Here are some happenings on the cooking-contest front:

• Two Utahns are finalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off, which takes place April 12-15 in Dallas. DeAnn Hilterbrand of Salt Lake City will compete with Chicken Mole Poblano, and Karry Edwards of Sandy will make Jumbo Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies.

They will compete against 98 other finalists for a $1 million grand prize. Utah typically has at least one — sometimes as many as four — finalists, which speaks to the creativity of our state's home cooks.

• The National Chicken Cooking Contest is "restructuring." Instead of having one contestant from every state at the cook-off, only nine regional winners will compete in San Antonio in 2009.

Winners from each state will get a $100 prize and then move on to a regional competition. The regional champs get $1,000 in addition to the trip to San Antonio. The grand prize is $50,000 (down from the $100,000 awarded in the 2007 contest). (The rules for recipe entries will be posted on www.eatchicken.com.)

• This makes the National Chicken Cooking Contest less like the Pillsbury Bake-Off and more like the National Beef Cook-Off, which has a smaller number of finalists. The last beef contest, held in Chicago in September, had 25 finalists — none from Utah. The $50,000 grand-prize winner was Christine Riccitelli of Incline Village, Nev., with Nuevo Chipotle Beef in Butternut Squash Boats.

• Contest veteran Erin Mylroie of St. George — a past finalist in all three of the above cook-offs — has a holiday season blog on Rachael Ray's Web site. Earlier this year, Mylroie won a Burger Bash contest sponsored by Every Day With Rachael Ray magazine and prepared her winning Salsa Verde Turkey Burger on Ray's TV show.

She apparently impressed Ray's folks, because a few weeks later she was offered a holiday-season blog. Mylroie shares contest experiences, family traditions and cooking tips, and answers questions at www.rachaelraymag.com/marketing/pyrex/

Here's the winning recipe from the National Beef Cook-Off:

NUEVO CHIPOTLE BEEF IN BUTTERNUT SQUASH BOATS

Preparation time: 25 minutes, cooking time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

1 1/2 pounds stew beef

1/3 cup water

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 tablespoons each: brown sugar, balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons ground chipotle chili pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon each: salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 medium butternut squash, about 3 pounds

1 1/2 cups water

1 tomato, cored, chopped

1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted, cubed, optional

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Combine beef, water, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, chipotle pepper, cumin, salt and black pepper in a Dutch oven; cover. Bake until beef is fork-tender, about 1 3/4-2 1/4 hours.

Meanwhile, cut squash lengthwise into quarters; remove seeds. Place squash cut side down in 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish, overlapping if necessary; add water. Bake until fork-tender, 1 1/4 hours. Place each baked squash quarter onto a serving plate. Fill with equal amounts of the beef mixture; top with tomato and avocado. Sprinkle with cilantro. Serves 4. — Christine Riccitelli, Incline Village, Nev., grand-prize winner, 2007 National Beef Cook-Off


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