As of Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 6pm, I am totally in the tank for Food Lion.
I was invited to participate in the company’s first Frugal Cook-Off along with serveral area bloggers. I love food competitions because I get a lot of cool free stuff. Just for participating in this cook-off I received a gift bag filled with some of my favorite goodies: coffee, bacon, butter, olive oil and pasta. Yes, my loyalty can be bought with bacon.
The cook-off challenge was for each team to prepare dinner for four people in 30 minutes or less using Food Lion signature brands and a few pantry staples. We had to do this with a $15 budget. I pride myself on being a frugal shopper and I do my best not to pay full price for anything. So the limited budget suited me perfectly. My team and I agreed on chicken parmesan and pasta with sauteed spinach, an affordable, hearty meal that fell within our budget. Julie Ruble and Jennifer Bullock were the perfect partners for a cooking competition. We worked harmoniusly in the diminutive kitchen, cramped elbow to elbow with other contestants vying for the next available burner or coveted space in the oven. I was tasked with preparing the chicken and the sauce, while my teammates were responsible for the side dishes.
I was confident in my ability to build exceptioanl flavor in the canned sauce because I’m from South Jersey, and as a native South Jersian there are two things I know how to do well:
1. Have an attitude and 2. Make gravy aka marinara sauce. My sauce came together quite nicely inspite of the less than optimal cooking conditions. I opted not to coat the chicken breast in the traditional breading since time was limited. I just cooked it in the skillet with the sauce. As Julie and Jennifer finished cooking the pasta and spinach, “5 minutes left!” was called out.
With the pasta al dente and the spinch sauteed, we plated our dish—a pasta mound in the center of the plate with the chicken casually resting against it, topped with a garnish of spinach. Perfect. Win or lose, Julie, Jennifer and I knew we created a gratifying meal fit for a king as well as five discriminating and hungry judges. We anxiously waited as they evaluated our budget-friendly fare, each one cleaning his or her plate in the process. My confidence in my sauce was validated when Cathy Green Burns, the president of Food Lion, said she loved my “excellent” sauce and wanted to know how I made it. I gladly shared my sauce making secrets with her.
When all the submissions were in and the scores calculated, the winners were announced. Unfortunately, our Skillet Chicken Parmesan was not victorious. We graciously congratulated the winners whose Asian-inspired dinner took home the grand prize. Even though we didn’t win, we did our best and had a wonderful time working together. Our team was proud to put out a quality dish that was delicious and satisfying. I’ve won and lost enough cooking competitions to know that it can’t just be about winning. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great but it’s not everything. It’s extremely important to appreiciate the unique experience and special relationships that you acquire from this type of opportunity because it doesn’t happen for everyone.
I ended the night with a better appreciation of Food Lion and its vision to make products more affordable for customers. This regional supermarket chain cut the prices of over 6,000 products to accomodate the current economic conditions that plague so many families. This is a testament to Food Lion’s committment to better the lives of its customers by making quality food more accessible. I’m glad to have been a part of a program designed to enrich the lives of the communities served by Food Lion.
Skillet Chicken Parmesan, adapted from Team Chicken Parm at the 1st Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off
Makes 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Coarse ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzerella cheese, sliced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
8 fresh basil leaves
3/4 pound cooked spaghetti
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Carefully cut the chicken lengthwise all the way through, starting at the thickest part of the breast.
Season each piece with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in batches until golden brown, about 3 minutes on each side. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet. Add the onions and the peppers, and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one additional minute. Pour in the wine and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir in the sauce, oregano, sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and butter. Cook the sauce over medium heat, partially covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Place the chicken in the pan, covering with the sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan over the chicken and top with mozzerella.
Bake the chicken until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow the chicken to sit for 5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and garnish with basil leaves. Toss the cooked pasta with the remaining sauce in the skillet and serve with the chicken.