Lake Norman & Mooresville

Bake-off finalist enjoys the journey

When you're used to cooking for four hungry children three times a day, participating in the 44th Pillsbury Bake-Off doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

Still, when McAuley neighborhood resident Amy Murphy first took note of the pastry company's contest in 2007, while watching The Food Network channel, she never dreamed she'd be traveling to Orlando, Fla. with four children under the age of 7, including a 5-month-old, to participate as a finalist competing for the million-dollar grand-prize.

While Murphy - who substitute teaches and works as an attorney on a contract basis - didn't return from the event a winner, she says she still enjoyed the time she got to spend participating in the event and combining the trip with some family fun at Disney World and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park.

All entries in the bake-off, which holds the contest every two years, had to be original, fit into one of the four recipe categories, and use at least two eligible products. Murphy tested a number of different recipes and submitted one for each category (Breakfast & Brunches, Entertaining Appetizers, Dinner Made Easy and Sweet Treats) before receiving notification last August that her Rancheros Crescent Rounds had been selected in the Breakfast & Brunches category.

"I like to cook and play around with whatever is in the fridge," said Murphy, 35, who says she came up with the recipe that made her finalist one evening while throwing together a quick and easy meal for her family.

She was working on creating new recipes for the contest and had Crescent Rounds left in her refrigerator. Trying to think of a different way to serve eggs, she remembered eating huevos rancheros while studying abroad in Chile during college. She shaped the Crescent Rounds into little bowls, added in black beans, scrambled eggs, salsa and chili powder, and served them to her kids, who loved them. She decided to submit her new recipe to the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Murphy was pregnant with her fourth child on Aug. 31, 2009, when she received the call notifying her the Rancheros Crescent Rounds had made her a finalist. She gave birth in November and headed to Orlando with her family and parents in tow to attend the event April 11-13.

"Pillsbury treated everyone wonderfully well," said Murphy, describing how the entire operation - 100 finalists working in 100 mini-kitchens - was run like clockwork. While there, Murphy attended a welcome dinner, kitchen appliance orientation, the four-hour Pillsbury Bake-Off, and the awards banquet.

While this was the first recipe contest Murphy had ever entered, and she met many other cooks who were also novices, she also discovered a large segment of the finalists enter cooking contests on a regular basis, and make a living doing so. She's unsure if she'll enter the contest again; becoming a finalist on her first try was a greater reward than she expected.

"It was a wonderful experience, but I don't know if I'll ruin the magic if I keep entering," she said.