Cooking up a winner: OC native a real dish, according to chef Deen

Cooking up a winner: OC native a real dish, according to chef Deen

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 8:18 am

Cooking up a winner: OC native a real dish, according to chef Deen | Cooking up a winner: OC native a real dish, according to chef Deen

Dalena (Haskins) Benavente

Associate Editor
Obion County native Dalena (Haskins) Benavente just got some exciting news. She’s been chosen as a national finalist in The Real Women of Philadelphia online cooking contest by Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Mrs. Benavente, who is the daughter of Danny and Dena Haskins of Troy, graduated from Obion County Central High School in 1995. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications with a minor in theater from the University of Tennessee at Martin. Soon after, she was spotted by an agent at an acting competition who encouraged her to move to California and give acting a real shot. So, she moved to California about six years ago.
“After I got there, I fell in love, got married and had my second child, so acting was put on the back burner,” she said, adding she’s been a stay-at-home mom for two years now, but stays active in her craft in local theater productions.
She has two children Aslan Mitchell, 10, and Devon Benavente, 3. Her husband, Robert Benavente, is an attorney in Newport Beach, Calif.
Mrs. Benavente said she hasn’t had much time to audition for acting roles while taking care of her 3-year-old, so she prayed and asked if she should still be trying to act or if she should just focus on her family. She believes her prayers were soon answered when famous Southern chef Paula Deen posted on her Facebook page about the cooking contest.
“I felt a real pull to enter, which really didn’t make sense since I had only been cooking for a couple of years,” she said. “I started cooking a few years after I moved to California because I couldn’t get the good southern food I wanted, like I used to when I lived in Tennessee.”
She said after submitting her first video, she got really good feedback from the company and other contenders, so she kept it up. Participants can enter at least one video a week during the eight-week contest, she said. It was her fifth video which got her selected as a finalist.
Mrs. Deen posted on the contest site, “Dalena, your Ginger Bacon Pecan Sweet Potato Poppers recipe video was like a little cooking class and cooking video, all in one! I think you were born to be in front of the camera! I just love your energy in this video and those poppers use PHILLY in such a delicious, interesting way. I fell for you AND your dish!”
Mrs. Benavente will be flying to Savannah, Ga., along with 15 other finalists from all over the country, to meet Ms. Deen next month and will prepare her dish on stage in front of an auditorium full of people and judges. She has a 1 in 4 shot of winning $25,000, she said.
“I don’t know whether to jump for joy or hide under a blanket. I am really happy and excited, though, and I know my family is, too. That’s the best part about it,” Mrs. Benavente said.
To see her winning video, link to
Ginger Bacon Pecan
Sweet Potato Poppers
8 ounces of Philly Cream Cheese
2 tablespoons of finely chopped glazed pecans
1⁄4 cup of chopped bacon bits
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
3 teaspoons of maple syrup
1⁄4 cup of glazed pecan halves for garnish
6 medium-sized long straight sweet potatoes
2 teaspoons fresh orange zest

Peel sweet potatoes and slice into disks. Hollow out a small cavity using a melon baller. Brush with maple syrup. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes. Sear the top of each disk in a pan to give it color. Set aside and let cool.
Mix remaining ingredients, except for the garnish, in a bowl. Fill a plastic bag with the mixture and snip the corner. Pipe each disk full of the filling. Garnish with 1 glazed pecan each.

Mrs. Benavente said anyone can enter the contest and there’s still time to submit those videos by going to
Associate Editor Donna Ryder can be contacted by e-mail at

Published in The Messenger 5.18.11


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