Soon, the State Fair

If it's July, it's time to start thinking about your entries for the Minnesota State Fair. The Creative Activities premium book is available for download, or you can receive it by mail by calling 651-288-4417. Online registration will "absolutely" close at 4:30 p.m. Aug. 6. (Get the impression that some push the deadline?) By entering online, your entry tags and forms will be completed and ready for you when you deliver your articles. No entries are accepted without preregistration. Visit for more details.

Now for the news about the new stuff:

• In this year's Fleischmann's Yeast "Best Baking Contest," a special award will be given, at the fair's discretion, to one first-time contestant in the "dessert pizza" category.

• Bisquick joins the roster of corporate sponsors with the new Bisquick Family Favorites Recipe Contest, in which entrants should re-invent a recipe using the baking mix.

• Gold Medal Flour also is sponsoring a new contest, the Scratch Bakers Cookie Challenge, in which all sorts of cookies may be entered, as long as they're from scratch.

• Ghirardelli Chocolate is asking bakers for their best bite-sized desserts (cake pops, anyone?).

• As always, the Great American SPAM Championship offers the biggest prize: an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Hawaii, and a $2,000 prize to the top "Kid Chef."

Let the entering begin!

Whole Foods Maple Grove

The soon-to-open Whole Foods Market in Maple Grove is inviting the community to a family-style Neighborhood Brat Party from 4-8 p.m. July 10 in its parking lot at 12201 Elm Creek Blvd. (in the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes). The store, which officially opens July 17, will provide brats, corn, sides and drinks (vegetarian options also available). There's a $5 suggested donation (kids eat free) with all proceeds benefiting the 30-Days Foundation, which helps families dealing with unexpected financial setbacks. Live music, games and prizes round out the evening. In the event of rain, visit for updates.

That's a corker!

In the "whaddaya know?" department comes this odd tip, via a Greek blog, While writing about how to grill an octopus (first, hang it on a clothesline for a day), it mentioned that the challenge of making a tender, braised octopus is solved by adding a wine cork or two to the braising liquid. Apparently, enzymes in the cork help tenderize the tentacles, as well as other cuts of meat. Food icons such as Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich swear by the technique, but a little online Googling reveals a schism between believers and those who find this hilarious. Bottom line: No harm done. Just don't try to eat the cork. You're welcome.