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F.C. Mom Goes from Torts to Tarts with Cook-Offs

beckmanA Falls Church mom and self-taught cook has been named a finalist in the “What’s Your Spin on Thin?” contest. Sandwich aficionados from across the country have submitted recipes using the Arnold-Oroweat Sandwich Thin, and Falls Church’s own Jen Beckman, with her Flamenco Mushroom Thinwich, is a finalist in the competition, having won the International Inspiration category.

beckmanA Falls Church mom and self-taught cook has been named a finalist in the “What’s Your Spin on Thin?” contest. Sandwich aficionados from across the country have submitted recipes using the Arnold-Oroweat Sandwich Thin, and Falls Church’s own Jen Beckman, with her Flamenco Mushroom Thinwich, is a finalist in the competition, having won the International Inspiration category.

The Spanish cuisine-inspired recipe combines salsa verde, mushrooms and almonds with the sandwich thin. Beckman said she knew of the sandwich thins before the contest because they have gained a bit of a following in the area.

“It’s something that I had observed with my kids being in school, this is actually a very popular product in this area,” Beckman said, adding that the product is good for those looking to cut calories and carbohydrates. “When I saw the contest, combined with the fact that my husband is always looking for a lower carb sandwich, I thought it would be worth playing with.”

Beckman will go up against the winners of the contest’s four other categories to compete for the grand prize – a three-day and two-night trip for two to New York City, as well as an additional $1,000 on top of the $1,000 each finalist has already banked. That grand prize winner will be selected by the public, as the final five recipes have all been submitted for voting on the Arnold-Oroweat Sandwich Thin Facebook page from now until Jan. 17.

“It’s a food-themed trip that my husband and I would very much enjoy,” Beckman said.

The finalist nod is not the first time Beckman has been recognized for her cooking skills.

“The sandwich thin contest that I’m in right now is, quite honestly, my 10th or 11th where I’ve won something,” Beckman said.

Her first bit of cooking competition glory came with her first recipe submission.

“I was reading a magazine, Eating Well magazine, and they had a call for healthy holiday cookie recipes,” Beckman said. “And I said, ‘well, I make healthy holiday cookies, let me try.’ So that sort of got me started.” She was a runner up in the competition.

“Getting a little bit of a nudge was great positive reinforcement,” Beckman said.

Since then, Beckman has been learning more and more about the field of competitive cooking.

“The competitive cook-off world is sort of a dark subculture, but I’ve found a lot of kindred spirits in it, and I have to feed my family anyway, so why not,” Beckman said.

Now her cooking brings in anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 a year.

“It’s not a living, but it pays for some extras,” Beckman said. “It’s nice to have a hobby that can cover vacations and things like that.”

Her interest in competitive cooking came during a work hiatus. Having spent five years in Falls Church as a lawyer, Beckman took a break from law to raise her children, now 3 and 5 years old.

“Since I’ve been home I’ve been dabbling in cooking contests and other sort of cooking-related ventures,” Beckman said. “Since my kids were born, I’ve been home finding different ways to keep my creative spirit from dripping out of my left ear.”

For Beckman, the move from torts to tarts allowed her to exercise the creative part of her mind.

“Part of my dissatisfaction with law was that it wasn’t very creative,” Beckman said. “(Cooking is) sort of a complement. I was exercising my brain for years as a lawyer, now I feel like I’m exercising the other side of my brain.”

She says, however, that her experience as a lawyer gives her a competitive edge.

“I think that my success in the competitive cooking world has been bolstered by the methodical legal reasoning training that I’ve had,” Beckman said.

And while the thought of a lawyer turned cooking champion may seem peculiar to some, Beckman says it is common in her world.

“It’s an interesting hobby to have for a woman with a graduate degree, but it’s surprising how many of us in competitive cooking are professional women who are taking a break from their professions,” Beckman said. “There must be something about it that appeals to us inner Type As, cook-off queens and the like.”

Beckman’s interest in cooking, though, came long before her professional transformation.

“I grew up in a family where food was not prepared particularly artfully, so when I was a kid I just sort of took an interest in it,” Beckman said. “I’ve been cooking for myself since I was a teenager.”

Not only has she been cooking for herself, but she’s been working hard to train herself in the craft by taking cooking classes and trying recipes – sometimes over and over again.

“I think I bring a sort of discipline to cooking that not everyone has because I’m interested in it and I like to do things well,” Beckman said. “One year I decided to make really great pizza, so I made pizza for 10 weeks until I got really good at it. One year it was fish. I’m self taught, but I’m compulsively self taught.”

For Beckman, a self-proclaimed “locovorian” who tries to eat food produced locally, living in Falls Church has given her all of the tools she needs to cook the way she likes. She is able to have local meat and produced delivered, and she is especially fond of the Falls Church Farmers’ Market.

“I love the Falls Church Farmers’ Market,” Beckman said. “It’s a really special place, and has been recognized by so many people. It definitely makes it easy to be a locovore. The sandwich thins don’t fall under that category, but you can pile it up with locally grown foods and have a really delicious meal.”

She also grows her own produce, though she lives on a small residential lot.

“I try to find other local gardeners to swap stuff,” Beckman said. “If I have a lot of tomatoes, I can get in on their cantaloupes or something like that.”

While the public still has to decide which sandwich recipe will reign supreme, Beckman is already working on her next project – cupcakes for the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest. Luckily, she has a “crack team of tasters” in her family, neighbors and friends.

“I’m testing chocolate cupcakes for the contest, and that has made me very popular,” Beckman said.

sandwich

Flamenco Mushroom Thinwich

1 tablespoon garlic
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup parsley leaves
2 tablespoon capers
1/3 cup olive oil
8 portobello caps
3 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup sliced roasted red peppers
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups arugula
4 toasted Whole Grain White Sandwich Thins rolls
4 ounces goat cheese
Salt

Directions:
Salsa verde: Blend garlic, vinegar, lemon juice, parsley, capers and oil in blender until smooth. Add salt to taste. Toss caps with garlic, oil and salt to taste, then grill on hot grill pan, three minutes per side. Toss together almonds, peppers, lemon juice and arugula. Spread each Sandwich Thins roll with salsa verde. Spread goat cheese on the bottom of each roll, then top with two mushrooms. Top with arugula mixture, then close sandwiches, slice and serve.