Saturday, September 4, 2010

That’s Entertaining! Winning Ways in the Kitchen

by Barbara Burtoff

In 1848, gold was discovered in California. People headed west to claim their share. In 2010, there’s no need to travel in search of gold. If you are a good cook and a creative one, you could find it hiding right in your fridge or cupboard. Every year, food companies and others offer big bucks, travel and cartons of their edibles in exchange for original recipes.

And what does this have to do with entertaining? That’s a good question.The answer is simple. There are cooks so obsessed by the money and fame that come with winning a contest that they spend hours in their kitchens combining familiar ingredients with others quite unexpected. Then these culinary magicians invite friends in to critique the recipe or, perhaps, several variations of the recipe, and vote on what tastes good enough to be entered in a contest. It’s entertaining, all right, but with a purpose.

Most times, the serious ones will then tweak the recipe friends like best and invite in a second group of friends. Go through another critique, do some more tweaking and have in a third group of tasters.

This is an easy way to entertain. Invitations can be delivered on short notice by phone or email. Dress is casual. If the host or hostess is a purist, you may only be offered chilled bottled water so that your taste buds aren’t compromised, though a more substantial menu could be served afterward. This sort of gathering might take place right in the kitchen or a family room and lasts only an hour or 90 minutes if the host/hostess hasn’t prepared a meal to follow.

Go to Google and type in “Cooking Contests, annual calendar.” There are several websites that list a year’s worth of contests. Some are age-specific (for children only). Some are regional rather than national. A few have monthly or seasonal winners. Click on links to get the details of specific culinary competitions.

Last week, I told you just about everything you needed to know to invite friends and relatives to an ice cream sundae party. Question: If you went ahead and had such a party, did any of your guests put together something so appealing that everyone else brought over a clean spoon and request “a taste, please?” Then urge this guest to enter the Breyers Ice Cream 2010 Sundae Scoop-Off Contest. The deadline for entries is September 13, 2010.

Breyers is looking for recipes that are 1) original and never published, 2) “family friendly,” 3) include 1/2 cup (4 ozs.) Breyers Ice Cream per serving, 4) any number of servings but the entry must list the number the recipe serves, 5) contain 10 ingredients or less per serving including the ice cream, 6) give a list of ingredients in exact US measurements, 7) contain ingredients that would be easy to buy at a grocery store or make in a home kitchen, 8) list any special utensils that would be required, 9) list step-by-step preparation instructions and 10) give preparation time. A photo of the finished product is optional, but the recipe must be submitted with a name. Recipes will be judged up to 25 points each for creativity, flavor/taste, use of ice cream and presentation. Must be 18 years of age or older to enter.

There’s one Grand Prize: a family trip for four (4 days, 3 nights) to Chicago, $10,000, a private cooking lesson with a pastry chef and free ice cream from Breyers for one year. There are nine Super Sundae Prize Packages: free ice cream from Breyers for one year, $500, gourmet sundae-making supplies. Rules and the entry form are available at the Breyers website.

The most famous of the cooking contests is the Pillsbury Bake-Off, which is now held every other year and has a grand prize of $1,000,000. (That’s one million dollars.) Entry details for the 45th contest won’t be announced until January, 2011 and will be posted on their website, but if you go there now you can read about past contests and winning recipes.

I spoke with Shera Balgobin, a spokesperson for the Pillsbury Bake-Off.

Burtoff: Do you have some finalists that enter year after year?

Balgobin: Yes. In our most recent Bake-Off, 18 of the 100 finalists had been finalists previously. However, anyone who made the finals three times could not enter again. Any grand prize winner couldn’t enter again either.

Burtoff: Do you get a lot of entries?

Balgobin: Tens of thousands.

Burtoff: This contest isn’t limited to entries that used Pillsbury flour, is it?

Balgobin: No. There were four categories with one winner in each. For the last contest, they were Entertaining Appetizers, Dinner Made Easy, Breakfast and Brunches, and Sweet Treats. Pillsbury has products other than flour and there are additional sponsors. Each category winner won $5,000, a trip to the Bake-Off which is in a different city each time and received a General Electric Induction Free-standing Range. The $1,000,000 winner is chosen from the category winners. The categories for the next contest haven’t been chosen yet.

Over the years, one of the most talked about winners was Edna M. Walker of Eden Prairie, MN. In 1969, she entered Contest 20 with a recipe that contained only two main ingredients and a few others. She took a refrigerated crescent roll and wrapped it around a marshmallow. After baking, the space that contained the marshmallow had become the syrupy interior of a sweet roll. In those days, the grand prize was $25,000.

Magic Marshmallow Crescent Puffs



Non-stick cooking spray
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsps. Pillsbury Best all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cans (8 ozs. each) Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
16 large marshmallows
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted


1/2 cup powdered (confectioners) sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 to 3 tsps. milk (Burtoff’s note: I needed 4 tsps. milk. Add in only if glaze is not a drizzling consistency.)
1/2 cup chopped nuts (Burtoff’s note: I used pecans.)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 16 medium muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray. In a small bowl, mix the granulated sugar, flour and cinnamon.

Separate dough into 16 triangles. For each roll, dip 1 marshmallow into the melted butter, roll in sugar mixture. Place marshmallow on shortest side of triangle. Roll up, starting at shortest side and rolling to opposite point. Completely cover marshmallow with dough; firmly pinch edges to seal. (Burtoff’s note: Double-check that rolls are tightly sealed.) Dip one end in remaining melted butter; place butter side down in muffin cup.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes on the middle rack of oven or until golden brown. (You want to have foil or a cookie sheet on the same rack beneath muffin cups to guard against spills.) Remove from oven. Cool in pan one minute. Remove rolls from muffin cups; place on cooling racks set over waxed paper or foil.

In small bowl, mix powdered sugar, vanilla and enough milk for desired drizzling consistency. Start with 2 teaspoons, add more if needed. Drizzle glaze over warm rolls. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Serve warm.

Bake-Off is a registered trademark of General Mills © 2010

(Burtoff’s notes: 1) Don’t use a small toaster oven for this recipe. 2) I was thinking about alternative flavorings for the drizzle, but they might not have been compatible with the cinnamon inside the roll.)

Have a question or comment? You can reach Barbara Burtoff at Entertainingways @ or use the comments section below.


Barbara Burtoff spent 10 years as a food writer and editor for the Boston Herald daily newspaper. She visited farms and markets, attended culinary schools and cooking contests, and covered parties of all sizes from large, gala fundraisers to small gatherings at home. She then left to finish an M.S. Education degree, expanded from one paper to national syndication focusing on consumer/shopping issues, nutrition and psychology of eating topics.

That's Entertaining! is published by the Cleveland Park Listserv and All Life Is Local.  (c) 2010 Barbara Burtoff


  1. I am going out now to buy marshmallows and crescent rolls and the other stuff. I'm going to let my kids do the cooking. They are excited to make this!

  2. Dear Anonymous:

    Just read your comment and wanted you to know that I had a young person in the kitchen with me, too. She giggled as she rolled the marshmallows in the sugar/flour/cinnamon mixture and then put them in the dough triangles and rolled them up. Apparently, marshmallows are like squishy toys to a child. However, a child might not close the rolls as tightly as an adult would do, so the parent needs to check this step. More important: When the rolls come out of the oven,they are very hot. Keep them away from the kids until you test one and make sure that it won't burn their mouths.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Barbara Burtoff