Winner Eats All 

Judging the entries at this year's Whitland Fourth of July

Judging the entries at this year's Whitland Fourth of July

By Kay West

Unless your name is followed by the tag “food writer,” you probably have no idea how many cooking contests take place every day in the United States of America. In the six years I’ve been writing this column, I have been asked to sit in judgment of everything from pickles to pasta, from bread to barbecue. The request is usually preceded by: “I know how busy you are, but this will...a. only take an hour; b. be so much fun; c. mean so much to me; or d. all of the above.”

In spite of those sincere entreaties, I almost always say no. Week in and week out, I have to eat at a different restaurant and then write about it. Enough already. There is one exception, however. When photographer and bon vivant Slick Lawson called me five years ago to see if I would head up the judging panel for the food contest at the Whitland Avenue Fourth of July celebration, I couldn’t get the “Yes” out of my mouth fast enough. My motivation was purely selfish.

The Whitland Avenue Fourth of July party began in 1977—at least most of the original organizers think it was 1977—as a late-afternoon bash in Pat and Dan Burton’s backyard. Lawson was their co-host; they each invited about 30 people. A couple years later, Carol and John Sergent came on board, and the party grew. Over the years, it has evolved into the super-duper wingding it is today.

The street is closed off for several blocks, and the Whitland Avenue Irregulars, composed of neighborhood musicians, set up on the Burtons’ front lawn. Guests bring covered dishes; canoes are filled with ice and soft drinks; volunteers cook countless hot dogs. There are stirring renditions of patriotic music, with Nan Gurley singing, and a heart-pounding reading of the Declaration of Independence by her father Bud Arnold. (Chip Arnold subbed for dad this year.) Then come the children’s bicycle and stroller parade and the food-judging contest. The first time I witnessed the whole spectacle, I got weepier than Vince Gill at a benefit concert.

The Whitland Avenue Fourth is still ostensibly an invitation-only event. While there are some gatecrashers, I wasn’t raised that way. The reason I accepted the proposition to judge the Whitland Avenue picnic was simple: I wanted to go to the party, and I had never before been invited. So thanks Slick and Ophelia and George and Elizabeth and David for asking me back year after year. And thanks to my fellow judges for helping me out. Following are a few of the award-winning recipes from this year’s Whitland Avenue Picnic.

Chocolate Cream Cheese Sin Cake—Libby Miller

The real sin of this recipe, says Libby, is that the cake is actually a box mix, but it’s the icing that makes it special.

1 tsp. butter

3 1-oz. squares unsweetened chocolate

1/4 cup milk

1 3-oz. pkg. cream cheese

1 pkg. confectioner’s sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Combine butter, chocolate, and milk in a double boiler and heat until chocolate is melted. Cool. In a large mixing bowl, combine cream cheese and cooled chocolate mixture. Cream for 1 minute with an electric mixer. On low speed, add confectioner’s sugar, salt, and vanilla extract. When ingredients are moistened, turn mixer to high speed, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy, about one minute. Spread on cake. If the mixture is too thick to spread, add a very small amount of milk and beat again.

Apple Raisin Cobbler —Sam Sanchez

Sanchez is manager of Princeton’s Grille. The restaurant is considering adding his invention to the menu after the dish earned the blue ribbon at Whitland.

1 large gourmet frozen apple pie

1 Tbs. brown sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. allspice

1/8 cup Jack Daniel’s bourbon

1 cup raisins

1 1/2 cups pecans

Allow pie to thaw. Remove top and apples. Mix pie top, apples, and all other ingredients in bowl; return to pie shell and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Blackberry Crumble —Alisa Boon

It should be noted that cooking must run in this family; Alisa’s husband Scott Pogue, with an assist from son Boone, won second place in the Picnic Food category for his Dragonfly Ribs. Unfortunately, space does not permit running that recipe. So here’s the dessert.

Crumble Topping:

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup flour

1 cup oats

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 stick butter, slightly softened

Add ingredients to food processor

and pulse until mixture resembles

coarse meal.

Berry Filling:

1 1/2 quarts fresh whole blackberries

or other berry, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1/4 cup flour

1-2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Toss ingredients lightly.

Spray baking or shallow casserole dish with oil. Pour berry mixture into dish and gently spread edges to edges in an even layer, keeping berries intact. Sprinkle evenly with topping. Bake for 35-45 minutes at 350-375 degrees until topping mixture is melted and juices have bubbled up. Serves 8-10.

Gorgonzola Chicken Salad —Patricia Davis

This took home the blue ribbon in the Picnic Food category. Davis says buying a store-roasted chicken and bottled balsamic vinaigrette will save time.

Hearts of romaine letttuce,

chopped to make 8 cups

1 large jar marinated artichoke hearts

20 medium white mushrooms, sliced

1 wedge gorgonzola, crumbled

1 cup roasted pecan halves

1 medium-sized chicken,

roasted, skinned, shredded

balsamic vinaigrette

To roast pecans:

Place pecans on microwave-safe paper

and roast on medium-high for

3-5 minutes.

Lemon Roasted Chicken:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken in roasting pan. Gently put fingers under breast skin to lift from meat. Place lemon slices between skin and chicken. Place a second lemon inside cavity of bird. Roast at 350 degrees until juices run clear, 45-60 minutes. Cool, skin, and shred.

Balsamic vinaigrette:

4 Tbs. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs. dried onion flakes

1 cup vegetable or light olive oil

garlic salt and coarse ground

pepper to taste

Whisk balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Add oil in stream until blended; add onion, garlic salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine. Toss together lettuce, artichokes, and mushrooms. Top with gorgonzola, chicken, and pecans. Add vinaigrette. Serves 8-10.

Whisk balsamic vinegar and lemon juice. Add oil in stream until blended; add onion, garlic salt, and pepper. Whisk to combine. Toss together lettuce, artichokes, and mushrooms. Top with gorgonzola, chicken, and pecans. Add vinaigrette. Serves 8-10.

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