At the top of the pecking order Winner Chicken with mushrooms and fresh sage cream made Julie Fox of Annapolis the top prize winner of the Delmarva Chicken Cooking Contest.

July 03, 1996|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,SUN STAFF

It was only her second try, so no one was more surprised than Julie Fox when she took first place in the 1996 Delmarva Chicken Cooking Contest a few weeks ago in Salisbury. The contest, which is sponsored by the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. and has been going on in various forms since 1949, draws hundreds of entries from Virginia to Maine.

"I just cook for a hobby," said the 28-year-old Annapolis native, who had been living in Baltimore but recently returned to her home town after getting married.

She didn't win her first cooking contest attempt, for Chun King products, but she wasn't daunted by cooking her chicken with mushrooms and fresh sage cream at the cookoff before 19 other finalists and the general public.

"It was a lot of fun," she said. However, her dish, which should take about 20 minutes to prepare "in the comfort of your own kitchen," took her two hours at the contest, "because I was talking to people, explaining sage -- kids were coming up [to talk] and a lot of them didn't know what sage was."

Her biggest surprise was finding out how avid some of her fellow contestants were. "They make it a sort of second income. One woman won $2,000 from Quaker Oats, and $1,000 from someone else."

Her prizes include a trip for two to the Caribbean, $1,000 cash, a range and other items. While she doesn't plan to make contests a second career, she said, "I do intend to take a shot at the [next] national chicken cooking contest."

The self-confessed cookbook addict ("I must have more than a hundred of them") wasn't interested in cooking as a child, though her mother did teach her some basics. But when she graduated from college, she found it expedient to learn. "Boxed macaroni and cheese gets real old real fast," she said.

Now her goal is "to come up with things that are healthy, but don't taste like it," she said. "I love it when my husband says, 'This is good for you?' "

Her winning chicken recipe was designed to take advantage of her favorite food -- pasta. "Of course, I like the rich, creamy,

fattening sauces," she said, so she thought she would see if she could do a healthful variation of fettuccine Alfredo, using low-fat or nonfat cream cheese as the base. "I was really pleased that the cheese melted so well, and really pleased with the way it looked," she said.

With the lower-fat cream cheese, Fox used garlic, white wine, Parmesan cheese and sage to give her sauce the rich flavor she craved.

"I like to experiment with different flavors in the kitchen," she said. "If I go to a restaurant and have something really fattening, I try to get close to the flavor using healthier ingredients."

Although her job as a media specialist for Mosby-Lifeline, a Linthicum publisher of health and safety text, videos and multimedia information, keeps her too busy to cook more than two or three days a week, she has a hope that more meals might soon be emerging from the kitchen: her husband Joel.

"He's really getting into it," she said. "I think he's caught on to the fun of playing with different seasonings and stuff."

Here's Julie Fox's winning recipe. She said it's important to use fresh sage, rather than dried.

"I don't want to be a snob about it, but it really does make a big difference in the taste."

Chicken with mushrooms and fresh sage cream

Serves four

4 broiler-fryer chicken breast halves, boned, skinned

2 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

3 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 cups cremini mushrooms, sliced (see note)

3/4 cup green onion, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 8-ounce package low-fat or nonfat cream cheese (or a combination of the two), cubed

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup low-fat milk

2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

4 cups hot cooked linguine

Parmesan cheese

fresh sage

On a hard surface, with a meat mallet or similar flattening device, pound chicken to 1/4 -inch thickness. In a shallow dish, mix together flour, salt and pepper. Add chicken, 1 piece at a time, turning to coat all sides.

In a large nonstick frying pan, place oil and heat to medium-high temperature. Add chicken and cook, turning, about 8 minutes or until chicken is brown and fork-tender. Arrange chicken on platter; cover loosely and keep warm.

To drippings in frying pan, add garlic, mushrooms, green onion, and wine. Cook, covered, over medium-high heat 3 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Add cream cheese, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, milk and sage; stir constantly until cheeses melt and sauce is smooth.

Place linguine on serving plates; arrange chicken on linguine. Spoon mushroom and sage cream over chicken. Garnish with fresh sage and pass additional Parmesan.

Note: Cremini are brown mushrooms readily available in supermarkets. However, you can substitute sliced white button mushrooms.

Pub Date: 7/03/96

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