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Kara's Sights & Bites: Cold weather rekindles cornbread's popularity

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 One thing you can always count on when frigid temperatures envelope Mississippi – grocery store shelves are swept bare in mere hours and everyone begins sharing photos of whatever it is they’re cooking. In the case of most of my acquaintances last week, it was soup, stew, chili and without fail, a skillet of cornbread. For some reason, cornbread appears to be making a comeback and I’m not sure why. In my opinion, it never went out of style. It’s inexpensive, relatively easy to make and if made from scratch (not from a box or bag), it’s filling and delicious.

   Speaking of the box, I was sorely let down by Famous Dave’s Original Cornbread Mix. It's a new product (or at least to me) that I picked up recently while shopping. I had high hopes for the outcome, especially since the brand is known for innovative barbecue sauces, spices, rubs, pickles and more. However, one slice of the finished product told me Famous Dave is not from the South. The cornbread was edible, but entirely too sweet.

   Southerners know this important fact: cornbread is NOT meant to taste like cake. If we want cake, we make cake. When we crave cornbread, we produce a skillet of somewhat coarse bread that does not, under any circumstance, taste sweet.

    Finding a cornbread recipe I actually liked and that wasn’t dry has been a challenge. I’ve finally settled on a buttermilk-based recipe that, if I don’t let it bake too long, is moist and flavorful. Don’t get me wrong; quick mixes like Martha White cornbread in a bag and Jiffy Mix in the little blue box serve various purposes. 

    It’s entirely respectable to use either one of these mixes when making dishes like cornbread salad or ones that require a cornbread topping. But they definitely won’t do when it’s time for cornbread dressing or it’s soup, chili or black-eyed pea time.  

     All the photos of cornbread this past week spurred me to organize my recipes of southerners’ favorite bread in a special section of my go-to binder. Here are two of my cornbread-centric recipes that’ll help you make it through the next cold spell.

Best Buttermilk Cornbread
2 large eggs
1-½ cup buttermilk
¼ cup shortening
1 tablespoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt 
1-¾ cup corn meal (not self-rising)
1 cup flour, all purpose (not self-rising)

     Preheat oven to 400 degrees. 

     In a cast iron skillet, add shortening and place in the oven to melt as the oven heats up. Mix all dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl until incorporated. 

     In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the dry ingredients to the eggs and mix.  Add the milk and hot fat from the pan and mix gently until incorporated.  Add batter to the hot skillet and cook for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. 

Chicken Enchilada Bake
 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
¼ cup water
1 envelope taco seasoning mix
1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound chicken breast tenderloins
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
¼ cup cream cheese
1 cup shredded Mexican-style cheese blend, or more to taste
1 (7.5-ounce) package corn bread mix
1 egg
⅓ cup milk

     Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x9-inch baking dish.

     Mix tomato sauce, water, taco seasoning mix, and chili powder together in a saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat.

     Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat and brown chicken tenderloins on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Pour tomato sauce mixture over the chicken, bring to a simmer, and cook over medium-low heat until chicken tenderloins are no longer pink inside, about 8 minutes. Transfer chicken to a bowl and shred; return shredded chicken to the sauce. Mix in black beans and cream cheese until thoroughly combined.

     Pour chicken mixture into prepared baking dish. Top with shredded Mexican cheese. Whisk corn bread mix, egg, and milk in a bowl, and spoon the batter over the chicken mix.

     Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is bubbling and the corn bread topping is browned and set, about 30 minutes.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.