When it comes to cornbread, I have inexplicably high standards. As bizarre as it sounds, I think this can be traced back to the summer I was a college intern at the National Museum of American History in DC (now hear me out…). I was a young nerd with the power to wield a whopping 10% discount in the museum’s cafeteria with my intern ID. And with that power, I often purchased cornbread from the “Southern” part of the cafeteria – each section was dedicated to a region of the United States, honoring the American History theme and all. Don’t ask me why, but it still is the BEST cornbread I’ve ever eaten. I can’t say it was authentic. (I’m sure if I were to go eat at the New York deli section today I’d be horrified.) But it was buttery and greasy and addictive.
So anyway, ever since that summer, I’ve had the expectation that cornbread should taste just like that piece of museum cafeteria goodness. And while I’ve found a few places here and there that come close (One such contender – I kid you not – was the American Museum of Natural History staff cafeteria. Maybe I just have a museum food obsession?), I’ve never been able to make it myself. I’ve tried at least 4 or 5 cornbread recipes over the years and they are always dry – and often far too salty. It got to the point where I stopped making it.
And then last week Mark suggested we have cornbread with our chili. In need of a blog post topic, I agreed to get back out there and find a better cornbread recipe.
I looked back at my past failures and noticed that almost all of them called for a similar buttermilk-based batter. So I went in search of something totally different. I landed on a recipe for Manchego Jalapeno Cornbread on Epicurious. I had no intention of adding manchego or jalapeno to my cornbread. But I was interested in the use of milk and vegetable oil, as opposed to buttermilk. Some of the reviewers noted that the bread had a tendency to be a bit greasy – after a string of dried-out breads, I was willing to risk grease.
The recipe itself was quite simple, grease a baking dish (I used my favorite square pyrex), mix everything together in a bowl, and pour it into the dish. Since I was omitting manchego and jalapeno, I decided to throw in some shredded cheddar – just to make sure it had flavor. Other than that, I followed the recipe exactly.
For 20 minutes, I waited anxiously for the results. And I was pleasantly surprised. It was light, moist and not greasy at all. The cheese taste was practically non-existent and the flavor could have used a jalapeno kick, but it was – by far – my best cornbread to date. Maybe not as good as the ol’ Museum of American History, but good none-the-less.
Flash forward two nights later.
I had come home from an evening dance class and was eating leftover chili and watching Delocated (our new obsession) with Mark. I had left the cornbread – still in the pyrex – on our high counter… just in case I wanted another piece. Suddenly, without warning, we heard a loud BANG. Upon running into the kitchen, we saw the cornbread-filled pyrex (miraculously intact and still upright) on the floor and Colby, our one year-old cat, helping himself to a second dinner.
It should be noted that up until this time, Colby has never climbed onto the high counter. Which suggests that he too LOVES my new cornbread. On the other hand, he doesn’t have the highest standards. I once caught him sneaking a bite of not-so-successful polenta, so maybe he just really likes corn (see photo evidence of polenta eating to the left).
After issuing a good scolding, I couldn’t help but laugh and kick myself. I laughed because I have absolutely no idea how he managed to get the pyrex on the floor in one piece. And I kicked myself because I missed a great photo-op for the blog – sadly you’ll just have to look at this cute face and picture the scene for yourself.