Last week I had an opportunity to do something new and fun: judge a raisin recipe contest.
Four others and I spent two hours tasting delicious pies, dessert bars and salads. Tough job, right?
The contest is part of Friday's raisin party at Old Town Clovis Farmers Market. From 5:30 to 9 p.m., vendors will sell all kinds of raisin products, such as a rum raisin ice cream and a roasted pork tamale made with a marinated raisin chutney.
Two chefs from the culinary program at the Institute of Technology at Clovis also created recipes for the event and will hand out samples of spiced apple raisin cake, natural raisin cupcakes, raisin squares and chocolate-less brownies.
Right now I bet a few of you are thinking: "A brownie without chocolate? What's the point?"
Raisins are naturally sweet, so recipes commissioned by the California Raisin Marketing Board for the farmers market couldn't contain any added sugar. Since chocolate often has added sugar, it was a no-no for the chef's recipes, says Chef Don Waddell, head of the culinary program at the Institute.
The brownie is made instead with carob powder -- which has the color, texture and taste of chocolate -- along with vanilla and coconut milk.
The contest recipes we taste-tested couldn't contain added sugar either, though a few had honey or agave nectar as a sweetener.
The tasting took place Friday afternoon in a quiet corner of the Institute's culinary school and was led by Waddell. Another chef brought us plate after plate of samples and we scored the food on factors like flavor, texture and seasoning.
Chefs had prepared the food according to the recipes submitted by amateur cooks.
One thing I learned from the experience? Double-check your cooking times when you pass along a recipe to a friend or submit it to a contest.
Several of the samples were undercooked, leading us to look skeptically upon otherwise fabulous recipes. In these cases, the chefs prepared a second, fully cooked version and we were presented with both. And believe me, when the head of a culinary school advises you not to try the undercooked version because you might get sick, you listen.
However, most of the recipes were fantastic, and I'm looking forward to re-creating a couple at home.
There was a clear winner we all agreed upon. I can't tell you who it is or what the recipe is, but I assure you it was delicious, and I wish I had eaten more of it instead of saving room for its competitors.
The winners will be announced at the raisin party Friday, and soon after, they'll appear on the California Raisin Marketing Boards website at calraisins.org.
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