A Baker's Million

Liz Barclay hopes to win the grand prize in this year's Pillsbury Bake-Off, but just being a finalist is reward enough

January 19, 2000|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Food Editor

Who wants to be a millionaire? Liz Barclay of Annapolis, for one. But instead of final answers, Regis and lifelines used on that big-bucks TV show, all she needs is a winning recipe. And she just might have one.

Barclay has been chosen as one of 100 finalists who will head to San Francisco next month for the Pillsbury 50th Anniversary Bake-Off. She'll join 91 other women and eight men in her quest to become a big-time winner.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," says Barclay, 48, a wife, mother and assistant principal at Indian Creek School in Crownsville. "In my mind, I've already won just being a finalist."

For now, her recipe for Southwestern Chicken Biscuits is under wraps, not to be shared until Pillsbury gives the nod in a couple of weeks. Barclay is allowed to say the dish she entered in the Casual Snacks & Appetizers category was "inspired by my kids' love of buffalo wings."

Her children, Devin, 16, and Colin, 14, students at McDonogh School, and husband, David, an attorney, often are guinea pigs for her cooking endeavors, Barclay says.

"When you bomb, they tell you," she adds with a laugh.

Her husband says it's fun trying various recipes, but he acknowledges that diplomacy often is the key. "One has to be tactful," he says. "Even if the recipe may not be a winner, it's better to be careful with your comments."

Barclay, who is a self-taught cook, was thrust into kitchen chores at age 8 when her father died and her mother went to work as a teacher. As the oldest girl in a family of four, the Cleveland native soon became adept at getting dinner on the table with the help of her siblings.

"We loved to eat. We loved to experiment," she says of the early cooking days.

Now, as a veteran entrant of recipe contests, Barclay says she eats almost anything except lima beans and loves "high calorie things" especially ice cream. And, yet, she's so slender. She eats moderate portions, walks and takes Jazzercise classes, she explains.

She's cheerful, too. No, the contestants aren't cutthroat. They become friends, e-mailing and comparing contest experiences, says this energetic woman with short, sandy hair and a million-dollar smile.

Barclay gets her recipe ideas from cookbooks, cooking trends and new ingredients, she says. She also subscribes to three cooking-contest newsletters.

"It's been so much fun. Now I'm kind of a junkie," Barclay says. "I love going for unique prizes."

She is incredibly organized, keeping a list of winning recipes. According to her tally, she's been a finalist or winner in 29 contests since 1978, ending up with about $4,000, several trips and a cache of goodies -- from T-shirts to cookbooks to kitchen appliances.

There was an eight-year break, though. She took a hiatus from her hobby from '89 until '97 when her children were younger.

"When I had kids, it was tough getting food on the table," Barclay says.

But she's in full cooking mode these days, relishing the rewards. On a recent afternoon in her white kitchen accented with floral wallpaper, Barclay is surrounded by some of her winnings: a refrigerator, microwave, food processor, mixer, cookware and cutlery.

And those are just from one contest in which she came in third for her Sundance Summer Supper, a spicy Tex-Mex-style chicken dish. Of course, the new titanium pots and pans meant she had to give away a set of Calphalon pans she won in another contest for her Winter Harvest Sausage Balls With Dijon-Balsamic Glaze recipe.

"I need a new kitchen for my pans," she jokes, pulling out drawers filled with an assortment of containers.

And, last summer, she won so many grills, she had to sell some.

One can only wonder where she is going to put the state-of-the-art G.E. oven (valued at $1,500 with installation) due to arrive on her doorstep. The new-technology appliance, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to San Francisco, are just part of being named a finalist in the Pillsbury contest.

Fame and fortune are other parts. Many winning recipes have become incorporated into American food repertoires over the decades, including Tunnel of Fudge Cake, French Silk Chocolate Pie and Dilly Casserole Bread. This year, 10 top recipes will be inducted into a Pillsbury Hall of Fame.

One of the dishes being considered -- Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks (1975) -- is the creative work of another Marylander, Ronna Sue Farley of Rockville. This year's million-dollar bake-Off also features the culinary talents of Marjorie Bergemann of Greenbelt, Elizabeth LaDuca of North Potomac and Ernie Crow and Leslie Press, both of Rockville.

"You have a lot of talent in your area," says Marlene Johnson, director of product communications at Pillsbury. "We're looking for that creative spark."

Pillsbury received "tens of thousands" of recipes for the 2000 competition. The judges look for quick-and-easy recipes that fit into busy lifestyles, Johnson says.

"Our home economists are professionals, but they're also busy moms and homemakers, who say, 'My family would love this recipe tonight.' "

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