Memphis in May

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!

Rotisserie Chicken Streamlines Spring Suppers

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.

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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.

National Cornbread Festival Celebrates Cast Iron and Cornbread

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.

Bobs Bama Sliders Small

Bob’s recipe reminds me of the 2010 Winner – Bacon and Gorgonzola Cornbread Sliders with Chipotle Mayo. This slider is made on delectable little corn muffins, split and filled with a small ground beef patty, grilled onions and cheese. Fun and tasty!

For a complete schedule of Cornbread Festival Events, visit nationalcornbread.com. Make plans now to join us in South Pittsburg at the end of April. Hope to see you there!

Muffin Mixes: Shortcut Fruit Breads

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.

Sausage is a Southern Staple

We’ve talked about the humble hog and how it was a main food source through good times and bad for many on small farms. Hogs were easier to raise than cattle and could be smoked/preserved to last through the cold winter months. We often associate ham with hogs, but sausage is certainly a big part of our culinary heritage, too. Any leftover scraps of raw meat would be ground, seasoned and cooked fresh or smoked for later use.

To me, sausage always brings to mind hearty breakfast, eaten with hot biscuits, gravy and eggs. The drippings from cooking sausage was used to make delicious gravy and for seasoning vegetables served for dinner. Judging from the varieties of sausage available in grocery stores today, it obviously continues to be a Southern favorite.

Sausage is not limited to breakfast – we love it in casseroles, combined with ground beef for meat loaf and in little sausage balls served as appetizers. We like to cook, crumble and add it to cornbread, cornbread dressing and dumplings.

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Classic Corn Meal Waffles with Sausage and Gravy is a little different take on the gravy usually served on biscuits. But how could combining these two Southern favorites not be delicious?  Adding cooked and crumbled sausage to dumplings for Chicken Stew with Sausage Dumplings adds delectable flavor to the classic chicken and dumplings.

Polenta: It’s Just Corn Meal Mush

As much as I love corn meal, I have to admit that I did not grow up eating corn meal mush. Made by cooking corn meal with water and a little salt, corn meal mush is very similar to grits – with a little smoother texture. I guess if my mother had ever eaten mush she had settled on grits as her breakfast side dish of choice.  Corn meal mush has been eaten in this country ever since the Native Americans introduced corn to the pilgrims and in many other cultures where corn is a staple.

Often eaten for breakfast as a hot cereal, corn meal mush seems to still be popular in some parts of the country. The mush is sometimes poured into a loaf pan, chilled, sliced and browned in a skillet and eaten with cane or sorghum syrup.

The name, mush, may be off-putting to many who are not familiar with this food item. However, we seemed to have had no problem with the very same thing when it became trendy in the 1980s was called polenta. The Italian name just sounded so much more interesting and acceptable. It’s not surprising that the addition of Parmesan cheese, a savory meat or vegetable topping made this new spin on the image of corn meal mush gain wide acceptance!

It is so easy to stir up a pot of polenta, spread in a pan and chill. Then simply cut into pieces and sauté, fry or bake. Cheesy Polenta Fries is a great recipe idea to get you going.

Did you grow up eating corn meal mush? If so, where did you grow up?  Also, I would love to know how you prefer to prepare and eat corn meal mush.

Celebrate National Chili Day

I have no idea who designates certain days to honor a particular food, but the fourth Thursday in February has been declared National Chili Day. That means this year it falls on February 23. According to the website, it’s believed that February was the month selected as it is typically one of the coldest months of year. I suppose that’s as good a reason as any. And chili is certainly welcome on a cold winter night.

It was interesting to learn that the roots of chili are most likely in the Southwestern United States. Despite the location, we are all thankful for the gift of one of our favorite comfort foods.

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Chili Dog Con Cornbread

I am not a chili expert. My mother never made a pot of chili in her life, probably because of its reputation for being hot and spicy. But, I have come to love chili. Part of the reason may be because some of our favorite National Cornbread Cook-Off winning recipes were inspired by the perfect union of chili and cornbread cooked in a cast iron skillet.

White Chicken Chili with Cheddar Hushpuppy Crust and Chili Dog Con Cornbread are two of my favorite cook-off recipes using chili. Fun for the whole family.