Minnesota did not send the largest number of competitors to the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off, held earlier this week in Las Vegas. That distinction is held by two states -- Texas and Pennsylvania, with 10 cooks each.
Among the Bake-Off's 100 finalists were four Minnesotans (the million-dollar winner was Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nev., for her Loaded Potato Pinwheels). Here are their recipes:
ON THE GO BREAKFAST COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
Note: From Beverly Batty of Forest Lake.
1 package Pillsbury Big Deluxe refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies
1/2 c. Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Coconut Pecan Frosting
1/2 c. quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1/4 c. flaxseed
1 c. walnuts, coarsely chopped '
2 tbsp. sweetened dried cranberries
1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Let cookie dough stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, combine cookie dough, frosting, oats, flaxseed, walnuts, cranberries and coconut and mix until thoroughly combined.Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake until edges are light golden brown, about 12 to 16 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
MINI ITALIAN SHEPHERD'S PIES
Makes 36 appetizers.
Note: From Sonya Goergen of Moorhead.
1 box (9 oz) Green Giant® frozen chopped spinach, divided
1 lb, extra lean (at least 90%) ground beef
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
1 c. marinara sauce
1 box Pillsbury® refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
1 package (24 oz) refrigerated mashed potatoes (about 2 1/2 c.)
2/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 36 mini-muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray. In a microwave oven, cook frozen spinach to thaw, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from oven and squeeze spinach dry with paper towels. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground beef, breaking up large pieces, until meat is no longer pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in onion and cook 3 to 4 minutes until tender. Drain pan of oil. Stir in marinara sauce and half of the spinach.
Meanwhile, unroll pie crusts. Using 2 1/4-inch round cookie cutter, cut 18 rounds from each crust, rerolling dough if necessary. Press each round in bottom and up side of muffin cups. Spoon rounded tablespoon meat mixture in each cup.
In a microwave oven, cook mashed potatoes as directed on package, about 2 to 3 minutes. In a medium bowl, mix potatoes, remaining spinach, cheese, salt and pepper until well blended. Top each cup with a rounded tablespoon of potato mixture. Bake until potatoes are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool 2 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cups to loosen pies. Serve warm.
SEEDS AND CHOCOLATE PASTRY WEDGES
Note: From Vicki Mager of Bloomington.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
2 1/4 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/3 c. dried currants
1/4 c. roasted unsalted sunflower nuts
1/4 c. roasted salted hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/4 c. Jif Chocolate Flavored Hazelnut Spread
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Unroll pie crust on an ungreased baking sheet. Pinch outside edge of crust to form a 1/4-inch rim. Prick dough several times with fork. In small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle evenly over crust. In medium bowl, mix currants, sunflowers nuts and pumpkin seeds. Sprinkle mixture over crust. Press mixture firmly into crust. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove aluminum foil and bake until edges are light golden brown, about 3 to 6 minutes longer. Remove from oven and immediately cut into 12 wedges. Do not separate wedges. Spoon chocolate hazelnut spread into decorating bag or 1-quart resealable food storage plastic bag; seal bag. Cut off tiny corner of bag; squeeze bag to drizzle spread over seeds. Cool completely.
ORANGE CARDAMOM BLUEBERRY CROSTATA
Note: From Cathy Wiechert of Mound.
1 Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
1/2 c. Smucker's Orchard's Finest Pacific Grove Orange Marmalade Medley
2 tbsp. flour
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
2 c. fresh blueberries
1 egg yolk
1 to 2 tbsp. coarse white sparkling sugar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a 15x-10-inch baking pan with sides with parchment paper. Unroll pie crust in prepared pan. In medium bowl, mix preserves, flour and cardamom. Carefully fold in blueberries. Spoon mixture over crust to within 2 inches of edge. Fold edge of crust over filling, pleating crust as necessary. In small bowl, beat egg yolk with two teaspoons water. Lightly brush crust edge with egg mixture; sprinkle with sugar. Bake until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly, 17 to 23 minutes. Remove from oven and cool at least 30 minutes before serving.
The 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off takes place on Monday in Las Vegas (for the first time in the contest's 64-year history), and four Minnesotans are among the 100 finalists.
This year's Bake-Off finds competitors in three recipe divisions: Amazing Doable Dinners, Simple Sweets and Starters and Quick Rise and Shine Breakfasts.Recipes must have seven ingredients or less and require 30 minutes or less in preparation time.
There's plenty on the line: $1 million to the grand-prize winner. From there, the drop-off is steep: $10,000 for second place, along with $5,000 for third place and four $5,000 special award winners. (Doughboy image, above, courtesy of Pillsbury).
The four Minnesotans are:
Beverly Batty of Forest Lake, preparing On the Go Breakfast Cookies (which calls for Pillsbury refrigerated oatmeal raisin cookies and Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Coconut Pecan Frosting).
Vicki Mager of Bloomington, preparing Seeds and Chocolate Pastry Wedges (which features Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts).
Do you have a favorite Bake-Off recipe? Mine is Peanut Blossom cookies, from the 1957 Bake-Off.
Man alive, those Bravo editors can just be cruel sometimes. Having finally whittled the number of contestants down to one that the producers can actually juggle, this episode of Top Chef immediately gets to work sketching in some of the character beats that we’ve been sorely missing so far. Although we actually get to learn a lot (lovable Carlos gained the majority of his cooking skills working for free in kitchens after he crossed over from Mexico, Nina is besties with Travis and Bene, Sara has a cute boyfriend), what most sticks out about these scenes is just how much this show expertly avoids playing into audience expectations of how episodic narrative arcs for reality contestants should normally operate.
Of course the show can’t resist the nice obvious symmetry of Nina’s best bud, Bene, leaving the competition right as she’s on another major upswing, but if you’re invested in Sara’s journey the way most of you reading are, the pacing of this episode ends up being a real heartbreaker of denied gratification.
Initially, the time spent on Sara early on in this episode appears to be setting up a redemption arc. All the ingredients are there – she admits to the disappointment of falling to the middle of the pack in recent weeks, she admonishes herself for her “sh---y attitude, she gives us a boyfriend back at home as her primary method of motivation, and most importantly, even offers a manifesto of positivity to guide her through the week’s challenges. We expect a turnaround immediately. Instead, we get a Quickfire Challenge in which Sara’s dish doesn’t even warrant 5 seconds of screen time. It only gets worse from there.
The first challenge (make a dish using Creole tomatoes for guest judge Chef John Besh in 20 minutes) is actually a good one, as it’s entirely free of gimmick and gives the chefs one of their first real chances to show off their individual styles. Louis breaks free of his “file not found” status to impress with a tomato seed bouillon, while Carlos also makes an impact with his use of edible flowers. Ultimately, and rather unsurprisingly, it’s Nina who gets the win and immunity for her chilled watermelon soup, a dish that earns extra praise due to Nina’s ability to keep it cold on what appeared to be a very sweaty day. Resident quote generator Stephanie appears ready to self-flagellate after failing to woo John Besh with her too-simple tomato steaks. She says it best: “I made the worst impression on someone I think is a stud.” I think I’ll cry when Stephanie goes home.
Continuing with the Louisiana farm theme, this week’s actual elimination challenge is a complete and utter bomb, for a whole variety of reasons. Top Chef has never had a subtle relationship with product placement (Sara’s such a trooper for delivering that RAV4 name drop with only the slightest bit of self-loathing), but most of the time it doesn’t actually interfere with the integrity of the show. The same can’t be said for this week’s challenge, which requires each dish to prominently feature Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I actually gasped. There’s some talk about also using fresh ingredients from a Louisiana farm (and no butter whatsoever, although none of the chefs seem derailed by a twist that’s delivered as a bombshell), but other than that, this week’s challenge bares almost no relevance to New Orleans. Worse, we don’t even get to see the chefs complain about the awful challenge, as any comments about the inherent grossness of main component cream cheese would draw the ire of the financial backers. I don’t like it at all.
With only 90 minutes, there’s not much time for the contestants to prepare a family-style meal for eight of Besh’s executive chefs at La Provence. Time management is the main issue for almost everyone, hurting even those who eventually end up in the top. Sara’s hit especially hard, as her idea of stuffing lamb chops with an island-themed curry is hindered by the time it takes to get the filling out of uncooperative piping bags. With not enough time, the lamb is severely undercooked (“mine was not red, it was blue,” says Padma) and Tom’s face contorts at the thought of curry powder combining with cream cheese.
Sara thankfully doesn’t have her vegetables called “miserable” like Gail calls Travis’, nor is her food compared to cafeteria cuisine like Bene’s is by Tom, who seems personally affronted by t. Bene goes home, which seems about right, but not without dealing what appeals to be a fatal blow to Sara’s self esteem in the process.
Which brings me back to the question of Sara’s role in this contest, at least in the minds of the show’s producers. Despite some bouts of bossiness and a weird effort this week to make her look petty and resentful of Nina’s success (Nina wins for the fourth time, by the way), she’s not at all playing the role of the show’s villain, at least not yet. In fact, every down moment for Sara as of late has come with a humbling dose of mournful disappointment, which suggests that we're not meant to be rooting against her at this point. While Travis almost always gets defensive (he apparently wanted his meat to be cut raggedy, so says he), Sara is the first to point out her shortcomings, even referring to Gail as “ma’am” tonight. I can't tell what the narrative game plan is at this moment - especially with tonight's bait and switch - but I know it ultimately comes down to the dishes no matter what. With Nina and Justin quickly separating from the pack, Sara’s going to have to keep up the positive energy if she wants to reclaim her early glory.
Do you think Sara can rebound? Are you surprised Bravo viewers only rated John Besh's hair a 5 out of 10?
By MARCUS MICHALIK
For a short while, it looked like this season of Top Chef was setting itself up for an intense and long-simmering rivalry between the two New Orleans native sons, Justin and Michael. That didn’t happen. It didn’t even get close, really. While Justin broke away from the pack early on, thanks in part to his quietly determined and focused resolve, Michael just couldn’t stop talking without showing any real receipts.
I probably should have realized this back in episode one when he proudly assumed the role of New Orleans tour guide to helpfully explain to everyone else that they refer to neighborhoods as wards in NOLA (gee, thanks!), but I suppose that’s all moot after tonight’s episode, in which Michael gets sacked for his forgettable arancini (Sicilian-style fried rice balls). Michael had essentially turned himself into the human equivalent of picking at a scab, so I can’t say this is particularly a sad turn of events. What’s actually depressing, however, is just how unremarkable the rest of this episode was, made even worse by some less than stellar food outings for Minneapolis’ own Sara Johannes.
Before we get to the dud of a main challenge, I have to admit the Quickfire Challenge this week was pretty amusing, albeit very cluttered.Never a show to back away from its own history, Top Chef recreates the Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil challenge (sponsored by Reynolds Wrap!) from a few seasons ago, only this time with the added twist of Gail and Padma’s mothers picking out all the foil-covered ingredients and cookware for each of the two teams. This makes absolutely no sense, but our adorable judges have predictably adorable moms, so it’s probably best not to think too hard about it.
The challenge is mostly problem-free other than Carrie not having a whisk for her sabayon and Nina having to make due with using cherries, carrots and beans for her potpourri of a soup. Over on Team Simmons, Sara and Stephanie also appear to end up with all the bastard stepchild ingredients nobody else wanted (everything picked up by the moms had to be used) and end up serving lamb and fonduta with sharp cheddar and roasted mushrooms.
Padma’s mom gives Sara credit for not overcooking the lamb but later admits that the dish didn’t fully come together for her, which is probably to be expected when you’re dealing with both lamb and cheese at the same time. Team Lakshmi ends up winning and gets to split $10,000 among themselves. Considering there are, like, seven people on this team, I hope they all enjoy having enough extra cash to spring for airplane Wi-Fi on their flights home.
Despite this episode probably filming sometime during the middle of last summer, this week’s challenge is all about Halloween and is hosted by Top Chef superfan, Lea Michele of Glee fame, who graciously takes some time away from her day job as Anne Hathaway’s dark side. You really get a sense of how exhausting it must be to work as a caterer after hearing this challenge’s stipulations. Lea is normally a vegan (missed opportunity for Halloween sound effects at this reveal, based on the chefs’ reaction shots) but is willing to give herself a break to indulge in her passion for cheese for a change. From the way she talks about it, it’s safe to assume this girl loves cheese even more than she loves Barbra Streisand.
Lea also wants the food to have a scary theme, maybe touch upon her Italian ancestry, and of course be delivered in an easy finger-food package. At one point she actually says “I’m not a big sweets person, so make it spooky and fun and cheesy.” With this many random caveats, three chefs (including Sara) wind up taking the easy route with arancini, all of which get presented as if they’re eyeballs. Shirley makes noodles and claims they are worms. Surprisingly, nobody asks Tom Colicchio to close his eyes and stick his hand in a plastic cauldron full of peeled grapes.
In contestant personality updates, the always-hilarious Stephanie loves Glee like it’s 2009 or something and wonders if it would be creepy to ask Lea to hang out with her. Sara graciously serves as the obviously smitten Carlos’ wingman, effortlessly following up his “Do you like Mexican food?” question with “Do you like Mexican men?” Meanwhile Michael informs us that he once dressed up as a pregnant nun for Halloween and got laid because of it. That's quite enough of that.
That insanely creepy comment sets the tone for the rest of the episode. Nina gets stuck with Michael as her partner and the two instantly clash. Michael keeps communicating with Nina via pet names like “Boo Boo” and “Babycakes,” but she’s more pressed by what she sees as Michael taking the opportunity to coast off her talents. The episode sets them up to be in the bottom, where they are joined by canon fodder Brian and Bene, who serve two different vegan salads under the banner of “Spa Food.” Lea -- who’s actually a pretty smart judge for all the grief I’m giving her -- is not impressed, as both of their dishes get slammed for being boring and equating the vegan lifestyle with bland quinoa. Tom rightfully says to Bene that no one is going to win Top Chef making tomato salad. Still, Michael sucks and his arancini is both dry and doused with an overly sweet and heavy sauce. Nina is spared because of good gnocchi, but not before Michael accuses her of latching her star to his wagon in the Stew Room. Bye, Michael.
The judges like Nicholas’ butternut squash cannoli and Patty’s lemon arancini with smoked mozzarella, the fact that each went with an autumnal theme instead of a horror one seemingly irrelevant despite the challenge’s clear guidelines. Padma gets in some expert shade at Patty’s expense by asking her what it’s like “to be on this side of things,” just going to show that Patty has a little bit more atoning to do before she can land a win. Instead, half of that honor goes to Travis, another contestant badly in need of redemption. He and Carlos win for their Dia De Los Muertos-inspired vegetable ceviche and goat cheese fondue. There was liquid nitrogen involved. It was all very alluring and apparently tasty, too.
That leaves me a tad worried about Sara. It’s been a while since she’s been on the winning side of anything, and while her evil-eye arancini with Moroccan tomato chutney certainly wasn’t the judges’ least favorite dish of the night, I’m starting to think she really needs the confidence boost of a win in order to compete with the more obvious front-runners again. As this episode proves, fortunes can change back in just one challenge. Just ask Travis.
From 5 to 8 p.m. tonight (Oct. 28), there will be candy bars, carnival games and photos, as well as a chance to win the ultimate door prize: a VIP tour of the candy factory.
There also will be bite-size Halloween candy to buy for your own Oct. 31 event, with part of the proceeds from sales going to the Ronald McDonald House (with funds matched by Pearson).
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