Saturday, January 16, 2016

Cornbread Breakfast Casserole

Back in September, Steven and I took a mini-staycation.  I know you'll hardly be able to contain yourselves when you hear what we did...

We purged and did a thorough cleaning of our bedroom.  Exciting right?  Honestly, our bedroom really needed it, after having the 4 kids living with us and re-arranging our space to accommodate them, then remodeling to give them better spaces, our bedroom became the dumping ground for everything that didn't otherwise have a home in our house.  So we purged and we cleaned and we purged and cleaned some more.  Boy, does our bedroom look great, even now, several months later. That was day 1 of our staycation.  For day 2, to reward ourselves for getting that huge chore done, we drove to the college town of Ellensburg - which is just on the other side of the Cascade Mountains from where we live - to see my brother, whom we hadn't seen recently.  He'd just moved to a new place, which we toured, and where I got my kitty fix (after having been catless for the entire summer... a problem which we recently remedied), treated my brother to lunch, walked around downtown Ellensburg, which is very nice, and came back home.  During our tour of the downtown, we visited a couple of galleries and I picked up this little gem of a cookbook.  I do a lot of outdoor cooking workshops with my friend, Janet of Chuck Wagoneer and I'm always on the lookout for good breakfast recipes for us to try.  This cookbook is really excellent because it's truly written for outdoor cooking with your dutch oven right down to details like how many coals to put on the bottom and how many coals to put on your lid.

Anyway, there are some recipes in there that I was really excited to take for a spin and this Cornbread Breakfast Casserole is the first I have tried so far.

The first time I made it was for my gaming group and I thought I had bell peppers at home, only to discover I didn't when I got started making it (don't you hate when that happens?).  It came out just fine, but I felt the sweetness of the cornbread was a bit too strong.  After reviewing the recipe with Janet and her husband, we decided that it was worth trying again, but making sure to include the bell pepper and using green bell pepper instead of red to balance against the sweetness.

So this time around, I've used green bell pepper.  Also, I used Chicken Italian sausage for that first go round, and it was really good, but not everyone is a fan of the fennel that's commonly found in Italian sausage.  This time around, I decided to spice it up with some Chorizo.  I also used the entire can of diced green chiles - the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons, which is 2/3 of the can anyway - and we couldn't really tell they were there.  Because Janet's husband has some dietary restrictions that eliminate whole kernel corn from his diet, I omitted that as well.  Last, but not least, I used both Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheese for this dish and used 1 1/2 cups total, rather than a single cup.  I wanted the creaminess of the Monterey Jack to offset the spiciness of the Chorizo.

This is an excellent recipe.  When we do cooking workshops we always have a couple people with one food allergy or another and gluten free requests have become very common - this recipe just happens to be gluten free - so you don't have to make any additional substitutions or adjustments to the recipe to accommodate folks with gluten allergies.  Its super versatile - use any color bell pepper and your favorite bulk sausage; use whatever cheese you have on hand - or leave it out.  Jalapeno would be a nice addition to the cornbread for those who like it spicey.

The cornbread is dense but moist, and the eggs bring it all together.  By-the-way, I know it seems like a lot of salt and pepper, but I've put it in as per the recipe both times and it's definitely not too salty, neither is it too peppery.

There are a couple things I did differently for use in my home kitchen.
1) I used one skillet for the whole thing.  (Easy to do at home, but I'd probably prepare it as instructed at camp.)  Today it completely slipped my mind to do that until I already had the cornbread in the oven.
2) I adjusted the cooking time for the cornbread base, and also for the final step.  Not to worry, I'll post the recipe as I feel works best for the home kitchen - if you're going to make this at camp, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this excellent dutch oven cookbook.

Cornbread Breakfast Casserole
(serves 8)

1 pound ground sausage or chorizo
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin

In a 12 inch cast iron skillet or dutch oven (the size is important, if you use a different size, plan on adjusting cooking time) brown sausage with onion and bell pepper.  Stir in garlic and cumin. Remove mixture from skillet and set aside.

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place skillet in the oven to preheat while you prepare the cornbread base.

Cornbread Base:
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
4 TBLS melted butter
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1 can (14.5 oz) can whole kernel corn, drained (optional)
1 can (3.3 oz) diced green chiles

Add baking soda to buttermilk and set aside while you assemble the rest of the base ingredients.  In a large bowl, combine melted butter, cornmeal, sugar, salt, egg, corn and chiles and mix well.  Add buttermilk and stir to combine.  Pour cornbread mixture into preheated skillet and bake for 7 1/2 minutes.  Remove skillet from the oven top with sausage mixture.  Set aside while you prepare the eggs.

5 eggs
1 cup milk
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
3/4 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
3/4 cup Monterey jack cheese, grated

In a large bowl combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper and beat until well combined.  Pour mixture over the cornbread and sausage.  Bake 35 minutes.  Turn oven off.  Remove from oven and sprinkle the cheeses on top.  Place back in turned off oven for approximately 5 minutes, just until cheese melts.


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