So I saw a meme floating around the other day making fun of food bloggers.
It poked fun at food bloggers not being able to give you a recipe without some elaborate backstory as to how they came to discover/develop the recipe.
Funny because let’s be honest, no bowl of soup needs all that drama, just get to the recipe.
And both a food blogger AND someone who makes fun of food bloggers, the meme made me smile.
BUT HOW DARE YOU MAKE FUN OF US?!
Let me compare a written recipe to a song. The recipe itself (as in the do this, do that) is the music. The beat. The rhythm. The flow. The instruments. The sound.
Great, that’s what you came for.
But the written recipe intro background is the lyrics. It’s the foundation. It’s the steering base that gives context to the finish product.
Lyrics to a song is what a background intro is to a recipe. You may not listen to lyrics, only listening to the song as a complete unit – that’s fine – but when you start to listen to music as a sum of parts, you start hearing things you never knew were there.
And in the same way as recipe writing, dismantling the whole thing sometimes opens up new information on the writer when written and for the reader when read.
I have my fair share of ‘No background story, here’s the bloody recipe’ but for me, food – like music – is a simple yet powerful art of storytelling, and aren’t we all here writing the stories of our lives in our own creative ways?
AND THIS IS MY SONG GOD DAMN IT.
Which brings me to my cornbread recipe.
I first ate cornbread on Halloween in a dark, spooky restaurant in New York City. I was slightly homesick and wanted to eat something familiar. I used to rinse my mother for constantly make chili when I was growing up but now that I’m out of that tormented teenage phase, a chili is now an endless source of comfort for me.
The big, bubbling bowl of chili turned up at the table – besides my fourth pint of IPA – and it was accompanied by what I felt was a slice of cake.
I stared at it in confusing, not really understanding why this obscene, smile coloured slither of cake was given to me with a chili instead of rice. I re-read the menu and realised this was cornbread. I had a go. I fell in love.
Fudgy, soft, somewhere in between sweet and savoury – it was the perfect vehicle for the chili and it felt like the hug I was so looking for on that rainy Halloween night in New York. The cornbread had a soul to it. It didn’t feel like I was eating a regular, degular slice of bread – it felt like a dense, warm welcome.
The child in me felt strange as it was eating something that appeared to be sweet with a very savoury meal – and what child wouldn’t like to eat cake with their dinner? But there was something about it that felt familiar despite the fact I had never eaten it before in my life.
Now as a Welshman, I’d be lying if I said cornbread was factored into the fabric of my food upbringing. In fact I think cornbread would be a pretty hard sell to Valley folk who would much prefer a pallid, flappy slice of plastic bread and a brick of salted butter on it. I would also like said bread, but once in a while I yearn for the comforting creaminess of cornbread fresh out of the oven.
I’ve read several many recipes – some that don’t include corn kernels, some that do, some that use buttermilk, some that use cheese – and I was a bit conflicted. Cornbread is so rooted into the soul of Southern America that – despite not cooking for an American – I would feel disrespectful to go off-piste and do my own spin on something that I know very little about.
However I was listening to my favourite podcast (The Read, before you ask) and hosts KidFury and Crissle were discussing food faux-pas and they seemed VERY strong in their opposition of creamed corn or kernels being added to the cornbread.
I then consulted my most trusted guide in the Kitchen, Queen Nigella Lawson who I knew had a Cornbread Topped Chilli Con Carne in her book Feast. She didn’t include kernels either.
As my trusted sources, I took the advice, hit my Kitchen hard and came to the recipe you see before you.
I didn’t mess around with cheese in the bread because if I was to eat this with – for example a chili or some Mac & Cheese – I want my cheeses to be thick and plenty in THOSE meals, therefore taking it out of the bread allows me more room to add it on top… logic, right?
So my recipe is without kernels and without cheese but it does have subtle, milky creaminess to it which is countered out with the gentle but punchy hit of mustard powder.
I dunked my cornbread into some leftover soup I had crawling about and decided to char up some Padron Peppers to dunk in too, but don’t feel that these two recipes are mutually exclusive. The cornbread is wonderful with – as you’ve already read – chili or a thick, hearty stew and the peppers just make a fantastic snack with tapas.
Don’t worry if you don’t like spice – the char of the oven smoke out the peppers leaving them burnished and blistered, replacing any sour heat with smoky sweetness. They’re a joy to eat, I promise.
Preheat the oven to 200c and line/grease a loose bottomed 20cm cake tin.
In a bowl, combine 130g of plain flour and 130g of yellow cornmeal in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar along with 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder, a small pinch of mustard powder and 1 teaspoon of salt.
Fork everything together until they’re combined.
Pop 50g of butter in a small bowl and microwave it for about 10 seconds until its melted.
In a jug pour in 350ml of full fat milk and crack in two eggs. Pour in the melted butter and whisk together.
Pour this into the bowl of flour and cornmeal and mix everything together into a batter. Pour into the lined cake tin and bake for 35-40 minutes until the cornbread is coming away from the sides a little and the top is golden brown.
Leave to cool.
While it cools you can make the peppers – or without the cornbread but either way, you need the oven as high as it goes, which is 220c for me.
Plonk a few Padron peppers – whole, not chopped – on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Once the oven is hot, put the peppers in for 15/20 minutes.
In this time they will blacken in certain parts and start crackling and blistering. Stunning. Take the out of the oven, scatter with salt and serve.
Like I said, you don’t have to serve both together but it doesn’t hurt too either!