Will her chicken be champ?

Vancouver’s Monica King a finalist in Foster Farms chicken-cooking contest

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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For the second time this year, Vancouver culinary whiz Monica King has landed in the spotlight.

This spring King, a 37-year-old Vancouver resident, was one of 100 finalists in the 44th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest for her Tropical Chicken Pizza. Now she’s heading to California to compete as one of six finalists in the Foster Farms West Coast Chicken Cooking Contest with her recipe for Balsamic Mushroom Chicken with Honey Goat Cheese.

King’s recipe was among more than 2,000 entries. Another Vancouver resident, Kay Hollo, was one of five semifinalists from Washington selected for her Spicy Peanut Chicken.

King initially wasn’t a semifinalist, but made the cut after someone else was disqualified.

“It was very exciting,” said King, who works in the facilities and engineering department at Southwest Washington Medical Center.

In late August, professional chefs in Seattle made all five Washington semifinalists’ recipes, and King’s was one of two chosen to proceed to the finals.

Semifinalists each won $100, and finalists will receive $1,000 plus a paid trip to St. Helena, Calif., to compete on Sept. 17. For this round of competition, they’ll be able to prepare their own recipes for the judges. The winner will receive $10,000 and a year’s supply of Foster Farms chicken.

King created her recipe especially for the contest using favorite flavor combinations such as honey and goat cheese.

“I just love the goat cheese with honey, and I thought the earthy flavor of the mushrooms would go well with the sweet and creamy flavors,” she said. “It’s like a flavor explosion. You get all the different flavors at once when you take a bite.”

Hollo, a 65-year-old retired medical bookkeeper, took a different approach with her Thai-inspired recipe, which draws on ingredients such as ginger, soy sauce and peanut butter.

This was Hollo’s first time entering a cooking contest, and the recipe is one she’s been making for the past five or six years. It’s good for a quick dinner on weeknights and uses ingredients most people have on hand, she said.

It’s called Spicy Peanut Chicken, but people can control the level of heat depending on the type of mango salsa they choose.

“You can make it as spicy as you want, or not,” Hollo said.

Mary Ann Albright: maryann.albright@columbian.com, 360-735-4507.

Monica King’s Balsamic Mushroom Chicken with Honey Goat Cheese

Active time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 25 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.

6 Foster Farms chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless

¼ cup canola oil

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

½ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon butter

½ cup goat cheese (4-ounce package)

1 teaspoon honey

For the mushroom topping:

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 cup sliced mushrooms

¼ teaspoon salt

⅛ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

In large skillet over medium-high heat, warm canola oil. Add mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté, stirring, until mushrooms have given up liquid, about 7 minutes. Remove mushrooms from skillet and place in medium bowl. Add thyme, stir and cover with foil to keep warm.

Prepare chicken by warming canola oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken on both sides with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Place in pan and cook, turning, about 7 minutes per side, or until done throughout. Remove from pan and place on plate; cover with foil to keep warm.

Lower temperature on stove to medium-low. Add balsamic vinegar to the same skillet; deglaze pan, scraping up all browned bits. Reduce heat to low and cook until vinegar reduces, about 3 minutes. Stir in butter. Pour glaze through a strainer and into small bowl. Break up goat cheese into small crumbles, add honey and stir to combine.

To serve, place chicken breasts on platter and top with mushrooms. Drizzle balsamic glaze over chicken and add honey goat cheese crumbles on top of mushrooms.

Kay Hollo’s Spicy Peanut Chicken

Active time: 10 minutes. Cooking time: 10-15 minutes. Yield: 6 servings.

1 pound Foster Farms chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, cut into 1-inch pieces

½ medium red bell pepper, diced

¼ cup chopped onion

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

¾ cup mango salsa

1 heaping tablespoon chunky peanut butter

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cumin

Spray large skillet with vegetable oil cooking spray and warm over medium-high heat. Brown chicken in skillet until golden brown, about 4 minutes.

Add bell pepper, onion and garlic, and sauté 1-2 minutes.

Add mango salsa, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger and cumin. Stir together and cook over medium heat, covered, for about 4 minutes.

Serve over rice.