Labor Day is almost upon us and that means the end of summer and the (un)official end of beach season. Soon daylight savings time will be over and the skies will be dark by 7 p.m. It’s important to be aware of this change or disaster could strike. Believe me, I know.
When I first moved to Florida, I would regularly take the family out to Little Talbot Island for an afternoon of biking, rollerblading, beach fun and, of course a giant cookout.
The layout at Talbot is perfect for this. There are biking paths, a pristine beach, and awesome covered cooking pavilions with multiple grills, picnic tables, and even fresh water spigots. This is the kind of place that beckons you to prepare complete outdoor meals.
Always up for a culinary challenge (or a glutton for punishment), I’d take full advantage of the facility. This got to be a routine, with the food taking several hours to prepare and being ready to eat by 7 or 7:30. I’d cook a whole chicken on one grill, roast potatoes in the coals of another, maybe make jalapeno and cheddar skillet cornbread, have vegetable brochettes grilling, etc. I’d make barbecue sauce, vinaigrettes, dress salads à la minute and, of course, make s’mores at the end of the meal.
I was fully up to the challenge of preparing my entire meal from scratch right there in my temporary outdoor kitchen. Even at a state park, you can Chef it Up!
This would give us plenty of time to enjoy the day, the meal, and clean up before dark. These were the long days when it seemed like summer would last forever. The weather was great and only getting better as the months passed.
Then it happened. It seemed like it was getting dark a little earlier, but according to my watch, the food would be ready at the usual time and all would be well. Wrong! I realized it was getting dark very quickly, the chicken was cooking, but not nearly fast enough, and the potatoes and other items were nearly ready, so we started eating while the chicken finished; you can’t speed up charcoal.
Next thing we knew, the park rangers were coming by to tell us the park was closed. Now it’s pitch-black and we’re trying to clean up, pack the car, and finish eating all at the same time. Lesson learned — even a chef can make a mistake.
Here’s a skillet cornbread recipe to try. It works on an oven rack or buried in the coals.
Chef Bill’s Skillet Corn Bread
- 2 tbsp. lard, bacon fat or corn oil
- 1/2 cup bacon, small dice, cooked (not crispy)
- 3 cups cornmeal
- 1-1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 2-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 12” cast-iron skillet (or two 6” skillets)
- Heat the fat in the pan until it’s almost smoking.
- Whisk the cornmeal with the baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add eggs, bacon and buttermilk. Stir to combine.
- Pour the batter into the pans.
- Bake at 400˚F for 15 minutes. (Or, cover the pans with foil and cook in the coals.)
- Reduce heat to 350˚F until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Until We Cook Again,
Contact Chef Bill Thompson, owner of Amelia Island Culinary Academy in Historic Fernandina Beach, with your recipes or questions at [email protected], for inspiration to get you Cheffed Up!