Tiffany Aaron of Quitman said her competitive side “came out” as she planned what she would enter in the 2014 Arkansas Rice Expo recipe contest.
“I thought there would be mostly side dishes, since that’s how rice is usually served,” said Aaron, 37. “The competitive part of me came out, and I decided to do a main dish so it would stand out.”
Aaron’s entry did, indeed, stand out. She won first place with that entry, Grilled Rice and Black Bean Burritos With Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce. She won $200, a rice cooker and a basket of rice products. Her recipe will also be published in the 2015 Arkansas Rice Expo Cookbook.
The rice-recipe contest was part of the fourth annual Arkansas Rice Expo, which was held Aug. 1 at the Grand Prairie Center in Stuttgart. Sponsored by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, which is part of the University of Arkansas System, Division of Agriculture, the expo also featured sessions on the 2014 farm bill, field tours and family activities.
“I was totally surprised that I won,” Aaron said, noting that she had served the dish to her family several times before deciding to enter it in the contest. “They all liked it.”
Aaron and her husband, Darwin, have five children: Carson, 15; Grace, 13; Audrey, 11; Laura, 9; and Micah, 2.
Aaron said she enjoys coming up with new recipes for her family because she cooks most of their meals.
“With a family of five, we don’t eat out at restaurants,” she said with a smile. “We have to eat whatever I make. The kids like for me to experiment.”
Aaron said she has participated, and won some prizes, in other food contests, but “this is the first time I have won first place,” she said.
Aaron won third place in the 2014 Arkansas Beef Cook-off held in March in Conway, and she was among the Top 100 finalists in the 2013 Pillsbury Bake-Off contest held in Las Vegas.
“I really didn’t start entering [recipe] contests until last year with the Pillsbury Bake-Off,” Aaron said. “It’s become a little addictive. The trouble with entering online contests is that you have to wait quite awhile before you know if you’ve been accepted or won anything.”
One of the online contests she’s still waiting to hear back from is the 2014 Grilled Cheese Recipe Showdown sponsored by the Grilled Cheese Academy. Aaron said the top prize in that contest is $10,000.
The daughter of Marshall and Karen Smithson of Guy, Aaron was born in Dallas and grew up in Montana.
“I graduated from Judith Gap (Montana) High School in 1995 and didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I followed Mom and Dad to Arkansas,” Aaron said. “That was in 1997.”
Karen Smithson said her daughter had “an interest in cooking by the time she was barely able to write.”
“She’s the oldest of our three children, so she probably had a little more responsibility in the kitchen than the other kids,” Smithson said. “Plus, I home-schooled the children. Preparing meals was part of their lessons. They had to use their math skills to follow recipes.”
Aaron is following in her mom’s shoes, as she also home-schools her children.
“Mom taught me to cook, using her old Betty Crocker Cookbook,” Aaron said. “I always enjoyed being in the kitchen. Now, my own kids like to be in the kitchen.”
Smithson entered the rice expo contest as well, making the Top 10 with a recipe for a nutty rice bar.
In the future, Aaron and her mother hope to enter other cooking contests together, including some at the Arkansas State Fair in October.
Aaron shares her prize-winning rice recipe with
Grilled Rice and Black Bean Burritos With Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce
1 1/4 cups cooked white rice
1 14- to 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 14.25-ounce can Fiesta corn, drained
1 15.50-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces pepper jack cheese, finely shredded
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for grilling
10 whole-wheat flour tortillas
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sour cream
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat grill to medium/high heat. In a large bowl, stir together all burrito ingredients except for the flour tortillas. Place a slightly heaping one-third cup of mixture into the center of each tortilla. Roll up burrito style, and secure with a toothpick. Brush both sides with olive oil, and place on hot grill. Cook until tortilla is crispy. Serve with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce. Prepare dipping sauce by placing all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blending until smooth.