Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Playing the Grocery Game This Week - A Few Deals and Steals

Fair season is over so what's a girl to do? Work on the stockpile of course! I'm thankful for what I had stocked up cause I really didn't have time to hunt down any deals on pantry or household supplies the last couple months but I didn't have to run out and buy any necessities either. Last week though, I was down to my last roll of paper towels, last bottle of laundry detergent, and two bottles of shampoo so I knew it was time to seriously get back in the game again.

Thanks to some deals at CVS, I got my paper towels, shampoo and laundry detergent. Phew, that was close.

Now, onto this week's deals...

Crazy deal at Meijer if you like peanut butter.

Need I say more? Spend $2.55, get $2.50 back. Peanut butter for $0.05.
You can only buy one at a time and you cannot buy another jar of this peanut butter with the coupon if you want another coupon to print so best bet is to buy them separately. I got three earlier this week but I couldn't find any today so I'm kind of kicking myself for not getting more when I had the chance.

On to Walgreens...

Two really great deals this week. First, Oxiclean HD liquid laundry detergent is on sale for $3.99 and there is a $3 coupon out both in Sunday's inserts as well as an online printable, making it $0.99.

Next, all Almay is on sale Buy One, Get One 50% off. There is an online manufacturer's printable coupon for $5 off any 2 Almay as well as a Walgreens coupon (in their monthly coupon book) for $4 off any 2 Almay. Make up remover wipes are $5.99. Both my kids use these. If you buy 2 packages, the first rings up $5.99 and the second rings up $2.99. Use the $5 manufacturer's coupon FIRST and the register will take $5 off your total. Use the Walgreens coupon next and it will take $2 off every Almay product in your transaction... I say it this way because with the Walgreens coupons you only need one coupon and it will apply to your whole transaction. If you had 4 Almay products, it would still take $2 off every product. As long as you have a multiple of 2, it will take $2 off every product.

You have to get the manufacturer's coupon scanned FIRST. If the Walgreens coupon gets scanned first it will take the total value of the two items below $5 and the manufacturer's coupon may not work, or at least that's the way it used to be... there's been many register upgrades at Walgreens but I've always had my coupons work this way so I'm not deviating from what I know!

Anyhoos... if you've done the math by now, you've realized that it's now -$0.02 for 2 packages of make up remover wipes that are normally $5.99 each.

If you follow the blog, you also know that I normally only buy Arm & Hammer liquid laundry detergent because everything else makes my husband's skin fall off. However, I've found that my kids' skin isn't that sensitive and mine certainly isn't, so I decided to buy the Oxiclean with the Almay - that way my overall subtotal won't go negative - cause sometimes cash registers or cashiers freak out when that happens, and heck, if we hate the Oxiclean, it's such a stupid deal anyway I'm sure some food pantry would love the donation.

Finding the Almay and Oxiclean was hit or miss. There is only shelf space for 4 packages of Almay wipes in any store. In the stores that had 3, I bought 2. One store had 4 so I bought all 4. I'm thinking they surely have more in their stockroom but it was too much trouble to ask. The Oxiclean was easier to find and the store in Carmel actually had a whole endcap stocked.

I had a couple other Walgreens Balance Rewards deals loaded onto my account - Get 2000 points when you spend $10 and Get 7000 points when you spend $20. 1000 points is worth $1. The total amount spent is calculated before manufacturer's coupons but after Walgreens coupons... so 2 Almay would count as $4.98 spent.

At one store I got 4 Almay and one Oxiclean. That netted me the 2000 point reward. At another store I struck out on the Almay (all gone) but I got 2 Oxiclean, a Venus Swirl razor for $9.99, and 2 bags of Crunchmaster Crackers for 2/$4. I had a coupon for a free Venus razor (get on their mailing list and they will send you a free coupon a couple times a year), two $3 Oxiclean coupons, and a $1 Crunchmaster coupon so that netted me the 7000 point reward, plus I got $1.50 back from Checkout 51 for the Crunchmaster Crackers and $2 back for the Venus razor.

Walgreens Haul
Total Spent $12.49
(Total at regular prices was an insane $108.36!)
Earned 9500 Balance Rewards Points ($9.50)
Earned $3.50 back from Checkout 51
...which means I actually came out $0.51 ahead :)

...and it's only Wednesday. I'll be looking for more peanut butter until the promotion ends and I'll keep an eye out for more Almay since I still have more coupons. It was such a great deal I actually dug out my old laptop that I use solely as a coupon printer so I could get more prints.

All this Almay now brings me to another "issue." The "problem" with couponing is that often times I end up with a large amount of whatever the sale item of the week is, be it make up wipes, shampoo, or cereal, and kids feel like it's a free for all. What used to happen is that I'd find 5 different boxes of cereal opened up or 5 different kinds of shampoo lining the tub. It made me crazy. I finally "hid" the stockpile, bringing stuff out only when we needed a new box or bottle. The kids knew this but as long as it wasn't easily accessible (like stored up in MY bathroom rather than THEIRS) this kept them from opening too many new things at once.

The kids also have allowances and are supposed to buy the "non-essential" items on their own. Stuff like candy, extra clothes, and I put make up in that category. I got tired of them wanting me to drive them to the store for an overpriced candy bar or pack of gum - cause heck, there's ALWAYS a deal on junk food - so I started buying it when it was on sale and then they could buy it from me cheaper than getting it at the store, like $0.50 for a pack of gum and such. I still provide their essential hygiene items and, if they give me enough notice (of when they're going to run out), I'll even get their favorite brands. What I've noticed though, or maybe lots of kids are like this and I'm being overly sensitive, is that since they know the stuff is probably free or close to nothing, they don't respect it or think it's worth anything. I find half-full tubes of toothpaste with the caps gone and dried up thrown in the trash, packages of make up wipes, again half-full, not sealed back up so dried out and in the trash or... currently on the bathroom floor...

So... what do you think I ought to charge them for make up wipes?

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

2016 Indiana State Fair Wrap Up

The season is done. Quite honestly I'm relieved it's over. I'm ready to move on and be, well, healthy again. I've been too busy to exercise in almost two months and I've been eating like crap. I feel like I'm literally bursting out of my clothes and it's just not a good feeling. My new diet starts tomorrow. So here's how the last few days went...

Friday August 19th
Today was the Indiana Grown Contest. As I wrote earlier, the requirements of the contest were to use at least two items off the list of Indiana Grown products provided and make any dish. Judging criteria were: 40% Taste and Flavor, 25% Creativity and Originality, 25% Texture and Consistency, and 10% Appearance and Presentation. I decided I would try to use as many of the products as possible to make a palatable dish. I settled on making an appetizer.

Here was the vision... use Indiana Kitchen Bacon, Risin' Creek Creamery goat cheese, and Charlie's Premium Pita chips to make a mini-tart size crust. I'd throw everything in a food processor and grind it up. Surely there would be enough moisture and fat in the bacon and goat cheese to hold the crumbled pita chips together to form a "dough" that I could press into a mini muffin pan to make a "crust." Problem was, I couldn't find the pita chips. I finally ended up contacting the company and found that they didn't make them anymore. Well phooey! I spent several days on a wild goose chase looking all over central Indiana for those pita chips. At least I wasn't crazy. They didn't exist. Needless to say I was a bit irked at the contest sponsors for listing something that no longer existed. Charlie's Premium wasn't even aware their product was featured in a State Fair contest.

Back to the drawing board. I ended up substituting corn meal for the pita chips. Next I made a baked chicken breast, diced it in little pieces, and covered it in Jen's Original BBQ sauce. I bought the BBQ sauce out at the fairgrounds and didn't have a chance to taste it before I bought it. I'm glad I bought the Original instead of the Sassy cause the Original had quite a spicy kick to it. I really liked it.

I couldn't find the Risin' Creek Creamery goat cheese at the fairgrounds or at the grocery store either so I went to their website to find that it was only sold at a couple local farmer's markets on Saturday mornings and at a grocery store in Bloomington, IN. I ended up sending a friend to the Franklin Farmer's Market to pick up the goat cheese for me since I was at the fairground for Pie Day on Saturday before the contest.

I mixed some Eisele's Honey that I had purchased at the fairgrounds with the goat cheese, then I cooked more Indiana Kitchen bacon. I put 2 pieces of arugula (yes, it was back in the stores this week), a dollop of honey goat cheese, a dollop of BBQ chicken, a couple kernels of sweet corn, a couple pieces of bacon, and a couple pieces of chopped red onion into the cornmeal bacon shell and called my little appetizer "A Taste of Indiana."

I presented it on an Indiana state shaped cutting board surrounded by a blue background (it was a cut down disposable tablecloth) and gold stars scattered about, reminiscent of the Indiana flag.

We had three judges - a food specialist from Ivy Tech, a nutritionist with a food science degree from Purdue University, and the current Indiana State Fair queen. The "open judging" wasn't really what I'd call an open judging. Each judge filled out score sheets as they tried the food. However, none of the judges made any comments and the food items weren't even introduced. Instead, while the judges were sampling food on stage a spokesperson from Indiana Grown first talked about the companies that were represented in the contest and then had each of the contestants come up on stage and answer some questions about themselves - their background, fair experience, why they were doing the contest, etc. By the time this was over the judges had tried all the food. The judges never left the stage or even talked to each other. They just each filled out their individual scorecard on each item. When they were done, someone tabulated all the scorecards and the winners were announced.

My name was the first one announced. I got Honorable Mention. Another woman got the other Honorable Mention but I don't know what she made. Christine Reinecker got Third for, I think, a cheese cake. Phyllis Hine got Second for an Apple Yogurt Tart. I don't know the person that got First but she made a pound cake.

I got my judging sheets back and saw that I got scores of 75, 85, and 98... so at least one of those judges liked my dish. Personally, I wasn't crazy about how the little crust turned out but it is what it is. It was creative and it was pretty... and that finished out my contests.

I went back on Saturday night with my daughters and my older daughter's boyfriend. We literally ate our way around the Fair - fried pickles, ribbon fries with cheese, strawberry shortcake, kebabs, um... G insisted on having a fruit cup..., then deep fried s'mores (totally over rated - it was a deep fried marshmallow sprinkled with graham cracker crumbs and a squirt of chocolate syrup), a deep fried Snickers, cinnamon roasted pecans, and to finish it off, milkshakes and grilled cheese sandwiches. Amazing how much food teenagers can eat. Admittedly, I ate a bite of everything too.

Like I said - diet starts tomorrow!

And then it was over. We got home at 11 pm and the kids passed out in the car, presumably from a food coma.

Yesterday I picked up my ribbons.

The end.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

2016 Indiana State Fair - Redemption

After all the excitement over my cakes the weekend before the Fair officially started, the first week of the Fair was a real let down.

As you recall, the first sponsored contest I was in - Domino Sugar's Bicentennial Cupcake Bakeoff - I withdrew because I was too tired. I simply did not have the energy to be creative. That was Sunday August 7th.

The next sponsored contest was the Little Red Door Cancer Agency's Eat Well, Live Well Contest. This was one that I had won last year. Again, I was too tired to be creative. I didn't expect to do well and thus, I didn't place. That was Wednesday August 10th.

Next up was Gold Medal Flour's Cookie Contest. Make your best original cookie recipe. I really tried with this one. I was dreaming up cookie recipes even before the Fair started. Originally I was going to do some type of pistachio cardamom shortbread cookie with either a chocolate filling or coating. I tried multiple variations and the chocolate wouldn't work. Then I tried coconut shortbread. Then I went off on a tangent and tried a couple different butter pecan cookies. Nothing quite had that oh-so-good mouth-feel of a cookie. They were all either too flour-y or cake-y or just too plain.



All no!

It finally came down to the night before the contest and I decided to go with a pistachio coconut shortbread type cookie. I personally liked the cookie but had reservations about how well it would compete. Was it too plain? I dressed it up by sprinkling chopped pistachios and coconut on top of the cookie. Would it stay crisp? In order to get a crunchy cookie, no matter what oven temperature or length of time I baked it, the cookie always came out rather brown on the edges. Depending on how picky the judge was, generally you get docked for having too brown of a cookie. With the butter, sugar, and nut content of the cookie, this was going to turn out brown no matter what. The other issue was that it was a rather thin cookie and I didn't know how long it would stay crisp sitting out on a plate on a rainy or humid day waiting to get judged. In the end, I even left the word "shortbread" out of my cookie description because I didn't want to categorize my cookie as such in case it didn't stay crisp. Pistachio Coconut Medallions is what I called my cookie. I made my cookies on Thursday night and put them in an airtight container.

Unlike all the thought and experimentation that went on with the cookies, I made up my recipe for the Gold Medal Pie Contest on Thursday night. I seized the fact that this pie didn't have to abide by the usual food safety rules at the Fair, meaning I could make a cream or custard pie. Basically anything goes as long as it uses a cup of Gold Medal Flour. I brainstormed and came up with a Tiramisu Pie. My favorite tiramisu recipe in a pie crust. How could you go wrong with Tiramisu?

I had the filling down. I just had to figure out a pie crust as that is where the requisite cup of Gold Medal Flour would be. It's no secret by now. I can't roll a pie crust. Every year I tell myself THIS will be the year! I will master pie crusts. Then, every year I get too busy and go with my stand by press-in oil crust. Quite honestly, this crust has served me well. However, the crust will only work for a single crust filled pie...

Since the Tiramisu Pie was a cream pie, I needed a pre-baked pie crust. First I tried making an oil crust and baking it by itself. Even with using foil and pie weights, the crust came out doughy and poofy and altogether plain BAD. I wasn't even going to TRY to master a rolled crust at this juncture so I brainstormed some more. Ah ha! A shortbread crust. That would go perfectly with the filling too. However, I had tried using shortbread cookie dough to make little tart-like pies in muffin pans before and I knew from prior experience that the dough on the sides of the pan tended to slide down into the bottom of the pan so you always ended up with a thick bottom and little misshapen sides. But... I found a shortbread pie crust recipe on line and the photo of the finished product looked perfect...

So... against my better judgement, I made the shortbread crust as directed...and, as I suspected, all the dough on the sides shrank to the bottom of the pan. ARGHHH. Out of frustration I flipped the failed pie crust out on a cookie sheet so at least the thick bottom would bake all the way through...

,,, and then I had another brainstorm. I have made graham cracker crust pies before where I'd crushed graham cracker crumbs and the mixed them with butter to press into a pan. Why not shortbread crumbs? I took out my frustrations on the failed shortbread crust  and crushed them into crumbs.

Now for some moisture to hold it all together. Butter? Naw... half the shortbread was already butter. Liquor? I put in a tablespoon of Kahlua but  realized I'd need a heck more than a tablespoon and the liquor wasn't going to cook off. Chocolate? Of course! I melted some chocolate chips. Physics tells me the chocolate would have to regain its solid form as it cools and it should hold the shortbread crumbs together.

Chocolate Shortbread Cookie Crust

Then I filled the pie. It turned out lovely. We tried it with dinner Thursday night. By now my family was burned out on trying sweet things every day but they loved the pie and ate the whole thing. I was incredibly pleased with myself for this brainstorm. My husband's only suggestion was to punch up
the coffee flavor a little bit more.

filling the pie

The Gold Medal Cookie Contest was Friday August 12th. Judging started at 3 pm. All my pies as well as the pie for the Gold Medal Pie Contest were due in by 11:30 am the next morning. Friday morning I started making pies as soon as the kids left for school.

First up was my blueberry, pineapple, and coconut pie. I called it Blueberries in Paradise and entered it in the "other" pie category. This was the same pie I had won with in the Johnson County Fair this year. By now I had made this one several times so I was just throwing ingredients together in a casual fashion. The pie takes a can of drained crushed pineapple. It was 7 am. I hadn't had my coffee yet. I was slugging ingredients around. I opened what I thought was a can of crushed pineapple and set it to drain in a large mesh strainer. Then I picked it up to dump in with the rest of my fruit. As the strainer passed by face, I caught a whiff of the contents... Oh crap, it was creamed corn!

Luckily, I caught myself before I dumped all the creamed corn into my blueberry filling. Just sayin'... creamed corn and crushed pineapple look pretty much alike when you're not awake! I threw out the corn and opened a can of crushed pineapple. The pie was then made without incident.

Blueberries in Paradise

Next up was the Tiramisu Pie. I recreated the pie I had made the night before without any problems. The only thing I did different was add another teaspoon of instant coffee to the filling.

Tiramisu Pie

After that, it was off to the Fair for the Cookie Contest.

Pistachio Coconut Medallions

There were two judges for the cookie contest. Two judges none of us were familiar with. Both were 4H judges with a long fair history. In fact, one of the judges got introduced as being a judge for 72 years! I thought I mis-heard but then everyone around concurred that that was what was said! Anyhoos... they were THE pickiest judges I have ever encountered. They studied every entry for 5-10 minutes. NOT kidding! They looked at all the bottoms, every edge, and every nut. They made comments that so-and-so's nuts were chopped unevenly, that one cookie edge was too dark, too much flavor, not enough flavor, too much icing, not enough icing, and on and on and on... They spent so much time on each cookie that one of my friends had time to leave the building, get a corn dog and drink, finish her corn dog, and come back inside and while they judged one cookie.

I really appreciate the fact that they studied each entry so closely. However, they took so much time we all got bored... and antsy... and then a bit catty. Towards the end they started commenting about taking a "small deduction" for this and a "small deduction" for that and we all mumbled that we felt like this was the all-around Olympic gymnastic competition with the "small deductions" and all.

The judging took two and a half hours! I lost track of how many cookies but I think there were around 20. They liked the flavor of my cookies but thought they were too brown - suggested I check my oven temperature - and I had a nut that looked too dark. Comments like that are a bit frustrating when you know you've tried baking these cookies at four different oven temperatures from everything from 10 to15 to 20 minutes at a time and they STILL turned out the same color but I suppose that's the nature of the game. I knew they were too dark. I just hoped they wouldn't care but these judges did care. It was like that for pretty much everyone... hence we got catty.

Needless to say, I didn't place.

I got home around 7 pm and felt exhausted. One more pie to bake. I know some of my competitors had 5 or 6 pies to do yet tonight so I was thankful I only had one. It was my Dutch Apple Pie. I went back to my traditional oil crust and apple pie filling. Added oats to my usual topping, then drizzled caramel and tossed chopped pecans over the baked pie. I was very happy with the result.

Caramel Pecan Dutch Apple Pie

Saturday morning I dropped off the Blueberry and Apple pies for the regular pie competition then sat through about an hour of the Gold Medal Pie judging. They did all the cream pies first so mine was the third pie judged. Not sure if this was a good thing or not as the two judges were giving all the pies a numerical score as they were judging them so they could go back and just pick the highest scoring pies in the end. I felt mine was original in that it didn't have a traditional crust. I didn't know how that was going to go over with the judges though.

So... comments were that the cookie crust complimented the pie well but it might be a bit too thick, and, the coffee flavor was too strong. Oh well. I knew I didn't place at that point. I had to leave to go to a wedding before the pie judging was over. My friend Rebecca stayed all afternoon and sent me photos of my other Fair pies after they had been judged.

The Blueberries in Paradise did not place. I thought the pie was overfilled when it came out of the oven as the fruit didn't cook down quite as much as I expected but I didn't feel like remaking the pie so I turned it in that way. I haven't seen the judging sheet yet so I don't know if that was a factor or not.

Blueberries in Paradise

The Caramel Pecan Dutch Apple placed Second. I was pretty happy with that. It's the highest I have ever placed with a Dutch Apple Pie so I guess switching up the topping this year helped me out. Truthfully though I was disappointed I didn't win as I felt like this was the best pie I've made in a long time.

Caramel Pecan Dutch Apple

All in all, the whole first week of competition was a bit of a let down. I had told myself before that I had already won Best of Show with my layer cake and that I should be happy no matter how my other items did...but still... I'm too competitive. I was feeling a bit down.

Next up on Monday August 15th was Burton's Maple Syrup. I won this contest last year with perhaps my most creative endeavor EVER. Maple Bacon S'mores. Maple syrup marshmallows, toasted and rolled in bacon bits, then sandwiched between two maple shortbread cookies.

Maple Bacon S'mores

I don't know how I'm EVER going to top that! This year I found a Maple Pear Cake recipe that I really liked. I trialed it with my family about a week ago and they like it too so that was what I went with. I didn't think that it was terribly original, but it was tasty and pretty. I topped it with a maple syrup frosting, decorated it with maple syrup coated toasted pecans, then drizzled more maple syrup over the pecans and called it Magnificent Maple Cake. I used Burton's Bourbon Maple Syrup in all of it's components. This is my favorite maple syrup. If King Arthur Flour was the most expensive recipe contest I'd ever won, this has got to be a close second - expensive in that, in both contests, I ended up hooked on their products.

Magnificent Maple Cake

It ended up being the last item judged in the contest. I was dying by then. I was worried the extra maple syrup I had poured over the cake was pooling and running off the serving board or had made the cake soggy. I think it looked good but was it good enough? Could I possibly repeat?

My competitors thought my cake looked like a winner. Patrick Burton wanted a picture of it while he was judging it. Did he really like it or was it because it was the last item and the contest was finally over?

Yes!!! I won!

Redemption! It's amazing how you can feel so low when you feel like you're not doing well and then suddenly everything feels great and fine again because you've won.

My friend Robin took Second with her Maple Apple Cake. We finished 1-2 last year too.

Rita made a Brussel sprout dish that placed Third. Other than two spreads, hers was the only non-dessert dish in the contest. It looked and smelled like something from heaven. I thought it was going to win. Jennifer got an Honorable Mention with her pie and someone else got the other Honorable Mention with baklava. I made baklava three years ago when this contest first started and got an Honorable Mention with it too. The tough part about this contest is to make the maple flavor really come through without making the dish too sweet. I remember with my baklava that I had even poured maple syrup over the top of everything but you still couldn't taste the maple flavor very well.

So... my bipolar self is back to being happy and content with the world again. I have one more Fair contest left - Indiana Grown on Friday August 19th. I'll be happy no matter what... really!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What Happened to All the Arugula? - 2016 Indiana State Fair Updates

Somedays you just have to laugh at yourself... I think I've been chasing my tail like a silly dog the last couple days.

So, backing up, taking Sunday off and dropping out of the Cupcake Bake-Off was a great decision. Thursday thru Saturday at work were simply brutal. Deathly ill people everywhere. I slept all day Sunday. No kidding. Slept in and then took another nap in the afternoon. It was wonderful.

Worked again on Monday, then decided I was ready to tackle Fair projects again. Made my practice item for the Burton's Maple Syrup contest next week and it actually went off without a hitch.

Yesterday (Tuesday) was my day off. I had great plans but couldn't get out of bed... but then I reasoned that I had to go to the bank and my bank doesn't open til 10 am, plus I had some stores to go to and they didn't open til 9 am so what's the rush, right?

Well... finally got out the door at 11 am, then proceeded to spend the day running in circles. First on the agenda was to find some inexpensive serving pieces for some of my contests this week and next. Most of them had an "Appearance and Presentation" score and nothing I had at home suited me for the dishes I had planned. I went by Bed Bath and Beyond and found something promising for the Indiana Grown contest but didn't buy it cause, well, I had to make sure my recipe worked first.

Next stop was Goodwill. I've found lots of competition serving pieces here before and it's no big deal if something happens to it or I have to leave it behind (because some Fair days are like that!) No luck today though. Nothing suited me. And... totally off topic... but is it just me or do all Goodwill stores have a certain "smell" to them?

Old Time Pottery was next and I finally came up with a serving bowl I liked for $4.99.

Groceries were next. Little Red Door Cancer Agency's Eat Well, Live Well Contest was today and I planned to make a Spicy Quinoa and Black Bean Salad. Quite honestly, there was nothing really unique about my salad this year but I just liked the dish and it fit the category. If I was going to place it was going to be on taste alone and, like all food competitions, it really comes down to someone's opinion on a given day. I was hoping the judges and I had the same tastes.

So, the goose chase begins. I needed arugula for the salad. I went to Meijer to pick up my salad ingredients and they were out arugula. No containers, bags, or even loose arugula. No big deal I thought. I still had to go by Kroger to find some ingredients for the Indiana Grown contest next week.

For the Indiana Grown Contest we were given a list of food products made by Indiana Grown members. You have to use at least 2 products from the following list:

Indiana Kitchen Bacon
Schnabeltier Wine
Traders Point Creamery Milk or Yogurt
Healthy Hoosier Oil
Charlie's Premium Pita Chips
Risin' Creek Creamery Goat Cheese
Limelight Coffee Roaster's Coffee
Jen's Country Kitchen BBQ Sauce
Eisele's Honey
JavAroma Coffee

The recipe I dreamed up had five of these ingredients. They were suppose to be available at Kroger or Marsh grocery stores. Went to Kroger. They had NONE of the items... and no arugula either! Ugh. Went to Marsh and stuck out there too. The only thing they had from the list was the bacon. Absolutely nothing else... and NO arugula.

I had to go home at this point. I had groceries in my car from Meijer that had to stay cold. I was hot. I was hungry. I was freaking out that I couldn't find arugula for my contest. How come I can't find any arugula? Was there a recall? How come none of the stores have arugula?

Then I realized I never went to the bank. ARGHHHH!! At this point I've found one piece of serving ware out of the three I needed, I don't have arugula for my contest recipe in the morning, and I've found NONE of the ingredients I need for my contest next week. Plus... I had planned to practice more cookie ideas for Gold Medal Cookie on Friday plus bake a practice pie for Saturday.

I made my practice pie. I enter a Dutch Apple pie every year and every year I get Third or Fourth. I decided I was going to change things up some this year. Try a new crust. Try some different apples. Try a different crumb topping. Make it a caramel apple pie... I've seen lots of pies with caramel drizzled on top. What if you baked it in the pie? Could you bake it in the pie? My pies bake at 425 degrees for an hour. Would the caramel disintegrate? Probably. But of course I had to find out and put caramel bits in the pie anyway.

Practice pie came out of the oven. I set it to cool and went back to Meijer (where my bank is located) and bought a container of baby kale and spinach, reasoning that maybe I could use that instead of the arugula. Nope. Tasted it at home and it changed the taste totally. What now? I had a container of "Spring Mix" salad already. There was arugula in it. Yup. I proceeded to pick through the entire container of salad and came up with barely enough arugula for my competition salad.

Back to the pie. It had cooled by now. It was pretty much a disaster...

Big puddly mess. The crust was cardboard. The caramel most definitely disintegrated and just made the pie incredibly sweet and mushy, and the topping solidified.

8 pm and I decided I was done with Fair stuff for the day. I watched the Olympics and went to bed. This was my favorite moment from last night. Michael Phelps winning the 200m butterfly.

Fair day today. This was actually the first day I've been to the Fair since it opened so I checked on all my pre-entry items - the stuff I had to turn in before the Fair Opened.

XL Bakery Style Peanut Butter Cookies
Honorable Mention - peanut butter cookies

Blackberry Pecan Linzer Cookies
First - filled cookies

Galaxy Cookies
Second - decorated cookies

Lace Florentine Cookies
no placing - other cookies

Pesto Rolls
Second - other yeast rolls

The only First I got was for the cookies I made at the last minute as my filled cookie because I had made them before and what I was trying to make this year wasn't working. Not sure how I feel about that as my goal had been to try and make something totally new for all my entries.

Also on display were the cakes that were open judged last week. I already knew how these had done.

French Almond Cake
Third - other single layer cakes

Coconut Cream Cake
Honorable Mention - coconut layer cakes

Blackberry Almond Cream Reverie
First - other layer cakes
Best of Show - layer cakes

Next I went to find my Needle Art items.

Acorn Cardigan Sweater
Second - crocheted infant sweaters

I'm pretty sure there was not a First place awarded in infant sweaters.

Acorn Sweater, Hat, and Bootie Set
Third - crocheted infant sets

The First place winner in this category went on to win Best of Show in infant clothing.

Lacy Pink Angora Shawl
Honorable Mention - crocheted accessories

Pretty happy with this placing as there were a ton of entries in this category.

Spider Web Doily
no placing - crocheted doilies

Canadian Smocked Pillow
Honorable Mention - sewing, mixed/other fabric techniques

Go figure. This didn't even place at the Johnson County Fair and gets an Honorable Mention here. There were a lot of entries in this category too because it was an "any other" type of category.

I found my photo. It didn't place and we can't take photos of the photos. I scored a 76, as did a bunch of other people. Third place was 77 and both the First and Second place winners scored a 78. I think the photography judging is even more subjective than the food judging. I still haven't quite figured out what they are looking for besides the basics such as lighting and composition.

Finally it was time for the Eat Well, Live Well Contest judging. End result... I didn't place. My tastes did not concur with the judges tastes. One thought there was "too much spice on the back end" (yes, I agree it was spicy) and the other commented... this is the kicker, "the arugula was a bit strong." Yes, they didn't like my arugula after I'd driven all over town looking for it. Oh well. It was fun anyway. I got to chat with some friends and see them place. Rebecca got Second and Michael got Honorable Mention. I almost fell off the stage taking Rebecca's picture.

Only bummer was... they kept ALL our food! In years past we all got our food back from the Special Culinary Contests during the Fair so we would all share and sample each other's food after the judging. This year we were told it was against State Board of Health regulations to give the food back. They had to throw it all away. The Fair would be liable if anyone got sick eating the food after it was judged so they had to keep and dispose of ALL of it. I understand the legality of it but it was still a bummer. Plus, I forgot to take a picture of my dish before the judging and they had already emptied my bowl by the time I got back to the prep room so I didn't get a photo.

Moving on... I went searching for the Indiana Grown products again. Rumor was that they were all available at the Indiana Grown Booth at the Fair. Wrong. Still couldn't find what I needed. The woman working there told me to call her store manager at the Northside Marsh store she worked at and have him look in his store. I did. First, he didn't know what I was talking about. Then, he was reluctant to go look around his own store for the stuff... but I said I'd hold so he did... and they didn't carry any of it. Next I stopped at the "big" Kroger on my way home. The employees there gave me a blank stare or looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my forehead when I asked them about the products they supposedly carried.

Really. The ONLY thing from that list that I could readily find was the Indiana Kitchen Bacon. Looks like there will be a lot of bacon dishes at the contest next week!

Came home and laid on the couch, lamenting and babbling to my 900 year old daughter... the arugula, the Indiana Grown ingredients, my pie disaster...

She reminded me I'd made worse pies... the peach pie I'd made years ago that turned into raccoon bait... the inedible strawberry pie last year... and we just had to laugh.

Thankful I have the time to play at the Fair this year. In the end, it's still fun.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016


There are days I want this dog's life. Don't you?

Today was my "day off." In other words, catch up day. I actually stayed up after the kids went off to school this morning. Started off the day by making cupcakes. Practicing the cupcakes I wanted to make for the Cupcake Bakeoff on Sunday. Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie Cupcakes with Butter Pecan Frosting. Get this... the batter has a cup - yes, 8 oz - of bourbon in it. I think you could get buzzed drinking the batter. It's then filled with a pecan pie filling.

I got the cupcakes done, then blanched about 6 ears of corn to freeze, made the pecan pie filling and put it away to cool, steam mopped my kitchen floor, then got showered and dressed for the day - all before 10 am. I guess you can get a lot of sh*t done if you get up early.

After that, it was out the door with my errands for the day. For some reason Stella the cat has decided she has a vendetta against my older daughter. Last night Stella decided to pee on her bed, clearly on purpose. This caused all kinds of anarchy to ensue and the bed got stripped and cleaned at 10 pm. I got everything clean but the comforter. It won't fit in our washer. I had another comforter I needed to wash that I'd been putting off, so today I had to take both comforters to the laundromat to put in their commercial washer. This took about 2 hours.

Next up, return a baking pan to Michaels cause, well, I already own that pan... then pick up candy melts from JoAnn because they are on sale there - 2/$4 with an additional 20% off today - and more grocery shopping at Meijer.

I had planned on getting home in time to put a loaf of zucchini cheddar chive bread in the oven before the kids got home and start on making my cupcake decorations but I got home too late. By the time I had unloaded the car, put the clean comforters on the beds, and grabbed a bite to eat, the kids were home... and starving. So, I made a VERY early dinner... and then they were asleep by the time it was ready... tough second day of school I guess...

Anyhoos... the day just flew by.

We tried the cupcakes. They were awesome. I tried the filling. It was NOT awesome. I didn't feel like trying to think up decorations... it's a decorated cupcake contest, the theme being "Indiana's Bicentennial." What the heck do you do with THAT?! I dunno... and then I decided I didn't want to do the contest. It was just too much trouble. I like making tasty cupcakes. I'm in no mood to decorate them. The unpalatable filling got pitched and we are eating chocolate bourbon cupcakes.

That decision pretty much freed up my entire evening... as well as all my evenings for the rest of this week. There will be no hurrying home from work to work on Fair stuff. So... it's been a nice evening. Laying around with the dog... Actually re-read some of my Fair blog posts from the last couple years. It was fun.

Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Indiana State Fair - Cake Day

This was the cake I originally wanted to enter in the State Fair this year. White Chocolate Almond Coconut. Doesn't it look fabulous? I wanted to make it the moment I laid eyes on it. This was going to be my State Fair cake. Unfortunately, I didn't get around to carefully reading the recipe until a couple weeks ago. It's an almond sponge cake with a hint of lemon. That lovely filling though is made with heavy cream and Greek yogurt, which basically disallows it from Fair entry. Dairy fillings like these are against the food safety rules. No cream, custard, cream cheese or similar fillings or frostings. Humphh!!

I had almond and coconut stuck in the brain though so I searched for more recipes and ideas. I decided I was going to make a coconut cake. I had made one for the State Fair years before and not placed. I was ready to try again. Trial run was my County Fair entry. The flat coconut cake.


It actually ended up not looking too bad once I stacked a couple layers...

... but the judging sheet said it was lacking flavor so I decided to find another recipe. I also discovered days later that my original recipe was for a 6" cake, not the 9" cake I had made. At least that accounted for the flatness.

Anyway, I found another coconut cake recipe and tried it out on my co-workers.

They loved it. I loved it. I decided this was IT, at least for coconut cakes.

I still needed an "other" cake recipe for a single layer cake and a multi-layer cake. Still searching for almond flavored cake recipes, I came across a single layer French Almond cake. I really wanted to do a multi-layer almond-something cake but when I came across this I couldn't resist trying it out.

Fabulous. I'd have to say this is my favorite dessert I've made this year.

Still searching for that perfect multi-layer cake... Maybe I shouldn't do almond? I found this...

Banana Coco Hazelnut Cake

Problem was, it also had some caramel in it... and there is a banana caramel multi-layer cake category, which I wasn't entered in. Next up, I found THIS!

OMG! Momofuku Espresso German Chocolate Cake. It looked perfect. Except... well, by now it's Thursday night and I'm still trying to find the perfect cake recipe. (OK, I confess, I was looking at cake recipes in the middle of the night at work.) Thursday night and cakes are due in by 4 pm on Sunday. Plus, well you know, my rolls and cakes were due in Saturday. Reading the recipe I realize I need things like freeze dried corn powder (what?!!) and acetate sheets and a ring mold to assemble the cake. I had a fleeting thought of trying to track these things down on Friday AND make all my cookies and rolls AFTER working a night shift. I finally came to my senses and realized that this too was not going to work.

Back to thinking about almond cake ideas. I wanted almond cake with some kind of fruit and Fair-legal filling. Initially I thought about almond cake layered with orange marmalade and coconut icing... then I thought it might be too busy. Almond. Fruit. I really like the layered look of the Momofuku-type cakes. Then I found this...

Done! I was taking this idea and running with it. I had an almond cream cake recipe I liked. Instead of trying to layer fresh fruit in between the layers I'd bake the fruit into the bottom of the cake and then flip it to get the layered effect on top. Raspberry almond seemed too cliché so I went with blackberry almond. Besides, I already had the blackberry preserves. I'd spread this between the cake layers too because the fresh blackberries weren't super sweet. I also had found an intriguing almond cream frosting that I thought would be the perfect filling. It's a cooked frosting where you cook milk and flour together (sounds gross, right?) then whip it into creamed butter and sugar. It's suppose to taste like a whipped cream based frosting and not too sweet. I wanted to try it.

I finally started baking cakes at 5 pm on Saturday night. Did the three coconut cream cake layers first. No problem. Turned them out on the racks to cool.

French almond was up next. When I made it the first time I baked it for exactly 30 minutes. Usually when I bake a cake for the first time I always set the timer for at least 5 minutes less than the recommended baking time so I can check it for doneness, then I'll write down the exact time in MY oven on the recipe. For some reason I forgot to set the timer early for this one so when the oven beeped at 30 minutes I was startled to find that the top of the cake was very very dark brown and I was worried the cake was over done. Cake turned out fine but I wrote on the recipe "cover with foil at 20 minutes", "bake 30 minutes."

So, 20 minutes in, all the batter has risen to the top of the cake pan but it's jiggly and pale. I cover it with foil. 30 minutes. I go to get it out of the oven and uncover the cake. Ackk! The middle is still jiggly, plus it sinks a little when I open the oven. Crap! I give it another 5 minutes, then take a peek. Still jiggly and the middle looks like it has a permanent sink - not bad but I can see it. Another 5 minutes. Still jiggly. OK, I'm starting to panic now. Why?!! It's the same freakin' cake in the same freakin' oven! ANOTHER 5 minutes, and FINALLY the center is set. I was almost afraid to check for doneness with a toothpick, afraid it would still be doughy, but it was finally baked all the way through.

While this cake was baking, I also made the glaze that gets brushed over the warm cake and I started making the almond cream for the next cake. I had to simmer 2 cups of cream, then mix in 2 cups of chopped almonds, let them soak for 30 minutes, then strain the almonds out of the cream.

The French Almond cake then won't come out of the pan - even with parchment paper on the bottom. Stay calm, stay calm. Just let it cool a little while longer... This is the cake with no frosting. I can't hide any imperfections if it tears coming out of the pan. Another 15 minutes, then I gently stick a knife around the edge and ease it away from the pan. Flip. It comes out. Thank you Jesus!

Glaze gets brushed on. Sprinkle of almonds and cake is done. One down.

French Almond Cake

Next is the almond layer cake. I decided to do two layers with blackberries and one layer plain. That way, when the blackberry layers got flipped over one would see cake-blackberries-cake-blackberries-cake. I've never made this cake before and now I was altering it by adding the blackberries. More moisture. More volume. This could be a disaster.

I ended up spooning the batter in around the blackberries that were already sitting in the bottom of the pan. I was really worried about air bubbles causing tunnels. I then slammed the pans down on the table a couple times and was alarmed by the HUGE bubbles that were coming up. I let the batter rest for at least 15 minutes and typed up recipes. More slamming of pans. More bubbles. This could go on all night! Finally I was satisfied it was as good as it was going to get and put the pans in the oven.

Started making coconut cream icing as soon as the blackberry almond cakes hit the oven. Icing done. Now to baby sit the cakes. I started checking them at 20 minutes. The pure almond layer was done in 25 minutes. Kept checking every 5 minutes. The blackberry almond layers took almost 40 minutes! I was scared the blackberries were burned. I was scared the cake wasn't done in the middle. Again... this could be awful.

Flipped the cakes out of their pans. Meh... not too bad. Bottoms aren't burned; cake around the fruit looks a little pale though. I hope it's not gummy...

Coconut cake gets frosted. Beautiful. It's a little after midnight now. Two down.

Coconut Cream Cake

Now to make the almond cream frosting. I cooked the milk and flour together. Took 20 minutes to get the right consistency. 20 minutes of constant whisking. It then had to cool to room temperature before combining it with the butter and sugar. In the end though, the frosting was fantastic! Perfect for what I wanted to do.

OK, all I have left to do is assemble the blackberry almond cake. The layers are completely cool. I the realize the cake is so delicate you can't pick it up. It's so soft it's actually sunken into the cake rack a bit. In retrospect, I should have flipped it off the rack onto another flat surface, removed the rack, then flipped it onto my cake board. I was tired though and my brain wasn't firing on all cylinders so, instead, I had some really tense moments scraping the cake off the rack with an extra-large cake spatula and then slowly shoving it off onto my cake board. I'm lucky I didn't break the cake.

One layer on the cake board. Blackberry preserves spread over the top. Almond cream frosting over that... and the frosting is sliding off the preserves. OK, I can fix this. I put the layer in the freezer to firm up the preserves. I spread preserves over the second layer and put it in the freezer too. Wait 15 minutes. Almost fall asleep. Back to frosting.

So now the bottom cake layer has blackberry preserves and some frosting, which is now pretty solid. I fill in with more frosting, then have another tense moment scraping the second fragile cake layer off the cooling rack and shoving it off on top of the first layer, then realize the whole cake is now tilting sideways because the frozen frosting is not giving. Don't panic! Don't panic! I'm panicking. Finally I shove a knife through the frozen frosting to break it up a bit so the cake sits more level. More soft frosting on top of the second layer, another tense moment with the final plain almond cake layer, and all three layers are now on the cake board... still a bit tilted... and the top two layers are sliding around. This is a HUGE cake! Much larger than I anticipated. I finally resorted to pushing down on the top of the cake until it leveled out. I knew all my cake layers were flat. It was a matter of getting all the filling stuff in between to level out. It didn't matter if it ended up squirting out the sides because I was going to frost it anyway.

FINALLY got the whole thing frosted and decorated the way I wanted it. Went to put it away in the refrigerator and found that it was too tall for my cake containers. My cake containers have a 5 1/2" dome. It was 2:35 am. I put it away without a cover and went to bed. Three down.

Blackberry Almond Cream Reverie

Sunday July 31st
Cake turn in was between 1-4 pm and open cake judging started at 4 pm. I waited until 2 pm to leave the house because I didn't want to sit around too long waiting for the judging to start. The start of the judging then got slightly delayed. We were suppose to have four judges. One of the judges had a family member have a stroke at 2:15 pm so she had to leave. One judge apparently moved to California and didn't tell anyone... One judge was still judging some of the pre-entries that were brought in yesterday. We had one judge on the stage.

I sat between Deborah and Rebecca. Barbara and her husband were in front of us, and Mary Alice and Darl and lots of their family members were there too. Also saw Rosalind, Michael and Phyllis; Jennifer and Raymond were there too.

My coconut cream cake got judged first. This was the cake I felt had the best chance of winning, The French Almond hadn't baked the way I wanted it with the slight dip in the middle and I had no idea what the blackberry almond cream tasted like. There were a lot of coconut cakes. The first thing the judges did was see how well the cakes cut. I could tell mine was more dense than the others. Was it not completely at room temperature by now? Almost everybody's cake looked exactly alike except for two on the end. One was pink. It had passion fruit in it. I always wonder if you can do stuff like that as it's technically not a pure coconut cake anymore. Sometimes it's so dependent on what the judge(s) like. Some will count off for not being pure; some will think it's unique. Our judge today was really looking at the appearance of the cakes too. I was thankful for that because I always make sure my cakes LOOK good. It's their first impression, even before they taste it, and I always make sure my cakes are eye-catching.

My heart sank a little when I did not get a 1-2-3 placing. I got Honorable Mention. Mary Alice won. Her coconut cake last year won and went on to win Best of Show. The coconut cake with passion fruit that was made by some guy we didn't know got Second. The judge liked that it was different. Rosalind got Third. Raymond and I got Honorable Mention.

Coconut Cake winners

The next cake I had judged was the blackberry almond cream. I held my breath as they cut it. I had no idea what the inside would look like. Both judges were looking at it. One of them was a pastry chef. They liked it. They commented that it looked like a "restaurant cake." They liked it! They liked it! I won. Darl (and Mary Alice) got Second with a fresh orange cake. Raymond got Third. I think his cake was Key Lime (?). Rosalind was Fourth with German Chocolate and Barbara got Honorable Mention with I think some kind of spice cake.

Other Multi-layer Cake Winners

After all the multi-layer cakes were judged, they picked the Best of Show from all the First Place winners. It was me!

Best of Show!

I finally got to see what my cake looked like once it was cut too.

Add this to the list of cakes I'll have to make again so I can taste it. I never did get around to making my Sweet Potato with Spiced Pecan Buttercream from last year either!

Next up were all the single layer cakes. The pastry chef had to leave so we were down to one judge. Finally all the "other" category single layer cakes got brought on stage. The first cake the judge cut into was a chocolate blackout cake. You could tell it just melted in her mouth. She really liked it. She got to mine and I was worried again that it wouldn't cut well and that it was too dense. It actually IS sort of a dense cake as it's made with almond flour... it's suppose to be textured like that. She liked it though. Then, she cut into Mary Alice's buttermilk spice cake. It cut like butter, like all Mary Alice's cakes... Judge really liked that too. Now for the placing. There was no way I was going to win...

Mary Alice (Darl) won. The chocolate blackout cake got Second. I got Third. Michael had a carrot cake that got Fourth and Barbara had a butter cake that got Honorable Mention.

Other Single-layer Cake Winners

That left me out of the running for a Best of Show for single layer cakes as that was my only entry in that division. I watched them complete single layer cakes. Best of Show went to an Applesauce Spice cake from someone I didn't know.

It was after 6:30 pm by now. There were still honey cakes, cupcakes, and cake balls to be judged but I didn't have anything left so I made my way home. I can't complain. All three of my cakes placed and I have my Best of Show for the year.

The Fair officially starts on Friday August 5th. I'm going to the Open House on August 4th to see how all my other pre-entry items did. After that my next competition will be the Cupcake Bake-Off on Sunday August 7th. Today was spent cleaning and organizing my house, taking the kids to brunch, and buying school supplies. I have to go to work this evening. The kid's start school tomorrow. I also work Thursday, Friday, and Saturday... and I still don't have a clue what I'm doing for the Cupcake Bake-off on Sunday. Looks like another busy week!