The coronavirus crisis has forced us all into uncharted territory. Like so many others, I’ve found my quiet, secure little world upended with uncertainty. But since the situation has forced me to be budget conscious and cook more of my own food, it’s provided an opportunity to develop my skills. That’s a practice worthwhile in and of itself.
Consequently, on a recent trip to the grocery store, I stopped in the gluten-free aisle looking for something simple to bake that would allow for some experimentation. Cornbread mix fit the bill.
Count me among the many who consider cornbread a soul-satisfying food, with its cornmeal crunch and buttery flavor. Cornbread is also versatile; with a few add-ins, it can transform from homey dessert to savory side dish. I wanted to experiment with a savory Portuguese sausage variation and another sweet, slightly spicy version using canned corn and jarred jalapeno.
Using a mix to make a cornbread with special touches is especially efficient because it offers a stable base to work from, something that can be a challenge in gluten-free baking. I tried two brands, Bob’s Red Mill and Open Nature, a Safeway store brand.
Most mixes call for the same things: butter or oil, an egg or two and milk. But not all are alike. Specifically, if you’re watching your sugar or sodium intake, read labels. The Bob’s mix lists 5 grams of sugar per serving, while the Open Nature mix is double that, at 10 grams. Bob’s sodium per serving is 350 milligrams; Open Nature’s, 260 mg.
Based on the mixes’ sweetness levels, I paired the sausage with Bob’s and the corn-jalapeno with Open Nature. Because of my own sensitivity to dairy products, I used vegan butter and almond milk.
To boost the moistness of the savory version, I added a can of creamed corn, also a good balance for the saltiness of the sausage. And because vegan butter and vegan milk make for a drier crumb, I used a combo of vegetable oil and vegan butter.
The batter baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan, which, because of the size of the pan, produced a cornbread with less height. But the end result was quite pleasing: subtly flavored, moist and punctuated nicely by the morsels of sausage.
The sweet version taught me that corn kernels take cornbread to another level of scrumptiousness, offering texture and creamy sweetness. Minced jarred jalapeno provides the occasional bite of measured spiciness that almost any palate can handle, and its sourness is a nice counterpoint to the sweetness.
Here’s what to do after following the package instructions for making the basic batter:
>> Savory cornbread: The Bob’s Red Mill mix is 20 ounces. Add a 5-ounce Portuguese sausage diced into 1/4-inch pieces, plus a 14.5-ounce can of creamed corn. Consider adding diced cheese for even more onoliciousness. It’s supposed to bake in a 9-by-9-inch pan, but using a 9-by-13 instead cuts down on the baking time by some 10 minutes.
>> Corn-jalapeno cornbread: Open Nature’s mix is 16 ounces. Add an 11-ounce can of whole kernel corn and 2 tablespoons minced jarred jalapeno. Adjust the jalapeno to taste. Use the 8-by-8-inch pan called for on the box.
“Going Gluten-Free” helps meet the cooking and dining challenges faced by those on wheat-free diets. It runs on the first Wednesday of each month. Send questions to Joleen Oshiro, email@example.com.