“Creative-wise”—during the years when I wasn’t writing—I tried my hand at entering the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest and ended up as a finalist not once, but twice. It was a fantastic experience, giving me the chance to compete for the MILLION-DOLLAR grand prize in both Orlando and Las Vegas.
My 2002 entry, Enchilada Pasta Soup, was my very first attempt at entering a cooking contest. So to any of you who are thinking about entering, I say go for it. If I can reach the final competition two times, virtually ANYTHING is possible!
The inspiration for the recipe I came up with was the scrumptious tortilla soup at a popular Mexican restaurant near me. I started thinking about how many people loved that soup, how very much I adored enchiladas, and how their patrons might also enjoy something like “enchiladas in a soup bowl.”
With that thought in mind, it didn’t take any time at all to come up with my recipe. I tweaked the original version just a little, mainly by adjusting the amounts of the spices I’d chosen to use in it, but that was it....
Yet when I got to the Bake-Off Contest, I was shocked to learn that many of the finalists had entered upwards of thirty recipes in order to end up there that year, so I was honored that my ONE entry got me chosen! I was also pleased that my recipe was the easiest, fastest-to-prepare entry of the 100 finalists in 2002.
And to this day, I still get comments on that entry. There’s a man at my parents’ church who—every single time he makes the recipe—tells them, “Your daughter was robbed! She deserved the million dollars.” I’ve got to admit, I never get tired of hearing that. I think it’s so funny that he continues to throw in the exact same remark....
If you decide to try my Enchilada Pasta Soup, I’ll give you the best tips I’ve gathered:
The cream-style corn is important. It kind of thickens the soup just right, and is delicious even if you don’t normally care for that particular variety.
You don’t have to use canned chicken, of course. You can try a rotisserie chicken or your own home-prepared chicken. But regardless, I’d suggest that you use both white and dark meat. People who’ve gone with only white chicken claim that in the leftover soup—and I, personally, love having the plentiful leftovers!—it ends up being a bit dry.
If you’re lucky enough to live in a part of the country where you can buy “fideo vermicelli,” be sure to go that route. In Texas and Oklahoma, and perhaps other states, it’s easy to find those little (yellow) boxes that are the perfect size. I’ve noticed, too, that it’s becoming available in bags in a lot of other places nowadays.
Plenty of people have come up with outstanding suggestions for other garnishes or other varieties of cheese, but for the sake of the contest entry, I was trying to keep things simple. No matter what you choose as garnishes, though, I’ve found that the tiny, finely grated cheese just doesn’t melt properly, so I suggest regular-sized grated cheese.
My 2013 entry was inspired by my son-in-law. His grandparents were Czech, so he grew up loving “authentic” kolaches. But as for me... Well, I would never go to all the trouble his grandmother did. So I decided to try coming up with an ultra- simple-to-prepare version.
Thus, my recipe was aiming for “kolaches in a casserole dish.” After deciding that much, I knew I wanted to get the sugar into them in the easiest way possible, so I thought, “When adding sweetness to cream cheese, why wouldn’t cream cheese frosting work just fine?” And sure enough, Pillsbury frosting did the trick!
Here are both recipes (printed below, plus in a .pdf file in case you’d like to download them), so I hope you’ll let me know what you think—and/or that you’ll share YOUR personal tweaks. I’d truly love to hear from you....
1 can PillsburyTM Grands!TM Homestyle refrigerated buttermilk biscuits (8 ct) 1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. PillsburyTM Creamy SupremeTM Cream Cheese Flavored Frosting
1 egg yolk 1/2 teaspoon almond extract 1/2 cup red tart cherry preserves 1/2 cup sliced almonds
Heat oven to 350°F. Spray 13x9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Separate biscuits; cut each into quarters. Arrange in single layer in baking dish.
In medium bowl, beat cream cheese with electric mixer on medium speed 15 seconds or until smooth. Add 1/2 cup of the frosting, egg yolk and almond extract; beat until blended. Spoon and spread over biscuits.
In small microwavable bowl, microwave preserves on Medium (50%) 30 to 40 seconds or until softened; stir. Spoon and spread evenly over cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle with almonds.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Cool 10 minutes. In small microwavable bowl, microwave remaining 2 tablespoons frosting on Medium (50%) 15 seconds. Drizzle over biscuits.