How to De-Intimidate Your Cooking

Surprise: You already have the skills you need

  1. When things go wrong — why? Is it something obvious, like, this chicken breast is dry as a bone? Or, I tried to make mayonnaise and all I got was expensive, salty grease-water? Well, why? Why did the chicken breast overcook? Was the heat too high, or was it in too long? Or both? Did you really drizzle that oil into your egg yolks slowly, or was it more of a slosh? Just asking yourself why can bring you far closer to an answer than you’d expect. And it’s SO HARD! The last thing you want to do when you’re frustrated, when you were hoping for a nice cheese soufflé and ended up with a pancake that seems to defy the basic laws of physics (how can that many eggs even FIT into a shape that small!?), is to get analytical and work on bettering your skills. But it is the best time to ask these questions — you won’t remember tomorrow exactly what you did / what you didn’t do / what you tried to use instead of eggs to make a soufflé. Don’t be hard on yourself — and don’t make it harder on yourself by wasting the best opportunity to learn and remember!
  2. When you’re done, and things went great — again, why!? This is an especially fun and exciting time to ask this question — because you will be basking in the glow of your evident skill. Equally important now, if you can remember to do it, is to ask why. You’re fresh from the game, you still remember very clearly each little flick of the wrist and turn of the whisk — if you take the time now to observe and ask yourself why, you’ll remember what you did, it will stick out to you, and your skill will build.
  • Cornmeal: 1 c
  • All-purpose flour: 1 c
  • Brown sugar: ½ c
  • Baking powder: 1 T
  • Salt: 1 t
  • Buttermilk (or milk): ⅔ c
  • Eggs: 2
  • Pickled jalapeños: 4–6, or to taste
  1. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt with your hand, breaking up any large clumps of brown sugar.
  2. In a second mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk (or milk) and eggs.
  3. Drain the jalapeños, and slice into whatever size or shape you like.
  4. Gently whisk the melted butter into the other wet ingredients — wait a moment if it got very hot.
  5. Add the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients (or, if for some reason you’re not even aware of you’d prefer to add the dry ingredients to the wet, that’s also fine), and add the jalapeños.
  6. Stir just until combined using a rubber spatula.
  7. Melt the remaining butter in the skillet, swirling so it melts and doesn’t burn, and scrape the batter into the pan. I like to add my batter at the center of the skillet, and gently smooth it out, bit by bit; it will push the butter outward with it. It will look a bit choppy and ugly; be patient as you spread it and correct it, and it will work out just fine. You have time.
  8. Set the skillet in the oven. You should probably turn off the burner, at some point, too.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. OR — skill-build alert — touch the center gently with your fingertip when you first suspect it might be almost done, and see what it feels like. A baked cornbread should spring back lightly and feel to your fingertip like… cornbread. (Learn to judge doneness this way. Why? A way-overbaked cornbread will also give you a very clean toothpick.)
  10. Allow to cool briefly in the pan, and use a small metal spatula or knife around the edge to ensure it’s not stuck if you’re nervous about it. Invert a cooling rack on top and carefully but swiftly turn it over.
  • I should think Hatch chiles or any other variety of chile you enjoy would be just as lovely, whether pickled or not.
  • Wouldn’t some shredded cheddar cheese, added on top in the last 6 or so minutes of baking, be just delightful?
  • Serve with butter, or better yet, honey butter. Recipe for honey butter: Soft butter; Some honey; Mix.

Pastry Chef, Author, Consultant, Founder of Melt Bakery, Level 6 Food Nerd

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