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Recipe reaches upper crust

Damascus native heads to Texas for second year with gourmet pizza dish
by: John Klicker, Kathy Sepich displays her Chicken Alfredo Gorgonzola-Walnut Pizza, which made it into the top 100 recipes in the Pillsbury Bake-Off® contest this year. Sepich was flown to Dallas, Texas, to compete for the top, million-dollar grand prize.

The new definition of 'pressure cooker' is Gresham's Kathy Sepich.

Sepich, who grew up in Damascus, was for the second time, one of 100 finalists at the April 14 Pillsbury Bake-Off® in Dallas, Texas.

Her recipe - invented in her mind's appetite while she was waiting to have lunch with her tardy daughter - is a pizza creation, Chicken Alfredo Gorgonzola-Walnut Pizza.

It's easy enough to put together, she admits. But try doing it three times in a row in a hot ballroom filled with 100 cooks, 100 ovens pumping heat, and hundreds of people running errands, taking pictures, judging dishes and filming the whole process. That is cooking under pressure.

'You can't take anything on the floor, not even lip gloss,' says Sepich, who first competed at the bake-off in 2006 in Orlando, Fla., with Blueberry Burrito Blintzes.

At stake is a million-dollar grand prize so it is worth trying for the perfect product, pizza crust smoothed exactly and delivered piping hot to the judges. Under the heat of the lights and the fire from the ovens, and with her 'rear in the background of all the Food Network interviews,' Sepich made three pizzas, one for the judges, one for pictures and one for those passing by on the floor to sample.

'You can't even hear your buzzer with 100 other ovens going off,' she says. 'By the time you make it for the third time, you're ready to throw it out.'

Sepich did not win a major prize, but was Oregon's only finalist. She got a trip to Dallas, a $100 gift card and a new microwave. She paid extra to include her daughter, Kassy, 23, so they could have a 'girl trip.'

It was while waiting to have lunch with Kassy at Gresham's Sympatico that Sepich, working with the list of ingredients to be used in this year's bake-off, created her pizza combination. The contest offerings got her to thinking about pizza, 'but a pizza for me and not what the boys want,' she says.

Sepich, formerly an escrow officer for Fidelity National Title Co. in Gresham, is not working now, so her steady job is feeding 'the boys': husband, Tony, an electrician, and son, Rob, 17, who goes to Centennial High.

Diet conscious, she serves salads for lunch most days, focusing on flavor to keep things interesting by using favorite seasonings and special oils for salad dressings. An admitted 'foodie,' she keeps a carousel of flavored oils and vinegars on her kitchen counter. Her spice cabinet overflows, most bought from Penzey's Spices on Southeast 82nd Avenue north of Clackamas Town Center.

'Smell this. Taste that. Isn't it wonderful?' she says, cheerleading her way through her current favorite flavors.

The one recipe she keeps taped to the inside of her kitchen cupboard is an oatmeal bread recipe for her bread making machine (recipe is listed below).

Chicken Alfredo Gorgonzola-Walnut Pizza

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons Crisco® light or pure olive oil

1 teaspoon cornmeal

1 can (13.8 ounce) Pillsbury® refrigerated classic pizza crust

1/2 cup refrigerated Alfredo sauce (from 10-oz container)

1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (4 ounce)

1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese (1 ounce)

1 package (6 ounce) refrigerated roasted chicken breast strips, chopped

3/4 cup sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup sliced red onion

1/2 cup Fisher® Chef's Naturals® Chopped Walnuts

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced

Directions:

1. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush large cookie sheet with 1 teaspoon of the oil; sprinkle evenly with cornmeal. Unroll pizza crust dough on cookie sheet; press dough into 14 x 12-inch rectangle. Brush dough with remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until light golden brown.

2. Spread alfredo sauce evenly over partially baked crust. Sprinkle with cheeses, chicken, mushrooms, onion, walnuts and garlic.

3. Bake 10 to 18 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown. Sprinkle with basil. High altitude (3,500-6,500 feet): No change.

Oatmeal Bread

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup rolled oats (Sepich likes to substitute 2 packages of maple brown sugar instant oatmeal 'because it tastes better.')

3 cups flour

4 tablespoons honey

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 package yeast

'Throw it all in the machine on regular and set it on spin cycle,' she quips.

Chicken for Dinner

A Silpat baking sheet is her current favorite kitchen tool. She makes her own chicken tenders, using boneless chicken breasts cut into two-inch chunks. She tenderizes the chicken for several hours in buttermilk, garlic salt and Worcestershire sauce, then coats the pieces in panko crumbs and seasoned salt. She sprays the chicken with olive oil pan spray and places it on the Silpat sheet to bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Sepich is an admitted cheese freak. This is the bread she serves their friends from the vintage car gang:

Cheese Bread

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 cup chopped green onion

1 1/2 cups shredded cheese, half Monterey Jack and half cheddar

1 cup of mayonnaise

1 tablespoon half and half

Loaf of French bread

Shredded Parmesan to taste

Oregano and smoked paprika to taste

Spread the two halves of the French bread with the cheese and mayonnaise mixture. Top with Parmesan and spices and bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Sepich says she doesn't bake as much as she used to - calories and all that - but on the night the family absolutely 'has to have something,' she throws together a favorite from Barlow High school days - the easy, fast and tastes-great-warm Wacky Cake.

Wacky Cake

1 1/3 cups flour

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cocoa

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vinegar (She likes red wine vinegar)

1 cup cold water

6 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift together dry ingredients and put in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Dig three holes in the dry ingredients, pour in the wet ingredients mixed together, stir and bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.

'And if you are really lazy, put some chocolate chips on top while it's still hot and you've got frosting,' she says.