Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Award-winning cornbread

Cornbread is an American classic, and every year up in South Pittsburg, Tenn., they pick the best new recipes of the year that use main-dish variations using cornbread. I'm not sure you'd bake a pan of cornbread to accompany these entrees, but I could be wrong.

Well, the 2008 National Cornbread Cook-Off winners have been chosen, and, good Lord Almighty, they've done some fabulous things with that pone that should be in every home. (Of course, the corn bread purist in me always objects to the use of mixes instead of good, plain cornmeal, but I don't run the contest. Given my anti-mix bias, the third-place winner will be the first one I try.)

Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes (right) took home the coveted cast iron skillet crown as the Grand Prize winner of the cookoff, sponsored by Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron and held in conjunction with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg.

As cornbread enthusiasts (yes, we're out there) watched and cheered, 10 finalists mixed, chopped, fried and baked their main-dish cornbread recipes for the tasting pleasure of an expert panel of judges.

From Las Vegas to Arkansas to Ohio, this year’s finalists proved that cornbread isn’t just for Southerners. The 10 finalists were chosen from a group of almost 1,000 entrants nationwide. Entrants were asked to submit original, main dish recipes.

“For the 12th year, good cooks from all over the country continued to be inspired by the perfect marriage of cornbread dishes cooked in cast iron,” said the Martha White baking expert Linda Carman. “We are so pleased to share this year’s winning recipes with cornbread lovers everywhere, because they are innovative and delicious, but also easy to make.”

Lori Stephens of Hendersonville, Tenn., created this year’s Grand Prize winning recipe - Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes. Cook-Off judges were impressed by the way Lori focused her creativity on the delectable corncakes dressed up with corn, green onions and smoked Gouda cheese. To serve, the corncakes are topped with a simple shrimp and tomato sauté flavored with mild earthy ancho chile peppers.

Cornbread is all in the family for the winner. Stephens’ mother and brother are former National Cornbread Cook-Off finalists, and her grandmother earned first place at the Cook-Off in 2001.

Her original main-dish recipe earned the top prize of $5,000 and a 30-inch FiveStar stainless steel gas range from Brown Stove Works, Inc., of Cleveland, Tenn.

In second place was Teresa Ralston of New Albany, Ohio, who won a $500 cash prize for her Zesty Italian Sausage Skillet with Sundried Tomato Cornbread Crust – a creamy sausage and tomato filling blanketed with an easy-to-make cornbread crust. Ralston, who was celebrating her birthday, added refreshing flavor to the dish by topping the warm cornbread with balsamic vinaigrette-dressed baby greens and creamy crumbles of Gorgonzola. The unexpected combination earned high marks from the judges.

Earl Bandy, Jr., from Knoxville, Tenn., the only male finalist, took home third place and $300 for his imaginative and colorful Sausage Pepper Cheese Quiche with Cornbread Crust, brimming with hot sausage, red and green bell peppers, mushroom and green onions. Earl brought along a large group of family and friends for support and clad in matching t-shirts, they cheered enthusiastically as he added sour cream, avocado, tomatoes and cilantro to complete the dish.
Other National Cornbread Cook-Off finalists: Susan Scarborough, Fernandina Beach, Fla.; Janet Gilbert, Oneonta, Al.; Susan Robenson, Hot Springs, Ark.; Erin Bray, Knoxville, Tenn.; Lynn Mears, Bessemer, Al.; Julie Hession, Las Vegas, Nev.; Ann Piscitelli, Nokomis, Fla. They each took home $100 cash and special gifts from Martha White and Lodge Cast Iron.

The 13th annual National Cornbread Cook-Off will be April 25, 2009, in conjunction with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg. Contest rules and entry requirements for the 2009 National Cornbread Cook-Off will be available after the first of the year.

Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes

First Prize Winner
Lori Stephens – Hendersonville, TN

1 tablespoon butter
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/3 cups Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix
1 1/2 cup shredded smoked Gouda
1/2 cup Canola Oil

Ancho Shrimp
4 tablespoons butter
2 or 3 large dried ancho peppers* (split in half and seeds removed)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 lb. fresh uncooked shrimp, shelled and deveined
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup canned petite diced tomatoes, undrained
Sliced green onions

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 10-inch cast iron skillet on medium. Add 1/3 cup green onions; cook 1 minute. Add corn; cook 2 minutes. In large mixing bowl, whisk egg. Add buttermilk, sour cream, and corn meal; whisk until smooth. Stir in cheese, corn and onions. Wipe out skillet with paper towel. Add 4 tablespoons oil; heat on medium high. Spoon batter into oil by 1/4 cupfuls. Cook until golden brown; turn and brown on other side. Cook in batches adding oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out skillet.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter in skillet on medium high. Add ancho peppers; cook 3 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute. Add shrimp; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until shrimp turns pink, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes; cook just until hot. Remove ancho peppers.

Place 2 corncakes slightly overlapping on serving plate. Top with shrimp and sauce; sprinkle with green onions.

6 servings

*Ancho chile peppers, a dried red heart-shaped pod, have a mild earthy flavor. If unavailable, add 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile pepper (available in the spice section) with the salt and pepper.

Zesty Italian Sausage Skillet with Sundried Tomato Cornbread Crust

Second Prize Winner
Teresa Ralston – New Albany, OH

2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 pound Italian pork sausage
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons dried sage
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 (6 oz.) pkg. Martha White Cotton Country Cornbread Mix
2/3 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup chopped oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

6 cups baby lettuce greens
Balsamic salad dressing, to taste
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
Fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 400° F. Heat oil in a 10-inch cast iron skillet on medium high. Add onion; cook until softened. Add sausage; cook breaking up with a fork until done. Drain, if needed. Add cream; simmer 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, sage and red pepper. Simmer on medium about 10 minutes or until sauce thickens.

In a medium bowl, combine cornbread crust ingredients; mix well. Spread over top of sausage mixture in skillet. Bake at 400. for 15 to 20 minutes or until cornbread is golden brown.

In a bowl, toss greens and dressing. Cut cornbread crust into 6 wedges. Place each with sausage filling on plate; top with 1/6th of the greens. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola and fresh pepper.

6 servings

Sausage Pepper Cheese Quiche with Cornbread Crust

Third Prize Winner
Earl Bandy, Jr. – Knoxville, TN

Cornbread Crust
2 tablespoons Vegetable Oil
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon soda
1 cup plain Corn Meal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 (14.5 oz.) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (4.5 oz.) can diced green chiles, drained

5 eggs, beaten
1 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 pound hot bulk pork sausage, browned and drained
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers
1 cup sliced mushrooms
4 green onions, sliced
3/4 cup shredded yellow Cheddar cheese
3/4 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese
Toppings: Sour cream, sliced cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado and chopped cilantro

Heat oven to 400. Pour oil into 12-inch cast iron skillet; place in oven 7 to 8 minutes or until hot. Add soda to buttermilk; set aside for 5 minutes. In large mixing bowl, combine all cornbread crust ingredients; stir until well blended. Pour into hot skillet. Bake at 400°F for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly browned.

Reduce oven to 350. In large mixing bowl, combine 5 eggs, half and half, salt, pepper and cumin; beat well. Layer sausage, peppers, mushrooms, onions, and cheeses over crust. Pour egg mixture over top. Bake at 350 for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and set. Cool 5 minutes before serving. Cut into wedges and serve with choice of toppings.

8 servings