Thursday, November 6, 2008

Have You Ever Thought of Entering a Cooking Contest?

Have you ever thought of entering a cooking contest? Some of the big contests offer large dollar prizes. There are three major national contests: The Pillsbury Bake-Off, the National Beef Cook-Off, and the National Chicken Cooking Contest.

The Food Network shows the cooking contests from time to time. I happened to catch the Pillsbury Bake-Off the other night. It was exciting to watch the contestants compete for the grand prize, which is now up to one million dollars.

It reminded me of the time I was the Mississippi finalist in the 40th National Chicken Cooking Contest. I was awarded an all expense paid trip to the competition where participants are introduced to the audience as the state winner. With a banner draped over your chest, you walked out feeling very much like "Miss America". Everyone had their very own kitchen. A flag was provided that each contestant could raise or lower, indicating whether they were available for conversation and questions while preparing their dish.

My dish was Chicken Breasts stuffed with Goat Cheese. Goat cheese in 1993 was a fairly exotic ingredient. Many people stopped by my booth with questions.

We lived in Vicksburg, Mississippi at the time and our city newspaper’s food editor, Laurin Stamm, accompanied me, along with my husband Meakin, to the contest. She actually presented my dish to the judges for tasting. Although I did not win the grand prize, she said they "didn’t leave a bite."

It was an experience of a lifetime and the contests treat you like royalty. I won’t soon forget it. If you have ever considered entering a contest, I think the key is to send in as many recipes as you can. Your odds are much greater that way and you never know which recipe will be the most appealing to the panel. There are many smaller contests, which is how I originally got started. I urge you to give contests a try. You never know what might happen.

Here is my entry. Goat cheese is easy to obtain at any grocery store. For the health conscious, goat cheese or chevre has half the fat of cheddar, cream cheese or Brie. Although in appearance it resembles cream cheese, its wonderful tang sets it far apart.

Recipe: Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Goat Cheese, Sun-dried Tomatoes & Rosemary
Excellent served with Green Beans and Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts halves (1 1/2 lbs)
4 oz. fresh goat cheese
4 whole sun dried tomatoes (not packed in oil)
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
1 very finely minced clove of garlic
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted sweet butter
Mushroom sauce - recipe follows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pound chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/4" using mallet. Bring 2 cups of water to boil; add sun dried tomatoes & remove from heat. Let soak 4 minutes until soft. Remove from water, pat dry & finely chop. Combine tomatoes with goat cheese, rosemary & garlic. Spread cheese mixture lengthwise over center of each chicken piece. Roll chicken up & tuck short ends in and secure with toothpicks. Dip chicken in egg, allowing excess to drip into bowl. Roll in bread crumbs, shaking off excess.

Place chicken in baking dish that has been lined with aluminum foil. Pour 2 tablespoons melted butter over chicken & bake until cooked through, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
Remove toothpicks from chicken, cut rolls crosswise into 1/2" thick rounds. Fan chicken on plate, spoon mushroom sauce over & serve immediately. Serves 4.

Mushroom sauce

Sauté 1 cup fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced, in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a non-stick 10" skillet over medium high heat until tender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add 1/2 cup chicken broth & 1/2 cup dry white wine (or substitute more chicken broth) to mushrooms & reduce until about 1/3 cup remains. Remove from heat & add 1 tablespoon cold sweet butter. Stir to blend.

Cooks tip for making homemade bread crumbsThere is a real advantage to making your own crumbs instead of buying the pre-packaged ones, which can have an unpleasant preserved taste. Use full tasting bread, like a sourdough or a French baguette. Simply tear the bread into small chunks and grind in a food processor or blender. For a more delicate crumb, trim the crusts first.

Recipe previously published in The 1993 Chicken Cookbook, a Dell publication.


  1. Sam, Thanks for these recipes.

    Your blog is one of the best. I always enjoy checking in to see what you are doing. I clicked on the contests, and it was fun to see, but to tell you the truth, I know I am not a winner when it comes to cooking. I love to cook for my family and friends, but no one has ever asked me for a recipe. I will tell others about your site. It is good.

    Nancy Simpson

  2. Nancy, thank you for the kind comments. You inspired my latest post about sharing recipes. Hope you like it.



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