The secret is out about those Wood Lane employees: They're a competitive bunch.
|Brandi Wallace with her cheesy chicken and spinich dish. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Former Cook's Corner subject and Wood Lane Residential Services (WLRS) supervisor Linda Brownell freely admits it.
"I work with a bunch of competitive people. I'm still bitter that my manicotti got beaten" during an in-house charity fundraiser, she says with a teasing grin, "but the winner was a member of my staff, Brandi Wallace, with a chicken dish."
Brownell, who shared her meat and cheese manicotti recipe in the Cook's Corner on Oct. 2, is referring to the cheesy chicken with spinach entered by Wallace, a WLRS staffing planner and assistant home supervisor.
The event was a cookoff for a Farmer's Market fundraiser for Wood Lane Residential about a year ago, explains Wallace.
Both women are currently cooking up goodies for a silent auction and lunch fundraiser, scheduled for this Thursday at 541 Pearl St., Bowling Green, to benefit their Nancy Ullum Relay for Life Team. Serving will start around 10:30 a.m. on Thursday and continue until the food is gone. Suggested donation is $5.
Wallace has to acknowledge that her competitive spirit has sometimes gotten her into trouble.
Two years ago for Wood Lane's silent auction she put together a magnificent auction prize. She pledged to prepare one dessert a month for an entire year and - as if that wasn't enough - "also three dinners throughout that year for 8 to 10 people, one a lasagna dinner, one a full course dinner," and one the winner's choice.
"I was exhausted at the end of the year."
It was also the ongoing competition she and Brownell feel that all of a sudden motivated Wallace become a Wood County Fair exhibitor.
"I'm very competitive and so's Linda, and I started entering things in the fair two years ago solely to beat Linda," said Wallace.
Fortunately, the two women don't usually go head-to-head at the fair. Brownell enters canning classes; Wallace does not.
"The cheesecake, though, she did beat me," admits Wallace. "I think she came in first, and I was second.
"She said I'd get hooked and I said no, but I entered (the fair) again last year" because she was proud of how things had turned out in 2010.
"Linda wagered me before the fair that whoever won - the other would buy them some Frank's Fries. I did follow through" and bought Brownell her fries.
Wallace, who is BG born and bred, is a serious collector of cookbooks - 52 at last count.
"My grandma has been buying me cookbooks since like 1997."
The cheesy chicken and spinach recipe is something Wallace found in the "Taste of Home 1997 Recipes" cookbook.
"I originally got it from the cookbook but I changed a lot of things. It seemed the sauce was really runny and the chicken didn't seem to be real flavorful.
"I decided to make it more potluck-friendly, and that was the key," recalls Wallace of the eureka moment 16 years ago.
"The chicken and the stuffing blended together better, and the sauce was thicker" when she tried this new method.
"When I came up with this recipe I started with just making stuffed chicken breasts. I like to make food for contests and large crowds so I made the chicken breast and then put it all in the crockpot in order to make something for taste testing instead of a whole chicken breast, and to my surprise this version was much better," Wallace recalls.
But then she outsmarted herself.
"I thought the next time I made it I would try a short cut and just make the sauce and stuffing and cut up the chicken, then I would throw it all in the crockpot instead of stuffing the chicken.
"This version was nowhere near as good as baking it and then cutting it up to put it in the crockpot. The baking process allows the stuffed chicken to blend more with the stuffing and sauce and it is much thicker and more flavorful than just throwing it all in the crockpot to begin with."
Wallace says friends and family who have had this dish say she should try serving it with rice or mashed potatoes.
"Any of the three versions are good, but if you take the extra time the best version is stuffing it, baking it, then using the crockpot," she said positively.
"It's time consuming, but it's not hard," Wallace said of her recipe.
Cooking is so much a part of her life that it even figured prominently in her courtship.
"When we were dating," she said of her husband of six years, Stephen Wallace, "instead of going out we kind of had these little cooking dates. We'd go to his house and make these elaborate meals from one of the cookbooks," including "little appetizers or desserts."
Anyone who wishes to thank Wallace for sharing today's delicious recipe might join the bidding at their Relay for Life silent auction Thursday. A list of the donated items is available at "http://www.woodlaneresidential.org" and bidding starts Wednesday. It continues Thursday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Cheesy spinach chicken
2 Cups finely chopped onion
2 Cups milk
1 Cup chopped fresh mushrooms
12 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 oz each)
1 Cup finely chopped celery
1/2 tsp. white pepper
12 Tbsp. butter
9 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. salt, divided
4 Cups chicken broth
1 1/2 Cups dry bread crumbs
36 fresh spinach leaves, chopped
4 Cups shredded Swiss, Provolone or Mozzarella cheese
• For sauce, in a large skillet, sauté the onion, mushrooms and celery in butter until tender. Stir in flour and 1 teaspoon salt until blended. Gradually add broth and milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat.
• Flatten chicken to 1/4-1/2 inch thickness; sprinkle with pepper and remaining salt. In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, spinach and parsley; stir in 2 cups of sauce. Spoon ¬º cup down the center of each chicken breast half. Roll up; secure with toothpicks. Place seam side down in 2 greased 13x9 in baking pan. Place the extra stuffing evenly in the baking pans and top with remaining sauce.
• Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Remove from oven and cut up the chicken into smaller pieces, removing the toothpicks. Place all chicken, stuffing and sauce in a large 6 quart or larger crockpot. Stir in 3 ¬Ω cups of shredded cheese. Cook on low for 4-5 hours, stirring occasionally. Once served garnish with cheese.