While it may sound corny, the National Cornbread Festival was a rootin' tootin' success, said Bob Kellermann, chairman and CEO of sponsor Lodge Manufacturing Co. "The weather was great, the attendance outstanding," he said.
Thousands attended the recent event in South Pittsburg, Tenn., and many were drawn to the center of town to watch cooks test their culinary skills in hopes of winning the National Cornbread Cook-Off.
The finalists came from six states, including two from East Tennessee:
• Catherine Wilkinson, of Arizona, who made Tennessee Ham and Creamy Mustard Collard Greens With Black Pepper-Cheddar Cornbread.
• Lisa Keys, of Connecticut, Sweet Yellow Cornbread, Sausage and Tomato Pie With a Garlic Cream Drizzle.
• Rene Pare, of North Carolina, Seafood and Okra Stew With Cornmeal Dumplings.
• Richard Swanson, of Connecticut, Jerk Shrimp and Caribana Corn Cakes.
• Janice Elder, of North Carolina, Glorious Greek Shrimp With Crispy Cornbread Cubes.
• Jeanette Nelson, of West Virginia, Marvelous Mediterranean Chicken Sausage Cornbread Dinner.
• Cristy King, of West Virginia, Peaches and Cream Cornbread With Maple Sausage.
• Melanie McCoy, of Knoxville, Sweet Cornbread Shrimp Cakes With Mango Salsa.
• Ronna Farley, of Maryland, Skillet Chicken Cornbread Pudding Mexicana.
• Tim Gladdish, of Oliver Springs, Tenn., Italian Sausage Stuffed Bell Pepper Rings.
Each dish clearly showed the versatility of cornbread, but one stood out above all others.
Drumroll please: The winner was Melanie McCoy from Knoxville.
"After 16 years, the variety of the recipes (in the cook-off) never ceases to amaze me," Kellermann said. "This year's recipes were all outstanding, and the judges worked diligently to select a winner."
Here's McCoy's recipe. You be the judge, but it sounds like a winner to me.
1 (7-ounce) package Martha White Sweet Yellow Cornbread and Muffin Mix
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
3 cups peeled and chopped mango (2 to 3 mangoes)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
Juice of 1 large lime
1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and coarsely chopped
3 teaspoons seafood seasoning
2 large eggs, beaten
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Butter for cooking shrimp cakes
Lemon wedges and parsley for garnish
Bake cornbread mix according to package directions, using milk and 1 egg. Cool and crumble.
Stir together salsa ingredients. Allow to sit for 30 minutes. Serve or refrigerate until serving time.
Heat butter over medium heat in 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Cook celery and 1/2 cup chopped red onion until tender, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer celery and onion to large bowl. Stir in shrimp, seafood seasoning, 2 eggs, mayonnaise, cilantro, salt and pepper. Stir in crumbled cornbread until well blended. Using about 1/3 cup, form mixture into 12 crab cakes about 21/2 inches in diameter. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment or wax paper.
Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons butter in skillet over medium heat. Cook crab cakes until lightly browned and shrimp turn pink, about 4 minutes on each side. Cook remaining crab cakes, adding additional butter as needed. Place cakes on a serving platter. Garnish with lemon wedges and parsley. Serve with Mango Salsa.
Veronica Hardin sent an email recalling a garden center on Manufacturers Road that closed many years ago. I remember it well. It was located in the current Riverside Wine and Spirits building. Although its main business was the sale of plants and other garden accouterments, the owner sold fresh peach fried pies during the store's opening celebration. They were made by a local woman, Hardin said. "And they were the best I've ever tasted. I'm planning a party for some very special people, and I know they would love them."
But she has no idea where to find the business owners or the cooks. If you know, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If they're as good as she remembers, I'll bet many of you readers would love to find out where you can get them.
New things are happening at Broad Street Grille at The Chattanoogan this spring. Andrew Millsap is now the head chef and is committed to working closely with local farmers and other food purveyors, such as Signal Mountain Farm, Eagles Rest Ranch, Link 41 Sausage and Niedlov's Breadworks. These foods will blend beautifully with his specialties, which focus on prime meats, sustainable seafoods and made-from-scratch pasta.
Weekends at Broad Street Grille usher in new offerings, too, such as Friday evening's Steak Night, featuring upscale meats from Atlanta-based Buckhead Beef. And Saturday Date Night is in full swing with couples enjoying a romantic dinner for two with appetizers, salad, soup, entrees, dessert and a bottle of wine for $65 per couple. Quite a bargain for a gourmet dinner.
"We're very excited about the positive improvements at Broad Street Grille," Rick Shell, director of food and beverage, said in a news release.
For more information about any of the culinary happenings, log onto www.chattanooganhotel.com.