Cornbread with a Side of Chili
September 9, 2008
After four nights in a row in hotels and five dinners running in restaurants, I could’ve cried when we arrived at our cabin in Golden, the final stop on our tour of the Canadian Rockies, and saw the glorious kitchen. While Kevin was awestruck by the sweeping mountain views from the cabin’s wrap-around deck, I immediately started to poke around the cupboards (some basics—oil, salt, sugar, pure maple syrup, coffee!), size up the cookware (more pots and pans than I own myself!!) and peer into the oven (some charred remnants of guests-past scattered on the bottom of the oven, but it would do!!!). We might have different priorities, me and Kevin, but we both agreed that a home-cooked meal would be a welcome vacation from, err, vacation.
So, we set out for the local grocery store (called Overwaitea and pronounced “Over-Weighty,” or that’s what sprung to my mind, at least) to get a feel for the available raw materials. If I thought I was excited about the cabin’s kitchen, you should have seen me in the store’s bulk foods section. Bin after bin was filled with spices, baking staples, nuts, dried fruit, all manner of chocolate, a host of trail mixes and granolas. I almost did cartwheels, but decided against it at the last minute (read: if even Kevin thought I was going a little overboard, surely the British Columbians would agree).
(Click “more” for the rest of the story, more photos & the recipe.)
Lack of cartwheels aside, this bulk section was a dream-come-true for the kind of cooking and baking we’d be doing in our little mountain cabin. We could get a tablespoon each of baking powder and soda and be set for several recipes, spring for a high-quality sea salt because we’d only need a couple teaspoons, and even stock up on spices, a pinch here and a pinch there. It meant we could make almost anything we wanted, not having to worry too much about waste and leftovers.
The non-bulk foods were a different story, though. After a couple of meals, we had amassed a slew of odds and ends that threatened to languish in the cabin’s small fridge after our impending departure. Among those leftovers were a half-carton of buttermilk, the better part of a pound of butter, a few eggs and a nub of sharp white cheddar. With that ingredient list in mind, I decided on cornbread for our last meal in Golden, remembering the bin of cornmeal at the store. We promptly planned a chili (which the weather more than called for) to go with the cornbread (perhaps it should be the other way around, but I always find myself looking for a “main dish” to accompany the side dish).
As soon as I slid the cornbread into the oven to bake, I realized that I was engaged in high-altitude baking for the first time ever and had taken absolutely no precautions. Thankfully, the bread emerged 25 minutes later a deep shade of golden and perfectly baked. It’s a great cornbread recipe—hearty and wholesome and nubbly and threaded with pockets of oozing melted cheddar. It’s not all that different from my prior go-to cornbread recipe. Like that one, this one depends mainly on buttermilk for it’s richness (okay fine, and the cheese and butter and eggs too). Here, though, I used whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour with success (it was all the store had in the bulk bins).
I sometimes struggle when I don’t have my normal home-kitchen advantage, but this kitchen and I got along just fine—as this cornbread and yesterday‘s upside-down apple cake can attest. We made a couple other things there too that I can’t wait to recreate here at home this fall. They’ll serve as little reminders of a lovely trip.
1 cup all purpose flour*
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 4 ounces)
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan.** Whisk first 6 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Mix in cheese. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter in another medium bowl to blend. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir just until incorporated; do not overmix. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until bread is golden on top and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 22 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool completely in pan on rack. Cover with foil and store at room temperature.)
* I used whole-wheat flour
** I used three mini-loaf pans.