PB pickles, and how to get into the San Diego County Fair for free

deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle

Deep-fried peanut-butter-filled pickle at the San Diego County Fair, slightly busted open to show the PB. It actually tasted kinda good. (Photo by Kelley Carlson)

Deep-fried. Peanut-butter-filled. Pickle.

Guess what time it is? Oh yes, it’s San Diego County Fair time, starting Friday, June 5 and running through Sunday, July 5, at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Before we go any farther, let me just say that the above-mentioned DFPBFP wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I could have done without the deep-fried part, really, but the actual peanut-butter-pickle combo was — kind of tasty.

That’s when I remembered: A long time ago, the newspaper’s Food section ran a Continue reading

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Make the ‘Bean Scene’ in Encinitas this Saturday!

crowds at the lima bean festival in Encinitas, California

The bean scene was lively at the 2013 Lima Bean Festival held at the San Dieguito Heritage Museum in Encinitas, Calif.

Time once again to make the bean scene! I’m referring to the sixth annual Lima Bean Festival and cooking competition put on from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday (Sept. 27) by the San Dieguito Heritage Museum at 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas, California. Folks, when other tasting events can run you upward of $35 a pop, this is a nicely priced alternative at $15 adults and $5 kids (for advance tickets) or $20 adults on event day. Buy them at www.sdheritage.org/limatickets.php.

And the cuisine on call isn’t just lima beans — other legumes are in play, in

Continue reading

Fair time, and it’s free with food

It’s Fair Time in San Diego County! Did you know that if you take part in some of the one-day contests offered at the fair, you can get free entry that day? These contests are especially for amateurs, and several of them involve FOOD! Here’s a rundown of what’s going on and when. You will need to download an entry form, plus a form on which to write your original recipe, at Continue reading

Lima Love

Laugh if you like, but I’m growing fonder of lima beans year by year.

This past Saturday marked the fifth year of Encinitas’ Lima Bean Faire, a fundraiser for the San Dieguito Heritage Museum (www.sdheritage.org) and my fourth year (I think) as a judge of the faire’s cooking contest. (Also judging were Coast News columnist David Boylan (“Lick the Plate”) and Chef Marian of ChefMarian.com.)

I was not a fan of lima beans as a child. They were the hated ingredient in the blocks of frozen succotash that were our family’s default dinner vegetable. They were mealy and dry, and far inferior to the corn niblets and green beans they accompanied.

But now, after several years of experiencing limas transformed by amateur and professional chefs, I’ve come to appreciate them. They certainly are no longer the shriveled nubbins I remembered from childhood. Nope. I now know them as moist, inviting, satisfying and savory, not to mention nutritious, full of fiber and economical, as most beans are.

This year’s contest allowed other kinds of beans besides limas, and entries included soups, dips, salads, stews, casseroles and pasta dishes, as well as several (yes!) desserts. According to Jean Bruns, a museum board member, this year’s turnout was 21 cooks entering 26 dishes.

The winners:

People’s choice:  Sean O’Leary – L Im A Piggy Soup;

Professional division:

Salad/Side – Brett Nicholson, Brett’s BBQ: Black Bean Salad

Entree/Side — Steve Molina, Delicias Restaurant, Five Bean Fritters With Spiced Yogurt Tzatziki;

Dessert — Mary Dralle/Cooking With “Klibs,” Xocolatl Bars.

Amateur division:

Salad/Side — Evelyn Weidner, Ginger Citrus and Sweet Chipotle Dips;

Entree/soup — Sean O’Leary, L Im A Piggy Soup;

Dessert — Kristin Gaspar, Mini Lima Bean Pies

Winning recipes, as they have been every year, will be compiled in the group’s fundraising cookbook, soon to be available at the museum, 450 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas (760-632-9711).

Sean O’Leary’s prize-winning soup was one of my favorites. He’s a former chef turned freelance photographer (www.simplysophotography.com). This recipe makes a LOT of soup, but you can cut it down for a smaller batch. The  pork bone is for flavor, not for meat, Sean says. He adds that you can roast it beforehand for more flavor in the soup.

L IM A PIGGY SOUP 

5 pounds dried lima beans

6 stalks celery

3 carrots, peeled

2 1/2 pounds onions, peeled

1 head garlic, peeled

1 Fresno chile, seeded

1 pound ham, chopped

1 pound pork shoulder bone or other pork bone (not meaty)

1 bunch parsley stems

1 bunch green onions

1 1/2 tablespoons paprika

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 1/2 gallons chicken broth

Salt and cracked black pepper

Lime Creme:

12 ounces sour cream

4 ounces mayo

1 lime

Kale Chips:

1 bunch kale

Leek Threads:

1/2 pound leeks, cut lengthwise and cleaned

Soak dried lima beans overnight in a 20-quart stock pot. Make sure water level is at least 4 times the volume of the beans.  The next morning, strain the beans in a colander and set aside.

After cleaning and preparing vegetables, rough-chop them. You don’t want to cut them too small.

Place the dry 20-quart stock pot back on the stove and add some vegetable oil over medium heat.  Let the pot get warm.  Add celery, carrots, onions, garlic and chile, and sweat them until they are translucent by occasionally stirring them. This should take 8 to 10 minutes.

At this point add reserved lima beans, ham, pork bone, parsley stems, green onions, paprika, cumin, oregano and chicken broth.  Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down heat to low and simmer for 3 hours or until beans are soft.

Remove pork bone and discard.

Cool soup until it is about room temperature.  It is best to cool soup as quickly as possible by placing pot in your kitchen sink. Surround the pot with ice and fill sink with cold water a quarter full.  Stir soup to cool it faster.  Once soup is cool enough, blend in a blender starting at low speed and working up to high speed until soup is smooth. Do small batches at a time.  Reheat soup and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Lime Creme: While soup is cooling, mix sour cream, mayo and lime juice as desired in a small bowl.  Add a little water and salt until desired thickness and flavor.

Kale Chips: Cut the leafy part off the kale stems.  Now cut kale into desired size.  In a saute pan, add vegetable oil to fill saute pan 1/4 full.  Heat oil to medium-high. Place a little bit of kale in saute pan at a time. Be careful — the kale will splatter oil due to water content in the leaf. Pan fry kale until oil is no longer bubbling around the cut pieces.  Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and shake over pan to remove excess oil. Place on paper towel to drain and season with a little salt while still hot.  Set aside.

Leek Threads:  This is the exact same method as to make the kale chips. Slice the leeks crosswise into thin shreds and then pan fry.

Once you have all the components ready, ladle soup into bowls and garnish with Lime Creme, Kale Chips and Leek Threads.  Enjoy!

Here’s the recipe for Xocolatl Bars from Mary Dralle’s (“Cookin’ With Klibs”). The recipe uses lima bean flour, which she said she gets at the Santa Ysabel General Store. “Frazier Farms in Vista carries bean flours as well as Jimbo’s, Sprouts and Henry’s,” she noted. “A substitute bean flour could be used in place of the lima bean flour.”

XOCOLATL BARS

1/2 cup lima bean puree

1/2 cup butter, unsalted

1 cup raw sugar

1 cup brown sugar, slightly packed

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons creme de cacao liqueur

1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chunks

2 1/4 cups unbleached flour, sifted

3/4 cup lima bean flour, sifted

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons chipotle chile powder

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

In a large mixing bowl, cream the first four ingredients until fluffy.

Beat eggs in one at a time, then fold in vanilla, creme de cacao, and dark chocolate chunks.

On a large piece of wax paper, measure out all of the dry ingredients. (This method will ensure that all of the items are added.) Fold wax paper in half, pour into sifter and sift into bean mixture. Fold until all is incorporated.

Press dough into a parchment paper-lined 11-by-17-inch jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until inserted knife comes out clean.

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013

End of the fair, but recipes keep coming!

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Above: Winners in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship contest: Todd Luallen (left) of San Marcos, Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, Cathy Agostino of El Cajon(Courtesy photo)

The San Diego County Fair wraps up today, July 4. If you weren’t able to visit, you can share in the fun with some winning recipes from the fair’s cooking contests. Check these out:

Winners of the Pillsbury Pie Baking Championship: First: Peggy Linberg of Upland, Bali Hai Pie; second, Alberta Dunbar of San Diego, Three Times the Chocolate Fantasy Pie; third, Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, Rosie’s Rockin’ Rhubarb Pie; Top Savory Pie: Sarah Tackett of Vista, Savory Chicken & Mushroom Pie

Here’s Sarah Tackett’s winning recipe in the Savory category:

Savory Chicken and Mushroom Pie

Crust:

1 package Pillsbury Pie Crusts

Filling:

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 onion, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

4 slices bacon, cooked

3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped

1/2 cup parsley, chopped

1 can (10.5 ounces) cream of chicken soup, condensed

1 cup chicken broth

Topping:

1 egg, beaten

1 teaspoon water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 9-inch pie pan with 1 Pillsbury pie crust. Combine butter, onion and garlic in large skillet; cook until ingredients are soft. Add mushrooms and cook 5 minutes more. Add bacon, chicken, parsley, cream of chicken soup and chicken broth. Stir until thoroughly combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Fill lined pie pan with chicken and mushroom mixture. Top with remaining pie crust; brush top with egg and water mixture. Bake pie at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship winners: First: Rozanne Gooding of Carlsbad, “Berry Easy” Black & White Chocolate Truffle Cups; second: Cathy Agostino of El Cajon, Carmel Macchiato Napoleon; third: Todd Luallen of San Marcos, Chetzels

Here’s the recipe for Todd Luallen’s “Chetzels”:

Chetzels 

2 cups peanut butter

1/2 cup butter

2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 bag (14 ounces) pretzel crisps

1 bag (10 ounces) Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Chips

Combine peanut butter, butter, coconut, powdered sugar and vanilla in a bowl. Mix well. Take two pretzels and put a tablespoon of the mixture in between, creating a sandwich. Melt Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate on the stove over low heat, stirring constantly. Dip bottom of the sandwich in melted chocolate. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Yields: 24 Chetzels.

Bisquick Family Favorites Recipe Contest winners: First: Alberta Dunbar of San Diego, Chorizo Nuggets With Creamy Salsa; second: Susan Christen of Oceanside, Rosemary Madeira Baked Brie; third: Heidi Russell of Oceanside, “Pressed” for “Thyme” Chicken & Dumplings

Here are Alberta Dunbar’s and Susan Christen’s recipes:

Chorizo Nuggets With Creamy Salsa Dip 

Nuggets:

3 cups Bisquick mix

1 tablespoon Mexican seasoning

1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded and diced

1 pound chorizo, cooked and drained well, cooled

1 can (14.75 ounces) creamed corn

1/2 cup milk

32 small pitted black olives, well drained

Creamy Salsa:

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

2 teaspoons Mexican seasoning

8 ounces medium heat salsa

Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In large bowl, combine Bisquick mix and Mexican seasoning; mix well with wooden spoon. Add cheddar cheese and chorizo; mix well. In small bowl, combine creamed corn and milk. Fold corn mixture into Bisquick mixture, blending well. Using a well-rounded spoonful for each, form 16 nuggets out of the Bisquick mixture and place on the prepared cookie sheet, 4 nuggets to a row. Press an olive in the center of each nugget and press all the way down so dough fully covers the olive. Bake 12 to 13 minutes until golden brown. Remove to cooling rack. Prepare remaining nuggets for baking while first set bakes.

For Creamy Salsa, combine cream cheese and sour cream in medium bowl. Beat well with electric mixer until smooth. Add Mexican seasoning and blend. Beat in salsa until blended. Cover and chill. Salsa is best made overnight or early in the day. Serve nuggets with warm salsa dip. Yields: 32 nuggets.

Rosemary Madeira Baked Brie

1 1/2 cups Bisquick mix

2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or dry)

1/4 cup Madeira wine

1/4 cup evaporated milk

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease small jelly-roll pan. Whisk Bisquick mix and rosemary together. Set aside. Mix Madeira and evaporated milk. Stir into dry ingredients until soft dough forms. Knead 10 times. Halve the dough into 2 balls. Roll each into 8-inch circle. Set brie in center of one circle. Cover brie with other circle and form dough over brie. Dampen edges of bottom circle of dough and seal it to the top dough. Brush with olive oil and invert onto jelly-roll pan. Brush other side with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool for 90 minutes. Serve with apricot preserves.

Spam-tastic! Contest winners from the San Diego County Fair

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Lucia Yandell (left), Monica Bennett, Alberta Dunbar with their winning Spam creations. (Courtesy photo)

Looking for results from the San Diego County Fair cooking contests? I’ve got some here for you — results from the Great American Spam championship (held June 8) and also the Kids’ Contest (held June 23).

The adult winner was Monica Bennett of San Diego, who won $150 for her Spammy Cristo Minis and a chance to move on to the nationals, where she will compete for a trip to Hawaii. Not too bad for a Spam sandwich with a twist! Also winning prizes were Lucia Yandell of San Diego for her Pulled “Spork” Sandwiches, and Alberta Dunbar of San Diego for her Sir Spamalots Club Spamwich.

Winners in the Kids’ Division were Katie Russell, 11, of Oceanside for her Tropical Spamwitch, Colin San Nicolas, 8, Oceanside for his Spamtassium, and Noah Tang, 8, San Diego, for his Spambled Egg Sandwich.

Here’s Monica’s recipe:

Spammy Cristo Minis

Belgian Waffles:
2 cups pancake baking mix
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 egg
Cream Cheese Filling:
3 ounces sweet pickled ginger
3 rings canned unsweetened pineapple, chopped
2 packages (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
Spam Filling:
1 can (12 ounces) Spam Classic
Seasoned pepper
Batter Coating:
1 egg
1 1/4 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
Garnishes: Powdered sugar, raspberry jelly

For Belgian waffles: Thoroughly combine pancake baking mix, buttermilk, vegetable oil and 1 egg in mixing bowl. Add approximately 1/4 cup waffle mix into a preheated waffle maker. Cook waffles until golden brown. Place waffles on a serving plate to cool. Yields about 4 waffles.
For Cream Cheese Mixture: Chop sweet pickled ginger and unsweetened pineapple. In mixing bowl, combine chopped pineapple and ginger with the two packages of softened cream cheese. Mix Chinese five spice powder into cream cheese mixture.
Prepare Spam: Thinly slice one can of Spam Classic. Place Spam in frying pan and cook over low flame until Spam is crispy on surface. Sprinkle with seasoned pepper. Place Spam on serving plate to cool.
For Batter Coating: Place 1 egg, water, salt, sugar and flour in a mixing bowl. Thoroughly blend ingredients.
Assemble: Starting with 1 waffle, spread waffles with cream cheese mixture. Place 1 slice of Spam on each waffle quarter. Place second waffle, with cream cheese side facing inward, on top of first waffle. Slice waffle into quarters. Slice quarter pieces in half. Secure each corner of the Spammy Cristo Mini with a long toothpick. Continue process until all waffles have been prepared.
Fill a small saucepan with at least 3 inches of vegetable oil. Make sure the oil line is at least 3 inches away from the rim of the pan. Heat oil with a low to medium flame until oil temperature is approximately 350 degrees. Prepare a tray with several layers of paper towels. Using tongs, dip one Cristo Mini in batter coating, then lower it into the oil. Cook Cristo Mini until coating is golden brown. Using tongs, remove mini from pan and allow it to cool on prepared tray. Sprinkle Cristo Mini with powdered sugar. Repeat until all the minis have been cooked. Serve with raspberry jelly garnish.
Yields: 8 Spammy Cristo Minis

Here’s Katie Russell’s winning recipe:

Tropical Spamwitch

2 teaspoons butter, melted
4 slices bread
1 purple onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon lime zest
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
Juice from 1 lime
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 mango, sliced
1 mini cucumber, sliced
One (12 ounce) can Spam Low Sodium, sliced
1 avocado, sliced (optional garnish)
Butter the slices of bread and put in a toaster oven until lightly browned. Saute onion in olive oil until golden brown. In a bowl, mix mayonnaise with lime and orange zest. Set aside. Stir together juice of 1 lime with 1/3 cup water. Add honey, salt and ginger. Pour honey mixture over sliced mango and cucumber. Let sit for 5 minutes.
To make sandwich, spread mayo mixture on inside of bread, top with onions, sliced SPAM, cucumber, mango, avocado and other slice of bread. Enjoy!

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013

Farm cooks vs. city gal? No contest

The San Diego County Fair is in full swing, and I promised you a story about competing in the food contests, so …

I was a young reporter on my first job in the Indiana heartland. My beat was education, but also general assignment, which on a small-town daily paper meant I could write about pretty much anything I wanted. But we were in the county seat, so when the annual county fair came around, all of us did fair stories.

Born and bred in New York City, I didn’t know much about county fairs. Midway games, rides, cotton candy, oh, and something to do with livestock. My co-workers rapidly brought me up to speed on 4-H and the many different contests that were integral parts of the fair.

When someone explained the food competitions, a little spark went off. “Why don’t I compete? City slicker vs. the home folks. It could be fun,” I volunteered. My boss agreed.

Looking over the contest categories, I was disappointed to see that there was no category for eggplant parmigiana, one of my specialties at the time. OK, I’d enter something else. Canning? No. Preserves? Nope. Baking? THAT I could do.

I chose banana bread, which had its own category. I had made banana bread before, and it had turned out fine. How hard, really, could this cooking competition stuff be? Maybe I’d enter a few other categories, too, like apple pie and brownies, and take home a pile of ribbons.

But time got away from me, and the night before the competition, I completed only one item, the banana nut bread. The recipe was from my lone cookbook at the time, a paperback Fannie Farmer. And the bread turned out just fine, a burnished brown block of banana goodness.

I brought it to the fairgrounds as a contestant that morning, and returned later in the day as a reporter to observe behind the scenes of the baked-goods judging.

The judge was a slim young woman named Dee Ann Cabell, a 10-year 4-H member at the time who had majored in home economics at Purdue University. She had been judging at fairs for about seven years, doing about six fairs a year. And she knew her stuff.

When I arrived, she was finishing with the white and wheat breads. Cabell looked each loaf over and evaluated its shape and color. She then took a small taste, served to her by one of the culinary committee members, who were hovering like nurses around a surgeon. She made her notes, then commented diplomatically (because many committee members were undoubtedly also contestants), “All of those are really nice.”

Next came the crescent dinner rolls, several to a plate. Cabell addressed the first entry. The end point of one roll was too short; another curled below the roll’s bottom. “These are not uniform,” she noted. “Also, there’s too much flour on the bottom.” Another roll was chided for its uneven size and browning.

That’s when I realized that my banana bread and I were in trouble.

What the city slicker hadn’t known was that there were standards governing what made a prize-winning dinner roll, a perfect pie crust. To enter the brownie category, for example, you had to submit six. They had to meet the criteria of the category (not too tall! not too pale! not too airy!), and they had to be identical in shape, size and color. Taste was just one factor among many.

Finally, the banana breads were up. Cabell looked at my sturdy brown loaf, sliced into it, and instantly sighed, “She didn’t mash her bananas enough.”

(Talk about judgment. I’d now be known around town as “Laura, the lazy banana masher.”)

Cabell also declared my bronzed bread was too brown. (Those pesky standards again.) To soften the blow, she added, “Good flavor, not dry. Good outside appearance, good inside characteristics.”

Clearly, my bread and I had been knocked out of the running. “At least it didn’t make her sick,” I muttered to Carol Evans, general chairwoman of the Women’s Exhibits. “Give it time to reach her stomach,” Evans said dryly.

Cabell worked her way through 117 entries that day over four hours, and not only didn’t she get sick, she said she’d never been made ill by a fair entry. She tried to say something positive about every entry (see above), and even if something looked awful, she said, she ate some of it, because it would be “really insulting” if she didn’t.

Though my banana bread hadn’t measured up to those of much more experienced cooks, the story turned out well and my boss was pleased.

And I had been soundly educated by these modest farm women. What looked so deceptively simple turned out to have depths and nuances I had never even considered in my youthful arrogance.

I did compete again at subsequent county fairs, but not in the culinary division. I planted a big garden the next summer, and won blue ribbons (yes, I did!) for my six uniform green beans and my three identical bell peppers.

But I still wish I’d been able to enter that eggplant parmigiana.

Here’s the Fannie Farmer recipe I used for my fair entry. Just remember to mash those bananas thoroughly!

BANANA NUT BREAD

Mix in a bowl

3 ripe bananas, well-mashed

2 eggs, beaten until light

Sift together

2 cups flour

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

Add to the first mixture. Add

1/2 cup nut meats, chopped

Stir well. Put in a buttered loaf pan 9 by 5 inches. Bake 1 hour at 350 degrees.

Note: Some like to add 2 tablespoons melted butter to the batter.

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2013