Crumbled-Cornbread Cereal

cornbread cereal 3 1.25.14

I made cornbread just to have this.

Usually, it’s the other way around. I make it from leftover cornbread that I made for something else.

But, with the focus in the past couple of posts on alternatives  to my usual oatmeal  breakfast, this one came up to nudge me. I don’t remember where I first came across the idea, but it’s an old favorite.

Simple.

Break cornbread into a bowl. Add milk of your choice (I used soy). Add raisins if you’d like. Warm it in the microwave for 10 or 15 seconds at a time to get it to the warmth level you’d like. I also added pine nuts. And the last drizzle of farmers market honey.

Warm…and so good.

FYI, here’s my go-to cornbread recipe. It’s adapted from an old Better Home & Gardens cookbook received as a wedding gift years ago.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Into a bowl, stir together:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (that’s what I used this time. I’ve also used spelt and whole-wheat pastry flour when I have them.)
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

Into a measuring cup, stir together, breaking up the eggs:

  • 1 cup milk (of your choice. Soy again for me.)
  • 1/4 cup neutral oil (I had canola.)
  • 2 eggs

Add  the liquids to the dry ingredients. Combine until smooth (don’t over mix). Turn into a greased 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, when getting goldenish brown on top.

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Castagnaccio: Chestnut Flour Cake

chestnuts 1 12.7.13I was home a few weeks ago during the afternoon, and had the Cooking Channel on as background while I did some paperwork at my desk. I hardly ever have TV on as background. Either I’m watching it, or it’s off. It’s distracting to me otherwise, and I can’t fully focus on the task at hand.

But, maybe because it was just me in the house that day (my husband works from home, so the rhythm of two people going about their business is often enough going on), and maybe because I don’t often have the luxury of just having cooking shows on in the middle of the day, I turned the TV on.

I half-listened to a few episodes that day, but the one that took me from my desk and put me in front of the TV was one that was all on chestnuts.

It was an episode of David Rocco’s Dolce Vita. The show features Italian-Canadian Rocco cooking and eating in Italy.

I was mesmerized by all the things he made with chestnuts. It was chestnut harvest time, and, like anything when it comes into season, while you have it, you find all kinds of ways to use it.

I don’t think I knew how taken I am with chestnuts until I found myself sitting there, enthralled.

Roasted chestnuts were part of every Christmas Eve growing up, whether the family gathering was at our house, my grandparents’, or my aunt and uncle’s. The chestnuts, so inevitably and informally placed in the middle of the table on a well-worn cookie sheet, hot and ready to peel, echoed the generations before, pulling roasted chestnuts from ovens, or fireplaces, or outside fires.

Peeling away the shell, where the X had been slit into it with a knife so that they roasted and didn’t burst. The soft, sweet texture inside. All of us around the table. Peeling. Eating.

And they were hot. But best hot, because the outer shell and inner papery layer were easier to pull away. Some came out whole and beautiful. Some in pieces, with the papery part more challenging to peel off. Some were burned. You ate around that.

Until I began to see chestnuts in recent years, already peeled, either jarred, canned, or frozen, I hadn’t really thought about anything other than roasting. I came across a recipe for chestnut soup, and tried that one year. Very good.

I became conscious of chestnut flour at my local natural foods store, but intentionally didn’t buy it, waiting until I had something specific to use it for.

And David Rocco’s chestnut episode brought it to me: castagnaccio, a chestnut flour cake.

I was intrigued, printed out the recipe, and downloaded all the others from the show as well, knowing that castagnaccio would be my dessert for book group the following week, and that chestnuts would be my next food trilogy here.

This cake is simple to make, and a cake in the sense of something formed into a shape rather than something that rises. The list of ingredients: chestnut flour, raisins, pine nuts, rosemary, orange zest.

Castagnaccio

Adapted from two David Rocco versions (slight variation in proportions), one from the Cooking Channel’s website, one from his cookbook, Made in Italy, in which he refers to it as Tuscan Chestnut Pizza, a possibly more accurate physical description.

  • 14 ounces chestnut flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • Leaves from a sprig or 2 of fresh rosemary
  • Zest of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and water. You can add one- to two-thirds of the orange zest to the batter, or save it all to sprinkle on top. Whisk the batter until silky smooth in consistency, pancake-batter-like.

Add the olive oil to a round pizza pan. (I have a paella pan, whose base is 12″, which turned out to be a perfect size.) Heat the oiled pan in the oven for 5 minutes. The oil and pan should be so hot that when you add the batter, it sizzles.

Smooth the batter evenly over the pan. Sprinkle the raisins, pine nuts, rosemary, and orange zest (all or whatever didn’t get stirred into the batter) on top.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. It should be golden on top, and pull away from the pan.

I brought this to my book group, with a container of vanilla gelato.

chestnuts 3 12.7.13This was a first for all of us, so we took that first bite and really considered it.

Dense, nutty. Raisins added a juicy sweetness. Richness from the pine nuts. Brightness from the orange zest. Woodsy rosemary. Not a cake in the traditional sense, but once we got used to that chestnut base, I think we all enjoyed the combination…and the gelato was a nice touch!

My husband and I ate the leftover castagnaccio that week. Sometimes with the gelato, but mostly on its own. I came to like this more and more with each piece.

It is of the season: nuts, dried fruit, citrus, hearty herb.

I want to make it again.

I’m thinking for Christmas Day.

Figs and Pleasure: A Primer

There was a Frenchman a few years ago who was working behind the cheese counter at Whole Foods. As I lingered, taking in the selection, he suggested I pair a certain cheese with a beautiful jar of fig jam. This appealed to me because I liked his French accent, because, in explaining the qualities of the cheese in a few words, I knew he actually knew about this…and because I wanted to like it.

I wanted to try the combination together, but I particularly wanted to like the fig jam.

figs1 9.7.13I think, deep inside, I’ve always known I was going to cultivate a taste for figs, but that it was going to be as a grown-up.

When I was a kid, my dad had a fig tree. He kept it in a big pot outside on our patio in the summer, and brought it into the basement for the winter. Dad, and his brothers, loved figs. I never asked, but realize now they probably had fig trees when they were growing up in Italy. They had grapes, I think olive trees, so they likely had fig trees, too.

He would pick one from the tree and eat it whole, with such pleasure. If he ate it in two or three bites instead, I’d see the reddish-purple fleshiness of the inside of it, which looked alien to me, and unappealing. I don’t remember ever trying one when I was younger.

But I was intrigued because of Dad’s love of them.

The jar of fig jam I bought that day in Whole Foods was my stepping stone. I knew it even as I bought it. And it was delicious with cheese, just like my Frenchman had promised.

After that, I bought fig jam from time to time. And one year, when figs appeared at a small produce market, I bought them. I ate them, to eat them. Another step. They were fine.

Then last September, just after I’d posted my first entry to this blog, I saw figs at Trader Joe’s, and knew they were going to be my first food to write about.

And they almost were.

I was ready to embrace figs. They fit perfectly with my theme of wanting to know foods better by using them several times in a row, and trying them in different ways. I bought them a few times over the next couple weeks—dark purple ones and green ones—and enjoyed using them in many ways. I took pictures. I began to write a post. Whether it was my work schedule at the time, or simply the act of incorporating a new habit, a fig triad did not make it to press at that time!

I cropped one of my fig photos to grace the banner at the top of my home page, while the draft I began on figs a year ago has waited patiently to be picked up and continued.

When I ate a fig from that first container I brought home from Trader Joe’s, it was more than fine. I realized I had truly grown into liking them. Very much. There is something lush about a fig, the slight give of the skin as you bite into one, the softness and sweetness inside, and a little bit of graininess. You could eat them whole and plain, and it would be enough.figs3 9.7.13

But they are wonderfully versatile, too.

One of the first ways I prepared them was to cut them in quarters, but not quite to the bottom, so that they were held together at the base. I dropped a little mascarpone into the middle of each. Drizzled honey over them. Sprinkled toasted pine nuts over top.

Eaten with pleasure.