Cast-Iron Cornbread

You know how sometimes you catch a whiff of something and it immediately makes a thought or feeling pop into your head?

Like the smell of roast beef and tomatoes makes me think of my grandma's.  She often cooks with those ingredients, and it always takes me back through all the years of going to her house for dinner.  Feeding housefulls of people requires the right ingredients.  These ingredients always kept her family (and finicky-eater grandchildren) happy.

The smell of damp wood - yeah, not all food smells - instantly reminds me of being 6 or 7 and playing Lava Monsters in my great-grandpa's basement.  Yes, Lava Monsters.  Haven't you played that?  My sister and cousin and I would hop from chair to rug to stool around the room trying not to touch the cement floor "lava" while one of us, the monster, tried to get the others.  It wasn't the most graceful of games.  Bruises sometimes happened.  But ultimately, the thrill of avoiding (or being) a lava monster was worth it.

And the smell of cornbread and chili - oh, that delightfully dreamy aroma -  reminds me of a cozy home in winter, surrounded by my family.  My mom always made delicious, nutritious food for us, but as soon as it got cold enough to enjoy heavier comfort food like this, the house really began to smell heavenly.  

What is it about chili and cornbread?  Any thoughts?  Maybe it's something in the spicy, warm scents.  Maybe it's the comfort-carbs.  I'm okay with either explanation.  (Can you guess what I ate post-bikini competition after the first night?)

Speaking of carbs, I might as well add that while my bikini competition diet is no longer technically in effect and I don't have the same pressure to eat perfectly all the time, I have found a good long-term balance in my post-competition diet.  *For my pre-competition diet + musings: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 here!

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Now that I better understand how the body responds to carbohydrates with regards to insulin secretion and storage of fats/nutrients, I am more conscious of when I eat them.  When I needed to cut down on my body fat for the competition, I ate very few carbs overall for a few weeks.  Now that my goal is simply to maintain my body fat at a healthy level, though still lower than my original percentage, and to ultimately gain a little muscle, carbs are essential.  Eating the right carbs with the right training makes a big difference in keeping energy levels up and for quick post-workout recovery!

Currently, I try to still keep a few days a week low-carb.  I haven't gotten my eating or workout plan down to a science yet, but I find that having whole or partial low-carb days has been key to not rebounding on my weight.  

For the most part, I just try to keep in mind when I have them, so that I can balance those times out with lower-carb food.  It seems to work out for me to eat more carbs at night, and then allow them to be burned off that night and throughout the next morning before eating more the following night.  I also like to have carbs after my workouts, so if I did an intense strength-training day I'm sure to include more of my carbs shortly post-workout.

I'm still working out exactly how much/ how often/ what kinds of carbs I think work best, but feel free to ask any questions you might have about it in the comments, and I'll try to answer the best I can!

And when it is time to get a little extra carby, I sure do like my chili and cornbread.  You can bet your beans it's a healthy combination!  Well, when you do it right.  

I'm quite the fan of cornbread when its just slightly sweet, dense, and moist.  Box mixes though, can be full of additives and sugar and white flour... that I feel is more like a hit against my body than a nourishment.  It's a comfort food that kind of makes me uncomfortable to think about.  Also, is it really that much more of an effort to throw a few ingredients together?  

Actually - now that I think of it - it might be fun to really throw these ingredients together.  Basketball baking, anyone?

I can't hold off any more.  Bake this cornbread, serve it with chili, (a fantastic one coming ASAP!) and if you feel so inclined to make a new scent synonymous with comfort, it can't beat this healthy one served up in a cast iron skillet.

Assemble the dry ingredients in the food processor...

Assemble the dry ingredients in the food processor...

Chop up 2 T. cold butter and add to the dry ingredients.  Process to make sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout.

Chop up 2 T. cold butter and add to the dry ingredients.  Process to make sure the butter is evenly distributed throughout.

Mix in the wet ingredients just until combined.  May be a bit lumpy, but better not to over mix!

Mix in the wet ingredients just until combined.  May be a bit lumpy, but better not to over mix!

Cast-Iron Cornbread

Ingredients:

3/4 c. yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
3 T. flaxseed meal
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 c. stevia powder (or regular sugar) + 2 T. if you like sweeter cornbread
2 T. + 1 T. cold Earth Balance vegan butter (or coconut oil, or grass-fed butter) divided
1/3 c. unsweetened apple sauce
1 c. plain almond milk (or other milk), unsweetened

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a food processor or blender, combine cornmeal through stevia powder and process  well to make sure there are no clumps.  

Use a knife to quickly chop the butter into small pieces and add them to the flour mixture.  Process again, pulsing, until the butter is homogenized within the dry ingredients.

Transfer to a bowl and mix the apple sauce and almond milk in just until combined.  Be careful not to over mix!

Melt 1 T. of the butter in a small (about 9" in diameter) cast iron skillet and swirl it around to completely coat the bottom and part of the sides.

Take the skillet off the heat and scoop the cornbread batter into the skillet.  Smooth out the surface.  If you want the top to get a little extra crusty and browned, spray the top evenly with cooking spray before putting in the oven.

Bake 26-30 minutes.  Mine came out perfectly after about 28 minutes!  Best affect achieved when served alongside a delicious chili!

Makes 12 slices

Nutrition per slice: 112 calories, 4 g fat (2 g saturated); 17 g carbs; 3 g fiber; 2 g protein

Try this cornbread with this Hearty Slow-Cooker Chili!