Before my neighborhood even had a Taco Bell, the first "Mexican" food I ever ate was from Chi Chi's. Founded in Minnesota by two men named McDermott and McGee — which sounds about right — Chi Chi's was the fast-casual "restaurante" of choice of a generation.
And while I'd like to hope that my years of living in California subsequently educated my palate, sometimes I still sentimentally long for Chi Chi's chimichangas and — as that unfortunate jingle went — fry-ai-ai-ed ice cream.
Most of all, I miss the dense, moist sweet corn cake. Served dolloped into ice cream scoop-sized servings, it dared you to define your own relationship with it. It was a side dish, right? But it was also . . . sweet? Well, yeah, that's corn for you, the vegetable that behaves like a dessert.
You can apparently buy Chi Chi's sweet corn cake mix, but I've never found it in the wild — and I wouldn't want you to have to bank on better success. Instead, you can put together a pretty convincing version using the pantry classic by Jiffy.
It's true that Jiffy contains wheat, while a true Chi Chi's version does not. If you want a short path to a damn good sweet corn cake, however, you won't be disappointed. And because this is the peak time of year for fresh corn, you can put those ears from the farmer's market to excellent use here.
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Even if you never tasted the original, you'll appreciate how simple and versatile it is to recreate your own version at home. You can go savory and serve this with hot sauce and chopped green onions, or lean into the sweetness with a squirt of caramel sauce and fresh fruit. I can also testify that it's great for breakfast with maple syrup and chopped nuts. There's basically no wrong way to eat this stuff, as long as you promise to serve it generously scooped, Chi Chi's style.
- 1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
- 1 egg
- 1 pound freshly cut corn kernels
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon white sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Generously butter a 9 x 5 loaf pan.
- In a food processor or blender, purée half of the corn. Reserve the rest.
- In a large bowl, stir the corn muffin mix, egg, butter, sugar and all of the corn.
- Pour the mixture into the pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until very lightly golden on top.
- Serve warm, using an ice cream scoop or similar tool to spoon out the portions.
Instead of fresh corn, you can also reach for the frozen stuff. If so, substitute 16 ounces of frozen corn, thawed.
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