Growing up in rural Franklin County, Miss., Michelle Roberts spent a lot of time in the kitchen. She and her mother would read the Taste of Home magazine every month and then try out various recipes. “I’ve always been a fan of the magazine,” she said. Now, she demonstrates Taste of Home recipes in front of thousands of people every week. Roberts received her bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Miss. Now 30, she began working for Taste of Home Cooking School as a culinary specialist when she was 24. “I love being on stage,” she said. Roberts found out about the position, and applied for the job. She didn’t get it, but became an intern.
The next year, she was hired.
“It was a scary job at first,” Roberts said. “I moved 1,000 miles away from home. I had the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and western part of Pennsylvania. It was the best thing for me at the time. I thought I was independent, but it was scary. After two years, the Southern region opened up and I got transferred in the company. I’d grown up so much in the two years that I was able to come back and be a better and stronger person.”
She found out that her Southern accent had great appeal to people in the Midwest.
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“I got a lot of comments about my accent from both men and women,” Roberts said. People who were originally from the South would tell her that she “sounded like home.” Because her territory is so big, she spends a lot of time in the Taste of Home van, logging nearly 40,000 miles a year.
At typical cooking school sessions, Roberts will spend two hours on stage, making 11 recipes and talking about the dishes.
“We give the food away in their special dishes as door prizes,” she said. “Eleven winners will go away with food.”
These simple recipes are ones that anyone can make at home, she said.
“The ingredients are not so far-fetched,” she said. “You can go to any grocery store and find them. And sometimes you can introduce something new to people. For the most part, anyone can make these, from the beginner to the most skilled
CRUSTED CHICKEN WITH
AND MUSHROOM SAUCE
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 25 minutes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1 /4 pounds) pounded to 1 1 /4-inch thickness 1 /2 cup McCormick French Onion, Pepper & Herb Crusting Blend 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons butter 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms 1 /2 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper 3 /4 cup heavy cream 1 /4 cup sherry or Madeira wine
Moisten chicken lightly with water. Coat evenly on both sides with Crusting Blend. Discard any remaining Crusting Blend.
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet on medium heat.
Add chicken; cook 5 minutes per side or until cooked through. Remove chicken from skillet; keep warm.
Melt butter in same skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and peppers; cook and stir 7-8 minutes or until mushrooms and peppers are tender. Add cream and sherry; bring to boil. Cook 4-5 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve sauce over chicken. Serves 4. cook.
“I always said, ‘Don’t be afraid. Try it. If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But don’t let one little ingredient throw you off.”
The following recipes are from Taste of Home, but will not be demonstrated on Thursday.
Taste of Home recipes are known for their simple ingredients and ease in cooking.
CHEESY RANCH CHEX MIX
9 cups Corn Chex, Rice Chex or Wheat Chex cereal (or combination) 2 cups bite-size pretzel twists 2 cups bite-size cheese crackers 3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted 1 1-ounce package ranch dressing and seasoning mix 1 /2 cup grated Parmesan cheeseIn a large microwavable bowl, mix cereal, pretzels and crackers. In a small microwavable bowl, microwave butter uncovered on High for about 30 seconds or until melted. Pour over cereal mixture; stir until evenly coated. Stir in dressing mix and cheese until evenly coated. Microwave uncovered on High for 3 minutes, stirring each minute. Spread on waxed paper or foil to cool. Store in an airtight container. Start to Finish: 15 Minutes Yield: 26 servings ( 1 /2 cup each)
STEAMED PERSIMMON PUDDING
3 medium-sized ripe persimmons 2 teaspoons baking soda 1 /2 cup ( 1 /4 pound) butter or margarine 1 1 /2 cups sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon lemon juice 2 teaspoon vanilla 2 tablespoon Brandy or milk 1 cup flour (unsifted) 1 teaspoon cinnamon 1 /4 teaspoon salt 1 cup raisins (pre-soaked in E. &J. Gallo Brandy or Gallo
• Family Vineyards Moscato) 1 /2 cup chopped walnuts
Scoop flesh from persimmons — whirl in blender or through a food mill for 1 cup of puree. Stir in baking soda; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, lemon juice, vanilla, brandy, persimmon puree. Sift flour with cinnamon and salt into creamed mixture; stir well. Add raisins and nuts.
Thoroughly grease a 2-quart pudding mold and its lid. Spoon mixture into mold and secure lid. Place mold on a rack above boiling water in steamer; cover.
Steam for 2 1 /2 hours, adding more boiling water if needed.
Cool 10 minutes and un-mold. Serve hot or cool, wrap and store.
Yield: about 8 servings.
Serve with: A scoop of real vanilla bean ice cream and a chilled glass of moscato