Take a second as you're mixing up your signature burgers for the weekend cookout or stirring together a batch of your oft-requested potato salad and say to yourself "If I can do this, I can win the Cook of the Week Challenge."
Because, really, you could.
Over the last three years, the Daily Herald has invited home cooks from all walks of life and from all over the suburbs to participate in our elimination-style recipe contest, and each year we've had cooks just like you in the starting lineup. Shortcut-seeking moms, dutiful dads, barbecue enthusiasts and weekend gourmets have all thrown their aprons into the ring.
The mission of our contest is simple: to discover the best home cook in the suburbs. To find that person -- in 2013 it was Dan Rich, a public works superintendent from Elgin -- we start with 16 cooks. Through two rounds of mystery-basket recipe matchups (think of an NCAA bracket with quinoa and canned tuna instead of a basketball), we pare the field to four finalists.
Those four cooks will compete in a live cook-off that will be held Oct. 29 at the Hyatt Woodfield Schaumburg where they will have one hour to prepare a dish (again from a basket of mystery ingredients) for a panel of judges. One of those judges is celebrity chef Gale Gand, who also will give a cooking demonstration and sign her cookbooks at the event.
Besides being named Cook of the Year 2014, the winner will walk away with a couple thousand dollars in prizes from our sponsors. Sponsors already on board include Alexian Brothers Health System, Binny's, Green County (Wis.) Tourism, King Oscar, Marquardt Buick, Porte Brown, Pepsi, USA Weekend and Whole Foods.
The contest is open to home cooks, not professional chefs. If you have an ounce of adventurous spirit and a dash of culinary creativity then you've got what it takes.
Entering is easy. Grab an original recipe (maybe it's what you made for dinner tonight or will bring to a July 4 potluck?) and head to http://dhcontests.upickem.net/engine/YourSubmission.aspx?contestid=133867. You'll be asked a series of questions and provided a space to include your recipe. The deadline to enter is July 24.
The 16 cooks who make the cut will be notified in early to mid-August. If you've entered in the past without getting picked, please don't be discouraged. Each year brings a new crop of hopefuls; maybe this is your year.