Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Let them bake cornbread!!

Okay, so I decided to enter this cornbread recipe contest this week. I didn't find out about the contest until Friday evening and the deadline for submitting your (hopefully) winning recipe is Wednesday. So time was tight.

The rules are simple. Using Shirley J Corn Bread & Muffin Mix, they want you to come up with one "spectacularly original and delicious recipe." they suggest channeling "your inner cornbread connoisseur" and thinking outside the box or "muffin tin," so to speak. I was sure I could do that!!

So I spent all night Friday (I swear I had visions of hush puppies dancing in my head!) and most of the day Saturday brainstorming and jotting ideas down. (We attended and all-day music event so that was about all I could do then.) I thought I had come up with some interesting concepts, too.

Let the record show, I had no Shirley J brand mixes on hand at that time. In fact, my pantry held 2 boxes of Jiffy brand corn bread mix and 8 (yes, EIGHT) boxes of Baker's Corner brand. (What can I say? It was a really good sale!)

To be honest, I'd never even heard of Shirley J mixes but I figured just how different could these mixes be? Cornbread mix is just that - cornbread mix. They all seem about the same and carry the same directions for making that mix into corn bread, corn muffins and hush puppies.

My plan was to create, experiment and refine my recipes using these imposters in my cabinet. Once perfect, I would buy some Shirley J, whip it up to be sure it worked with their product and submit my entry. Fantastic plan.

Early Sunday morning, I got up and began mixing and prepping. I played with my batter and got what appeared to be a reasonable waffle batter. For interest, I crumbled some crispy bacon into the batter. Let's just call the "Cornbread Waffle" "FAIL NO. 1" (twice). (The family ate toasted English muffins with jam and melon for breakfast.)

We had afternoon plans so my next cornbread effort came Sunday evening when I made nibbles for The Big Guy's weekly card game. I was thinking little pizzas with cornbread crusts and "different" toppings. I just had to adapt the batter to a dough consistency.

I divided the batter into thirds so I could experiment with different additives and amounts to reach the consistency I needed. When I succeeded, I figured I could simply adjust amounts for a full batter amount. Doing these small pizzas would also give me a chance to come up with the ideal topping combination to enhance the cornbread flavor. "Ideal" as not an adjective any of the guys uses to describe these snacks. Okay, so we had "SEMI FAIL NO. 2."

Monday, I continued with the divide and conquer method of preparation. I was working on a theory of making a larger, fluffier hush puppy - one large enough to make a sandwich with - sort of a cornbread croissant concept. Perhaps a crab or shrimp salad would be an appropriate filling. Where I had to thicken and dry the batter for the pizza crust, I needed to fluff it up for the "roll." Easier said than done, folks. "FAIL No. 3!"

I was getting frustrated and scratched idea NO. 4 altogether and NO. 5 just didn't go well at all. With only one box of mix left to work with, I decided to work with the "real" thing - some Shirley J Mix, for my final effort.

Hmmm, it seems, Shirley J Corn Bread & Muffin Mix is NOT readily available in my area. After checking several large markets, I reluctantly gave up. After all, $50 and a 4-lb package of cornbread mix just isn't worth these headaches!

My chef's hat is off to all who have persevered and entered their great creations in this contest. May the best cornbread connoisseur win. Good luck to all !!

Keep your eyes on this space. I hope to bring you a recipe for a perfected Cajun jam pizza with cornbread crust in the near future. I'm sure it just needs a little more tweaking!

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