Monday, August 24, 2015

Running Update


The last time I posted about my running was on July 12th with my Week 1 Monumental Training Update. So what's been happening on the running front since then? Nothing.

Fair season started for me on July 16th. I didn't participate in a County Fair last year for the first time in 26 years because I was too overwhelmed. For the past three years, I have spent my summers trying to train for a fall marathon as well as compete in the fair and I found that it's just too difficult to do both well.

In 2013, I was running injured. Looking back, it was an awful summer. I remember my legs hurting so much I was literally hanging onto the shopping carts at the grocery store, using them as walkers. I entered the fair that year out of habit. I got my usual handful of ribbons but I don't think my heart was really in it.

Last year, again, I was injured over the summer. I finally gave up on the marathon training but continued to run so I could compete in my race series. I didn't do the County Fair and brought a limited number of items to the State Fair but did surprisingly well.

This year I decided I missed the Fair and committed to being "ALL IN." However, in order to fully concentrate on the fair, I gave up trying to run. Even trying to exercise for 30 minutes in a day becomes too much when you are only sleeping 2-3 hours a night. Something had to give.

I think qualifying for Boston earlier this year gave me peace with my running. I achieved the one goal I had been chasing for so long. In doing so, I had sacrificed a lot - time with my family, time doing other things I liked, time for my body when it needed to recover. I think something in me just shut off after I qualified. I didn't want to race anymore. I didn't want to hurt anymore. I just wanted to enjoy myself...

So that's what has happened. I've done the things I wanted and needed to do. Eaten the things I've wanted to eat. Caught up on the nitty gritty details of life. I've seen my internist, dentist, gynecologist, ophthalmologist, taken both kids to the dentist and pediatrician, and taken all the pets to the veterinarian. I found someone to help me take G to her dance classes - which ironically, in the past, I was too busy to look for help! It's surprising how much time trying to run well can take up in your life.

Fair season officially ended today. I went and picked up all my ribbons this afternoon. Going "all in" and committing to just one thing led to a very satisfying and successful year. I don't regret it.

State Fair Ribbons

 County Fair Ribbons
 
More County Fair Ribbons

Looking forward, I returned to the road today and ran 3 miles. First run in 40 days. The first half mile was horrible. I found my rhythm after that and felt really good by the end. Really good. I'm ready to run again, but in moderation. I'm not running Monumental. In fact, I'm not sure if I'll be racing at all for the rest of the year. I'm running for fun... for now.

Hopefully I will get a spot in Boston 2016 when registration opens next month. If I get a spot, I'll be throwing my name in the Boston to Big Sur lottery in October. I still have goals. I still want accountability. However, I'm looking for moderation. Peace. Stop chasing all the time... or maybe at least for a couple months.

Wish me luck.

Friday, August 21, 2015

2015 State Fair - Bacon Contest

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp

I never thought I'd be saying this but I think I'm a little tired of bacon right now. I've been cooking with it since the County Fair in July. It's wonderful but I've gone into bacon overload.

Today was the Indiana Pork Producer's Bacon Recipe Contest. You could enter a dish in one of two categories - Savory or Sweet. I chose Savory. Rules were it was any dish that contained at least 6 slices or 1/4 of a cup of cooked crumbled bacon. Dishes were judged as follows:

40% Taste and Flavor
25% Creativity and Originality
25% Texture and Consistency
10% Appearance and Presentation

I had a GREAT idea for this contest. It, too, had come from the Beer and Bacon Classic. There was a dish served there that had cheese and grits with a bacon jam-like topping. I already had a recipe for bacon jam that I'd made before. My idea was to elaborate on the cheese and grits theme but maybe add in some shrimp and dress up the grits a bit more, and then top it all off with a dollop of bacon jam.

Wednesday I was suppose to compete in the Crockpot Creations Contest. I decided Tuesday night that I just couldn't do it. I didn't have a great crockpot recipe and I was too tired to come up with one. I needed a day off to just catch up around the house. I did just that but cooked more bacon to make the bacon jam.

Bacon, bacon, bacon!

The jam uses a pound and a half of bacon with some onions, garlic, brown sugar, cider vinegar, pepper, and coffee. You put it in a slow cooker for about 4 hours until it gets thick, then put it in a food processor until the bacon is still chunky but spreadable. It's wonderful on bread.

Trust me, it's good!
 

So bacon jam was made on Wednesday at a leisurely pace with no mishaps. Thursday I shopped for more ingredients and did a trial of my vision - grits with Parmesan cheese, a bit of bacon jam swirled in, chives, and a couple pieces of shrimp cooked in a pan with bacon grease and then cut into bite size pieces. The whole thing was topped with more bacon jam.

Well, it sounded good. It tasted pretty good too. Problem was, you couldn't taste the bacon. I might have cooked my bacon too crisp but there was not enough bacon taste in my jam. It had a flavored meat taste instead. The grits were good; they just tasted like cheese.

I tried again. This time I added pieces of regular cooked bacon to the grits, used less cheese and topped it with bacon jam. Still not what I was looking for. Plus, the dish was going to have to be served at room temperature out at the fairgrounds. I wasn't too sure what would happen to the grits at room temperature. I left the whole mess on my counter and went to brainstorm.

One of my other ideas with the shrimp had been to wrap it in bacon and put it on top of the grits rather than cut it up and put it in the grits. Now I thought about just doing the shrimp and bacon. I looked at a couple ideas online and then just went to bed.

This morning I checked on the room temperature grits. They had pretty much solidified - like I could actually turn the bowl over and the grits came out in a solid piece like out of a mold. Grits were never going to work. I decided to go with the bacon wrapped shrimp idea.

Bacon wrapped shrimp. Very simple. Just like it sounds. Cook the bacon partway, brush it with a BBQ sauce/maple syrup mixture, wrap it around your shrimp and bake and broil it some more. That's it. Four ingredients and some chopped green onion for garnish. That's what I went with.

Once the contest started and the other entries were shown I saw that I had by far the simplest entry. There were things like bacon calzones, bacon breakfast pizza, bacon scones and bacon pasta. Someone made the exact bacon jam that I had made and put it over baked zucchini. The judges thought the bacon jam was "interesting," which in my book is code for "they didn't really like it." Just my opinion. One thing they did comment on on some of the more complicated dishes was that they couldn't really taste the bacon. First thing they tasted was cheese. When they bit into my dish, the comment was, "Wow! Bacon is the star of this dish." Well, duh, I only had four ingredients. I thought they liked it but, again, it only had four ingredients.

The judges tasted all the sweet bacon items next before going behind the curtain to decide on the winners for both categories. The first sweet item that was presented was Bacon Jam. Again the exact same recipe I had. A couple entries later, someone else made a Bacon Marmalade with a very similar recipe served over crosanti. By now I was really glad I didn't go with my original idea. It's funny how you think you have a very original concept but then you have to remember that your competitors are all foodies like yourself!

Time to announce the winners...
Christine got Honorable Mention with the Bacon Scones.
Fourth Place went to the Bacon Pasta.
I'm not sure what got Third because Phyllis was talking to me and pointing out that they had just brought my dish onto the stage. Yes!
I got Second.
Raymond got First with a savory custard that had Brie, Havarti with Dill, and one other cheese, mixed with some eggs, apples, and bacon all poured into a pie crust.


Overall, very happy once again that I placed, especially since I pulled this one out last minute!

Today was my last day at the Fair for this year. It runs through Sunday but I am done. It's back to work for me this weekend. I decided this year that I would be "ALL IN" and concentrate fully on the Fair while it was going on. It was probably one of my best years ever... but I'm glad it's all over now. I need to do a bit of food detoxing to say the least.

I looked at the exhibits in the Home and Family Arts Building one more time, took some pictures, said hi to a couple more people that I only see during the Fair, had a strawberry shortcake at the Ag/Hort Building, then called it a year.



Wednesday, August 19, 2015

2015 State Fair - Burton's Maple Syrup Contest

Monday August 17th was the Maple Syrup Contest sponsored by Burton's Maplewood Farm. This is the second year for the contest and it was probably my favorite contest last year. Patrick Burton and his wife judged the contest last year. The Burton's know their maple syrup. They know food too. I really enjoyed their ongoing commentary during the judging last year and I was counting on them judging again this year.

Originally, I was scheduled to work Monday night from 7 pm to 7 am on Tuesday in Martinsville. The contest Monday had check-in from 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm and open judging starting at 4 pm. I could probably make it to work by 7 pm but it would be cutting it really close.

My other option was to trade shifts and work the same shift from Sunday night to Monday morning. That meant I'd be competing out at the fairgrounds on Monday with little to no sleep (I know, what else is new...) vs. competing out at the fairgrounds all day Monday then going to an overnight shift at work already tired (again, what else is new). I ended up deciding to work Sunday night.

In this contest you can make any type of food item. It has to contain at least 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup and must make 4 or more servings. Burton's sponsors the contest but you don't have to use their brand in your recipe. I remembered from last year though that Patrick Burton can tell whether you used their maple syrup or not by tasting the recipe. Plus, Burton's makes a bourbon barrel aged maple syrup that I'm absolutely hooked on. I decided to use their product. Dishes are judged as follows:

40% Taste and Flavor
25% Creativity and Originality
25% Texture and Consistency
10% Appearance and Presentation

I also remembered from last year that many people, myself included, had a hard time making the maple flavor stand out in their dish. The Burtons really wanted to be able to taste the maple, not just have it as an ingredient. Way back when I registered for this contest I was going to make Maple Walnut Fudge. Anyhoos, remember, that didn't turn out too well. Next I thought of making a Maple Walnut Pie. But that sounded too plain. Not original enough. What should I make?

Remember these?

 
The Beer and Bacon S'mores from the Beer and Bacon Classic. They were my favorite things that night. I decided to make Maple Bacon S'mores. So, instead of a beer flavored marshmallow, I'd make a maple flavored marshmallow. Roll it in bacon bits. Leave off the chocolate because it will overpower everything. Instead of serving it on a stick, make some maple shortbread cookies to sandwich the whole concoction. Voila!
 
Maple Bacon S'mores
 
I made homemade marshmallows for the first time in my life on Saturday night. Live and learn right? Let's add homemade marshmallows to the list of things the Fair has taught me to make. They had to set up overnight but they looked like real marshmallows in the morning. Just like magic. Who'd a thunk you could make marshmallows at home?
 
Sunday morning I made my shortbread cookies and cooked a TON of bacon. Then, I decided to make one practice s'more. I just wanted to make sure my vision would work. I wanted to make the rest of the s'mores for presentation on Monday morning because I was a little afraid making them a day ahead would make the shortbread soggy. I had a whole container of bacon, cooked perfectly crisp and chopped up into little bits, next to me out by the grill. I toasted the maple marshmallow and went to dredge it in the bacon... and promptly knocked the whole container to the ground, dumping bacon bits everywhere. Belle thought she'd gone to heaven. I thought I might cry.
 
I went to Meijer AGAIN for more bacon.
 
I got done cooking my new batch of bacon and then it was time to go to work.
 
Monday morning I got home by 7:30 am and slept til 10 am. Made my s'mores and got all my plates and props together for presentation, then it was off to the Fair again. I left WAY early because I was still scarred from Saturday. This time I had no problem getting in so I was in the building by 1 pm. Since turn in wasn't til 2:30 pm I finally had some time to look around the fairgrounds.
 
I love just looking at stuff at the fair. As a little kid, I wanted to grow up to be a farmer. The romance of self-sufficiency. I made it over to the Glass Barn clear on the other side of the fairgrounds. They have a green screen set up there this year where you can take a picture of yourself in a postcard. There were four different options. I wanted all of them. I know... I am eight. This is what I ended up with...
 
 
I'm getting another one if I get back there this week!
 
After that, I made my way to the 4H Exhibit Hall. Again, I love looking at it all. Some of the 4H-ers have amazing creativity. Looking at their stuff can give you a lot of ideas. I was still in the 4H building when it started pouring down rain. It was a little after 2pm. I had until 3:30 pm to turn in my entry but decided I should start making my way back to Home and Family Arts. I ran from overhangs to tents until I made it to the covered bridge. I stayed there until 2:45. The rain seemed to be lessening a bit so I decided to go for it and left the covered bridge. I got halfway to the Ag/Hort Building when the skies opened up. I got soaked. I ran into the Ag/Hort Building but then decided I really didn't have time to hang out there and ran back out in the rain to get to the Home and Family Arts Building, arriving looking like a drowned rat.
 
I got my dish plated. I ran into Robin in the Prep Room. She told me I was going to win and reminded me to take a photo of my dish before I turned it in.
 
Maple Bacon S'mores - ready for presentation
 
After that, I still had another half hour to kill so I went upstairs and took pictures of my crochet items.
 
 
 
 
 
It then occurred to me that it was almost 4 pm and I was starving. I hadn't eaten because I was too busy getting everything ready and then I was too busy looking at things once I got here... and now I didn't have time to get anything before the judging started.
 
I found a seat next to Rebecca and Robin came and sat next to me on the other side. Behind me were Darl and Mary Alice, Phyllis, Marjorie, and Christine's sister who's name I can never remember. Everyone was talking about the Cheese Ball Contest that had been held on Sunday... in depth discussions about everyone's cheese balls... I was ready to chew my arm off.
 
Finally the judging starts. Sure enough, Patrick Burton was on the stage. This time he brought his daughter Kelly to help judge. Notes to self - the man doesn't like sweet potatoes. Also continues to say that chocolate overpowers the maple syrup. And, he likes it when you soak all your stuff (i.e. bacon, nuts, etc.) in maple syrup overnight before you cook with it. The man knows his food. He likes moist dense things too.
 
He really liked the maple apple blond brownies that Phyllis made. He also liked the maple banana bundt cake that Robin made. It had homemade maple candies in it with a maple cream cheese glaze decorated with maple soaked nuts. Robin won last year with almost the same identical cake. The only difference this year was that she used bananas instead of apples. They got to my dish and I started getting WAY nervous. Would they like it? Was it too far out there? The first words out of Kelly's mouth were "Wow!" I still couldn't tell if she just said that because it was so different and she didn't know what to say vs. she really liked it. I got about the same reaction from Patrick.
 
As far as the judging criteria, I thought by now that I'd have a top score for Creativity and Originality as well as Appearance and Presentation. But really, what matters is the taste. Did they like it or was it too weird? There were several dishes with sweet potatoes and apples. Couple cakes, cookies, granola. Rebecca made a pie. A lot of things with bacon in it. Mine was a little bit outside the box. Was it too far out there?
 
The Burton's then went behind the curtain to deliberate. Mary Alice looked at me and said, "Honey, I think you won." When Mary Alice says something like that, suddenly you start to think you might win. This is the woman who brought 27 pies to the Fair one year. She's been a featured guest on The View (the ABC talk show) and in a Midwest Living cookbook. Seriously.
 
Great video about her last year
 
For all my non-fair friends who think I can bake and I win everything... I have nothing on some of these women. I'm a little kid...
 
Time to announce the winners. They brought out 4 dishes. Mine was one of them.
Phyllis got Honorable Mention.
Marjorie got Third with her Maple Bourbon Shrimp.
Robin got Second.
I won!
 
Me and Patrick Burton
 
Robin and Me
 
We took photos and then dug into each other's food. I tried Marjorie's shrimp. Yummy! Phyllis's brownies. Heaven. Robin's cake. Fabulous. I got a huge piece of her cake, enough to bring home with me and hide from my kids (I told you I was eight!)
 
I am SO SO Happy!! Plus, Patrick Burton gave me another bottle of Bourbon Maple Syrup to take home. Yup, he's got me totally hooked.





Tuesday, August 18, 2015

2015 State Fair Round Three Update - Pies!

Saturday August 15th was Pie Day. The final weekend of turning in items for "regular" fair judging, as opposed to the "special" sponsored contests that are open judged.

I had entered two pie categories - blueberry and strawberry. Also due in Saturday was the pie for the Gold Medal "Best Pie" Contest. This contest would have open judging on the Main Stage at noon. All the pies were due in between 7:30 am and 11:30 am.

I debated whether to make a strawberry pie at all. Initially when I had registered in June, I thought I was going to make a strawberry pie for the Strawberry Contest at the Johnson County Fair. When it turned out though that there wasn't a pie category I didn't pursue making one. I had made a couple practice strawberry pies before the county fair but none of them had turned out well.

I didn't know what I was going to do for Gold Medal either. It's another anything goes contest. Any kind of original pie. All it has to have is Gold Medal flour in it. Same judging criteria as the cookie contest: 40% Taste and Flavor, 20% Texture, 40% Appearance and Presentation.

The blueberry pie was a no-brainer. The same Blueberry Crumble Pie I always make. I could make it in my sleep. Thursday morning I decided to go ahead and enter a strawberry pie. G was entering an apple pie. I had to get apples for her. I perused interesting pie recipes and found a pumpkin pie with a praline topping. I liked the praline topping idea. I decided to make an apple date pie with a walnut praline topping as my original pie for Gold Medal. I'd use my Dutch Apple Pie recipe but substitute dates for some of the apples and then cover it with the walnut praline topping.

Thursday morning I went shopping before work so I could get started on my pies right away on Friday.
all set for the morning
 
Friday morning I made the apple date pie as soon as the kids left for school. The pie is made first, cooled, and then the praline topping is poured over the top and you put the whole thing back under the broiler to "cook" the praline.
 
The pie came out BEAUTIFUL! I almost didn't want to cover it with the praline it looked so good. Next up was the blueberry pie. It came out of the oven at 2pm. It is blind baked in a paper bag just like my apple date pie. I knew there was a problem when I went to pull the bag out and it felt lopsided. Uh oh...
 
I've always felt like cutting the paper bag open after it's come out of the oven is kind of like looking at your baby for the first time. What will it look like? This time I cut the bag open and there was pie filling and topping that had all overflowed and fallen out on the left side. This had never happened before. Why is it that I can never have a fair baking day that goes smoothly this year!!!
 
Cosmetically, this pie was not going to fly. I went to Meijer AGAIN to buy more blueberries. I made it home just as the kids got home. They wanted to eat my mess up pie. I had cleaned up the edges as best I could by then because I thought I'd keep this pie until the second blueberry pie was done in case something MORE catastrophic happened to it. As my luck was going, I figured you never know! Well, the kids really wanted the pie. I gave in and let them have it.
 
Mom, this pie is really sour. What?!! I tasted the pie. It made my mouth pucker. Then I tasted one of the blueberries I had just bought. It made my mouth pucker too. Ugh. ALL the blueberries were sour. Now what?!! I had bought blueberries in June when they were $0.99 a pint and frozen to use in the winter. I knew those were sweet. Guess I'll have to use those.
 
Second blueberry pie had to be put on hold though because G needed the kitchen to make her apple pie. She was going to a sleep over birthday party that night and had to make her pie before she left. By the time I took her to her party and got back, it was 7 pm. Second blueberry pie was made without incident. I added some extra cornstarch to it because I'd never made it with frozen berries before and I was afraid it would be runnier.
 
Blueberry Crumble Pie
 
 
Now for the strawberry pie. It was a two crust pie. Remember, I can't make a rolled pie crust. All of my pies are single crust pies with a press-in crust. I figured though that it was time to learn how to make a rolled crust. The Fair has taught me a lot of things. I learned how to make yeast breads. I learned how to make fudge, caramels, and toffees. Time to try and conquer a pie crust.
 
I made the crust as instructed and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Then I got out the strawberries to make the filling. I remember glancing over at the box of strawberries earlier and seeing a huge empty gap at the top of the boxes and had wondered whether the kids had snuck some berries. Now when I looked at them I saw that there was red liquid pooling through the bottom of the container and the berries themselves had "sank" in the container. They looked mushy. Not the beautiful berries I saw yesterday. There was also a fine cloud of mold? on top of the berries. I went to pick one up and when I touched it, the whole thing just disintegrated. I mean it just liquefied! It was like something out of a sci-fi horror movie where the alien creature liquefies a person from the inside out and they turn into a puddle. OMG! REALLY?
 
I went to Marsh at 9 am to buy more strawberries.
 
So...  I made a strawberry pie recipe I'd never made before. I made a pie crust recipe I'd never made before. This is how it turned out...
 
Fresh Strawberry Pie
 
I had a crust protector around the edges but one edge still came out looking burnt. The middle sank after it cooled and the filling looked a bit runny but it was done.
 
Final thing I did was make the walnut praline topping for my beautiful Apple Date pie. After covering it, I couldn't decide if I liked it or not. It either looked tasty, or it looked like someone had thrown up on top of the pie. I couldn't decide.
 
Apple Date Praline Pie
 
I got done just after midnight. Woohoo! I relatively early "night before turn in" for me.
 
I got up early on Saturday though because I needed to drop all the pies off at 7:30 am. G had spent the night with her friends but she wanted to go to the Fair the next day and see the Ultimate Macaroni and Cheese Contest that was at 1 pm. Usually on Pie Day we go to the Fair early - like 9 or 10 am - because it's always crazy busy on Saturdays and I always have a lot of anxiety about getting into the fairgrounds on time. We turn in our pies and then end up just killing a couple hours before the open pie judging at noon, then kill a couple more hours until the other pie results are put up in the afternoon.
 
This Saturday though, since G spent the night out, I turned the pies in first thing and came back home. I picked G up later in the morning then left our house at 10:30 am to get there for the 12:00 judging.
 
12:00. We're still sitting out in traffic on 38th Street in front of the fairgrounds. Good thing I dropped off the pies earlier! I finally got to the Home and Family Arts building at 12:38. There was one extension judge judging on the stage. I sat down next to Rebecca and tried to catch up. I found out that my Apple Date Praline pie had actually been the first pie judged that day. Rebecca thought the judge had liked the pie because she had gone back for a second bite.
 
Five minutes after I got there, the second extension judge arrived. She too had been stuck in traffic trying to get into the fairgrounds. She helped judge the last couple pies and then both judges disappeared behind the curtain. They were gone forever. I figured the late judge was tasting more pies.
 
G had already gone over to see the Ultimate Mac and Cheese Contest with some friends. She texts me at 1:20. Where are you? Still here. Waiting. They finally announce the winners. Gold Medal offered First through Third Place and an Honorable Mention. The judges had a hard time deciding so they offered two more unofficial honorable mentions.
 
The two "unofficial" Honorable Mentions went to Fancheon and Beverly.
Rita got the official Honorable Mention.
Mary Alice got Third.
Rita's mom Phyllis got Second.
And... someone we (as in, the regulars) didn't know got First.
All the winners went up to get their awards except Fancheon. Fancheon was no where to be found. Where did she go? I wanted to talk to her.
 
I ran over to find G after that. The Ultimate Mac and Cheese Recipe Contest was in full swing over in the Ag/Hort Building. There were nine competitors cooking their macaroni and cheese recipes in front of a live audience... and there was Fancheon, cooking on stage. She waved at me. I waved back. She started mouthing things to me but I couldn't figure out what she was saying.
 
The competitors then had their dishes presented to the three judges - a representative from the American Dairy Association that was sponsoring the contest, a professional chef, and a food writer from the Indy Star. While they were judging Fancheon and I caught up. I really look forward to seeing Fancheon every year. She was the one that first introduced herself and made me feel welcome the first year I entered the State Fair. She is an amazing cook and baker. She's been coming to the State Fair probably longer than I've been alive. She is the same age as my father. I love seeing her every year. She wanted to know what happened at the pie contest so I filled her in on what I could, then we caught up on life in general. She doesn't do any regular fair entries anymore but does the special competitions and does really well in them. She told me she won the Family Heirloom Recipe Competition on Thursday with a Green Tomato Mincemeat Pie. I don't come from a family of bakers or cooks so I didn't have a recipe to enter in that competition. She also told me she helped judge the yeast breads and rolls this year. During the first turn in weekend (that ran from Friday to Sunday), all the breads, cookies, and candy were judged on Monday. Finding that out, I'm glad I turned my food in on Sunday rather than Friday!
 
Me (in pink) and Fancheon (in cow apron) waiting for the judges
photo from IndyStar.com
 
 
 
Then it was time to announce the Mac and Cheese winners. Fancheon didn't place but after they announced the winners they wanted all the contestants to come back in front of the stage to serve their mac and cheese dishes to the audience. She says, "Watch my stuff," and leaves. Unhh... I wanted some mac and cheese too. I made G go get me some samples.
 
The winner's dish was called Decadent Macaroni and Cheese (recipe HERE) and it was decadent! It was hands down the rightful winner. Third place was Smokey BLT Mac and Cheese (recipe HERE). That was my second favorite dish. Yes, I ended up getting to sample all of them. Links to all nine recipes are HERE.
 
G and I got some real food after that and I bought some Bourbon Maple Syrup from Burton's Maplewood Farms to use in their Maple Syrup Contest on Monday. Then we walked back over to Home and Family Arts to see if the rest of the (closed) pie judging was done. It was.
 
Apple Date Praline Pie
 
Blueberry Pie - 4th Place
 
Strawberry Pie - 4th Place
 
 
All things considered, I'm thrilled both my pies placed.
G and I got home at 6 pm and dropped over. One more week to go.
 




2015 State Fair - Live Well, Eat Well Contest

Wednesday August 12th
Wednesday was the Eat Well, Live Well Recipe Contest sponsored by the Little Red Door Cancer Agency. The "goal" of this contest was to prepare a healthy tasty dish that contains proven cancer fighting agents. The dishes are scored as follows:

40% - Taste/Flavor
25% - Creativity/Originality
25% - Number of documented cancer fighting ingredients
10% - Appearance and Presentation

This is the second year for this contest. I didn't enter it last year. I perused the list of cancer fighting ingredients on the Little Red Door's website and settled on making lettuce wraps. Salmon was on the cancer fighting ingredient list so that would be my protein. I also knew quinoa was a cancer fighting ingredient. Now to put it all together...

I perused different websites for ideas on Monday. I found a Orange Ginger Salmon recipe I liked on The Healthy Foodie blog. I then got the idea of using mangos with quinoa from a Tropical Quinoa Lettuce Wrap recipe I found on Simply Quinoa. I tried the sauce from that recipe too but I didn't like it so I made my own. I bought all the ingredients late Monday night, buying the last salmon fillet that was available at Kroger that night and did a test run. Tasted like a winner to me.

Tuesday morning I went and bought more salmon and Boston lettuce before going to work. I got home from work at midnight and made more quinoa, put the sauce on it to blend the flavors overnight and put the orange ginger rub on the salmon before going to bed.

Wednesday morning I cooked the salmon. I then decided I needed more Boston lettuce so I could have enough leaves that were just the right size for a nice presentation so it was off to the grocery store again. After that I packed up everything and went to the fairgrounds.

The contest was open judged on the Main Stage of the Home and Family Arts Building. There were two judges this time - one was the director of the Little Red Door Cancer Agency and the other was a local food blogger/consultant that does food demos for the agency. So two really qualified judges. One of the other competitors who had entered last year told me that last year the judges had no clue so she was glad there were "legitimate" judges this year.

The judging started. Yes, I really liked these judges. They actually were not afraid to critique the food. So many times now, the judges seem afraid to say anything critical so all you get are varying degrees of "oh, that was good." These judges actually said something if they didn't like it. Most of the dishes that were presented were either salads or vegetable casseroles with just a kitchen sink full of cancer fighting ingredients. When I heard the ingredient list in many of the dishes my opinion was that there were just too many different ingredients in the dish. There were two soups. One pizza. Other than maybe the pizza I don't think anyone else had a stand alone main dish like mine. Mine was different. The director thought my salmon was cooked perfectly. I started feeling pretty good about my dish.

Honorable Mention went to the Gluten Free Kale Pizza.
Third Place went to one of the soups.
Kenda got Second Place with her "Soy-ful Salad."

It was all or nothing now. My heart was beating out of my chest again. I'm such an adrenaline junkie it's pathetic...

I won.


 
 
This was a fun contest and I enjoyed making something other than dessert. Cooking is also so much more forgiving than baking. By that, I mean you can really play around with your ingredients when you cook. You have to be much more careful with proportions when you bake.

Next up, pies!

Monday, August 17, 2015

2015 State Fair Round Two Update - Cakes

Thursday August 6th
Cake entries were due in on Saturday morning August 8th. My cake odyssey started on Thursday (intro HERE if you missed it). I made the cake layers for my Honey Applesauce cake early Thursday morning. I had made this cake before but for some reason the three layers came out pancake flat. Ugh. I had to make it again. But first, I had to run to Bloomington for a doctor's appointment.

Got back from Bloomington after noon and made the Honey Applesauce cake again. This time I made two layers instead of three and I whipped the egg whites separately and folded them into the batter to make sure the layers would have enough height. Attempt number two came out OK but I didn't have a great feeling about this cake.

Next up was the Sweet Potato Cake. Brand new recipe for me. Another three layer cake. The batter looked wonderful but, again, the cake didn't rise as high as I expected. Definitely not like the photo I'd seen. I decided though that it was acceptable and if I had time I'd redo it but otherwise this would have to do.

Kids came home from school after that and then I had to run G up to Carmel for a dance studio meeting. She is an apprentice in Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre's student company G2 this year. The meeting got over at 7 pm. G and I ran by the fairgrounds to go to the Open House and check out our pre-entries before the fair opened on Friday, then went home. We got home at 9 pm. Where did the day go?

G was entering a cake in the fair too. Since she had to go to school in the morning and both of us were planning to go to a party on Friday night, I had to turn the kitchen over to her once we got home so she could make her cake. She got done at midnight. Since I had been up since 9 am on Wednesday, I was totally trashed by then and had to go to bed.

Friday August 7th to Saturday August 8th
Got up at 6 am and made my cookies for the Gold Medal Cookie Contest. Spent the day out at the fairgrounds and got home around 5 pm. I was home long enough to unload my car, pick up G, load up my extra German Chocolate Cookies and rejected Pina Colada Cake, and then it was off to Bloomington to attend a party for one of my co-workers. We didn't get home from the party until after 10 pm. G then had to ice her cake. I got my kitchen back at midnight. I was already exhausted.

First up was making the Honey Buttercream icing for the Honey Applesauce cake. Did that and iced the cake. When I leveled the cake to ice it, I could see that there were a couple deep tunnels. Nothing I can do about that now. Just hope it's not in the piece the judges cut into. One down...

Honey Applesauce Cake
 
I still had a whole cake I hadn't even started on at this point and I had the Sweet Potato Cake to ice. I was so tired I just felt, well, despaired, or in despair or something like that!. I decided I definitely did not have time to remake the cake layers. I wasn't even sure if I had the energy to make my third cake. I decided to go ahead and ice the Sweet Potato Cake so at least I'd have that done and then decide if I could do a third cake.
 
I made the Spiced Pecan Buttercream for my Sweet Potato Cake. The icing tasted like heaven on earth. OMG it was good! The cake looked much better once it was all iced and put together. Maybe it would be OK after all.
 
Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Spiced Pecan Buttercream
 
I cleaned the kitchen after that. I was either done or I was going to make my last cake. Funny how a clean kitchen can make you feel better. I decided I would go ahead and make my final cake.
 
I had settled on a Mocha Pecan Torte as my single layer cake in the Other Single Layer Cake category. This is an almost flourless chocolate cake that contains ground pecans. It came out of the oven perfect. I took a break on the couch for about 30 minutes while it cooled in the pan. It's a torte that rises and sinks in the middle a bit. It cools in the pan and then you level it my pressing the edges down. I leveled it and it came out of the pan flawlessly. I had to flip it back over after that so I could put the cake board on the top before I flipped it upside down again. It is a very moist delicate cake. I got careless. Instead of using my cooling racks to flip, I flipped the cake in the palm of my hand. Suddenly the cake started breaking in half. Crap! I quickly flipped it on a hard surface and stared in horror. There was a big crack across the cake but it hadn't completely broken in half. Luckily it was a moist cake. I pressed it back together and hoped the glazed would hold it together. The chocolate glaze looked good. I added white chocolate and dark chocolate to marble the top and pressed chopped pecans into the side. Done!
 
Mocha Pecan Torte
 
Now it was 5 am. Cakes were due in between 9 am and noon. I had to take G back to the dance studio before 2 pm for registration so I slept for 3 hours, took a shower, then had the cakes to the fairgrounds by 10 am. The Other Multiple Layer Cake category that contained my Sweet Potato Cake was going to be open judged at 1 pm. I had to be at the dance studio though so I missed the open judging. I had to go back a couple days later to see how I had fared.
 
The cake categories were reorganized and condensed this year. Last year there were five honey cake categories and a Sweepstakes. This year there are three categories and a Best of Show. For Single Layer Cakes, last year there were eight categories and a Sweepstakes. This year there are five categories and a Best of Show. Same goes for Multiple Layer Cakes. Last year there were 11 categories and a Sweepstakes. This year, six and a Best of Show. Basically all the categories that got cut would be lumped into the Other Cake category. I always compete in the Other Cake categories so this made my chosen category more competitive. And so...
 
Honey Applesauce Cake
4th Place - Other Honey Cake category
Better than I had hoped!
 
Sweet Potato Layer Cake with Spiced Buttercream Icing
1st - Other Multiple Layer Cake category
One of these days I'll have to remake this cake so I can see what it tastes like.
 
Mocha Pecan Torte
1st - Other Single Layer Cake category
Best of Show Single Layer Cakes
Ahh... totally worth the all nighter!
 
 




Saturday, August 15, 2015

2015 State Fair Update - Gold Medal Cookie Contest

Friday August 7th
Opening Day of the State Fair!

This is the Year of the Farmer. Usually on Opening Day the special food contest is a State Fair theme related contest but there was no theme contest this year. Instead, Gold Medal Flour sponsored a Cookie Contest. It was pretty much a wide open contest meaning not a lot of specifications - just make your best original recipe cookie using Gold Medal flour. Any kind of cookie. Didn't even specify how many cookies you had to bring.

I settled on making a German Chocolate Cookie. I made a chocolate cookie that contained ground pecans as well as some pecans and coconut and then topped it with a traditional German Chocolate filling. Initially I also piped melted chocolate over the top of the cookie but when I tasted it, the extra chocolate was just too much. Of course I had piped chocolate over ALL the cookies when I came to this decision. So, once again, I put myself in a time crunch and re-made the German Chocolate filling, scraped the filling that had melted chocolate on top, and re-frosted my cookies with just the filling.



I then checked the rules one last time and read the Judging Criteria:
40% - Taste and Flavor
20% - Texture
40% - Appearance and Presentation

40% for Appearance and Presentation!! So 40% of your score has nothing to do with what the cookie tastes like. Ack!! I had to figure out a creative way to plate my cookies and I had to leave the house in 30 minutes. Luckily I'm a craftaholic... I ended up cutting the Gold Medal emblem out of my bag of flour and mounted it on matching blue cardstock. I then taped that in the middle of a glass plate and brought along some coconut, chopped pecans, and chocolate chips to sprinkle on the plate.

This is the second year Gold Medal is sponsoring this contest at the Fair. I didn't enter it last year. When I got there, there was one contract judge doing the open judging. One of the other fair regulars told me, "This is the woman that judged last year. She just said everything was good." Sure enough, when the judging started, all she could say was that everything was good. Like every single item. Good multiple times. Over and over. Halfway through she did say that she would offer constructive criticism if there was some to be had but that so far she couldn't find anything wrong with anyone's cookies to critique. Great I thought. This contest is basically going to come down to what she likes best.

It's often been said that in any subjective contest, be it baking, dance, or art, often times it will come down to one judge's opinion on any given day. That was going to be the case today. As a side note, Ellison Bakery used to sponsor the original cookie contest. When they judged, there was a representative from Ellison, a professional pastry chef, as well as a contract judge that judged the entries. I always felt it is way more fair in some way if you had multiple judges who are also qualified to do the judging.

Anyway, time to announce the winners. They announce backwards from Honorable Mention to First Place... and my plate gets picked up first. I got Honorable Mention. I was just glad I placed!

 
 
 
Woohoo!! Happy to place on Opening Day. I couldn't rest on my laurels too long though. Cakes were due in the next morning. Off to bake some cakes.