May long weekend - the unofficial start to summer - is just around the corner, and loads of happy campers are preparing to head to the wilderness for a little escapism. But not this gal. Call me crazy but I'm a fan ofindoor plumbing; not sleeping on the cold, hard ground; and I believe in a decent barrier between me and bears. I get grumpy if I'm damp and cold for too long, and I like washing my hair. Daily. I am what would be called a comfort camper, and that's probably why I don't get invited camping a whole lot. But if you want to invite me to your cozy cottage by the lake (you have a shower, right?), I'd be down with that and even make you dinner. My culinary skills make me a valuable houseguest - true story.
While I don't like the whole roughing-it-in-the-bush bit, I'm in love with the food. Fresh, pan-fried fish in heaps of butter. Roasted potatoes in foil packets. The campfire coffee. And of course, you gotta have 'em - s'mores. Know what else goes great with grilled food? Cornbread! It really is the perfect accompaniment to anything that comes off the grill; a pro at soaking up meaty pan juices. Slathered with butter and jam it makes a fine breakfast too, alongside coffee brewed over a fire, or that made in your fancy espresso machine. Cornbread loves coffee and that's a fact.
The latest issue of Bon Appetit lured me in again, this time with happy people gathered around a campfire grilling beautiful food (but I bet they didn't sleep on the hard, cold ground that night). The pages held visions of wee fishes wrapped in bacon. Striploin steaks with onion marmalade. Corned beef hash with eggs. But what really caught my eye was the cornbread with dollops of fig jam baked in. Why the heck not? I like my cornbread all buttered up with something sweet drizzled on top. And this has the sweet baked right in. They baked theirs in a Dutch oven, but I swapped that out for cast iron skillet. They suggested serving it with goat cheese, and I mixed it into the batter. Deb, as always, had the perfect template. I just messed around with it a bit, by stirring in some earthy rosemary and swapping out the caramelized onions for globs of good jam. If fig jam isn't your jam, don't be afraid to leave it out. It's still quite delicious naked, too.
One surprise in Deb's recipe was soaking the cornmeal overnight in buttermilk - and it's a step I highly recommend not missing - though this means a little preparation on your part. For some reason the acid in the buttermilk softens the gritty nature of the cornmeal, which can kind of throw some people off cornbread. But not this stuff. It's downright fluffy and tender. And the goat cheese adds a little mystery. You know there's a background flavour messing about, it's just hard to nail it down. And that fig jam. Well let me tell you. The edges of the cornbread get a little caramelized and it's the best thing biting into a little crater of the stuff. I want to bake jam into all of my baked goods from now on.
So whether you are where the wild things are, or just fighting the crowds at the garden centre, have a happy and safe long weekend. And please, beware the bears.
Skillet Cornbread with Goat Cheese & Fig Jam
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups buttermilk
1 3/4 cups unbleached, all purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
5 ounces (150g) goat cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tbsp melted butter
2 tbsp honey
1/4 cup natural cane sugar (or granulated)
1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 tbsp melted butter
3/4 cup fig jam *find it in the deli section of your favourite grocery store.
The night before you want to bake the cornbread, soak the cornmeal in the buttermilk. Cover your container and leave at room temperature overnight.
Preheat oven to 350*F.
In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the goat cheese until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping the bowl after each addition. Add the melted butter, honey, sugar and fresh rosemary. Add the cornmeal/buttermilk mixture and stir until smooth. Stir in the flour mixture and stir just until combined.
Melt 2 tbsp of butter in a 10 inch cast iron skillet, or 10 inch round cake pan, or 12 inch square pan, being sure to coat the sides as well as the bottom with the butter - I used a pastry brush for this. Pour in the cornbread batter and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and dollop the fig jam allover the surface. Place bake in oven and bake for another 15 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes before slicing into wedges. Serve warm. Reheats well in the oven over day two, too. Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen, with inspiration from Bon Appetit, May 2013.