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A Man and His Spam

September 23, 1993|KATHIE JENKINS

When it comes to cooking with Spam, James Rubio is a real champ. He's even got a blue ribbon and $100 to prove it. Last weekend, Rubio won first prize for his "Cricket's Spam quiche" in a Spam recipe contest at the L.A. County Fair. He is also the first man to win the Spam contest in the three years it has been in existence. Considering that Rubio hasn't eaten the pressed pork luncheon meat in years, that's no mean feat.

"I was surprised," says Rubio. "They really liked it. My Mom used to make Spam when I was a kid. It's OK, but it's not as cheap as it used to be--it's $3 for a little can. But if you fluff it up you can get a whole meal out of it."

The quiche was concocted around a mushroom crust recipe a friend at work gave him, but Rubio is quick to point out that Cricket's Spam quiche does not actually contain any of the leaping insects. "It's my nickname, that's why I threw it on," he says. "I was born in 1952, the year my parents saw the movie 'Pinocchio,' and they started calling me Jiminy Cricket. It stuck. I am now 41--a big giant cricket--and they are still calling me that."

Because Rubio has high blood pressure, he normally cooks without salt. That's why he bought Spam Lite to make the quiche. Even then he had to fiddle around. "After I shredded and warmed it," says Rubio, "I wasted a whole lot of paper towels and just kind of squeezed all the excess oil and salt out of it."

Although everything from Spam burritos to Spam corn muffins was among the 33 contest entries, Rubio thought his entry was the prettiest. "I was an art major, so I made it look real decorative," Rubio says. "I cut my red and green bell peppers and sauteed them until they were soft and made like curlies overlapping. The wreath of green and red was a contrast with the yellow quiche. Then I garnished the edge with artichoke leaves like petals and sprinkled the top with paprika. And I put the pan on a white doily."

The main thing, Rubio says, is whatever you use to decorate food should be edible. "It looks more scrumptious," he says. "I mean, nobody wants to bite into a piece of plastic. Plus it looks cheap."

The winning recipes of all county fair Spam contests around the country will compete in the national contest, held in Minneapolis in January. While Rubio is waiting to see if Cricket's Spam quiche is a winner--the prize is two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the world Spam is sold, plus $1,000 spending money--he's already signed up to compete in the L.A. County Fair's Mexican Comida cooking contest Oct. 3. He plans to adapt a posole recipe. "I make it out of pigs feet and pork neck bones and everybody raves on and on when I make it," he says. "So I figured, what the heck, I may as well try."

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"I told people at work that I made Spam and they went, 'Yuk,' " says Rubio. "And then there are other people who say, 'Give me the recipe, I eat it all the time.' " Of course, Rubio was required to use Spam in his recipe. But you don't have to. Substitute bacon or ham, or eliminate the meat altogether.

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CRICKET'S SPAM QUICHE 1/4 cup sweet red pepper strips 1/4 cup sweet green pepper strips 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup chopped green onions 1/4 cup chopped onions 1 can Spam Lite Quiche Crust 3/4 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese 3/4 cup shredded medium-sharp Cheddar cheese 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese 4 eggs 1 cup ricotta cheese 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 1/4 cup milk 1/4 teaspoon paprika 1 artichoke, steamed

Saute sweet red and green peppers in medium skillet with 2 tablespoons butter until tender. Remove peppers from pan and set aside.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in same skillet, add green onions and onions and saute until tender, about 3 minutes. Shred Spam with fork and add to onions. Stir until warm. Blot mixture with paper towels.

Spread Spam mixture on top of Quiche Crust. Add Monterey Jack, Cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Blend eggs, ricotta, cayenne pepper and milk until smooth. Pour mixture over Spam and cheeses. Sprinkle with paprika. Decorate top with reserved sweet red and green pepper strips. Bake at 375 degrees 40 to 45 minutes, or until knife inserted comes out clean. Garnish with steamed artichoke leaves around edges. Makes 6 servings.

Quiche Crust 1 cup coarsely chopped fresh mushrooms 3 tablespoons butter 1 cup finely crushed stonewheat crackers

Saute mushrooms in medium skillet with butter until tender. Stir in crushed stonewheat crackers. Turn into well-greased 9- to 10-inch quiche pan and press mixture on bottom and up sides of pan.

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