Once a Cornhusker

January 2011

My parents brought me from Gothenburg Memorial Hospital to a home with a gambel roof and walls the color of sweet corn.  Though my family was deeply tied to the Midwest, I was the first to be born a Cornhusker.  Gothenburg is a small, small town where people know everything about everyone, you wave at anyone and everyone, “downtown” is a block, and the people are friendly when they serve you a “pop.” Breakfast was “Daylight Donuts” and lunch was “The Snack Shack,”  and dinner was a homemade meal which probably included meat and potatoes more often than not.  The older women of the town made me my very own “Quelcy” quilt to welcome me into the world.  The older men of the town would spoil me with donuts from the said establishment.  We drove the wide roads in pick ups or old boat cars.  A trip outside of town was surely lined with cornfields.

My dad’s job in the cattle industry uprooted us to the suburbs of Philadelphia after just two short years of my life.  I didn’t have the Gothenburg memory bank of my siblings, but I always had a tie to a Midwestern mentality.  I don’t trust water, am more comfortable on land,  the Cornhuskers were the only American sports teams to ever interest me (well, maybe the Phillies a bit), and I hold a very special place in my heart for sweet corn!

Most people think there are more cows in Nebraska than people.  I acknowledge I am from Pennsylvania based on the sheer number of years I have lived in the state.  However, part of me always clings to a patch of Nebraskan soil as my home turf, much to the shock of most people when I say so.

Our first year in Architecture School at Carnegie Mellon University, we freshman had visions of skyscrapers and mansions in our heads.  We were quite surprised to hear that our first assignment was to analyze the systems, structures and concepts of a “specimen” of our choosing.  Whaaa?  Weren’t we in architecture school?  Why were we picking specimens?  I went on the suggested wanderings through the park for inspiration, but it turned out my specimen choice was an intuitive one:  corn!

My corn analysis ended up being one of my best received projects, and for years after, I was still associated with kernels and cobs and even known as “the corn girl.”  It went to show, you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Cornusker out of the girl!

Summers with my family are all about quality beef and fresh sweet corn.  It was time to put that combination to winter use, and the result was like the natural mixing of food on a plate at a chuck wagon buffet.

Cornbread Topped, Oven-Barbecued Beef Brisket… n’ beans!

PART ONE:  The Brisket


4 teaspoons organic brown sugar
4 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red curry powder


1 brisket roast (4-5 lbs)
1 pound smoked bacon

Smoky Bacon Barbecue Sauce

Bacon from cooked brisket
1 local red onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
½ cup cider vinegar
/3 cup packed organic dark brown sugar
1-2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup organic ketchup
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced

For the Barbecue Rub

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, breaking up any lumps of sugar.

For the Brisket

Adjust an oven rack to the upper-middle position and heat the oven to 275°F.

Massage the dry rub  into the meat and then use a fork to poke holes all over the surface of the brisket.

Move the meat to a broiler-safe pan.

Wrap the bacon  strips around the brisket, overlapping slightly.

Cover the roast with foil and roast until a fork inserted into the brisket can be removed with no resistance, about 4 hours.

Remove the pan from the oven and carefully flip the brisket.  Replace the foil and return to the oven.  Turn off the oven and allow the brisket to rest in the warm oven for 1 hour.

For the Sauce

Remove the bacon from the brisket, chop it into small pieces, and heat it in a medium saucepan over medium heat until the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes.

Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.

Off the heat, add the vinegar and sugar and stir to combine.

Return the saucepan to medium heat and reduce the mixture to a syrupy consistency, about 5 minutes.

Add broth to the saucepan and reduce to syrupy consistency again.

Off the heat, stir in the ketchup and chipotle.

Brisket Reincarnation

Those chipotle chile peppers in adobo sauce added quite the mouth-watering and occasional eye-watering spiciness!  Therefore… part two…

Additional Brisket Ingredients

1 can organic sweet corn
1 can organic dark red kidney beans (rinsed thoroughly)
1 can organic, fire-roasted tomatoes
a drizzle of black-strap molasses to taste

PART TWO:  Cornbread Layer

Cornbread Ingredients

2 ¼ cups St. Vincent’s local ground cornmeal
2 cups local buttermilk
¼ cup peanut oil
4 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 large, local, free-range eggs

Adjust the oven racks to the lower-middle and middle positions, and heat the oven to 450°F.

Heat a 10-inch heatproof skillet on the middle rack for 10 minutes.

Bake the cornmeal on a rimmed baking stone on the lower-middle rack until fragrant, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the hot cornmeal to a large bowl and whisk in the buttermilk; set aside.

Add the oil to the hot skillet and continue to heat until the oil is just smoking, about 5-10 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the oven and add the butter, carefully swirling the skillet until the butter is melted.  Pour all but 1 Tablespoon of the oil mixture into the cornmeal mixture, leaving the remaining fat in the skillet.

Whisk the baking powder, baking soda, salt and eggs into the cornmeal mixture.

Mix the brisket ingredients in the skillet.

Pour the cornbread batter on top of the brisket mixture.

Bake until the top begins to crack and the sides are golden brown, 16-20 minutes.

Let cool in the skillet for 5 minutes.

Slice and serve!

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