Although Pamela Wilkinson is known by friends and family
for baking sweet dishes, the award-winning recipe that caught the eye of the Pillsbury judges was a savory dish she called “Loaded Nacho Burgers.”
After a dozen sweet recipes didn’t get a nibble from judges in 2010, she said she realized she needed to do something
creative, but still simple. Inspiration struck during a trip to Tahoe, when her family enjoyed a luncheon together over some tasty nachos.
“On the way home, I said we have to do something with these flavors,” she said. “I thought, we have hamburgers a lot, and our family loves Mexican food. How can I marry the two flavors together and please my family?”
After a couple of experiments — tweaking the dish and using her family to taste the results — the right combination was born. She sent the recipe in February 2011, but it wasn’t until August that she got word she was a finalist.
Then, she had to keep quiet about it for a few months, even among her family and friends.
“My heart felt like it was going to come out of my chest,” she said, recalling the Pillsbury call. “I had to keep it hush-hush. I thought about my grandma, my inspiration for cooking. My mom loved to cook. It just kind of rubbed off on me.”
In October, she could finally shout from the rooftops that she had made the finals, which was a surprise to everyone.
“We’re excited,” said her husband, Mitch. “I thought it was so funny — of all the things she made, this is the one I thought had no shot (at winning). She’s known for sweets.”
Whipping up a batch of Loaded Nacho Burgers in her Tracy kitchen recently, Pamela Wilkinson had an audience: Her husband and their two children, Trent, 13, and Sarah, 10, watched with hungry anticipation. The dish has become a family favorite.
“I’m proud of her,” said Trent. “I think it’s great.”
Sarah, who also loves to cook with her mom, said she hoped to become a chef someday.
Wilkinson’s Loaded Nacho Burger looks like a bun full of fun. The nacho-speckled Pillsbury buttermilk biscuit and its oozing ingredients are enticing, but the real savor of the burger doesn’t kick in until the first bite.
On March 26, Wilkinson will get her chance to compete against the other 99 finalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando, Fla., for $1 million. Going up against recipes that include lunch, dinner and desserts, she will have to reproduce her dish twice for the judges in hopes of taking home the cash and prestige of being named a Pillsbury Bake-Off winner.
“It feels like a dream,” Wilkinson said. “I’m just your typical mom, typical friend. It’s been a whirlwind.”
• In the Spotlight is a weekly feature that highlights the people who make Tracy and Mountain House unique. To nominate someone, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loaded Nacho Burgers
Start to finish: 45 minutes
Servings: 8 burgers
½ cup crushed nacho-flavored tortilla chips (about 25)
16.3-ounce can Pillsbury Grands Homestyle refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
¾ cup mild banana pepper rings, drained
1 pound lean ground beef
¾ cup nacho cheese sauce or dip
¼ teaspoon McCormick chili powder
¼ teaspoon McCormick ground cumin
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup red onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup tomato, seeded and diced
¼ cup cooked bacon, crumbled
1 medium, ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
Heat the oven to 350 F.
Place crushed nacho chips in shallow dish. Press both sides of each biscuit into crushed chips. Bake biscuits on ungreased cookie sheet 13 to 17 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.
Finely chop enough banana pepper rings to equal ¼ cup.
In a large bowl, mix ground beef, ¼ cup of nacho cheese sauce, ¼ cup chopped banana peppers, chili powder and cumin.
Shape mixture into 8 patties, 3½ inches in diameter.
In nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook patties 5 to 7 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of the patty reads 160 Fahrenheit, turning once.
In a small microwaveable bowl, microwave the remaining ½ cup nacho cheese sauce on high, 30 to 40 seconds or until warm.
Split biscuits and lightly spread cream cheese on cut sides of biscuit halves. Top the bottom of each biscuit with a burger patty, nacho cheese sauce, onion, tomato, bacon, avocado, remaining banana pepper rings and biscuit tops.
Nutrition information per serving: 410 calories; 24 g total fat (8 g saturated; 4 g trans fats); 55 mg cholesterol; 32 g carbohydrate; 17 g protein; 860 mg sodium.
— Recipe from Pamela Wilkinson