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Winter warmers: Comfort food ideas to help beat the chill

 

Glenn Miller holds a plate of bacon upside-down cornbread fresh from the oven Monday at his home in Columbus.

Glenn Miller holds a plate of bacon upside-down cornbread fresh from the oven Monday at his home in Columbus. Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

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Miller's deer roll-ups are hearty bites of deer meat stuffed with a banana pepper ring, wrapped in bacon, seasoned and cooked on the grill.

Miller's deer roll-ups are hearty bites of deer meat stuffed with a banana pepper ring, wrapped in bacon, seasoned and cooked on the grill.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

A hot oven and cast iron skillet are key to producing Miller's bacon cornbread with its satisfying smoky flavor.

A hot oven and cast iron skillet are key to producing Miller's bacon cornbread with its satisfying smoky flavor.
Photo by: Deanna Robinson/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

An extra log on the fire is all well and good, but Southerners know an arctic blast calls for down-home comfort food. Homemade cornbread ranks on the list. And if there's a way to improve on cornbread hot from the oven, it just may be with bacon.  

 

Glenn Miller of Columbus thinks so, especially after watching an episode of Andrew Zimmern's Travel Channel show "Bizarre Foods" a while back. Zimmern rode along on a Mississippi River towboat to find out how well the crew ate while afloat for days at a time. While bacon upside-down cornbread isn't "bizarre," it is one of the unique sides served up. Miller was inspired to give it a try.  

 

Come-hither aromas filled his kitchen Monday as a cast iron skillet lined with bacon slices on the bottom went into a preheated 450-degree oven. Five minutes later, the skillet's out, and Miller is pouring creamy cornbread batter over the slices. (Rendered fat from the bacon keeps the cornbread from sticking and adds a smoky flavor.) Another 15 to 20 minutes in the oven (until a knife inserted comes out clean), and another batch of moist cornbread is flipped out on an inverted plate, bacon topside up, begging to be sliced and enjoyed.  

 

The pleasant smells sometimes take Miller back. 

 

As a home cook, he's rooted in what one might call "old school," in the tastiest way. He remembers his Granddaddy Johnny Egger, a "country cook" in the Prairie. Memories of his grandmothers, who made mouth-watering fried chicken and banana pudding, and set the prettiest tables, are still strong.  

 

"If you can remember when there was not a microwave in your kitchen, you have a different mindset -- not just about food, but about everything," he said. 

 

 

 

Recipe tweaks 

 

For his cornbread, Miller has adapted the recipe found on the back of the Sunflower Cornmeal Mix bag (included below).  

 

"Where the bag says use 1-1/4 cup of whole milk or buttermilk, I'm using 1 cup of buttermilk and 1/4 cup of half-and-half; I'm just trying to get it as moist as I can." The half-and-half adds some body and moisture. 

 

Where the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of melted fat, Miller substitutes a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter (not margarine).  

 

"I'm also putting a teaspoon of baking powder in (the recipe)," he said. 

 

An accomplished baker, or "more elegant cook," may have other suggestions for achieving a moist, fluffy cornbread, he said, but his adapted recipe is earning rave reviews. 

 

"I took some to soup night at Cooksville (United Methodist Church), and they wore it out," he grinned. 

 

Miller has pastored at Cooksville -- about a 50 mile drive from Columbus -- for 27 years. He's also filled the pulpit for other small Methodist churches in the area. 

 

 

 

Deer roll-ups 

 

Glenn and Jan Miller's annual winter shop party at Miller Marine is famous for the feast it offers up for a couple of hundred people or more, sometimes with Miller's deer roll-ups on the menu.  

 

Bacon-wrapped pieces of deer minute steak or tenderloin are each stuffed with a banana pepper ring, usually from the Millers' garden, then wrapped with half a slice of bacon, seasoned and cooked on the grill. Any pepper can be used; Miller just prefers the milder banana pepper. 

 

"Wrap the bacon around it, stick it through with a toothpick, and then I season it with a dash of apple cider vinegar, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a dusting of seasoning salt, garlic salt and black pepper, then I do 'em on the grill 'til the bacon gets done," explained Miller. 

 

"Deer meat has no fat so it cooks quick," he cautioned. He uses a meat thermometer when cooking loins and stops the cooking at 140 degrees, to keep the meat from getting tough. 

 

The best part of all this cooking, Miller said, is simply hearing someone say something he made tasted good.  

 

"If people you're cooking for enjoy it, then it's worth it." 

 

Oh, and he likes to eat.  

 

"The only God-given talent I have is a high metabolism, and I don't want to waste it." 

 

Variations on bacon cornbread are many. Try crumbling cooked bacon in the batter, or perhaps jalapeno. Or add scallions and cheddar for a sharp flavor to contrast with the sweet, moist bread. A maple and bacon cornbread goes well with breakfast or brunch, or serve it with beans, chili or greens. An online search will produce multiple cornbread suggestions to try out. 

 

 

 

SUNFLOWER CORNMEAL BAG RECIPE  

 

 

 

2 cups Sunflower self-rising cornmeal mix 

 

1 1/4 cups sweet milk or fresh buttermilk 

 

1 or 2 eggs 

 

2 tablespoons melted fat 

 

1 tablespoon sugar (if desired) 

 

 

 

  • Mix well. Bake in hot, greased corn stick or muffin molds (for cornsticks; cast iron skillet for round cornbread) about 15 minutes in hot oven, 425-450 F. 

     

    (See the story above for Glenn Miller's tweaks to this recipe, plus his method for bacon upside-down cornbread.) 

     

     

     

    MAPLE AND BACON CORNBREAD 

     

    Prep time: 10 minutes 

     

    Cook time: 22 minutes  

     

    Makes 8 servings 

     

     

     

    1/4 cup canola oil plus a few teaspoons for the skillet (or use a similar flavorless vegetable oil) 

     

    4-6 strips bacon (cooked and crumbled) reserve 1 teaspoon of drippings for the skillet 

     

    1 1/2 cups stone ground cornmeal 

     

    3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

     

    1 teaspoon salt 

     

    2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 

     

    1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

     

    1 1/4 cups ​buttermilk 

     

    1/4 cup maple syrup 

     

    2 large eggs 

     

     

     

    For the glaze: 

     

    2 tablespoons butter 

     

    2 tablespoons maple syrup​ 

     

     

     

  • Put 2 teaspoons vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon bacon drippings in a heavy 10-inch cast iron skillet. 

     

  • Heat oven to 425 F. Place skillet in oven. 

     

  • In a mixing bowl combine crumbled bacon, cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and soda. 

     

  • In another bowl, whisk remaining 1/4 cup of oil with the buttermilk, 1/4 cup of maple syrup and 2 large eggs. 

     

  • With potholders or oven mitt, carefully remove hot pan from oven and place on a metal rack.  

     

  • Combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients, stirring just until blended. Pour batter into hot skillet and return to oven.  

     

    Meanwhile, heat (microwave or stovetop) the 2 tablespoons of maple syrup with the butter until butter is melted and mixture is hot and bubbly. 

     

  • Bake cornbread for 15 minutes, remove to the rack, and quickly brush with maple and butter mixture. Return cornbread to oven for 5 to 7 minutes longer. Let cornbread cool, then cut into wedges. 

     

    (Source: Diana Rattray, thespruce.com)

     

  • Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

     

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