Corn Bread and Ratatouille


It’s not easy being an ultra-cheap cook. Your ingredient options are limited, and you must always keep your eyes peeled for things that can be nabbed while on sale. But the cool thing is that every once in a while all the stars will align, and you just happen to have all the ingredients for some particular dish.

As a general rule, I almost never buy vegetables that cost over $1.00 per pound, and I never buy meat that costs over $2.00 per pound (not that I buy much meat anyways). But in the past week… asparagus for $0.99 per pound? Fuck yes please. And tomatoes were on sale too. And eggplant. And green peppers. Ratatouille instantly came to mind. Yellow squash and zuchini not on sale? Fuck them then, I like asparagus better anyways. It’s time to make some real food.

NOTE: If you are planning to make both items concurrently I recommend making the ratatouille first and corn bread second. Ratatouille is good at all temperatures (and increases in flavor as time progresses) but corn bread is at its peak hot from the oven.

Operation 1: Corn Bread

Deliciousness is just around the corn-er. The corn-iness is just beginning.

For the uninitiated (by which I mean the international readers), corn bread is a quick-bread made using a mixture of regular flour and cornmeal. The cornmeal adds a yellow hue to the resulting bread and creates an intriguing and wonderful gritty texture that must be experienced to be understood.

Total Time: 30-45 min

Ingredients

This is for six muffins. Double for an 8-inch pan.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted*
1/2 cup cornmeal*
5/8 cup milk
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp white granulated sugar**
2 tbsp butter/margarine, melted

*This is very important! I know for most other batters there are ways to make a lumpless batter without sifting, but for corn bread sifting is essential. More on this later.
**The cornmeal-to-flour ratio can be adjusted to taste as long as the total sum of dried ingredients comes out to one cup. More cornmeal produces a more pronounced corn texture. Since cornmeal is more expensive that normal flour, this is a good balance between texture and cost.
***Honey is also wonderful here. Sugar quantity can be adjusted to taste; add one more tablespoon if you are making sweet cornbread or muffins.

Cooking

Pre-heat oven to 400F. Meanwhile, mix together all the dry ingredients (sifted flour, corn meal, salt, sugar, baking powder) in one container. Beat egg and milk together in another container. Melt the butter in a small bowl and set aside.

I don't actually own a sieve (yet) so I sifted the flour with a fork. No tool, no problem.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. The key to good cornbread is to stir the batter as little as possible, hence sifting the flour beforehand to reduce lumpage.

Once the oven has reached temperature. Stick your empty muffin tin into the hot oven for about 30 seconds. Remove from the oven, then add enough melted butter to cover the bottom of each muffin mold. Return the mold into the oven for about fifteen seconds to heat the butter.

Take the mold out of the oven yet again, and fill each mold up about 3/4 full with batter. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean. Do not worry about the edges browning. Cornmeal browns faster than regular flour and creates a fantastic crispy crust. If you are using an 8-inch pan with twice the ingredients, bake for about 25 minutes, but start checking a bit earlier.

Would you call this... food cornography? Except for that muffin tumor growing over there...

Cool muffins for at least two minutes before removing from mold. Serve immediately if possible.

Operation 2: Ratatouille

Ingredients as far as the eyes can see. Up to the wall. The wall is not a part of this dish.

Total Time: 45 min – 1 hour

Ingredients (for 2-3 servings)

1 green pepper
1 medium onion
8-9 asparagus spears*
4 roma tomatoes or 2 regular tomatoes
1/2 eggplant
2 tbsp vegetable oil
parsley
basil
thyme
garlic (or garlic powder)**
salt
black pepper

*Traditional ratatouille calls for yellow squash and zuchini. For this specific ratatouille recipe the cook times for yellow squash/zuchini and asparagus are about the same. This is a faster version of “real” ratatouille, which takes a few hours to make. One day I definitely will make (and blog) the traditional French recipe.
**All herbs can be fresh or dried. Dried is obviously cheaper.

Cooking

Slice your medium onion into strips. Chop asparagus into roughly 3/4 inch pieces. Cut tomatoes, green peppers, and eggplant into 3/4 inch pieces as well.

Over medium heat, saute onions in oil until they are soft and slightly browned on the edges.

Megan Fox making out with Scarlett Johansen

Onions making you cry? Just rip out your tear glands. Problem solved.

Add eggplant, salt and black pepper, garlic powder, and thyme. As you may have noticed by now, we are going to add the vegetables individually with respect to their cook times. I personally find it easier to also add salt in increments to taste with each new addition of vegetables.

Cook the eggplant with onions for 7-8 minutes, or until the eggplant is starting to be softened on the outside. Add the asparagus, green peppers, and basil. Fold everything together and cook for another 7-8 minutes. Asparagus and green peppers generally cook fast in dishes such as stir fries. However, ratatouille calls for a softer consistency. Undercooking the green peppers will result in a bitter taste which you do not want.

Look at this healthy shit. A bowl of this is the real-life equivalent of a Mega-health in Quake.

Once the green peppers and asparagus are nice and tender, add the tomatoes and basil. Cook until the tomatoes are at your desired softness. For me, it’s about another 7-8 minutes.

Ratatouille can be served at all temperatures. Tastes even better the next day.

The Result

By our powers combined... CAPTAIN PLA- err I mean, corn bread and ratatouille!

4.7 / 5 Tasty and healthy? Well, at least the ratatouille part is healthy. It still bothers me a bit now that I’ve stumbled upon the proper way to make ratatouille that this isn’t it, but getting to it is only a matter of time.

Conclusion

Corn bread is an invention of the South, more properly the south-east region of the United States. It is usually consumed with a thick hearty chili, but unfortunately my beans are still dry (that sounds completely wrong in hindsight) and I forgot to soak them. Ratatouille is a rustic French dish. The two items pair together rather well, although not as well as chili and corn bread. Technically, I have written a blog entry on chili, although it could use some updating. Digressions aside, both of these items are fucking good and if you have some spare time, you should give them a shot.

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