Hell’s Backbone Grill

Mary Dougherty

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I'm a fine art film photographer living in the mountains and traveling to tell beautiful stories

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Growing up we called her Arizona Jenny. Living in Michigan we were far away from most of our family, so rather than confuse our two cousins named Jenny, we added the more exotic state – Arizona – to her name (sorry New York Jenny!). We didn’t get to see her often, but when the family got together in New Mexico she would braid our hair and play barbies with us, the kinds of things you really remember as a child. Of the memories that stand out the most, the time she gave my sister and me each a lunchbox full of candy for Easter is at the top of my list. We played “dentist” with it the whole train ride home… but that’s another story.

After working her way up through the culinary world Arizona Jenny moved to the tiny town of Boulder, Utah. It was there she and her business partner Blake turned the restaurant Hell’s Backbone Grill into something of a legend. The story of their restaurant is best told through their cookbook, “With a Measure of Grace” which chronicles not only the restaurant and recipes but also the town and people in it. Boulder is a place you have to want to go to, and they have given people many reasons to do so. In fact, one look at their list of accolades and you’ll see how many people agree. In the breathtaking surroundings of southern Utah they have a restaurant committed to sustainability, environmental ethics, and social and community responsibility. On their six-acre farm they grow the majority of their food and preserve, can and dry so that they can enjoy it both in season and after. I’m pretty sure it’s every bit as amazing as it sounds and have been wanting to visit for years.

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Until I do go out there, I’ll enjoy working through some of the recipes in their cookbook. Several years ago when I first got the book it sat looking beautiful on my shelf, opened every once in a while as I thumbed through the stories of Boulder and the people behind the food. I didn’t make much from it, I think because I was a bit intimidated. I didn’t have access to as many of the southwestern ingredients (red + green chile in particular) and I wasn’t sure where to start. So, I went with a simple recipe that I knew I would like: cornbread. Once I opened the pages and started cooking I found inspiration and ingredients I could relate to, and have been making more and more. Next on my list: Heavenly Lemon Chiffon Cake. It was on Oprah’s list too, so it’s sure to be a showstopper. For now, it’s cornbread time which I think is incredibly satisfying in the winter. Slightly sweet, thick and delicious let me introduce you to my favorite cornbread recipe… (although I haven’t made “Marry-Me Cornbread” which is located right next to this recipe in the book, so with a name like that I might be missing out!)

Brown Sugar Blue Cornbread

  • 2 1/2c blue cornmeal
  • 1 3/4c flour
  • 1c brown sugar
  • 1t baking soda
  • 1t salt
  • 1T baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c melted butter or oil (I used coconut oil + it added just the slightest amount of extra flavor I highly recommend it!)
  • 2 1/2c milk

1. heat oven to 350. Warm a 10″ cast iron skillet in the oven for 10 min while you assemble the batter.

2. In a medium bowl combine the cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in eggs, melted butter, and milk. Batter will be thick.

3. Remove heated skillet from oven, add 1T butter and swirl it around to coast surface (I skipped that part). Pour batter into skillet, spreading around evenly and bake for 45 min, till sides of cornbread pull away.

I found blue cornmeal in the organic section of the grocery store, but I’m tempted to order some blue cornmeal straight from hell’s! Feel free to add a variety of extras to this recipe to spice or sweeten it as you like. Most of all, have a great weekend + if you try this enjoy!

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