Sunday, October 18, 2020

Using Basic, Cheap Ingredients: Cornmeal

If you don't have cornmeal at home, put it on your shopping list! It's versatile, inexpensive and very basic. Besides making cornbread or hush puppies, boiled cornmeal can be used in many ways to stretch your food dollars.

Put three cups of water into a deep pan and add one cup of cornmeal and a dash of salt. Put the pot on to boil and after it starts cooking, stir often until it thickens, about 5 minutes. Have a lid ready because when it gets thick, it will "plop!" all over the place. 

This will make three cups of "mush," a hot cereal good with butter, sugar and milk or with butter, a little extra salt and shredded cheese.

It's also the base for a very good chili pie. To make that, let the mush cool a little, then spoon about a third into a lightly greased casserole or baking pan. Add a half a can of chili or a cup of your own homemade chili, then another layer of mush, another layer of chili, then a layer of shredded cheese. Top it with the rest of the mush and heat through. 

Even with canned chili from the store, this makes a budget friendly meal. 

I checked to make sure I hadn't forgot anything and the recipes I found for scrapple are kind of over the top. Old fashioned scrapple is made from meat scraps and leftovers; you don't need to go and buy expensive sausage for it. You don't need flour or evaporated milk, either. 

Scrapple is made with mush, and, as I said, leftover meat, usually ham or sausage of some kind, but bacon can be used, too as wel as leftover meat drippings. If you have one sausage patty or link, tear or cut it into very small pieces, add pan drippings and any other cooked scraps you can find. Mix it all together and put it into a greased loaf pan. Refrigerate overnight, then slice and fry in the morning. Serve it the way it is, or with just butter or with syrup if you like.  

Make cornmeal dumplings to stretch a pot of soup. To make them, you'll need 1 1/2 cup cornmeal, a half cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, an egg and some milk. Put all the dry ingredients together and mix, then beat the egg lightly, add that and enough water to make a thick, droppable batter.  Make sure you have two or three inches of liquid over the top of any ingredients in your soup and wait until it's boiling gently, then drop the dumplings in, a heaping tablespoon at a time. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, then cover and cook gently another 10 minutes. Test to see if they're done by cutting one in two. The center should look like cornbread (kind of).

Cornmeal is just a finer grind of corn than grits or what is more popularly called "polenta" (which is the same thing). You can make anything with corn meal that you use polenta for. It's easier to keep just one product on hand.