Friday, May 10, 2013

Cornbread Pie

When I was a kid, there was always a box of Jiffy pie crust and a box of Jiffy cornbread in the cupboard. I don't recall my mom ever making the cornbread, not once in my life, but I know that when I got older, I bought the same blue box and put it in my cupboard too. I even made it, adding frozen corn, chili powder and sometimes sliced jalapenos for a bit of pizazz.

Aside from having cornbread muffins with Tex-Mex inspired dinners, I hadn't branched out into the other possibilities, like cornbread pie. It was seeing those two boxes, removing the pie crust while I was reaching for the cornbread, that got me to thinking. I had everything I could want to add already in the fridge, so I decided to try it out. I didn't use a recipe, this is just what I had on hand.

1 pound steak chunks. I buy a whole tenderloin and break it down to make my own steaks. There's lots of leftover bits from it, like the chain meat, and I always find some way to give these pieces a long cooking time to break down some of the connective tissue. The silver skin will stay tough, but check out that link for tips on breaking it down as much as possible and avoiding the silver skin.

vegetable oil for sauteeing
6 stalks celery
1 large onion
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 ancho chili 
1 8oz can black beans
8 oz frozen corn
1 tblsp cumin
1 tsp corriander
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder
1/4-1/3 cup chicken stock
1 box Jiffy cornbread mix, prepared (it calls for egg & milk)

Start by getting everything together and prepared. Dice the celery, onion & peppers. Drain the beans & rinse them. Get the cornbread batter ready. Ancho chilis are dried poblano peppers; they aren't very hot but they've got a great smokey peppery flavor. Remove the stem and seeds as best you can, then chop it finely. Don't worry about reconstituting it right now; it'll absorb juices while the dish is in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 350F. I made this in a 2" deep casserole that I have a lid for. I knew making it that my son wouldn't eat it, so I wanted to be sure I had a way to keep it in the fridge. It makes enough for 6 people as a main course, but it's also a great dish for a pot luck party. As a side, it can make about 8-12 servings.

Heat a 12" saute pan on high and add a bit of oil. When it starts to smoke just ever so slightly, drop in the meat. Salt lightly. Turn down the heat just a touch and let the fist side sear. You want a pretty hard sear to develop flavor & texture at this point, but don't let it cook through. Stir it to brown on all sides.

Next, add a little more oil & all the chopped celery, onion & peppers. Season again with salt & pepper. Allow to cook down, covered, until everything is nice and soft. Add the spices, including the ancho, and stir. Cook uncovered until all the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the beans, corn and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and cut off the heat. Taste a little bit and adjust seasoning.

You don't want a soup at this point, but rather a thick stew. If it seems very wet, you can either let it simmer a few minutes to evaporate, or you can sprinkle a very gentle layer of flour over it and stir to incorporate. If you choose flour, you only need a tablespoon at the most; be sure to sift it in to avoid lumps. Pour the mixture into your casserole dish or pie pan. Spoon dollops of cornbread batter over the top and then use a spoon to spread each dollop so they are a solid layer.

Bake in the over for about 45-75 minutes. Its finished when the top is golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let it cool on a rack for about 15 more minutes before cutting into it.

I like to use Greek yogurt instead of sour cream these days; it has the same tang but is a little healthier. Top each serving with a dollop and serve with fresh cilantro.
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