Cornbread worth eating

Back making more soups and stews with cooler weather, I baked my favorite cornbread recently and was reminded how much I appreciate it.

In my opinion, cornbread tends to be either dry and crumbly or overly sweet. Well, maybe that doesn’t matter so much if it’s just an add-on for chili and such… Thank you, I’ll just have a bite and move on. But then, why bother at all?

Most cornbreads are designed as quick breads where dry and liquid are all mixed together and then immediately popped into the oven with ease in mind.  What makes this cornbread unique is that it begins more like a traditional cake batter. The butter and sugar are first creamed together, then the liquid is stirred in followed by the dry ingredients.

It makes a difference.  Yes, this cornbread has a moderate amount of sugar in it, but it aids in the structure of the loaf and enhances its corn flavor. I usually make this in an 8×8” or double it for a 9×13” pan. Baking it as a loaf was a switch, it rose evenly and baked beautifully. Even better I was delighted with how thinly it would slice.

This loaf truly is pure gold; it does not need to be relegated to a chili side. It stands on its own.  It goes with just about anything, but is particularly good with eggs, salads, stews and soup—anyplace a well-constructed bread is wanted.

Golden Cornbread

Ingredients
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2 Tbsp plain yogurt
1 cup milk or water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.  Spray a 5×8″ loaf pan with bakers spray.
  2. Sift the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt and set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the butter to soften and slowly beat in the sugar until creamy.  Add the egg and beat well. Beat in the yogurt and milk, then the cornmeal.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and stir until just blended. Transfer batter to pan.
  5. Bake until golden brown and tester comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Cool on rack.
  6. Serve warm or room temperature.  Can be prepared a day ahead.  Cool complete.  Cover with foil and store at room temperature. Makes one loaf.

Cornbead: thinking out of the box

Cooking in a small kitchen requires ingenuity and resourcefulness: a small space has limited storage and requires tough choices:  like how much heirloom china do you really need?… and severely cutting back on pots, pans, and accessories. It means taking a close look at every day food choices and meal planning―to the point of rating what falls into the category of ‘food staples’.

Such was the case recently when I threw together a lovely le puy lentil soup, replete with carrot and Spanish chorizo. Yes, it was quick to make, but it was also ready and waiting because I had failed to considered what to serve along with the soup. An oops.

I spotted a kid’s size bag of Betty Crocker cornmeal muffin mix… what about that?   And then, there was the remnants of a jar of sauerkraut in the fridge; not a bad addition to counteract the questionable sweetness of the boxed mix… and while at it, I grabbed some plain yogurt for a little more tang and further lighten it. I quickly chopped up a handful of vegetables for color and crunch, added a few sliced olives, and finished it all with a dusting of grated cheddar cheese on top.  Into the oven it went for a quick bake.cornbread

Truth is, it’s hard to screw up these packaged mixes; they are very forgiving. But how do you elevate them beyond mundane? cornbread,lentils 1

The sauerkraut became an undetectable mystery ingredient that blended with the other vegetables, plus it served to ameliorate the mix’s inherent sweetness and create a little more interest and punch.

You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

Cornbread in a Jiffy

1 small box or package cornmeal muffin mix, Betty Crocker or Jiffy
2 tbsp cornmeal, if available
¼ c yogurt plus enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
1 green onion, trimmed, chopped
1 med jalapeno pepper, seeded, trimmed, chopped
2 tbsp sauerkraut, heaping
12 green olives, sliced
1/3 c cheddar cheese, grated

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray or butter a 7″x5″ (approximate) baking pan or dish.
  2. In a 1 cup measure, place the yogurt and enough milk or water to equal a generous 1/3 cup and blend well; add the egg and olive oil, and combine well.
  3. Place the cornmeal muffin mix and additional cornmeal in a medium mixing bowl.  Gently stir in the yogurt mixture, sauerkraut, green onion, jalapeno pepper, and about 1/2 of the sliced olives, mixing only to moisten but not over blend.
  4. Spread the mixture evenly into prepared baking pan or dish. Top with remaining olive slices and sprinkle with cheese.  Bake for 15-18 minutes, until the top is set and cheese is melted.  Let cool briefly and cut into 6-8 servings.
  5. You could say I was thinking out of the box―and it was definitely ready in a Jiffy.

American as… Bodacious Corn

Last year at this time, corn was just corn. In the south, they grow it sweet and it all passed my lips in a hurry, unnamed. Back then, I liked to strip the husk back and remove the silk. I’d place the moist rewrapped corn in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it was steaming I’d remove the husk and quickly sear the kernels on the grill, then drizzle with a little lime juice, maybe some chili flakes.

Michael Pollen’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, underscores the historic significance  of corn in this country as a native staple shared by the Indians with early settlers.

What I failed to appreciate was corn as the American success story, and its incredible impact on the industrial age. Once it was discovered that a slight alteration of corn’s genetic composition could make it more abundant and more useful, it wasn’t long before the revolution kicked into high gear.

Corn’s affordability and versatility made it a fundamental industrial commodity. Corn was everywhere: in sugars, oils, cereals and other convenience foods; in plastics, packaging and fuel. For a country hungry for beef, it was prime feed for cattle. Corn was no longer just a vegetable; it was capable of influencing national economic policy.

On my cross country trip this year, catchy red signs kept appearing along the road side for ‘Bodacious Corn!’ They were usually situated at the most inconvenient times, when I had no desire to stop and inquire. I would press on in my westerly direction, and wonder. Bodacious? Corn? What does that mean? An incomplete ad for Burma Shave? A corny joke, perhaps?

Now in Oregon, I’m learning more about Bodacious corn. Considered by some ‘hands down the most superior corn available’, it’s easy to grow, big, fat, juicy and absolutely delicious. It keeps and freezes quite well. Referred to as a triple sweet variety, it is considered cutting edge in corn breeding technology.

Good gracious, it’s Bodacious! Only in America.

Garden Cornbread

Practically a meal, this low fat veggie laden beauty is moist and portions easily thanks to the secret ingredient: couscous.

1 tablespoon butter, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup or more fresh corn kernels, 1 large ear
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, slices
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup couscous grains
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line and spray 8″ square pan.

Spray a medium skillet and melt 2 tsp butter over medium low heat. Add the scallion and peppers; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and corn; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add pepperoncini.

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and cornstarch into a bowl; add the salt, sugar, cornmeal and couscous and combine evenly. Stir in buttermilk and eggs with a few strokes, then stir in vegetables, do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until set and almost done, about 15 minutes; brush top lightly with remaining butter, melted. Remove from oven when puffed and golden, about 20 minutes. Serves 4-6. ~~

Chili-fied Lentils with Corn

Inspired by Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

For a meat version, substitute about ½ pound cooked ground beef for pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
28 ounces can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 cups lentils, green or brown
4 chipotles in adobo, or see note below
2 cups water, up to 4 cups or more
2 tablespoons cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups corn kernels, @ 1-2 ears
1 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
accompaniments: green onion and yogurt crema, pickled red onions, cilantro

In large pot sauté onion in olive oil; when soft add garlic, cumin and coriander, and sauté til aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, the lentils, chipotles and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer adding water as needed as it thickens; cook 40 minutes. Stir in additional 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp. cornmeal and simmer additional 10 minutes or longer, until lentils are soft and it has thickened. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper.

Add the corn kernels and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, more cilantro, and a few more seeds. Serves 6. ~~

Note: if chipotles in adobo are unavailable: substitute 3-5 dried peppers, plus 1 tbsp each smoked paprika, chili powder and cider vinegar; and a pinch cinnamon.