Feb 26, 2011

Tamale Pie/Cornbread Casserole

This hearty dish clearly fits under the category of comfort food. I like the combination of the beef, bean, and veggie layer, topped with cornbread. This recipe is adapted slightly from Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

Beef Mixture:
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 1/2 cups salsa (jarred or homemade)
1 can (15 ounce) black, pinto or white beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Cornbread Topping:
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cup milk
2 or 3 green onions, sliced (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and set aside. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and onion, adding the salt and pepper, over medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink. Drain the fat from the pan. Stir in the corn, salsa, and beans. Pour the beef mixture into the prepared pan and set aside.

For the cornbread, combine the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, beaten eggs and milk. Whisk together until just moistened and no dry spots remain. Fold in the sliced green onions, if desired.

Sprinkle the cheese over the beef mixture and pour the cornbread batter over the cheese and beef mixture. Gently spread the cornbread to the edges of the pan, evening it out over the top of the casserole.

Bake for 40-45 minutes until the edges are bubbly and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs. Let the casserole stand for 10 minutes before serving. May be served with additional salsa, sour cream, or chili sauce. Serves 6-8.

Feb 20, 2011

New York Times Essential Cookbook

A good friend of mine, Mark Magleby, who is an excellent cook in his own right, brought this terrific cookbook to my attention at the end of last year. He brought it to one of our monthly dinner groups and was browsing through it for pure enjoyment. Mark said that even if one didn't try any of the recipes, the recipe notes, the food history, and the quality of the writing make for fascinating reading. And he's right.

Here is how Amazon describes the book:
"All the best recipes from 150 years of distinguished food journalism--a volume to take its place in America's kitchens alongside Mastering the Art of French Cooking and How to Cook Everything. Amanda Hesser, the well-known New York Times food columnist, brings her signature voice and expertise to this compendium of influential and delicious recipes from chefs, home cooks, and food writers. Hesser has cooked and updated every one of the 1,000-plus recipes here. Her chapter introductions showcase the history of American cooking, and her witty and fascinating headnotes share what makes each recipe special."

To be honest, I haven't done much cooking out of the book yet, though it does have the no-knead bread recipe I love and make on a regular basis. Nevertheless, I am fascinated by the interesting little notes about each recipe. I am also intrigued by the historical introductions and timelines that begin begin each chapter. They give you kind of a quick overview of food history in the United States.

I have a lot more to read and even more to cook, but this cookbook is a keeper!

Feb 14, 2011

Ellen's Bar Cookies

I have no idea who Ellen is. All I know is that I associate these tasty cookies with my mom. She calls these "Ellen's Things" and has served them for years, particularly around the holidays. I don't know anyone else who makes them, or anything quite like them.

Because I'm not sure that anyone would be tempted to make "things" (Ellen's or anyone else's), I've changed the title to something a bit more descriptive. In any case, I do highly recommend these treats. They have a rich, dense, chocolatey layer on the bottom. On top of that is a creamy, pudding-like layer, which can be colored to suit your mood. And on top of that are swirls of chocolate, which you create by drizzling melted chocolate on the middle layer and then running a fork through the chocolate to make visually interesting swirls and lines. These cookies can be quite attractive.

Bottom layer:
1/2 cup butter
5 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans

Middle layer:
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla instant pudding mix
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 tablespoons milk

Top layer:
2 squares semisweet baking chocolate
1 1/2 teaspoons butter

Melt 1/2 cup butter in heavy pan. Add sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Stir till dissolved. Cool slightly, then beat in egg. Set aside. Mix crumbs, coconut, and nuts together and stir in chocolate butter mixture; press into an ungreased 9" x 13" x 2" pan. In a bowl beat sugar, pudding powder, 1/2 cup butter, and milk (add food coloring, if desired). Beat until creamy. Spread over crumb mixture and chill. Melt chocolate and 1 1/2 teaspoons butter and drizzle on top with a fork; then lightly draw the fork through the chocolate to create decorative lines. Cool and cut into 1 1/2" squares.

Feb 3, 2011

Cream of Zucchini Soup

This delicious soup comes from my Uncle Brent and Aunt Fae. It's a great way to use the zucchini that is so abundant during the summer.

1 pound (2 medium) onions, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds zucchini squash, washed and sliced
3 cups chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I actually prefer to omit the cayenne)
1/2 cup half and half
Grated cheddar cheese (garnish)

In a heavy saucepan, saute the onion in butter until it is soft and translucent but not brown. Add zucchini and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until squash is tender. Add seasonings and put mixture into a blender; puree until smooth. Add half and half, adjust seasonings to taste, and reheat but do not boil. Serve immediately, garnished with grated cheddar cheese.