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Cornbread upgrade


Cheese, bacon, other ingredients can bring zing

As autumn nights grow colder and longer – and hearty soups, stews and chilis make their way to the dinner table more frequently – cornbread makes a comforting complement, especially if it’s moist and flavorful.

However, even if the golden slice is smothered with butter and drizzled with honey, it’s oftentimes uninspiring.

“Most cornbread is dry and tasteless,” Ina Garten writes in “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” her cookbook of everyday recipes.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Adding cheese and other ingredients – fresh herbs, sundried tomatoes, bacon – adds moisture and zing. And it’s easy.

Thanks to the grated cheese, Garten’s Jalapeño Cheddar Cornbread stays moist. Plus, the minced peppers and chopped scallions provide a bit of a bite along with added flavor.

Garten writes the recipe is great in summer, accompanying barbecued chicken and ribs. But on chilly fall evenings, why not serve it alongside a steaming bowl of white bean and chicken chili?

I’ve been making – and adapting – Garten’s cornbread recipe ever since a friend gave me a copy of her cookbook some half-dozen years ago.

I like to add bacon. Usually when I do, I leave out the jalapeños.

I also like to add sundried tomatoes to the mix and – for additional corn taste and texture – substitute a cup of flour for a second cup of cornmeal.

Other combinations include roasted red peppers and black olives with grated Monterey jack cheese; sundried tomatoes, fresh basil and grated mozzarella; fresh rosemary and garlic cloves; and red and green or red and orange bell pepper bits with pepper jack cheese.

If you leave out the cheese, a cup of fresh corn kernels adds additional moisture. This time of year, a cup of pumpkin purée adds both moisture and a seasonal taste. Try adding fresh sage or basil, too – about 1/3 cup of finely chopped herbs, plus a few full leaves to bake into the crust or for garnish. Or, spice it up with red pepper flakes.

The idea is to have a little burst of something extra in every bite.

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