Archive for the ‘Starches’ Category

If you think your cornbread could use some improvement…here’s help

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

This is the time of year I look for any excuse to make a batch of cornbread.  For me, it is indeed comfort food.  But I have to say that I’m never happy with the recipe on the box and even though I’ve never purchased a mix I have to believe they don’t have much to offer other than being quick and perhaps filling.  For me cornbread is never sweet enough or moist enough so I’m always looking for fixes in those areas.  If you share similar frustrations here’s what I’ve come up with, so far.

To fix the sweet you can simply double the sugar amount a recipe calls for or supplement it with honey or molasses, two very “homey” and southern sweeteners.  To make something more moist generally means you need to be adding more fat.  So you can easily double the amount of oil the recipe calls for or you can get creative with what I call moisturizing ingredients.

For a number of years I would add a can of creamed corn to the recipe (and then reduce the milk amount) to help with both the sweetness and the moistness.  So that’s one possibility.  Most recently I discovered that leftover mashed potatoes can add a wonderful moistness.  A cup of potatoes to one standard batch of bread (which calls for one cup of cornmeal and one cup of flour) is about the right amount.  I honestly couldn’t believe how well that “experiment” turned out.  You can also increase the eggs to 2 and that makes it lighter and moister.  And then there are a number of ingredients that you can add for interest and more texture; things like chilies, roasted peppers, olives, chunks of cheese, onions…about anything that sounds good to you…

Cornbread is the perfect food to fiddle around with.  The batter is so forgiving and accepting of added ingredients it’s hard to go wrong.  It’s a great place to practice your “chefing” skills.  Following is the ingredients list for the standard recipe found on many boxes and then immediately following would be the amounts with possible improvements, as mentioned earlier.

Cornbread (original)

1cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

Revised Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup oil

1 or 2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup milk

Baked Caramel Corn

Thursday, November 25th, 2010


This is a recipe I have treasured for years.  It’s a variation of caramel corn resulting in a crispy textured corn reminiscent of Cracker Jacks.  It is so good and a fun change from the traditional caramel corn.  It’s a holiday must and very, very easy.  Great for gift giving.  In fact this recipe makes quite a bit and if you are not sharing some of it you might want to cut it in half.


It starts with 6 quarts of plain popped corn.  Put it in the largest bowl you have or maybe divide it amongst two bowls. 


A caramel type sauce is made with butter, brown sugar, cornsyrup and salt and that is mixed together, brought to a boil and simmered for five mintues.  That is removed from the heat and some vanilla and baking soda are stirred in. 


That mixture is then poured over the corn


 mixed in well


and divided between two baking sheets. 


The corn is baked in a 250 oven for one hour.  If the oven racks are placed correctly (one on a lowest rack and the other towards the top but not the very top slot) you should be able to bake them simutaneously.  The hard part is this…every 15 minutes you need to take the pans out of the oven and stir them well.  You might even switch them around from time to time.  After the hour of baking remove from the oven…cool completely and enjoy. One change I would make is to divide the popped corn among three or four pans instead of just the two.  It makes it easier to stir and less spilling.   Honestly,this is a real treat . 


Also – if you are making your own corn the standard recipe is 2 tablespoons of oil to 1/3 cup kernels.  Those two ingredients are put in a medium saucepan (with lid) over high heat and jiggled (slid back and forth) over the burner until all kernels have popped.

Casserole favorite – lamb pastitsio

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010


I rarely advocate a particular recipe but for this post I’m making an exception.   This is a recipe that I would periodically use at the restaurant and that I serve every once in a while to the family.  Everyone eats it, even my grandchildren.  It’s made with ground lamb which nobody seems to mind but you could certainly substitute ground beef and probably even ground pork, turkey or chicken.  This is a Greek dish, reminiscent of lasagne, made with four primary components: penne pasta, a meat sauce, a white sauce and lots of cheese.  It’s the perfect casserole to make ahead, freeze uncooked and then pull when a hearty dinner is needed.  Here’s it is:


For the meat sauce:

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons butter

3/4 pound ground lamb (or another ground meat, but the lamb is awesome!)

16 ounces chopped canned tomatoes, plus half a can of water

1/2 cup red wine or 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more)

Saute onions and garlic in butter and then add ground meat and break down into small pieces.  Add tomatoes – pepper and allow to simmer until quite thick. 


For pasta:

1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente

4 whole eggs, beaten to blend with a fork

4 tablespoons butter, melted

Cook pasta in one gallon of salted water till barely tender.  It will cook further in the oven so be careful not to overcook it now.  When pasta is done, drain and add eggs and melted butter.  Stir well and set aside. 


For the white sauce (pictured in the forefront):

4 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk (not skim)

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Melt butter is medium saucepan and add flour whisking until smooth.  Add milk, salt and nutmeg and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently.  Allow to simmer for one or two minutes, remove from heat and add parmesan.


For the cheese:

20 ounces fontina cheese, grated (can use part swiss, jack, mozarella or combination but the fontina is the best!)


To assemble:

Grease a 9×13 pan.  Spread with 1/2 of the pasta mixture. 


Cover evenly with the thickened meat sauce. 


Sprinkle with half of the grated cheese,


the remaining pasta…


and then pour the white sauce evenly over all.  Use all the white sauce.  The pan will be full. 


Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Set pan on a larger baking sheet (to catch any spills)…


 and take to a preheated 350 oven until top is golden and edges are bubbling.  Serve with green Greek salad, hummus and pita and you’ll have a delightful meal and unique flavors that will appeal to every palate.  Great for unexpected company and great to make ahead and freeze (baked or unbaked).  Serves 10-12.

Making Kettle Korn at home (better than store-bought)

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

I remember the first time I tasted kettle korn, which was years ago.  We were at a craft fair (no I’m not really into crafts), but it was the 4th of July and at one of the booths a gentleman was stirring a huge kettle of corn.  We were intrigued and since my husband and I both love popcorn we bought a bag.  We fought over every last kernel and have been hooked ever since.  What makes kettle korn so addictive is the combination of salty and sweet.  Most palates loves to be teased like that.

But of course, being the chef and frugal person that I am, I was not about to resign myself to a lifetime of purchasing this korn.  I had to figure out how to make it myself.   So the quest began and after a few less than perfect batches I discovered what I think is the perfect combination of ingredients.  In fact I prefer my recipe to many store-bought brands.

Here is the correct ratio of ingredients:

1 generous tablespoon of vegetable oil

1 heaping tablespoon of sugar

3 full tablespoons of popcorn

(salt to taste, after popped)

This small batch makes just enough for my husband and I and should be made in a very small saucepan (about a 6 cup pan, no bigger).  If you double the recipe increase the pan size.

Directions: Combine oil, sugar and popcorn in pan, cover with a lid and take to a screaming hot burner.  Set it on the burner and move it gently back and forth to keep the kernels moving.  Continue that action even as it pops.

As popping slows down and then stops, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  It is at this point that you sprinkle it with salt and toss it with a spoon.  Taste the korn.  If you need to add more salt, do so.  Remember that it is the contrast between the two that makes this good so don’t be too skimpy with the salt.

Popcorn tip:  it is so easy for kernels of corn to get “old” and lose their poppability.  Here’s the link to my radio website with some great information on rehydrating those kernels because the good news is…they can be revived!  Check this out (still struggling with linking):,%20Rehydrating%20Kernals-2005-12-14.asp

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