Friday, February 19, 2016

Ghosts of Recipe Contests Past

I recently entered a recipe contest. I did not win. It wasn't really about the food, it was about votes, and who has the most friends, and the most devices so they can vote multiple times. Not really fair. It was a popularity contest, and my delicate seafood pasta dish was handed a severe beating by a strawberry milkshake. Go figure.

Anyway, to ease my wounded feelings and remind myself that even though I was unable to come up with one thousand plus votes, I still am a very very good cook. So I dug out my cookbooks. MY cookbooks, the ones I made several years ago when I was nuts about scrapbooking and had loads and loads of supplies and a room devoted JUST to crafts. As I flipped through the pages my battered ego began to heal, remembering the delicious venison recipes, the incredible desserts, the "fat ass potatoes" my family loves so much. 

And then I turned to that magical page (two of them actually). So long ago when I was little more than a newlywed with a baby and practically NO cooking experience I took a chance at a recipe contest while living in Fort Worth, Texas. I entered two recipes- one dessert, Ballerina Birthday Cake (and no, it didn't have a doll torso sticking out of it, it was a peachy, pretty delight trimmed in ribbon and tiger lilies) and one salad, Chicken Salad Vinaigrette, which was served in a very unusual way. 

Imagine my surprise when someone called me from the paper to tell me that I had actually WON! Me- the young girl who barely made more than Stouffers lasanga and Banquet frozen fried chicken- had won a recipe contest!! You have to understand here, as a girl growing up I NEVER had to cook a meal at home. My mom always cooked dinner, my dad always cooked breakfast. As a new wife we ate Stouffers, take out and a lot of frozen pizza. But then I began collecting cookbooks. I'd read them just like other people read novels. I became interested, and experimented. A lot. It wasn't always pretty and the results weren't always great but eventually I developed into quite a good home cook. As my cookbook collection grew, so did my desire to try new and exotic foods and techniques- and the rest, as they say, is history!

Anyway, the newspaper called to tell me I had won. I needed to come downtown and have my picture taken and be interviewed for their special Cookbook Edition (yes, it is still part of my collection) and bring my completed dish as well. I was TERRIFIED! 20 years old and had to go all the way downtown in a strange city with a baby and a dish and keep myself composed! Well, I survived, and now I look back on that day with pride and a smile. I may never win another contest but at least have that one title, and that makes me pretty happy. So let me share my recipe with you. If I were making this TODAY I would have a few more salad components in there- chopped Peppadews, maybe some green olives or capers, halved grape tomatoes, but this is the original, as it appeared in the November 9, 1983 edition of the Forth Worth Star Telegram

Chicken Salad Vinaigrette

2 cups cubed cooked chicken (breast preferred)
1/2 cup sliced ripe olives
1 cup salad oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
dash salt, pepper
small red onion, sliced and separated into rings
2/3 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon dill
4 large cream puffs, split and dry
lettuce leaves and garnishes as desired.

Toss chicken, onion, olives together, chill. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar, shake to mix. Chill. Arrange lettuce leaves on four salad plates. Divide chicken among puffs, place on plates. Fix garnishes and dress salads according to taste. Service immediately.

Cream Puffs (sorry...but they spelled it wrong in the paper and I can't do that!!)

1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon dill
sesame seeds

Melt butter with water in pan, add flour and dill. Stir until dough forms a ball. Remove from heat, let stand five minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Drop in four mounds on greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 400 degrees until golden. Cut small hole in top, return to oven to dry (with oven off). Cool thoroughly.

Looking back on this recipe I see the beginnings of an imagination. I loved cooking back then as much as I do now. My budget was EXTREMELY limited but I managed to make some pretty spectacular dinners with what I had to work with. Do you know how EASY it is to make a "chocolate mousse" with Jello instant pudding, milk and some Cool Whip? Or a stroganoff-type crepe filling from hamburger and cream of something soup?  I no longer cook like that with convenience foods but I sure have fond memories of learning and growing, and reading those millions of cookbooks.........

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