One of my favorite cakes/breads is cornbread. This is a recipe that took me a while to figure out, though: every time I made it, it was dry and crumbly, and not at all what I dreamed about. Having a little bit of a sweet tooth, I want my cornbread more like cake, with a softer crumb and a bit of sweetness, but still hearty enough to hold its own – this is a bread (cake?) that I like as much for breakfast with butter and honey as I do with chili or other savory dishes. In fact, it was a craving for cornbread that led me to making chili. So, the trick? Cake flour! Which, like so many of my cooking and baking discoveries, seems obvious in retrospect. Want a softer cake? Use a softer flour.
This is an easy, fast recipe. I baked it ahead of time, about two hours before we were ready to eat, so the cornbread was still a tiny bit warm, but not so warm that it was falling apart.
1 cup corn meal
1 cup cake flour (or 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cake flour, if you prefer a slightly heartier cornbread)
Scant 1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup neutral oil
2/3 cup buttermilk (or any kind of milk you wish – I like the tang of buttermilk and happened to have some on hand)
Optional: 1/2 cup corn kernels, handful of chopped fresh jalapeño pepper
- Preheat oven to 400º and generously butter a baking pan, traditionally a 9×13 dish.
- Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
- Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl, then add to dry ingredients. Add corn and jalapeño pepper if using.
- Mix gently, just until everything has come together. Add corn and jalapeño pepper if using.
- Pour into baking dish, and bake for 20-25 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a tiny bit of crumb attached.
Once I’d thought about making cornbread, the next logical step for me was chili. I love this vegetarian version, which is easily adaptable if you prefer it with meat (simply brown or saute your choice of meat – I like this with shredded beef especially – and add!). There are at least a thousand ways to make chili (chili cook-off, anyone?); this is one of the most adaptable dishes I can think of. This recipe is my basic go-to set of ingredients: garlic, onions, peppers, spices. A note about chili powder: there is a really wide variety of chili powders, and the kind you use will determine to a great degree what your chili tastes like. I prefer redder, spicier chili powders, but I also sometimes use one that is milder and has more of a cumin-y flavor to it. In general, I try not to make this dish TOO spicy – I prefer to add tasty hot sauces for an extra layer of flavor later.
Vegetarian Chili (Serves 2-4)
Garlic, crushed or chopped
Fresh poblano peppers, diced (you could also use green or red bell peppers)
Fresh jalapeño peppers, diced
1 chili pepper in adobo sauce, rinsed of extra sauce (optional)
2 tbls chili powder
2 tsp cumin
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne (this is really to taste, and will depend how hot you want the dish)
2 quart jars (or equivalent) of cooked, plain beans (I used kidney and pinto this time)
1 large can diced tomatoes, including juice (or equivalent in fresh)
1 – 1 and 1/2 bunches of carrots, sliced into coins
- Saute garlic and onions in olive oil until they begin to soften and turn translucent.
- Add peppers and saute until they begin to soften.
- Add beans – if you prepared your own, include the cooking liquid; otherwise, add about a 1/2 – 1 cup of water for each quart. Allow to cook 2-3 minutes.
- Add spices and tomatoes.
- Bring everything to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Taste the broth and adjust seasonings.
- Simmer chili 1/2 hour – 1 hour (you can simmer on very low heat longer if you like, up to about 2 hours). About 20-25 minutes before you’re ready to serve, add the carrots (I like my carrots to keep somewhat crisp, so I add these pretty late. If you prefer them softer, add earlier).
Like all stews, this dish will taste better the next day (really, this will keep well for 3-4 days). We topped it with cheddar cheese, scallions, sour cream, and hot sauce. And, of course, cornbread.