Soon after the National Cornbread Cook-Off, another great Tennessee festival takes place at the opposite end of the state. Memphis in May will celebrate the unique culture of this grand old Mississippi River town. In addition, the festival pays tribute to another country. This year the festival will honor Colombia, showcasing the country’s food and culture.
The month kicks-off with the Beale Street Music Festival which celebrates the music of African-American musicians who have been coming to Memphis’ Beale Street to perform since the1800’s. The festival features well-known artists performing with local musical acts.
In late May, the festival will host The World Champion Barbecue Contest – the largest pork barbecue competition in the world. The cuts, rub, sauce, wood and preparation methods come together to produce amazing varieties, the merits of each hotly debated among aficionados. And I must pay tribute to those small pit masters who patiently perfect their craft for local tastes and inspire our love for barbecue.
Barbecue sides like slaw, beans, pickles, white bread, cornbread or hushpuppies are another matter for debate and vary all over the South. Not surprising is my love of barbecue on cornbread – the true inspiration for my Open Face Barbecue Sandwich on Jalapeno Cornbread recipe. I was in Memphis recently and saw that a local barbecue restaurant is making an appetizer featuring layers of crumbled cornbread, beans, slaw, barbecue and sauce. Wish I had thought of that!
I’m sure many of you have discovered that rotisserie chicken is a great shortcut to many of our favorite dishes. From chicken salad to casseroles, it dramatically cuts preparation time. Of course, roasting or cooking chicken at home is the most economical option, but there are times when convenience is worth it. I like to debone the whole chicken and freeze the excess to use later.
A chicken casserole is perfect for a spring supper when the evenings may still be cool. Easy Pickin’ Chicken Pie has been a Martha White® Kitchen favorite for years and one of my “go to” recipes. I have often combined the filling ingredients in a baking dish in the morning and stored in the refrigerator until dinnertime. Then all that’s left to do is mix self-rising flour, milk and melted butter. Pour over the top and bake according to recipe directions. To be so simple, it is amazingly comforting and delicious.
We’ve talked about cornbread salad, the Southern version of the classic Italian bread salad, but I don’t think I have ever shared this TexMex version. Chicken Salsa Cornbread Salad is a great combination of cornbread cubes, chicken, cheese and a variety of vegetables. The dressing is simply salsa and sour cream. Feel free to vary the vegetables according to your family’s taste.
It’s almost time for the 2017 National Cornbread Festival! The lovely little town of South Pittsburg, Tennessee has opened its heart and streets to thousands of visitors for 21 years. There are plenty of things to do: music, crafts, a carnival, tours, plenty of good cornbread and more. One tour you will not want to miss is of the Lodge Manufacturing Company foundry where they’ve been making cast iron and cookware since 1896.
This year’s festival runs April 29-30, 2017. Celebrating the perfect marriage of cornbread and cast iron, Saturday features a 4-H Cornbread Cook-Off in the morning and the National Championship Cornbread Cook-Off in the afternoon. Over the years, we have been amazed by the creative recipes entered in the contest, many of which have become a family favorite.
After last year’s festival, I shared the winning recipe from the Former Judge’s cook-off. Bob’s Bama Hoecake Sliders are a tribute to some of our favorite Southern foods. Entered by Bob Carlton, a columnist for the Birmingham News, his sliders are a creative combination of little cornbread hoecakes, spread with pimento cheese and topped with smoked sausage and spicy pickles. Delicious! In case you missed it, here is the link.
How about something fun for supper on Friday or Saturday night? Tacos? Pizza? Making a meal at home as a family can be fun for the kids and they love to help out in the kitchen. It makes for great family time.
If your bunch loves tacos, here is a fun recipe I’m sure they’ll enjoy. With only six main ingredients, you’ll have this Have-It-Your-Way Taco Pie in the oven in a flash. The easy taco filling is simply ground beef, salsa and chili powder. Let the kids stir up the cornbread crust made with a convenient cornbread mix, egg and milk. Pour in a hot skillet – you may need to help with this – top with the meat mixture and in the oven it goes. The batter rises around the edges and forms a delicious crust.
The “have-it-your-way” part comes with a choice of a variety of toppings. The kids can pick and choose their favorites to top off their piece of the pie.
If pizza is more your style, why not try making one at home? Martha White® Pizza Crust Mixes are quick and easy to mix up with warm water and the kids will love pressing the dough onto the pan. The toppings can be tailored to everyone’s taste. You could even do half and half, if preferences vary. Be sure to check out the great recipe located on the packaging!
Coconut Cakes have been a Southern holiday favorite for generations. These wonderfully delicious cakes were probably saved for the holidays because a cake made with fresh coconut is indeed a labor of love. Fresh coconut, drained of the water, cracked open, removed from the shell, peeled and hand-grated was no easy task. But that work did create one of the most beloved cakes. I am sure many of you continue to make these extraordinary cakes to the delight of your family, who heap praise on you for your creation – making it all worthwhile.
If you have neither the skill nor time to bake the classic, thankfully there are other options. Supermarkets offer a variety of coconut options. In addition, coconut milk, coconut cream and cream of coconut are canned products often used in recipes. Just remember, they are not interchangeable so be sure you check the recipe for the exact product.
Cream of Coconut Cake is delicious and easy to make. This recipe follows the tradition of classic coconut cakes, using only egg whites to make a white cake. It is easy to mix and baked in a 9×13-inch pan, making it convenient to transport and serve. After baking, the cake is drenched with cream of coconut and topped with whipped topping and shaved coconut.
Another fun shortcut to coconut cakes are these Mini Coconut Cakes with Coconut Cream. The little cakes are made by “dressing up” a Martha White® Wildberry Flavored Muffin Mix. Bake muffins according to directions on package, slice off top, add filling and replace the muffin top. Finish it off with a delectable coconut flavored cream cheese frosting.
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a Martha White® Muffin Mix user who wanted to know if she could make banana bread with Martha White Banana Nut Flavored Muffin Mix. Well, the truth is that over the years, I have made several versions of fruit bread loaves with muffin mix, but I couldn’t remember if I had ever simply mixed up according to package directions and baked in a loaf pan. So I decided to try it.
I sprayed an 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2-inch loaf pan with non-stick cooking spray and mixed two pouches of Martha White Banana Nut Flavored Muffin Mixes with 1 cup milk. I baked it at 375°F for 35 minutes and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes before turning out. It was really good! Moist and delicious with a typical nice crack in the top.
Now I was on a roll, so I baked one of my favorite “dressed-up” muffin mix loaves – Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Snack Loaf. It is delicious, too! With the addition of sour cream, vegetable oil and a couple of eggs, the loaf is very moist with a soft cakey texture. And it worked just as well with Banana Nut Flavored Muffin Mix and Blueberry Flavored Muffin Mix, too.
So the good news is, whether made by following the package directions or with adding extra ingredients, muffin mixes are a convenient shortcut to a variety of loaves you can stir up in minutes.
If you’ve baked you’ve probably made mistakes – I certainly have. My mistakes are often the result of being in a hurry or getting distracted. I wish I could tell you I have the solution for lack of time, but I don’t. However, there is something that helps with distraction, if I just do it!
Here are some common baking mistakes and tips to help avoid them.
We don’t read the recipe before we start: Reading the recipe all the way through before starting reminds us to check to be sure we have all the ingredients, to preheat the oven and prep the pans. You may also discover cooling or chilling times you hadn’t counted on.
We don’t prep all the ingredients: It is so tempting to start a recipe, measuring as we go, but prepping all the ingredients first eliminates a lot of mishaps. If you’re interrupted, it’s much easier to remember where you were.
Measure ingredients correctly: Although you can wing a lot of cooking, baking is different – it’s as much a science as it is an art. You need nested measuring cups for dry ingredients and a clear measuring cup for liquids. I like to whisk flour, spoon gently into the measuring cup and level off with a straight edge.
We make unwise substitutions: You can do this with spaghetti sauce, but it is much more critical in baking to stick to the recipe.
We over or under soften butter: I’ve done this so many times. Start a recipe and discover the butter should be softened. You can cut it into pieces and let it stand at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes. Properly softened butter should yield to the touch, but not go all the way down into it.
Key Lime and Macadamia Bars are one of my favorites for spring. Take into consideration that they need to cool before cutting. Happy baking!