General Mills seeks local flavor

General Mills Foodservice has announced the return of its Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest, which honors an independent family or "neighborhood" restaurant for specialty dishes that reflect local flavor. The contest is open to food-service operators, chefs and line cooks who develop and prepare recipes for menu items served at independent, commercial restaurants. An original recipe must use at least one ingredient from General Mills' list of eligible products. The grand prize recipe winner will receive $40,000 as well as a $10,000 donation to a local charity. In June, three finalists are brought to General Mills' headquarters in Minneapolis — easy for locals, right? — where they'll be feted and honored and get to meet chef Amanda Freitag of Food Network's "Chopped" and "American Diner Revival," who returns for a second year as official host of the contest. The recipe entry deadline is Feb. 29. Official rules are at

Maple having a moment

Cookbooks sometimes come in trends. Right now, maple syrup appears to be having its moment. One new book actually updates a well-respected older one. "Maple Syrup Cookbook" by Ken Haedrich (Storey, $14.95), whose website is, first covered maple syrup in 1989. This new edition includes more than 100 recipes as well as more info on maple history, sugaring tips and profiles of farmers. Another is "Maple," by Katie Weber (Quirk, $22.95), which sorts some recipes into vegan and gluten-free options, along with other inventive uses for maple syrup, such as pizza dough. Or perhaps they're on the coattails of Minnesota author Teresa Marrone's 2013 book, "Modern Maple" (Northern Plate, $16.95), which explores sweet and savory uses from Ojibwe and Dakota cultures through modern uses such as on grilled radicchio. With 75 recipes and a tutorial on backyard syruping, Marrone's book is a keeper.

Vegans ask, 'Why not?'

The worldwide "Veganuary" campaign is returning for a second year, aiming to persuade people to give the vegan lifestyle a try during January. Vegans abstain from using animal products, particularly in diet. This can mean avoiding meat, but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances. Some vegans oppose the use of animals for any purpose, such as leather for clothing, on the premise that treating animals as commodities harms the environment. From last year's experience, the organizers say that seven in 10 participants "felt an improvement in their health in just one month," and slightly more than half said they now would remain vegans. Best of all, organizers claim, the lives of about 1.6 million animals were saved. To learn about vegan recipes and more, visit

Get your figgy pudding

The song may be familiar but the food generally is not! That would be the figgy pudding, requested in a stanza of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Find it at Surdyk's Cheese Shop (303 E. Hennepin Av., Mpls., 612-379-9757) throughout the holiday season. It's made from butter, sugar, eggs and flour, with dried fruits soaked in brandy and rum, and steamed in traditional pudding molds. Pick one up for $35 (serves 10 to 12); served with optional hard sauce ($8.99/pint).