Have you ever fantasized about being a professional chef? Do you wish you could go on “Chopped” and tackle the challenges? When you are watching food programs do you tell the person cooking what they are doing wrong? I met six people with these ambitions a few weeks ago during the Foster Farms 2012 Cooking Contest. And they were living their dream!
The thousands of recipes submitted to Foster Farms had been whittled down to the best of the best, from cooks in Washington, Oregon and California (two from each state). The six finalists had won $1000 in regional competitions held in Portland, San Diego and Seattle. Now they had one last time to impress the judges. So they donned their chef whites, headed into the professional kitchen and tried to calm their nerves.
The delightful folks at Fineman PR provided me with tickets for some lucky readers of The Heritage Cook. They were my guests at the culinary center to watch the contestants ply their knives and create their winning recipes for a chance at the grand prize.
It was a gorgeous early autumn day, the sun was shining brightly and there was a promise of afternoon heat in the air when my friends and I took off for a day in wine country. As we drove up the Valley, winding along the Silverado Trail, we breathed in the clean air and shared stories of wine tasting adventures.
Our tummies were growling with hunger as we pulled into the Culinary Institute of America Greystone, the site of the cook-off. The students at the school had prepared treats for us to enjoy while the first half of the contestants prepared their winning recipes for the judges. It was a star-studded panel this year, all highly qualified and up to the tough job of picking a winner.
Liam Mayclem, host and producer of CBS’s “Eye on the Bay” was busy interviewing his fellow judges: John Ash, chef, cookbook author and host of KSRO-AM “The Good Food Hour”; Lynne Char Bennet, food writer and test kitchen director for the San Francisco Chronicle; Ken Frank, chef and owner of Napa’s award-winning La Toque restaurant; and Carolyn Jung, food writer and author of the Food Gal blog (one of my favorites).
After the judges were served the meals prepared by the contestants, the audience members got to taste samples that had been prepared by the staff of the CIA. It was fun to try each dish, choosing our favorites and figuring out which one to make first when we got back home! I am still thinking about the fascinating combination of flavors in the tea-based dry rub.
A week before the finals, Foster Farms House Parties were held in the three western states, where thousands of home chefs and their guests prepared, tasted, and voted on the six finalist’s dishes. They selected the People’s Choice, which was announced just before the grand prize winner. Karen Bernards of McMinnville, Oregon won a year’s supply of Foster Farms fresh chicken and a $1,000 shopping spree at the Spice Islands® Marketplace at the CIA Greystone! In 2007, Karen won the Build-a-Better-Burger competition, also held in Napa Valley. Keep an eye out for her in other national contests.
The dishes were judged on taste, use of fresh, local ingredients, appearance and appeal, simplicity and ease of making, and originality. There was a definite focus on healthy ingredients. I loved the use of dry rubs and serving the chicken on beds of quinoa and lentils instead of the more typical potatoes or rice. I am certain that some of the components such as the Chipotle Bearnaise sauce and rice with mangoes will be making appearances on my dinner table in the near future!
In one of the closest competitions to date, the winner of a check for $10,000 and a one-year supply of Foster Farms fresh chicken was Merry Graham of Newhall, California. She received a standing ovation from the crowd and congratulations from the other finalists. Merry is a veteran of many recipe contests around the country. Her Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice was a beautiful blend of Asian flavors with just a hint of heat from red pepper flakes. It makes a perfect one-dish meal that you can easily make on busy weeknights.
Thanks for coming along with us on our day at the CIA Greystone. I hope you enjoy all six of these winning recipes. It was a pleasure meeting their creators and I am looking forward to next year’s competition. Who knows, maybe I will enter next time. How about you?
Happy Festive Friday – have a wonderful weekend!
Lemon-Hoisin Glazed Chicken on Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Sesame Rice
Grand Prize Winner, Merry Graham, Newhall, CA
Serves 4 – 6
6 Foster Farms chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1” chunks
2-1/4 tsp salt, divided
1 tbsp minced ginger root
4 cloves garlic, chopped, divided
3 tbsp peanut oil, divided
6 green onions, chopped, with whites and greens divided
1-1/2 cups jasmine rice, rinse well and drained
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup lemon juice, divided
2/3 cup dried cherries, chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
1-1/2 tbsp honey, divided
1 large lemon or two small, finely grate zest
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, divided
2 tsp black sesame seeds
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2” pieces
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/3 roasted salted almonds, roughly chopped
Mix chicken, one teaspoon salt, ginger, and half of the garlic. Set aside.
In medium saucepan over medium heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Stir in onion whites, remaining garlic, and jasmine rice. Cook, stirring frequently, for 8 minutes or until beginning to toast. Add broth, half of the lemon juice and one teaspoon salt; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook 15 minutes. Uncover, fluff with fork, stir in dried cherries, sesame oil, and remaining green onions. Set aside.
In large frying pan over medium high heat, warm one tablespoon peanut oil. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes or until no longer pink on the outside.
In small bowl, stir together vinegar, Hoisin, one tablespoon honey, remaining lemon juice, half of the lemon zest and 1/4-teaspoon red pepper flakes. Add sauce to chicken in pan and continue cooking for 10 additional minutes on medium. Raise heat to high and cook for 2-4 minutes until sauce on chicken is dark and has thickened. Sprinkle chicken with black sesame seeds. Remove pan from heat, set aside and keep warm.
In second large frying pan, warm remaining peanut oil over high heat. Add asparagus, remaining honey, red pepper and remaining salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-4 minutes, or until asparagus is tender.
To serve, plate rice on serving platter. Top with half of the cilantro, almonds, and roasted asparagus, Top with chicken pieces. Sprinkle with remaining cilantro and lemon zest.
Hoisin Chicken Thighs
People’s Choice Winner, Karen Bernards, McMinnville, OR
Serves 4 – 6
8 Foster Farms fresh chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 tsp salt
2-1/2 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, thinly sliced (green part only)
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Spray baking sheet with cooking pan spray. Set aside.
In small saucepan over medium heat, combine hoisin sauce, honey and ginger. Bring mixture to a boil; reduce heat to simmer. Cook until thickened, about 7 minutes, stirring as needed. If mixture gets too thick, add one tablespoon water. Reserve half of hoisin sauce in separate bowl.
Place chicken on prepared pan; sprinkle with salt. Place chicken in oven and cook 15 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and brush with hoisin sauce from saucepan. Return chicken to oven and continue cooking until cooked through, about 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and brush with sauce from second bowl.
While chicken is cooking, mixed diced mango and cilantro into cooked rice. Place rice on serving platter; top with chicken. Sprinkle scallions and sesame seeds on top.
Tea Rubbed Chicken with Apple Spinach Salad & Spicy Nuts
Finalist, Rebecca Cameron, Bonney Lake, WA
4 Foster Farms chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
4 tbsp unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp olive oil
2-1/2 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 red onion, sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups apple cider, unfiltered
3 tbsp chopped shallot
1 tbsp grain mustard
1/2 cup canola oil
10 ounces spinach
4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 small apples, diced
2/3 cup spicy nuts
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In small bowl, combine tea, ginger, cinnamon and brown sugar. Coat chicken lightly with olive oil; rub spice seasoning into chicken pieces and sprinkle with one teaspoon salt.
Place chicken in hot oven and bake 40 minutes, or until cooked throughout. Remove from oven, cool slightly, and slice into strips.
While chicken is baking, make pickled onions by combining onion slices, one teaspoon salt, sugar, water and vinegar in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are translucent, about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat, drain and cool.
In separate saucepan, place cider. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook until reduced to one cup, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in shallot, mustard and remaining salt. Slowly whisk in salad oil. Cool.
In large serving bowl, combine spinach, bacon, pickled onions, diced apple and about one-fourth cup cider vinaigrette dressing. Toss well to coat. Place chicken strips on top of spinach and sprinkle with nuts.
Cherry and Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken With Merlot Scented Lentils
Finalist, Sandra Gray, Seattle, WA
6 Foster Farms fresh chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, any visible fat removed
3/4 cup Washington State Merlot
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup dry lentils
2 slices rustic white bread
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup goat cheese
8 fresh sage leaves
8 sprigs thyme, stripped
1 rosemary sprig, stripped
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
5 cups spinach leaves, divided
1 lemon, juiced and lightly zested
1/3 cup dried cherries
6 slices prosciutto, very thin
Preheat oven to 400 F.
In medium sized saucepan over medium heat, bring wine, chicken broth and water to boil. Add lentils, cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook according to package directions until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.
Toast bread in toaster until lightly browned. In food processor, pulse garlic until roughly chopped. Add goat cheese, sage leaves, thyme, rosemary, pepper, 2 cups spinach leaves, egg, lemon zest, lemon juice and toasted bread slices. Pulse together to combine. Add cherries and pulse. Set contents aside.
Place chicken between 2 sheets of waxed or parchment paper. Using a meat mallet, pound chicken to one-inch thickness. Lay slices of prosciutto on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place one pounded chicken thigh on the top of each slice of prosciutto. Place 2 tablespoons of stuffing in the center of each piece of chicken; roll tightly into a neat bundle. Place rolls on a baking sheet, seam-side down. Place in hot oven and bake 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked throughout. Remove from oven, let rest for 5 minutes and slice each roll in half diagonally.
Place remaining spinach on serving platter. Top with lentils and chicken, stuffing side up.
Spice Rubbed Chicken Thighs with Chipotle Béarnaise and Avocado Lime Quinoa Salad
Finalist, Jackie Dodd, Los Angeles, CA
4 Foster Farms fresh chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
2 tbsp, plus 1/4 cup chopped cilantro divided
1 shallot, chopped
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup dry California white wine
3 egg yolks
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (from can)
2 tsp adobo sauce (from can)
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp olive oil
1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 tbsp lime juice
1 California avocado, pitted and diced
1/4 cup sliced green olives
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
In medium saucepan, combine two tablespoons cilantro, shallots, vinegar and wine over medium heat. Allow to simmer until reduced to about two tablespoons of liquid, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
In food processor, combine vinegar reduction, egg yolks, chipotle pepper and adobo sauce; process until well combined. In microwave or in small saucepan, melt butter until very hot and just starting to bubble. Turn on food processor and slowly pour melted butter into mixture as it is running. Allow to process until well combined and frothy, about 3 minutes. Set sauce aside.
In wide shallow bowl or cake pan, combine salt, paprika, celery salt, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder and chili powder; stir well. Lay chicken thighs flat in spice mixture, turning to coat.
In large frying pan over medium high heat, warm oil until hot but not smoking. Add chicken thighs and cook 3 – 5 minutes; turn and cook additional 5 minutes or until cooked throughout.
In large serving bowl, combine quinoa, lime juice, avocado, olives and cucumber. Toss well. Top with chicken pieces. Drizzle béarnaise sauce on chicken to serve.
Cumin Chicken Paillards with Grape Tomatoes, Scallions and Wine
Finalist, Judi Berman-Yamada, Portland, OR
6 Foster Farms fresh chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
2 medium scallions, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as an Oregon Sauvignon Blanc
2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
Place chicken between two layers of wax paper. Pound with meat mallet to thickness of one-half inch. Drizzle lime juice over both sides of chicken pieces.
In small bowl, combine salt, cumin, paprika, chili powder and black pepper. Rub seasoning onto both sides of chicken pieces. In large skillet over medium high heat, warm oil and butter. Place chicken, top side down, into the heated pan and sauté until golden, about 5 minutes. Turn and continue cooking until chicken is cooked throughout, about 4 to 5 minutes longer. Remove chicken pieces to serving platter and keep warm.
Reduce heat to medium. Add tomatoes and scallions to pan. Cook over medium heat for one minute. Add wine, scraping bottom of pan to deglaze. Bring mixture to a boil for one minute. Pour hot tomato mixture over chicken pieces; top with cilantro before serving.
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