Here’s a perfect example of why M and I toil at this here blog!
Back in April, we slung up a post about stew that also had a recipe tagged onto the end of it for cheesy corn bread. We didn’t think too much of it really until we got an email from Kym and Nerida of South Australia. Seems the Bells, fellow foodies who love Tex Mex, caught the blog and got intrigued by the cornbread recipe.
The catch, (There’s always a catch), was that they couldn’t find genuine corn meal in their neck of the woods. They’d tried the best alternative, which turned out to be corn grits used to make polenta. Their note finished with the comment that, while good, they weren’t sure that what they’d made was what we intended. M and I, quite sure that it wasn’t, and wanting Kym and Nerida to enjoy the real McCoy, snagged a bag of locally milled corn meal, threw in some of our homegrown dried chiles and sent a box winging it’s way literally across the globe.
About a month later, Kym let us know that the Eagle had landed, noting that he was “probably now on all sorts of watch lists, after receiving a couple of pounds of mysterious powder from the Americas.”
Shortly thereafter, they got to try the recipe as intended and had this report.
Sorry for the delay in getting back to you with our corn bread experiment. This documentation of preparing a meal is much more complicated that we thought and we have a new appreciation of folk like you who do this as a regular process.
I’ve attached some photographs to an email which follows this (I wasn’t sure about your bandwidth). These were taken with my phone and we were in the kitchen after dark with artificial light, so the quality is not high. Nerida was actually doing the real stuff and I was trying to record it without dropping me or my phone into anything wet or hot.
We used your recipe as outlined on the blog site, with only a single substitution, which was using oil instead of shortening. We had no solid shortening in the house with the exception of butter, which didn’t seem appropriate here. Nerida bakes regular French style bread with oil, so we thought that was OK.
The pan we used is a muffin pan, and we had an idea of how many holes we could fill with the batter from our previous experiments. We’re going to look out for an appropriate pan that is similar to the one you use, so that we get something more like a mini loaf shape in the future.
First up: when we originally decided to try the corn bread recipe we found various websites run by expat US folk who said that fine ground polenta works well for the main ingredient, cornmeal. (Polenta is common in Australia in the Italian community in particular.) We would disagree. It could be that we haven’t yet tracked down the right brand of polenta, but we used the finest grind we could find, and got quite different results compared to the cornmeal you sent us. The main issue, which was quite disconcerting, was that in the soaking phase you recommend our polenta and milk mixture turned into almost a solid mass, a bit like sand after the tide has gone out. It still worked once the other stuff was mixed in, but it wasn’t what you would call a pouring batter and the crumb of the finished product was quite coarse. (Still tasted good!)
As a side issue, it seems that what normal folk do with ‘grits’ in the southern states of the US is what happens with polenta here. The difference is that polenta (outside Italian households) is a staple of fine dining restaurants, we regularly see main courses served on a shallow bed of polenta or wedges of fried polenta used as a garnish.
The stuff you sent was much better than polenta, and behaved exactly as you outlined in your recipe, right down to being easy to pour into the baking pan.
We had a bit of running to the computer to convert quantities and temperatures to metric, but aside from that the instructions were clear.
The end result was lovely: plenty of that corn taste, a nice and delicate crumb and an excellent texture. Good for dipping into sauce, too. Our vegetarian daughter certainly thought they were pleasant. Mind you, they are fairly solid little things which pile up on you quickly, so we got to try leftovers the next day. We were surprised how well they kept, given that they are unleavened. We now have an appreciation of the part of corn bread in cuisine from areas where corn is common.
By the way, we served it with our version of ‘a pot of red’, which gets around the beans or no beans controversy by putting a layer of beans on the bottom of the pot, on top of which the chili meat mixture itself is ladled before heating in the oven.
Thanks again for the very generous gesture in providing us with the raw material.
I’m going to experiment with your dried chiles in our next Tex Mex venture, and we have some ideas for using them in some SE Asian dishes we prepare, too. We’re thinking of trying to dry our own home grown chiles when we plant out later this year: normally we just use them up fresh and end up oversupplied.
Now we have to find out if there is some variety of similar cornmeal available here, and if so under what name it is hiding.
Kym and Nerida
Here’s Kym’s great pics of their adventure –
Was that a ball, or what? We’re absolutely thrilled to have taken part in this long-distance foodie adventure, and even more so with making new friends down under!