Every year, our local paper runs a holiday recipe contest.

Every year, I submit recipes.

Every year, at least one of my recipes makes the finals.

And every, year, I ultimately lose. 

This wouldn't be a big deal if a) I wasn't such a damn good cook b) the recipes that did win were actually orginal and c) the recipes that did win didn't involve some combination of Ritz crackers, Velveeta and cream of crap soup to hold the whole mess together. 

Frankly, it makes me a little apoplectic when my homemade Spiced Cranberry Conserve doesn't even make it to the finals in the Veggie/Fruit category but Two Can Casserole does. REALLY PEOPLE? REALLY?

So if you haven't figured it out yet, it's that time of year again. I was going to forgo the contest this year because really, I'm not sure my blood pressure can take it, but I was talking to the Reporter a few days ago and she told me to go for it.  And even though she's not a judge, and even though only little old blue haired ladies tend to win, I am actually contemplating entering. Again.  Only I plan to be strategic.

The first thing I did was review what has won in years past along with what I've submitted.


Main Dish Winner: Prosciutto Chicken

Fruit/Veggie Winner: Spinach Souffle Madeleine

Bread Winner: Cream Cheese Stuffed Apple Bread

Dessert Winner: Ooey Gooey 8 Layer Caramel Apple Sour Cream Pie


The Grand Prize Winner that year was the Cream Cheese Stuffed Apple Bread which wouldn't have been a big deal only IT WASN'T AN ORIGINAL RECIPE. The woman who won fully admitted to having gotten it off the side of a box.  SERIOUSLY? SHE WON FOR THAT?

In 2007 I submitted 2 recipes: my Brussels Slaw - which is the best version of Brussels sprouts you will ever eat and will turn even avowed Brussels sprouts haters into lovers - and my Orange Scented Mini Pumpkin Loaves with Dried Cherries and Golden Raisins.  Both recipes were finalists in their categories although somehow my pumpkin loaves wound up in the Dessert category even though they should have been in Bread.



Main Dish winner: Be Thankful Garden Lasagna

Fruit/Veggie Winner: Zesty Hot Holiday Broccoli Dip

Bread Winner: Chocolate Bread with Hazelnut Spread

Dessert Winner: Southern Brownie Tiramisu  


The Grand Prize Winner in 2008 was the Southern Brownie Tiramisu.  I don't know if it was an original recipe or not but I do know that I submitted 4 recipes - 1 in each category - and only 1 was a finalist.  My Chicken Meatballs Stroganoff? Apparently not worthy of a finalist spot. You know what was? Apple Chicken and an Eggplant Parmesan recipe that includes ground beef. OMFG.

I've already told you that my delicious homemade Spiced Cranberry Conserve wasn't impressive enough to be a finalist but that Two Can Casserole was. So was something called Vegetable Salad Bar that involves gluing a shitload of veggies to crescent roll dough with a cream cheese/mayo/ranch dressing mixture.

My from scratch Apple Caramel Crunch Tart didn't impress the judges either.  But Holiday Rum Cake made from cake mix and instant pudding did because apparently the judges ARE SMOKING CRACK.   

My only submission to earn a Finalist berth in 2008 were my Blue Corn Ricotta Muffins with Bacon.  I appreciate the nod but when you stick me next to White Chocolate Blueberry Loaf, I cringe. Just a little.



Main Dish winner: Red Rice

Fruit/Veggie Winner: Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

Bread Winner: Sourdough Pumpkin Bread

Dessert Winner: Golden Yam Cake  


I can't really discuss the fact that Jalapeno Pepper Jelly was crowned the Grand Prize Winner last year. I just can't because JELLY? REALLY? And it involved food coloring. And it said "this is a good side dish with meat or with cream cheese on crackers." This isn't a side dish. It's a fucking condiment and it's fucking bullshit.

After the stinging disappointment of 2008, I dialed it back last year and only submitted 2 things: my Four Seasons Stuffing (simplest yet most delicious stuffing ever) and Rise 'N Shine Bars which was my stab at replicating Crack Pie. The Rise 'N Shine Bars did earn a finalist slot even though the recipe still needed tweaking and the version I delivered to the judges was a little off which is probably why I didn't win and fucking Golden Yam Cake did. Gross.

So here we are in 2010 and I have about 5 days to decide what recipes I am going to enter.  To say I am cautious is an understatement.  I am tired of submitting original, delicious recipes only to lose out to unoriginal bullshit made with pre-packaged food and/or that comes of the side of a box although this year the announcement says: "Originality will be given a lot of weight so please don't submit something you got off the back of a box."  HA. Will believe it when I see it. 

I have a few ideas in the Veggie/Fruit category including some decadent twice-baked Yukon golds and even more decadent Creamy Dreamy Spinach (secret: an asston of melted butter and yes - asston is an actual culinary measurement), although truthfully, neither seems like much of a culinary stretch.  I've also thought of submitting my Spicy Caramelized Onion Bacon Blue Cheese Dip but what does that fall under - besides Sheer Awesome? 

I refuse to poach someone else's recipe which means the life altering Buttermilk Bacon Pralines are out.  Although, as a last resort I may borrow (with her permission) AndreAnna's White Trash Casserole which if memory serves me includes tater tots, ground beef, cream of crap soup, cheese and maybe ketchup - perfect for the crowd I'm catering to. And if I win? We'll totally split the cash.   


Wow. I cannot believe some of the winners. Truly. Jelly? Broccoli dip? Neither of them are FOOD, how could they win? & clearly they favor dessert as the grand prize winner. I think if you want success you're going to have to dumb down your recipes. Know your audience and all that.

Dude take whatever recipe of mine you want. If you can beat Old Grannies, you run with it babe!

(And my mother would be the expert on the White Trash Casserole, so if you want me to get it from her, let me know.)

The reason you're probably not winning, is because you're dealing with simple, small town judges, who wouldn't know good, original cuisine if it slapped them in the face. They prefer processed food. Their minds and bodies are drawn to it. If you were in your hometown, you might not even get a nod; the competition would be insane, and the judges would have taste.

I have some recipes you can use. They involve soup mixes or jelly and chili sauce. Processed enough for the judges but not so processed that it wouldn't grace Rougie's table.

Now *I* want to enter just so I can enter the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip (cream cheese, butter, brown sugar, chocolate chips--TA-DAH!) and laugh hysterically when something soooo not worthy ends up winning because the judges are smoking crack.

Insanity is doing the same things over an expecting different results.

Either enjoy the process of communing with your community and accept that the contest is rigged; throw some craisins in some Bisquick and give it a fancy name (don't forget the sparkle sugar sprinkles on top); or find a contest that actually rewards originality! There. Sanity restored.

I so feel your pain. Boxed cake mixes really push me over the edge as do any kind of dips that people go gaga over and think the person is a master chef. It's not hard to mix cream cheese and something to make a dip.

I wonder if my mother's most spectacular dinner ever would pass: some kind of croissant-in-a-tube thing, with canned tuna on it and a can of green beans. I wonder why I have an aversion to things made from a box. It is a wonder I am alive and not sprouting new limbs with some of the stuff my mother tried to get away with serving. She claims she doesn't know how to experiment with food and my dad doesn't like spices.

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