Friday, January 8, 2010

Hamburger/Vegetable Stew and Cornbread

Another reason I started this blog was to share recipes. I am by no means a foodblogger; I don't have enough cooking experience or expertise for that (as you will see by the following recipe). I am a Southern girl at heart and grew up on fresh vegetables from the garden, cornbread and whatever venison my dad brought home. I learned (and am still learning) from my mom how to eat as close to the natural product as possible, make the most of whatever ingredients you have on hand and to not be wasteful. I do LOVE to try new things...whether I'm making a new recipe in my own kitchen or going to a new restaurant in town (or somebody else's town since I live in a town the size of Mayberry).

My husband (a non-hunting Southern man) is a picky picky eater...I actually cannot think of anything off the top of my head that he actually LOVES that I cook. To make things even more complicated when it comes to planning meals, of my 3 daughters, only 1 (the oldest) is really an adventurous eater. She'll try just about anything, enjoys the creative cooking process herself and can actually give constructive feedback about a new recipe. My middle child, however, likes bread, sugar and coke, and my youngest likes McDonalds...period. See what I mean! Imagine being responsible for feeding these people every day!

Anyhoo...in this blog I want to share the tried and true recipes that I depend on when I can't come up with anything else (that means that at least half the people in my house will eat it)...but I also want to keep up with the new recipes I try. This first recipe is one of the old standbys and is never the same twice because it is very much one of those old fashioned, put whatever you have in a pot and cook it to death kind of recipes.

This first recipe also encompasses two of my favorite pieces of cookware: my LeCruset dutch oven and my small cast iron skillet.

My LeCruset dutch oven is new; I've had it maybe a year, but I cannot imagine cooking roasts, stews, soups, chili etc. in any other piece of cookware...even though I did for years before my mom gave me this piece. In my opinion there is no other piece of cookware that holds heat like this dutch oven...I don't know how but it is also virtually stick proof...NOTHING sticks to the bottom of it, and if you're a piece of cookware who's going to live in my kitchen, stick proof is the first item up for inspection.

This is my small cast-iron skillet, perfectly seasoned by my mother and possibly my grandmother before her. Supposedly some people are successful at buying these new and seasoning themselves...but I promise, I've tried...nothing works like this little 50-60 year old skillet. I think it's all the love and all the pans of cornbread that were baked in it before me!

Like any good Southern girl worth her salt, I use Crisco in the bottom of my cast-iron skillet when I'm making cornbread. Now, what's in the picture is actually too much. I usually only use one little glop of Crisco. I put the pan with the glop of Crisco in a 450 degree oven and let it get good and hot. (Sorry, I can't tell you how much a glop is - just enough that when it melts it leaves a nice thin layer of melted oil to make a nice thin cruncy crust on my cornbread).



When the Crisco has melted and is really hot, I pour in the cornbread batter...the Crisco should be hot enough that when the cornbread batter is poured in the pan, it sizzles on the sides like shown in the picture above.



After baking in a 450 degree oven for about 20 minutes, this is what I have. I try not to bother the cornbread once I put it in the oven...I watch through the window, and when 20 minutes has passed and the bread has this nice crunchy crust on top and seems to be pulling away from the sides of the pan, I open the oven door and insert a knife right through the middle. If the knife comes out clean, it's ready. I simply take a salad plate and invert the pan onto the plate (be sure to use a thick mit to hold onto the pan handle....cast-iron HOLDS heat...the first time you grab a cast-iron skillet by the handle with your bare hand will be a memorable experience...for you...your family...and your neighbors).




Hamburger/Vegetable Stew to go along with the cornbread is made by browning hamburger meat and onions seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. That's just about the only thing in this recipe that stays constant. I then add tomatoes (whatever I have on hand...usually the diced kind, sometimes fire roasted and sometimes the kind that has been seasoned with various spices and flavorings). Then, I add the veggies.
The best Hamburger/Vegetable Stew veggies are those that have been saved for months as leftovers from suppers. I just pour the leftovers (no matter how little) into a large zip loc bag and let them freeze; the next time I have leftover veggies, they go right in on top of the already frozen veggies...over and over again. When the bag is full of frozen leftover veggies, I'm ready to make soup!
My mom gave me a bag of veggies for the soup in the picture above. I made this soup the night before we were expecting a winter storm that never happened. Our temperatures did dip into the teens, however. While temperatures in the teens are nothing to some folks, in the deep South, that's "you gotta be kiddin' !" weather. At least that's what a smart Southerner says in response to a suggestion about venturing outside for ANYTHING :)
The last ingredient to add is beef stock. I just add however much I want, depending on whether I want a soupy soupy or a thicker stewy consistency. I accidently added chicken stock to this batch of soup...I really have no idea why...so don't ask....but it made for an interesting flavor! Now you know why recipes that are not supposed to taste exactly the same every time you make them are PERFECT for me!!


This is what the soup looks like when served in a pretty little bowl like these gems I found at Wal-Mart a few years ago for $1 each! I love the big hunk of potato over on the left...shows you just how authentic this soup is...potatoes hand-chopped by my mom who loves me enough to save all her veggies so I can make soup like she used to make for me.


I like books, cats, my family, and cheese...so I always add a little cheese in my soup - this is sharp cheddar cheese and the flavors really seem to meld well...must have something to do with that chicken stock :)



A little cornbread added on the side and melted cheese on the top....mmmmmm...this soup warms your bones and fills your tummy :):)
***I ate two bowls of this soup and my oldest and middle children ate a bowl each...oldest thought chicken stock was different but interesting, middle child was just hungry but likes to crumble her cornbread in with the soup and cheese. Youngest child skimmed all the cheese off her soup and then announced her tummy was full so could she please have some ice cream now? Picky husband announced that he didn't like soup and ate a PB & J sandwich...whatever floats his boat.
I froze the leftovers for another day. The entire pan of cornbread was eaten :)...even picky husband ate some cornbread!







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