We Southerners like our cornbread. Its golden deliciousness is second only to Grandmama's biscuits in the hierarchy of bread in the South. Sometimes, though, just plain 'ole cornbread won't do--so we put 'stuff' in it. What sort of 'stuff?' Well, now, that depends. Might be cheese, might be corn, might be something else, maybe even something surprising. As long as it's baked up in a cast iron skillet that's so well-seasoned it's a good half inch thicker than it was when your great-great grandmother bought it...ahem...right. We bake it in cast iron.

So, here it is, the cornbread...with a secret. (The secret isn't really secret--it's just called that so the cook (often known as "mom") doesn't have to spell out that there are vegetables hiding in all that yellow goodness.

The 'stuff':

1 cup cornmeal (yellow cornmeal, duh)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder (for the love of all that's holy--check the expiration date)

1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar (that's the regular stuff. you can use splenda. it'll be okay.)

3 eggs (yay, eggs. i love yellow food)

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped broccoli (erm, I thaw it before i put it in...and chop it up a little more. and drain the water/whatever that liquid is...also, no harm in using fresh broccoli. in fact, it's recommended if you can get your hands on it. which, you know, you should be able to.)

12 ounces cottage cheese (I usually squeeze this stuff through a cheese cloth. It's fun, a great stress reliever, but if you do that for this cornbread, it'll be a little dry.)

5 tablespoons margarine, melted (margarine...how did that get there? BUTTER! /sigh Looks like mom's been editing my recipes again. Bless her heart.)

1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese (this is really very important. also, it's kind of yellow. kind of.)

Now, the assembly and baking of the cornbread is fairly simple. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees--that's 175 C for you folks who use it. This next part is very important. Are you reading carefully? Good. When you turn the oven on, pour a few tablespoons of oil in your cast iron skillet and put that bad boy in there while the oven's heating up. Trust me. You will not regret this. (Unless you're one of those people who preheats the oven for an abnormally long time, then you will regret it. You'll also regret that your entire house is filled with acrid burnt-oil smoke.)

While the oven preheats, mix together all the dry ingredients, then add the wet stuff. This ain't rocket science, people, it's cornbread. Don't overmix. That makes the cornbread funky. And nobody wants funky cornbread. Trying for a smooth batter is pointless, here, folks--there's chunks of stuff in it. Not gonna change that. :)

The last couple steps are pretty obvious--carefully (and by carefully, I mean use an oven mitt) remove the hot (didja get that? HOT!) skillet from the oven, fill it with cornbread batter, and then place said skillet *back* in the oven, and bake for approximately thirty (30) minutes. If you can wait until it's cooled to eat it, more power to ya.
 
 

Last week I was *super* excited to find fresh artichokes at the grocery store--I never find the things when I actually have time to do something with them. Anyway, I bought several. The first few met the grill--and were delicious. Then I decided I should make spinach-artichoke dip--since I just *happened* to have everything for it. So I did. And it was delicious. So delicious, in fact, that it was gone in a matter of hours.

Imagine my surprise, then, when for the second week in a row I found fresh artichokes! Really! Dozens of them! Of course, I bought more. (I really, really, like artichokes. heh.) So, for a scrumptious replay of last week's dip, I thought I'd invite a few friends over and grill some burgers and stuff--and then it hit me.

Put the dip IN the burgers! So in addition to my regular seasonings--garlic, Worcestershire sauce, sea salt, and black pepper, I added a fresh batch of spinach-artichoke dip to the center of the burgers. Incredible, I tell you.

If you've never made stuffed burgers before, you should definitely try it--even if all you stuff them with is cheddar cheese. It's super simple. All you have to do is divide your meat as you normally would, then divide each portion in half. Make thin patties, then top half of them with your filling, then the second patty. Seal well--you don't want your filling leaking out on the grill! Once they're sealed and stuffed, all you have to do is cook 'em...and eat 'em.

For these dip-stuffed burgers, I cooked up some bacon and mixed up some garlic mayonnaise--not that they necessarily needed mayonnaise, but, hey, they're *my* burgers!

 
 

If you're like me, you can't get enough 'Thanksgiving' and 'Christmas' food in the two days given for each holiday (even with the inevitable left overs). That means mid-summer cravings for pumpkin pie or turkey and dressing. I feel your pain, or your hunger pangs, really, I do. That's why I'm going to share with you a recipe so simple...it's probably really not a recipe at all.

I call these delicious little beauties Pumpkin Puffins--aka pie/muffins, but you can just call them breakfast. You'll probably kick me once you taste them--they're that easy.

All you have to do is open two things: one box of spiced cake mix and one can of pumpkin pie (the complete variety that requires you to add only milk to make a pie). Dump them both in a bowl. Mix well and scoop mixture into muffin tins. (Note: I say scoop for a reason. Attempting to pour this stuff is pointless. Yes, it's supposed to look like that. No, you do not need to add milk, water, or anything else. Trust me.)

Bake according to the directions on the cake box. I highly recommend the use of cupcake papers, as these buggers are dense and a little sticky.

Dust the tops with cinnamon and powdered sugar, top them with whipped cream, or just eat them plain. Any way you go at it, you're bound to love 'em.

 
 

My mom isn't Betty Crocker--but sometimes she comes up with some pretty good stuff.Now, I'm sure mom's not the first one to make this dish, but she's where I got it from--so she gets the credit for the idea. I added some...stuff, because I like it this way. Enjoy!

The goods:

4-6 baking potatoes, either 'baked' in the microwave or cut up and boiled (as for mashed potatoes)
1 cup sour cream
1/3 cup butter, the real stuff, please.
1/2 cup cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
1-2 jalapeños, finely chopped--seed it if you can't take the heat
1 Serrano pepper, finely chopped--same as above
(You can always go with Poblanos if you're heat-shy)
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated. Yes, grated. It's what works the best here. Just do it.
1 small/medium yellow onion, finely chopped--yes, it should be yellow. I have no idea why, that's just what tastes the best. Trust me.
6 slices of bacon--cooked and chopped/broken up--think Bacon Bits, but without the disgusting chemical...aroma.
Spices: salt, black pepper, cumin--easy on the salt and cumin, you don't want to overwhelm the other flavors.

Now, for the peppers--once they're diced (or while you're waiting for the potatoes to cook) and the onions are chopped, and the garlic is grated--sautee in a little olive oil until the onions are softened and just beginning to turn a bit brown. Careful, though--don't scorch your garlic--best to add that after the onions are about half-cooked.

Now, back to the potatoes--mash them--however you break them down is fine. Don't over do it (or put them in a food processor or something) because then you'll end up with potato glue. And that's nasty. Right, once your potatoes are sufficiently smashed up and your peppers, onions and garlic are nicely sauteed, mix in everything except for a handful or so of the cheeses and a slice or so of the bacon. Spread this in a 13 x 9 (or 9 x 13, it really doesn't matter, heh) baking dish, and top with the reserved bacon and cheese. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 375--when the cheese is melted and getting bubbly, it's done.

 
 

This one requires a lot of 'stuff'...but I promise, it's worth it. I would suggest making the meatballs the day before (or even the week before and defrosting in the fridge overnight) to speed things along—unless you really don't have anything to do the day you make this.

Okay, the stuff:

One pound of bulk Italian sausage—that's the one NOT wrapped in casing. We're making meatballs here. C'mon. Hot or Mild...your choice (pick hot!)

You'll also need about a half cup of dried breadcrumbs—I recommend the pre-seasoned variety, unless you're watching your salt. Of course, you can always make your own. Whatever floats your boat. You'll also need a quarter cup of grated Parmesan, an egg, half a teaspoon of dried (or fresh chopped) basil, black pepper, and a quarter teaspoon of garlic salt. Combine all of this 'stuff'...and, you guessed it, make little meatballs. Think bite sized.

Now, whether you pre-made your meatballs or not, put them in the crockpot along with: four cups of chicken stock (you can cut down cooking time by heating it either on the stove or in the microwave), two tablespoons of tomato paste, and two cloves of minced garlic. In the last thirty minutes of cooking, add in a cup of mini pasta shells and about ten ounces of washed baby spinach leaves. You could also throw in some crushed red pepper flake at this point...if you're feeling brave.

Serve with grated parmesan and toasted garlic bread. (And a spoon. Don't forget the spoon.)

 
 

I thought I'd share a spectacular recipe-ish thing that I (sort of) made up.

And it's easy. REALLY easy.

It has been dubbed: Effin' Delicious Chicken. For good reason. You'll see why.

Let's get started!

First, you need Butter. (Yes, with a capital B.) The real stuff--not that sissy Country Crock. I use a lot of it. You don't (necessarily) have to. But you should.

Flat leaf parsley. Same idea as the butter. You don't even have to chop it up. How easy is that?

Garlic. I chop mine. More garlic flavor that way. If you want it less garlicky, thrown in whole cloves. Or crushed ones. Yep. That's how it works.

Chicken Thighs--however many you need. You can use breasts or whatever if you want--but WHY? (Seriously.)

Bacon. Slices of it. Enough of them to cover the chicken. I cut them in half, but you do whatever you want. Just put the bacon on the skin. (hehe.)

Pop everything into a baking dish. Then the chicken. Then put the bacon on top. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for about an hour. Then uncover. Bake longer. Til the bacon's crispy. This whole process usually takes about 15 minutes--but if you're impatient, you can always pop the whole deal under the broiler. Just be careful. Nobody likes burnt bacon.)

Now, while the chicken is baking away, it wouldn't be right not to make something to go with it--even if it IS good enough to eat the entire pan of bacon-y scrumptiousness on it's own. That's where the polenta comes in.

That's pretty easy too. You have two options. You can be SUPER lazy and buy tubes of pre-made polenta at the market, slice it into rounds, top with mozzarella and Parmesan, and bake til the cheese is bubbly...which is fine. Just lazy.

Or, you can make your own polenta--any basic polenta recipe will do, I use the one in my handy-dandy Better Crocker cookbook. Mhmm. See, once the polenta is 'done'...you layer it with butter, mozzarella, and Parmesan...and then top with MORE cheese...and bake it for about 20 minutes. At 350. How convenient, right? Add a salad--not an iceberg salad, for crying out loud, be creative--and you're good to go.

By the time the polenta's done, everything should be ready. And DELICIOUS.

 
 

Hold on to your hats and your tastebuds, folks--this is gonna get a little messy. And it just *might* blow your mind. Are you ready? Sure you are. Here it is: the Swine Flu Supper.

The first step is to gather up all the items you're gonna need to concoct this mess (don't worry, I made a list):

Boneless Chicken--either breast or thigh...it doesn't really matter as long as it's boneless. One piece per person is usually enough, unless you're feeding a Bubba (but that's another blog).

Bacon--peppered or smoked--whatever you like. Probably 2-3 slices per piece of chicken.

Flour--all-purpose is good...ah...and just get the whole bag out. I never measure, so I really have no idea how much you'll need. (If your one of those people who freaks out without an exact measurement, use a cup to start with. Add more when you need it. And you will. haha!)

Seasonings--this is the fun part. You want Latin? Add taco seasoning to the flour. You want Southern comfort food? Just mix in some salt, pepper, and a little paprika. If you want the really, really good stuff (and if you love garlic, like I do) add a couple tablespoons of Garlic Garni and some black pepper (a couple teaspoons, IDK.). *That* is fantastic. [You can also mix a bit of that with some melted butter and brush it over thawed/partially baked frozen yeast rolls--and you'll think you've died and gone to heaven. seriously.]

Vegetable or Canola Oil, heated in a (preferably cast iron) deep skillet. Needs to be about 1-1.5 inches deep.

You'll also need an egg and a bit of milk--just beat em up and leave in the bowl for a sec.

1 toothpick per bacon slice, soaked in a bowl of water for at least 15 minutes. (You'll see why in a minute. Just do it.)

Now, if you're like me, you like your chicken to be flavorful--this requires a marinade. The simplest way to do this is to pop your chicken pieces into a ziploc bag with a few glugs of zesty Italian dressing and a few splashes of worchestershire sauce. Refridgerate for at least half an hour, and then you're ready to TCB.

On to the fun part--getting messy. I'm going to assume you're all somewhat familar with the process of breading something to be fried. You've at least eaten fried stuff, right? Of course ya have. Mix your desired seasoning combo into your flour in a pie plate. Put your eggy mixture next to that, and make sure you have your pan ready to cook.

Pat your chicken pieces dry, and wrap each piece in 2-3 bacon slices. This is where those soggy toothpicks come in--use them to keep the bacon in place. It works best if you push them all the way through, and then push them back in on one side so that they're barely poking through.

Next, dredge the bacon-wrapped chicken pieces (ie, put em) in the seasoned flour. Move them from there into the eggy mix, and then back into the flour. Make sure everything gets wet and then floured again--this is what makes the crispy crust so yummy!

After each piece is battered, gently place them in the hot oil. (Again, make sure the oil is all hot and bothered BEFORE you add the chicken. It's very important.) Once the first side is just about browned up--use a fork and your tongs (you know not to pierce your meat while cooking, right? Don't do it. It's BAD.) to remove the toothpicks. Be easy, we're dealing with hot oil here--use the fork to hold the chicken down, tongs (or your fingers, if you're brave/have hands made of asbestos) and pull the toothpicks out. Then flip the chicken pieces (with the tongs! don't use your hands!) and finish cooking.

Tada! All done. (Don't forget to turn the burner off...not that I've ever left it on and filled the entire house with smoky ick...but, yanno...just make sure you turn it off.)

Now, as far as side dishes go, you have options. You could make fried potatoes--with onions if you wanna get REALLY into the Southern thang--or you can just whip up some mashed potatoes, top em with a little gravy (which you could make yourself...or you could take some help from the store and stir up some packaged gravy.)

If you can get ahold of some fresh corn, shuck em, put em on sheets of foil along with butter, and some Garlic Garni or a little salt and pepper, wrap em up, and bake for about 15 minutes on 375.
Or you can just serve up Ma's old fashioned red beans--which take a while to make, but they're good.

If you're really into the whole plating thing, you could crisp up a couple pieces of bacon and crumble them over the chicken--or the mashed potatoes, whichever you want. I usually just pile it all on a plate and chow down, but hey, whatever floats your boat.

 
 

Multi-textural Chicken-Bacon Wraps--quick lunch or dinner--or a fantastic party snack--just cut into bite-sized wrap-wiches after toasting!

2 grilled seasoned chicken breasts, shredded

6 slices cooked bacon, chopped

4-6 flour or white corn tortillas

1 avocado, diced

1 roma tomato, seeded and diced

1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped
 
1 clove garlic, minced

juice of 1 lime

cilantro, finely chopped

spices: 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1/2 Tbsp chili powder and red pepper flake to taste

Monterrey jack and/or cheddar cheese (grated)

Mix chicken (may be used cold or warmed), bacon, avacado, tomato, onion, garlic, lime juice, and spices. Fill tortillas with mixture, top with cheese and cilantro, and fold. Place wraps on heated griddle, coated with cooking spray or a small amount of unsalted butter. Toast on both sides. Remove from heat and enjoy!