UACES Facebook Experienced cooks won the 2014 Rice Recipe Contest

Experienced cooks won the 2014 Rice Recipe Contest

WINNER! -- Tiffany Aaron of Cleburne County, center, holds her check after winning the 2014 Arkansas Rice Expo Rice Recipe Contest. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Fred Miller

August 7, 2014

Fast Facts:

  • Tiffany Aaron, Susan Bensberg and Alice May Johnson finish 1,2,3 in 2014 Rice Expo     Recipe Contest
  • Winners received cash, rice basket and the first place winner’s recipe will be featured on 2015 Rice Expo Cookbook
  • This year is the first year for live judging

(797 words)

STUTTGART, Ark. – A love of Mexican food and her family’s habit taking nearly every meal at home helped fuel a recipe that satisfied both of those needs and a victory in the 2014 Arkansas Rice Expo recipe contest.

“I was very shocked. Really, really shocked,” said Tiffany Aaron of Cleburne County, who took first place with her Grilled Rice and Black Bean Burritos with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce.

Aaron’s winning dish earned her a featured spot in the 2015 Arkansas Rice Expo Cookbook, $200 and a gift basket with rice. The three judges –South on Main restaurant’s Executive Chef Matt Bell, Food Writer for Sync and Arkansas Life Magazine Emily Van Zandt, and Little Rock Soiree and Writer Lee Hogan – all agreed that Aaron’s dish deserved to win.

A REAL WINNER -- Tiffany Aaron's Grilled Rice and Black Bean Burritos with Creamy Cilantro Dipping Sauce was the winner in the 2014 Arkansas Rice Expo Recipe Contest. (U of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture photo by Mary Hightower)

“On the winner, it seemed like we had the same opinion,” Hogan said.

While this wasn’t her first time competing in a cooking contest, it was her first time winning first place.

Aaron said she had previously met some of the contestants and knew that they could cook really well. “They know what the judges were judging,” she said.

Developing a rice burrito dish was a no-brainer.

“We love Mexican food,” she said  “I have five kids and we really don’t eat out at all. I cook every meal everyday.”

As the 2014 winner, she cannot compete in the 2015 contest. However, Aaron said she encourages her mother and kids to compete next year.

The second place winner for the contest was Susan Bensberg from Ouachita County, who made Ginger Curry Lime Chicken Salad with Edamame and Rice.

“I never expected to win the top 10 when I submitted my recipe, and I won the second place,” said Bensberg, who is an adjunct faculty in the music department at Southern Arkansas University.

The summer weather and her love for Arkansas inspired her to make a cool salad that has lime, ginger, water chestnut, as well as Arkansas grown long grain brown rice and edamame.

“I cook things from scratch,” she said. She discovered the ‘pasta method’ to cook rice by putting a cup of rice in 12 cups of water that has been brought to boil. Simmer the rice until tender – about 15 minutes for white rice and 20-25 minutes for brown rice. She drained it and put the rice back in the pot to let it steam.

The rice won’t stick together and it’ll have a good flavor, she said. Judge and chef Matt Bell agreed that the ‘pasta method’ with a lot of water and a little rice is the best way to cook rice.

Bensberg is planning to compete in next year’s Rice Recipe Contest as well as joining the tabletop centerpiece contest.

Third place went to Alice May Johnson of Arkansas County with her Rice and Broccoli Salad. Johnson said she wants to compete again next year.

“I’m thrilled to death because I can come back next year,” she said, of her much-complimented dish. “Every time we have potluck (at work), I always make the broccoli salad,” she said. For the contest, she added rice to the salad.

Johnson shared her secret for what she called the ‘perfect rice’: boil 14 cups of water, a table spoon of salt, and four cups of white rice cooked for 15 minutes in an un-lidded Dutch Oven on the low heat stovetop. After it’s done, remove from heat, pour into a big pan with holes in it and run hot water over to the rim to rinse the rice. “What’s unique is it’s with no lid,” she said. 

“There are a lot of different ways to cook rice,” said Rosemary Rodibaugh, nutrition professor in the Family & Consumer Science Department for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “The best way is a matter of personal preference.”

The bottom line is that rice can be an important part of an overall healthy diet. Rice is in the grains’ group, one of the 5 main food groups on MyPlate, a nutrition guide by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rice provides protein and carbohydrates for energy and a number of vitamins and minerals. rice is a whole grain and has “more fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants than white rice,” she said. She recommends making half of your grain foods whole grains.

The top 10 finalists of the rice recipe prelims brought their dishes to the 2014 Arkansas Rice Expo. A variety of rice dishes were showcased. “I thought I’d see all casseroles,” Bell said. “But there’s a lot of creativity.”

Keith Cleek, Phillips County Area Extension Agent for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, who ran the contest, said, “everything went really well, first time we had live judging, great feedback and good dishes.”

To learn more about rice production, visit or contact your county extension office.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

All meetings and activities announced in this news release are open to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, gender, age, disability, marital or veteran status, or any other legally protected status. Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (large print, audiotapes, etc.) should notify the county Extension office as soon as possible prior to the activity.


By Kezia Nanda
For the Cooperative Extension Service
U of A System Division of Agriculture

Media Contact: Mary Hightower
Dir. of Communication Services
U of A Division of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service
(501) 671-2126

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