The Great Cornbread Debate, Part II (Electric Boogaloo)

So you know that other cornbread recipe I posted a few days ago? Scratch that. Apparently I’ve stumbled across something better. And this is how it went down. (Sorry, there are no pictures because I was already coming off making another batch of 32 bagels, dinner, and the first pie crust I’ve made in 10 years. There was a lot going on in the kitchen that day.)

I received a cornbread recipe about five years ago from the wife of a friend of my husband. It was great, and I used to serve it for Thanksgiving meals and bring it to tailgates (speaking of which, holy crap it’s almost football season Hokies!). And then I changed the way I ate, and I couldn’t justify fixing cornbread made with Jiffy mix, sour cream, and canned corn. It was too much for my delicate senses.

Thus, the cornbread recipe fell out of favor and was stashed away for about two years in a family cookbook. Until I resurrected it Saturday and decided to give it a bit of a makeover. I was heading to my first Lambstock (so much more on that later), and of course a proper Southern gal never shows up to a food event empty-handed. Even if that food event is brimming with legitimate chefs. Hey, I’m a-ok with my cooking skills; there’s not much that intimidates me.

Anyway, I started by Googling, “What’s in Jiffy cornbread mix?” Proper way to start, right? Granted, the answer was nothing too terribly bad, but I really can’t stand to use boxed or pre-made items if I can make my own version. And generally, I can. And always, it tastes better.

I transitioned from my Google search to making the cornbread with some tweaks here and there (e.g., subbing in yogurt for sour cream, etc.). But what I really think made the difference here was duck fat. Duck fat makes everything better, you guys. I’m pretty sure the answer to most of life’s little questions is: duck fat. Why is the “check engine” light still on in my Honda? Duck fat. Why do our beagles fart so much? Duck fat. (Okay, I don’t feed them duck fat, and that’s certainly not what makes them little gassy, four-legged machines. Neither will duck fat solve all of your problems, but it’s a start, especially when pondering how to make certain foods taste richer.)

I rolled into Lambstock with my little Ziploc bag full of this cornbread and plunked it down, okay in the fact that no one was really eating it (I think because my husband had placed himself directly in front of the bag and kept sneaking pieces). But eventually, someone did. And on my way back from a little jaunt to the port-a-potty (after which I totally washed my hands, don’t worry), I heard several people hunkered down underneath the Cardinal Point Winery tent yell my name. Then, someone shouted, “Bring the cornbread up here!” Well, at least I wasn’t going to have to take any home with me.

Apparently they thought it was good (one person asked if I was a chef; it’s always funny to watch other’s faces as I say, “I’m a technical editor,” because yeah, I’m sorry, I don’t know how to explain my job in a fascinating way, either, even though I enjoy what I do). Meanwhile, my husband was threatening to keep the bag to himself. I guess it was decent stuff.

So now, the recipe. This is, once again, a sweeter cornbread. That’s just my preference, and I assume the honey could be ommitted if you’re so inclined. If you don’t have duck fat, I really don’t know what to tell you (aside from advising you to go buy a duck and render down the fat, which isn’t so hard at all to do, but that’s another post for another time). It worked great here, and I doubt olive oil or another fat could easily be substituted. But, you never know. If you try it using a different fat and you think it tastes great, lemme know!

Lambstock Cornbread (fits perfectly in a 9×9 baking dish but could easily be doubled to fit in a 9×13 dish)

2 ears fresh corn

1.5 Tbsp. duck fat

2/3 c. hard red flour (again, I use flour ground by hand from Beyond Homemade, but AP flour could be used)

1/2 c. cornmeal (I use Bob’s Red Mill in a pinch)

1 Tbsp. baking powder (non-aluminum, please)

1/4 tsp. salt

2 eggs, room temperature

3 Tbsp. honey

3/4 c. yogurt (I used a mix of Greek yogurt and raw milk yogurt, but all Greek could be used)

3 oz. butter, melted and cooled slightly (scalding butter would only lead to scrambled eggs)

Place 1 Tbsp. of the duck fat in a glass baking dish. Place the dish in the oven, and heat the oven to 400 degrees. (Allowing the dish to sit in the oven while it heats obviously melts the duck fat but also helps prevent sticking.)

Meanwhile, shuck the corn and cut the kernels off the cob (the cobs can be reserved to thicken soups, etc. or composted as need be–obviously, I don’t like to waste things). Remove the dish/fat from the oven and gently drop in the kernels (because splashing, hot fat is never fun on the skin), stirring to lightly coat the kernels in the duck fat. Place dish back in oven and roast the kernels for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

While the kernels roast, mix together in a large bowl the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, honey, yogurt, and butter. Fold the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just combined (the batter should resemble that of pancake batter, if a bit runnier). Set aside.

When the corn kernels are finished roasting, remove from oven and allow the kernels to cool slightly. Fold into the cornbread mixture; set aside.

In the same baking dish or a cast iron skillet (the more traditional method) drop the remaining 1/2 Tbsp. duck fat. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, and place the dish/skillet in the oven to allow the duck fat to melt. When heated, remove the dish/skillet from the oven and pour in the cornbread mixture. Shake the dish/skillet back and forth a few times to level out the mixture (using oven mitts, obviously; trust me, grabbing a hot skillet with your bare hands is not the best of ideas).

Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes. The top should be golden, and the cornbread is ready when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Enjoy with some honey, butter, fruit preserves, etc. Or more duck fat. And/or some Cardinal Point wine! And CP guys, my husband and I keep talking about getting up that way soon to do some wine tours, so next time we’re around, I’ll be sure to bring more than a bag of the cornbread!

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.

 

Thighs ‘n Veggies

I can make a mean mess in the kitchen and somehow end up using every pot and pan within reach. That’s why one-dish dinners are appreciated around here, especially by my husband who normally takes on the task of washing whatever I dirty.

Most of my one-dish dinners are kind of a spinoff of a Jamie Oliver recipe. They’re simple, rustic (my favorite kind of presentation), and feature lemon. And yes, I know lemon isn’t locally sourced around here, but I balance it out (hopefully) by buying from a local store, not one of the chains. Trust me, if lemons could grow around here, we would have an entire backyard.

Roast dishes should never be limited to the fall/winter because they are a great way to utilize seasonal veggies. Of course, a more summery version is going to include tomatoes, squash, onions, etc. In the fall/winter, root vegetables can easily replace the ingredients used here.

To top the dish off, I went with gremolata (because I just can’t serve something without a green in it). It’s a simple condiment, traditionally accompanying ossobuco and made with lemon zest, garlic, and parsley. I subbed in basil and added olive oil and some salt, just because I think recipes are made to be adapted (and I kinda hate parsley). At any rate, gremolata adds a nice “pop” of bright flavors and could easily be used on fish, steak, etc. Since herbs are so abundant during the summer, it’s easy to locally source leafy ones (or, even better, to grow some at home with minimal space needed).

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Summer Vegetables (serves: 2, with some veggies leftover)
Note: It takes some time, but you may want to pick out the lemons before serving so no one accidentally takes a big bite. Especially if you use yellow squash. Trust me. It’s hard to spy the difference when you’re hungry.

1 lb. chicken thighs
1 lemon, thinly sliced (If you make gremolata, just use the lemon you zested.)
2-3 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 c. assortment of seasonal vegetables (carrots, onions, yellow squash, etc.)
1 Tbsp. duck fat (or olive oil)
Salt
Pepper

Put the duck fat (or olive oil) in a large glass casserole dish. Place the dish in the oven while heating the oven to 400 degrees (this warms the fat and helps prevent sticking). When the oven has heated, add to your dish the chicken thighs, lemon, garlic, and vegetables and toss to coat with the fat/oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Bake for about 45 minutes, stirring the vegetables halfway through. The chicken should get brown and golden on top. (Alternately, if you want brown, crispy thigh skin all over, sear the chicken while the veggies roast the first 20 minutes. Then, add the chicken for the remaining roasting time.)

Serve over a bed of rice (we went with a wild rice medley) and top with the gremolata (below).

Gremolata
Note: The traditional parsley could be used here instead of basil.

Zest of 1 lemon
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 c. basil, finely chopped
Olive oil
Salt

Mix the lemon zest, garlic, and basil. Add the olive oil and season with salt.

What She Order, Fish Filet?

The title seemed appropriate given that this has been stuck in my head and sea bass was on the King menu.

For once, I decided not to do fish tacos (because I’ve had WAY too many carbs swimming around in my tummy lately). Instead, I wanted fish and pasta and tomatoes. But what to do when I didn’t want any more processed carbs? Zucchini and squash!

Yep, there’s a hella easy way to use up that excess zucchini and squash that doesn’t involve baking: faux pasta. It’s simple, it tastes just as substantial as pasta, but without all the guilt. Topping it off with some roasted tomatoes and nectarines (inspired by a recent trip to River and Rail, have you guys made your reservations yet?!) is a great, summery take on the classic pasta and tomato sauce. Sea bass holds up well, with a crispy exterior and a moist, fatty, almost meaty texture on the inside. But, any white fish could be just as good here. I opt to treat fish simply–just some salt and pepper, perhaps a little lemon. Quality fish doesn’t need much else.

The side here was just sweet potato fries: slice sweet potatoes into matchsticks of desired thickness, coat in olive oil, sprinkle with 1/2 to 1 tsp. garam masala (a classic Indian spice), drizzle with honey, and season with salt. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Roasted Tomatoes and Nectarines (serves: 2, with some leftovers)
Note: I prefer to use a mix of tomatoes, both in size and in taste. For this, I used cherry, Roma, zebra, and golden tomatoes. It’s just much prettier in presentation. Nectarines are perfect with tomatoes; remember, both are fruits.
1 lb. assorted, fresh tomatoes, quartered if they are larger (no need to cut the cherry tomatoes)
1 to 2 nectarines, sliced into 1-inch chunks
Olive oil
Salt

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Coat the bottom of a glass casserole dish or roasting pan with olive oil. Add the tomatoes/nectarines, drizzle with more olive oil, and season with salt. Roast for 35 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Zucchini and Squash “Pappardelle” (serves: 2)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small or 1 large zucchini
3 small or 1 large squash
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Heat over medium low enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a saute pan. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini and squash into thin ribbons (mimicking the look of pappardelle; you’ll end up with about 4 cups). Add the minced garlic to the saute pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Add the zucchini/squash mixture, drizzle with more olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

Grilled Sea Bass (serves: 2, with leftovers)
Note: A thinner white fish could be used here; just reduce the grilling time.
1 lb. sea bass (our fish peeps remove the skin, but skin-on is fine), cut into 2 to 3 strips
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Season the fish with salt and pepper. Heat over medium high enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a grill pan. When heated, add the fish and grill for about 20 minutes. (You want the exterior to be crunchy and golden.) Place over the zucchini/squash “pappardelle” and top with the roasted tomatoes and nectarines.

P(r)esto!

So I have a full-time job, I train almost everyday of the week for endurance running, I cook most of our dinners, walk our dogs with my husband when I get home in the evenings, yada yada yada. So by the time I get to my blog updates, it’s usually around 8:30 or 9 p.m. And really, there’s no pressure.

Um, that kinda changed today? Because, like magic, my site hits have skyrocketed, and I know it’s because most of you are here to read about my experience at the fantastic River and Rail. So I kinda feel like I should welcome you guys. I’m not the best hostess, so you’re just going to have to make yourselves at home and get whatever you want out of the fridge. Also, we don’t keep sodas or juices or anything like that on hand, so if you can’t make do with water, milk, wine, or beer, you’re going to have to run to the store to pick up your preferred beverage.

Now that we’re all acquainted: Seriously. Thanks for dropping by, and I hope you keep coming back. The down and dirty of this blog is that I’m one of those dreaded locavores (except when I’m a guest at someone’s house, because I can’t be that big of a bitch, and especially when I’m at my grandmothers’ houses, because that’s just not cool). We use local, whole foods to the extent possible around here; very little is processed. As such, we eat pretty seasonally. This is kind of my creative outlet to share how we go about eating, training (my husband does triathlons, both sprint and distance), etc. Nothing groundbreaking, but it’s my little way of hopefully getting you to see that eating locally, eating healthy, is not some big undertaking. Or solely belonging to the hipster domain.

There’s no way I’m going to top my last post. Plus? For the second time in, say, 19 months of training, I had to run 5 miles on the treadmill. And if there’s a better way to simulate being drunk and nauseous, I don’t know what it is. It’s miserable, and my brain can’t process much as a result. So, I’m going with easy today. And that means pesto.

I’m not sure why I don’t make pesto more than I do. Greens? Good. Nuts? Good. Garlic? GOOD. Truth told, I was inspired by our trip to River and Rail to put pesto into heavy rotation at home. Traditional pesto bases usually include basil and pine nuts. I had neither, but I did have chard that was begging to be used and some walnuts. So, there you go. If you don’t have chard or walnuts, just play around with this using other hearty greens (not lettuce, do not try lettuce), herbs, and nuts. It’s kinda foolproof, and it’s great on meat, fish, roasted veggies, a potato/egg/tomato/roasted red pepper bowl I’ve become obsessed with after runs… It’s versatile, so make a cup or so of it and literally spread it all around.

The pesto is hiding on the roasted tomatoes.

Pesto in a Pinch
(Note: You can add 1/4 c. or so of freshly grated Parmesan or a similar hard cheese if you want.)
1 to 1.5 c. torn chard (or basil, spinach, even carrot top greens)
1/4 c. walnuts (or whatever nut you feel like trying out), roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Olive oil
Salt

Throw the chard, nuts, and garlic cloves into a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Pulse in enough olive oil to bind the ingredients (you don’t want this to be a stiff paste, let’s say that). Season with salt.

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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Mini-Shrimp Boil

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Shrimp boil? Good. Shrimp boil the evening before running 14.5 miles? Um, not the best idea in the world. Now that I’ve whet your appetite, I promise the food was totally tasty the evening before. Just, you know, save it for a time when you’re not doing something ridiculously taxing the next day.

What’s great about a mini-shrimp boil like this (meaning it’s only going to serve 2-3 people and not some massive gathering that requires the customary newspaper spread out, although those are equally good, but we never have anyone over, so really shrimp and all the accoutrements thrown on a newspaper in our dining room would just be kinda sad) is that it’s a one-pot deal. Excluding your cutting board and knife. It’s a mess to eat, yes, but not to fix.

I went simple and opted for the traditional onions, potatoes, corn, and shrimp. As far as the shrimp go, you really don’t want to use the peeled variety as the shells give this boil additional flavor. Just don’t eat the shells when the food’s done. Or do. Whatever floats your boat.

For the potatoes, I used a mix of Yukon gold, new, and adirondack blues. (FYI, the blues ended up looking like some morphed version of poi, which, I’m sorry, but that shit’s disgusting. Yes, I’ve tried it. I loved Hawaii, I did. You introduced me to fish tacos. You’re super chill. But seriously? Poi? And Spam? Is there some lack of gelatinous crud in your diet that you feel you need to eat these things? Because I’m genuinely curious.)

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Mini-Shrimp Boil (Serves: 2 or 3 if you have a third wheel hanging around your house)

3 c. stock (I used a homemade, no-salt-added chicken stock, but whatever you have on hand should work fine. Just adjust the seasoning as needed. I’m a control freak when it comes to salt, so I prefer to be able to add it as necessary.)

6-7 c. water

1-2 Tbsp. Cajun, blackening, or Old Bay seasoning

1/2 tsp. cayenne (Or, if you’re like me, about a teaspoon after you realize, crap, that’s not blackening seasoning in my hand. Oh well, we’ll clean our sinuses out tonight.)

1 Tbsp. salt

1 yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1/2 to 1 lb. potatoes, washed and quartered

2 ears of corn, shucked and cut in half

1/2 lb. medium-sized shrimp, heads removed

Hot sauce

Butter (I’m a cilantro-lime butter addict now, but use what you prefer.)

Bring the stock, water, seasoning, cayenne, salt, onion, and garlic to a boil over high heat in a large stock pan. Reduce heat to medium high and add the potatoes and corn. Let boil for 30-35 minutes, or until the potatoes spear easily with a fork. Add the shrimp (which takes no time at all to cook, so they’re always the last to go in) and boil for another 10 minutes, or until the shrimp are coral in color.

Plate up with a good piece of bread and salad, and serve with hot sauce, butter, plenty of napkins, and a bowl for the discarded shrimp shells.

For dessert, nothing beats fresh, cold watermelon. Especially if you’ve dumped too much cayenne into your boil and topped it all off with habanero hot sauce. Also? Beagles f-in love watermelon, no matter what Wes Anderson claimed.

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