Friday, 10 October 2014

The Best Thing About Cornbread

Is that you can literally put anything in it and it will taste amazing. Think of cornbread batter as a blank canvas, just begging to be spiced up with vegetables, meat, cheese, and whatever herbs are about to go bad whilst sitting in your fridge.

Such was the case last night, when I realized that I had an onion, a tomato, and a bunch of broccoli about to turn, along with half a bag of mixed shredded cheese...What's a girl to do you ask? In Texas (my home state), the answer to that is either quiche (we'll address this later) or cornbread. Given a bit of cornmeal, flour, two eggs, and milk (i've used oil when I ran out of milk and it's do-able), you've got the makings of cornbread.

From here, I pre-heated my oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, gathered my ingredients together, and settled down to chop some serious onion. *During my French cooking class at ICE, I learned the correct way to do this: 1) cut the onion in half, lengthwise (your knife should be connecting with the root) 2) cut off the ends 3) setting the onion half on it's side, use your knife to cut the onion into layers, going against the grain (**don't cut all the way through - everything should still be connected at the end of the onion (root side) you are slicing towards) 4) now set the onion half flat and slice thinly in the same direction, being careful not to cut all the way through the end (everything should still be connected) 5) ok, by now you should have two sets of cuts, intersecting each other - take your knife and cut across the onion (from side to side, not cutting towards the root) and your onion should fall away in neat, diced sections (you'll lose a few of the outside pieces along the way - throw those out).

Phew! Now you can sauté your expertly chopped onion in a skillet on medium-high heat, with a tablespoon or two of butter, until they are nicely caramelized.

Once the onions are caramelized, remove from heat and turn your attention back to the other vegetables (tomatoes and broccoli in my case). I chopped the tomato up and put it in the batter uncooked (I don't like using fried tomatoes because they get mushy and don't hold their shape as well). For the broccoli, I disconnected the florets from the stem, getting as close to the floret as I could, so it broke into smaller bunches, instead of leaving all of them all on one stem.

Using the same pan you caramelized the onions in (you might have noticed by now that I am a big fan of using the same pan for multiple ingredients as the fat residue helps to flavor the next ingredient being cooked - everyone has a different take on this, so feel free to disagree and clean the pan), turn the heat back up to medium-high, add a tablespoon of butter, and quickly sauté the broccoli florets. Take care that they don't fully cook. You want broccoli that holds its shape, avoiding the mushy, re-heated texture. Once it's turned a bright green (think cooked asparagus green), remove from heat. 

Now, you can mix your cornbread batter and add in the waiting vegetables.

For the batter: a technical baker will tell you that the order of ingredients (dry to wet in this case) is necessary for the proper chemical reaction to achieve maximum height and fluffiness in the bread as it bakes and rises. This is true but no one in Texas has ever cared when it comes to this dish, so i'm going to tell you to dump everything, in whatever order you wish, into the same, medium mixing bowl and stir until the batter is thoroughly mixed. Once it's slightly thicker than pancake batter (not runny but still easily pour-able), mix in your vegetables and cheese (I added in 2 cups of cheese, which looks like too much but once it bakes, it's amazing). Coat the sides of your pan or muffin tin (I used a metal 13 x 9) in butter and pour the batter in.

My pre-baked cornbread. Yours will look different, according to what you
put in it but the color of the batter should be relatively similar.
Turn your oven setting to 'bake' and place the cornbread in the oven, on the middle rack. Bake for 12-16 minutes or until the top is golden-brown and a knife stuck into the middle (quick readiness test) comes out clean. Remove from heat and let cool.

I prefer my cornbread served with chili but I have a roommate who insists on eating it straight from the pan by itself (and sneaking it cold when she thinks i'm not looking - so it must be good!).

My favorite thing about using broccoli or any colorful vegetable is that you
can see it when you slice up the bread. It's an instant diagram of what
you put in the batter.
Other suggestions for cornbread concoctions include: 2 tablespoons of honey (I usually add in a touch of vanilla extract if I'm making a sweet one); creamed corn to add density and moisture; bacon and scallions - be adventurous and have fun!


- 1 1/2 c cornmeal
- 1/2 c flour 
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 c milk (whole or skim)
- 2 large eggs
- 6 tblsp unsalted butter, plus additional for coating the pan

Add ins
- 1 tomato (heirloom or on-the-vine are my go to's)
- 1 onion (vidalia is my favorite when I want a soft sweetness)
- Broccoli (I used baby sprouts instead of a giant head of the stuff - you can get this at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods)
- Mixed, shredded cheese (any cheese that melts will work)

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