Last week I was a guest at an event called “Dinner in the Valley,” hosted by the Valley City Chamber of Commerce. The gathering included a mix of farmers, ranchers and residents from outside the agricultural community, and provided an opportunity for us to sit down together, break bread and talk about food.
Throughout the evening, I engaged in conversation with several farmers and ranchers, all of whom were the next generation in a long line of family members to farm their land. This is a common thread throughout North Dakota agriculture, and for many it can be both a blessing and a burden to be the one responsible for maintaining the family farm tradition.
We talked about the challenges these farmers and ranchers face today, touching on trade and tariffs while keeping the talk free of politics. Many expressed concern about how little people outside their world understand about agriculture, especially its use of modern technology. We learned how technology is transforming the industry in terms of efficiency, labor, land use and crop yield, and helping to improve the sustainability of the land.
There was a segment toward the end of the event where guests could submit a written question that would be answered by an expert in that field. Topics included weed control, genetically modified crops, soil conservation practices and whether plant-based products should be allowed to be labeled as meat (the ranchers were all too eager to weigh in on that one).
At my table, we visited about these topics as well as the pressing need farmers feel to combat the abundance of negative messaging found throughout social media today. My advice to them is to keep finding ways to directly connect with the consumer – whether it’s through dinner events, farmers markets, interactive blogs or even farm visits.
These connections matter. The relationships I’ve made with the local farmers and ranchers I’ve met through my participation in the Banquet in a Field (another farmer-consumer event) have changed the way I look at farming and given me the confidence to purchase food knowing that the overwhelming majority of our nation’s food producers are committed to the safety of their crops and the sustainability of their land.
Today’s recipe is inspired by the jalapeno cheddar corn muffins that were among the featured appetizers served at the dinner. I used my own cornbread recipe, which is so tender and moist on its own that I didn’t think it needed an update, but it’s just as good with the addition of cheddar cheese, jalapenos and green onions can do.
Featuring North Dakota crops and basic pantry staples like all-purpose flour, cornmeal, eggs, milk and honey as the sweetener, this recipe is easy to make and bakes just as well in a large pan as it does in a muffin tin.
If you have questions about current agricultural practices, take some time this harvest season to visit with a farmer or rancher. And be sure to bring a batch of Sarah’s Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread to help get the conversation started.
Sarah’s Cheddar Jalapeno Cornbread
Makes one 9x13-inch pan or two 8-inch square pans (about 15 to 18 pieces), or many muffins, depending on size of tin used
½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 cups milk
¼ cup honey
3 extra-large eggs, lightly beaten
2 ¼ cups sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated, divided
2 tablespoons fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced (2 for mild heat, more as desired)
4 green onions, both white and green parts, chopped
Melt the butter in the microwave or on the stove over medium-low heat; when fully melted, set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Use butter or cooking spray to liberally grease the baking dish or muffin pan; set aside.
In a large bowl, use a whisk to combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl (medium or large), add the milk, honey and lightly beaten eggs and stir to combine. Add the melted butter and stir until well combined. It's OK if the butter appears to clump – this will smooth out once combined with the dry ingredients.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and use a wooden spoon to stir just until it appears that all the dry ingredients have been incorporated and are no longer visible. Overmixing may create a tougher crumb.
Add 2 cups of the cheddar cheese, saving the additional ¼ cup for garnish. Add the jalapenos and most of the green onion, saving a teaspoon or two to use as garnish.
Let the batter rest for 15 to 20 minutes, then pour it into the prepared baking dish. Tap the pan against the counter a few times to remove any air pockets and smooth the top as needed. Garnish the top with a sprinkling of cheese and green onion.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of crumbs or batter. Cool on a wire rack and cut into large squares to serve. May be served warm or at room temperature.
For best results, store in a metal container covered with aluminum foil for up to 2 days or freeze individual slices and muffins for up to 2 months.
If making muffins: Use a scoop to ensure uniform size and fill to about ¾ full. Skip the additional garnish on top.
- The batter can be made up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated until ready to use. Let sit at room temperature to warm up before placing in oven.
- For plain cornbread, simply omit the cheese, jalapenos and onions.
Recipe Time Capsule:
This week in...
- 2018: Red Wine Garden Tomato Sauce
- 2017: Potatoes Balsamico
- 2016: French Onion Soup
- 2015: North Dakota Bean with Barley Salad
- 2014: Sarello's Crab Cakes with Romesco Sauce
- 2013: Tom Shorma's Macadamia Nut Crusted Mahi-Mahi
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.