (ham, pepperoni, bacon) at many retailers nationwide, in various size packaging. With 3 little boys, I can blow through one of their 1-lb bags in no time. It’s a brand I know I can always turn to for quality! Make sure you stop by their recipe page for a bunch of great recipe ideas.

I kept the filling simple: Ricotta, chunks of mozzarella, a little oregano. Placed the whole pepperoni slices into the shells, then stuffed with the ricotta mixture. Baked with my favorite quick marinara sauce and a little extra mozzarella on top. Perfection, I tell ya!

It’s the time of year where we find ourselves turning to comfort foods, and this one is definitely a new favorite in our home. Add it to your menu soon, you won’t regret it!

Connect with Sugardale Foods on Facebook • Twitter • Pinterest • YouTube

What is your favorite comfort meal? Tell me about it in the comments and you will be entered to win a $100 Visa gift card!

Entry Instructions:

No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post

2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post

3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post

4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older (or nineteen (19) years of age or older in Alabama and Nebraska). Winners will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. The notification email will come directly from BlogHer via the sweeps@blogher email address. You will have 2 business days to respond; otherwise a new winner will be selected.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 10/3/2016 – 10/31/2016

Be sure to visit the Sugardale Foods brand page on BlogHer.com where you can read other bloggers’ posts!