C’est bon! Winning recipe sends woman to France

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2001

OSAGE, Iowa – For Diane Sparrow, it was the fourth time that was the charm.

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

OSAGE, Iowa – For Diane Sparrow, it was the fourth time that was the charm. After four years of winning various prizes with the Gold Kist Farms national Winning Taste Recipe Contest, Sparrow, of Osage, Iowa, netted the grand prize.

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In 1997, she won third place; second place in 1998 and fourth place in 1999. Those three years, she was able to supply her entire kitchen with appliances, but she still had her eye on the grand prize.

Her reward was the best yet – a trip to France, kitchen appliances and cash.

Sparrow’s Maple Pecan Chicken Salad was the winning recipe that earned her the dream trip.

Sparrow has always tweaked recipes and made them her own. She has a collection of cookbooks from which she can get ideas. She also keeps a notebook in the kitchen to jot down her ideas and variations, making note of the successes.

It also makes things easier when she has a contest she would like to enter.

Looking around Sparrow’s kitchen, from the variety of cook-off aprons to the brand-new appliances and top quality cook wear and cutlery, one can safely assume Sparrow’s a bit of a pro when it comes to the recipe contest circuit.

"Most everything in the kitchen is from a contest," she said. That includes the KitchenAid mixers, food processors and toaster, the refrigerator, stove and oven, the Wusthof knives and Le Cruset cookware and the vast collection of aprons hanging in the kitchen.

Sparrow, who also assists her husband with his photography business, can’t even guess how many contests she’s entered over the years. But a quick count of her files reveals she entered 45 contests during the last year. That covers recipe submission contests like Gold Kist Farms and cook-offs.

She has her efforts organized to a science in her home office.

"I’m kind of obsessive about it," she admitted, showing her computer files (one for each contest, organized by year) and paper files. Each folder includes a set of the rules and a copy of the recipe she submitted.

She never submits the same one for different contests, but will use one as a basis for another. Creating new dishes half the fun, after all.

The other big draw is meeting other cooks whom she now counts among her friends.

"You get to see the same people at a lot of these cook-offs," she said. Does competing against a friend make the cook-off more nerve-wreaking? Not at all, Sparrow said.

"I never go there expecting to win. I go there because it’s fun," Sparrow said. "I like the people I meet and we have a great time. The organizers always do such a good job at keeping people at ease."

If the spirit of competition didn’t bother her during her first cook-off, the amount of media attention did.

"It’s somewhat intimidating at first," Sparrow said. She certainly never expected the large amount of TV cameras and reporters who cover the cook-off she had attended in Texas.

While Sparrow enjoys the cook-offs the best, she was more than thrilled to learn the Gold Kist recipe contest would take her to France, where she had an opportunity to get tips, instruction and recipes from some of the best cooks in the world. Her account adventures can be found on the Gold Kist Web site at http://www.goldkist.com.

More information on the next Winning Taste Recipe Contest is also posted on the site. Once again the grand prize is a trip to France, but don’t worry about competition from Sparrow. After winning the grand prize, she’s no longer allowed to enter Gold Kist’s Winning Taste Recipe Contest.

Here’s the Maple Pecan Chicken Salad recipe that netted the grand prize. Bon appetit!

Maple Pecan Chicken Salad

2 to 3 Gold Kist Farms boneless, skinless, split chicken breasts (about 1 lb)


3 tbs olive oil

3 tbs apple cider vinegar

1 tbs real maple syrup

2 tsp Dijon mustard


1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/3 cup real maple syrup

1/2 red onion, cut into chunks

1/2 tsp dry mustard

3 strips bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled


1 cup pecan halves

2 tbs brown sugar

2 tbs real maple syrup


3 cups fresh spinach leaves, washed, dried

3 cups Romaine lettuce, washed, dried, torn into pieces

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced (about 1/2 cup slices)

2 cups red, seedless grapes, cut into halves

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Place chicken breasts in a non-metallic bowl or resealable plastic bag. Combine marinade ingredients, pour over chicken, and cover or close bag. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours, turning several times.

Place dressing ingredients, except bacon, in food processor or blender and blend until thoroughly combined. Add bacon pieces and pulse just to mix in. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Place pecan halves, brown sugar, and syrup in small saucepan over medium heat, tossing to coat. Cook and stir 1 minute, watching closely to prevent burning. Remove pecans to waxed paper, spreading quickly to separate and cool.

Remove chicken from marinade and place in large non-stick skillet. Discard marinade. Cook chicken over medium heat until lightly browned and no longer pink inside, about 6 minutes per side. Alternatively, chicken may be grilled if desired. Place on cutting board, cool slightly, and slice into strips.

Combine spinach and Romaine in salad bowl, on large platter, or on individual serving plates. Top with onion slices, grapes and chicken slices. Sprinkle with cheese and sugared pecans. Stir dressing and drizzle over salad, or pass separately.

Makes four main course servings.