Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

It Pays to Eat Chicken

To pass the blog time I thought I would share a recipe and personal experience that involves chicken - the much less talked about other bird during this gobble-icous time of year.  O.k., so the real reason is that we have not been doing anything exciting since we got to Tucson (other than hanging out with friends and eating well) and I have nothing to write about.

A number of years ago, Betsy saw an advertisement for a cooking contest offering a grand prize of $50,000.  Yep, the National Chicken Council (there really is such an organization) was sponsoring a contest that awarded 50 grand just for making chicken delicious.  I have nothing against chicken, but when it comes to meat, a good ol’ steak wins out every time.  Nonetheless, Betsy’s encouragement propelled me to get in the kitchen and start cooking.  In fact, she insisted!  She had her eyes intently focused on the prize and declared herself my coach and official taste tester.  I came up with a recipe, jotted it down, and emailed this long shot to the National Chicken Council.  

Betsy called me one day at work and said that I received an envelope from the chicken people and wanted to know if she could open it.  “Sure” I said.  We had long forgotten about the contest and really couldn't remember what recipe I had submitted.  Remember, we like steak better than chicken.  Inside the envelope was a letter saying the council was pleased to inform me that I won $50 and would be entered into the next phase of the contest.  Great, now we like chicken better!

More time passed and the $50 was long gone.  But then I received another letter.  Would it be the final rejection saying thanks for my effort to make chicken great but there would be no 50 grand?  Nope, a check for $100 and a nice letter saying that I was the Louisiana state winner and would be entered into the regional competition.  Wow, does this mean I get a sash proclaiming “Nancy Walters Miss Chicken Louisiana?”  Should I get my hair and nails done?  We laughed at how serious this chicken contest was but cashed the check in a hurry.  So now we are really liking chicken.

One afternoon I get the call…“You have been selected as the regional finalist and we would like to fly you to San Antonio for the 48th National Chicken Cooking Contest.”  Now I had to really laugh - under my breath of course because I really wanted a free trip and the 50K has not slipped away yet.  I had only entered one other cooking contest before and was not a seasoned cooking contest expert.   (By the way, I was one of the top five finalists in that contest and got a bunch of really cool stuff from Gourmet Magazine and $25.)  Cooking contest veterans are serious about their contests and some have earned some big money and prizes along the way. 

If you are totally bored now just skip to the bottom for the recipe.
To beef up for my final shot at being Miss Chicken USA, Betsy told me I better get in the kitchen and perfect my presentation and technique.  The contest required a dish be made twice within two hours and they could not be made simultaneously.  One plate was for the judges and the other was for pictures and for people to drool over.  All the top executives from major poultry producers were there and hung out with us as we were treated to meals and tours of the city.  It was quite entertaining to sit around a table drinking margaritas with men whose professional lives revolve around poultry.  The other contestants were great fun and gave me many tips on cooking contests.  One woman had been to the chicken cook-off finals three times.  The contest was held at the Culinary Institute of America’s newly opened San Antonio campus.  The afternoon before the contest, we inspected our ingredients and the facilities so we would be prepared for the next morning’s big event.  It was so formal and again I wanted to laugh at the formality.   The contest took place in the morning and we had about 15 minutes to put our aprons on, get settled at our stations, and start cooking before the event was opened to media, sponsors, and anyone else who was interested.  So now that you have been held in suspense for a few minutes, it is time to tell you that we had a great weekend but did not win.

The "Poultry Executives" accompanied us to the CIA for our tour.
Time to inspect our ingredients, cooking utensils, and make sure everything is just right before the morning competition.  No laughing Nancy, this is serious.
Time to start cooking in the new state of the art kitchen and get into a cooking groove before the media rushes in.
My work station.  
All the dishes laid out for viewing.
The winner!
Oh, and I never got the glittery sash (just a white apron) but we sure do have a new appreciation for chicken.  Enjoy the recipe.  

Panko-Crusted Chicken Salad with Grilled Stonefruit and Pomegranate-balsamic Dressing

¾         cup pomegranate juice
¼         cup balsamic vinegar
2          Tbsp. honey
3          Tbsp. orange juice
½         cup olive oil
2          plums, firm or frozen
2          peaches, firm or frozen
1          Tbsp. olive oil
4          boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1          cup flour
4          eggs
2          Tbsp. water
5          cups panko
3          Tbsp. butter
2          Tbsp. olive oil
3          oz. feta cheese, crumbled
4          cups arugula, washed and dried
Salt and pepper

Put pomegranate juice and balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pan and reduce over medium heat until syrupy, approximately 20-25 minutes. Stir every few minutes.  Add honey and orange juice and simmer for 5 minutes to combine. Whisk in ½ cup olive oil.

Cut both plums and peaches in half to remove seeds.  Cut seeded fruit into 6 wedges.  Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to sauté pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Place fruit wedges in sauté pan and cook for 4 minutes on each side, just until fruit starts to turn brown and sugars caramelize.  Remove fruit and reserve.

Place individual chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic wrap.  Pound until ½ inch thick.  Salt and pepper the pounded breasts.  Preheat a sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 3 Tbsp. butter and 2 Tbsp. olive oil.  Place flour in a large plate.  Crack eggs in a deep dish and whisk in water.  Place panko in another deep dish.  Dredge chicken breast flour, then place in egg wash, let excess drip off, and then place in panko, turning chicken over to coat both sides. Repeat with other chicken breasts.  Put chicken breasts in the hot sauté pan (do not overcrowd) and cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until chicken is golden brown and cooked through.

Remove chicken from pan and cut into slices.  Place onto of arugula, add fruit and crumbled feta cheese.  Drizzle pomegranate dressing on top.  Serves 4.


This recipe can be adjusted to your taste.  Use goat or blue cheese if you prefer.  If you don't like arugula, use spring mix, butter lettuce, or what ever else you like.  Try veal or pork chops for something different.


  1. Wow! The recipe sounds great! (I want to eat at your house :) )

  2. Can we also get the recipe for the Chinese chicken burgers? Those also sound yummy.
    When are you entering another contest?
    You're a natural.

  3. Ginger - I will try to find the recipe for the chicken burgers and send it to you. I never tried them but they do sound really good.


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