Thursday, January 12, 2012

Spicy Cornbread

I used to joke that I married The Carnivore for his cornbread.  Even at the point when I took over all the cooking for our little family, cornbread was still his purview.  He claimed to not have a recipe, you see, so I couldn't take it over.  And I kind of liked it that way.

The only cornbread I recall having as a child was made from a box mix, or it had the unmistakable sweetness of sugar in it, and I just didn't care for any of that.  Then I fell in love with The Carnivore, and he began cooking for me, and he kind of blew my mind with his cornbread.  It was spicy rather than sweet, dense instead of fluffy, with a crisp crust and actual corn kernels inside.

Ridiculous yummy.

But we had two flaws in the system, the first being that The Carnivore never got home from work in time to make the cornbread when we needed it to go with lentils, or with Cuban black bean soup, or black eyed peas and collards.  The other problem, and a crucial one, was the waste factor.  We never managed to eat an entire batch in one sitting, and the leftovers didn't warm up well on the second day.

Waste makes me a little bit nuts.

Then I bought The Art of Simple Food with some birthday money a few years ago, and Alice's simple cornbread recipe started calling my name.  I knew enough of The Carnivore's tricks (add cheese, onions and jalapenos to the batter; and preheat the pan with a little bit of fat) that I thought I could adapt the recipe from the book to suit our purposes, while adding a few touches of my own.

The crowning touch was that I finally got wise enough {slaps forehead} to realize if I baked half the batch in my smaller 5-inch cast iron skillet, then I could also avoid the waste problem.  The other half of the batter could be refrigerated until the next day to go with the inevitable leftover beans.  Eureka.  Fresh cornbread two nights in a row.  No waste.

I cannot believe it took that long to figure that out.  Please, someone, anyone, act like this is the best advice you ever heard and that I am a genius for imparting my wisdom here.  Pretty please.  My ego is smarting.

I made quite a few changes to the original recipe in The Art of Simple Food - so many, in fact, that attribution is hardly necessary.  But here is the beauty of that particular cookbook, the whole thing is written so that you can take the general outline of her ideas and then run with it to make it your own.  She is lovely that way, you see, with her pure joy regarding food and the grace she allows for others to take her knowledge and change it all up a little.

I love that in a cookbook.  When I open the pages, I want to be inspired, not overwhelmed by recipes that seem to complicated for home use.  I want general advice, and cheeky little headnotes, techniques that make me excited to get into the kitchen.  This cookbook is perfect that way.  In fact, it is probably one of my handful of desert island cookbooks when it all comes down to it.

Which, by default, makes this my Desert Island Cornbread.


SPICY CORNBREAD (inspired by The Art of Simple Food), makes 8 pieces

  • 1 cup cornmeal (the coarser, the better)
  • 3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder (you can make your own)
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 to 2 hot peppers, minced (or 1 to 2 tsp crushed red pepper), optional
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 4 Tbs butter, melted (plus 1 Tbs butter for the pan)
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  
  2. For the crispiest crust, put a 9- to 10-inch cast iron skillet into the oven while it preheats, with 1 Tbs of butter in the skillet.  
  3. In a large bowl, add the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt.  Stir together.
  4. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat, then add the onion and peppers (if using) and saute until onion is translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool for a minute or two.
  5. Add the sauteed onion & pepper to the flour mixture, along with the cheese and corn kernels.  Stir together.
  6. Pour the milk into a small bowl, and whisk in the egg.
  7. Add the milk & egg to the flour mixture, and stir until well-mixed.
  8. Stir the 4 Tbs of melted butter into the batter.
  9. Take the skillet out of the oven, tilt it to distribute the melted butter, and pour in the batter.
  10. Bake for 20 minutes, until cornbread is nicely browned on top, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.


Jennifer Jo said...

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the least obvious, especially when we have our routines.

This recipe---it intrigues me.

Jennifer Jo said...

Made this for lunch. LOVED it!

Sarah Beam said...

Oh, I just *love* to hear that. Really.