By Rod Cohenour
What Goes Best with Soup? With Chili? With Stews?
Cornbread, Of Course!
This is a quick and simple way to take the basics and then fix them up just any ole way you wish. First of all, there is no need to try to do this all from scratch, unless you truly have the time and desire to do so. All you really need is a good solid mix like those you can buy at the grocery, eggs, milk, oil, and your choice of special additions.
One of my favorites is a Southwest style cornbread which would involve adding to the batter some fresh corn kernels, a touch of Jack cheese, some black beans if you wish and some green chiles (Hatch, of course~!) Just mix the batter according to the box mix instructions, then fold in the additional ingredients. Pour this into an appropriately sized baking dish that has been liberally buttered to help the finished product to be removed without crumbling.
Another variation which tickles my palate is jalapeno-cheddar cornbread. As the name implies, you simply prepare the batter per instructions then add grated sharp cheddar cheese and jalapenos that have been seeded and diced. If you wish, crumble some crisp bacon bits into the batter along with some green onions, both white and green parts.
Most recipes for homemade or boxed mixes indicate a preheated oven set to about 400º is perfect, with the cornbread only requiring some 12 to 15 minutes to cook. Be sure to check so that your delectable pan of golden goodness does not become overly browned. (A nice crisp brown edge is desirable, however. To achieve this, merely preheat the baking pan with a bit of bacon grease or corn oil and butter mixture before pouring in the batter. That sizzle tells you the batter is being quickly browned to a golden perfection before you even get the pan in the oven!)
Another variation which we all love and which is more or less a Southern staple is the Johnnycake. What you do here is quite simple: mix the batter, add a touch of regular sugar, a touch of brown sugar, perhaps a drop of honey or maple syrup. Bake in cupcake tins, lined and properly greased. I guarantee you, even folks who would inexplicably shy away from this food item will be won over once they taste it. It is like your bread side and a dessert all rolled into one.
This Johnnycake can be made into a breakfast item by the addition of browned, breakfast sausage that has been well-drained before adding it to the mix.
Did I just mention dessert cornbread? Those cornbread muffins can be made into a taste-tantalizing treat by adding such things as dried cranberries and orange sections along with a teaspoon or so of grated orange zest. Serve with a honey-orange butter blend to make your guests’ mouths water. Toss in pecans or walnuts for a nice change of pace. Even a few grated or finely diced apples make a delightful new offering.
The fact of the matter is, cornbread seems to be infinitely variable. Everything from dressing for the holidays, to muffins for breakfast, or an appetizer, all the way to the main side for those hearty cold weather soups, stews, and chilis, cornbread is the ticket.
If you really want to make your own cornbread, here is my master recipe:
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, buttermilk and egg. Don’t over mix, those lumps permit the cornbread to rise. Use 1 tablespoon butter, melted, to mix into your batter, the other 2 tablespoons should go into your baking dish. A cast iron skillet or cast iron cornbread forms are perfect. If you don’t have this, use your regular 9x12 baking dish or 4x4x8 loaf pan. Preheat the dish in your oven before adding the batter to aid the browning of the edges. (Take care with those glass dishes, too rapid a temperature change can lead to breakage!)
To use the variations, merely fold in the added ingredients after the basic batter has been whisked together.
(*) Buttermilk: If you don’t have this on hand you can always sour sweet milk by the addition of 1Tablespoon vinegar to 1 ½ cups milk. Just give it a moment after stirring to curdle a bit.
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