When I received my third Yankee Challenge I was a wee bit nervous because I had no clue what I was being asked to cook: Shrimp Etouffee with a side of Beignets?? Hmmm, sounds a bit French and not at all Southern. Also a bit scary. Thankfully, one of my bestest friends, Katie, is a born and raised Louisiana girl. The only time I have ever had real home cooked “NOLA” food was when Miss Katie asked her Grandma to send us a huge batch of Jambalaya. It was incredibly delicious and to this day I occasionally dream about a ginormous bowl of Jambalaya drizzled in hot sauce appearing magically before my eyes. Katie was my exchange program roommate from LSU during my first year at the University of Tennessee, who happily explained both of these Cajun/Creole dishes to me.
Category Archives: Yankee Challenge
It’s no secret that The Hungry Southerner is partial to Southern Creole/Cajun cuisine. Most Cajun dishes follow a pattern that consists of 3 culinary traditions: the trinity (bell pepper, onion, celery) , a roux, and some Gulf Coast Seafood. These base ingredients mixed with a heavy dose of cajun seasoning, file powder, a little andouille sausage and a large mound of rice can be reworked in 10 dozen different combinations. This challenge is to throw you in to the deep end, and teach you how to swim in the Bayou. This month’s Yankee Challenge is Shrimp Etouffee with a side of Beignets.
After my first Yankee Challenge, Big Southern Breakfast, I picked up a few Southern cookbooks at the library, so I could read up on popular Southern dishes and how to make them. I felt very prepared when I was assigned my second Yankee Challenge: a Southern Vegetable Plate. There would be five vegetables: fried okra, collard greens, fried green tomatoes, black eyed peas, and macaroni and cheese (yes this is a veggie), plus a side of cornbread. There were some rules like the last challenge, that involved making the cornbread and mac-n-cheese from scratch, frying everything in the cast iron skillet, using dried black eyed peas, and the collard greens needed to be cooked with a ham hock or salt pork. Um, what the heck is a ham hock?!
The weather is finally getting warm, the sun is out, and everything is starting to bloom just in time for the latest Yankee Challenge. Because of the warm, wet, Springs in the south we get some tasty vegetables early. It’s always exciting to see what fresh produce is available at the first farmer’s market. In honor of the spring market, this month’s challenge is to cook a classic southern “Vegetable Plate” with a side of cast iron corn bread.
This dish was inspired by my mom’s sauteed veggies that she makes in the summer alongside angel hair pasta. She tosses lots of bright vegetables into a skillet with olive oil and cooks them until they are soft. I decided to bake my veggies and top them with a bit of crumbly light cracker.
I couldn’t tackle buttermilk biscuits without first consulting the Queen of Southern Breakfast: MawMaw
Of course she was tickled to hear from her favorite granddaughter-in-law and very excited that I was attempting to make a Southern breakfast of my own for her favorite grandson. After some catching up, she got down to business and told me that I couldn’t make biscuits without self-rising flour (and her blackberry jam, but we are all out). She said that one could do with regular flour, baking soda, and baking powder – but she never uses it, nor does she know how much of each to use. SO, just when I thought I was raring and ready to go, I had to rush to the grocery store to pick up some self-rising flour.
I couldn’t believe I almost messed up my challenge before I had even started!
The first Yankee Challenge is to season that brand new cast iron skillet, and cook us an old fashion Big Southern Breakfast. Breakfast must include: Thick Cut Bacon, Eggs (no omelets), Stone Ground Grits , Skillet Gravy and Butter Milk Biscuits . The rules are as follows: No olive oil allowed (butter or lard only); Everything, but the grits, has to be cooked in the cast iron skillet; and Everything must be made from scratch (no instant gravy mixes, quick biscuits, or instant grits). Make sure to season your cast iron skillet the day before, by rubbing a thin coat of lard or Crisco over every surface, and baking it alone in the oven at 250 degrees for 2 hours. Once your skillet is seasoned you won’t have to season it again, if used frequently. Some tips would be to cook the biscuits first, remove them from the skillet and then cook the bacon and eggs together. Try leaving a few table spoons of the bacon grease in the pan for the gravy, and keeping those tasty little bacon crisps with it. Stone grits will take 20 -30 minutes, maybe longer, so get them started while baking the biscuits. Don’t be afraid to season everything liberally with salt, pepper and/or whatever else peeks your interest (Tony Chachere’s is your friend). And don’t use soap and water on your cast iron skillet, just wipe it clean when your done. We will check in with Caitlin soon to see how she did.
Readers leave us a comment and offer your favorite biscuit recipes, ways to cook eggs, or gravy secrets. Don’t forget to try out the challenge for yourself and take pictures, we’d love to post everyone’s trials with the Big Southern Breakfast. Stop by and give Caitlin, “The Yankee”, a word of encouragement or recipe for the challenge. There will be a PRIZE, each month, for the reader with the best pictures and story about their Yankee Challenge experience, so get cooking y’all. Post your pictures to our Flickr group here or to our Facebook Fan Page here .