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The great taco debate. April 29, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Continuing our run-up to Cinco de Mayo here at Poor Richard’s Almanac, let’s talk about taco shells. You wouldn’t think that taco shells could be a cause for controversy, but taco lovers tend to find themselves on one side of two great divides: Hard or soft? White or yellow? Which sides are you on?

For me, both issues are clear-cut. If I want a soft shell, I’ll eat a burrito or a quesadilla. If I’m eating refried beans with all the fixings (more on this tomorrow), I want crispy-crackly taco shells. And I want them made out of white corn. (Mind you, I don’t eat a taco the way most people do, with all the stuff shoved inside the clamshell-like taco shell, which will inevitably break up and/or explode when someone bites it, spewing food everywhere. Eeeeeewwwww!!!! Instead, I crack my hot taco shells in half and use them as scoops, or layer ingredients on top. Works like a charm as long as you keep that half-taco over your plate!)

White corn wins for me every time over the heavy, bitter yellow-corn alternative. The delicate, luscious flavor of white-corn taco shells and tortilla chips enhances everything they’re eaten with rather than overpowering it, and there’s no bitter, oily aftertaste.

Of course, I come from the South, where yellow corn has traditionally been regarded as a field crop (i.e. winter food for horses and cows), while the milder white corn was the food of the people. In the North, however, yellow corn is king, its superior nutritional content often cited.

I’ll never forget my shock when I first moved to scenic PA and was offered “cornbread,” a yellow, soggy, heavy, bitter conglomeration that had been sweetened (!!!) to offset the bitterness. Where was the light, luscious, crusty cornbread that I loved, a savory, not a sweet, split and topped with melting butter? Who would call this yellow stuff cornbread, much less pass additional sweeteners like syrup and molasses to drown it in more sogginess and sugar?! Yikes. Ditto for yellow corn-on-the-cob versus the likes of ‘Silver Queen’ and its more modern descendants.

I hate the supersweet corn/candy corn era accordingly. I don’t want my corn to taste like candy, I want it to taste like corn. Like good, luscious, aromatic corn, a vegetable, a savory dish. Not bitter. Not sweet. Just corn.

I was beginning to despair that I’d lost the opportunity forever when it came to taco shells. The trend in light, airy, delicious white-corn tortilla chips seemed to be on the rise, with Tostitos introducing its cantina-style super-light white corn chips. But the Old El Paso white corn taco shells, the only ones I’d ever been able to find, suddenly vanished from local market shelves. Now, there were hard yellow taco shells and soft white corn and white flour taco shells, as well as soft yellow taco shells. I scoured the shelves desperately, month after month. Where had my crisp white taco shells gone?!

Finally, last week I found some at a nearby Giant. I was tempted to buy their entire stock, in case they, too, were planning to discontinue them, but controlled myself and only bought two packages, more than enough to get me and our friend Ben through this Cinco de Mayo. But the second they’re gone, believe me, I’m rushing back. Please, Old El Paso, please keep them coming! As the license plates used to say, you have a friend in Pennsylvania.

‘Til next time,



What to do with extra buttermilk? January 6, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Supposedly, there are folks out there who just loooove to drink buttermik right out of the carton. Ewwwww. For the rest of us, it’s a crime that we can’t buy a pint or half-pint of buttermilk to go in our holiday recipes, since that’s typically the only time we ever use it.

Unfortunately, where I live, buttermilk only comes in quarts. And this presents the frugal cook, who doesn’t want to toss three cups of buttermilk after using the requisite one in the iconic Christmas corn pudding, with a dilemma. After all, one corn pudding a year is plenty. But what else can you make that will use up that buttermilk?

Cornbread might spring to mind. Lots of cornbread recipes include buttermilk. But none are as luscious as my family’s cornbread recipe, which uses sour cream. (Search for cornbread in the search bar at upper right for the super-easy, super-delicious recipe; you won’t regret it!) Why make a lesser cornbread just to get rid of buttermilk?

I suspect that pancakes would be a natural for buttermilk, but we don’t make them here at Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. I like to add a little dairy to enrich OFB’s scrambled eggs, but the amount would be so small that it would take weeks to use up the extra buttermilk. And I’ve found to my sorrow that omelettes, which would appear to be an ideal medium for milk, cream, or buttermilk, only really turn out well when you simply whisk three eggs with a whisk or fork.

Two options occurred to me: salad dressing and soup. After all, the original ranch dressing, created fresh by its owner for guests of the Hidden Valley Dude Ranch in the mid-1950s, contained buttermilk. And there just had to be a soup that buttermilk could enhance. So I turned to my good friend Google to see if I could find a solution to the buttermilk problem.

Sure enough, there was a recipe for buttermilk blue cheese dressing, courtesy of Prevention magazine. It involved sauteeing minced shallot in olive oil, then mixing the cooled shallot with 1 teaspoon of mustard, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, a cup of buttermilk, a tablespoon of chopped parsley, 2 ounces of crumbled blue cheese, and fresh-cracked black pepper and salt to taste. Sounds promising, and it uses a whole cup of that quart of buttermilk!

Celeb Brit chef Jamie Oliver’s also a buttermilk-dressing fan. His recipe calls for 9 tablespoons of buttermilk with 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons seasoned rice wine vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard, 1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried dill, and fresh-ground black pepper to taste.

But what about that soup? Hey, jackpot, and from Martha Stewart, of all things! This hits the jackpot because it uses 3 cups of buttermilk—exactly the amount I have left over—and adds potatoes for a hearty, soothing cold-weather soup. The ingredients are super-simple, too: Besides the 3 cups of buttermilk, you need 2 pounds of potatoes (such as Yukon Gold or your favorite), 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 4 small onions, thinly sliced, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste, fresh-cracked black pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill. That’s it! Boil the potatoes, sautee the onions, herbs and spices in the butter and olive oil, cool and slice or dice the potatoes, add the other ingredients to the potatoes, and serve hot. Sounds good!

But, you know, now that I look at it, mashed Yukon Golds with buttermilk, lots of butter, and maybe some sauteed minced sweet onion, plus tons of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt (we love RealSalt and hot spiced Trocomare) might just hit the spot perfectly. Who doesn’t love mashed potatoes, especially when it’s cold outside?!

Do you have any recipes for using up extra buttermilk? I’d love to hear them!

‘Til next time,


Good food for cold nights. January 15, 2012

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Baby, it’s cold outside!

Silence Dogood here. Cold weather makes me crave a hearty, warming lentil stew. It’s a popular choice with our Friday Night Supper Club, too, especially served with hot-from-the-oven cornbread and a big, crunchy salad. You can serve it as is, topped with shredded Swiss cheese, or spoon it up over pasta or rice. It makes a flavorful, satisfying, and inexpensive meatless meal. And, like meatless chili, refried beans, and black bean soup, it keeps beautifully in the fridge, so you can serve it for dinner, then store the rest for lunch or dinner later in the week.

Let me say a word about the spicing and flavorings that I put in this lentil stew. Some of them may strike you as odd or even downright bizarre. Trust me here: You’ll be very pleasantly surprised! I should also point out that your spicing options are very broad with a lentil stew (or any dried legume dish). You should feel free to experiment and to use what you have! My lentil stew is different every time I make it, and it’s always good. Go for it!

Here’s the recipe:

           Silence’s Luverly Lentil Stew

extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions, diced

3 large cloves of garlic, minced

2 cups dried green lentils or more to taste

4 large carrots, sliced, slices quartered

9 new potatoes, sliced, slices quartered

large box vegetable stock (any brand)

half a large bottle tomato juice or more to taste

dried basil

dried oregano

hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa)

Trocamare, Herbamare, or salt (we like Real Salt)

whole cumin seeds

whole black mustardseeds

ground fenugreek

handful of raisins (about 1/4 cup)

1/4 jar mango chutney (I happened to have an almost-empty jar of mango chutney in the fridge last night; otherwise, I might have opted for orange marmalade, ginger preserves, or even apple jelly)

shredded Swiss cheese for topping

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom af a large, heavy stock pot or Dutch oven. (I love my enamelled cast-iron LeCreuset Dutch ovens, and used my largest one for this.) Saute the onion, garlic, spices, and hot sauce in the olive oil until the onion clarifies, adding a little veggie stock if needed to prevent sticking. Lentils can take a lot of spicing and I use a very generous hand with my spices—say, a tablespoon each. Add the raisins and chutney (or marmalade or whatever). The purpose of these is to add depth and richness to the stew’s flavor, and trust me, it works. Nobody will turn to you at the table and scream “There’s jelly in here!”

Rinse the lentils and add them to the pot, stirring well to mix. These are called green lentils, but they’re actually just the ordinary brownish-olive drab lentils you can buy bagged in any grocery store or in bulk at any health food store, co-op, or the like. You don’t want to use any of the small, delicate lentils in this stew! Go for the plain old everyday variety, which will hold up well to the other ingredients.

Now, add the veggie stock and tomato juice, and then fold in the carrots and potatoes. Let the stew cook for an hour or so on low to moderate heat until almost all the liquid is absorbed and the lentils, potatoes, and carrots are cooked through. You can actually make this earlier in the day and keep it perking away on the stove until supper, but if you do, keep it on low heat and add more veggie stock and/or tomato juice as needed to make sure it doesn’t completely dry out. You want a rich, thick stew, not soup, but you don’t want a dried-out, burnt-on mess! So keep an eye on it.

Serves 8 to 10 (or maybe 6 if everybody keeps going back for more).

Try it, you really will like it. Promise! And now, about that cornbread…

                 Silence’s Best Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal

3 tablespoons unbleached flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons salted butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Melt the butter in an 8- or 9-inch round ovenproof glass pan (such as a Pyrex cake or pie pan), swirling the melted butter around in the pan to coat the sides. Combine the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, egg, sour cream and melted butter to the dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the hot pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. To serve, cut in pie wedges, split and butter the wedges, and serve very hot.

Oh, yum! With a pot of lentil stew and a pan of hot cornbread (and maybe some luscious baked apples for dessert), it’s a lot easier to forget those icy winds and the frost on the windows.

            ‘Til next time,


Cornbread, Elvis-style. June 14, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. If I had to come up with an Elvis Presley-themed cornbread, I’d use blue cornmeal and create “Blue Suede Shoes Cornbread.” But maybe that’s just me.

Turns out Elvis’s favorite cornbread is one pretty much anyone could enjoy, though it might be a little eggy for some folks. I say, don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.

Why am I, a native Tennesseean but one whose knowledge of Elvis was pretty much limited to the uproar surrounding his death, droning on about his favorite cornbread, and how would I know what it was, anyway? 

Well, first of all, like all Southerners, I’m cornbread-obsessed. I think we must all be born with a cornbread gene. But I’m also cookbook-obsessed. My cookbook collection numbers in the hundreds of volumes, much to our friend Ben’s despair, and I’m always on the lookout for another interesting addition to the collection. I thought I already owned the definitive Elvis cookbook, The I love Elvis cookbook (Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen, Courage Books, 1998), until I discovered All Cooked Up: Recipes and Memories from Elvis’ Friends and Family this weekend at our local library’s book sale.

All Cooked Up (Donna Presley Early et al., Gramercy Books, 1998) includes recipes from Mary Jenkins, Elvis’s personal cook at Graceland for more than 25 years. Mary knew Elvis’s taste in food like no one else, so when she says this cornbread recipe was Elvis’s favorite, I believe her. Try it and see if it becomes yours:

           Elvis’s Favorite Corn Bread

1 teaspoon oil

2 cups cornmeal

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

2 1/2 cups buttermilk

3 eggs

1/4 cup oil

In a skillet sprinkle 1 teaspoon of oil and a little of the meal and heat. Mix the remaining ingredients together and pour into the skillet. Cook until golden brown. Serves 4 to 6.

Needless to say, the skillet Mary refers to would have been a well-seasoned, heavy cast-iron skillet, and she’d have baked the cornbread in a preheated oven, probably at 425 degrees F. for 25 minutes or so until cooked through and browned on the edges. Then she’d have cut the hot cornbread into generous pie-slices and served them sliced in half, slathered with plenty of salted butter, and put back together to make sure the butter melted and soaked through. Mmm-mmm, good!

Just thinking about buttered, hot-from-the-oven cornbread gets me all shook up.

          ‘Til next time,


Chili and cornbread: hot food for cold nights. January 16, 2011

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben loves chili and is always begging me to make it. I like chili too, but given a choice, would rather make black bean soup or refried beans for Mexican Night. Yum! Still, when I asked OFB what he’d like for supper last night and piteous pleas for chili emerged (sort of like the dog in the Beggin’ Strips commercial we saw yesterday while watching the Purina dog agility trials), I figured it had been a month since the last pot of chili and was about time.

Now, normally, when I make chili, I make my wonderful Pumpkin Chili (you’ll find the recipe by typing “Weird, wonderful chili” in our search bar at upper right). I admit, it sounds horrendous, but it is the richest, most luxurious chili you’ll ever treat yourself to, I promise. However, I was planning to make pumpkin bread today, and, well, enough pumpkin is enough. So I decided to go for a more traditional version, and one that would come together quickly, since certain people were apparently starving, or at least, starving for chili. Here’s what I did:

             Silence’s Quick Spicy Chili

1 40.5-ounce can kidney beans (dark red, light red, or plain red are all fine)

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 large fresh tomato, diced

1 large green (or red) bell pepper, diced

2 large sweet onions (Vidalia, WallaWalla or 1015 type), diced

6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and chopped

extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons chili powder

hot sauce (we like the smoky flavor of Tabasco Chipotle in this)

1 tablespoon each dried oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary

Trocomare or salt (we like RealSalt) to taste

cracked black pepper to taste

Pour a generous amount of olive oil in the bottom of a heavy Dutch oven or other capacious pot (I love my LeCreuset Dutch oven for this). Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion clarifies, then add the dried herbs, Trocomare or salt, pepper, chili powder, and a few generous splashes of hot sauce. Next, add the chopped fresh tomato and green or red pepper. When the pepper starts to soften and the tomato liquefies, add the canned diced tomatoes, stirring well, then the kidney beans, again stirring well to mix. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the chili is very hot. Serve in bowls, topped with shredded white Cheddar cheese or sour cream, if desired. This will serve four to six people, depending on how many insist on seconds or even (shriek) thirds. 

I wish I could tell you that some secret ingredient or technique had made this chili so good, but it really was as simple as it sounds. Easy and delicious works for me! And it was ready so fast, I had just enough time to make the cornbread. Try it and see what you think.

I’ve always found hot-from-the-oven cornbread to be the perfect accompaniment to chili, black bean soup, and lentil stew. It’s so easy to make and cook while the chili, etc. is maturing, so you’re not trying to be a kitchen Shiva, using all six arms to frantically toss everything around at the same time. Just be prepared for the entire pan to disappear by meal’s end!

Being from the South, I’ve eaten a lot of cornbread in my life, but I’ve never found a better recipe than my own super-easy version. (I plan to make a different kind of cornbread in the bread machine my friend Delilah gave me for Christmas this very afternoon, so stay tuned for a future report. But I’ll always make my standard version to go with soups, stews and chilis.) Here’s the recipe:

                 Silence’s Best Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal

3 tablespoons unbleached flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup milk

1/2 cup sour cream

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons salted butter

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Melt the butter in an 8- or 9-inch round ovenproof glass pan (such as a Pyrex cake or pie pan), swirling the melted butter around in the pan to coat the sides. Combine the cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, egg, sour cream and melted butter to the dry ingredients, and mix thoroughly. Pour the batter into the hot pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. To serve, cut in pie wedges, split and butter the wedges, and serve very hot.

And there you have it! If you’re looking for a delicious, fast, satisfying meal for a cold night, or a crowd-pleaser for Superbowl Sunday, this combo will definitely do the trick.

            ‘Til next time,


This Could Be YOUR Home October 5, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were driving along the scenic backroads of Berks County, Pennsylvania, on Friday night, conveying a steaming Dutch oven of Silence’s warming and wonderful black bean soup and a big, festive salad to the Friday Night Supper Club. (See our earlier post, “The Friday Night Supper Club,” for more on this great way to kick off the weekend.) We were enjoying the pumpkinfields and all the other scenic sights of the onset of autumn when our friend Ben suddenly saw something I’d never seen before.

We were just passing a down-at-heels trailer park when our friend Ben saw a sign prominently placed in front of the most decrepit of the trailers: “This Could Be YOUR Home.” Of course, Silence and I loved this. Since there was no phone number, no “For Sale” sign, no nothing, we decided to take it as a morality tale: Straighten up, stop spending like there’s no tomorrow, act responsibly, or This Could Be YOUR Home. Talk about a wake-up call!

Silence and I have talked about putting a similar sign in front of our own battered but beloved cottage, Hawk’s Haven, in an attempt to provoke people to value what they have. But we live on a very dangerous curve on a curbless road, and we don’t want to distract drivers as they whip around the bend at 1,000 mph. Our attempt at consciousness-raising will have to remain a fantasy, but it’s one that cheers us up immensely as we tack bubble wrap over our more vulnerable windows in an attempt to cut down on drafts and reduce fuel costs this winter.

Here’s a warming tip I can share with you, one that will heat you up for literal pennies: Silence’s rich, thick, flavorful black bean soup and cornbread. (Silence didn’t make cornbread for the Supper Club because another member was already making a hot-from-the-oven loaf of bread, yummo, but when we eat this soup at home, we always have it with hot buttered cornbread and salad, and we urge you to do the same.) Silence swears it’s one of the easiest meals she makes. She does use canned black beans instead of soaking and cooking dried beans to save time, but tells me that you can find black beans for 35 cents a can if you shop the store brands and keep an eye peeled, something at which she’s an expert. (She’s also adept at finding sour cream for a third the cost of national brands, and, though our peppers and onions come from our CSA, she swears you can find incredible bargains on green peppers especially, and they’ll turn orange-red if you want to let them sweeten. Silence’s shopping motto is “Seek and ye shall find.”)

Our friend Ben tracked down Silence in the greenhouse this morning, where she’s furiously puttering, bringing in and winterizing various deck plants and the earthworm composter, and extracted the directions for both the black bean soup and the cornbread.

Silence says that, since the soup has so much body, you should eat it with a salad that can stand up to it—this is not the time for limp, wimpy spring greens. She recommends a full-bodied mix of arugula, Romaine, and sorrel leaves or watercress (if you can find them), with plenty of green onion, red or orange bell pepper, and carrots or radishes.

Geez, now I’m getting really hungry. I suppose it’s too much to hope that she’d make black bean soup again just two days later! Please forgive our friend Ben for the style of these recipes; they’re in paragraph form because I was frantically copying down Silence’s running commentary. Silence stressed to me that the black bean soup is very forgiving, so you can vary the quantities of the ingredients to suit your own taste. Of course, as with all baking, better stick to the recipe for the cornbread.

Silence’s Supreme Black Bean Soup

Sautee 2-3 large diced onions and anywhere from 3 cloves to an entire head of minced garlic, depending on how much you love garlic, in an ample amount of extra-virgin olive oil until the onions clarify. Add a heaping tablespoon each of dried oregano, basil, thyme, whole cumin seeds, salt (we like Real Salt), and black mustardseeds (if you have them), and a generous splash of hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa and Tabasco Chipotle, but use your favorite). You can also add a generous sprinkling of Trocamare or Herbamare if you have some on hand. Next, add 2 large diced green bell peppers or 1 large green and 1 large red bell pepper. Add enough vegetable stock (Silence uses the boxed veggie stock from the grocery soup aisle, and says that every brand she’s tried so far is good) to prevent sticking. You can also add chopped fresh tomatoes if you have some you want to use up. Now it’s time to add the black beans. Silence adds 3-4 cans, stirring them in and then using a heavy potato masher to mash them for a thicker soup. After stirring the mashed beans thoroughly into the mixture, add enough tomato juice to make it “soupy”—maybe a third of a big bottle—and then cook it down until it’s the texture you desire. Silence and I prefer a very thick, almost stewlike texture, but of course you can serve it as a soupier soup if you prefer that. (Note: because of the tomato juice, this soup will be reddish rather than the traditional black most people associate with black bean soup. No worries.) Just before serving, stir a generous splash of lemon juice into the soup. Top each bowl with a big dollop of sour cream. 

Silence’s Super Southern Cornbread

Melt 3 tablespoons of salted butter in a 10-inch round baking pan in a 425-degree oven; Silence likes glass for this. (If you insist on using unsalted butter, add 1 teaspoon salt to the next part of the recipe.) Combine 1 1/2 cups white cornmeal, 3 tablespoons unbleached flour, and 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder. Beat an egg and add it to the dry ingredients along with 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup sour cream, and the melted butter; mix well. Pour into the hot, pre-greased pan (the melted butter will take care of this step for you), and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes. Cut in pie slices, split them, and insert butter; eat hot. Silence warns that because this cornbread is rich, it doesn’t keep well, so if you have leftovers, warm and eat them in the first two days after baking it. (Um, leftovers?!!)

Come and get it: cornbread and black bean soup April 4, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here, ready to spill the beans (so to speak) on a couple of favorite recipes. Our friend Ben asked me to share my treasured family recipe for cornbread after writing yesterday’s post, “Ben Picks Ten: Southern comfort foods.” We absolutely love this cornbread, and so does everyone we’ve ever fed it to. In fact, you simply can’t stop eating it, which is actually a good thing, because here’s a fact about cornbread: Like biscuits, it just doesn’t keep. Hot biscuits or cornbread right from the oven are as good as food gets, but even by the next meal, it’s all over. Talk about a case where you’d better “get it while it’s hot!”

Now, our friend Ben and I are Luddites (which is not some kind of obscure religious sect, it just means we try to live simply and avoid unnecessary technology; see one of our early posts, “What is a Luddite, anyway?” for more on this). So we don’t have a microwave oven. If you do, you might experiment with reheating cornbread and biscuits in that to see if it restores them to luscious, light, and moist rather than hard and dry, or whether it just makes them gummy. Please let us know!

Good cornbread is a thing of beauty: crusty and crunchy on the sides and bottom, warmly golden on top, and tender and succulent inside. To get it to this state of perfection, I’m sure you’ve heard again and again that you need to use a seasoned cast-iron skillet. And it’s true that a cast-iron skillet will do a great job, but our friend Ben and I aren’t fond of the slight iron flavor that it imparts to the cornbread, and are still less fond of the work it takes to maintain cast iron. (Rust never sleeps.) Besides, it’s just not true that the only way to get cornbread this good is to bake it in cast iron. I’m here to tell you that glass works just as well.

Being a big fan of thrift-store shopping, I’ve found marvelous old glassware in my local Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. These old Corning, Pyrex, and Anchor Hocking classics are made of thick glass, they’re deep, and they tend to have big “ears” on the sides for easy lifting from a hot oven without fear of the dish dropping out of one’s clumsy mitts. And you can almost always find them for less than two dollars. Check it out! Some have beautiful crimped edges, too, and some are tinted glass—I have one that’s a lovely, very subtle light blue.

I use the 8-inch cake pan size for cornbread, rather than a 9-inch pie plate, because I think the depth of the 8-inch pan (pie plates tend to be shallower) makes a better cornbread. I also think the thickness of the older glass pans helps to form that wonderful crust. But the other secret to a crusty cornbread in a glass pan is to melt the butter for the recipe right in the pan, give it a good swirl all around before you pour it into the batter, and leave a generous amount in the pan. Of course, the super-hot oven helps, too.

Now, all this may make cornbread-making sound arcane, but it couldn’t be simpler or faster. You can throw it together and have it in the oven faster than you can read this post. I’m serious! So let’s stop talking and start cooking.

                  Dogood Family Cornbread

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 egg, beaten

3 tablespoons salted butter

heaping 1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup milk

Melt butter in a deep 8-inch glass cake pan or 9-inch-square glass baking pan or cast-iron skillet in a preheated 425-degree F oven. Combine cornmeal, flour, and baking powder in a large bowl. Add milk, egg, sour cream, and melted butter to the combined dry ingredients and stir vigorously to mix. Pour batter into the hot pan or skillet and bake at 425 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Serve hot with butter (salted, please) and enjoy!

Cornbread hot from the oven is good anytime. We like it with a fresh green salad and a wedge of aged Cheddar as a simple but satisfying lunch. But one of our favorite ways to eat it is with a steaming bowl of black bean soup for dinner, so I’m going to pass that recipe along to you as well. Try them together and see for yourself!

When you read the black bean soup recipe, you’ll notice that the ingredients are flexible. This is soup, not science, people, and this particular soup is very forgiving. I’ve made it every which way and it’s always good. The main difference is in the color of the soup: If you add two cans of beans and a lot of tomato juice, sauce, or what have you, the soup will be a beautiful deep terracotta color; if you add three cans of beans and cut back on the tomato juice, sauce, etc., it will be a rich dark brown. Both look and taste great! (And yes, we do use canned beans. If you soak your own dried beans, make sure you cook them until they’re good and soft before you start making this recipe.)

                Silence’s Super Black Bean Soup    

 2 or 3 cans black beans

1 large bottle tomato juice or 1 large can tomato sauce or 1 large can crushed tomatoes

1 large box vegetable stock, or homemade 

2 large or 4 medium sweet onions, diced (‘WallaWalla’ or ‘Vidalia’ type)

1 large green pepper, diced

1 large or several small fresh tomatoes, diced (optional)

3 cloves garlic, minced

chopped fresh cilantro to taste, if desired; reserve some for garnish 

1 heaping tablespoon black mustardseeds

1 heaping tablespoon cumin seeds

1 heaping tablespoon dried oregano (I try to use Greek or Mexican oregano)

1 heaping teaspoon salt (we like Real Salt)

1 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Pickapeppa or Tabasco Chipotle, or more to taste

juice of one lemon or 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice

extra-virgin olive oil

sour cream

Pour a generous amount of  olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy Dutch oven or soup pot. Add salt, black mustardseed, cumin, and oregano and saute in oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until clarified. Add green pepper, fresh tomato (if using), cilantro (if using), and hot sauce. If veggies start to dry out, add vegetable stock as needed to prevent burning.

Once the veggies are nicely cooked, add black beans and either half a large bottle of tomato juice or a large can of crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (all work fine). Continue to cook, adding more tomato juice or veggie stock as needed. After about 15 minutes, take a potato masher and mash the black beans. You don’t have to mash them all, the idea is simply to make a rich, thick soup.

Stir well after mashing and continue cooking, adding a little veggie stock or tomato juice as needed, until the soup has reached the consistency of an incredibly thick, delicious pasta sauce. You want it to be very thick on the spoon, not runny at all, but not as condensed as good refried beans, either. When the soup is thick enough, pour a ring of lemon juice around the top and stir briefly to combine. Serve with a generous dollop of sour cream on the top of each bowlful, and a spray of fresh cilantro if available. Yum!!!