The Great Cornbread Debate

I have to admit, it’s going to be hit and miss around here during the next week due to deadlines, of both the full-time and the freelance nature. You may see a guest post from my husband in the meantime. I don’t know. I’ve kind of usurped the kitchen the past 5 years, so he’s not sure what he can cook other than a killer PB&J sandwich. At any rate, this may have to tide you over for a few days until I can come back up for air.

So, cornbread. I know there’s debate among cornbread lovers whether it should be sweet or savory. I don’t really care which is right or wrong. I just know what I prefer, and it’s usually cornbread with a touch of sweetness. If you prefer the savory, just leave out the honey from the recipe below. Simple solution; no need to get your panties in a bunch. Really, there’s much more to worry about than cornbread.

I made up this recipe, so it could use some fine tuning (like more honey). But, for the first go-round, it did the job pretty well (meaning it was at least edible). When coming up with new recipes, I find it’s best to turn on some Alabama Shakes and just go for it. Sometimes with a beer as a backup confidence booster. Also, it’s apparently necessary that I burn the shit out of myself at some point.

I baked the cornbread for 20 minutes, and it came out a mix between cake-y and spoon bread consistency, which I actually prefer. Obviously, if you want less spoon bread consistency, bake it 5 or so more minutes.

The yogurt? Some cornbread calls for sour cream, and this is about as close as I could come given what was in our fridge. I decided I wanted a bite of heat in the cornbread, thus the jalapenos. If you don’t like them, just leave ’em out. The same with the corn. It’s all subjective, all up to you, but below is the basis I used. I served this with catfish and tomato “jam” (although I decided to just grill the catfish and season it with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika). To counterbalance the jalapeno, I just threw together a cold salad of chopped watermelon (an ingredient I’m currently obsessed with), chopped cucumber, and some mint.

Roasted Corn and Jalapeno Cornbread
3 jalapenos, whole
Kernels from 3 ears of fresh corn
1 c. cornmeal
1 c. soft white flour (aka pastry flour)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. yogurt (I use a raw yogurt, but Greek yogurt or sour cream would probably be comparable here)
1/2 c. milk
1/2 Tbsp. honey
Duck fat or oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of duck fat (or oil) into a glass baking dish or roasting pan and place in the oven to heat. When the fat/oil is heat, carefully add the jalapenos and corn kernels; roast for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, milk, and honey. Fold the egg mixture into the flour, stirring until just combined. Set aside.

When the jalapenos/corn are finished roasting, remove from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Drop a tablespoon of fat/oil into a small cast iron pan and place in oven to heat.

While the pan and fat/oil warm, add the roasted corn kernels to the cornbread mixture. Slice the jalapenos (either with or without seeds; with seeds will add more heat) and add to the cornbread mixture. Stir until the corn and jalapenos are incorporated.

Remove the cast iron pan from the oven, drop in the cornbread mixture, and bake for 20-25 minutes (see above notes for consistency/baking times).

Serve warm with honey, butter, or a great piece of fish.

 

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32 Bagels

Every Thursday includes a trip to a local store to pick up eight bagels (four cinnamon-raisin, four whole wheat) made that a.m. at a bagel company located about 40 minutes away. Why eight? Maybe it’s because I’m OCD and like numbers divisible by four. Maybe it’s because when two bagels are placed side by side it looks like a figure 8. Maybe it’s because I’m a total glutton and sometimes eat two bagels in one day. Whatever the reason, that number just works.

And then I found out the bagel shop would be closed for a week to move to a new location. One week. Without bagels? You’ve lost your mind if you think I’m going that long without a bagel.

So, what to do? Since I’ve become somewhat better at making dough for rolls, pizza, pretzels, etc., I figured bagels should be next on the list. At least it couldn’t turn out any worse than the first time I tried to make pizza dough during which my entire flour mound of happiness collapsed and ran down our countertops and onto the couch, down the wall, all over the floor… (Why yes, we did have an uneven countertop, how did you guess? It’s been fixed since then during a total kitchen renovation. I think it’s because my husband didn’t ever want to see me have that level of breakdown again. Sometimes a shitty attempt at dough makes you cry.)

Anyway, I started researching bagel recipes online. A few I found seemed relatively simple, but this is me. I have to make things complicated. If I’m going to churn out some bagels, I want the real thing. I want to spend hours in the kitchen (totally normal, right?). And then I stumbled across the Smitten Kitchen bagel posts. Bingo. Chewier bagels? Yes, please. Customizable portion sizes? Check. A litany of instructions? Bring it.

I followed the recipes as they were (I only added a bit more spice to the cinnamon-raisin batch). The instructions are excerpted from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” and I’m a little scared to go to a bookstore now because I’ll inevitably go buy this and turn our kitchen into a mini-bakery because, you guys? Check out our freezer now just from the bagel episode.

Right? I made 32 bagels over the course of two days. We still had bagels from my last purchase. This will last me us a good two weeks. Maybe. Because…I kind of prefer the homemade version. The texture is just what I’ve been seeking from a bagel. I’m not a bagel connoisseur or expert. (Is there such a thing, by the way? Because if there is, I am 100% on board. I am willing to train as appropriate for such a distinction.) These just made me happy. And, let’s face it, it’s hella satisfying to nail a bread recipe from the start.

I’m not reprinting the recipes here (just follow the links here for plain bagels, here for cinnamon-raisin bagels), but I am going to include a few of my own notes. And yep, it’s a long list of notes. You can read them or you can just skip on over to the links. Either way, I urge you to try a batch or two at home. They were actually incredibly easy to make (as stated in the recipes, they can be made on the same day or during the course of two to three days), and who doesn’t want to sample bagels fresh from the oven? Actually, that was the most daunting part of the entire process: letting the bagels cool for 15 minutes after baking. I failed on that end.

  • I did a few “experiments” and tried different approaches. I suppose most normal people would follow a brand-new recipe exactly as printed, but that’s not how I roll. I start with the basic recipe and think, “How can I switch this up a bit to compare and decide what works best?” My first experiment was the flour. For the cinnamon-raisin variety, I used 4 cups of the suggested unbleached bread flour (whole wheat) in the sponge and 3 3/4 c. hard red flour during the mixing stage. (The latter was freshly ground a few days prior by local vendor Beyond Homemade. Because the red wheat berries are ground by hand, they retain essential nutrients, thus making this a healthier flour option.) For the plain bagels, I used all hard red flour in both the sponge and the mixing stages. The difference? Personally, I preferred the texture of the hard red flour bagels.
  • I opted to use honey as a substitute for any necessary sugar, malt syrup, etc. (using a 1:1 ratio). I think the cinnamon-raisin bagels could have used a bit more honey.
  • I ended up kneading the dough for 10 minutes by hand (see next note). What the hell, it at least provided some upper arm workout.
  • If you try the cinnamon-raisin variety, I would recommend stirring/pressing the rinsed raisins into the dough by hand with additional flour (the raisins do make the dough a bit too wet if they’re not drained properly beforehand). Stirring them into the dough utilizing a standing mixer didn’t do much good. At all. Just be forewarned that you’ll likely be chasing errant raisins down if you opt to knead the dough by hand.
  • I decided to vary the fridge retardation periods (yes, that’s the terminology; I’m not being mean-spirited) for the cinnamon-raisin batch. Mainly because I was impatient. I let one-half of the cinnamon-raisin batch sit in the fridge for 4 hours prior to boiling and baking. Result: Good. The second half of the cinnamon-raisin batch I let sit in the fridge for about 20 hours. Result: Even better. So yes, there is a noticeable difference when you let the batch chill for a longer period. The consistency seemed to be the same, but the flavors were much more developed in the 20-hour batch.
  • Both batches of plain bagels sat in the fridge for only 4 hours. They were still perfectly satisfying.
  • Because I prefer chewier bagels, I let the cinnamon-raisin batch boil for 1 1/2 minutes per side and the plain bagels boil 1 3/4 minutes per side. I couldn’t really tell the difference in chewiness, although the boil time was only a difference of 15-20 seconds.
  • I really need to invest in a kitchen scale. When dividing the dough, I opted for 16 regular-sized bagels (because super-sized would just get me into trouble). I started by dividing the dough in half, then breaking each half down to eight pieces. And I ended up with smaller bagels, larger bagels, just-right bagels…All appeared to bake evenly in the oven (thank god for convection ovens) despite their varying sizes, but I think for the sake of consistency a kitchen scale would help tremendously. (Hello, Christmas wish list!)
  • I chose to form the bagels by punching a hole through the middle and shaping from there. I know I’m not skilled enough yet to try the probably more traditional method of wrapping a rope of dough around my fingers and rolling to press the ends together. This was honestly a fun task. By the time I got to the plain batch, I felt like I could shape the bagels well enough and avoid overly thick or thin sections.
  • When letting the bagels “rest” prior to boiling and baking, I left about 1″ of room between each. That seemed to be sufficient. Just note that when you boil the bagels, because of activation with the baking soda, they will expand a bit. So, if your pre-boiled bagels sit a bit snug on the baking sheet, it’s a safe bet they won’t fit at all post-boil. Just adjust accordingly for room.
  • Instead of parchment paper I used those glorious Silpats. I did sprinkle cornmeal onto the Silpat to avoid sticking during the first batch. It wasn’t really necessary (plus I didn’t like the consistency of the cornmeal on the bottom of a cinnamon-raisin bagel). I just ended up adding a bit more oil instead of semolina or cornmeal and had no problems with sticking.
  • Each oven is unique and has its own set of quirks, but I think next time around I may increase the final baking time to 6 minutes just to get a harder exterior. That probably won’t be the case for everyone.
  • I didn’t go crazy with toppings or flavors outside of whole wheat and cinnamon and raisins. But I gained a new level of confidence just in baking two varieties, so I’ll definitely be experimenting further. Just think of the possibilities!
  • I’m going to need a bigger freezer.

Where the buffalo roam…

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I don’t remember the first time I fixed ground buffalo, but I wasn’t too impressed. Somehow, despite its fat content (and yeah, for someone used to grass-fed ground beef, this is pretty fatty), I ended up with a dry buffalo burger.

Not this time.

Consider that a segue into how I’m kinda cheating this time around and just “test drove” some recipes for you guys. And they’re both well worth a shot. Because I followed the instructions pretty much to the tee, I’m not reprinting here; just follow the links. I’ve included a few notes, though, because I have to be hella long-winded.

The buffalo burgers were perfectly seasoned and juicy (and don’t be tempted to skip the relish–it really pulls this all together, plus you have an excuse to go grab some beers). I subbed in equal parts balsamic vinegar and that iconic bright, yellow mustard, and it turned out well. I think maybe the serving size listed is a bit much, because the proportions really worked just fine for the 16 oz. of ground buffalo I used (divided into four patties). I grilled these about 4 minutes per side over medium-high heat, and it was really too long for a medium-rare finish, so I’ll decrease the grilling time by half next time around. Also, let these sit after pulling them off the grill. In fact, let all meat sit after grilling/roasting. It gives the meat time to reclaim its juices, so to speak. Just don’t touch the meat or poke it or fork it. Seriously, treat it with some dignity and respect.

The whole wheat rolls were incredibly simple, light (yeah, whole wheat can be perfectly fluffy), and literally ready in the 40 minutes promised. I used a hard red flour from a local vendor (yeah, I’m kinda spoiled) and subbed in honey in a 1:1 ratio as I don’t use or even keep sugar in our house. I did have to add about 3/4 c. of flour, but just start with the base 3 c. of flour and go from there because heat/humidity play a big role in how the, um, rolls turn out. I utilized my KitchenAid standing mixer with the dough hook attachment and kept an eye on how much the dough stuck to the bowl. Basically, it shouldn’t be sticky to the touch. Instead, it should be soft and malleable, with some “spring” to it when pulled apart to shape the individual rolls. I went for 8 total shaped a bit larger to serve as the buns for the buffalo burger.

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As easy as this all is to pull together, there’s really no reason to go out for a burger. You can even fix the rolls a day or two in advance and refrigerate and/or shape the burgers and keep chilled. Serve roasted potatoes on the side or a good salad. Go ahead, treat yo’self to a good burger!

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