Following In His Light Creates A Winning Recipe

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Recipe contests aren’t what they used to be. In the olden days (going back 30 years) I could create a recipe, type it up and snail mail it to the sponsor. On occasion, I did need to include a UPC symbol as proof of purchase, but that was about it. All of my creative energy actually went into developing a tasty recipe and finishing it off with a clever name. There were big cash prizes, fabulous vacations and even a Harley Davidson to be won back in those times.

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Over the years entering recipe contests has gotten more complicated, time consuming and competitive. Social media and the economy have played a huge part in how a sponsor may present a contest. The expectations are much higher. The work much greater. If I wanted to be in it to win it then I would need to stop living in the past and make some big changes.

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Learning food styling and food photography is paramount if one wants to enter recipe contests these days. Just about every contest now requires a photo. Eat with your eyes first has a whole new meaning, but what it takes to capture a truly stunning, mouth-watering, I want to eat my computer food photo is so much more than a click on the iPhone. Professional food stylists and photographers earn every penny and have my utmost admiration.

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Truth be told food photography is not only difficult, but also expensive. Cameras, lenses, tripods, lighting, props….the list is endless. I resisted investing in it and sadly myself for a long time. It was not only the money that held me back, but more a total lack of confidence that I could actually learn to take a good picture. Like everything else these days it’s technical and I am not wired that way. I knew it would be a difficult challenge.

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Quite frankly it scared me, but a great teacher changed all that. A gentle motivator and filled with kind encouragement Christina leads and facilitates a food photography group on Facebook. I lurked in her group for months reading and learning from the members. They range from amateurs to professionals and are a generous group when it comes to sharing food photography tips and tricks. Christina also has a blog covering just about every food photography subject one can imagine and in language one like me can understand. The more I lurked the more I thought it might be possible for me to upgrade from my iPhone and get on the fine food photography band wagon.

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I still have a long way to go when it comes to food photography, but I have been so over the moon since Eggland’s Best chose me as their grand prize winner in their “foodtography” recipe contest. As always hard work pays off. I’m just really proud of myself for stepping outside the comfort zone to learn something I never thought I could. Following in his light has its rewards.

Thank you Eggland’s Best for this challenge. Thank you Christina for being the most encouraging teacher. Thank you to all my family and friends and even strangers who voted for my photo and helped get me into the winner’s circle. Thank you always to my children who inspire me beyond words. These days it does seem to take a village to win a recipe contest.

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Thank you Eggland’s Best

I love this cake for its ease of preparation and deliciously healthy ingredient list. Decorate it with your favorite fresh fruit and own artistic flair. Send me a photo please!

Fruit & Yogurt Smoothie Bowl Cake

1¼-cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup almond flour

1-tablespoon chia seeds plus additional for garnish

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 Eggland’s Best Eggs

1-cup sugar

1 ½ cups plain Greek yogurt (I use 2% fat), divided

½ cup canola oil

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 to 1 ½ -tablespoons honey

fresh sliced fruit and chopped toasted chopped almonds for garnish

Heat oven 350F. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan with no-stick baking spray. In large bowl, whisk flour, almond flour, chia seeds, baking powder and salt until mixed. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar,1-cup yogurt, oil, lemon zest and almond extract until well blended. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk until batter is smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan. Tap pan on counter a few times to remove any air bubbles and evenly distribute batter. Bake cake in center of oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn out cake and cool completely. Mix remaining ½ cup of yogurt with ½-tablespoon of honey; spread over center of cake leaving about a 1-inch border. Decorate top with sliced fresh fruit, toasted almonds and chia seeds. Drizzle with remaining honey.

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Devil Dog Memories

img_4732Following Christmas and the new year celebrations I live a little on the edge of darkness. It revolves around the facts that during the last 5 years of William’s life (in the Navy) that I often only got to see him for brief periods during the holidays. I treasured those days and so looked forward to them. There are times I still feel he is just “away” and I will see him again. It’s a disappointment when the visit doesn’t actually happen. Camp LeJeune got the best of him in his final days and I resent that a bit. He should be here.

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A visit with long-time friends, Chrissy & William

So I close my eyes and ask for strength. My grandpa Matino greets me on the front porch of his house with his green alligator change purse. His old, calloused hands gently shake and the jingling of coins opens my eyes to a nickel in my palm and a kind smile on his face. “It’s enough to buy a devil dog down at the corner store.” At 7 years old I can stop in to Mr.Ortlip’s grocery before or after school, all by myself, and buy that devil dog or maybe some candy. It’s powerful. It’s sweet. It’s love and a kind reminder from my grandpa that I am stronger than I think at this moment in time. Just close your eyes. Take a deep breathe.

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It was very early 1900’s when my grandfather left Sicily and landed penniless at Ellis Island. The story goes that the Italian mafia attempted to entice him into “the family” by offering him a gun and a “job”. Scared out of his mind he boards the first train out of New York City and hops off an hour later when out the window he spies a sign for an Italian restaurant. “Ah, Italian people must live here.” Westfield, NJ was where my grandfather landed a job hauling coal and lumber by horse and wagon. By 1920 he was building his first home. My dad was born and I was raised in Westfield thanks to grandpa’s courage.

I wish I had that old green change purse. I wonder if one of my siblings or maybe a cousin inherited it and treasure it as much as I do. Who knew the power of a nickel? Some day, when she is older, I will give my grand-daughter “a nickel” every time I see her.

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Now for a sweet treat to bring back reality. It’s baking therapy 101. This recipe is pretty close to what I remember an authentic snack cake to be. The recipe was handed down to me from a patient’s mom many years ago. I googled it, but could not find an original source. I tweaked it a bit amping up the cocoa flavor with some salt, vanilla and espresso powder and changed a raw flour buttercream to a cooked flour version. The buttercream is kind of amazing even though the addition of shortening kind of freaks me out. I think shortening is used for its pure white color only.

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Just a couple of baking tips before we get to the recipe. First, I know you want to skip the sifting of the dry ingredients, but don’t do it. Not only does it aerate the mixture, but it also gets rid of lumpy baking soda and cocoa powder. No lumps allowed. Second, room temperature ingredients do make a difference for a light and fluffy cake. Finally, gild that lily with some melted dark chocolate or dusting of powdered sugar. Who says devil dogs can’t be fancy?

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Devil Dogs

2 cups all purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature

½ cup sugar

1 egg, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup milk, room temperature

Heat oven 425F. Line baking sheets with parchment. In large bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, espresso powder and salt; whisk it to blend and set aside. In another bowl, beat butter and sugar for 5 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla. Add 1/3 of dry ingredients, at a time, alternating with half the milk beating well after each addition and scraping down bowl as needed. Spoon filling into a zippered plastic bag; seal bag. Snip off a 1/2-inch piece of one corner. Pipe batter into 3-inch logs about 1½ to 2-inches wide and 2-inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake 8 minutes. Cool. Turn half the cakes over and pipe or spread flat sides with cream filling. Cover with remaining cakes, flat side down. Makes 20 devil dogs.

Flour Butter Cream Filling

½ cup all purpose flour

½ cup milk

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup powdered sugar

½ cup unsalted butter

½ cup shortening

1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat whisk flour, milk and salt until blended and no lumps remain. Cook mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a smooth ball. Transfer dough to a bowl. Add powdered sugar and beat with an electric mixer until smooth. In another bowl, beat butter and shortening until blended. Add vanilla and beat well. Gradually add sugar mixture beating until mixture is smooth, thick and fluffy. 

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The Best Pumpkin Harvest Torte

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Pumpkin. It’s everywhere this time of year including your appetizer, entree, dessert and coffee. Americans are obsessed with it. Not just limited to canned pumpkin, grocery store aisles are filled with a variety of pumpkin flavored products. It brings to mind falling leaves, cool nights and the smell of warm spices wafting through the kitchen.

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Recently, I tried these cookies called pumpkin spice snaps. Made in Pennsylvania, (love the USA) they are brand new to the market and I got a sneak peak taste. Filled with warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves and sweetened with molasses these cookies have the perfect crispy snap that one would expect from the name. While simply delicious on their own I could not help but want to play with them in some dessert recipes. The first recipe I tried was a cookies and cream pumpkin cake. It was a hit with crispy cookie bits adding a textural contrast to the creamy frosting, but I could not stop there…….

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See those cookie bits on the edge of the cake? I greased my cake pans and then dusted them with finely crushed cookies instead of flour

……because as of today I have harvested 7 sugar pumpkins and there are at least another dozen lying in wait. I only planted 4 seeds! Plant some seeds people! For fresh pumpkin all one needs to do is roast them whole (400F. for about an hour) on a foil lined baking sheet until they feel soft. Cool, peel, seed and puree the orange flesh in the food processor and then drain for an hour or two in a paper towel lined sieve with a weighted plate on top. It’s amazing how much liquid drains out leaving silky concentrated fresh pumpkin behind. It freezes well, so please, completely skip the canned stuff. No garden? Pick up sugar pumpkins at the local farmers’ market.

In today’s featured recipe I really wanted to show these beautiful cookies off and there is no better way than my signature cookie crust. I first featured this idea many years ago in a Southern Living Magazine cook-off. It was such a big hit that even a restaurant out in Colorado asked my permission to use it on their menu. It works with any crisp, wafer like cookie and creates a lovely edge to the dessert.

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Bake off the crust and let it cool. Then fill with the most luscious fresh pumpkin mousse which in my case is “spirited” (I love you, William). If you don’t like the alcohol feel free to substitute fresh OJ or apple juice or even maple syrup in its place. Feel free to play with the spices too, but for me there is nothing better and easier than a quality pumpkin pie spice mixture like this one from King Arthur Flour.

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Make it one day in advance, so the cookies will soften slightly for easier cutting and take the edge off of your party planning. Anything I can make in advance of a holiday like Thanksgiving is a godsend. In fact, it can even be prepared 2 days in advance. Topped with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt, oh, yes, this recipe is waaaaay better than the usual pumpkin pie. You are welcome.

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Pumpkin Mousse Torte

33 Stauffer’s Pumpkin Spice Snaps, divided

4 tablespoons (¼ cup) unsalted butter, melted

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons bourbon or orange juice (for non-alcohol version)

1 (1/4-oz) package unflavored gelatin

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup cornstarch

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I use King Arthur Flour brand)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup heavy cream, divided

2 egg yolks

1 ½ cups whole milk

1 cup unseasoned fresh or canned pumpkin, drained on paper towels

1-teaspoon vanilla

Heat oven 350F. Place 18 cookies in food processor fitted with blade. Process until cookies are finely crushed to make 1 cup of cookie crumbs. Add butter; pulse until crumbly. Press cookie crumbs over bottom of 9-inch springform pan. Place remaining cookies around edge of pan slightly overlapping and rounded side out. Gently press each cookie into the bottom crust. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted. Cool crust in pan on a wire rack. In small bowl, combine water and bourbon or orange juice; sprinkle gelatin over the top. Set mixture aside to let gelatin soften. In medium saucepan, whisk brown sugar, cornstarch, pumpkin pie spice, salt and ½ cup heavy cream until smooth. Add egg yolks and milk; whisk until well blended. Cook over medium heat, whisking, until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and continue cooking another minute being sure to scrape the sides of the pot with a heat-proof spatula. Whisk in gelatin mixture until it is fully dissolved. Remove from heat. Whisk in pumpkin and vanilla. Press a piece of plastic wrap to pumpkin mixture to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in refrigerator for 2 hours. Whip remaining ½ cup heavy cream to soft peaks; fold into pumpkin mixture. Pour filling into prepared crust; smooth top. Cover and chill at least 4 hours or as long as overnight. Cut into wedges and top with sweetened whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

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My absolute favorite sweet pumpkin

BTW-I receive no compensation for endorsing any products. Last year I won a contest sponsored by Stauffer’s and my prize is a monthly cookie gift package for a year.