Thanksgiving & The Martha Stewart Show

Our family had a nice Thanksgiving. We drove to the Chicago area and saw many members of my large extended family.

My Aunt Sue and Uncle Mike host Thanksgiving at their home in Crystal Lake every year. This year there was not only the traditional children's table (the "children" now being in their 20s and 30s), but also a table for six grandchildren! Extra special guests included my cousin, Sarah, who flew in from Dublin, as well as cousin Garrett and his family, who came from Charleston. The menu is generally the traditional turkey with all the fixings, but every year there seems to be something different to try. This time Garrett and Elizabeth fixed an oyster pie, which is a traditional dish from Elizabeth's family. It was tasty!

Then it was on to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, to see my mom's side of the family, including my 92-year-old Grandma, who is as sharp as ever. After Thursday's feast, we ate pretty simply, but I did get a chance to try the winning recipe from the Southern Living Cook-off. My Grandma and Aunt Cathy made the Sweet Potato Cinnamon Rolls a few weeks ago and froze them. They were very good -- tender and sweet, without a strong taste of sweet potatoes. In Lake Geneva, I caught up with some of my cousins, including Erin, who is by all accounts a fabulous baker. She's starting to throw her hat into the contesting ring, so my fingers are crossed that we see her on some winners lists in 2007!

Speaking of contests, the winner of the desserts category the Southern Living Cook-off (and a contesting friend) was on Martha Stewart Living today! Karen's Sweet Potato Baby Cakes looked great. I have give the show kudos for giving Karen plenty of time to demo the recipe. Karen was pleasant and poised on the show, much like the way she is in real life. I couldn't get the video to work on the Martha Stewart Web site, but here's the link. Martha said she had tasted the recipe and picked it to be on the show. She even took a bite of a cake at the end of the segment. I'll bet it was a thrill for Karen.

Shortly after D. and I won the Airbake cookie contest in March, I received a call from a producer from The Martha Stewart Show. We chatted for about a half hour for a potential segment on cooking with kids. The producer was noncommittal, and I never heard from her again. I always wondered why they never called back. Did I say something wrong on the telephone interview? Did Martha not like the recipe? Or did I just end up on the bottom of the pile of potential guests? Like the guys that never called during my dating years, it will just be one of life's little mysteries.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving preparations have interfered with my blog entries, but I did want to quickly post how thankful I am for those of you who read my blog! It's been fun so far.

Come back next week and I'll have lots of cooking and dining stuff to report!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monte Alban Mexican Grill

It’s become something of a tradition that whenever B. and I are on our own for mealtime, we go out for something ethnic. He picks the cuisine and I pick the restaurant. For our most recent mother/son meal, B. chose Mexican, and I chose Monte Alban Mexican Grill, which had been suggested by a fellow Rochester blogger.

Monte Alban is located on Ridge Road in Irondequoit. On the outside it appears to be a former Friendly’s restaurant. Inside, though, definitely says Mexico – mariachi music, bright decor, courteous Mexican waiters – even a Spanish-language soap opera playing on a couple televisions.

“This reminds me of Nacho Libre!” B. exclaimed with enthusiasm. That’s my culturally enriched boy!

The menu was fairly extensive and we took some time pondering what to try. I wanted something outside of the realm of gringo tacos and burritos. B. wanted shrimp. We settled on fajitas for two – fajitas with beef, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, chorizo, peppers and onions.

The heaping, sizzling pan of fajita fixings came with a smaller plate that held refried beans, guacamole, spanish rice, sour cream, and lettuce. Four small tortillas were held in a covered tortilla server. Now, this always happens to me whenever I order fajitas. They never come with anywhere near enough tortillas to hold all the fillings that they are served with. Why is this? Are tortillas an especially expensive accompaniment? Or is it an unspoken rule that you just ask for more tortillas?

Other than the skimpy supply of tortillas, the fajitas were delicious. With such a variety of fillings, it would have been easy to have something overcooked (like the shrimp) or undercooked (like the veggies), but everything was just right. I especially liked the kick the crumbled chorizo added to the dish. We took quite a bit home, and I had it for lunch the next day (with tortillas I had in the fridge).

After our meal we headed up Ridge Road to the Medley Centre (formerly Irondequoit Mall) to do a little pre-Christmas shopping. We entered through Steve & Barry’s, which is a pretty cool store with good deals and fun t-shirts. Stepping into the mall, though, was a downer. There was just a smattering of shoe and sporting goods stores that were open.

When Irondequoit Mall opened in 1990, I worked about five minutes away, and I shopped there all the time. Not only was it convenient, its environment was bright and pleasant, and the two-story design made it easy to get around. But it started to struggle a few years later, and now it's mostly empty. Last year a new owner renamed it the Medley Centre, but I’m hard pressed to see much evidence of progress, other than a new Target store that’s detached from the mall. It was a bummer to see such a beautiful property so deserted.

(Edited in 2008 to add that a more recent review of Monte Alban, from City Newspaper, is here.)

Monte Alban Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

As seen from my window...

As I was writing what was to be my next post, I looked out my window and saw this:

I grabbed my camera and ran outside. The rainbow was so big that I couldn't fit it into a single frame, no matter where I stood. And then I noticed that there was not one, but two rainbows -- the second one much fainter than the other.

I clicked and clicked but just couldn't capture the beauty of the bright colors illuminated against the dark gray sky. Finally I stopped snapping and just looked.

My neighbors also were outside admiring the rainbow. Say what you want about Rochester's weather. We know great weather when we have it. And we stop and savor it when we do.

A quiet day of baking

I woke up with a hoarse voice yesterday, and today I woke up with no voice at all. This can be a pain, such as when the phone rings, but a day of shutting up is probably good for me. It also has had its amusing moments. When I went to Rocky Mountain Pizza to get a slice, I pointed at the one I wanted. The woman behind the counter responded by speaking a few words at a time, overenunciated her words, and pointing at things in an exaggerated manner. I didn't realize why she was acting that way until she brought my order to me instead of calling out my name. Aha! She thought I was deaf -- not an unreasonable assumption in Rochester, where we have a large deaf population (the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) is located here). I didn't have the heart to clarify the situation for her.

Anyway, it's a damp, overcast day -- a great day for baking, and that's what I intend to do. I'm going to be doing some contest testing, as there are several baking-related competitions going on.

When contests come up in conversation, some people can't resist giving me ideas. I even had a friend suggest that she give me her ideas, I work them into a recipe, and we split the prize money. I tell these people that the hardest part isn't coming up with an idea -- it's turning an idea into a good recipe. This photo of a recent disaster is an example. The idea was a sort of crumb cake, which sounds simple enough. Well, obviously they didn't turn out the way I envisioned. I also thought they tasted way too sweet, but the rest of my family didn't agree. They all were eaten over the course of a few days. Although the cakes didn't wind up in the trash, the concept probably will.

While I'm on the subject of contests, I thought I'd mention that the “Desperate for Dinner” contest winner recently appeared on “Good Morning America.” The winning recipe was Shrimp ‘n Grits for the Discriminating Housewife. The other winning recipes were Sunset Chicken and Rice, White Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake, and Desperately Comforting Roast Beef. Considering that the contest referred to dinner, I thought it interesting that a dessert was among the winners. Anyway, the video and recipes can be found at the ABC News Web site. That really was one of the weirder contests I’ve seen.

Two corn breads

When I made a Mexican themed meal for friends a few nights ago, I made two different corn breads– a dependable favorite and something new that sounded interesting.

My usual favorite corn bread recipe is from "The Moosewood Cookbook," the version that was printed in 1977 and is out of print. I received it as a gift from my friend, Marie, in 1991, the year before the cookbook was revised for the first time. It’s a charming cookbook because it is hand-lettered and illustrated by Mollie Katzen, who has gone onto bigger stuff since 1977. Because of the cookbook, I’ve always wanted to go to the Moosewood Restaurant, which is in Ithaca, NY. It’s just a couple of hours away, but somehow I’ve never made it there.

The recipes I’ve tried from the cookbook have had varying results, but the recipe for cornbread is a favorite. Southerners might frown on the recipe because it has a sweetener and it’s not baked in a cast iron skillet. Well, I’m a Northerner and I like it this way. Here’s the recipe:

Delicious Corn Bread
from "Moosewood Cookbook," the 1977 edition
Makes one 8-inch pan – I often double and put in a 13 by 9 pan.

¼ cup honey
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1 cup yellow corn meal
1 cup unbleached white flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
3 Tbs. melted butter

1. Beat together egg, buttermilk and honey.
2. Mix well together all dry ingredients.
3. Combine all ingredients, including melted butter, and mix well.
4. Spread into buttered 8-inch square pan.

Bake at 425 for about 20 minutes – start checking it earlier.

I chose the second recipe for the sole purpose of using up butternut squash. I belong to a CSA (community-supported agriculture program) and receive a delivery of organic veggies every week in the summer and fall. This time of year always brings lots of winter squash and cabbage, neither of which I care for. As a result, I’m always looking for cabbage and squash recipes I actually like. Unfortunately, this wasn’t such a recipe. Although the bread was colorful, it was less than an inch thick and the texture was spongy. I also would have liked it sweeter, although that may have been my fault, as I used butternut squash instead of acorn. If I make it again, it will be with a lot of changes.

Squash Corn Bread
from "Creme de Colorado Cookbook"
10-12 servings (1 9 by 13 pan)

1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp packed light brown sugar (I used dark)
5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
½ tsp dried cumin
½ tsp dried salad herbs (I don’t know what these were. Used Italian seasoning.)
2 Tbsp minced fresh parsley (used 2 tsp dried)
dash of cayenne pepper (used chipotle)
1 cup spaghetti squash or acorn squash, cooked and mashed (used butternut)
2 eggs
1 cup milk
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup diced Monterey Jack cheese
1 2-oz jar pimientos (could only find a 4-oz jar. Used about ½ and diced them.)
1 4-oz can diced green chiles
¼ cup sliced black olives, optional (didn’t use)

In large bowl, mix together cornmeal, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cumin, herbs, parsley and cayenne pepper. In separate bowl, blend squash, eggs, milk, oil, cheese, pimiento and green chiles. Pour dry ingredients into squash mixture and blend. Pour squash-cornbread mixture into greased 9 by 13 pan. Arrange black olives on top (I didn’t do) and bake at 425 for 25-30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean.

Fresh cranberry salsa

I made a Mexican themed dinner for friends last night. The most successful experiment was Fresh Cranberry Salsa. I found the recipe in “Cooking with Too Hot Tamales,” which I checked out from the library. And, of course, I didn’t do it exactly as written.

The recipe was meant to be a component of Turkey Tamales with Fresh Cranberry Salsa. Tamales are a lot of work– plus one of the ingredients was Turkey Braised in Black Mole, which was another recipe with a long list of ingredients. I didn’t have that kind of energy, so I just made the salsa and served it with chips.

It was crunchy, sweet, a little tart and a little spicy. I’m sure it would be a nice complement to turkey. I would vastly prefer this to the super sweet canned glop that is on the Thanksgiving menu every year. I’m not hosting Thanksgiving, but I might offer to bring it along.

Here’s the recipe, as well as my notes. I cut the recipe in half.

Fresh Cranberry Salsa

1 pound fresh or thawed frozen cranberries (I used ½ pound of frozen and didn’t thaw them before starting the recipe. Note that a bag is 12 ounces, so I used more than half of the bag.)
1 cup sugar (used a scant ½ cup)
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (used 1)
3 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced (Used one. I might leave the peel on for color.)
3 oranges, peeled, seeded and diced (used 2 Valencia oranges)
4 serrano chiles, stemmed and diced with seeds (I couldn’t find serrano chiles. I used 1 jalapeno without seeds. I’d use 2 or more next time.)
1 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped (I’m not a fan of cilantro. I used a little bit.)
1 bunch scallions, chopped (I used some scallions and some red onions)

Finely chop the cranberries in a food processor or by hand (I used a food processor). Combine in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix together. Set aside at room temperature 1 hour and then chill until ready to serve. Store in the refrigerator as long as 3 days.

(I thought the end product was going to be too chunky to serve with chips. I threw it all into the food processor and pulsed a few times to get it a bit finer. You wouldn’t have to do this if you served it with turkey.)

Contesting article and Web site

It's been interesting that my posts about cooking contests receive a lot more comments than the ones about cooking or dining. For what it's worth, I won't have much to report in the way of contests for awhile, because I don't have many entries out there in the pipeline. Some contesters submit their entries, keep track of deadlines, and wait with baited breath to see whether they won. I prefer to submit entries and then forget about them. If I win something, it's a fun surprise. If not, on to the next contest.

Anyway, there's an article in the New York Times about contesting and specifically this year's Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest. I wasn't at the contest, but the information about contesting strikes me as being fair and accurate. Unfortunately, the New York Times makes you register and give them info for you to get access to their site. I won't do this for most sites, but, well, it's the New York Times and I wanted to see the article. Anyway, here's the link to the article.

I thought I should mention that if you're interested in entering cooking contests, the Cooking Contest Central Web site is a tremendous resource. For a fee of $25 per year, you get notified of just about every contest that's out there. There's also a forum where people post questions and answers, and hear about each other's contest experiences. Some of the content is free, so check it out!

Lunch at India House

My cousin, Michele, and her husband, Kevin, are both lawyers. But instead of amassing fortunes in legal practices, they are currently living in Pune, India, where Kevin provides legal services to poor people and Michele teaches at a university. Michele sends email dispatches from time to time, the most recent being about the foods they eat there. Her emails have given me a serious hankering for Indian food.

I was introduced to Indian food by a friend named Karuna. She was from Bangalore, India, and lived in Rochester when we were both in our 20s. One night a group of us went to an Indian restaurant (in the former Loehmann’s Plaza), and she ordered an interesting and delicious assortment of dishes and condiments for us all to try. It was a fun evening and a great way to try a new cuisine. At about the same time, I went on a business trip to London and had an evening on my own. Having heard that London had great Indian food, I ventured to an Indian restaurant and was able to select a delicious meal thanks to Karuna. Unfortunately, I lost touch with Karuna when she moved back to India – if only we had email back then!

Anyway, when a friend suggested that we go out for the lunch buffet at India House restaurant, I gladly agreed.

India House is on Route 96, about five minutes away from Eastview Mall. I've been to the India House in Rochester a few times, but I hadn’t been to the Victor location. The Victor location appears to get a lot less lunchtime traffic; only about five tables in the large dining room were occupied.

Our waitress was friendly and helpful. She took us to the buffet to explain all the dishes, and was prompt in refilling our beverages.

That day, the buffet items included ginger cauliflower soup, cauliflower fritters, tandoori chicken, chicken makhani, beef curry, rice, a carrot and potato dish, daal (lentils), nan (bread) and rice pudding. A cold area held some veggies, pickles, and condiments including tamarind chutney and raita (yogurt sauce). From what I can discern from Michele’s emails, these dishes are mostly representative of the Northern part of India.

The cauliflower fritters had a spicy batter that nicely complimented the mild, tender cauliflower. Although they were deep fried, they weren’t heavy or greasy. The tandoori chicken was moist and flavorful. The chicken makhani, on the other hand, had dry chicken, and the pieces of beef I got in the curry were gristly. I enjoyed the carrot and potato dish; the sweetness of the carrots was a nice contrast to the spiciness of the other dishes. The daal was soupier than some versions I’ve had. Frankly, I would have been happy with just the warm nan dipped in daal and raita. But that’s just me. Lunch, with beverages and tip, came to $12 each.

When I’m shopping at Eastview Mall this Christmas season, I just may head back down to the India House in Victor to get a break from the crowds. While I'm there, I'll fondly think of Michele, Kevin, Karuna, and my brief stay in London. (Cheers to Michele and Kevin! Hope you’re safe and happy!)

India House on Urbanspoon

Nestle Flavorologist for a Day

Last week, our family was in Southern California so that my son could experience being a Nestle "Flavorologist for a Day." What, you may ask, is a Flavorologist? Well, that’s one of ten kids who invents a cool new ice pop flavor and wins a trip for four to Bakersfield, California, for a visit to the world’s largest ice cream factory.

B., my older son, invented a flavor called Bee Sting -- a combination of honey and sour lemon. Even though I advised him that more than one entry would increase his odds of winning, he stuck with just that one. I later learned that Nestle received more than 8,000 entries! I wasn’t sure what to expect of the trip, but it exceeded any of my preconceived notions. (Sorry, this gets a bit long.)

Thursday: Welcome to Bakersfield

When we arrived at the airport, a driver was waiting in the baggage claim area with a sign with B.’s name on it. After we got our luggage, we walked outside to find that a stretch limousine was waiting there to take us to the hotel. This was really big stuff for the kids! The limo was even stocked with pop for us to enjoy.

When we checked in at the hotel, we were surprised to find that Nestle had reserved two adjoining rooms for us. This was my turn to be excited! Our travel budgets don't allow us to do that, so that was a huge treat. During our down time, I loved not having to listen to Pokemon or whatever they were watching on TV.

Our first official event was dinner at John’s Incredible Pizza, which I can only describe as a Chuck E Cheese on steroids -- better food and more fun stuff to do. Our private room was lined with posters that had a picture of each child, the flavor they had invented, and a picture they had drawn of the pop. We were introduced to the head taster at Nestle (yes, there is such a job), John Harrison.

John explained that he wore a lab coat to work every day. Then he presented each Flavorologist with his/her own lab coat that had been embroidered with his/her name, flavor, and the year. In addition, every member of the family received a white t-shirt with the Flavorologist logo in the front, along with that family member’s ice pop flavor on the back. Needless to say, the kids were thrilled.

It was all we could do to coerce the kids to wolf down a piece of pizza, because there was lots of great stuff to do! Adults and kids were all given cards for playing games, riding bumper cars, and driving go-karts. It was a blast.

Friday: Fun at the Factory

On Friday morning, a bus arrived to take us to the plant. On the way, John Harrison asked us trivia questions about ice cream – and people who guessed the right answer got coupons for free ice cream. One question of note: Who invented Cookies & Cream ice cream? The answer: John Harrison himself! That sealed John’s celebrity status among kids and adults alike!

We were greeted at the plant with balloons and a big "welcome" sign. Employees cheered as the young VIPs entered the building. After that, it was time to suit up for our plant tour. We donned hair nets (and beard nets for the men), hard hats, protective glasses, ear plugs, special coats, and booties. You think I’m going to post a photo of me in that getup? Think again!

We toured the plant in small groups; ours was led by John, the plant manager. The plant was spotlessly clean, all shiny stainless steel. We saw many products being made, including Drumstick cones, Dibs bite-size ice cream snacks, peppermint ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, fruit bars, and Skinny Cow low-fat ice cream sandwiches. We tasted the products as we toured. John told us to feel free to take a bite and discard the rest. Yeah, right. By the end of the tour, I was practically shaking from the sugar buzz.

A few random surprises:
- The plant wasn’t cold.
- There wasn’t an overwhelming smell in the plant. When you were up close to an individual line, you could smell chocolate or berry, but it wasn’t pervasive.
- The cookies for ice cream sandwiches are very hard and crunchy when they come off the line. In the package, the cookies absorb moisture from the ice cream, which softens them.

John was clearly proud of the plant and was enthusiastic about sharing it with the kids. D. asked John how they melted all the chocolate chips for the melted chocolate on the Dibs and Drumstick lines. John not only explained that they buy the chocolate already melted, but he also took D. over to the vat of chocolate, opened it, and lifted him up so he could see inside. I resisted the urge to follow along and dive in.

Next was a presentation from flavorists that work for IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances), a company that makes the flavors Nestle uses in its products. They started by asking everyone to describe the five basic tastes. They heard sweet ... salty ... sour ... bitter ... and... silence and scratching of heads...

“Umami,” I piped up. Yep, the fifth kind of flavor is umami (pronounced oo-mommy). It’s described as a meaty or savory flavor.

I could see Tom’s eyes roll to the back of his head.

“Yes, I’m the Rain Man of food,” I whispered. “Umami ... definitely umami.”

Anyhoo... IFF had flavors for the kids to taste. Then they were given instructions for mixing some together and then guessing the flavors. Fruit punch and bubble gum were especially tricky.

Next, we went to a different room to taste some wacky flavors that Nestle had created. I tried gingerbread, which I enjoyed, although the flavor seemed incongruent with the ice pop texture. I passed on tasting dill pickle and macaroni & cheese, but was goaded into trying the cheeseburger pop. Yes, it tasted like a cheeseburger, complete with pickle and mustard ... but it was just plain awful. Worse yet, the flavor coated your mouth and stayed with you. I drank quite a bit of water to get rid of it. (B. didn't like it, either.)

Next, we broke up into groups to visit the labs where ice pop products are developed. The room we entered looked just like a high school chemistry classroom, complete with beakers and pipettes. The kids were instructed to measure a certain amount of base (which was like simple syrup) into a beaker and then they could choose from five fruit flavors to add. Next the kids added colors, also measuring precisely using pipettes. Once that was done, they poured their concoctions into molds, which would be frozen for them to try. B. and D. mixed several flavors together and colored the pop a bluish green.

Then it was time for lunch in an outdoor tent. True to form, Nestle had some surprises in store. We were greeted at the door by Scooby Doo, who escorted us to the tent. Lunch was basically sandwiches (including PB&J) and salads. It felt good to dilute some of the sugar in my system.

After lunch, we heard from John Harrison about his job. He inspects every batch of every product for three criteria – appearance, texture, and flavor. If he finds a batch that isn’t right in some aspect, he has to take samples from every pallet of that batch to figure out where the problem occurred.

After John spoke, the kids took turns tasting the ice pops they had concocted in the labs. They went into a long room that is used for consumer testing. It was divided into cubbies. The kids were handed their pops through a little door. B. and D. gave their blue-green pop a thumbs-up. I was surprised that the color looked nicer than it had as a liquid.

While the kids were tasting their pops, some of us parents grilled John Harrison about his job. A few tidbits:
- John doesn't swallow the ice cream he tastes on the job.
- He uses a gold spoon for tasting, because it gives him the truest flavor and it doesn't tarnish.
- "Slow Churned" isn't a marketing slogan. It is a manufacturing process that makes the texture of low-fat ice cream as creamy as the regular stuff. (I'm a fan of Edy's Slow-Churned French Silk ice cream, which we weren't lucky enough to enjoy there.)

The final item on the agenda was tasting the Flavorologists’ creations. Tables were set up for each flavor with a poster and a pile of the ice pops. One flavor at a time, a Nestle person read the description of the pop, and the Flavorologist told everyone how he/she came up with the idea. The Flavorologist then opened the paper and tasted his or her creation, and said whether or not he/she liked it. B. was second. When he ripped it open, he saw that it was a yellow and black swirl that looked pretty cool. The surprise of his pop was that they had added a substance that would briefly cause your tongue to tingle. He was thrilled with it.

Once the Flavorologists had had their turns tasting their own pops, everyone got a chance to taste all of the flavors. Our family's reviews:
- B. loved his (he ate three of them). He also liked Lemon Meringue O’Tang, Bananasaurus Rex, Pink Princess Fluff and Snickerdoodle Dandy.
- D. tried all of them and gave them all a thumbs-up -- well, except for the Pizza Pop. (That’s him taking his tasting very seriously. The Bee Sting pop is on the left.)
- Tom’s favorite, besides Bee Sting, was Snickerdoodle Dandy.
- My favorite, besides Bee Sting, was Lemon Meringue O’Tang, which tasted just like lemon meringue pie, and was served with cups of graham cracker crumbs for dipping. I liked it so much that I was cajoling the Nestle people to manufacture it.

After that, the buses took us back to the hotels for some down time (and, for several kids, swimming time).

Friday Evening: A Super Celebration

The final part of Friday’s festivities was an awards banquet, and once again Nestle made it a great event for children and parents alike. Cotton candy, face painting, and several board games were set up to amuse the children. One buffet line served kid fare like hot dogs and mac and cheese, and a second line had a beef and a chicken entree as well as salads and side dishes. There was even a beautiful tray of non-ice cream desserts.

For the awards ceremony, the Flavorologists were presented with a certificate, plus a Flavorologist backpack containing coupons for free ice pops, a $1,000 savings bond, and several surprises (I don’t want to give everything away for people who go in the future). Most everyone was delighted to hear that they would be receiving some of their own ice pops in the mail. Plus, we were told that Nestle would be in touch to arrange ice pop parties for each Flavorologist’s school!

Want to be next?

I’ve heard through the grapevine that some kids from both of my sons' schools are already at work on ice pop flavors to enter next year. I’d REALLY encourage them to enter (assuming Nestle continues with the contest next year). It’s a lot of fun, you learn interesting things, and you get to take home cool stuff. (If Mom or Dad are super serious about healthy eating, and will get nervous about a day with a lot of sugar, this probably isn’t the trip for them. Take Grandma or Grandpa instead.)

Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Invent a flavor that you would actually be excited about eating – because you will! In other words, you probably don’t want to invent the “vomit pop.”
2. Once you think of flavors you like, think about a really fun name to go with it. As an example, “Lemon Meringue Pie” is a good idea ... but “Lemon Meringue-o-Tang,” one of this year’s winners, is even better!
3. Look at this year’s winners. You don’t want to repeat what’s won in the past.
4. I’m sorry to say ... it’s for kids under the age 12, so some middle schoolers won’t qualify next year. But Nestle holds other contests; go to its ice cream Web site to look for them!
5. Enter even if you only have one good idea. That’s all it took for B. to win!

Halloween treats

I haven't posted in several days because our family was in sunny California. The highlight of the trip was the Nestle "Flavorologist" experience my older son won in an ice pop contest. It will take me a couple of days to write that up, so I thought I'd post the goodies I made for Halloween in the meantime. (May I just take a moment to note that our Halloween weather was beautiful and in the mid-60s?)

I wanted to make up little gifts for the neighbors who took in our mail and took care of Charlie (the dog). Because I had so little time, I decided on a Halloween bark.

I got the original idea from the Cooking Light Great Food bulletin board, but that version was too sweet for me. (My friend, Marie, says there's no such thing as "too sweet." Well, trust me, there is and this was.) I've tinkered with it, and now it's the way I like it -- a salty, sweet, and nutty mixture held together with a sweet white coating. I make barks often when I'm in a pinch. I always make them "by eyeball" and change them depending on the season and the contents of my pantry. Here's the way I made this year's Halloween bark, with approximate amounts.

Howlin' Halloween Bark

1 ½ rows Oreos, chopped
About 2 cups mini pretzels (I use little ABC pretzels.)
About ½ can cocktail peanuts
½ of a large bag of Reese’s pieces
Large bag white baking melts (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup (or so) candy corn, chopped
Halloween sprinkles, if you have some

Spread 1st four ingredients onto lightly greased 13 by 9 pans. The ingredients should almost cover the bottom of the pans in a single layer; set aside. (If desired, reserve some of the Reese’s pieces to put on top.)

Melt baking melts and oil in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until smooth.

Drizzle most of the melted stuff immediately over cookie mixture and stir to coat evenly (some of the cookie will break up and make the white stuff look a little grayish). Drizzle the rest of the melts over the mixture and spread around with spatula (this will make it look a little nicer). Top with candy corn and sprinkles, if you have them. Lightly press candy into mixture.

Cool until firm. Break into pieces. Store in airtight container.

My sons were invited to a last-minute trick-or-treating gathering, and thought I'd bring something that both the kids and adults would enjoy, and that WASN'T SWEET. I decided on deviled eggs.

My Aunt Barb makes the world's best deviled eggs and here's what she does, in recipe form:

Aunt Barb's Deviled Eggs

Eggs (as many as you need)
Marie's Cole Slaw Salad Dressing (to taste)
Paprika and/or bacon bits, for garnish

Hard boil the eggs. Peel, cut in half, and remove the yolks. Mash the yolks, then add cole slaw dressing, to taste. Stuff the yolks back into the eggs and garnish with paprika and/or bacon bits. (Yes, it's that simple.)

My problem with this recipe is that I buy the cole slaw dressing, use a few tablespoons, and the rest of the jar goes to waste. I'm the only one in the family who eats cole slaw, so there's no reason for me to use a lot of this dressing. So I always experiment various ingredients to try to make my eggs taste like Aunt Barb's. They never do, but everyone seems to eat them anyway.

A couple of tips for deviled eggs:

1. Boil a few extra eggs. I like mounded yolks in deviled eggs, so I use the extra yolks and discard the whites that are pitted after peeling.

2. Don't use your Braun immersion blender to mash the yolks and mix up everything. It seemed like a clever idea when I tried it last night. I noticed that it seemed to be going slower and slower, but stupidly kept on using it. Then smoke started coming out of the top of it. I crossed my fingers that it just overheated and it would work today. Nope. That baby is fried. I killed the thing in less than a year. My husband is going to have a fit, because it was his favorite milk shake maker.

Anyway ... I garnished a few of the eggs with black olives cut up to look like spiders. The first time I did this was for a party a few years ago. I put an olive spider on every egg, and it took about an hour for my husband to cut the olives into skinny spider legs and for me to affix them to the yolks just so. At the party, I noticed most of those olive spiders had been picked off of the eggs and abandoned. After that, I just do a few that way -- and I can count on my older son to eat them.

Hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween.