With roughly 10 years of apartment dwelling in my personal history, I've come out of that stage of life with two things: an unshakeable urge to cringe every time I drop something heavy on the floor, and an arsenal of character profiles of delightfully wacky neighbors.
For instance, there was Maxine, the Squirrel Whisperer. With wiry salt-and-pepper hair, she'd rigged up the windows and doors to her apartment as to allow the local squirrels to let themselves into her kitchen. She had introduced herself to me by letting me know that her husband had left her "after 32 years marriage! Psshh. A doctor. You know how that is." Of course I do, Maxine.
And Oliver, the handsome African-American fellow who lived next door and listened to maddening amounts of mambo at all hours while smoking cigars and drinking Cognac. When he wasn't draped in stunning off-white linen separates, he could be found in a silk kimono and matching slippers. A smooth operator, that Oliver. He had a tempestuous relationship with Celeste, a friendly Earth Mother type about whom I always complained to my husband for being such a loud talker until I overheard her telling someone that she was deaf in one ear. Oops.
Sharon, the 60-ish overgrown hippie was really something. In short, when she wasn't doing yardwork with absolutely nothing on from the waist down, she was an S&M enthusiast who would throw monthly parties with a very, very strange guest list. Like middle-aged, combed-over, tucked-in polo shirt, gym teacher-looking men strange. She was always courteous enough to let us know when a party date was approaching, lest we not be able to figure it out during the week prior, when all of her dingy plastic patio furniture, suggestive candles and skull ashtrays began appearing in some very questionable tablescapes on the front lawn. Once we were invited to one of her parties and in response I mumbled something about maybe being out of town that weekend and tried not to cry when she instructed me to "dress sexy" if I were to attend. No, thank you. No thank you at all.
But on the bright side, there was Joan. I loved Joan. I still miss Joan. She was of those jazzy, older single ladies who was probably in her 60s but looked a decade younger and drove a little red convertible that was nearly a match for her neat little bob haircut. She was super fit and stylish and had been working the Program for 12 years. It was always fun running into her at the Pottery Barn where she worked and having a chat with her in her apartment, decked out beautifully, most likely with her employee discount.
When Joan's adorable grandkids would come to visit, she would take them swimming in the building's outdoor pool looking like Esther Williams in a vintage one-piece with huge sunglasses and a polka-dotted headscarf. I called her Kicky Joan. And oh, was she ever kicky! Warm and fun and complex with a little extra spice, that Joan. Just like these Cheddar-Jalapeno Corn Biscuits. Which is the point I've been trying to get to for the last four paragraphs.
If you are still with me here let me ask you this: are you as obsessed with soups and chilis and stews of all sorts as I am around here lately? It's January, people. Big warm bowls of savory are simply the right thing to do. But if I read one more recipe instructing me to round out a one-pot meal with a boring loaf of country bread and a green salad, I am going to cry. Enter these biscuits.
So much more exciting and substantial than your standard corn bread, these biscuits (muffins, whatever) are loaded with flavor--good, sharp aged cheddar, a pile of scallions and a smattering of jalapeno to make it all kicky. And easy, easy, easy, guys. Absolutely a weeknight thing while your soup pot is bubbling away. This recipe is one that you'll willingly make part of your life. Unlike most apartment neighbors.
Cheddar-Jalapeno Corn Biscuits
Seek out a good, aged, extra-sharp cheddar here--it makes a huge difference in flavor. Lesser cheeses will just sort of disappear into the mix. I found a 3-year aged one in my supermarket for nearly the same price as the commercial stuff. These biscuits are best served warm from the oven, but a zap in the microwave will revive any leftovers the next day.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
6 ounces grated aged, extra-sharp cheddar, divided
1/3 cup finely sliced scallions (about 3 large)
2 tablespoons seeded and minced jalapeno (about 1 large)
Position an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter until well-blended.
Stir in the wet ingredients into the dry, folding gently with a rubber spatula just until no dry pockers remain--don't overmix. Fold in half the grated cheddar, the scallions and the jalapeno. Let the mixture sit for 15 minutes.
Using a standard ice cream scoop, portion the batter into the prepared muffin tin. Sprinkle the remaining half the the grated cheddar over the tops. Bake until the biscuits are lightly golden and a toothpick comes out clean, 20-25 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan before removing them. Serve warm.