This month's Daring Cooks' Challenge was a little different. It was not a recipe, not a method of cooking, not some new technique... it was all about one ingredient.
Rachael of pizzarossa was our August 2012 Daring Cook hostess and she challenged us to broaden our knowledge of cornmeal! Rachael provided us with some amazing recipes and encouraged us to hunt down other cornmeal recipes that we’d never tried before – opening our eyes to literally 100s of cuisines and 1000s of new-to-us recipes!
Now, I love cornmeal. I have made cornbread several different ways, I have made polenta, and I am not afraid to use cornmeal where ever it might fit. Rachael provided us with some pretty cool recipes (some of which I still really want to try!), but I wasn't exactly sure where to begin.
Well, where is better to begin than, well, breakfast!
Little miss happened to ask for pancakes the morning after this challenge was announced. So I told her sure, and that we'd try something fun. I substituted half of the flour in my basic pancake recipe (the one in my head... I don't even know where I got it anymore!) with, you got it, cornmeal!
Batter mixed, they went right onto the griddle (pan). They cooked up beautifully...
And little miss even helped me flip some of them!
Going with the cornmeal theme, rather than cover our pancakes with maple syrup, we served ours with strawberry jam.
But I wasn't ready to call it quits on the challenge yet. I still wanted to try something savory. Something different.
I decided to use cornmeal as a breading for some chicken. As the cornmeal has a different feel and taste than a usual flour or breadcrumb coating, I wanted to try to come up with a meal that would be different. My first go-to, easy thought for breaded chicken was chicken parmesean. But the cornmeal didn't feel like chicken parm to me. It felt more... Mexican. But chicken parm is yummy. That's when I came up with the idea of Mexican cornmeal chicken... not parm...
Now, I will full well admit that I winged this. I came up with an idea in my head and just went for it in my normal "go with it" kind of way - didn't measure, just went by feel.
I started with a pile of cornmeal and chose some spices - garlic powder, cumin and cajun seasonings.
The spices were combined, then the chicken pieces (boneless, skinless breast, cut thin) were generously coated, then pan fried in olive oil.
The chicken was fried until just golden, then placed into a baking pan, on top of a bed of pinto beans.
Once all of the chicken was cooked and in the pan, I spooned some salsa over each piece, then popped the whole thing into the oven. About ten minutes before we were ready to eat, I took out the pan and topped each piece with sliced queso blanco. The pan went back into the oven for about 8 minutes, and then I switched the oven to the broil setting for the final minutes to really melt that cheese.
...were delicious. We will definitely be repeating this meal. Which I never would have come up with if it were not for this challenge.
Rachael, thank you for encouraging me to think outside the box and try some new things with cornmeal! It's great to look at an "old" ingredient with a new eye, and that's just what you did for me.
To see the other creative cornmeal dishes cooked up in the kitchen this month, check them out here.
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (I used coconut milk)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or canola, or melted butter)
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar and salt. In a two-cup measuring cup, measure out your milk, then add in the egg and oil, and combine well.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until fully combined.
Cook pancakes on a hot skillet, about one to two minutes per side.
Serve with your favorite jam and enjoy!
Mexican Inspired Chicken not-Parm
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, each cut into about three thin yet evenly sized pieces
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
garlic powder, cumin and cajun seasonings, to taste
1 can pinto beans
1/2 - 3/4 cup salsa (I use mild, use what you'd like)
4 oz (about) queso blanco, sliced thin (or shredded)
Cover a 9" x 13" baking dish with foil and spray with non stick cooking spray. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Empty the can of pinto beans over the bottom of the covered pan, spreading them out evenly.
On a shallow plate or dish, combine the cornmeal and spices.
Heat a skillet over medium high heat, and add a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.
Generously coat each piece of chicken in the seasoned cornmeal, then place each piece into the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan (work in batches).
Cook the chicken until each side is golden brown, turning so that both sides are equally golden.
As each piece is done, place it in the pan, over the beans.
Once all of the chicken is in the pan, spoon a generous tablespoon of salsa (or as much as you would like) over each piece.
Cover the pan with foil and bake for about 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and top each slice with the sliced (or shredded) queso blanco.
Bake for another 10 minutes (times are approximate, depending on the size and thickness of your chicken. Mine were still a little thick, even after cutting...), changing the oven setting to broil for the final two minutes (watch it carefully once you switch it to broil!).
I served this over multi-colored vegetable rotini pasta, but you could go with rice or whatever you prefer.