Originally created 01/20/99

Cornbread recipe comes with baggage



One sure way for a budding home cook to sabotage his or her aspirations is to buy into the myth that great food must be complicated and labor-intensive.

When menus showcase This With Aioli and That Infused With Something, it's an easy trap for a new cook. I know. I learned the hard way.

Years ago, I bought a wok and a Sunset cookbook and, in a surge of beginner's enthusiasm, invited 10 or 12 people over for "A Complete Chinese Dinner."

So traumatic was the experience that I can remember only that I made my own egg rolls and attempted two "simple" stir-fries. Fortunately or not, I had the wisdom to start the egg rolls the night before (a task lasting into the early morning) so when the guests arrived and it came time to do the frying, I was at only the 8.0-panic stage (scale of 10).

When it was all over and my friends had finally eaten, they were greatly appreciative, having seen an exhausted cook collapse at the table and the mess he had made in the kitchen.

But the truth is, the egg rolls turned out soggy and the stir-fries were alike in texture and taste (bland). Hardly the yin and yang Barbara Tropp had in mind in The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking.

I never used that wok again.

It's taken a long time, but the message has sunk in: Unless you run a kitchen of professionals, plan one show-stopper course and keep the rest simple.

That warning is to be heeded with this jalapeno corn bread recipe. Not that it's complicated or difficult to make. It's amazingly easy, considering the results.

It's so easy, you may be tempted (as I have been) to serve it with heavyweight dishes such as barbecue, tamales, chili or spaghetti with Italian sausage, but that's just a waste of time. As my Aunt Ann in Houston, who gave me the recipe, said, it's practically a meal in itself.

Whether you can live on this bread alone is debatable. What is certain is that your knock-out course needn't be a heavy-duty meat entree with this corn bread. Because no matter what you serve with it -- and I know this sounds like Texas brag -- the only thing people will remember is this corn bread.

I'm not sure where my aunt got the recipe, but among the many things she's done for me, this is one of her best gifts. It has bailed me out more times than I can count, and my friends now know they don't even have to say, "And you can bring ... "

After years of lugging this corn bread to parties, office potlucks and post-church gatherings, I can say unequivocally that it has never, ever failed to impress. The squeamish may balk at its fire, but only the more adventurous palates whose mouths are seared into speechlessness -- and surprise -- have nothing to say.

If you're not taking it on the road (it travels and reheats well), you can match this with a simple dinner salad and perhaps gazpacho or a chilled avocado soup. Just don't get carried away.

A final warning: Besides its kick, this corn bread comes with much baggage. Foodies may recoil at the use of canned jalapeos and creamed corn; those claiming a higher level of health consciousness may sniff at the eggs, sour cream and Cheddar. My advice: Just don't invite any of them next time, and tell them to follow their bliss into that special ring of hell where only rice cakes are served.

Yes, if you're worried about how that gym gear fits, read and weep, because the only healthy heart you'll find next to this recipe probably belongs to person who made it for you or passed on the recipe.

Sometimes I add a bit of cumin and, alternatively, a co-worker likes to add almost half a cup of brown sugar, to take a little of the edge off. But try it this way first. If you live in the Southwest or Midwest, where Aunt Jemima Self-Rising Yellow Cornmeal Mix is available, you may substitute 2 cups of it for the cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt called for here. Other corn bread mixes I've tried don't work. Increase or decrease the amount of jalapenos according to your own heat tolerance.

ANN SAUL'S JALAPENO CORN BREAD

1 onion

3/4 pound sharp Cheddar cheese

4 eggs

1 (14 3/4 -ounce) can creamed corn

1 (16-ounce) carton of sour cream

1/2 cup oil

1 (4-ounce) can diced jalapeos or 4 fresh jalapeos, diced

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

Chop onion. Grate cheese to get about 1 1/2 cups.

Beat eggs in large mixing bowl. Stir in creamed corn, sour cream and oil. Fold in onion, cheese and jalapenos.

Add cornmeal, flour, baking powder and salt and mix well.

Pour batter into greased 13-by-9-inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees until brown on top, 55 to 60 minutes.

Makes 18 servings.