Bacon Jalepeno Skillet Cornbread and Cheater’s Pot Roast Stew

So maybe posting something I’m calling Cheater’s Stew on Valentine’s Day sends the wrong message. Not to worry, this recipe will enhance, not harm your relationship. It’s so easy and has minimal hands-on time, giving lots of time for… other things. Mopping the floor, for instance.

When you make a pot roast with root vegetables (in this case, carrots, potatoes, and parsnips), freeze the leftovers. Now, leftover pot roast is pretty darn good on its own. But if you want something different yet delicious, try this: Grab your leftovers out of the freezer. Defrost just enough that you can dump everything into an oven-proof pot. Pour a large can of crushed tomatoes over the top. Add one big clove of crushed garlic. Put the lid on. This goes in your oven at 300 degrees. Don’t bother with preheating the oven. Just let the pot simmer simmer simmer, lid nice and tight, for about 2 hours. Check it out. Use the back of a big spoon to smash up any big pieces of veggies. Smoos any big pieces of meat too. If it’s getting too thick or dry, add some water or beer or wine or stock, whatever delicious liquid you like. Put it back in the oven for another hour or so. Taste a little, and add salt and pepper as needed. Maybe some paprika too. There you go: Cheater’s Pot Roast Stew.

Since you’ve got all this time while the stew is cooking, and you’ve probably worked up an appetite… mopping, you should make something to go with it. Make some Bacon Jalapeno Skillet Cornbread.

Bacon Jalapeno Skillet Cornbread

adapted from Joy of Cooking

6 slices bacon
1 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup corn flour (Use 1 1/2 cups cornmeal total if you don’t have corn flour)
3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup milk or milk substitute
2 pickled jalapeno slices, or more for spicier cornbread

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until nice and crispy. Set the bacon slices aside.

Whisk together the cornmeal, corn flour, flour, baking powder, and salt.

Pour the bacon grease that’s in the cast iron skillet into a bowl and whisk in the milk and then the eggs. Pour this wet mixture into the dry mixture and quickly mix to combine, but do not over mix. Crumble the bacon into the bowl, and dice the jalapeno into the bowl. Kitchen scissors work well for both of these jobs, and then you don’t have to wash a cutting board.Stir briefly to combine

Pour the batter back into the cast iron skillet and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until brown on top. Serve right away.

 

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>Steak and Veggie Chili

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Let’s take a moment to talk about mise en place. Mise en place is a fancy-chef way of saying: Prep everything before you begin, and put in all in little bowls. There’s a lot of positive things to be said about this method, my personal favorite being that you won’t be stressing out as you create a dish or meal, frantically chopping things or discovering you’re out of something you thought you had once you’ve begun. Everything is ready to go, right there in plain sight.

However, I don’t always practice this very rigourously, and I’m here to tell you that’s okay. Pete Wells of the New York Time’s “Cooking with Dexter” column wrote a funny piece about the impracticality of rigid mise en place. And here’s an interview with Mark Bittman that touches on the same subject. Both men mention television as a culprit. Many cooking shows show us the pretty picture (things in tiny bowls!) without much discussion about how necessary those tiny bowls are. 





The best way to figure out how to proceed, whether to make a mise or prep as you go, is to be comfortable in the kitchen and to read a recipe through before beginning. The first thing happens as you practice, and the second is a point I cannot stress enough. I’ve gotten to the point where I can pretty much figure out what I need to prep ahead of time, and what I’ll have time to do along the way. If you’re unsure, look at how ingredients are listed: If they’re listed by measuring unit and a cut (minced, chopped, etc.) is given, it’s probably a good idea to do that before beginning. That said, read it through to really understand when you’ll be using each ingredient. 

Last night I made Steak and Veggie Chili. I’m not even going to get started on the whole beans/no beans debate. This has beans. It also has lots of vegetables. And it has some steak. I’ve grown weary of bland veggie chilis, so I splurged a little on some good red meat. This is a good way to get a meat fix without it taking up a large portion of your meal. And the whole chili is darn tasty. 



Steak and Veggie Chili


adapted wildly from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook 


Some of the chopping you’ll want to do ahead of time. Some of it you can do while you’re waiting, assuming you have decent knife skills. May I suggest: Chop the onion, heat the oil, add the onion, chop the other veg and garlic. Cut up the steak and open the other ingredients while the veggies cook. This should cut down on your dishes and give you time to turn on some music and crack open a beverage.


1 tablespoon onion
1 onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped (but see note)
1 medium zucchini, chopped (but see note)
2 tablespoons chili powder 
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes or cayenne pepper
fresh-ground black pepper
salt
5 garlic cloves, minced (see note)
1 steak, about 2/3 of a pound, trimmed of excess fat and cubed
1 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes 
1 cup flavorful liquid, such as beer, stock, or wine (I used coffee, which goes well with the steak and black beans)



Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onions, red pepper, zucchini, chili powder, cumin, and chili flakes or cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened up a bit, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until you notice the smell of cooking garlic, about 30 seconds. 


Add the cubed beef and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook until the beef is browned all over, stirring every minute or so, about 6 minutes. Stir in the beans, the tomatoes and any tomato juice in the can, black pepper, and some salt (about 1 teaspoon). Let this all come to the point where it’s just starting to form bubbles, or simmering, then cover and cook on medium-low heat for about 45 minutes.


Remove the lid and add the flavorful liquid of your choosing. Simmer for about 1 hour more, tasting after half an hour and adding more salt or other seasonings as you see fit. 


Serves 4 / Makes about 5 cups


You can make this chili up to 4 days ahead of time and keep in the fridge. You can also freeze it for up to 1 month. Add additional liquid (even water would be fine) when reheating.

>Weekend Eats

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 This weekend I was DETERMINED to make Smitten Kitchen’s mushroom lasagna. I’d even bought the pound-and-half of mushrooms and they were in my fridge, probably creating more mushrooms. Can mushrooms do that? 
Two things that made me think of:
     1. Benoit Mandelbrot has died. He is responsible for, of course, the Mandelbrot set, and for fractals. Fractals are incredible, and the videos in that link will give you a nice mind-break. Also, there’s this fractal-broccoli that I never buy when I see it. What’s wrong with me? Mathematical gorgeousness + cruciferous vegetables = I should be all over that.
     2. The little girl I babysit thinks mushrooms are icky, so when we find some in her yard she stomps on them. One day she was really going to town on all the offending fungi (band name!) with a stick. I looked over and noticed a greenish-yellow dust floating up from her target. I told her to stop (just in case she inhaled the spores of whatever-the-crap-that was) but wasn’t too concerned. Upon hearing this anecdote, my mother told us about a time in her youth at Girl Scout camp, when some others scouts had eaten some mushrooms and become so ill they had to be taken to the hospital. This sounds awful when I write it out, but it struck me as really funny too. This is probably related to all the other “at Girl Scout camp” stories my mom has. Like losing a chicken underground.

 So, I made the lasagna, with a few minor changes. When I was assembling, I alternated the direction of the noodles for each layer, and it seemed to help it hold together quite well. I used 2% milk instead of whole. I didn’t use the extra butter to brown the mushrooms, just oil. I threw some spinach leaves in with the mushrooms. And I cut this into 12 lovely pieces and froze most of them for future lunches. 
This is a very calm and mild lasagna. The most forward flavor, besides the mushrooms, is the garlic. When I make this again, which I will, I will add some rosemary to the mushrooms while they soften, and perhaps layer in some fresh basil leaves. I think a tiny basil leaf baked on the top of each portion would pretty this up, too.
You may be wondering about the lead photo. That, my friend, is a picture of Mint Chip Mini Cookie-Cakes. With sprinkles. Oh yes. This is a cookie dough that bakes up quite soft, so I put balls of the dough into mini-cupcake papers for a nice cookie bite that’s almost like a brownie. The mint chips (Guittard brand) were on sale recently, and who can resist chocolate chips on sale? People stronger than I, that’s who. If you’re not a mint fan, you could certainly substitute some other sort of chip (peanut butter, butterscotch, vanilla, or regular chocolate chip).

Mint Chip Chocolate Cookie-Cakes
1 c. butter, room temp
1 c. brown sugar
2 lg. eggs, room temp (stick them in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes)
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. cocoa powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
12 oz. mint chips, divided in half

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 6 minutes, scraping the bowl and beater once or twice throughout. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the cocoa powder.

In a seperate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add 1/4 c. at a time to the butter mixture, scraping the bowl and beater as needed, until smooth. Add half of the mint chips and turn the mixer up to high. This will not only mix in the chips, but chop them up a little, too, so the mint flavor is streaked throughout the dough. (Alternatively, you can roughly chop up half the chips ahead of time, then just mix them in all together.) Turn the mixer back down to low and stir in the rest of the chips.

Cover the dough and chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.

Heat the oven to 350˚. Scoop out balls of dough and use two spoons or your clean hands to roll them into approximately 1 1/2″ balls. Put the mini-cupcake papers in the mini-cupcake tins, and put a dough ball in each papers. (You could also just bake the cookies on a cookie sheet. Grease it first, and reduce cooking time to about 12 minutes.)

Bake for 15 minutes. If you want to put sprinkles on, shake them on about halfway through baking.

Put on a rack to cool. Makes about 32.