MODESTO -- The guys were talking about the upside-down salsa cornbread.
One had brought it to a potluck the day before, and the other wanted the recipe and tips for making it.
The people sitting around them did a double take. Sports is always the topic of conversation not food with the one requesting the recipe and tips.
"Do you hear that?" a co-worker said. "They're sharing cooking tips."
Any dish that makes guests stand up and take notice is a winner worth passing on. So here are five one-skillet meals that got gobbled up at two recent gatherings. Some are easier than others, but all are delicious. There's plenty of variety here: rice, lentils, pasta, cornbread, vegetables. Add a salad or a cooked vegetable, and you've got dinner. The best part? There's only one pot to clean.
Bee staff writer Sharon K. Ghag can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2340.
Okra-and-corn maque choux
¼ pound spicy smoked sausage
½ cup chopped sweet onion
½ cup chopped bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups corn
1 cup sliced fresh okra
1 cup peeled, seeded and diced tomato (½ pound)
Salt, ground black pepper
Sauté the sausage in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 3 minutes or until browned. Add onion, bell pepper and garlic and sauté 5 minutes or until tender. Add corn, okra and tomatoes. Cook, stirring often, 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe is from "Southern Living Home Cooking Basics: A Complete Illustrated Guide to Southern Cooking" (Oxmoor House, $29.95). This visually stunning step-by-step book is like having grandma show you how to cook all the great Southern dishes.
Recipe maker Sharon Ghag: This dish was wonderful with ham, which gave the vegetables a delicious smoky flavor.
Sausage baked with lentils
Serves 4 to 6
12 frozen or fresh sausage (1 pound)
2 red bell peppers, seeded, and thickly sliced
2 red onions, in wedges
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart hot beef stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 ½ tablespoons tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Black pepper, to taste
Heaping 1 cup dry lentils
2 rosemary sprigs
2 bay leaves
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium saucepan, arrange the sausages in a single layer and bake for 35 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove the pan from the oven and add the bell peppers, onion and oil. Toss together, then return pan to the oven for 10 minutes.
In a pitcher, mix the hot stock with the mustards, tomato paste, garlic and a good grinding of black pepper. Scatter the lentils over the sausage, then add the herbs and pour over the stock mixture. Stir and then bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes, turning sausage and lentils over halfway through the cooking time.
This recipe is from "The Foolproof Freezer Cookbook," by Ghillie James (Kyle, $19.99). The 100 recipes are meant to be made and stored in the freezer or prepared from freezer ingredients.
Recipe maker Angie Martin: This was so easy to make.
Upside-down salsa cornbread
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound lean ground beef
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon garlic salt
1 medium bell pepper, seeded and cut into rings
2 cups Martha White cornbread mix
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon sugar
1 (16-ounce) chunky-style salsa
1¼ cups milk
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Make the filling: Heat the oil in a 10½-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the ground beef, onion, chili powder, salt and garlic salt. Cook until beef is no longer pink, stirring frequently to break up any clumps of meat. Remove the beef mixture from the skillet.
Place the bell pepper rings in a single layer in the bottom of the skillet. Spoon the beef mixture over the rings.
Make the topping: Stir together the corn meal mix, cheese, sugar, salsa, milk, oil and egg in a medium bowl. Stir until blended. Spread mixture evenly over the beef mixture in the skillet. Bake until golden brown, 32 to 38 minutes. Place a serving plate over the skillet and invert.
This recipe is from "The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook: A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious Recipes" (Oxmoor House, $24.95). Hand-me- down treasures, contest winners and plenty of stories throughout make this book irresistible.
Recipe maker Jeff Farrow: This dish is ideal for a potluck because the cast-iron skillet keeps it warm for hours.
2 cups basmati rice
4 medium tomatoes
5 black peppercorns
2 tablespoons ginger paste or a 1½inch piece of ginger grated
2 tablespoons garlic paste, or 4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoon ghee or oil
2-inch piece cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
2 cardamom pods
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups mixed frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, corn) or cauliflower, zucchini, peppers, etc.
Mint leaves or cilantro for garnish
Wash and drain rice twice until water runs clear.
In a pan combine 2 cups of water, tomatoes, peppercorns, ginger and garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and mash.
Heat ghee or oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and fry cinnamon stick, cloves and cardamom pods for a few seconds. Add rice and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Pour in tomato mixture and add turmeric and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until rice is tender. Squeeze in a little lime juice and garnish with mint leaves or cilantro.
This recipe is from "India: A Culinary Journey," by Prem Souri Kishore (Hippocrene Books, $29.95). The 100 regional recipes adapted for the American kitchen are spiced with the author's stories.
Recipe maker Joe Kieta: Sauté boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast meat before cooking the rice and add to the finished dish to turn this into a meal.
Pizza penne bake
1 pound penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ yellow onion, chopped
About 30 slices pepperoni, cut in half
1 clove garlic, chopped
1½ cups prepared tomato pasta sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Chopped Italian parsley
Chopped fresh basil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large Dutch oven, cook the pasta as directed on the package. Reserve ¼ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta. Carefully dry out the dutch oven (it will be hot), then add the olive oil and heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until translucent; add the pepperoni and continue to cook until the onion begins to brown. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds more.
Pour in pasta sauce and the reserved pasta water and stir together. Stir in the oregano and red pepper flakes.
Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, then add the drained pasta and toss to combine with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the pasta and then sprinkle the mozzarella over the top.
Place the Dutch oven into the preheated oven and bake for about 10 minutes or until cheese melts. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley and basil.
This recipe is adapted from "Dinner Mom: The $5 One-Dish Dinners Cookbook," by Erin Chase (St. Martin's Griffin, $17.99).
Recipe maker Pat Clark: I gave this recipe a revamp, adding parsley and basil, onion and oregano.
Cooking With Sharon