Too Corny

As in life, the world of food also has its ups and downs. Lately, our culinary world has been overflowing with incredible eats. From grilled swordfish topped with an herbacious green harissa and grilled vegetables to grilled hot Italian sausage with peppers, onions and tomato sauce on a baguette made by Against the Grain Gourmet, we have been eating like kings. And queens.

On the sweet side, I made a splendid macaroon cake from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream Desserts cookbook for the Fourth of July. With eight slices, we indulged on this dessert a few too many nights...

With all of the new recipes I have been making, I have to say the one that tops the list was cornbread. No, this isn't just any cornbread, but perhaps the best cornbread I have ever had.

Thanks to Virginia Willis, this French-trained, Atlanta chef recently released a new cookbook, "Lighten Up, Y'all." I happened to meet up with Chef Virginia on Facebook a few months ago and have enjoyed following her national tour to promote the cookbook which features classic Southern recipes she has cleverly "lightened up."

Because of my new found adoration for the neighborhood library, I checked out her cookbook recently and the one recipe that popped was the vegetable cornbread. Even though I was embarrassingly raised on Jiffy cornbread, though I now make it from scratch (the link to this recipe dates back to 2009, before I was exclusively gluten-free and mostly paleo), this version is the one.

Loaded with fabulous summer vegetables such as okra, red onion, fresh corn, banana pepper, jalapeno pepper and a poblano pepper, this cornbread eats like a meal and is now the gold standard against which all others will be compared. It's that good.

Using only cornmeal means it's gluten-free and the addition of buttermilk gives it enough acid for a good balance of flavor that rounds out the copious amounts of vegetables which are folded into nearly every bite.

With grill season in full swing, it's time to grill some ribs, chicken or a pork butt, whip up some crunchy and vinegary cole slaw and serve it with this dynamite cornbread. We found that any leftover cornbread can easily be reheated and savored with eggs and sausage for breakfast.

Buen provecho!
Vegetable Cornbread
The Cowgirl Gourmet thanks Chef Virginia Willis for this winning recipe from her new Lighten Up, Y'all cookbook which has only been slightly adapted

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This is now the gold standard cornbread recipe against which all others will be judged. It's really that good. Using cornmeal, lots of vegetables and then tossed with buttermilk and an egg, this simple recipe will capture both your heart and your belly. Depending on the season, you can modify the variety of vegetables, though Chef Virginia writes that 5 cups of vegetables is the limit.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (I prefer grapeseed when cooking at this temperature, but the original recipe calls for canola oil)
2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup okra, (about 6-8 pods) washed, stem ends trimmed and thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 ear of corn, shucked and corn cut off
1 jalapeno, washed and thinly sliced into rings (if you don't want that much heat, remove the seeds)
1 banana pepper, washed, cored (remove the seed core) and thinly sliced into rings
1/2 poblano pepper, washed, cored and diced
1 farm fresh egg, lightly beaten
2 cups organic buttermilk (you can also make your own buttermilk using whole milk and 1 teaspoon lemon juice or vinegar)

The trick is to a really fabulous cornbread is to make it in a cast-iron skillet and get the skillet screaming hot before you pour in the batter. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, use an 8x8 ovenproof baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When the oven reaches temperature, add the oil to the cast-iron skillet, place it in the oven and let it get hot, about 10 minutes.

In a bowl, add the cornmeal, salt and baking soda and blend well to combine. Then add the okra, red onion, corn, jalapeno, banana pepper and poblano pepper and toss to coat. Set aside.
In a large glass measuring cup, crack the egg and beat lightly. Then add the buttermilk and whisk to combine.

Pour the wet ingredients with the dry and fold gently so everything comes together.

Remove the heated skillet and carefully pour the batter in. The batter should sizzle and bubble and this is what is going to make a crispy crust. Place the skillet back into the oven and let it cook until golden, about 35 minutes. Remove to a rack and let cook slightly...if you cut into it immediately, it will fall apart, so be patient and wait 10 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut into 8 wedges and serve warm with butter.

Keep any leftover cornbread in the fridge and serve toasted for breakfast with eggs and sausage or ham or whatever you like.

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