Whatever happened to . . . The novice cook at Wishbone U.

By Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor
Published December 2, 2007

"Ready for the final test," Nov. 18, 2007

THE STORY: Christal Hice, 29, of Land O'Lakes was worried about making Thanksgiving dinner for her in-laws. She wasn't, she said, the most accomplished cook.

To get help, Hice applied for Wishbone U., the St. Petersburg Times' annual Thanksgiving cooking boot camp. This year's class would focus on updated Southern side dishes. Hice was one of a dozen Times readers selected to attend the class at Apron's Cooking School at a Publix in North Tampa.

In the essay pleading her case she wrote: "I have come to the conclusion I will not be the next Top Chef, but this Texas girl would love to cook some down-home Southern sides that can give anything my mother-in-law can whip up a run for her money."

FROM THE STORY: Christal Hice's in-laws are driving from Michigan to Land O'Lakes for Thanksgiving. All that way for Christal's first turkey. First pie. First time with the wedding china."The closest thing I have made that can even come close to an interesting side dish is broccoli, cheese and rice casserole using frozen broccoli, Velveeta cheese, Campbell's soup and crushed saltines," she told us.

Please, oh please, teach me to make something that will give June Cleaver a run for her money, Hice wrote. The June Cleaver of whom she speaks is her mother-in-law, complete with set of pearls.

THE REST OF THE STORY: Apron's resident head chef Bil Mitchell and his sous chef Rich Norris taught the students how to make several interesting side dishes including Turkey Day Savory Bread Pudding and Mashed Rutabaga and Yukon Gold Potatoes. The students took turns chopping and stirring and were given lots of tips along the way. At the end of the class, the students sat down to a complete Thanksgiving dinner.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Hice was so inspired that she signed up for Apron's two-session techniques class. There, she learned more about mashed potatoes and brining a turkey.

She reports that the meal turned out great. Along with the turkey and mashed potatoes, she made candied sweet potatoes, fresh green bean casserole and a pumpkin praline pie.

The only trouble? The green bean casserole. "I made a silly mis-take. I bought a half gallon of milk and I was thinking it was a quart. So we had some soupy green bean casserole. Nobody said anything though."

And how did the in-laws enjoy the big day's meal?

"They were very impressed. My mother-in-law even asked me for some of the recipes. She was very supportive. She did a fabulous job of being my sous chef.

"They had the biggest laugh out of the newspaper article. She tried to deny she was like June Cleaver, but my husband reminded her of her alias."

Janet K. Keeler, Times food and travel editor