It seems that more and more these days, the little imp who loves to mess around with my efforts in the kitchen is alive and well. Baking doesn’t seem to be its focus, thankfully, but cooking certainly is – let’s just say that the imp strikes so often that the person at the takeout pizza place and I are on the verge of becoming BFFs. I could blame the oven, but nope, my baking turns out just fine each time (way to go, let’s put that jinx opportunity out there for the imp to jump on). But my cooking endeavors? Just not going very well right now. I’m pretty sure it’s a phase (I certainly hope so), but I’m also pretty sure it’s enough already.
Last night’s effort was the latest of these foibles. And it all started out so well. To wit:
I make a really good turkey chili, if I say so myself. So good, that it doesn’t even need the tomatoes that I leave out (B. hates canned tomatoes). So good that it doesn’t need a bed of rice under it. So good that whether you pair it with with a cold beer or a decent Cabernet, you’ll be very happy. (If you’d like the recipe, let me know. No pressure. But it really is very good.)
Rather than leave a good thing alone, though (who me?), I decided to try something different yesterday. Something creative. Something that looked amazing when it came out of the oven but, well, things are not always as they appear.
While I almost always make cornbread to go along with the chili, this time I thought, why not save some calories (we eat far too much of the cornbread when I make it – it’s more like, would you like some chili with that cornbread instead of the other way around). Why not top the chili with the cornbread batter instead of making a whole pan of the bread? Kind of like a shepherd’s pie or pot pie effect. Also, I was going for an Ina (Garten), homecooked vibe. Sounds good, right? One would think so.
So I set to work, cooking the chili on the stove, then ladling it into a pie plate. Next I prepared the cornbread mix according to the package directions and spooned the batter atop the chili. Except. It seems that I had packed the chili almost to the very top of the pie plate so that now the batter hovered dangerously close to the rim. And we know that cornbread rises as it bakes. (Disclaimer: I did, in fact, use the entire bowl of batter to cover the chili. It just looked so naked without a nice snug blanket of cornbread covering every single inch.) Fearing overflow, I spooned some of the batter off the chili.
But it takes a lot more than a tricky batter to ruin my perfect ballgame. (Or so I thought.) Into the oven the dish went and 30 minutes went on the timer. About 15 minutes in, I realized we were in the danger zone. The batter was rising beautifully – up, up, and over the edge of the plate. Quickly, I pulled a cookie sheet out of a drawer and then carefully, oh so carefully, removed the chili from the oven, slid the cookie sheet in, and placed the pie plate back on it. Extra points for avoiding spills all over the oven; lost points for opening the door, thereby lowering the oven temperature. Minutes put back on the clock.
And then, the big moment, The cornbread crust was golden brown on top and smelled heavenly.
Until all hell broke loose. I took my masterpiece out of the oven, let it cool a few minutes, and spooned out a picture-perfect scoop – steaming, bubbly, tempting. But wait – what was that? Under the beautiful, golden cornbread crown was – oh, no, no, no. Rivers of uncooked batter, obeying the laws of physics, gravity, and Murphy, were now making their way throughout most of the chili. I lifted off the entire cornbread lid (nibble-worthy only at the very edges) to find that 90% of it had just not cooked through. Sheesh.
The good news? I did manage to scoop out enough unbattered chili from the bottom of the pie plate to make two small servings (I wanted us to eat lighter, right?). The bad news? The cornbread was theoretically a loss. The other good news? At least there was a half-full bag of tortilla chips in the pantry (way to look at the situation as half full).
What went wrong? Maybe I should have kept it in the oven longer and covered the top with foil to keep it from over-browning. Maybe I should have gone with a much thinner layer of batter. Maybe I should have left things alone and made the chili the way I always have and baked the cornbread separately.
Maybe we should have had popcorn for dinner.
©2022 Claudia Grossman