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Bite by Bite
Kathy Stephenson
Kathy Stephenson has been the food writer at The Tribune since 2000. A Utah native, Stephenson's first job was picking zucchini on her grandparent's Kaysville farm. Every Christmas, Stephenson's neighbors and colleagues look forward to getting a plate of her baklava. Last year, she gave away nearly 300 pieces.

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(Kim Raff | The Salt Lake Tribune) Laurie Willberg wins first place in the Funeral Potato Contest at the Utah State Fair in Salt Lake City earlier this month.
Not your mama’s funeral potatoes

These were not your mama’s funeral potatoes.

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The winning dish during last night’s Funeral Potato contest at the Utah State Fair contained real Russets (not frozen) dried soup (not canned) and crushed tortilla chips (not cornflakes).

The "Southwestern Funeral Potatoes" were created by Laurie Willburg of Salt Lake City who had never even made Utah’s favorite comfort-food casserole before entering. (See recipe below)

"I’ve had them in other places, but when I moved to Utah, that was the first time I had heard them called funeral potatoes, " said Willburg, who lived in California, Arizona and Texas before moving to Salt Lake City four years ago.

As most native cooks know, funeral potatoes are the name of the baked casserole made with potatoes, canned soup, cheese and a crushed corn-flake topping. It’s a mainstay at many family gatherings, but got its name because Mormon women regularly make large pans to serve grieving families after a funeral.

Willburg said she entered the contest because cooks were required to use at least one Utah product, but preferably more.

Looking at the list of possible ingredients, the Don Julio brand of corn chips caught her eye and she decided to give her dish a southwest flair with jalapeno jack cheese and a black bean and corn salsa for garnish. She also used Meadow Gold buttermilk and sour cream, two kinds of Banquet cheese, Redmond Real Salt, Sawyer’s Premium potato soup mix’s and Laurie’s Buffalo Gourmet salsa.

She took it to a group event before the contest and knew she had a winner. "Everyone went back for seconds," said Willburg, who won a $150 gift card to Harmon’s.

Gina Varni of Salt Lake City won second place with "Not Dying Today" casserole made with potatoes, ham and chives. Third place went to Nancy Judd of Alpine for her tried-and-true recipe for "Mamma’s Wonderful Funeral Potatoes."

Southwest Funeral Potatoes (with Utah ingredients)

8 medium Russet potatoes

1/2 teaspoons sea salt (Redmond brand)

1 cup dry potato soup mix (Sawyer’s Premium)

2 cups water, boiling

1 cup low fat buttermilk (Meadow Gold)

1 cup sour cream (Meadow Gold)

2 cups grated jalapeno jack cheese ((Banquet brand)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt (Redmond brand)

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

11/2 cup crushed yellow corn tortilla chips (Don Julio brand)

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (Banquet brand)

1 jar black bean and corn salsa (Laurie’s Buffalo Gourmet)

Wash and scrub potatoes under cool water, place in a pot with enough water to generously cover. Add 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil. Cook 30 minutes or until tender, but not soft. Remove potatoes from pot and place in a colander. Run cold water over potatoes to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel and dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Place in a large mixing bowl.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray.

Place potato soup mix in a medium mixing bowl. Cover with boiling water, then whisk until smooth. Add buttermilk, sour cream, jalpeno jack cheese, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Pour mixture over diced potatoes and stir gently until the potatoes are coated. Pour into prepared baking pan.

Place corn chips in a resealable plastic bag and crush. Combine crushed chips with grated cheddar cheese. Sprinkle chip/cheese mixture over the top of the potatoes in the bake pan. Bake uncovered 45 minutes or until bubbly and cheese is slightly brown.

Remove from oven and cool slightly. Serve with salsa.

Servings • 8 to 10

Source: Laurie Willberg, winner of the Utah’s Own Funeral Potato at the Utah State Fair

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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