Chilli and … cake?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are two aspects to this-firstly the chilli which is a Jamie Oliver one and a firm favourite and secondly, the cornbread muffins. I’ve always fancied making cornbread to go with chilli, I love the combination of sweet and spicy (see also: peshwari naan and curry) although I realise this is controversial. Anyway, I’ve always been put off my not knowing quite what the key ingredient, cornmeal, actually is, where to buy it or what to use in its place. Polenta is often suggested and I’m never quite sure about that either (instant, coarse, fine?) so when a recipe suggested semolina I went with it. I know what that is and I can buy it in our crazy greengrocers.

For cornbread, the recipes on the internet are infinite so I took the old-fashioned route and followed Rachel Allen’s recipe from her “Bake” book which I had on my shelf and which calls for buttermilk. This is also an ingredient I have trouble with. None of our local shops sell it and a specialist trip to the health food shop is required. So I experimented with this too. Everywhere says you can make your own by adding a tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup full (240ml; 8fl oz) of milk and leaving it. Although the resultant curdled liquid didn’t look anything like buttermilk it seemed to work in terms of making my muffins rise so I’ll be doing that again in an emergency (of the baking sort).

Some curdled milk in my snazzy electronic measuring jug

Some curdled milk in my snazzy electronic measuring jug

To make the muffins, sift together 5oz flour,5oz semolina (or cornmeal, whevs), 1 tsp salt, 1 and 1/4 rounded tsp baking powder, 1/2tsp bicarbonate of soda (no wonder they rose) and some sugar. I used 2oz of sugar, which still made for quite a sweet result, 1 might be ok, or none if you’re one of those people who does not like sweet with savoury. If that’s so, maybe add an extra pinch of salt, a handful of cheese, or something for a bit of extra flavour (bacon, jalapenos, the options are many).

The yellow is the semolina

The yellow is the semolina

Then add your wet ingredients. I used the whole load (8fl oz) of my home made buttermilk (the recipe mixed buttermilk with normal milk but since mine was already a bit thin and it made up the whole amount of liquid I just went with this), a beaten egg and 2oz of melted butter. Mix this as briefly as possible till it comes together (muffin batters are allowed be lumpy) and then split between 11 or 12 muffin cases.

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Cook for 10 mins at 190C and then 10mins at 180. These come out a good balance between dense and fluffy and are the perfect foil to spicy, saucy chilli.

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So the chilli. This is a Ministry of Food recipe, and meant to be shared. It starts with LOTS of chopped veg, two onions, two carrots, two red peppers, two sticks of celery and two cloves of garlic. For my own sanity I chop this in a food processor, which does make it quite fine.

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Cook this in some oil for five minutes until soft, then add your flavourings, a teaspoon each of cumin, chilli powder and cinnamon. I also threw in a good teaspoon of chipotle paste which adds an extra smoky chilli layer. Cook this for another couple of minutes, then add your meat, usually a 500g pack of mince but I used the same amount of casserole beef for this, which requires an extra hour of simmering but gets you some delightfully tender chunks of beef. No need to fry the meat first. Then add two cans of tomatoes, and two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar for a bit of tang. Simmer for an hour with the lid on, or two if you’re using beef chunks, and then add two tins of beans and simmer for another half an hour with the lid off to reduce the sauce. Jamie uses kidney beans and chickpeas, I like a tin of black beans in there. As you might be able to tell from the amount of ingredients this makes a TON of sauce. It’ll serve six easily, especially if padded out with rice and muffins. All that veg and the long cooking time makes it really thick and mellow, with a good warming chilli kick. If you like things really spicy, a fresh chilli thrown in with veg at the start or some jalapenos as a garnish would add a bit more edge.

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