Today, I was looking for recipes that used cornmeal, since I had the best part of a bag of it in the cupboard. When I say cornmeal, I mean polenta – or at least I think they’re the same thing, the internet tells me that they are. So my first port of call was, of course, Leite’s Culinaria, where I had an idle search for polenta, then for cornmeal. I found this recipe for cheddar corn bread with jalapenos, and I was hooked. Not just hooked; enamoured, besotted, obsessed. It’s incredible how I find recipes can get inside my head that way – I just had to make it, regardless of any considerations for calorie or fat content. I did make it with half-fat cheddar and soy milk, and halved the recipe to make a small, round loaf instead of an eight inch square one, so I guess there was a tiny element of compromise… A really, really tiny element. Not even an element, an atom. An electron. A neutrino of compromise. If I hadn’t made it tonight, I’d have spent the night wishing I had, and would have made it on Friday instead. Best to get it over with. Plus, now there is no cheese left in my fridge so really I’ve done myself a favour. Some people justify spending money to themselves; I justify eating. And I don’t fool even myself when I do it, but I do it nonetheless.
One of the other polenta recipes that I’d seen was for a tomato and bean stew, with creamy polenta mash. This particular stew took hours to make, which I didn’t have time for, so I decided to make a simpler version. I’ve called it cassoulet because that sounds nicer – it’s not a cassoulet, it’s a bean and mushroom stew. That is not to detract from it any, I happened to really enjoy it. It went as follows…
Ingredients to serve two:
- half a medium onion, thinly sliced
- two cloves of garlic, crushed
- leaves stripped from a small bunch of thyme
- basil oil
- lemon juice
- 1 tsp paprika
- good pinch mixed herbs
- grinder containing salt, pepper, chili and garlic
- five mushrooms, halved lengthways then sliced across the width to make eight pieces
- one tin of chopped tomatoes
- one tin of borlotti beans
- one small (half sized) tin of butter beans
- some fig flavoured balsamic condiment – because I know everyone has this knocking about the house
- Get some basil oil in the bottom of a pot and add the onions, garlic, thyme and mixed herbs. Season with the grinder. I kept thinking the phrase ‘aggressive seasoning’ as I was making this – it’s a bit of a silly phrase but it is what I was doing. I wanted it to come out really savoury and with a depth of flavour without using a stock cube, which as we all know I consider cheating. Only when I do it though, the rest of the world is at liberty to use stock cubes at their leisure. Cook the onions, garlic and herbs over a medium heat for a minute or so, then add half the teaspoon of paprika, a squeeze of lemon juice and cook for a further two or three minutes until the onions are soft and the thyme and paprika are fragrant, and the paprika has given everything colour, as above. Add a drizzle more oil if the pot starts to dry out – not enough to make the food greasy, just enough to stop any burning or sticking.
- Add the mushrooms and a little more oil, if necessary. Season again and add a little more lemon juice to keep things moist without being too oily. Cook until the mushrooms have reduced but are still slightly firm, as they will soften on simmering.
- Add the tinned tomatoes and the other half teaspoon of paprika, and stir in well. Season again. I let the stew simmer at this stage for about ten to fifteen minutes, however long it took me to assemble the corn bread, as I didn’t want the beans to go in too early and end up mushy or broken when I served them.
- After simmering, add the beans and gently fold in. Taste the mix and add seasoning or lemon juice as needed. Allow to simmer for twenty minutes further. Just before serving, add a small drizzle of a sweet balsamic condiment – this adds sweetness with a sharp edge, or sharpness with a sweet edge. Not enough for it to be a strong contender in the flavour stakes, though, just a hint is enough.
- Serve with jalapeno-cheddar corn bread.
- Eat like a horse.
I got a new camera – a stills camera this time – this week, so that is why I have taken so many pictures. It’s funny to go from using my phone, which takes ages to focus and capture a picture, to the camera, which captures instantly by comparison. It also has a lot of interesting settings that I can play with, so I’ll start branching out any time now. I just got a really basic digital camera, I’m not kidding myself that a better camera would make me a better photographer. I’ll see how I get along, and work up as necessary. Or maybe not – there’s only so great that pictures of bean stew can get, I fear.
I would consider the cornbread a success, although I did have to get red jalapenos and I just never find them as sweetly satisfying as their green counterparts. The jar was also extremely reluctant to be opened, forcing me to stab the lid with a knife to break the vacuum. I hate doing that, because then you need to find another way to store them safely, and all my tupperware is already storing rhubarb compote, sliced spring onions or emergency curry in the freezer. Either that or distributed here, there and everywhere as I’ve taken treats to people and left the containers with them. Must buy more, or must stop freezing things for emergencies. In the event of a war or zombie apocolypse, come round my house, I could keep a group of us going for quite some time on tinned, dried and frozen food. If the power gets cut I’ve even got a camping stove and three gas cannisters. I’m well prepared. Maybe I’ll also freeze some lime slices, to delay the inevitable onset of scurvy. And stock up on cricket bats, to ward off the undead.
As I think the picture shows, the bread is nicely moist inside, and has a nice crisp edge to it. I think perhaps that this could have done with an extra few minutes, even, to really give it a crust, but I was worried about drying it out so took it out as soon as I thought it was ready – I gave it twenty minutes, as it was a smaller round. The sweetcorn kernels and the jalapenos are a nice contrast to the smooth, creamy bread and the flavour of the cheddar – it’ll be fun to try it out with different kinds of cheese, too, and see what works and what doesn’t. It was great for dipping in to the stew, as well, as it is a firm bread and doesn’t crumble apart at the least provocation. It’s nice to be able to make something like this so quickly, as well – there’s no proving time for yeast, which is the great drawback to making fresh bread items. The baking powder does the trick here, instead, and leaves a firm, moist but not doughy result, great for soaking up the salty, mushroomy, garlicky tomato sauce from round the beans.
Tunes: A song about not denying yourself what you want – it’s old school Nine Inch Nails, and it’s not what I’d call family friendly, though it doesn’t hold a candle to the film clip below. Kinda I Want To – proof if ever proof were needed that I haven’t updated my music library in… well, ever. I’m also fairly sure that Trent Reznor did not write this song about corn bread, but I suppose it’s possible.
Viewing: It was on the TV tonight, it contains terribly offensive turns of phrase, crazy vampire dogs and, ultimately, it’s good for a laugh – it’s Blade Trinity. Don’t follow the link if you don’t want to hear some terrible bad language, that’s all I’m saying. I have, of course, met people who have taken the Blade films just a little too seriously, and to them I say: ‘Have some garlic and chill out’. In fact that’s some decent life advice, right there.