Lean and lovin' it: Looking to find a little comfort from childhood
During the stay-at-home pandemic, I got tired of making many of the same things and strictly sticking to my low-carb food plan. That got me to hankering for one-time-only comfort food without any caloric, fat, or carbohydrate restraints. Just, pure comfort.
Looking for true comfort food from my past, I came across my Mom's Corn Pone Pie, a recipe I shared in my first cookbook: "Lean and Lovin' It."
For those unfamiliar with it, Corn Pone Pie is a combination of beef and bean chili prepared in a skillet with cornbread batter spread over the top and then baked. Cornbread and chili go together as certainly as peanut butter goes with jelly.
I went back nearly 25 years to find that recipe, and when I did, I remembered a few things. First, my Mom never made cornbread from scratch. No. She used a box mix: Jiffy brand corn muffin mix. When I checked Jiffy's ingredients, I found sugar was the third ingredient after flour and cornmeal.
One surprising ingredient on the box label after sugar is lard. Lard is, more than likely, the most authentic ingredient in cornbread, surprising that it's still there in the 21st century.
Jiffy made cornbread easy, add an egg, milk, and the mix and taa-daa, cornbread.
I decided to keep my Mom's corn pone pie as authentic as possible, but using a sugar-loaded mix was out of the question. Yes, I was dancing on the nutritional edge with my "comfort" food dinner, but I was going to do my best not to use a mix or include sugar.
I turned to an easy-to-make buttermilk cornbread recipe using organic flour and cornmeal. Organic stevia stood in for any added sugar while giving my cornbread the sweet note it needed against the slightly acidic buttermilk.
My "Lean and Lovin' It" version used 95-percent lean ground beef. Today, using organic ground beef, I feel good about the flavor boost that the fat from 85/15 ground beef delivers.
I changed the preparation, too. I used to add the seasonings near the end of making the chili. A while back, I learned that Indian cooks add fat and seasonings at the front end to release the seasonings' flavors.
I began by sautéing the onion and garlic in olive oil and then added medium-heat chili powder and cumin. The scent of those two seasonings billowed up almost as soon as I added them. And Nan, who was in our living room, told me that things were beginning to smell really good.
Then I added the ground beef, and after it lost its pink color, I added Worcestershire sauce, an excellent flavor enhancer, and then the canned, diced tomatoes. As it simmered, I made my cornbread batter, which was easy since it was stirred together.
My Mom's recipe called for kidney beans, but I went with black beans. I spooned out the cornbread batter over the chili and, using an offset spatula, spread it evenly to the pan's edge. It took my pie just 20 minutes to bake and bring a beautiful golden brown to the cornbread.
Like a pie, I cut a wedge out of the skillet and the chili from underneath. Even with the changes, this corn pone pie brought childhood memories flooding back from across nearly a half-century. It helped soften our pandemic day and made me and Nan feel good. Give it a try.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at don@ theleanwizard.com.