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How to Cook . . .

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In 1987 (I can’t believe it was that long ago!) I was one of 5 grand prize winners of the Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese “Hall of Fame” Recipe contest.  What follows is an account of how it happened.

My wife and I are coupon clippers.  You know, people who spend most of Sunday sprawled on the livingroom floor, poring over advertising supplements in search of “bargains”,  That’s where the entire episode started; on the livingroom floor.

I had just finished eviscerating the Sunday paper and removed the few coupons we could use.  It’s amazing how many coupons you find for stuff you never use.  Anyway, I had completed the operation and was gathering the remains fo the paper for recycling when Ana, my wife, stopped me.

“Honey, did you see this?” she asked, waving a page from the paper.  It was a contest announcement: “Kraft Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese “Hall of Fame” Recipe Contest”.

“So?” I replied, frowning at the page in her hand.

“Wasn’t the chicken you prepared last week made with cream cheese?”  I could tell from her expression what was coming.

“That was a fluke,” I pointed out.  “A happy accident.  Besides, there’s no recipe.  I made it up as I went along.”

“So, make one up,” Ana countered.

“Yeah.  Right,”  I said over my shoulder as I carried the remains of the newspaper to the recycling bin.

Of the two types of cooks in the world, the “classic” type who follow a recipe so closely you’d swear it involved recombinant DNA, and the “slap-dash” type who doesn’t own a cookbook, wouldn’t know a recipe from a nursery rhyme and simply tosses whatever is available into pot or pan and hopes for the best, I fall squarely into the latter grouping.  When I get an idea, I rummage for ingredients, substituting with abandon and then it’s “Katie bar the door!”, as my mother used to say.  Even I don’t know how it’s going to turn out (if at all!).

The chicken dish Ana referred to was a something-less-than-faithful recreation of a dish my mother prepared years ago.  I had elected to “recreate” Mom’s recipe for an upcoming dinner with some friends.

As the appointed time for dinner approached, I began to rummage around the kitchen in search of ingredients.  As I neglected to do any advance shopping, the search netted very little in the way of ingredients.  Onions, some less-than-fresh mushrooms, a forgotten pepper, chicken breasts, butter, cream cheese, a few disparate spices and a package of pasta were all I could come up with.  While Ana repaired to the bedroom to dress for dinner, I popped the top on a can of Coors and considered dinner possibilities.

As I sat ruminating over how to assemble the collected ingredients into a passable dinner, Ana’s voice “wafted” from the bedroom.  “Dinner is in one hour,” she called.  “I don’t smell any good smells coming from the kitchen.”

That was my cue to stop cogitating and start cooking.  I grabbed a knife, sliced mushrooms, onions and pepper, stripped the skin from the chicken breasts and cut the breasts into strips.  Butter went into a large sauté pan, more went into a saucepan.  Heat applied to both began the cooking process.  I cut the cream cheese into chunks and added it to the butter in the saucepan.  It was cheese, after all, and cheese melts.

The chicken and vegetables were simmering nicely but something was missing.  I grabbed some spices; oregano, basil and marjoram, I think, and tossed them into the mixture.  Ana would definitely smell something from the kitchen now.  I put a pot of water on another burner, added salt and oil, turned up the heat and waited for the water to boil.  Now it was time to turn my attention to my “sauce”.

The cream cheese was indeed melting, but a couple of stirs resulted in something resembling badly curdled cream.  It definitely needed “something”.  I took a sip of my beer and. . . Wait a minute!  I splashed some of the beer into the saucepan and attacked it with a wire whisk.  The “sauce” began to smooth out.  A couple of splashes more and it really began to look like a sauce.  It was beginning to look as thought I going to pull this off.

Guests are usually complimentary when it comes to a free meal and ours were no exception.  Requests for recipe copies were gently turned away with, “It’s just something I threw together.”  It was true but no one believed me.  Eventually, I was persuaded to provide copies of the “recipe” as soon as possible.  I promptly erased the matter from my mind until that Sunday, when Ana showed me the contest announcement and reminded me of my promise.

“You might as well make up a recipe,” she said upon my return from the recycling bin.  “You did promise a copy to Claudia, you know.”  A couple of days later, I managed to produce a list of ingredients and instructions approximating a recipe and gave it to Ana to copy.

Two months later I was interrupted in my “enjoyment” of a Phillies game by a knock at the door.  Upon opening the door, I was greeted by a Federal Express deliveryman.  “Please sign here,” he said, extending a clipboard.  I signed where instructed and accepted the envelope with the return address, “Kraft Foods”.  Ana had evidently entered my “recipe” in the contest.

Did I?  Could I have?  Nah!  It wasn’t possible.  It’s probably just a letter thanking me for my entry.  All of those thoughts flitted through my mind as I dropped the envelope on the coffee table, dropped into my chair and returned my attention to the ballgame.  Still, the envelope distracted me.  If all it is is a “Thank You” letter, why not open it?  I was still pondering the contents fo the unopened envelope when Ana entered the room.

“What’s that?”

“A Federal Express package from Kraft Foods,” I said, feigning interest in the game.

Ana almost choked on the coffee she was sipping.  “Kraft Foods?”  Coffee splashed from the mug as she reached for the envelope.  I beat her to it.

“Open it!  Open it!” she squealed, coffee sputtering over her chin.

“Okay, okay,” I said, tearing the zip-strip from the envelope revealing a single, typewritten page.

                     “Dear Stephen Thomas, I am very pleased to inform you that your recipe, “Sautéed Chicken Breasts in Philly Cream Sauce”,

was selected as one of five Grand Prize Winners in this year’s Kraft Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese “Hall of Fame” Recipe

Contest . . .”

I stopped reading.  There was more about prizes, a trip to San Francisco, awards banquets, spending money, etc. . .But all I truly remember about that moment was Ana saying, “Not bad for something you just threw together!”



Written by stevewthomas

February 3, 2013 at 4:47 pm

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