The Dish: Recently, I've become enthralled with corn meal. It might not seem like the first dry good to grab, but this versatile base has become my new go-to. I discovered my love for it thanks to a tip from Robin Robertson, suggesting postponing grocery shopping as long as possible, saving money and encouraging you to get creative in the kitchen. Guess what? I made it two weeks past my initial, "I need some freakin' food in these cabinets," declaration, and it yielded some tasty dishes.
There it was: a box of corn meal, all alone in the cabinet. It was early, I was exhausted, and I wanted food immediately. Lo and behold, I remembered a book I had read a few years past, mentioning hot water cornbread—literally hot water added to corn meal, all fried up in the skillet. Not only did it sound fast, but I saw the potential for spice-y add-ins and sweet and savory toppings. Room for customizing? You know I was all over that.
The first batch I made used about 1/2 cup corn meal with sea salt, dehydrated garlic (I scored a bunch for super cheap—hot water rehydrates it and saves me time chopping up fresh cloves), and a crazy mix of on-hand spices thrown in. Hot water from my electric kettle was added next, stirring in a little at a time until a nice thick paste formed. After frying up small, flattened cakes, I topped half with some cheap tomato sauce (50 cents a can! Forget the dressed-up spaghetti stuff, this is just as good), and the other half with a little maple syrup that was hiding in the fridge. The result? Crunchy on the outside, delicious on the inside, with the perfect balance of savory and sweet I need in the morning. That continued for about five days until the corn meal ran out, and now I can't wait to buy 20 pounds in bulk.
The Final Word: Like a lot of improv cooking, my version changes each time I make it, and this dish is really about "cooking by ear," as my mom says. But if that's not your style and you want a delicious hot water cornbread recipe, I'll share a little secret: There might just be an amazing one in our upcoming 10th anniversary issue. In the meantime, if you're brave enough to give this a go, tell me your favorite combinations!