Thursday, October 28, 2010

Quick and Adaptable

Phyllo cups
Having recently moved to a new city and met a whole crowd lovely people to call my friends has been exciting in a number of ways, one of them being the chance to get to know all of them better over a good meal and a few pints. I've had more dinner guests and get-togethers at my place in the past two months than than I've had all year. I can only hope that it keeps up. There's really something to feeding the people you care about.
One of the challenges of feeding this crowd in particular has been keeping things vegan (and by extension, inclusive). Though this has ruled out a lot of approaches and flavours that I really enjoy, I've relished it and taken it as an opportunity to be more creative and adventurous in the kitchen. Last week, for instance, I freely adapted one of my favourite quiche recipes into mini phyllo cups filled with tender slivers of braised leek and port-laden slices of mushroom. Though the resulting hors d'oeuvres were a little lacking (namely in butter and silky custard), I won't be discouraged. Some recipes are just eminently more adaptable than others.
Skillet Cornbread
Take this cornbread, for instance. Pictured here, this particular incarnation involves butter, eggs, milk, a generous helping of scallion and jalepeno, coarsely ground yellow cornmeal, and finely ground blue cornmeal. However, it also does wonderfully as originally intended, i.e. vegan--just swap out the butter for corn oil, and the eggs and milk for water. Either way, you'll end up with some very satisfying cornbread--crisp, golden edges, a tender, jalepeno-flecked crumb, and subtle, corny sweetness. And, maybe best of all, it comes together quickly--unlike, say, my other favourite cornbread, which needs a bit of head start. I can't always be expected to plan for cornbread a whole day in advance, now can I?

Skillet Cornbread
Adapted from Peter Berley's The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen

Note: for a vegan version of this cornbread, replace the two eggs and milk with 1 cup + 1 tablespoon of water and the butter with an additional 2 tablespoons of corn oil in the wet mixture; do not use whole grain coarsely ground cornmeal--for one reason or another, this stuff never quite softens up, and you will end up with very chewy nubs of cornmeal in your bread.

1 cup unbleached white bread flour
1/2 cup coarsely ground yellow cornmeal (not whole grain, see notes above)
1/2 cup finely ground blue or yellow cornmeal or masa harina
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp milk or buttermilk
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons cold butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 jalepeno pepper, seeded and minced
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch cast-iron skillet, 8-inch square baking dish, or 9-inch pie pan.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeals, and baking powder. Add butter to dry mixture and rub into pea-sized flecks with fingertips.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, corn oil, maple syrup, scallion, jalepeno pepper, and salt.
Using a rubber spatula, fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Be careful not to overmix, a few lumps won't matter.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the corn bread comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 15 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 to 6.

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