The food, the sights and smells of the State Fair are a part of Americana that Utahns are able to enjoy, Gov. Gary Herbert told the audience during the state's first Governor's Favorite Meatloaf Contest last Friday night.
And the 12 entries in his contest showed that there's more than one way to make a meatloaf — cooked in a Dutch oven, stuffed with feta, dolloped with barbecue sauce, seasoned with Italian herbs. Some cooks branched out in meat choices, using ground pork, turkey and bacon as well as the usual ground beef.
"I love meatloaf, and my wife's meatloaf is my favorite," Herbert told the crowd at the beginning of the contest, adding that he was looking forward to trying all the entries.
He and first lady Jeanette Herbert did taste-test every one of them, and he told the judges, "I'd be proud to serve any of these."
In the end, 14-year-old Sarah Kress of West Jordan, won the $150 first place prize with a meatloaf "pie" smothered with mashed potatoes. Second place went to Jeanine Mower Anderson of Bountiful, and third place to Kristina Fox of Sandy. All have won fair contests in past years, underscoring the advice that practice makes perfect.
Although Sarah may seem young to pull off a meatloaf victory, she's actually a contest veteran, and fair competition is a family tradition. Her dad, Kip Kress, took the $150 first place prize among 28 entries in the Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship Friday night, and second place in the Beef —Anywhere, Anytime Cook-Off on Saturday. Wife Naomi and Sarah competed in both the Fleischmann's Yeast Bake For the Cure Baking Contest and the King Arthur Great Cake Contest.
"The year we became more serious about competing was the last year they had the SPAM contest," Kip Kress said. "My son, my wife and I took first, second and third place."
Instead of spending all year dreaming up recipes, they usually come up with ideas just a few days beforehand, said Kip Kress.
Although judging can vary widely, the Kresses have learned a few things along the way.
"Follow the rules exactly," Kip Kress said. "Make sure every aspect of the contest is addressed in the recipe and the presentation."
For instance, some Ghirardelli entries had to be disqualified for using too many ingredients; contest rules specify only 10 ingredients in addition to the Ghirardelli chocolate products.
Also the Ghirardelli contest is scored heavily on chocolate flavor.
"We've noticed from past experience, to make it more chocolate-y. And the more moist the item is, the higher the chance of it winning someplace."
Indeed. His winning Diamond Brownies: A Girl's Best Friend recipe featured moist, intense chocolate brownies with a layers of raspberry jam and ganache. For the "diamond" theme, he cut the the brownies in a diamond shape and arranged them on a glass platter with lots of shiny crystals.
There were fewer contests this year, with past sponsors such as SPAM, Malt-O-Meal, Hidden Valley Ranch, Lindsay Olives and SACO Foods having dropped out. But with fewer options, some contests had double and triple the amount of entries from past years. Fleischmann's had 26 entries, and Ghirardelli had 28 entries.
Although those numbers are high for Utah, at other state fairs, two dozen entries per contest is average, said Cyndi Harles of the Blue Ribbon Group, a Minneapolis-based company that oversees many nationally sponsored fair contests.
"These competitions are all about celebrating great recipes from people who cook and bake for their families and friends," Harles added. "With the Utah State Fair special contests, it's great to see stronger participation than in some past years at this fair."
When asked why some sponsors discontinued their contests, she replied,
"Contest changes typically happen because of limited marketing dollars and shifts in strategy or priority cities."
Fair contest participation may also reflect a return to home cooking due to the economy.
"Across the country, I know bread-baking contest participation is up," Harles said. "One winner in another state commented she always makes her own bread now because of what a loaf costs at her grocery store."
Although it means more competition, Kip Kress said he's happy to see a greater number of entries.
"We enjoy seeing the creativity and the recipes, the presentations, and the feeling the excitement of all the contestants," he said.
The one contest that bucked the trend was the Beef — Anywhere, Anytime Cook-Off sponsored by the Utah Beef Council, with just six entries. Contest chair Diane Weston noted that the entry deadline of Aug. 29 might be one reason for the lower turnout. But with a $300 first-place prize, it's one that contestants shouldn't miss.
This year, the winner was school teacher Carol Bartholomew, who has been entering fair contests since 1987.
"The fourth time's a charm," she said when her name was announced, alluding to past unsuccessful tries. Actually, Bartholomew represented Utah in the National Beef Cook-Off back in 1990, and routinely takes home hundreds of dollars in fair prize money each year. She and Tanya Lowe of Payson won first place awards in Fleischmann's Bake For the Cure contest. With its "Bake for the Cure" theme, Fleischmann's donates money to the Susan G Komen for the Cure — $10 for each entry at 52 fairs across the country.
In the Budweiser Chili Cook-Off, first place went to Benjamin and Matthew Watson for their Red and Blue Rivalry Chili. Jalaine Swensen took first place in the Fresh Salsa Challenge. Lisa Blodgett took first place in the King Arthur Flour Great Cakes competition with her Pina Colada Cake.
Winners of other contests were not available as of press time.
Here are a few of the winning recipes:
DIAMOND BROWNIES: A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND
1 3/4 sticks of butter (14 tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips, divided
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup Ghirardelli unsweetened cocoa
1 cup raspberry preserves
3/4 cup heavy cream
Melt the butter and 3/4 cup chocolate chips in a double boiler over low heat, stirring frequently just until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
Grease a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with butter, dust with flour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until smooth.
Add the cooled chocolate mixture and stir until combined.
Blend together the flour and cocoa. Add to wet ingredients, stirring just until well-combined. and no trace of the dry ingredients remain. Spread the batter evenly and into the prepared pan.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the brownies start to pull way from the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a rack.
Prepare ganache with remaining 3/4 cup chocolate chips in a glass bowl. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan just barely to a boil. Immediately pour over chocolate chips, stir gently until well combined and smooth. Evenly spread raspberry preserves on top of brownies. Frost with ganache.
Cover and chill for several hours. Cut into diamond shape and garnish with fresh raspberries as desired. Makes 18 bars.
— Kip Kress of West Jordan
1st Place, Ghirardelli Chocolate Championship
AMISH WHITE BREAD
2 cups warm water
2/3 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon Fleischmann's Yeast Active Dry Yeast
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cups vegetable oil
6 cups bread flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In large bowl, dissolve the sugar in warm water and then stir in the yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles creamy foam. Mix salt and oil into yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth. Place in well oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover with damp cloth. Allow to rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes and divide in half. Shape into loaves and place into well oiled 9x5-inch loaf pan. Allow to rise for 30 minutes or until dough has risen 1 inch above pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes.
— Tonya Lowe of Payson
1st Place, Fleischmann's Yeast "Bake for the Cure" Contest
UTAH'S HONEY BUNS
1/2 cup warm water
2 packets Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
2 cups milk, scalded
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup honey
5 cups whole wheat flour, divided
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup wheat gluten
1 tablespoon dough enhancer
1/2 cup flax seed
2 cups all-purpose flour
Place warm water in measuring cup; sprinkle with Fleischmann's Yeast and sugar; allow to sit until foamy. In bread mixer, place scalded milk, salt, butter, brown sugar, and honey; mix well. Beat in 2 cups of the wheat flour; then beat in eggs; then add softened yeast, gluten, dough enhancer, and flax seed. Gradually add rest of wheat flour and all-purpose flour. Knead until dough is smooth. Turn dough into greased bowl and let rise until double; punch down and let rise again. Punch down and form into 6 portions to from rolls. Roll each portion into a 6-by-10-inch rectangle; cut with pizza cutter into 8 strips; form rosette shape and place each on pan with parchment paper. Let rise until double. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 minutes or until golden. Brush with Honey Glaze. Makes 48 Honey Buns.
1 cup melted butter
3/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
Mix ingredients in small bowl and brush rolls with glaze.
— Carol Bartholomew of Salt Lake City, 1st Place Whole Grain Bread
Fleischmann's Yeast "Bake for the Cure" Contest
BEEF ASPARAGUS LO MEIN
1 pound beef top sirloin steak, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
2 3-ounce packages beef-flavored ramen noodles
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut to 2-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups water, divided
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Garnish: Chopped green onion (optional)
In a large skillet or wok, stir-fry beef in oil for about 5 minutes, or until meat is no longer pink. While beef is cooking, cook ramen noodles in saucepan with 2 cups boiling water and 1 of the seasoning packets added, for 3 minutes; when done, cover and let stand.
Add garlic and asparagus to beef; stir-fry to 2 minutes or until asparagus is crisp-tender.
In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon of the other ramen seasoning packet; stir in rest of ingredients and pour over beef/asparagus mixture. Stir-fry for 2 minutes or until thickened.
Drain noodles and place on platter; spoon beef mixture over noodles. If desired, garnish with chopped green onion. Serves 4.
Options: If asparagus is not available Chinese pea pods (snow peas) can be substituted.
— Carol Bartholomew of Salt Lake City
1st place, Beef—Anywhere, Anytime Cook-Off