I just returned from my National Cornbread Cook-off experience late last night. Despite the fact that I did not bring home the $$$ or that beautiful Five-Star Range, which would have looked so lovely in my kitchen, I had an absolutely fantastic time and would not hesitate to return if I am ever fortunate enough to be invited for a second attempt. The people of South Pittsburg, Tennessee could not have been more hospitable. Some even seemed surprised that I would travel all those miles just to whip up my Savory Prosciutto Fontina Cornbread Pudding underneath a 200 square foot tent, surrounded mostly by folks who hadn't traveled more than a few hours by car to pay their $3 admission fee to experience all things cornbread. Personally, I found the entire experience to be more than worth the time it took to travel across a few time zones and drive into an area of the country that I wouldn't have had a reason to visit otherwise. The small-town pride, friendliness, and good manners expressed by all was so refreshing, especially coming from a place where you don't always feel like you can say "hello" to just anyone who you pass on the street, unless you know them. The bluegrass band, the street dance, and the cornbread eating contest were all fun to experience---although I can do without ever watching another buttermilk chugging contest for as long as I live--YUCK!
In the end, a nice lady from Florida won the contest with her Ancho Shrimp on Smoked Gouda Corncakes, and my new friend Teri won 2nd (yea!) with her Zesty Italian Sausage Skillet with Sundried Tomato Cornbread Crust. 3rd went to Uncle Earl from Tennessee for his Sausage Pepper Cheese Quiche, and he brought along about 50 of his closest friends to root him on, all wearing matching t-shirts. Yes, clearly this was not your mother's cornbread (although mom, you do make really great cornbread).
Amazingly, during the festival, I did not have one bite of cornbread. There were many varieties of other foods for sale--the big item seemed to be any kind of meat on a stick, and lots of it. It was all pretty heavy, but delicious, typical fair food, such as funnel cakes, gyros, and ice cream. Needless to say, by the time I arrived home last night, I was relieved to find some of the black bean and chicken soup that I had made for Eric before I left. I wanted something satisfying and healthy that I didn't need to fuss over too much, and this soup fit the bill. And no, I didn't dunk a piece of cornbread in it while I ate. Here are a few extra tips for this spicy savory soup:
- To make this recipe lower in fat and calories, substitute spicy turkey sausage for the chorizo sausage. It will still deliver on the flavor and texture.
- This soup will keep well for 3-4 days, tightly covered, in the refrigerator. The flavors will even improve over time.
- For garnish, try sprinkling the hot soup with a little bit of shredded sharp cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, a dollop of sour cream, some minced fresh chives, and/or some crushed tortilla chips.
- Improvise by using different types of beans in this soup. Garbanzo, kidney, and pinto would all work well.
- Instead of the jalapeno pepper, try substituting 1 chipotle chili in adobo, finely chopped, for a little extra spice and a smoky flavor.
Spicy Black Bean, Chicken, and Chorizo Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound chorizo sausage, casings removed
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
2 bay leaves
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
5-6 cups chicken broth
3 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chorizo, carrots, onion, celery, jalapeno, and bay leaves. Saute until the sausage is cooked through, breaking up the sausage with a spatula, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and saute for 2 minutes. Add 5 cups of broth, bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the beans and the chicken to the soup and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes, adding more broth if desired. Discard the bay leaves and season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve.