Cook tests her kitchen mettle in recipe contests

If the mudslinging and name-calling of the recent midterm elections left you hankering for a candidate you can back with pride, here's a chance to vote in a national campaign that could impact millions of snackers, and help feed the hungry, too.

The race is among five finalists in the annual Chex Party Mix Recipe Contest.

Our local candidate, Tammy Furda of Naperville, is one of 1,000 hopefuls who entered in five categories: gluten free, salty, sweet, chocolate and savory.

The grand prize winner, who takes home $5,000, is chosen online by us, and it's a matter of local pride. Tammy, with her savory, smoky “Backyard BBQ” mix, is the only Midwesterner on the ballot.

“I spent two to three weeks developing ideas and testing,” she says. “In August I found out I was a finalist and would have to start garnering votes.”

She's been campaigning at neighborhood gatherings with samples of her mix and recipe cards with voting information on the back.

“For every vote cast, Chex is donating $2 to Feeding America,” says Tammy, up to a maximum of $25,000. “It makes me feel less guilty about asking family and friends to go online and vote for me.”

A flight attendant for United Airlines for 25 years, Tammy has been on voluntary furlough from the carrier for two years. During that time her interest in recipe contests has taken off.

“I'm always working on at least one, but typically more than that,” says Tammy, who has entered more than 50 contests with multiple recipes.

Burgers, sandwiches, ice cream sundaes, chili, and pizza are just a few of the categories she has attempted, with modest results.

The Chex Mix challenge is unusual for her.

“Typically I enter something fairly involved, with 20 ingredients at least,” she says. “This one intrigued me because it's something I've been making and eating since high school and everyone seems to like it.”

Simplicity is key: each recipe can take no longer than 15 minutes to prepare, and if cooked, it has to be done in the microwave.

While she awaits results – voting ends Dec. 15 – Tammy searches several times a week for new contests to enter at and

“Monday is the day most of the new ones show up,” she says. “I always view the past winners to get an idea of what they're looking for and what's been done. When I get a great, new, raw idea, that's when I get really excited.”

She tests her ideas in small batches so she and husband, Scott, aren't tempted by mountains of food. Before she submits the final draft, Tammy puts together a full recipe to make sure it works.

For a chili contest she created today's Greek-style combo with ground chicken breast and lean ground pork, fresh spinach and fennel.

Mediterranean flavors dominate her penne pasta recipe too. The pork tenderloin slivers are tossed with feta, pine nuts and basil.

“I'm big on bold flavors,” she says, so her Chex Mix recipe features dark rye chips, smoked almonds, sharp blue cheese and liquid smoke.

Give it a whirl, then go online and vote at We can cast a ballot once a day, a rule that's sure to make Cook County pols salivate with envy.

Backyard BBQ Chex Mix

Greek Style Chili

Penne with Pork Tenderloin and Bacon

  Tammy Furda stirs her Greek Style Chili. Scott Sanders/