Having three kids who are picky eaters ultimately earned a Chatham woman a top prize from the Dairy Farmers of Ontario 2019 Milk Calendar recipe competition.
Gibbons, 49, has an overall love of cooking, but the selective palates of a trio of teenagers sent her into the kitchen time and again trying to come up with meals the three would devour.
“I’d see recipes online and I just started trying them. I have really picky eater children. Sometimes I’d recreate them (recipes) just to get them to eat a dish,” she said.
That’s how her Cheesy Scalloped Potato Gnocchi recipe came into being.
Gnocchi, essentially dough dumplings, are often served in marinara sauce. It’s a dish Gibbons’ boys enjoyed. Her biggest food critic, her youngest son, Justin, likes gnocchi the most, she said. But high repetition led him to telling her he was getting bored of it.
“You just boil it until it floats and you serve with tomato sauce,” she said.
Enter the creativity of Gibbons,
She added several different cheeses, chives, garlic, cream, you name it, plus prosciutto.
“I like the taste of it (prosciutto). It’s different from bacon. When you fry it up, it gets all crispy and yummy,” she said. “It adds more flavour.”
Gibbons added the prosciutto also doesn’t add to the cook time as it is thinly sliced and crisps up right away.
Gibbons said her children are her biggest food critics.
“They critique everything.”
They didn’t criticize her new gnocchi dish, however.
“They loved it. Justin told me it needed more garlic,” she laughed.
She posted pictures of her creation on social media. That’s when a friend sent her a link on how to enter for the Milk Calendar.
That led to a scary moment in the household. She said her husband, Mike, feared something was wrong.
But all she had done was open an e-mail.
“There was screaming. I didn’t believe it,” she said. “I went upstairs and got an e-mail. It said congratulations and I was the grand prizewinner.
“I was screaming and my husband thought something was wrong. I couldn’t speak. I could just call his name.”
Not bad for the first food competition of any kind that she’s entered.
“I would have been happy to be a runner up,” she said.
Instead, Gibbons won $5,000 and a prize pack containing various gourmet cheeses from around the nation.
Gibbons said her recipe may be a hit with her family and is now showcased for others to try, but she admits her home creations are more about flavour than visual appeal.
“Mine did not look like that when I made it,” she said, comparing her dish to the photo of the one featured in the Milk Calendar. “Mine looked like I made it in my home kitchen. They tweaked it, made it pretty and used a professional photographer.”
As for her winning recipe, her kids still get to taste it every couple of weeks.
She continues to experiment in the kitchen. Over the holidays, for example, Gibbons said she made a chowder with some of the leftover turkey from Christmas dinner.
Some of those experiments are hits, some not so much.
“My experiments; not all are winners. Sometimes they fail dramatically. Tex-Mex meatloaf did not go over well at all,” she said.
It’s the experimentation and creativity that has Gibbons enjoying working in her kitchen.
“I find it relaxes me. Other people feel it’s a chore, but I like to go in there and cook,” she said. “Dishes are a chore, however. There’s no magic dish fairy.”
To order a Milk Calendar, go to dairyontario.ca.