Stovetop cornbread

There aren’t enough recipes out there that start with bacon.

Today was a raw and chilly day, by El Paso standards. I decided to make chili and cornbread.

My son had found the meat I had been saving for chili, so his lunch was taken care of. This torpedoed my idea of chili but I still couldn’t forget the image of steaming-hot cornbread with melting butter. So, we lacked chili but the cornbread was a success.

It is quite possible to buy a boxed mix and follow the instructions. It’ll generally give you a serviceable  cornbread. I had the ingredients on hand to start from scratch (this is cornbread! It doesn’t need exotic reagents), though, so I made it fresh. It’s really easy..

Our oven is on a long term vacation, so I found an internet recipe for stovetop cornbread — and facepalmed. It had enough sugar to be a corn cookie, used flavorless vegetable oil, and just generally looked like a dessert gone terribly awry.

So, here is my modification of my go-to cornbread recipe, for stovetop-only cooking.

It can go with nearly any simple dish- chili, chowder, chicken, or something else that starts with C and is a tasty food.

  • 2-3 strips bacon
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (or the same amount of bacon fat)
  1.    In a nine-inch cast-iron frying pan (with a lid available but not used in this step), cook the bacon over low heat. Once the bacon is done, eat it. Swirl the bacon fat that remains so that the frying pan’s sides are well-coated with oil, then save the remaining oil in a heat-safe container.
  2.    Return the  pan to very, very, VERY low heat, As low as your stove will go.
  3.    In a large mixing bowl, blend all of the dry ingredients well.
  4.    In a small bowl, combine the egg, milk, and melted butter.
  5.    Pour the wet into the dry and mix just enough to combine. it’ll be lumpy and unattractive.
  6.    Pour the batter into the hot frying pan, spread it out so that it is mostly even, then cover the pan and cook for 30 minutes.
  7.    With hot pads, pick up the pan, hold on the lid and turn the whole thing upside-down.
    • Ideally you’ll feel the cornbread drop into the pan lid; if it doesn’t, gently shake the frying pan until the cornbread drops into the lid
    • If the pan still doesn’t want to let go of its beloved cornbread, you’ll have to remove the lid (while the pan is on the stove off heat) and run a knife around the rim to help break the cornbread loose, the flip and shake as described above.
  8.    Brush the pan bottom and sides with some of the bacon fat that you saved from step one.
  9.    Put the cornbread raw-side-down back in the pan. Cook over that same very low heat for 5-10 minutes (five minutes if you like the cornbread pale, ten minutes if you like a bit of a crispy top).
  10.    Serve with butter, honey, or soup.

Quick and simple egg-lemon soup

Soups are a really versatile food. Take a protein, add a veggie, add a liquid, and there you have it: soup.

Beef stew is a great way to turn a cheap cut of beef into a very satisfying meal. Chicken soup can turn one chicken into a balanced dinner for four, and warm you to your bones on a cold winter’s day. A good seafood chowder is like a vacation to the shore, but without the traffic and sunburns.

All of these soups, while they are great food, are complex.

Avgolemono, a Greek soup, is a perfect light lunch or appetizer. This version uses four ingredients and can be made in under half an hour, including cleanup (if you use pasta- rice takes longer).

Avgolemono should be smooth, silky, with bold flavours and no distractions. You’ll taste the chicken, the egg, the lemon, and the pasta- there is nothing else to draw attention from the simple elegance of the soup.

  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup small pasta such as orzo or pastina- or substitute rice
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 eggs
  1. Heat the broth to boiling.
  2. Add the pasta (or rice) and cook until al dente- the pasta package will tell you how long to cook it.
  3. While the pasta is boiling, beat together the eggs and lemon juice, and set aside in a bowl of at least one quart.
  4. When the pasta is cooked to al dente, turn the heat down to simmer and scoop out half a cup of hot broth. Add the broth gradually to the egg mixture, whisking the whole time. This is called tempering the eggs.
  5. Keep adding broth to the egg mixture until more than half the broth has been added, then whisk the tempered egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the broth.
  6. Heat until thickened, usually not more than two minutes.

Serves two as a light lunch or four as an appetizer.

Coconut cold-brewed coffee

Recently, I found myself starting my mornings with all the energy and drive of a depressed sloth, so I went back to my trusty coffee recipe to wake me up in the mornings.

My wife, who loves coconut, asked me about adding some coconut flavour to the original recipe. I could have hit the restaurant supply store and bought another flavour syrup, but since I had coconut milk in the cabinet, I decided to modify the original recipe instead. Besides, coconut milk has a fraction of the carbs of evaporated moo juice, and is friendlier to the lactose intolerant and anyone on the paleo diet.

This is probably the simplest recipe I’ll publish, since I tend to like tweaking and adding, but it is perfect to wake you up- and if you are doing the zombie walk already, I doubt you’d want to put nineteen ingredients together!

Be warned- this makes strong coffee. Strong, like, it’ll curl the hair it puts on your chest. You may want to use less coffee grounds if you prefer a less robust pick-me-up.

(makes two servings for most people, or one serving  for the insomniac or if you want frantic energy and possible heart palpitations)

  • 2/3 cup coffee grounds
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • sugar or other sweetener to taste

Starting the night before you expect to need caffeination, put the coffee grounds and water in a one-quart mason jar, shake once, and put in the refrigerator.

Sleep well, dreaming the the energy you’ll have in the morning.

Strain the coffee into another quart mason jar. I find that a canning funnel with a coffee filter in it, with a strainer on top to pin the coffee filter in place, works well. It’ll take ten minutes or so for the filter to let the coffee through.

Discard the filter and grounds.

Add the coconut milk to the coffee, shake once, then sweeten to taste (I started with 1/4 cup of splenda, which makes fairly sweet coffee).

Serve over ice.

Cold-brewed coffee

I like iced coffee.

I don’t like single-use appliances. My kitchen is too small to house anything that doesn’t have at least two or three purposes. So a coffeemaker, while convenient, just isn’t going to work for me.

Our local purveyor of coffee and bad-for-diabetics-food, AKA Dunkin’s, serves cold-brewed coffee. Cold brewed coffee has less bitterness than traditional hot-brewed coffee, a true benefit for super tasters such as my wife.

I tinkered up a recipe for my own cold brewed coffee, since I don’t like the crowds and prices at the coffee shop.

If you’re caffeinating a crowd, you may need to use a large jar for this; I use a quart mason jar, which is plenty enough for two. The coffee is quite strong, as brewed, so if you prefer black coffee, you’ll want to reduce the amount of ground coffee you use.

This recipe is for two servings, but it multiplies easily. If you want less caffeine, use the same amount of coffee grounds but use either all decaf or a mixture of standard coffee and decaf.

Cold-brewed iced coffee

  • 2/3 cup  ground coffee
  • 3 cups cold water
  • 1 12-oz can of evaporated milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar or substitute
  • (optional) two oz coffee flavoring syrup (Irish cream flavor is the current favorite in our house)
  1.    Put the coffee grounds and water into a mason jar, shake a few times to get the grounds wet, then leave in a refrigerator for four hours to overnight.
  2.    Strain out the coffee grounds with a coffee filter. It’ll take a few minutes, as the liquid is cold.
  3.    Add the evaporated milk, sweetener and any flavor syrup, shake, and serve over ice.

Meet my new addiction: Smoothies

(No picture this time, sorry. But to make up for it, there’ll be two recipes at the end of this article.)

A good friend from Dell City recently had a yard sale, and he saved us an excellent old blender. Most newer blenders are victims of the throwaway mentality- they’re light, cheap, and flimsy. This one feels as though it was a tank in a former life.

Long ago, while Reagan was in office, I was free to roam upstate New York in the summer before my senior year in high school. There was a juice bar/farmer’s market on the side of the road. Woodstock doesn’t have a lot of entertainment for a mostly urban teenager, so I checked them out one day.

Among their offerings was the creamsicle, and since I already liked the ice cream bar by that name, I tried it. It was perfect! Crisp citrus flavor cut through the sweetness, with a yogurt tang and just enough brain freeze to make you slow down and enjoy it.

I tried to recreate the recipe a few times, but was young and impatient, and my results never really matched the genuine article that I knew they could, so I gave up on it and went back to my ‘normal’ life of being me in my late teens.

Many years passed. I mean, lots of them.

Now, with a blender, a lot more experience and not quite so much hair as the last time I had a creamsicle, I decided to recreate the smoothie. This time, I had patience, and I had Google.

Many of the smoothie recipes out there start with a banana. That’s nice, if you like bananas, but I really don’t. Once you add a banana, its flavor cloys through everything else I’ve tried. I suppose I could try stronger masking flavours but it’d take something like cayenne to really kill the banana flavour and I’m not looking for quite so, um, exciting a smoothie as that. To un-digress, though, it seemed as though about three recipes in four started out with a despicable banana, so were immediately rejected.

Vitamix (a great blender, which I do not currently own) had a recipe that looked promising. It has mango, which is not one of my go-to ingredients, but at least it eschewed the terrible yellow smilie fruit.

I had to shop a bit, as my fridge did not contain most of the ingredients; not that they are exotic, I just don’t usually keep coconut water on hand, for instance.

I’m not much for sweet tropical fruits, so I’d never opened a mango before. I found a video on BBC’s cooking page and followed it. Cut off the ‘cheeks,’ then cut a cross pattern on the inside of each, then turn the fruit inside out and cut away the fruit hedgehog that results. I’m pretty sure I wasted a lot of the fruit, but for a first time, it was not the worst I’ve done. I froze the resulting jagged chunks of bright fruit.

The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward. I blended it, rejoiced at the pastel orange colour that I had remembered, and, upon tasting, was transported back to the sunny days of the late eighties. The recipe was a success.

Emboldened by this success, I decided to make  an iced coffee smoothie. I’d hoped to pretty much just substitute coffee for the OJ concentrate, but my son had seen me making creamsicles and had made his own, using up most of the remaining ingredients, so I had to go back to the improv table.

My normal iced coffee recipe (which I will post soon) seemed like a good place to start. So I blended two cups of frozen strong cold-brewed coffee, Splenda, ice cubes, and evaporated milk.

I discovered that evaporated milk foams. A lot. I nearly overflowed the blender. The recipe shows how to avoid this fate. Despite the huge head of foam, the recipe was quite a good eye-opener.

Creamsicle Smoothie (adapted from the Vitamix recipe)

  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 mango, cubed and frozen (optional)
  • 1/4 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 2 cups ice cubes

Put everything in a blender, blend at medium-low speed for a minute until the grinding ice noises subside, then 30 seconds on the highest speed. Makes two servings.

Eye Opener

  • 2 cups of strong coffee, chilled
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or equivalent in Splenda, xylitol, stevia, or other sugar substitute)
  • 1 cup ice of ice cubes
  • 1 (12 oz) can of evaporated milk

Add everything but the evaporated milk and blend at medium-low speed until the grinding ice noises subside. Blend for 30 seconds on the highest speed.

Add the evaporated milk and pulse the blender a few times to just combine. If you add the milk before the blend, you will fill your blender with foam! Tasteless foam that has no caffeine. Bleah.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We have the world’s tastiest Christmas tree- we decided that instead of buying a tree just for Christmas, or putting up the old faithful fake tree, we would buy a rosemary bush. I’ll plant it in the back year after the new year- assuming it survives, since I keep plucking off branches for our Christmas dinner roast!

Quick Shrimp Alfredo Bake

Here’s a bit of a change of pace. I actually remembered to take pictures this time!20160930_1515411


I usually get into a sort of creative trance when I cook.


It’d be pretentious to call myself an artist, but the trance is similar to that of a musician really getting into a song, or a writer really when the story is flowing.

sautée turns into braise
Add cream

I just don’t really see the world outside of my saucepan. Grabbing a camera, even if it occurred to me (I’m not a visual person), would be an unwelcome intrusion.

add pasta
Stir in pasta

This is my apology to you for the paucity of photographs in my normal blog entries.

add cheese
Ready for the oven

This time around, I was visiting my parents. They have attractively matched cookware and a better-lighted kitchen than I do; so I took a handful of pictures.

Ready to serve
Ready to serve

Please pardon the quality– this was a mobile phone.

Alfredo is a lot simpler than most people think. This version is not terribly genuine (roux and mozzarella) but it is quick and simple. If I were cooking for date night I’d’ve gone for the full traditional recipe, but this was a quick dinner with my parents and a chance to try out a new recipe.

The recipe comes from Delish, a site that Mattfood dreams of being when it grows up. It’s called Garlicky Shrimp Alfredo Bake. I used the recipe as inspiration, changing a few things because I like garlic (and I forgot to buy tomatoes).

  • 1 lb penne
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. medium  shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella plus 1/2 cup saved aside
  • 1/4 c. shredded Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons saved
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1.    Cook pasta to al dente, which is just a bit firmer than most folks prefer to eat it. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2.    Melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the shrimp, garlic and two tablespoons of parsley. Sautée until shrimp is pink, about two minutes per side, then remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and save them. Leave the rest in the pan.
  3.    Add the rest of the butter. When it has melted and stopped foaming, whisk in the flour. Keep stirring until the mixture has darkened a bit (about like coffee with a lot of cream), then add the milk and chicken broth. Mix well and bring to a simmer.
  4.    Add cheeses (saving out the extra 1/2 cup of mozzarella) and stir. Once the cheeses are well melted and combined, return the shrimp to the mix and add the cooked pasta. Stir well (but gently) and spread the mixture evenly around the pan.
  5.    Sprinkle the reserved cheeses on top of the pasta mix and bake for 5-7 minutes.
  6.    Set oven to broil, and broil the mix for 2-3 minutes. Check often, because there is a fairly short period of time between ‘nicely browned’ and ‘looks like a lava rock.’

Serve with something green and bold- broccoli is a traditional alfredo favorite but a salad with spinach or mustard greens would work too.

The tragic aftermath
The tragic aftermath

Road Snacks – Beef Jerky at home

We’re taking a road trip. A few years ago we had an RV, so I could travel and cook at the same time (not as we were driving, but you know what I mean). Now we have a Prius, so we get five times the mileage, but the kitchen facilities are somewhat more limited.

At my budget, road food tends to be served under a crown or a big yellow M. It’ll keep you alive (for a while) but if there’s a lowest common denominator, this is it.

Road snacks should be tasty, tidy, able to survive without refrigeration, and nutritious- in that order. Since I’m going low carb, cookies and the like are off the list. So, what is a good protein-y road snack?

I picked up dry roasted peanuts during my last stroll through Costco. Costco doesn’t sell small packages- I think it is around a bushel. Should last through any number of road trips. But peanuts, while they are a low carb snack, get a wee bit dull. But beef jerky can have quite a range of flavors.

So yesterday, during the height of the Texas summer heat, we went back to the restaurant supply warehouse and spent quite a long time looking through the beef roasts in their meat walk-in cooler. The fact that it is 45 degrees in there encouraged me to check every roast slowly.

I picked up a six pound roast for $20. Unlike my normal steak guidelines, I looked for one with as little marbling as possible- fat is not your friend in jerky.

Once home, I trimmed the roast into about two inch thick

The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.
The fat on the outside should be trimmed off.

steaks with no visible fat. Then I sliced the steaks into strips about 3/8 of an inch thick. That’s about 1cm, for the civilized folk out there. The actual thickness doesn’t have to be very specific but as much as possible you want all your pieces to be nearly identically thick so that they cook and dry at the same rate.

I made three batches and marinated them overnight- one A1 sauce, one oyster sauce, and one random mix of black soy, worcestershire sauce and sweet chili sauce.

I’m cooking each batch separately in the Nuwave for three hours at power 2, with some soup spoons elegantly jammed under the cover so that moisture can escape.

I’ll post more in a few hours when the first batch (oyster sauce) comes out.

Anti-pasta salad redux

My previous post, the low carb antipasto, was nutritious but too bland. With a July 4 cookout approaching, I made a double batch with a few modifications for more flavor.

Chicken wasn’t on sale this week, but steak was. Since this is a double batch, I picked up two pounds of somethingorother steak.

Now, the flavor upgrades:

  • double strength ranch dressing
  • double the capers
  • sear the steak on a gas grill
  • salt the cukes
  • dance naked in the moonlight

  • 8 cucumbers
  • 2 ts salt
  • 4 bell peppers
  • 2 onions
  • 2 lbs steak
  • 2 lbs bacon
  • 1 cup capers, drained
  • 3 cups ranch dressing
  1.    Peel the cucumbers, remove the ends, and slice in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice the halves again lengthwise. Cut the resulting spears in 1/2 inch sections. Put the pieces in a large collander and toss with salt. Let rest for two hours or more (refrigerated, over a bowl to catch the juice).
  2.    I used a packet of ranch seasoning meant for a gallon, and made two quarts instead. I used half mayo and half yoghurt. You could use buttermilk instead of the yoghurt but the cucumbers release a lot of water, so I opted for the thicker dressing. You’ll use three cups of the resulting dressing.
  3.    Cut the peppers and onions into 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside in a large mixing bowl.
  4.    Trim the steak well, then grill on a hot gas grill to about medium. Cool the steak then slice into 1″x1/2″ pieces, and add them to the mixing bowl. Good strong grill marks will pay you back with a burst of flavour.
  5.    Cook the bacon to crispy (using your favorite method- microwave or nu-wave work well) then crumble or snip it into small pieces in the mixing bowl.
  6.    Add the capers and ranch dressing and stir to coat.
  7.    Shake the cucumber pieces in the collander to drain out the last of the juice, then add to the bowl and stir to coat everything. Serve cold.

Some attractive add-ins would be cherry tomatoes, banana peppers, sliced Greek olives or cubed sharp cheddar.

Eat well, have fun, enjoy life.