Bake-Off # 42: Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing

Pin It
When someone is a great cook, many times the person has learned the way around a kitchen from their mother.  In the case of Anna Ginsberg, million dollar winner of Bake-Off # 42, this was not to be.  Anna’s mother, “who couldn’t cook at all and had no desire,” says Anna, still encouraged her daughter to learn cooking.  By the time she was a teenager, Anna was preparing all the family dinners.  Anna’s love of cooking started when she made a batch of cookies from a cake mix and added M and M’s candy pieces.  “Looking back on it,” says Anna, “they were probably pretty horrible, but I thought they were the best thing ever and I was so proud.”
Anna, who lives in Texas with her husband and adorable daughter, is an advertising graduate from the University of Texas.  A degree in advertising comes in handy when developing recipes, because Anna thinks like an advertiser or marketer.  She targets an audience, comes up with a creative recipe that is easy, appealing,  tastes right for the target, and also uses the sponsor’s qualifying products.  And in the case of this winning recipe, it was pure genius. 
Anna’s winning recipe used a surprising product to make a main dish meal.  She took the Pillsbury “Dunkables” which had frozen waffle sticks and 3 little cups of maple syrup in the package.  Anna cubed the waffle sticks and made them into a stuffing, and mixed the syrup with peach preserves and Worcestershire sauce to spoon as a glaze over chicken breasts.  The stuffing also included spinach, onions, sage, poultry seasoning, and pecans.  It was a perfect medley of creativity while highlighting  a sponsor’s product.  Bake-Off judge Martha Holmberg, food editor of the Oregonian and former food editor of Fine Cooking magazine, said of the recipe, “It’s not a lot of work but feels restauranty in the good sense of the word.  The waffle fingers had a nice texture and it was a good way to get spinach and vegetables in there.  It’s a complete dinner.”
Anna hard at work on the Bake-Off floor the day of the competition.  Check out the cute apron!

For the second year in a row, a famous designer dressed the Bake-Off contestants in their aprons.  Todd Oldham, designer and host of the television series “Todd Oldham’s Homemade Modern,” was the perfect choice for designing the official contest apron.  He describes the design as “inspired by a celebration of everyday materials and tasks combined with a reverence for sophisticated, refined objects.”
Contestants proudly displaying their aprons in the Grand March

Watch this video as Todd Oldham unveils his sensational design:

After all the contestants finished their entries, it was time to party at the host hotel, the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.  The next morning, the awards show event had finally arrived.  After many nervous moments and a roomful of hopeful contestants, Anna was declared the million dollar winner.  Wouldn’t you love to know what she is thinking at that moment?!  (you can actually find out – keep reading!)
After the contest, Anna was whisked off to New York for an appearance on the “Today Show” with Katie Couric.  Anna explains, “I got to sit on the couch with Katie Couric, talk and joke with her.  They did my hair and make-up.  I was going around New York City all day with hair and make-up by the same person as Katie Couric!”  But before she sat in that make-up chair, Anna made a stop at Macy’s for something to wear.  The Texas girl had not packed for cold weather, and with the help of a publicist and three Macy’s clerks, she selected a Ralph Lauren skirt with flowers, solid dark blue shirt, navy shoes, and stockings.  And she looked like a million.
Back home after the event of a lifetime, Anna settled into her life as a stay-at-home mom, but a very busy one.  Anna did what she loved – cooked and baked – and then became a very successful blogger with her site called “Cookie Madness.”  Not only does she have a successful blog,  but Anna also has a cookbook coming out soon about 365 days of cookies, along with some fun facts, history, and lore.  When the book is released, you will definitely read about it here on my blog. 
I sent Anna a set of questions about her Bake-Off experience and her cooking life.  Here are the questions and answers:

1) After making and photographing every single Bake-Off grand prize winner, Kristina and I agree that your recipe is the most creative of any other winner in Bake-Off history. We are curious to know your thought process in developing the recipe. Did you have an AHA! moment? Had you made a stuffing from waffles before? How many times did you make the recipe before you felt it was just right?

Anna:  It really came to me in a flash. Normally, I strategically develop recipes for contests, but in this case I saw the waffles, thought they might be good in stuffing, and started experimenting. I have no idea how I came up with the idea to combine peach preserves with Worcestershire sauce for the glaze, but I do make a lot of quick homemade glazes with jelly, so I probably just threw it together. As far as being “just right”, it was just right the first time. I practiced making it only so I would feel comfortable making it at the Bake-Off. My biggest worry was overcooking the chicken.

2) It must be completely surreal to hear your name called as the million dollar winner. Do you remember your very first thought after winning? How long did it take before it finally sunk in?

Anna:  Surreal sums it up. I think my first thought was “My life is about to change”.

3) In what ways has your life changed since winning the Bake-Off?

Anna:  We have a degree of financial security that’s comforting. Our lifestyle hasn’t changed much and we’ve always lived within our means, but we are so much happier knowing Emma’s college is taken care of and that we have a buffer in case things go wrong. Life can change in an instant, for better or for worse.

4) Your wonderful blog, “Cookie Madness,” is known and loved by many. What brought you to write a blog about cookies instead of some other food?

Anna: I love baking. Cooking is fun and I enjoy learning about foods, but the foods I want to eat are sweets. I started with a blog devoted to cookies and lately I’ve been trying to stay “on theme”, but I’ve found myself veering into muffins and cakes quite a bit. Maybe I’ll change the name to “Baked Goods Madness”. Ha.

5) What item or appliance could you not do without in the kitchen?

Anna: Well, obviously the oven. I think I’d also have a hard time without my food processor.

6) Please fill in the following: (Anna’s answers underlined)

-My favorite cookie is:  chocolate chip with brownies a close second.
-My least favorite cookie is:  one that is not fresh
-My favorite cookie ingredient is: chocolate

7) Parchment or silpat?    Anna: I am actually big on non-stick foil. I like parchment too. Having ruined my share of Silpats, I’ve given up on them. They also absorb odors and get nasty after a while.

8) Dark chocolate or milk chocolate?  Anna: Dark!

9) If you could develop a cookie fragrance, what would be the scent?  Anna:  Oatmeal Raisins Cinnamon

10) You have a cookbook coming out soon based on your love of cookies. Do you have plans for more cookbooks in the future? If yes, would it be more cookies, or some other food?

Anna:  My new cookie book has 365 cookie recipes. After all the testing and tasting, I’ve seriously considered doing a vegetable cookbook to balance things out. It would be a stretch….

Since Anna won the Bake-Off, she can never return again.  The Bake-Off rules state that a grand prize winner cannot enter again, but also if one has been three times, that becomes the limit.  That is what happened to talented cook Patrice Hurd of Minnesota who competed in this contest for her third and final time. Here are the thoughts in her own words from Patrice on her last venture:
 After participating in the 2000 and 2002 Pillsbury Bake-Offs, I decided that I wouldn’t enter a third time, but rather save the spot for my three daughters. The 2004 PBO rolled on by without me and when the submission period arrived for the 2006 contest, my daughters were begging me to enter again and “end the insanity.” It was clear to them that this was my passion and it was bigger than all of us put together . . . that, and the fact that I was driving everyone crazy with my endless obsession. After experimenting with a tin of Spanish smoked paprika, I had a quick, tasty supper recipe that they encouraged me to enter, so my Sweet ‘n Smoky Chicken Wraps took me back to the land of Pillsbury for one last time.

During my first two PBO appearances, I had gained the wisdom to understand that the most difficult part of this contest was getting to be one of the 100 finalists. Once there, it was completely in the hands of fate and the draw of judges and their personal preferences that determined any winners. I truly believe that if the same exact contest was held the next day with a different set of judges, there would be all new winners. With that keen insight, I had only one mission for this last time: to have fun. Two of my daughters were able to join me and we did have the time of our lives; it was a fantastic finale.

The Gaylord Palms Hotel in Orlando was surreal with its beautiful flora, waterfalls, live alligators lazing throughout the indoor rivers, a 60-foot sailboat bar/restaurant and a massive four and a half acre glass atrium system that had me constantly confused as to whether we were actually inside or outside (something my daughters will never let me forget 🙂

There was a large group of contestants from the popular contest site, Cooking Contest Central,  present at this event, and it’s always such a treat to meet the real live person behind the cyber friend persona. For the first time, I had the pleasure of meeting my all-time cooking contest idol: Roxanne Chan; it was an honor just to be in her presence. After reading so much about her and her accomplishments, it was delightful to get to know such a kind human being. And after being online friends for years, Norita Solt and I finally met face-to-face. My daughters immediately fell in love with Norita and her husband Ron, and officially adopted them as an honorary Aunt and Uncle who will be part of our family forever.

The Bake-Off floor was much more relaxed for me this last time, and I actually enjoyed the reporters with their cameras and big, fuzzy booms – something I normally turn and run from. I always loved hearing, “Here’s our Minnesota girl!”, and turning to see George Pillsbury coming to give me a hug, with his wife, Sally at his side; what a lovely, genuine couple. Once again, I won no prize money for my recipe, but my three PBO experiences have been a priceless highlight of my life. In the opening video of the 2006 contest, I’m shown gushing to the camera that the Pillsbury Bake-Off is “the Mother of all cooking contests!” After participating in quite a few national contests, I know that’ll always ring true for me. Whatever ripe old age I live to, I know that my PBO memories have defined who I am in terms of following my dreams, and my favorite color will always be ‘Pillsbury blue’.

To read more about the Pillsbury Bake-Off go to

To find the recipe for “Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing”  go to:

Photo of “Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing” is by my daughter, Kristina Vanni. Visit her blog at:

To read all my previous Bake-Off blogs:

Bake-Off #1:
Bake-Off #2:  
Bake-Off #3:
Bake-Off #4:
Bake-Off #5:
Bake-Off #6:
Bake-Off #7:
Bake-Off #8:
Bake-Off #9:
Bake-Off #10:
Bake-Off #11:
Bake-Off #12:
Bake-Off #13:
Bake-Off #14:
Bake-Off #15:
Bake-Off #16:
Bake-Off #17:
Bake-Off #18:
Bake-Off #19: 
Bake-Off #20:
Bake-Off #21:
Bake-Off #22:
Bake-Off #23
Bake-Off #24
Bake-Off #25
Bake-Off #26
Bake-Off #27
Bake-Off #28
Bake-Off #29
Bake-Off #30
Bake-Off #31
Bake-Off #32
Bake-Off #33
Bake-Off #34 (part 1)
                      (part 2)
Bake-Off #35
Bake-Off #36
Bake-Off #37
Bake-Off #38
Bake-Off #39
Bake-Off #40
Bake-Off #41

One Response to Bake-Off # 42: Baked Chicken and Spinach Stuffing

  1. February 29, 2012 at 5:21 am #

    Two great winners in this feature. Patrice’s story really made me feel so warm and fuzzy all over again.

Leave a Reply