Archive for You know what I heard the other day?

Outing myself as a fan of The Next Food Network Star – review of Kelsey’s winning dish!


We’re seven episodes into season four of The Next Food Network Star, and although it’s a few weeks late, I wanted to share a review of a featured dish with those who may be interested. Remember the winning dish prepared by Kelsey (who, sadly, was eliminated last night) for the Red Lobster challenge? Well, yours truly tried out her creation a few days after it aired. Since I spend a little time on the message boards, I know that some people don’t have access to a Red Lobster restaurant and would like to know how her Macadamia Crusted Tilapia with White Chocolate Beurre Blanc fared. I’m happy to report: It was fabulous! Look, I’m not one to order a grilled fish fillet when I go to a seafood joint. Like many people, I’d much rather have a plate full of crustacean (when you’re on a budget like mine, this stuff is a rare treat, so it may as well be something you really want). But I was determined to try the Food Network winner, and I am SO glad I stuck to my guns. Like other viewers, I was dying to find out how white chocolate tasted fused into fish. Fortunately, with the mildness of tilapia and the subtlety of the chocolate (as the recipe reveals, Kelsey only used two tablespoons), the primary flavors of the beurre blanc are actually coconut milk and butter. And the macadamia? Fabulous! The crust, which Kelsey achieved by coating in egg before dredging in the crushed nuts, was exactly what I’d hoped – just enough crunch, yet still delicate enough not to break the fish. Now, here’s a tip for those of you who were intrigued by the rice side that Kelsey prepared alongside this in the episode: Red Lobster is not offering the entire dish, only the tilapia with beurre blanc (after all, that sauce is what helped her win the challenge). Fortunately, the new Red Lobster sides (I tried the Lobster Mashed Potatoes) are an excellent complement as well. If you try this one out before they pull it from the menu (“a limited time,” I presume, means until the end of the Next Food Network Star season), be sure to let me know!      


Wit and Wisdom from a Recipe Contest Vet

If you’re a novice cooking contest hobbyist, you may be able to learn a thing or two from Ronna Farley. As a previous winner, and frequent qualifier, of both recipe entry and cookoff-style contests, Ronna has no doubt earned her place in the figurative Cooking Contest Hall of Fame. With another Pillsbury Bakeoff fresh in the can until 2010 (the contest was on April 15 and is held every two years), what better time to speak with a two-time past finalist of this American institution?

It should be noted that Ronna’s competitive accomplishments aren’t limited to the Bake-off (referred to as “PBO” on the contest circuit). She’s participated in numerous challenges over the course of three decades, ranging from the very minor to the very renowned. Check out my recent Q&A with Ronna:

TM: Ronna, how long have you been entering recipe contests? Can you give us a brief history?

RF: I started entering the Pillsbury Bake Off as a young bride around 1973. I don’t remember what my first entry was, since it is so long ago. It probably wasn’t very good anyway! Then, I (was chosen as a finalist for) Bake Off #26 in San Francisco in 1975, with the recipe “Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks.” After that, I toyed around with entering over the years, but nothing happened.

TM: We know that you enjoyed additional success with PBO later on, but did anything happen in the meantime?

RF: Around 1976, I was in a local contest – a Chun King Wok Cook Off, with my Oriental meatball recipe. They showed some of it on local TV. For awhile, that was pretty much it for cook offs. I have won some smaller prizes like wine glasses, salad bowls, and cook books.

TM: And then…

RF: In the summer of 1999, I was asked to participate in Pillsbury Hall of Fame Contest to celebrate 50 years of the Bake Off. My Ham and Cheese Crescent Snacks was voted 1st out of 3 recipes in the category, so I got to go to the Bake Off in San Francisco in 2000, and I could bring a guest. I brought my mom, since she always had an interest in the Bake Off, and we had a great time!

TM: Your most notable accomplishment is your third Bake Off experience. Tell us about that.

RF: I found out I would be in the 43rd Bake Off in 2006, and I won the Snack category with my Choco-Peanut Butter Cups. The prize was $10,000 and a GE Trivection oven.

TM: Since you were unable to enter (due to winner limitations) this past contest, what have you been up to for the past two years?

RF: I participated in the Crisco Country Cook Off in June 2007. It was a one-week trip for two to the Country Music Festival in Nashville, Tennessee, including all concerts. My husband and I loved it, and I placed second in the appetizer category. I also participated in the National Oyster Cook Off in St. Mary’s County, Maryland in October 2007. There were 4 categories and I placed 3rd, winning $150. I hope to be included in that once again this year, since it was only 1 1/2 hours from my house.

TM: Finally, what tips do you have for novice contestants?

RF: Well, how many recipes I enter depends on how busy I am, but if I get inspired, I’ll enter as many as a dozen! I think I’m better at creating dessert recipes than main dish recipes, so (what you choose to enter) should depend on that, and also on what kind of recipes they are looking for.

I find it discouraging when I don’t win in a contest, but, I just shrug it off, and start to work on another contest. There are so many that I think we all “hit” with something eventually. I suggest not giving up, and just keep trying!

Surrounded by Snow-Line’s Cider Apple Doughnuts

As I walk in to work at Snow-Line in Oak Glen, CA, the apple cider doughnut scent that normally invites customers and lures business to this rustic barn-turned shop instead turns my stomach and squishes up my nose. It’s not that the doughnuts are anything but scrumptious; it’s simply that working full shifts constantly surrounded by the mixed smell of sugar and cooking oil can get a little old after the second day. And while you can have as many of the sugary treats as you want when working, most of us workers only resort to snacking on them when we forget our lunch. But for those not working behind the doughnut counter, the aroma of apple cider doughnuts rolling off the fryer is irresistibly tantalizing.


photo from

And the people keep coming for those doughnuts from all over with good reason. Even the well-know southern-California PBS personality Huell Howser has visited and devoured a number of doughnuts packaged by the dozens in sleek paper white bags. Some of the visitors to Snow-Line may come to catch a glimpse of Huell Howser, but they stay for the doughnuts. The entire season I worked up at Snow-Line, only a handful of customers insistently argued that these doughnuts were anything but absolutely delicious.

The fresh, made-on-the-spot apple cider mixed into the dry ingredients provides an extra something-special to the ordinary sugary doughnut, while the cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on top of the warm doughnuts sweetens up the treat even more.

Snow-Line may be only one of many little shops up in Oak Glen selling fresh apple cider (although they add an extra twist to the typical cider by adding cherry and raspberry flavoring), cutesy gifts, and various apple season items, but they are the sole provider of the apple cider doughnuts. And those doughnuts are something that, given the chance, you do not want to miss. So the next time you happen to be remotely near Oak Glen during the apple season of September to November, be sure to taste Snow-Line’s right-off-the-fryer, extraordinary deliciousness, apple cider doughnuts.

~Kristin Walder, 3/28/08

“Ultimate Recipe Showdown” – Promising or Pipe Dream?

With the March 31st deadline for entries into season two of Food Network’s “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” looming overhead, I have to ask: “Have you entered yet?”

Unlike many high stakes cooking competitions that put off serial entrants like myself with their elitism and loyalty to below-par recipes (Pillsbury Bake-off, anyone?), something about this one seems unthreatening– even familiar. In spite of the show’s over-the-top production, and strangely annoying banter between normally likeable hosts Marc Summers and Guy Fieti, “Ultimate Recipe Showdown” is kind of like a comfortable pair of shoes. Why?  Perhaps the reason is because, for some of us, everything about the Food Network – its shows, its hosts, and even its recipes – are like extended family.  Sure, they get on our nerves, but they’re predictable, and they offer us stability. 

The homey, unintimidating categories are a welcome change from other contests as well. For example, Season Two includes “Thanksgiving,” “American Hometown Favorites,” and wide-open “Cheesy Recipes” categories.  Even the entry form is…well, easy.  A “tell us about yourself” box?  “Describe” the preparation (as opposed to listing the steps in tightly edited sentence fragments)?  Wait a minute; is this about personality, or food? Either way, you have some flexibility here: If your recipe ‘aint so grand and you know it, rest assured that you can use the 10,000 characters you are allotted to turn on the charm, and then hope for the best.

Although the Season One contestants include several well-known past cooking contest  winners (so far, I’ve counted Camilla Saulsbury, Catherine Wilkinson, and Jenny Flake), I’ve been given a brave new hope because of “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.”  Maybe, just maybe, this show is my chance.  So, what about you?  Did you enter for Season One, will you enter for Season Two– or is this whole thing just another Food Network ploy to make normal folks like us believe we can actually cook as well as Bobby Flay?  That reminds me: “Throwdown” is about to start.

 Brook Flagg 3/28/08