Fast and flavorful pay of at Bake-Off

March 04, 1998|By HEATHER McPHERSON AND LINDA SHRIEVES | HEATHER McPHERSON AND LINDA SHRIEVES,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Flour power is out. Box mixes and quick-cook couscous are in.

With an emphasis on quick cooking, the finalists in the 38th Pillsbury Bake-Off, which was held last week at the Renaissance Resort in Orlando, Fla., kept things simple with recipes that called for ready-to-use dough, bottled sauces and packaged mixes.

Leaving flour off the ingredient qualifying list was a first for Pillsbury. Flour is generally used in a significant amount in time-consuming, from-scratch recipes. But the decision to omit flour was a response to an increasing consumer demand for fast and flavorful menu ideas.

Ellie Mathews of Seattle won the $1 million Bake-Off with a recipe that scored high marks in both convenience and taste. Her Salsa Couscous Chicken featured the quick-cooking pasta and bottled salsa. Those two ingredients were melded with an interesting combination of almonds, currants, honey and cinnamon.

Pillsbury awards the top prize from four $10,000 category winners. Mathews' recipe won the 30-Minute Main Dish category. The other category winners were Richard McHargue, Richmond, Ky., for a Tex-Mex Appetizer Tart in the Quick Snacks and Fast Appetizers category; Betty Schroedl, Jefferson, Wis., for a Texas Two-Step Slaw in Simple Side Dishes category; and Edwina Gadsby, Great Falls, Mont., for Brownie Souffle Cake With Mint Cream in Fast and Easy Treats.

Mathews may have been the winner of the Quick & Easy Bake-Off, but she certainly wasn't the fastest cook during the competition. Finalists had from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to prepare their dishes. But most contestants were finished hours before the cooking stations were shut down. Befitting her cool demeanor, Mathews took her time. She made her Salsa Couscous Chicken three times - the first batch looked so good she sent it to be photographed; the second batch tasted good, so it went to the judges. But by the time she finished the third batch, which was for sampling by other finalists and onlookers, there were very few people left to eat.

"And the truth is," she said, "it was a bit of a dud."

After Mathews was named the $1 million cook last Tuesday,Pillsbury officials whisked her off to Los Angeles for a taping of "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." The show aired that day.

Home cooks considering entering the next Bake-Off, which will be held in 2000, might be interested in this tip from finalist Steve Grieger of Oceanside, Calif.: He came up with his Chocolate Crescent Twist recipe after watching a "Seinfeld" episode about buying a babka, a sweet yeast bread. Now he's cruising the television airwaves for more inspiration.

"I'm working my way through the sitcoms," Grieger said. "I'm waiting for them to make something on 'Frasier.' "

Texas Two-Step Slaw

Makes 8 (1-cup) servings

SALAD:

4 cups shredded green cabbage

1 cup shredded red cabbage

1/4 cup chopped red onion

2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 (11-ounce) can Green Giant Mexicorn Whole Kernel Corn with Red and Green Peppers, drained

4 ounces (1 cup) shredded Cheddar cheese

fresh cilantro sprigs

DRESSING:

3/4 cup purchased ranch salad dressing

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon cumin

In large bowl, combine all salad ingredients except cilantro sprigs. Mix well.

In small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients; blend well. Pour over salad, tossing to coat. Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving time. Garnish with cilantro.

Recipe tip: When handling jalapeno chilies, wear plastic or rubber gloves to protect hands. Do not touch face or eyes.

Per serving: 240 calories, 19 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrate, 20 grams cholesterol, 410 milligrams sodium, 5 grams protein

- From Betty Schroedl, Jefferson, Wis.

Salsa Couscous Chicken

Makes 4 servings

3 cups hot cooked couscous or rice (cooked as directed on the package)

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1/4 cup coarsely chopped almonds

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 chicken thighs, skin removed

1 cup Old El Paso Garden Pepper or Thick 'n' Chunky Salsa

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons dried currants

1 tablespoon honey

3/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

While couscous is cooking, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add almonds. Cook 1 to 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove almonds from skillet with slotted spoon, set aside.

Add garlic to skillet. Cook and stir 30 seconds. Add chicken. Cook 4-5 minutes or until well-browned, turning once.

In a medium bowl, combine salsa and all remaining ingredients. Mix well. Add to chicken. Mix well. Reduce heat to medium, cook 20 minutes or until chicken is fork-tender and juices run clear, stirring occasionally. Stir in almonds. Serve chicken with couscous.

Per serving: 490 calories, 19 grams fat, 45 grams carbohydrate, 100 milligrams cholesterol, 540 milligrams sodium, 34 grams protein

- From Ellie Mathews, Seattle

Tex-Mex Appetizer Tart

Makes 16 servings

1 Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust (from a 15-ounce package), softened as directed on package

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese blend

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