Erin Mylroie of St. George beefed-up her bank account last week as well as her cooking contest experience.
She took home $5,000 from the National Beef Cook-Off held in Rapid City, S.D. Mylroie's recipe for Carnitas-Style Grilled Beef Tacos was the runner-up in the grilled beef category.
She vied with 19 other contestants for the grand prize of $50,000. That went to Linda Morten of Katy, Texas, for her Blazin' Colorado Beef Steaks, which were marinated in lime juice and chipotle (smoked jalapeno) peppers. Recipes were judged on taste, ease of preparation and appearance.
"We got to try the grand-prize winner after the press conference, and it was so spicy and delicious," Mylroie said in a telephone interview.
Mylroie began entering recipe contests two years ago. Since then, she's made it to the national finals of the 2004 Pillsbury Bake-Off and placed fifth in the 2005 National Chicken Cooking Contest last May. (The Pillsbury, beef and chicken contests are considered the "triple crown" of the cook-off circuit.)
In late August, Mylroie was a finalist in the 2005 Cooking Light Ultimate Reader Recipe Contest, with her Chicken Piccata with Summer Vegetable Pasta. Her Chicken Pesto Club Pizza is in the semifinals of the Mama Mary's Pizza Creations Recipe Contest, which could net her a trip to Disney World, $5,000 and a year's supply of pizza crust.
And a couple of weeks ago she was notified that she'll be a finalist again, competing for the million-dollar grand prize in the 2006 Pillsbury Bake-Off next March.
"It's a fun hobby, and I'm having a great time," said Mylroie, a part-time Spanish professor at Dixie State College and mother of two. "I've had such good luck so far. I just try to keep it in perspective."
Her winning beef recipe calls for slices of marinated and grilled steak, wrapped in corn tortillas and served with avocado salsa. "It's a variation on a dish that I made for a big party we had when my husband got his master's degree in physical therapy. That was about eight years ago, and people still talk about how good the food was."
Mylroie said she enjoys the travel, meeting the other contestants and cooking for the judges. But the Cooking Light contest, held Aug. 28-30, offered some unexpected excitement when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. "There was no power in the hotel, and they had to postpone it (the contest) for a while until they could get power."
She said she's thinking of using her beef prize money for a trip to Nantucket with her husband, "but my kids say Disneyland sounds better."
Mylroie wasn't the only seasoned competitor at the Beef Cook-Off this year. Kurt Wait of California won the Pillsbury Bake-Off's million-dollar grand prize in 1996; grand-prize winner Morten was a past finalist at the beef, chicken and Pillsbury contests. At least eight others have attended one or more of those three events or other high-profile competitions, such as the Southern Living Cook-Off or the Sutter Home Build A Better Burger Contest.
These are just a handful of the hundreds of amateur recipe contests sponsored by food companies and trade groups. The contests generate recipe ideas and publicity for the sponsor and serve as a barometer of consumer cooking trends. Most contests have gone from elaborate creations to simpler dishes that the public will actually cook.
Experienced contestants, such as Mylroie, raise their odds of getting into the finals by submitting more than one recipe in a contest. Mylroie said she entered about 15 in the Pillsbury contest.
"I always enter a variety of recipes, and I try to hit all the different categories of a contest, because sometimes you can completely miss what they're looking for," she said. When she gets the call that she's a finalist, the first question she asks is, "Which recipe are you using?"
The recipes must be original. Mylroie said she may spend a day or two developing new recipes but often draws from dishes she's made in the past.
"I've been cooking for so many years and making up my own recipes, and they're all in my head," she said. "I often use variations of things that I've already done. Or I might take two different elements from dishes that I already do and put them together, like the chicken piccata and the pasta recipe for Cooking Light. I cook a lot, so I just knew in my head that they would work together."
Having a dish that tastes good is only part of the battle. The recipe has to fit the contest guidelines, which specify what sponsor products can be used. Many contests put limits on the number of ingredients and the preparation and cooking times.
It's important to write the recipe clearly and concisely, Mylroie said.
"A lot of people are disqualified if their ingredients are listed out of order, or if they don't specify a cooking time, or if an ingredient in the directions isn't in the ingredient list," she said. "You're not going to win if it's like some of the recipes you get in those Relief Society cookbooks, where you have to call the person to figure it out."And have fun with it, Mylroie advised. "Don't do it if the process isn't fun for you. So many people work so hard on it that they were devastated when they didn't get a call from Pillsbury. Sometimes I don't get a phone call, but it's OK. For me, this is a hobby, not an obsession."
BLAZIN' COLORADO BEEF STEAKS
Total preparation and cooking time: 35 minutesMarinating time: 15 minutes to 2 hours
4 beef shoulder top blade steaks (flat iron) or boneless beef chuck eye steaks, cut 1 inch thick (about 8 ounces each)Salt (optional)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 4-ounce can chopped green chiles
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup dairy sour cream2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Toppings:Chopped seeded tomato, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges (optional)
Place marinade ingredients in blender. Cover and puree until smooth. Place beef steaks and marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steaks to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Remove steaks from marinade; discard marinade. Place steaks on grill over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill shoulder top blade steaks, covered, 10 to 14 minutes (chuck eye steaks, uncovered, 16 to 20 minutes) for medium rare to medium doneness, turning once. Season with salt, if desired; keep warm.
Meanwhile prepare sauce by placing green chiles in blender. Cover and puree until smooth. Combine chiles and whipping cream in heavy small saucepan with heatproof handle. Place on grill over medium, ash-covered coals and cook until hot, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in sour cream and cilantro. Cook and stir 1 to 2 minutes or until just heated through. Do not boil.Serve steaks with sauce. Garnish with tomatoes, cilantro sprigs and lime wedges, if desired. Makes 4 servings.
Linda Morten of Katy, Texas $50,000 grand prize, 2005 National Beef Cook-off
CARNITAS-STYLE GRILLED BEEF TACOS
Cook's note: One beef flank steak (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds) or 1 1/2 pounds skirt steak (cut in 4- to 6-inch portions) may be substituted for top blade steaks (flat iron). Increase marinating time to 6 hours or overnight. Grill flank steak, uncovered, 17 to 21 minutes (skirt steak 10 to 13 minutes) for medium-rare doneness, turning once.
Total preparation and cooking time: 45 minutesMarinating time: 15 minutes to 2 hours
4 beef shoulder top blade steaks (flat iron), about 8 ounces each18 small corn tortillas (6 to 7-inch diameter)
1 cup prepared tomatillo salsa
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 cups prepared tomatillo salsa
1 large avocado, diced
2/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 cup minced white onion
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic1/2 teaspoon salt
Toppings:Minced white onion, chopped fresh cilantro, lime wedges
Combine marinade ingredients in small bowl. Place beef steaks and marinade in food-safe plastic bag; turn steaks to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Remove steaks from marinade; discard marinade. Place steaks on grill over medium, ash-covered coals. Grill, covered, 10 to 14 minutes for medium rare to medium doneness, turning once. Meanwhile combine avocado salsa ingredients in medium bowl. Set aside.
Place tortillas on grill. Grill until warm and slightly charred. Remove and keep warm.
Carve steaks into slices. Serve in tortillas with avocado salsa. Top with onion, cilantro and lime wedges, as desired. Serves 6. Erin Mylroie of St. George $5,000 winner,2005 National Beef Cook-Off