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Article updated: 7/10/2013 6:21 AM

From the Food Editor: Cooking contest, cans and cheesecake

By Deborah Pankey

I've been reading through applications for our Cook of the Week Challenge and I realized something's missing: your entry.

To refresh your memory, our Cook of the Week Challenge, now in its third year, challenges home cooks from around the suburbs to come up with recipes using ingredients in a mystery basket. The cooks face off one-on-one in a series of recipe challenges (think NCAA Sweet-16 format); their recipes are evaluated by a panel of judges until we whittle the field to four.

Those final four cooks will compete in a live cook-off, scheduled for Oct. 30 at the Hyatt Woodfield Schaumburg, where they will have one hour to conceive and cook a dish in front of a room filled with food enthusiasts. The winner will be named Cook of the Year 2013.

Really, what doesn't sound fun about that?! The contest requires nothing more than some ingredient know-how and culinary creativity. You'll probably be more stressed trying to figure out what's for dinner tonight.

We've got a bunch of sponsors already on board -- like Whole Foods Market Schaumburg, Parker and Novak, Woodfield and Pure Leaf tea -- and we're pulling together a pretty sweet prize package.

Entering is easy. Grab your favorite original recipe and head to surveymonkey.com/s/COTW2013. You'll be asked a series of questions and provided a space to include your recipe. Please make sure to answer the question "Why does this recipe represent you?"

The deadline to enter is July 24 -- that's just two weeks away. The 16 cooks who make the cut will be notified in early to mid August. So what are you waiting for?

Can do attitude: Don't ya just love that crisp pop and fizz when you open a can of beer. It's a sound you just don't get from a bottle and I didn't realize how much I missed that sound until I opened a can of Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy the other day. Yes, a can.

When I drink beer (which is fairly often) I gravitate toward craft labels that, until recently, had been proudly contained in dark bottles. Cans, it seemed, were relegated to pedestrian pilsners and mass-produced lite beers.

Yet today, more and more craft brewers are embracing cans. As Associated Press business writer Michael Felberbaum noted in an article earlier this month just one craft brewery used cans in 2002 and now 300 different breweries offer close to 1,000 beers in cans.

The article cited more affordable supplies and canning equipment as helping the boom and brewers noted that cans are more portable, space-saving, faster-cooling, more light-resistant and super-recyclable. Jim Koch at Sam Adams even had a can designed specifically to enhance enjoyment of his Boston Lager.

Brewers also debunk myths that the cans impart a metallic taste to beer.

My experience with crafts in a can has been nothing but positive. A handful of Chicago-brewed Half Acre beers come in cans (Daisy Cutter Pale Ale's my fave), and I love how light and easy it is to carry a 12-pack of Leinie's Shandy from the car to the picnic shelter.

So don't discount cans next time it's your turn for a beer run.

Catching up with Ms. Marotta: We first met Patrice Marotta a little over a year ago when we featured her as a Cook of the Week. The Wauconda woman shared memories and a few recipes from her first book "Brooklyn Italian."

This weekend she'll be at the Woodstock farmers market signing copies of her new book "In My Mother's Kitchen."

In her latest effort Marotta revisits the relationship with her mother and reminds us to treasure family, food and conversation.

"Somehow we have all lost the art of good conversation, how to listen and be heard, to learn from stories being passed down over a good meal," Marotta says.

She also shares treasured family recipes, like this Italian Cream Cheese and Ricotta Cheesecake.

Meet Marotta from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 13, at Read Between The Lynes, 129 W. Van Buren St. Both books will be available for sale.

Ÿ Contact Food Editor Deborah Pankey at dpankey@dailyherald.com. Be her friend at facebook.com/DebPankey.DailyHerald and follow her on Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter @PankeyPlate.

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