May 26, 2010 10:43:00 AM
Jan Swoope - firstname.lastname@example.org
While Laura Murphy was on her way to graduating magna cum laude from Mississippi College May 8, the psychology major couldn''t keep her thoughts away from the kitchen.
The 21-year-old has nurtured a burgeoning interest in cooking for the past few years. A dedicated Food Network fan who enjoys personalizing recipes, she began submitting a few to contests several months ago.
Laura said modestly, "I really didn''t expect to hear back from any of them, but I thought it was worth a chance."
A chance, indeed.
The Columbus native''s pistachio raspberry thumbprint cookie recipe recently made her a grand prize winner in a contest sponsored by General Mills and Betty Crocker. The $1,000 award may just help Laura pursue her post-college dream -- culinary training and her own catering business.
"Winning was an incredible, wonderful surprise," admitted the daughter of Slater and Marsha Murphy of Columbus. "My mom has been making thumbprint cookies for Christmas every year. I added some ingredients to try to make it my own, but the inspiration was from a family favorite."
"I don''t know where this came from," Laura''s mother laughed, referring to her daughter''s intensifying interest in the food industry. "It actually started when she and her brother, Brian, were still in high school, and they started watching Food Network together. When she was home (from college), she would always be after me, ''Mama, can I cook?''"
A new path
The urge to make food preparation and presentation her career has been percolating since the end of her college sophomore year, explained Laura, whose culinary roots trace back to cooking with her mother and grandmother.
"I just started thinking about the food industry and how much I love cooking," she said. "I received little opportunities on campus to cater some events. And I got to cater some recital receptions, including my brother''s; that was wonderful."
In early May, she catered a bridal shower for Brian''s fiancé, serving chicken salad sandwiches, sausage balls, strawberries with citrus cream, sweet potato biscuits, cupcakes and apple sweet tea.
"Other than the cupcakes, the recipes were my originals," Laura remarked.
She was recently honored to make a wedding cake, too -- three tiers frosted with a white almond buttercream and filled with salted caramel buttercream. She''s scheduled to cater a wedding shower in June and a bridal brunch in July.
Back to school
Laura hopes to begin culinary classes that will specialize in catering in the fall, possibly in Georgia.
How will her psychology degree apply?
"I know I''ll be dealing with people my whole life, and especially if I own my own business. I''ll have customers every day, especially if I work with brides who are under a lot of stress ... " she stated. "I think the four years working on my psychology degree gives me a much better understanding of people. I really feel I''ll use those classes I took throughout my life."
For Laura, striking out on a food career has seemed increasingly the right thing to do.
"I''ve loved every minute of it," she said of the work she''s done so far. The more I do, the more I realize how much of an art form it is. It''s a way to express yourself. Of course it''s about the taste, but it''s also about the presentation and how it looks.
"The best part to me is probably seeing people enjoy the final product. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction."
Home for the summer, with the kitchen at her disposal, the young chef is testing a variety of tasty temptations. Her family often reaps the rewards.
But, Laura smiles, "A lot of times, it''s just nice to enjoy my mom''s cooking."
Try some of Laura Murphy''s recipes shared in today''s food section. Do you have a favorite original recipe? Check out www.contestcook.com, where today''s featured cook learned about the recipe contest she won.
PISTACHIO RASPBERRY THUMBPRINT COOKIES
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup finely chopped pistachios
1/2 cup raspberry jam
SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
2 cups self-rising flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
One pinch salt
One stick cold unsalted butter
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes
1/8 cup milk
1/8 cup half and half
Two pieces cooked, drained and crumbled bacon
TWO POTATO SOUP
Three large white potatoes, peeled and chopped
Two large sweet potatoes
One yellow onion, chopped
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup corn
1 1/2 plus 1 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoons celery seed
3 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup half and half
1 cup diced ham
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup cubed Velveeta cheese
1/8 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper, to taste
STRAWBERRY RICE PUDDING
3/4 cup Arborio or other short grain rice
4 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
1 teaspoon citrus zest (lemon or orange)
One cinnamon stick
2 cups sliced fresh strawberries
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup coconut milk
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
Two garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.