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updated: 7/13/2011 9:46 AM

Cooking challenge recipes rolling in

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Boy, am I impressed! The number of people who entered the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge in the first few days and the caliber of their recipes have reinforced what I already knew -- that some really creative cooks live around here.

I thought I'd take this opportunity to answer some questions and give a bit more detail about the contest so in case you're on the fence about entering, you'll jump right over.

First off, the entry form is on a website called Survey Monkey and the only way to enter is through that site at http://svy.mk/cookingchallenge. You'll be asked to submit an original recipe. Don't enter more than once; just enter your best recipe.

If you've already been a Cook of the Week, please submit a new recipe; we plan to publish the entry recipes when we reveal the 16 contestants on Aug. 31.

The first two rounds of the competition are a recipe challenge with judges evaluating the recipe and a photo of the prepared dish taken by a Daily Herald photographer at the contestant's home. Contestants will have about one week from the time I announce the three or four challenge ingredients -- chicken thighs, chipotle peppers and quinoa, for example -- until a recipe is due back to me.

Readers can vote online for their favorite recipe and the online vote will be considered in selecting the winner. One random voter will also be selected to join me at the judges' table at the final cook-off on Nov. 2 at the Hyatt Regency Woodfield Schaumburg.

Now about that cook-off ... Four finalists will work against the clock -- and each other -- to prepare for the judges a dish based on ingredients unveiled that evening. The winner will be named Cook of the Year and receive a Solaire grill and accessory package valued at $3,300. That event will be open to the public (more on that later).

I'll keep you updated here, but you can also join us at Facebook.com/cookoftheweek for up-to-the-minute developments.

Cooking the classics: If today's story on summery French foods has you eager to delve more deeply into the country's cuisine, then pick up a copy of Richard Grausman's "French Classics Made Easy."

Grausman, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and founder of Careers through Culinary Arts Programs, reworked his 1988 "At Home with the French Classics" to reflect easier access to ingredients and lighter eating habits.

Cream and butter have been reduced in many recipes without affecting the end result. "Even with cream sauces ... if the original recipe had 2 cups of cream I've reduced that, used just enough to sauce the vegetables," Grausman says.

What the 432-page paperback cookbook (Workman, $16.95 with royalties going to C-CAP) lacks in pictures it makes up for in detailed directions that leave no room for error. Even my 11-year-old could make the 10-minute souffle or cream of corn soup.

"If a recipe seems hard, skip it," Grausman advises. "Take those dishes that seem easy and build your confidence. Each technique by itself is not difficult, but it must be learned."

If cooks struggle with a recipe, Grausman invites them to write him at rgrausman@ccapinc.org to discuss it.

Everyone's a winner: Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry came up the big winner in the Family Day at the Stockman & Dakota Corral grill competition over the weekend at the Jewel-Osco in Libertyville.

NBC 5 Chicago anchors Stafan Holt and Kim Vatis came up with the contest's winning recipe (as determined by event goers) using McCormick spices and Stockman & Dakota New York strip steak, with the $5,000 grand prize going to the Naperville food pantry.

My Bisteca Fuego (a NY strip rubbed with McCormick's Fiery Five Pepper Blend and soaked in Lawry's Signature Steakhouse Marinade) came in second, netting $2,500 for the Palatine Township Food Pantry. Chicagonista blogger M.J. Tam's Chicagonista-Style Steak, rounded out the competition and won $2,500 for the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Vegetarian cooking class: Learn how to prepare seasonal vegetarian fare at a pair of hands-on classes Saturday at Sunset Foods stores.

Students will learn how to make garden-fresh recipes including Ming Tsai's paella, muffuletta roll-ups, masa crepes with chard, chiles and cilantro, and soba noodles with roasted eggplant sauce.

The classes will be held 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. simultaneously at Sunset Foods' cooking studios at 825 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest and 4190 Route 83, Long Grove. The workshop, which includes the opportunity to sample, costs $65; bring a friend and split the cost as the work stations comfortably accommodate two students.

Space is limited to 16 people per store. Register with Mary Kay Gill at (847) 810-0484 or email her at thyme@sunsetfoods.com.

Meatless Monday: What beautiful weather we've had recently for hiking, camping and enjoying the great outdoors.

Those who trek into the backcountry (way off the beaten path) know the challenges of packing food for a few-days or few-weeks. Add special diets to the mix and the planning gets even trickier.

Laurie Ann March helps smooth the road with "Another Fork in the Trail," a collection of vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free recipes designed to be enjoyed in the wilderness.

The book breaks down recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts, snacks and beverages into what should be prepped at home (with may requiring dehydrating, which she tells you how to do) and what needs to be finished at camp. The book outlines safe storage, suggests cooking equipment and provides sample menus.

Grab a bag of her Dark Chocolate Bark with Dried Blueberries and Candied Lemon and head to the Appalachian Trail, or your own backyard.

• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at food@dailyherald.com or (847) 427-4439. Be her friend at Facebook.com at Deb Pankey Daily Herald.

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