Southern comfort

My Canadian spin on creating southern-style comfort food, in appetizers.

Cornbread and Sweet Potato Pie as bite-sized treats

I’m hosting my bookclub tonight. Our book this month was The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom, a novel that takes place for the most part in the deep south of the U.S. One thing that really struck me about the book was the description of the food – all of it rich, tasty and comforting. So I wanted to recreate some of the dishes for the meeting.

I wanted to make a cornbread that could work for either savoury or sweet. My failures at making dough have already been documented, so I went with a recipe that seemed straight-forward and fairly easy.

Cornbread

1 1/2 cups cornmeal

2 1/2 cups milk

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cornmeal and milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Grease a 9×13 inch baking pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix in the cornmeal mixture, eggs and oil until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cornbread comes out clean.

What I really like about the recipe is it doesn’t involve yeast. Nothing needs to rise – it’s really more like a sheet cake than a bread. I whipped this up in no time. The one thing that worried me was no matter how much I mixed it, there was always a thin layer of oil that sat above the rest.

Pre-oven cornbread

I hoped it would bake into the other ingredients and was pleased when that happened. The cornbread is moist and delicious. I can see it going well with jam or with chili, so I say mission accomplished.

The other recipe I was looking at was a sweet potato pie, something I have never had before. Only because the bookclub is more of a fingers-food type thing, I wanted to make sweet potato tarts instead.

Here is the recipe I started with:

Sweet Potato Pie

1 (1 pound) sweet potato

1/2 cup butter, softened

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 (9 inch) unbaked pie crust

Directions

Boil sweet potato whole in skin for 40 to 50 minutes, or until done. Run cold water over the sweet potato, and remove the skin.

Break apart sweet potato in a bowl. Add butter, and mix well with mixer. Stir in sugar, milk, eggs, nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla. Beat on medium speed until mixture is smooth. Pour filling into an unbaked pie crust.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 55 to 60 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Pie will puff up like a souffle, and then will sink down as it cools.

I ran into two problems with the recipe. The first was with boiling the sweet potatoes whole. I’ve never prepared potatoes that way, but it totally made sense. Only, after about a half hour, I started to smell a sweet, carmelized scent from the kitchen. I really should have thought harder on it, my one real thought was: Sweet potatoes are so delicious. Yes, and they were also on the verge of burning. The water, despite being in a covered pot, had boiled down, causing the sweet starch to burn on the bottom of the pot. It wasn’t a pretty picture when I finally figured this out – alarms going off everywhere as I wildly tried to disperse the smoke with oven mitts. Good times.

Happily, the slightly smoked sweet potatoes didn’t seem to have lost any of their deliciousness. While the pot may have been a casualty in my kitchen experiments, the recipe was still good to go. It was easy enough to mix together the rest of the ingredients, creating a soupy pie filling that smelled an awful lot like pumpkin pie.

I used pre-made tart shells, due to my stated inability to create dough and threw them in the oven. And that’s where I ran into my next dilemma – I had no idea how long to cook them. The pie takes about an hour to bake, but the tarts surely wouldn’t need that much time. So I checked at ten minutes, then every two minutes after that, to see how long they needed. It turns out the sweet spot was 36 minutes. You can do the math – that was a lot of time spent hovering over the oven. The second batch was easier because I just popped them in for that amount of time.

The results, though, are fantastic. So sweet and perfect comfort food. I hope the bookclub agrees with me on that.

Word of the day:

Elegiac: used in, suitable for, or resembling an elegy; expressing sorrow or lamentation: elegiac strains.

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