Friday, May 25, 2012

Parmesan Corn Muffins With Fresh Thyme

Even before I wrote an article on grilling for a newspaper, I knew that outdoor dining had changed a great deal since the 1970s, when I used to eat outside frequently with my family.  My house had a patio with a built-in grill, and despite the fact that my father liked to act confused when confronted with a coffee maker, he would sacrifice his masculinity to grill outdoors.

Flickr: Editor B
Although other areas of the country were throwing whiskey and chocolate in barbeque sauce even back then, in the suburbs of New Jersey where I lived there was a standard menu of foods expected when dining out.  The menu was as formulaic as that of a nursery rhyme, the accoutrements as unchanging as ritual implements in a primitive rite.

First, my mother would make the salad.  Iceberg lettuce with tomatoes in July and August, from the tomato plants we grew in the garden; the rest of the year the orange ping-pong balls from the supermarket.  Sliced cucumbers, because my father loved them, and if I was lucky, bacon bits.  Bottled French dressing for me and my mother (although every green bite I took was forced, never willed); oil and vinegar for my father. We'd put the salad on the lazy Susan (how I loved to say lazy Susan) of the outdoor table.  I'd spin the wheel in the center and eat the extra bacon bits and croutons that were put out next to the ketchup and mustard. I adored the brown wooden bowls in which the salad was served.
Flickr: clotho98

If feeling fancy, my father would grill steaks.  I didn't like steak and after my mother cut up my meat, I would have probably two tablespoons of ketchup for every bite of steak. Other days, we'd have hot dogs and hamburgers.  We never grilled chicken, certainly not beer can chicken or marinated chicken.  Hamburgers were too big for me to bite properly so I would only eat McDonald's hamburgers. I'd ask for a nice charred hot dog, never a burger.  When we began buying Grey Poupon rather than yellow mustard we felt quite fancy, so I suppose that was the beginning of my life as a cultural elitist.  Of course, we had those white puffy rolls on which to eat the burgers and dogs and not even I, who longed for peanut butter sandwiches on Wonder Bread but always got rye, liked those rolls.

I drank Country Time or Minute Maid Lemon or Limeade, freshly stirred from a pitcher. I didn't know that you could make those drinks without a mix until well into my teens.  Mom never bought Kool-Aid, for the same reasons she never bought Spaghetti-Os, Wonder Bread, or Kraft Mac n' Cheese. 

Flickr: Keturah Stickann

My very favorite thing to cook was the biscuits served with the main meal and salad--I loved WHACKING the Pillsbury dough biscuit container against the kitchen counter and watching it split.  The rolls were served in a little brown basket, accompanied by a checkered napkin.  I liked them with butter and liked their flakiness, but most of all I loved opening that can.  Dinner would be ruined without being allowed to WHACK the can.  And if a VERY special occasion, we'd sprinkle them with Parmesan cheese.
Flickr: abbyladybug

In the spirit of outdoor side dishes for summer grilling, I made these muffins. The recipe was cobbled together from one on the cornmeal container .  I left out the sugar and added Parmesan cheese to create a savory, rather than sweet muffin.  While they are smaller than I expected, and not the 'tricked out' bakeshop corn muffins you'd like for breakfast, I think they'd be great for outdoor dining with a nice, fatty main course when you don't want an enormous, filling muffin.

Parmesan Corn Muffins With Fresh Thyme

--yields 12 small muffins--


1 cup white corn meal
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk
1 beaten, large egg

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Parmesan-Romano blend (freshly grated is preferred)
2 teaspoons fresh thyme


1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line 12 muffin tins with liners.

2. Sift corn meal, flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Mix oil, egg, and milk.  Incorporate wet and dry mixtures slowly to avoid over-mixing.  Fold in cheese and thyme.

4. Pour in muffin  liners. Bake for 15-27 minutes. 


  1. I didn't know you wrote for newspapers! We're fellow journalists!

  2. @The Blonde Duck--check out the previous entry! I didn't know YOU wrote for a newspaper! Post links to your articles some time!

  3. I still buy Pillsbury biscuits every once in a while, but at some point they stopped telling you to whack the can and now you're supposed to press the back of a spoon at the seam until the can opens. What's fun about that? One time a man in the grocery store asked me if I knew where the frozen bread was. I thought he might be talking about those frozen Lender's Bagels, but when I pointed them out, he said in his heavy Russian accent, "NO NO NO. That's not it at all! It comes in a can and you hit it on the counter and the bread pops out!" Ha. Suddenly it all became clear.

    And regarding your cinnamon roll post, I never much cared for them either. They're so big and bready, it almost feels like eating raw dough. As a kid, however, I did like the little Pillsbury cinnamon rolls, and I think I might like them now because the proportions seem right. Though it's always dangerous to revisit a food you liked as a kid because at least half the time it turns out that it's disgusting.

  4. @flurrious--I wonder what lawsuit prompted the anti-whacking campaign? Or perhaps they found the gesture too violent and thus bad advertising? Using a spoon is not only less fun but also seems less efficient. It is rather amazing how much dough they are able to squeeze into one of those paper tubes--I can see why it could be described as popping bread.

    I haven't had the Pillsbury cinnamon rolls since high school, but I do remember enjoying making them and they weren't nearly as heavy as a Cinnabon. But I've had that 'wish I hadn't revisited that' experience on many occasions with foods I loved as a kid but not as an adult. Revisiting Nutterbutters was a big disappointment.