Tag Archives: cornbread


Recently I reported on our meal in the student center at Fort Lewis College. The highlight was tamale pie, which of course does not contain tamales at all. The original recipe comes from the era of dumping in a can of this and a can of that plus some ground beef in order to wind up with a quick dinner meal for the family. I remember tamale pie as a great favorite during my childhood, but it has gone the way of most casseroles from the 1940s and 1950s – except in school and college cafeterias, of course.

The most amazing thing about the casserole was that the cornbread batter would sink into the very liquid filling and disappear, only to re-emerge magically as a crusty topping at the end of the baking time. The explanation for that is that the batter stays intact in the filling. It then becomes lighter as the baking soda goes to work and floats to the top. Akin to dumplings and bagels. You can minimize this phenomenon by making the filling so thick that the cornbread batter can’t sink. I prefer that, you can make your own choice by adding more liquid.

Here is my version that I cobbled together from things in the refrigerator that needed to be eaten. It seems like I am always cleaning out the fridge.


Cornbread Chorizo Tamale Pie



  • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 Spanish chorizo sausages, sliced thinly (Don’t use Mexican chorizo as it is too spicy and greasy)
  • 6 snacking peppers, seeded and sliced thinly
  • 1 14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1-3 teaspoons chili powder according to how hot you want it
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled
  • 1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal (optional)
  • salt and pepper


  1. In a dry medium sauté pan over high heat, sauté the corn kernels until they are fragrant with a light char. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small bowl, and set aside.
  2. Clean the pan and return to medium heat. Add vegetable oil and sauté the onions until translucent. Add the chorizo and peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until the chorizo is heated through and the peppers are wilted.
  3. Add the tomatoes, water, chili powder, cumin, and oregano. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then add the charred corn and black beans. Stir and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes. If the sauce is too thin for your taste, sprinkle the cornmeal over the surface, stir to completely incorporate the cornmeal and simmer an additional 10 minutes until the mixture is thickened to your liking. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.



  • ¾ cup cornmeal
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • sour cream


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder.
  2. In another small bowl, combine the beaten egg, milk and vegetable oil.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Mix thoroughly until well-combined


  1. Transfer the filling to a well-greased 2 quart casserole
  2. Spread the topping over the filling
  3. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 425F for 25-30 minutes or until the top is lightly browned
  4. Remove from the oven, and let rest for 5 minutes. Divide into individual servings. Top with sour cream. Serve immediately while still warm.


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Several months ago, my daughters and I started on a book project about the history of corn, cornmeal, and corn-based recipes. As part of our effort, we got into a friendly competition to find the best cornbread recipe. As a purist, my contribution was totally sugar-free. Sarah submitted this recipe, which has a lot of sweetening including honey. For my taste, it is too sweet to sop up pot liquor or beans. Still, it is absolutely delicous, so much so that it is difficult to resist eating the whole batch by oneself even though it should serve four to six. There is relatively little cornmeal as most cornbread recipes go, and it is almost like a cake. That is why in this post I have presented it as a dessert paired with macerated strawberries and whipped cream.

The recipe came from one of Sarah’s cooking friends, Deanie Hickox, who at one time worked as a pastry chef at Michael Mina’s in San Francisco.  The original version made enough cornbread for a crowd of restaurant customers, so I adapted it for the home baker. You’ll see that my finished cornbread fell a little in the middle.  That was from my using too much baking soda for this altitude (7,000 feet). If you are a high altitude baker,  see the note below



Dry Mix

  • 1½  cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda *(for high altitudes, reduce to 1 teaspoon)
  • ¾  cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt

Wet Mix

  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 4 ounces (one stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 cups buttermilk
  • ¼ cup cream
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1½ tablespoons honey


  1. Combine dry ingredients
  2. Mix eggs and butter, and then add other wet ingredients. The order is important to keep the butter from solidifying too much.
  3. Add the wet mix to the dry mix and stir. Don’t worry about getting out all the lumps. Most of them are lttle clumps of butter that will melt during baking.
  4. In a pre-heated oven, bake at 350°F (177°C) in a greased 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan for about 45minutes. Cover with foil if the cornbread takes on too much color.
  5. Cool for 5 minutes. Then cut into serving-sized squares.
  6. For dessert, add macerated strawberries or other fruit, and top with whipped cream.


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This is the best season to be in East Texas. The winter rains have filled up the ponds and encouraged the emerging leaves into a hundred different shades of green.  The days have warmed without the blazing heat that will begin in only a few weeks. The nights are still cool and perfect for sleeping.

Unlike most of the rest of Texas, the “Piney Woods” are set on rolling hills which are filled with Southern pines, hickories, sweet gums, maples, and oaks of several varieties. This time of year, though, the redbud trees announce themselves as well as Spring. Beautiful shades of pink and red light up the woods.

More hidden in the depths of the forests, dogwoods hang like clouds in the shadows. The branches spread, and the white sepals seem to drift suspended. Close up, the markings remind us of the legend of the dogwood serving as the wood of the cross. It seems appropriate that the beautiful show occurs in the Spring.

East Texas has not lost the commercial opportunities of the redbuds and dogwoods. The Palestine Dogwood Festival (that’s Pal’-a-steen, Texas) provides visitors an opportunity to eat street food, watch the crowning of the festival queen, and tour the beautiful woods.

There are lots of foods that typify East Texas, including fried catfish, hush puppies, greens of all sorts (collards, kale, pokeweed), and at other times of year, black-eyed peas.  For me, though, the quintessential food is cornbread.

Cornbread is almost universally popular, especially in the South. Craig Claiborne, the famous New York Times editor and food critic from Mississippi declared that there are more recipes for cornbread than magnolia trees in the South! Yet finding good recipes for plain cornbread in cookbooks is a difficult task.  Moreover, the popularity of packaged cornbread kits has made it even harder to find a real home-made chunk of cornbread.

If you decide to bake your own cornbread,  there are  decisions that need to be made.  Cornbread made from white cornmeal tends to be more popular in the east with yellow cornmeal gaining increasing popularity the further west you travel.  Northern cornbread, or “Yankee cornbread” as it is commonly called in East Texas, usually contains some sort of sweetening – molasses, maple syrup, sugar, or honey;  Southern cornbread  usually does not contain sweetening, but these distinctions between north and south are not absolute.

This is a version of Southern cornbread, baked in a cast iron skillet as, in my opinion,  all authentic cornbread must be. Some time ago, we had an informal family competition for the best cornbread recipe. This was my entry. One of my daughters used a recipe from one of her friends. It contains sugar (heresy!) and is more like cake. But it is so good that you could wind up eating the whole thing by yourself. I plan to post that recipe in the near future.



Southern Cornbread


  • 2 tablespoons bacon fat for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 jumbo eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted


  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F (218°C) . Grease a 9 inch cast iron skillet with bacon drippings and place in the oven 10 minutes before you are ready to pour in the batter.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, cornmeal, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the wet ingredients: buttermilk, beaten egg, and melted butter. When they are well combined, stir them into the dry ingredients.
  4. Mix the batter for only a few beats until the mixtures are combined and the large lumps have been smoothed. Do not overbeat.
  5. Remove the heated skillet from the oven, pour in the batter, and immediately return to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes in the top half of the oven. Turn  the skillet 180 degrees and continue to bake for another 15 minutes or  until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven, cool for about 5 minutes, then cut into eight wedges, and serve immediately while still warm.


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Macaroni and cheese is as American as you can get. Some authorities attribute its invention to Thomas Jefferson, although that is probably apocryphal. Jefferson did bring pasta machines to the United States, but the first known published recipe came from a Philadelphia chef in the early 1800s. Whatever the real origin, the dish soon became popular in Virginia and the rest of the South. It appeared on the tables of many Southern homes as well as hotel and railroad diner menus for many decades extending into the twentieth century. Early recipes called for boiling the macaroni for an hour or longer until it fell apart. Then it was combined with cheese, covered with bread crumbs, and baked into what resembled a sort of pudding. Honestly, it sounds pretty disgusting regardless of its popularity.

The "gold standard" - boxed mac and cheese

The real event for mac and cheese, though, came in 1937 near the dawn of the prepared food rage that still engages America’s home cooks. Kraft brought out a boxed version complete with dried macaroni and a powdered cheese sauce  that was billed as cheap, fast, and easy. The original recipe on the box called for bread crumbs on top and baking, but these embellishments were soon abandoned in favor of speed.  Boxed mac and cheese was immediately popular and became more popular during the Second World War. After the war, when the whole style of home cooking was changing, it became a real favorite, especially with kids.

I remember loving mac and cheese as a child – pouring the macaroni out of the box into the boiling water, waiting for it to cook, draining it, and adding the powder from the little envelope along with some milk and butter. My grandkids still love that version, and when all else fails to please their finicky kid-type appetites, macaroni from the box is sure to appeal to them. For me during college days, boxed macaroni was a standby along with ramen noodles. Maybe that’s why and when it lost interest for my more grown-up tastes.

These days, restaurants including some very high-end places in our town are bringing out their fancy versions of this old-time favorite. You may find mac and cheese made with bleu cheese, green chiles, goat cheese, curly pastas, mushrooms, and even truffles.

Shrimp and artichoke mac and cheese coming out of the oven

Another favorite comfort food, especially if you are a Southerner or even if you have only visited the South, is shrimp and grits. This delicacy of Southern cooking has a lot in common with macaroni and cheese – a smooth creamy base of starch, oozing, gooey cheese, and maybe a little crust on the top to give it just a bit of bite.

Served with broccoli, broccoli puree and cornbread

A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering what I could do to liven up the mac and cheese that I was making for dinner. What I came up with is this riff on shrimp and grits. It is guaranteed to be gooey and loaded with cheesy flavor. The shrimp, bacon,  mushrooms, and artichokes make it a lot more substantial than the old-timey product made straight out of the box. I doubt that my grandkids would like this version, but I certainly did.


You can use regular elbow macaroni for this dish, but it is more interesting to use different shapes or colors that you have been wanting to try. I have used foglie di carciofo, a flat, round pasta flavored with dried artichoke. It seems perfect for the dish,  but any other would do.




12 oz (3 cups) dried pasta

5 oz (4 strips) thick-sliced bacon

5 medium (4 oz) cremini mushrooms, sliced

14 oz (1 can) or fresh or frozen artichoke hearts, quartered

1 lb raw shrimp, peeled

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter

4 Tablespoons flour

1½ Cups milk

½ Cup  cream

2 ounces Cheddar cheese, grated

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated

4 ounces Swiss cheese, grated

4 ounces sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

grated Parmesan cheese

melted butter

  1. Generously butter the inside of a two-quart baking dish. Coat the insides with panko and set aside. Reserve additional panko for the top.
  2. In a large pot, bring 2 quarts of salted water to the boil. Add the pasta and return to the boil. Cook the pasta for 12 minutes or until al dente, stirring frequently. Drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
  3. In a 9 inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat, sauté the bacon until not quite crisp. Remove the bacon and drain it on several thicknesses of paper towel. Chop coarsely and set aside.  Then add the mushrooms to the still hot skillet and sauté in the bacon fat until lightly browned. Add the artichoke hearts and shrimp and continue to sauté until the shrimp are pink – about 3 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter and add the flour, stirring constantly to make a light roux. Be careful not to brown. Add the milk and cream and stir constantly until thickened.  Add the grated cheeses and sour cream and continue to stir until the cheeses are completely melted.  Pour the mixture over the reserved pasta. Add the mushroom, artichoke, and shrimp mixture and stir gently to combine.  Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.
  5. Transfer the mixture into the prepared baking dish, top with additional panko and  grated Parmesan cheese. Baste the top with melted butter.
  6. Bake in the top third of a preheated oven at 350° for about one hour or until the top is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack for about 5 minutes and then serve immediately.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 generously


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