SPRING HILL — Pat Good dabbed her lips with a napkin and pronounced, "delicious." Toothpick Steak, the entree on the platter Good had just eaten, wasn't always so good.
The recipe from Atria Evergreen Woods resident Maggie Wideman was chosen for A Dash & a Dollop, a cookbook available nationwide. But on one occasion it had gone from sizzle to fizzle — or worse.
During a celebratory cooking demonstration and three-course meal for about 50 residents at Atria on Wednesday, Wideman, 83, described an experience she had in Georgia.
"My church had a cookbook years ago. That recipe was included," she said. "I made it a number of times."
The cookbook tells the rest of the story:
"What an unusual dish! Rather glamorous — not everyday fare — just the thing to impress my daughter Patti's current beau, who was coming to our house for Sunday dinner after church. My table was set, the toothpick steak was in the oven, and the on-and-off control (which had always worked magically) was set prior to our leaving.
"We all trooped in after church, pleasantly greeted by the fragrance of the toothpick steak. However, when we opened the oven, we found the prize dish had overcooked to the point of cremation!"
"It was cremated," she confirmed on Wednesday. "We just didn't eat it, a sad circumstance. Patti was in tears. She still remembers it distinctly. She is 65."
Fast forward. Her daughter, Patti Wideman VanMatre, of Glen Lake, urged her mother to enter the contest staged by Atria Senior Living for about 15,000 residents in 127 facilities nationwide.
Good, Wideman's daily tablemate at Atria, suggested a few special touches landed the recipe in the book.
"I think it's the tick of cinnamon in there," she said. "And the Coke."
Each recipe in the glossy, spiral-bound 142-page book had to be submitted with a background story. Wideman thinks hers made a difference with the judges.
"It's rather an unusual story," the soft-spoken, modest cook added. "It's made to be a rather glamorous dish, but it wasn't that time."
In the book, Wideman's story finishes with a warning: "Anyway, here is the recipe. Just check your oven first!"
At the Atria demonstration, onsite director of culinary services Stephen Westhoff and assistant chef Dan Chiarella prepared the dish.
"Make sure the pan sizzles," Chiarella said as he turned the steak bites. "If it doesn't, it's not hot enough.
"After browning, add liquids to the pan."
When serving, the chef added with a laugh, "Be careful. Take the toothpicks out, unless you have an in-law (dining) that you don't like."
Wideman, who got a chuckle out of the joke, said Atria residents usually have a good time at meals. When she was growing up, and when she was raising her own children, mealtime was a social occasion, not just a refueling station.
In the well-appointed dining room — with cloth table linens and floral centerpieces — Westhoff makes the rounds, greeting residents and hearing comments.
"You do a good job here," Wideman told him at the dinner, "feeding 200 people.
"That's a challenge, 200, three meals a day."
When asked for her advice, she kept it simple.
"Mostly, just be sure it's warm."
Beth Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.