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


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

End of the fair, but recipes keep coming!


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


1 package Pillsbury Pie Crusts


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


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”:


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 


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


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

Fair time means cooking contest time

ImageAbove: Impossibly Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies.

Fair time beckons in San Diego County (June 8-July 4), and among the many fun contests (for me, at least) are those about cooking. Besides traditional competitions for best jam, jelly, cake, brownie, etc., food companies also sponsor contests, including the famous Spam contest. (I once entered a baking contest at a county fair when I was younger and dumber. I got schooled. I’ll tell you more about it in another post!) Consider trying one or more of these competitions, several of them new this year. For full info, visit the contest section of http://www.sdfair.com or call (858) 792-4207. No registration needed; just bring your entries in by 12:30 p.m. on contest day:

Great American Spam Championship: adults, 1 p.m. June 8; kids, 2 p.m. June 23. This year’s contest is all about the sandwich — from Dagwood-style to a Monte Cristo to a Reuben and everything else in between. But you are limited to 10 ingredients or less. First prize is $150 and a shot at the grand prize, a trip to the Spam Jam Waikiki Festival. Judges will be looking for taste, creativity and presentation.

— New this year is a Pie Baking Championship sponsored by Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crusts: 1 p.m. June 15. So yes, you have to use at least one. Categories are dessert pies and savory pies. Top dessert pie wins $200; top savory pie wins $75. Judging based on creativity, simplicity, taste and presentation.

Ghirardelli Chocolate Championshiop, 1 p.m. June 22. Using Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips (and as much Ghirardelli baking chocolate as you like), create a bite-size delicacy for this contest. Top prize is $150, and the top three winners and a randomly chosen contestant will win a gift basket full of the company’s chocolates. Judges are looking for appearance, taste, creativity and ease of preparation.

Another new contest, this one sponsored by Bisquick: Family Favorites Recipe Contest, at 1 p.m. June 23. Use Bisquick mix to “reinvent a classic appetizer or revitalize an everyday main meal.” That gives you creative cooks a lot of leeway! Top prize is $100; judging based on appearance, flavor and texture.  

— Also new, and also focusing on bite-size goodies: Sweet-Treats for Sweet-Hearts Contest, 1 p.m. June 29, sponsored by Karo Syrup. Judges are looking for taste, creative use of Karo, presentation and ease of preparation. Top prize is $125 for the Top Sweet-Treats (any size), with an extra $100 for Best Bite-Size Treats. 

— Last, and also new: Scratch Bakers Cookie Challenge, 1 p.m. July 4. Sponsored by the Gold Medal Flour folks. Use the flour to create any kind, size or style of cookie from scratch. Top prize is   $100. Judging is based on appearance, flavor and texture.

To get you started thinking of winning ideas, here’s a recipe from the Bisquick folks:

Impossibly Easy Mini Chicken Pot Pies

Chicken Mixture:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)

1/2 cup chicken broth

1 cup frozen peas and carrots

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground thyme

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)

Baking Mixture:

1/2 cup Original Bisquick mix

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 12 regular-size muffin cups with cooking spray.

In 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Cook chicken in oil 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink in center. Add onion and chicken broth; heat to simmering. Add frozen vegetables and seasonings. Heat until hot, stirring occasionally until almost all liquid is absorbed. Cool 5 minutes; stir in cheese.

In medium bowl, stir baking mixture ingredients with whisk or fork until blended. Spoon 1 scant tablespoon baking mixture into each muffin cup. Top with about 1/4 cup chicken mixture. Spoon 1 tablespoon baking mixture onto chicken mixture in each muffin cup.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes. With thin knife, loosen sides of pies from pan; remove from pan and place top sides up on cooling rack. Cool 10 minutes longer, and serve. Makes 6 servings (2 mini pies each).