Principal’s twist on classic cornbread makes grade

Judy Armstrong, of Prairieville, knows how to whip up winning cornbread recipes.

The principal at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Baton Rouge took second place in the 2014 Martha White/Lodge Cast Iron National Cornbread Cook-Off, held April 26 in conjunction with the National Cornbread Festival in South Pittsburg, Tennessee.

Her recipe, Mediterranean Cornbread Caprese, earned her a $1,500 cash prize. With the flavors of a traditional Caprese salad, the yellow cornbread base in her recipe is combined with pancetta, garlic, fresh basil and Parmesan before being topped with tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and more pancetta. The dish is then roasted in the oven and served with warm marinara sauce for a twist on classic cornbread.

“We do our own gardening. I’ve always loved tomatoes with mozzarella and basil, like the Caprese salad, and so that was the thought in creating this recipe,” she said Monday.

This year’s coveted cast-iron skillet crown and grand prize went to Andria Gaskins, of Matthews, North Carolina, for her original recipe, Roasted Tomato and Bacon Cobbler. She received $5,000 and a 30-inch stainless steel gas range.

Third place went to Susan Rodgers, of Round Rock, Texas, who took home $1,000 for her Ultimate Southern Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

Armstrong was among the nine finalists who re-created their unique, main dish cornbread recipes made with Martha White Cornbread Mix in Lodge Cast Iron cookware live on stage. A panel of judges, including food writers, bloggers and television personalities, selected the winners.

A perennial recipe contest winner, Armstrong took third place in the 2007 National Cornbread Cook-Off.

Next month she heads to Kansas City, Missouri, where she’ll be participating in the Macy’s Sizzling Showdown barbecue contest. As one of the contest’s regional semifinalists, she’ll be making a goat cheese and spinach stuffed boneless pork chop with a hot red pepper glaze.

In 2011, she was a finalist in Crisco and Pilgrim’s Pride contests. Last year, she earned a second place in Beringer Winery’s national grilling contest. In the past few years, she’s also been a winner in several smaller cooking contests, including Taste of Home in 2013 and Well Dressed Food in 2011.

“I like to grill,” she said.

Her prowess at the grill led to her being named the grand prize winner in Steven Raichlen’s Ultimate Grilling Recipe Contest in 2009 for her London Broil “Pizza” Grilled With Roasted Garlic, Kalamata Olives and Fontina. As the winner, Armstrong and her veterinarian husband, Thomas “Tim” Armstrong, got to spend a week at Raichlen’s Barbecue University in Colorado. She also took home a Weber grill.

“It’s been fun,” she said. “This is how I relax. When I get home from school, I can go into the kitchen and see what’s available and start exploring and testing recipes.”

All four of the couple’s children are in college but are often at home.

“We have an open door,” Armstrong said, adding that daughter Kristen Armstrong will be moving home this summer to go to LSU’s veterinary school to follow in her dad’s footsteps.

Next year’s National Cornbread Cook-Off will be held April 25. Official rules and entry requirements for the 19th annual National Cornbread Cook-Off will be available after the first of the year at marthawhite.com.