Monday, April 30, 2012

Cafe Zupas Grand Opening in Farmington May 5

 Café Zupas will hold its grand opening celebration at the new Farmington location in Station Park shopping center on Saturday, May 5. In celebration and to thank the community for continued support, Café Zupas is offering free dessert with every meal, the opportunity to enter to win free Zupas for one year valued at $550, and a $25 gift card giveaway every 15 minutes. The first 50 guests in line will also receive a 50 percent discount on their meal.

Café Zupas at Station Park opens to the public on Tuesday, May 1 with special offers beginning on Thursday and continuing into Saturday’s grand opening celebration.
Established in 2004 in Provo, Utah, Café Zupas has since grown to 11 restaurants in Utah and one in Arizona. Winning 13 Best-of-State awards, Zupas’ food, service, and company mission has been recognized and celebrated over six consecutive years. Zupas specializes in gourmet soups, salads, and sandwiches using an eclectic mix of fresh and exotic ingredients in a casual setting.

For more information about Café Zupas, visit or join the conversation on

Friday, April 27, 2012

BIGGEST LOSER: Deni Hill Attending Tuesday's Finale

Deni Hill with Season 12 at home-winner Jennifer Rumple.
Deni Hill, the Season 11 at-home winner of "The Biggest Loser" will be attending this season's finale on Tuesday night.
  I hope that this time, there viewers will get a chance to see Deni and other fan favorites from past seasons who will be in the audience. She also attended last season's finale but was never introduced during the show.
But seeing some of those great past contestants will only underscore how disappointing this season has been. The show's usual inspiration was drowned out by bullying and backstabbing.
Maybe there were a lot more moments of kindness and camaraderie, but for some reason the show's editors chose to air more of the controversy.... and Conda. Viewers have complained loudly about her antics. Yet, players on the show have stuck up for her. Chris Pickler has commented, "I like Conda!" on Facebook's I Like Conda Britt Fan Page. Megan asked her to be a bridesmaid at her upcoming wedding. Interestingly, Conda voted both of them off the show!  Are these people crazy, super-forgiving, or did viewers see the real Conda?

Back to Deni Hill. She's had a busy year since winning her $100,000 prize money. She's been visible in the Utah community, giving motivational speeches, and running in local 5Ks, 10Ks, and so on.  She was the keynote speaker at the American Heart Association, Utah Chapter's "Go Red For Women" luncheon, and this year's recipient of the American Heart Association Gold Heart Award.
She has been busy helping others lose weight in a program called Sponsor Me Slim. You can find out more about it here,

    • Deni Hill of "The Biggest Loser" and I did a 5K walk together last summer. (She didn't even break a sweat the whole time!)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Baked Sweet Potatoes At Wendy's

Sweet potatoes have definitely gone mainstream. They used to be more of a Southern thing, except for their annual Thankgiving appearance with melted marshmallows on top.
But now they're one of the latest side dishes at the fast food giant Wendy's 6,000-plus restaurants. 
Sweet potatoes got a boost during the low-carb fad, when dieters learned that these orange tubers are lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. And, they contain lots of beta-carotene as well. Some steakhouses (such as the Texas Roadhouse chain) serve baked sweet potatoes along with the usual baked russet potatoes. 
A few years ago, sweet potato fries caught on in Utah. They showed up on menus as far-ranging as Arctic Circle, the MacCool's pubs, Crown Burger, Blue Lemon, The Bayou, and Gracie's. But, the low-carb "healthy halo" doesn't quite cancel out the fat and calories of deep-drying. 
Enter Wendy's new Baked Sweet Potatoes side dish. Yes, they're a baked potato, not cut in strips like  fries. But if you want a healthier option at a fast food restaurant, this is probably it. A buttery cinnamon spread is served on the side, so you can add just a little or a lot, or none at all. 
Wendy's  two other new "signature" side dishes aren't as health conscious — macaroni & cheese and chili cheese fries. 
The recommended price for each of these sides is $2.49 each. The macaroni and cheese and baked sweet potatoes will be available for a limited time, but the chili cheese fries are a permanent menu addition, according to quick-service chain.
Wendy's said its sweet potatoes are U.S.-grown. That's good news for American farmers. North Carolina is the leading state in sweet potato production, followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Rooster's and Beehive Cheese host Birds and Bees Event

Beehive Cheese Company, Union Grill and Roosters Brewing Company and Restaurant will unite for the sixth annual Union of the Birds and Bees, a signature tasting event. The Union of the Birds and Bees will take place May 12 from 5:30 to 9 p.m. at Ogden’s Historic Union Station. New this year, the event beneficiary is the Union Station Foundation.
“Roosters along with our friends at Beehive Cheese are making this year’s Union of the Birds and Bees our largest celebration to date. The best part, it benefits a deserving organization that educates and celebrates our community’s history and culture - the Union Station Foundation,” said Kym Buttschardt, owner of Roosters Brewing Company and Restaurant.
Beehive Cheesemaker Tim Welsh, Roosters Brewmaster Steve Kirkland and Roosters Chef and Owner Pete Buttschardt will collaborate to offer culinary delights prepared with award-winning Beehive Cheese. Roosters’ will serve a selection of their finest brews. 
The Celtic rockers Pladdohg will fill Historic Union Station’s Grand Lobby with music for the ultimate vibe.
The Union of the Birds and Bees menu includes:
    Sliced beef medallions served on a fluffy bed of Beehive Promontory mashed potatoes, topped with a dollop of Pepperlane preserves
    Raclette of melted Beehive Promontory with Rosemary over roasted potatoes – an annual favorite
    Mini carne asada tacos with Beehive Smoked Habanero and fresh pico de gallo
    Smoked St. Louis ribs prepared with a Barely Buzzed-inspired rub of espresso and lavender served with a killer sidecar of Beehive Habanero mac-n-cheese
    Caprese-style salad of tomatoes, basil, Beehive Fresh and fresh green beans for good measure
    Lamb meatballs topped with caramelized onions prepared with Roosters Honey Wheat brew and a sidecar of farfalle and Beehive Aggiano
    Wide selection of Beehive cheeses served with a cone of shaved Creminelli charcuterie
    Beehive cheesy polenta with southwestern roasted vegetable salsa
    Utahan poutine  - Golden french fries topped with fresh Beehive Cheese Curds, smothered in Diamondback Ale gravy
    Delicious assortment of Union Grill desserts
“We invite everyone to attend this unforgettable evening and support a cause that is an historic landmark,” said Buttschardt.  For our Salt Lake and Davis County guests remember the Front Runner train is an excellent option and allows almost front door service to Historic Union Station.”
Tickets are $50 per person and are available online at Tickets may also be purchased on site at Beehive Cheese Creamery, Roosters Ogden and Layton locations or at Union Grill. Guests will receive a commemorative glass to mark the occasion.  
The Union Station Foundation is the beneficiary of the 2012 Union of the Birds and Bees event. The Union Station Foundation celebrates our community’s history, memory and culture through the preservation of the historic train depot. Ogden Union Station is home to the Utah State Railroad Museum, Spencer S. Eccles Rail Center, the John M. Browning Firearms Museum and the Browning-Kimball Classic Car Museum. Through the museums, the Foundation seeks to educate the public about the significant role that Ogden played as the junction of the railroads and the expansion of America.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Biggest Loser Season 13 Finale Predictions

Three of the most disliked "Biggest Loser" contestants ended up as finalists for the $250,000 prize, even after the other players had a chance to come back and vie for one spot at the finale.  I realize that Conda, Jeremy and Kim have fans out there (unless all those people cheering at their homecoming party were actors). But there are thousands of negative comments on message boards, Facebook pages, blogs, etc. The majority of the complaints are directed at Conda Britt, but Kim and Jeremy were part of her alliance.

Mark and Buddy, two other members of that alliance, packed up their toys and went home because they didn't like the twist that let all the other contestants to come back.  I wonder if Buddy now regrets all his talk about owning himself, and that he's not a quitter even if he did quit "The Biggest Loser." He could have won the prize money. Yes, it's got to be hard feeling like you're simply a pawn in the producer's chess game. But, as the lawyer pointed out, that's what they signed up for.

Just as I started thinking maybe Conda isn't so bad, she threw a tantrum during last week's weigh-in when brother Jeremy was knocked out as a finalist. She blurted out that Kim didn't "deserve" to be in the finals -- after Kim lost 15 pounds to Jeremy's 10.  Really?

But she didn't need to worry, as Jeremy beat out all the former contestants in a series of challenges to earn that third spot at the finale. I predict he will be the winner. Kim can't lose much more before she's nothing but skin and bones. Conda got where she's at by bullying, backstabbing and bossing, and I don't think she has the determination to work hard enough to best Jeremy. Will Jeremy hand over the prize to her, as he did when he won past challenges?

Jeremy by himself seems like a nice enough guy, with a wry sense of humor. Kim has shown that she has a lot of competitive drive. But both of them were part of Conda's clique.  Kim joined in with Conda in ostracizing Adrian and his sister Daphne when they rejoined the show. And when Conda said "Jump," Jeremy said "How high?"

Next week is the finale, and then we can bid farewell to the show's most controversial season ever. There seemed to be a lot of bad feelings going on among the contestants. You don't find that much eye-rolling even in an optometrist's office.

Thirteen has definitely been an unlucky number as far as this season goes. I hope producers will take note and try for a kinder, gentler group of contestants, and make those twists and turns less twisted.

Sweet Tooth Fairy Wins Food Network's "Cupcake Wars"

Victory is sweet, especially when there's frosting on top. Just ask Megan Faulkner Brown, founder of Sweet Tooth Fairy bake shops, fresh from winning the Food Network's "Cupcake Wars." In a recent  episode called "Rock of Ages," she and her lead baker, Hilary Cavanaugh, bested the other competing bakers to take home the $10,000 grand prize.
The episode, called "Rock of Ages," aired last week, and again on April 21. (Check for the next air date.) 
 "It was a lot of work, but well worth it," said Brown in a telephone interview.
The American Fork-based company will  have its winning cupcake creations featured at the cast party following the Los Angeles premiere of the "Rock of Ages" national tour. Here is Utah, the winning cupcake flavors will be sold at the Sweet Tooth Fairy stores through the end of May.
Brown calls herself "home schooled," because she never had any professional culinary training. She learned how to bake from her mother, Emelyn Faulkner, as well as her grandmother, Emelyn Castleton.
"I used to bake for fun in my basement kitchen in my home," she said.
In 2009, she opened her first store in Provo. Now she has ten stores from Scottsdale, Ariz. to Layton. Another store is planned for Southlake, Texas.
"I have built a really incredible team," she said. "I've surrounded myself with people a lot smarter than I am, who have the skill sets that I don't."
Customers often suggested that she audition for "Cupcake Wars," but Brown was wary.
"It looked so intense, and I am not a competitive person," she said. "But after so many customers prodded us, we thought, what the heck, why not?"
She did an initial interview and was then asked to send in an audition video. When she was called with news that she was going to be competing, she was ecstatic. The only problem was, she couldn't share the news with anyone except for Hilary Cavanaugh, who would be assisting her during the competition. And while the competition actually took place in March, they had to keep their win a secret until the episode aired.
"I don't like to keep secrets, so it was really hard not to tell anyone," Brown said.
In the initial round, contestants had to create a cupcake from a table of ingredients that rock stars might request for their dressing rooms before a show. The Sweet Tooth Fairy team came up with a Cranberry Wine and Brie Cheesecake cupcake made with dark chocolate, cranberry juice, red wine, brie and cashews.
"The table included a lot of other items like pizza, potato chips, and gummy bears," she said. "I chose the wine and and cheese because I know they pair well together naturally." 
She made a cheesecake with cream cheese and the brie, and a garnish of cashew and cranberry brittle.
Other cupcakes they made during the contest were Sweet Potato Pie, Crème Brulee and Nutella Crepe.
"The most challenging this is working against the clock," she said.
Did she have a feeling they would come out on top?
"I felt it could have gone either way in the final round, but we had done the best we could," Brown said. "Anyone can win, it's just who makes the least amount of mistakes."
She said the $10,000 prize money will be put "right back into the business.Our goal is to build a lasting brand and become a household name, and take it nationally. This takes us one step closer to let people know about our brand and who we are."
The winning Cranberry Wine and Brie Cheesecake and Sweet Potato Pie  cupcakes will be featured in Sweet Tooth Fairy stores throughout April, and the Creme Brulee and Nutella Crepe treats will debuting in May. Brown will also be visiting different Sweet Tooth Fairy locations where customers can meet her. Her schedule is posted on The Sweet Tooth Fairy Facebook page.
As part of The Sweet Tooth Fairy's "Bake a Difference" initiative, 25 cents from the sale of each cupcake will be donated to the Safe to Talk Foundation, an organization dedicated to help stop bullying. The money will fund an anonymous texting tip line in schools, so that students can report dangerous behavior.
"It may sound cheesey, but I feel gratitude for the good grace and kindnesses of other people," she said. "So much of who I am today is due to other people. I have four young kids, and you hear so much about tragedies with kids taking their own lives from bullying.  It's so awful and so preventable. I thought the school tip line is the most simple concept and so easy. If kids can anonymously text and say when someone is talking about suicide, they can really help their classmates."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Chef Jeff Henderson: From Prison to the Food Network

Chef Jeff Henderson with Valerie Phillips

ORLANDO--It's a long road from prison for dealing drugs, to a cooking show on the Food Network. Chef Jeff Henderson did it the hard way, and he credits the "power of food," with helping to turn his life around.  He shared some of his experiences and his cooking expertise during a media seminar at the Pillsbury Bake-off in Orlando. 
Chef Jeff Henderson's cooking demo.
"My life is built on second chances," he told his audience of food writers. "I grew up in poverty in Los Angeles.  My father left when I was young, I got involved with the wrong crowd, and I ended up serving nearly ten years in prison. That's where I found redemption."
That's where he read his first book and earned a high school diploma. When he got put on "pots and pans" duty, he discovered a passion for cooking.
When he got out of prison, he started at the bottom, learning from chefs along the way. He worked his way up to become the first African-American chef de cuisine at Caesar's Palace,  and later executive chef of Café Bellagio, both in Las Vegas.
He wrote about his experiences in an autobiography, "Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, from Cocaine to Foie Gras."
He was invited to talk about his book on "Oprah" — "And you know what happens when someone goes on Oprah," he added.  Right after the show, he received two phone calls. One was from film star Will Smith, with an offer to buy the rights to turn Henderson's story into a motion picture.
The other call was from the Food Network.
On the Food Network's "The Chef Jeff Project," Henderson takes six at-risk people to work in his catering company, teach them cooking and life skills, "to allow them to go out and compete and pursue the American dream," he said.
The foreword in his new cookbook, "Chef Jeff Cooks," Henderson names and thanks the many chefs he worked under, "who gave me the skills and the opportunity to fed my family. I will never forget the impact you have had on my life."
 With Henderson's upbeat personality, the father of four was the perfect representative for General Electric, which is focusing more of its marketing strategy on male cooks these days. Henderson showed how to cook pan-roasted New York strip steak and barbecued shrimp scampi on General Electric's new Café appliance line.
Julie Meunnich, GE product manager, said more men are getting into the kitchen because of the role models such as Henderson on the Food Network and other popular TV cooking shows. Also, the economy brought layoffs in construction and financial jobs traditionally occupied by men. The female became the main breadwinner in some households, "and the male is at home doing the cooking."
A recent General Electric  ad was obviously geared toward men, using terms such as  "turbo-charged," and "culinary power house."
General Electric is also focusing on the "aspirer" cook who wants to be a great cook, and wants to buy the latest in appliances to help them accomplish it.
As expected, there are more bells and whistles in GE's appliances, such as a 20,000 BTU tri-ring burner (offering three rings of flame), double ovens, and a refrigerator that dispenses both hot and cold water.
I could be wrong, but for some reason I can't see an out-of work guy complaining to his wife that he needs a new fancy oven. But I do think there are a lot of  "aspirers" people out there who have fun improving their cooking skills, and would enjoy using some of the snazzy new features.
In addition to "aspirers," GE identified three other consumer types:
- the "laborer," who cooks but doesn't enjoy it and just wants their appliances to be reliable
- the  "reluctant," person who doesn't enjoy cooking and considers their kitchen appliances as pieces of furniture
- the "enthusiast," who loves cooking and already had the skills and abilities to do it.
Here's the recipe Barbecued Shrimp Scampi that Henderson cooked for us, from his cookbook,  "Chef Jeff Cooks:"
6-8 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 jumbo shrimp
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons finely minced garlic
1/4 cup white wine (or chicken stock)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup diced and seeded tomatoes
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/4 cup Smoked Molasses Barbecue Sauce (see recipe below)
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shrimp, onion and garlic and sauté for 3-4 minutes. The shrimp will begin to plump up a bit.
Add the wine or stock, lemon zest and juice, and 4 tablespoons more butter. Reduce the heat and gently sauté the shrimp until the sauce thickens. If the sauce is too thin, add 1-2 tablespoons more butter.
Add the tomatoes and parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the barbecue sauce and toss well. To serve, remove the shrimp from the pan with a fork, place on plates, and drizzle the sauce over the shrimp with a spoon.
* * *
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/3 cups ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 cup, packed, dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup molasses
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, 6-8 minutes.  
Add the ketchup, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke and brown sugar. Stir until fully incorporated and bring to a simmer. Add the Tabasco and molasses. Simmer 25-30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The barbecue sauce should be medium thick. 
Let the sauce cool about 1 hour. Then pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The rumors must be correct that "The Biggest Loser" contestants staged some sort of walk-off and threatened to quit. From what we saw on last night's previews, it looks like the situation will be aired as an episode of the show next week. Let's hope Conda Britt is one of the contestants who quits. But by the way things have happened so far this season, I suspect she will rile up everyone else to walk out, but then stick around for that spot in the Final Four. My guess is that Mark will be one of those to leave. When his son Chism was sent home, he immediately demanded to go home in his place, as if the rules should be changed simply because he wanted them to be. Also, Mark's main goal was to help his Chism, and that's a moot point now.

If anyone SHOULDN'T throw in the towel, it should be Buddy.  He has a very good chance to win the $250,000, if he doesn't let Conda and Jeremy mess with his head.
Back in February TMZ reported that the remaining Season 13 competitors were upset when they found out that producers planned a new twist to allow eliminated players back in the game to compete again for the $250,000 prize.
  These kinds of twists aren't so surprising.  Last year, Ramon was eliminated but because he won the marathon, he was in the Final Four.  And in years past, eliminated contestants have come back to compete in a challenge or weigh-in that would allow one person to stay. But, it hasn't happened so close to the finish.  And imagine how Conda would feel about facing  people like Emily or Cassie, who now realize that she back-stabbed them? None of the remaining folks would relish another round with Daphne or Adrian after the nasty way they ousted them. 
But I can see why producers would be tempted to introduce such a plot twist. The show has become un-watchable because there's nobody left to cheer for. 
Fans have been pretty vocal about their dislike of Conda Britt, who has bullied, backstabbed and bossed her way through the season. And instead of trying to put a stop to it, the other players have been sucked in. Buddy and Conda's brother, Jeremy, seem like nice enough guys on their own, and even Mark has his good moments. Kim is getting some sympathy now that it's obvious she's the odd person out, especially after Chris was eliminated last night. But it's one of those guilt-by-association things. They've all let Conda dictate the game, instead of asking her to tone herself down.  It's amazing that even after she voted Megan off the show, Megan has asked her to be a bridesmaid at her wedding! Are the viewers missing something here? Because even after trainer Bob Harper gushed about how Conda has changed, I still fail to see any redeeming qualities from the footage that's being aired. 
I was saddened that Chris's emotional turmoil led her to binge, and thus to her elimination last night. Although she's had her issues (and melt-downs) over the season, I felt that she played with integrity. She didn't succumb to Conda's plot when the others  on the black team gained weight in an effort to oust Daphne. And when she left, it was with grace and dignity.

This season started out with a crazy plot twist. Most of the competitors were cast for Season 13 along with a relative, and probably assumed they would compete as partners. But the relatives were divided into opposite teams.  It seems that the tension just escalated from there. Maybe 13 really is an unlucky number, or maybe the producers got more than what they bargained for this season. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pillsbury Bake-Off: My Experience Part 2

The million-dollar winning recipe, Pumpkin Ravioli. It looks a lot better on the  official Bake-Off website.
One nice thing about having a blog is that you won't get fired if you turn in a late story.  I came back from the Pillsbury Bake-Off on March 27, but I've been really busy with a few other things, such as cookbook photos to finish up, newspaper deadlines, a daughter getting married next month, a daughter-in-law having a baby, and  my dad in the hospital. 

So, a lot of my report for the Bake-Off has already been published in the Deseret News.  The grand-prize winner was Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream. It consists of a creamy pumpkin filling baked between two squares of crescent dough, and topped with cinnamon-sugar, nuts and caramel-swirled whipped cream.  As usual, I wasn't able to predict the which of the 100 finalists would win.  
Yes, it tasted good, but it's pretty hard to think of any recipe being worth a million dollars. 
Million-dollar prize winner Christina Verrelli with Martha Stewart at a press conference following the show.
One of the judges,  food reporter Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune, said the four category winners were all very close in scoring. But what put the pumpkin dish over the top was, "we felt not only was it delicious, but it special and unique. It's the perfect combination of prepared ingredients with that little homemade touch."
He said the judges discussed the seasonality of pumpkin, "But you could put just about anything in the filling, so it could be a wonderful dessert for Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July."
The judges — 12 food experts ranging from writers to an industry executive — evaluated entries on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal.
The lucky winner was Christina Verrelli of Devon, Pennsylvania. 

Cameron Bailey is interviewed by Sarah Carey of  Everyday Food.
Utah's two contestants didn't win, but Cameron Bailey's last-minute dash to the finish line at the Pillsbury Bake-Off March 26 was shown on the Hallmark Channel's "Martha Stewart Show." The Salt Lake man was the last of the 100 finalists to turn in his Bake-Off entry to the judges at 11:59, just one minute shy of the noon deadline. Later when I watched the tape of the show at home, I could see myself in the background standing next to Bailey's runner, waiting anxiously for him to finish his second batch of Bacon-Chicken Sliders with Raspberry-Onion Spread.
"Everyone likes a little drama at the end," he calmly quipped a few minutes later.
The 100 Bake-Off finalists prepared their recipes at 100 mini-kitchens at the Peabody Hotel in Orlando. 
We're waiting in the audience for Martha's show to begin.
They were in the audience (and so was I! as Martha Stewart announced the winners March 27.
Stewart's first time hosting the Bake-Off. When asked what surprised her about the event, she said, "I thought people would be more nervous." 
Indeed. Even Bailey remained calm in the face of problems. Early on, he discovered the GE glass-top electric range was taking a lot longer to brown his biscuits and reduce the chicken stock needed for his onion spread. Then while slicing the biscuits, he cut his finger. Precious minutes ticked by as he waited for the doctor to come, examine and treat the wound, and clear him to start cooking again.
"Those four hours flew by," he said. "I didn't realize I was that close to the deadline."
Utah's Elizabeth DeHart with her fabulous falafel sandwiches.
In comparison, the Bake-Off was smooth sailing for Elizabeth DeHart of West Jordan, who prepared her Falafel Sandwiches with Fire-Roasted Tomato Aioli three times: once for photographs, once for the judges and once to give out as samples for the media and supermarket executives who were allowed to observe on the Bake-Off floor. Several who nibbled on DeHart's sandwiches commented on the great flavor combination and its healthfulness. But only people from Utah caught her meaning when she joked, "It's your bean patty with fry sauce."
The judges — 12 food experts ranging from writers to an industry executive — evaluated entries on taste, appearance, creativity and consumer appeal.
Kelsey Nixon of "Kelsey's Essentials" and her husband Robby Egan, sample some of the Bake-Off recipes. 
Christina Verrelli, grand prize winner.

In a press conference following the announcement, the teary-eyed winner said she tried the "ravioli" concept using raspberry, strawberry and other flavors first.  "The idea of pumpkin came to me, and the nuts added a nice little texture in there."
 The fact that Verelli used several sponsor ingredients didn't hurt: Land O Lakes butter and eggs, McCormick vanilla extract, Pillsbury flour, McCormick pumpkin pie spice, Fisher chopped pecans, Pillsbury crescent dough, Hershey's caramel syrup, and McCormick's cinnamon sugar. 
 Verrelli, 43, said that she and her husband had some lean times with downturn in the economy, and her million-dollar windfall will be used to help them finance their new business, a club called Brownies 23 East.  She was also a finalist in the 2010 Bake-Off.
"That contest introduced me to a whole subculture of people who enter cooking contests," said Verrelli, who has since entered many local competitions. "I have only won with savory dishes so it was a nice surprise I didn't have a jinx on sweets."
Judges had to choose the grand prize from the four category winners, who each received $5,000 plus $3,000 in GE appliances. In the Breakfast & Brunches category, Maria Vasseur of Valencia, Calif., won for her Sausage-Pomodoro Brunch Bake.
The Dinner Made Easy category winner was Donna Wolfe of Hamilton, N.J. for Chicken Empanada Cones. The Entertaining Appetizers category was won by Terri Sherman of Palos Heights, Ill., for Asparagus, Artichoke and Red Pepper Pizza.  Verelli won in the Sweet Treats category.
Verelli wasn't the only contestant who picked up on the salted caramel trend.  Other entries included Salted Caramel Macaroons and Vanilla Malt Toffee Triangles with Sea Salt.
With Smuckers as a sponsor, many entries had savory dishes with sweet fruity notes, such as Sweet and Spicy Shrimp Cups spiked with Asian chili sauce and orange marmalade, Biscuit Corn Cakes with Goat Cheese and Blackberry Thyme Sauce, Cherry Jalapeno Cream Cheese Tartlets.
Finalists also got creative with another sponsor product, Jif peanut butter.  There were Indonesian Chicken Turnovers with Spicy Peanut Sauce (which won the $5,000 Crisco Is Cooking Award), Thai Chicken Subs, Peanut Butter Boston Cream Cake, and the Jif $5,000 winner, Chewy Peanut Butter Caramel Bars.
Julie McIntire of Independence, Mo., won $5,000 in GE appliances for her Salmon Crescent Sushi Rolls, and Brett Youmans of Reading, Pa. . won the $5,000 Eagle Brand award for Orange Cream-Macadamia Torte.
Each finalist won a trip to the contest, a GE microwave oven and $125.

Pumpkin Ravioli with Salted Caramel Whipped Cream
4 tablespoons Land O Lakes butter, melted
2 3-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 Land O Lakes egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon McCormick vanilla extract
1/4 cup sugar
5 tablespoons Pillsbury all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon McCormick pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup Fisher Chef’s Naturals chopped pecans, finely chopped
2 cans Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations refrigerated seamless dough sheet
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons Hershey’s caramel syrup
4 tablespoons McCormick Cinnamon Sugar
1. Heat oven to 375°F. Brush 2 large cookie sheets with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. In large bowl, beat cream cheese and pumpkin with electric mixer on medium speed about 1 minute or until smooth. Add egg yolk, vanilla, sugar, 3 tablespoons of the flour and pumpkin pie spice; beat on low speed until blended. Reserve 4 teaspoons of the pecans; set aside. Stir remaining pecans into pumpkin mixture.
2. Lightly sprinkle work surface with 1 tablespoon of the flour. Unroll 1 can of dough on floured surface with 1 short side facing you. Press dough into 14-by-12-inch rectangle. With paring knife, lightly score the dough in half horizontally. Lightly score bottom half of dough into 12 squares (3-by-2 1/4-inch each).
Spoon heaping tablespoon of the pumpkin filling onto center of each square. Gently lift and position unscored half of dough over filling. Starting at the top folded edge, press handle of wooden spoon firmly between mounds and along edges of pumpkin filling to seal. Using toothpick, poke small hole in top of each ravioli. Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut between each ravioli; place 1 inch apart on cookie sheets. Repeat with remaining 1 tablespoon flour, dough sheet and filling. Brush ravioli with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter.
3. Bake 9 to 14 minutes or until golden brown.
4. Meanwhile, in medium bowl, beat whipping cream and salt with electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Beat in 2 tablespoons of the caramel syrup until stiff peaks form. Transfer to serving bowl; cover and refrigerate.
5. Remove ravioli from oven. Sprinkle ravioli with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar; turn. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon sugar.
6. To serve, place 2 ravioli on each of 12 dessert plates. Drizzle each serving with scant teaspoon of the caramel syrup; sprinkle with reserved chopped pecans. With spoon, swirl remaining 1 tablespoon caramel syrup into bowl of whipped cream. Serve warm ravioli with whipped cream.
— Christina Verrelli, Grand-Prize Winner
45th Pillsbury Bake-Off

Sausage-Pomodoro Brunch Bake
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
1 12-ounce package bulk reduced-fat pork breakfast sausage
1/3 cup refrigerated basil pesto
can Pillsbury refrigerated crescent dinner rolls
1 14.5-ounce can Muir Glen organic diced tomatoes, drained
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 ounces)
Land O Lakes Eggs
tablespoons milk
tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
Heat oven to 375°F. In 10-inch nonstick skillet, cook sausage 6 to 8 minutes over medium heat or until no longer pink, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Stir in pesto. Set aside to cool.
Unroll crescent dough into 13x9-inch glass baking dish. Press dough in bottom
and 1/2 inch up sides. Press perforations to seal.
Spoon sausage into dough-lined  lined dish. Sprinkle tomatoes and feta cheese
over sausage. Top with mozzarella cheese.In medium bowl, beat eggs and milk with wire whisk until well blended. Pour egg mixture evenly over ingredients in dish.
Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until dough is golden brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil. Makes 8 servings.
— Maria Vasseur, Category Winner
45th Pillsbury Bake-off

Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
1/3 cup water
teaspoons golden raisins
tablespoons Land O Lakes Butter
teaspoons agave sweetener or honey
1/3 cup fresh cilantro
3/4 cup chopped onions
tablespoon Pillsbury unbleached flour
1 18.5-ounce can Progresso World Recipes frijoles negros y jalapeño soup, drained, reserving liquid
cups diced cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/2 cup chopped roasted red bell peppers (from a jar)
1/2 teaspoon McCormick garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon McCormick ground cumin
teaspoon red pepper sauce
tablespoons cornmeal
box Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on box
cup salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
In 1-cup microwavable measuring cup, microwave water on high 1 minute. Add raisins; set aside. In small microwavable bowl, microwave 1 tablespoon of the butter on High 10 to 20 seconds or until melted. Stir in agave sweetener; set aside. Chop enough cilantro to measure 1 tablespoon; set aside.
In 10-inch skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Add onions; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently or until onions are softened. Sprinkle with flour; cook and stir 3 minutes. Stir in reserved liquid from can of frijoles negros. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the frijoles negros, chicken, corn, roasted peppers, 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro, garlic salt, cumin and pepper sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently or until most of the liquid is absorbed. Drain raisins; chop raisins and stir into chicken mixture. Cool slightly.
Heat oven to 450°F. Line 2 large cookie sheets with cooking parchment paper or spray with Crisco c ooking spray. Sprinkle cookie sheets with cornmeal. Unroll pie crusts. Roll each into 13-inch round; cut each round into quarters. To make each empanada, place piece of pie crust on cookie sheet, pressing into cornmeal. Brush center with agave mixture. Spoon rounded 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture in center. Bring long sides of dough together, forming a cone shape. Press to seal, leaving rounded end open. Repeat with remaining pie crust, agave mixture and chicken mixture.
Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until golden brown. Serve empanadas with salsa, sour cream and remaining cilantro. Makes 8 servings.
— Donna Wolfe, Category Winner
45th Pillsbury Bake-off

Asparagus, Artichoke and Red Pepper Pizza
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
ounces fresh asparagus spears, trimmed
large red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch strips
tablespoon Crisco 100% extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon McCormick sea salt
1/4 cup Progresso panko bread crumbs
can Pillsbury refrigerated classic pizza crust
tablespoons whipped cream cheese spread
to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
jar 12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, chopped
3/4 cup shredded Swiss cheese (3 ounces)
3/4 cup shredded Gruyère cheese (3 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon McCormick garlic powder
Heat oven to 400°F. Place asparagus and red pepper in ungreased 13x9-inch pan; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt.
Bake vegetables 12 to 16 minutes or until crisp-tender, turning once halfway through baking. Cool 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spray cookie sheet with Crisco® Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Sprinkle with bread crumbs. Unroll pizza crust dough onto crumb-coated sheet; press into 15x10-inch rectangle. Flute edges of dough.
Bake 12 to 16 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Cool 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, cut asparagus and red pepper into 1/2-inch pieces. Spread cream cheese onto warm crust; sprinkle with lemon peel. Arrange half of the artichokes, asparagus and red pepper over cream cheese; sprinkle with half of the Swiss and Gruyère cheeses. Repeat with remaining vegetables and cheeses.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until edges are golden brown and cheese is melted. Remove from oven; sprinkle with garlic powder. Makes: 24 appetizers.
—Terri Sherman, Category Winner
45th Pillsbury Bake-Off