If you're planning to enter the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge, you'd be well served by reading Annie Overboe's column today. While some of her tips are specific to county and state fair foods competitions, others (like read the rules, then read them again) apply to culinary contests across the board.
For our Cook of the Week Challenge, we're asking readers to submit an original recipe. Just what does "original" mean? It means I can't plug the ingredients into Google and find the recipe online.
Your original recipe may have started from a recipe you found online or even in this Food section, or one passed down from family members, but by making a few changes it has become your own. Maybe you nixed the zucchini in a pasta bake and opted for eggplant and mushrooms, or you found the spices in a stir-fry too weak and upped the amounts and added a pinch of saffron for good measure.
So if you have a some great recipes and want to put your cooking skills to the test in an elimination-style competition (where you could win a Solaire Infrared Grill package worth $3,000), enter the Cook of the Week Challenge before the Aug. 3 deadline.
If you have questions about the challenge, check dailyherald.com and find out how you can enter. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeing stars: If entering the Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge has your competitive juices flowing, you might want to take things to the next level and show up for the open casting call for "Food Network Star."
The folks at the popular cable cooking channel are looking for people who are "full of life, passionate about cooking and knowledgeable about food" to audition for the next season of the elimination-style reality show. "Food Network Star" aims to find home cooks, caterers, culinary students and chefs who can hold their own as host of his or her own cooking show on Food Network.
Head to foodnetwork.com/star for an application. Then show up with it, two photos and your resume from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 3, at the Affinia Hotel, 166 E. Superior St., Chicago. If you have questions, email them to email@example.com.
Dining dos and don'ts: If you've ever talked on your phone, texted, tweeted or surfed the Web while dining out, you broke one of Tim Zagat's 10 New Rules of Dining Etiquette.
That's Tim Zagat, as in the Tim Zagat who, along with his wife Nina, founded the first diner-generated restaurant guide that now has editions covering restaurants, night life and hotels around the globe.
So pay attention; this guy knows what he's talking about. And according to Zagat, the rules of dining have changed since the days when men tasted the wine and ladies ordered first.
With apologies to Emily Post, here are some of his new additions to the dining etiquette handbook.
• Whoever initiates a dinner date pays. Long ago, women were handed menus with no prices on them. Nowadays, whoever did the inviting should be expected to pay for the meal, unless you've worked out another arrangement in advance.
• It's fine to bring children to dinner in most restaurants. But don't do it at places where they'd elevate the decibel level or that are meant to be romantic. Zagat surveyors split over the age at which children should be allowed: 38 percent say from birth while the same percent argues 5 years or older. And 61 percent believe restaurants should be able to ban children.
• Honor your reservations or cancel them. Holding an empty table for a no-show does real damage to a restaurant. If you make reservations and fail to cancel in advance, you'll deservedly become persona non grata at the restaurant.
• Don't overstay your welcome at a busy restaurant. Nobody should ever feel rushed, yet 60 percent of Zagat surveyors nationally support restaurants setting time limits on tables during peak hours.
• You're the customer and the customer is always right. Too often customers feel they are being judged by the wait staff, and that's wrong. Short of berating the waiter, you should expect to receive hospitable, efficient service and good food at any restaurant. If that doesn't happen, take your money elsewhere and tell the next 10 people that you meet. (Just don't tweet it out while you're still at the table!)
Meatless Monday: While it's not a meatless cookbook, "The Cooking Light Gluten-Free Cookbook" contains plenty of recipes that work for vegetarians and vegans.
The book (available from Oxmoor House Aug. 2, $21.95) boasts more than 150 recipes, a glossary of common gluten-free ingredients and tips for avoiding hidden gluten. Some of the recipes are tagged "dairy free" (for people with multiple food issues), but that alert also directs vegans to dishes they can put on their plates. The paperback also contains dozens of color pictures and each recipe includes nutrition analysis.
Give this meatless and completely seasonal Tomato Basil Pasta with Asiago a try; sub in traditional pasta if gluten isn't an issue for you.
• Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at firstname.lastname@example.org or (847) 427-4524. Be her friend at facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald or follow her on twitter @PankeysPlate.