Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Competing In The Cooking Arena.

One of the many facets of the Arkansas State Fair... the special contests. These range from photography contests to family ice cream making competitions, and they're a good chance to show your stuff.

I decided to once again participate in the Arkansas Farm Bureau Rice Cookoff this year.

The rules are simple -- bring a main dish, salad or dessert that includes rice as a main ingredient.

You have to make it in advance; while there are stoves available to heat up your dish, you can't make it from scratch right there.

You have to provide your own serving implement and you're expected to do a bit of display. And you have to have your recipe out for show -- no hidden ingredients here.

The contest began at 10:30am on a very rainy Tuesday morning. Participants can set up in the half hour before the contest begins. Most register in advance on the Arkansas State Fair website (if you register before the online deadline, the registration is free). Others fill out their forms the day of and pay the $5 entry fee.

Some just come in and put down their entry and go. Others spend several minutes just setting up the presentation.

The judging is based on taste (30%), appearance (25%), the originality of the recipe (25%), and ease of preparation (20%).

Once the entrants have set out their entries, the ring is cleared and the judges enter.

And while the judges are judging, many of the entrants stay for conversation and for a Pampered Chef demonstration.

This year no one left after the entries were in. The deluge outside discouraged trips outside, and the midway and food court was closed. Instead, batches gathered here and there, peering at the entries for the different contests around the Arts & Crafts building.

It took a while for the judges to get through the multitude of entries, but eventually the judging was over, and the winners were announced.

In salads, first place went to Emma Williams with her Pineapple Rice Delight, a creamy cherry and pineapple concoction that can be served either as a congealed salad or as a dessert.

Second place was Karen Kirkpatrick's Rice Taco Dragon Salad, a Tex Mex style tortilla dip.

Third place was Flo Whitfield's Fruity Delight, a really spiffy combination of Rice Krispy Treats with fresh fruit and canned pineapple.

In desserts, Karen Kirkpatrick's Pina Colada Pie took first place. The combination of pineapple chunks, whipped topping, rice and coconut in a graham cracker crust and topped with chocolate covered maraschino cherries was divine.

In second, Bonnie Ferguson's Surprise Balls. Tried them, and really they are a surprise. You just don't realize they're rice creations.

And in third, Emma Williams' Blueberry Crunch, a lovely crunchy fruity mix.

And in main dishes, Karen Kirkpatrick's Cheesy Chicken Squash Casserole was tops. What a great way to get kids to eat squash... I couldn't taste the squash itself, but I could sense a late zesty bite.

Emma Williams' Corn Croissants took second. I had to pass on them because they contain sausage, but they sure looked good.

And Ruth Williams' Beefy Rollups took third. Nice choice for a quick handheld lunch.

The overall winner? Karen Kirkpatrick's Pina Colada Pie.

As I mentioned, I entered myself. This year I entered in the Main Dish category. I chose my Chicken Biriyani recipe. Though I didn't place, I did enjoy sharing my creation with others.

Competing at the State Fair is a lot of fun. I enjoyed this contest, and was just thrilled to enter and win a few ribbons in the photography contest. Perhaps I'll post those photos later.

The Arkansas State Fair continues through Sunday. Hopefully the rain will hold out a bit longer so we can all enjoy the experience.

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