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Judging the Top 100 Cookbooks

Judging the Top 100 Cookbooks


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Learn about our judging process as we count down the top 100 cookbooks.

As we contemplate turning 25, and celebrating that fact, we paused for a moment to look at the past quarter century in food: the food revolution, the global pantry, the local artisanal movement, the rise of the superstar chef, and not to mention the nutrition (and diet) fads that have come and thankfully, gone. Through it all, cookbooks have chronicled the popular food trends, and many a tree has fallen. Despite society’s rapid migration to the digital world, cooks continue to buy books, even in the face of the worst economic downturn this generation has seen.

So it got us curious. What is it with cooks and their books? In our quest to answer this question, we decided to pick our favorite 100 books of the past 25 years. To build our list of candidates, we looked at all the bestseller and awards lists, talked to editors, authors and other experts. For consideration, books had to have been published in the US since 1987 (or at least be available in an English language version), and either still be in print or easily available through online ordering.

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We gathered stacks of books and put each one through an initial round of review by a small committee. The stand-outs were put through to the next round. Books were fanned out to members of the food staff who read carefully through the pages and actually cooked from each contender. We believe that a winning book needs to clearly state and deliver on its mission. And recipes have to work. Most important rule: no tinkering with the recipes—they need to stand or fall on their own merits. Also important: The author’s voice needs to persist throughout, like the main flavor of a dish. We were interested in accuracy and appeal to the current cook: If two books were similar, the more up-to-date (the one that addresses sustainability in a seafood section, for example) would be awarded bonus points. Kitchen tips, tricks, entertaining anecdotes, and other helpful info made a difference with other books. And finally, because we wanted a list relevant to the widest possible audience of cooks, we asked ourselves: Who would you give this book to? And the answer to this question proved to be vital in building the most versatile list for each category.

In the end our judging criteria was at once objective and subjective. Objective in that we designed a weighted numerical scale to judge each book. But subjective in that some of the most persuasive arguments were based on emotions or memories evoked by the author’s voice or the recipes or a combination. Winners emerged after a lot of passionate debate about voice, originality, beauty, importance: deliciousness, in other words.

We’ll reveal our list of Top 100 Cookbooks, a category at a time, over the coming months. Let us know what you think of our selections. Share your own successes or failures with our favorite books, and let’s keep the conversation going.


Reviews: Allergy-Friendly & Gluten-Free Cookbooks

Looking for allergy-friendly or gluten-free cooking inspiration? Then check out our cookbook reviews and recommendations to find fabulous and easy recipes that the whole family will enjoy.

Newer Releases

Last updated: December 2019

Whether considering dairy-free living by medical necessity or by choice, Alisa Fleming’s 600-plus page, fully revised edition of her bestseller empowers the reader to embrace this lifestyle with ease. Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide and Cookbook for Milk Allergies, Lactose Intolerance, and Casein-Free Living,” the book covers everything from nutrition and calcium levels in foods to navigating social situations and dining at restaurants. Not merely a cookbook, but rather an invaluable lifestyle guide and manual, its greatest strength lies in the hard-earned wisdom Fleming shares.

Without the use of photos or fillers, this highly organized volume is designed to be easily scanned for content specific to the reader’s individual diet restrictions. It includes an impressive 250-plus recipes, all indexed by allergen. From homemade milks and breads, to hearty soups, mains and sides, the recipes are made from simple, accessible ingredients with vegan and egg-free options for each. As well, there are plenty of tempting gluten-free, soy-free and nut-free recipes to satisfy an even broader audience.

Trust Alisa Fleming, founder of Godairyfree.org, to create a dairy-free cookbook packed with so many enticing recipes, color photos and inventive tips that it’s a one-stop resource, no matter what you’re craving. Allergen charts make quick work of finding recipes that are also free of gluten, egg, nuts, peanuts and soy, and tested free-from options are included anywhere those allergens are used.

On a tour of her pantry, Fleming, who is Allergic Living magazine’s food editor, reveals her go-to ingredients and offers up expert advice for getting the best dairy-free results. Handy “weekly menu plans” are an invaluable tool for home cooks looking for ways to integrate recipes like Impossible Vegan Quiche or Cheesy Twice-Baked Potatoes into their busy routines.

This paperback reveals the possibilities of cooking naturally dairy-free. As Fleming notes of her approach, “it isn’t about substitutes. It’s about easily enjoying good food.”

Shut Up and Cook!
By Erica Reid
BenBella Books, $19.95

This tough love title leaves no room for excuses. Erica Reid firmly nudges readers into the kitchen, while providing the warm embrace of nutritious and comforting recipes. Plus, to cast aside any fear of perfection, she welcomes you to get messy. Each recipe includes a space for your notes and has an enticing, yet realistic, photo that nearly anyone could replicate.

Despite dish names like Huevos Rancheros, this healthy home-style cookbook is egg-free, nut-free and peanut-free. Dairy, corn and nightshades are also shunned in most of the recipes. But it maintains family-friendly appeal with Chocolate Chip Spelt Muffins, Snack-Time Tofu Dip, Mama’s Turkey Meatballs and so many must-try meals and treats that there really is no time to chat.

Whether you’re hitting the trail or the road, this rustic little cookbook can help you and your family stay safe. It’s packed with over 110 easy recipes, which are free of gluten and the top allergens, and can easily be stowed for travel.

Sarah Kirkconnell’s family loves the great outdoors. But when her son Alistaire was diagnosed with severe food allergies, she quickly learned that restaurants don’t present the only hazards. Pre-packaged snacks, freeze-dried meals and communal camping all pose allergen risks, so Kirkconnell journeyed into a new type of meal prep.

As a result, her collection includes unexpected cooking and great tips. And her beloved recipes for beverages, warm cereals, breakfast classics, healthy wraps, nourishing soups, creative rice and ramen dishes, snack-worthy treats, creamy puddings, and essential dry mixes offer a comforting way to venture off the beaten track.

Well-Received Titles

Jennifer’s Way Kitchen
By Jennifer Esposito
Grand Central Life & Style, $30

Most cookbooks just provide a quick path to delicious recipes. But Jennifer Esposito encourages us to stroll among vibrant imagery and fruitful bites of information. Her pure approach avoids gluten, dairy, eggs, refined sugar and alcohol. It severely limits nightshades and nuts (but not coconut). As a result, she guides us through 100+ anti-inflammatory recipes that are also quite allergy-friendly.

At times, Esposito does wander towards more extravagant ingredients and new culinary vistas. But she doesn’t take us too far off the beaten track. In fact, her comforting “Buttery” Creamy Cauliflower Soup and Grandmother’s Baked Chicken remind that special diets and simplicity can go hand in hand.

It may look like ordinary bean or chickpea water, but Kelsey Kinser has 100 ways to transform aquafaba into egg-free sweets and savories. From Sponge Cake to Quiche, every eggless secret is cracked. But don’t be fooled by the very specific title. Kinser conjures up a range of recipes, including crepes, mousse, fudge and even versatile aquafaba “butter.”

As a vegan title, this cookbook is free of eggs, dairy and seafood, but gluten, nuts and soy are used liberally.

This liberating cookbook was penned by none other than the founder of Sweet Debbie’s Organic Cupcakes in Los Angeles. As a food allergy mom and healthy living enthusiast, everything Debbie Adler makes is vegan, gluten-free top allergen-free and refined sugar-free.

But she refuses to feel bound by these restrictions. In fact, Debbie demonstrates the abundance of her autonomy in this 100-recipe collection with lavish photography. She spices things up with homemade Sriracha and Horseradish, provides comfort through Pumpkin Swirl Cinnamon Buns and Spanakopita Enchiladas, nourishes via Broccolini Tarts and Super Greens Soup, and finally treats us to a feast of Candy Bar Cookies and Tiramisu Cupcakes. –Alisa Fleming

The Perfect Blend
By Tess Masters
Ten Speed Press, $19.99

You’ll be a whiz at healthy cuisine thanks to the innovative layout of Tess Masters’ latest blender-inspired cookbook. Releasing just in time for New Year’s resolutions, the chapters are organized by dietary ambitions, including energy, immunity, weight loss, low carb, probiotic promoting and more. For further customization, each recipe has optional “boosters” that ensure you’ll be mixing nourishing new foods into your regular routine.

Nutritious tidbits abound, while the brilliant photography showcases the beauty of real food. Although nuts and soy are used quite liberally, all 100 recipes are purely plant-based, dairy-free, egg-free and gluten-free. –Alisa Fleming

As the creator of the beloved blog The Pretty Bee, Kelly Roenicke has been homing in on this delicious collection for years. The pages are abuzz with time-tested, family-friendly recipes and appealing yet realistic photos.

Among colleagues, Kelly is considered a queen of gluten-free and top allergen-free eats. But in this cookbook we see a devoted mom reaching out to share warm hugs of good food. She knows that you need Easy Chocolate Overnight Oats for busy mornings, Beef Stroganoff for mid-week magic, Cheezy Popcorn for movie nights, No Bake Nut Free Granola Bars for lunch boxes, and Ice Cream Sandwiches to keep your precious swarm satisfied. –Alisa Fleming

Pretty but playful, this full-color cookbook covers the classics with loads of latkes for Hanukkah, assorted cookies for Christmas and plenty of pies for Thanksgiving. But Isa Moskowitz draws outside of the lines with a culinary imagination that must be celebrated. Whether it’s a Super Bowl Philly Cheesesteak Casserole, Mardi Gras Corn Fritters with Tomato Jam or a night at the Oscars with Pink Grapefruit Cupcakes, you’ll always find a reason to revel in her more than 200 recipes.

This festive collection doesn’t dish up many top allergen-free eats. However, it is completely free of dairy, eggs, meat and seafood. Plus, it opens with substitution tips for gluten, nuts and soy. –Alisa Fleming

Aquafaba
By Zsu Dever
Vegan Heritage Press, $21.95

We’re spilling the beans on this trendy new title, which promises easy meringues and omelets without cracking an egg. In fact, vegan quiche, crepes, cookies, burgers and beyond are Whipped up with one emerging allergy-friendly ingredient: the cooking liquid from legumes.

The author provides the techniques for transforming the liquid into fluffy peaks, an easy emulsifier or the perfect baking binder. Every recipe is free of dairy, eggs, meat and seafood, and notations indicate gluten-, nut- and soy-free options. There are even specially created treats, like Gluten-Free Artisan Bread and Nut-Free Macaron Shells. –Alisa Fleming

Don’t be surprised if you start seeking out special occasions to enjoy the recipes in this all-inclusive cookbook. From birthday bashes to game day gatherings, an intimate Valentine’s dinner to a festive Christmas, Danielle Walker allows us to revel in the endless edible possibilities.

Nearly every turn of the page unearths an eye-catching photo and an inspired grain-free creation to challenge doubting guests. Walker serves several tastes of tradition, but delights like Butternut Sage Carbonara and Champagne Chocolate Strawberries share new reasons to raise a glass.

Every morsel in this classic hardcover is free of gluten, soy, peanuts and, for the most part, dairy. However, tree nuts, seeds, eggs and seafood are abundant, with only a modest selection of options for family with multiple food allergies. –Alisa Fleming

It’s clear from the title and the contents that Brittany Barton doesn’t like junk. She keeps everything clean with a tidy layout, whole food ingredients and succinct instructions.

Nonetheless, pops of color pictures are infused throughout to let us know that food free of nuts, gluten, grains, dairy, soy, seeds, corn and refined sugars is anything but boring. The pristine pages include 72 year-round recipes, with a satisfying emphasis on the comforting flavors of fall. –Alisa Fleming

N’ice Cream
By Virpi Mikkonen and Tuulia Talvio
Avery Publishing, $25

Judging this book by its cover, and the inviting pictures within, we may have found the sweetest new summer companion. With nary an introduction, the authors begin buddying up to us with creamy concoctions ranging from simple Vanilla “ice cream” to decadent Chocolate Creamsicles with White Chocolate Glaze.

They then appeal to our desires for instant gratification with an entire chapter of frozen banana-based treats. A broad selection of creative ice pops, sorbets, “milkshakes,” “ice cream” cakes, cookie sandwiches and homemade toppings round out the more than 80 cool recipes.

As an added bonus, every recipe churned out by these authors is free of dairy, eggs, gluten, soy and refined sugars, and icons are included to denote nut-free options. –Alisa Fleming

Made with Love
By Kelly Childs and Erinn Weatherbie
Appetite by Random House, $24.95

A special delivery has arrived from the mother-daughter duo behind Kelly’s Bake Shoppe and Lettuce Love Café, two famed gluten-free and vegan restaurants in southwestern Ontario. The caring pair has released their first cookbook, and it’s a beautiful expression of their passion for wholesome home cooking as Well as the not-so-occasional sweet treat.

The hefty paperback was made to stand the test of time, housing over 100 dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and meat-free recipes to pass down through the generations. There are many old favorites, such as Waffles, Eggless Quiche and Red Velvet Cupcakes, but the generous smattering of stunning photography may entice you to create new traditions around unique recipes like the Lemon-Basil Lasagna, Banana-Butterscotch Loaf or Chocolate Radical Cookies. –Alisa Fleming


Judging the Top 100 Cookbooks - Recipes

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Well, it is for cookbook enthusiasts, at least. That’s because fall is traditionally the season when publishers release their A-Listers, and this year, things seem to be on overdrive — maybe because they know we might be hunkering down even more than usual over the next few months. Here are nine books I can’t wait to dive into on cozy, fire-in-the-fireplace kinda days…

Ottolenghi Flavor
By Yottam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage
Why I’m Excited: Sure, his recipes famously require many ingredients, but here’s the thing: the result is almost always extraordinary and stretches you to learn and expand your pantry. This book focuses on high-impact ingredients (black lime, cascabel chiles, mango pickle) and techniques (charring, infusing, browning) for boosting cooking with high-intensity flavor. I’m choosing to think of these dishes as projects or Saturday night adventures, a nice stand-in for the restaurants we probably won’t be able to go to this winter.
What’s Up First: Roasting Pan Ragu (made with mushrooms, harissa and lentils), Black Lime Tofu, Miso-Butter Onions

East 120 Vegan and Vegetarian recipes from Bangalore to Beijing
By Meera Sodha
Why I’m Excited: I’ve been a big fan of Sodha ever since she wrote the weeknight-friendly vegetable-forward Fresh India. Here, The Guardian‘s vegan columnist (and mom of a toddler) applies her same no-fuss style to East Asian and South Asian home cooking. She’s just the hand you want to be holding if you are going down the fermenting-and-pickling road to flavor-boosted plant-based eating. And you gotta love her mission: “I love vegetables, and I want you to love them, too.”
What’s Up First: Aubergine (Eggplant) Katsu Curry (above), Forbidden Rice Salad with Blistered Broccolini, and Miso, Pea and Coconut Chutney

In Bibi’s Kitchen The Recipes and Stories of Grandmothers From the Eight African Countries that Touch the Indian Ocean
By Hawa Hassan with Julia Turshen
Why I’m Excited: The two authors — Hassan, a Somalian refugee, former model, and business owner and Turshen, a cookbook author and collaborator — join forces to share the stories and the recipes from African grandmothers who hail from Eritrea, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and Comoros. “It’s not about what’s new and next,” they write. “It’s about sustaining a cultural legacy and seeing how food and recipes keep cultures intact.” Many of the recipes were transcribed from videos of the Bibis cooking dishes they’ve never written down. How great is that?
What’s Up First: Digaag Qumbe (chicken stew with coconut and yogurt, Somalia), Ndizi Kaanga (fried plantains, Tanzania), Malva Pudding Cake (South Africa)

Pie for Everyone: Recipes and Stories from Petee’s Pie, New York’s Best Pie Shop
By Petra Paredez
Why I’m Excited: I don’t know about you, but I’m determined to up my Thankgiving game, pie and otherwise, any way I can this year. (It’s called controlling the controllable.) Paradez’s gorgeously photographed, meticulously written book will play a central role in that strategy: The uber-popular Lower East Side pie maker shares hits from her sweet and savory collection in the most stylish way. How ’bout that cover?
What’s Up First: Her signature Chocolate Chess Pie, Pork Chili Verde, Honey Chèvre, Cornmeal Pecan Crumb

Mexican Home Kitchen: Traditional Home-style Recipes That Capture the Flavors and Memories of Mexico
By Mely Martinez
Why I’m Excited: Because it’s authentic Mexican home cooking from The Mexico in My Kitchen blogger, who started writing about food a decade ago because she wanted her teenage son to someday cook the family recipes for his children. With influences from Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Veracruz, Puebla, Estado de México, Tabasco and Yucatán.
What’s Up First: Steak Tacos, Mole Poblano, Pozole Verde, Chiles Rellenos

The Rise Black Cooks and the Soul of American Food
By Marcus Samuelsson with Osayi Endolyn
Why I’m Excited: Because I’ve been a Marcus Samuelsson fan ever since eating at Aquavit, his first big restaurant in New York in the 󈨞s. Samuelsson’s story has been well-documented — the TV star and New York-based restaurateur was born in a hut in Ethiopia, adopted by parents in Sweden, and trained as a chef in Europe, before opening the iconic Red Rooster in Harlem. With this book, he asks himself “What does it mean to be a Black chef in America” and answers it by sharing the stories and recipes from the Black food diaspora, from Junebaby’s Eduoardo Jourdan to author-food writer Toni Tipton-Martin. Co-authored by Osayi Endolyn recipes by Yewande Komolafe.
What’s Up First: Salmon Rillettes with Injera, Flaky Andouille and Callaloo Hand Pies, Grilled Piri Piri Shrimp with Papaya and Watermelon Salad (above)

Snacking Cakes Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings
By Yossy Arefi
Why I’m Excited: Anyone who’s even spent a little amount of time on this blog knows about our beloved Yossy! She’s one we call when we need someone to do it all — make the food, plate the food, photograph the food. (If you’ve ever cooked a recipe from CoJ, it’s likely because she’s the one who made it look so enticing.) With Snacking Cakes, she’s right there in her wheelhouse, delivering 50 easy, comforting, everyday cake recipes — many of which, like the Buckwheat Banana I made yesterday, you can make with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
What’s Up First: Salty Caramel Peanut Butter, Buttered Walnut with Coffee Glaze, Chocolate Peanut Butter

Coconut & Sambal Recipes From My Indonesian Kitchen
By Lara Lee
Why I’m Excited: Because Lee, the daughter of an Australian mom and Indonesian-Chinese dad, journeys across the country, learning from both experts and home cooks along the way, paying particularly beautiful homage to her Indonesian grandmother “Popo,” a onetime baker who lived with Lee’s family in Sydney. It’s a celebration of a cuisine I don’t know very much about — Indonesian — and Lee’s voice and style make it look so enticing.
What’s Up First: Beef Rendang, Gado-Gado, Chicken Nasi Goreng (above)

Chaat Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India: A Cookbook
By Maneet Chauhan and Jody Eddy
Why I’m Excited: Because it’s as fun to read as it is to cook from. You’ll travel with James Beard-Award winning Chauhan as she trains her way through India, stopping at each station to sample the regional chaat — the iconic snacks of Indian cuisine that she describes as “tangy and sweet, fiery and crunchy, savory and sour all in one topsy-turvy bite” fashioned for her by vendors she calls “flavor alchemists.” I love cookbooks that aren’t exclusively shot in a studio with controlled lighting and professional stylists. You’re on the street here, you meet the vendors, you’re completely transported. And how good does that sound right now?
What’s Up First: Fresh Lime Sodas (Rajasthan), Dal Baati Churma Chaat (Lentils with Wheat Rolls, Jaipur), Idli Chaat (South Indian-style steamed breakfast pancake)

What cookbooks have you recently been into? What have you made from them? I’d love to know.

(Photos: Aubergine by David Loftus. Steak tacos by Mely Martinez. Chicken Nasi Goreng by Lara Lee. Pies by Victor Garzon.)


These dishes have been designed for every occasion and the book offers recipes for a variety of diets. Cook rapid weekday meals, watch slow-cooked ramens simmer and even learn the art of making gyoza, Feed Your Soul is packed with tips and ideas for bringing Wagamama to your kitchen.

Watch: Simple steps to a healthier life

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Judging the Top 100 Cookbooks - Recipes

2 cups uncooked macaroni noodles
1 (16 ounce) package Velveeta Cheese
1 (15 ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Prepare macaroni according to package directions. Drain well, my mom says this is the key to making good Mac & Cheese. Return macaroni to the pan it was cooked in. Cube 3/4 of the Velveeta Cheese, add to macaroni. Add evaporated milk, milk, butter, salt, and pepper.

Cook over medium heat until bubbly. Cook 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese melts. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pour mixture into 8x8 inch baking dish or deep pie dish. Slice remaining Velveeta. Arrange cheese slices on top. Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown.

We can not have a family dinner without Mom's Mac & Cheese. This creamy cheesy comfort food is everyone's favorite and there would be riots in the kitchen if mom did not fix it.

I had so much fun in Florida with my family! But now it is back to reality. I am in Iowa to promote and peddle my cookbooks at the Iowa State Fair. For the next two weeks I will be posting pictures from the fair and prize winning recipe from the contests that I will be judging.


Cookie crazy

By Valerie Jarvie | Special Contributor

Published December 7, 2016

W ith The Dallas Morning News-Central Market Holiday Cookie Contest, in which readers send in their best recipes for holiday cookie baking, turning 21, we&rsquove added a Boozy category. And it was about time contestants have been spiking entries with liqueurs, whiskeys, wine and even beer for years. Mindful of changing diets, we also added a Special Diet category calling for recipes that are gluten-free, vegan, nut-free, egg-free, dairy-free, or any combination thereof. The new categories received a strong response in our annual call for entries, as did Bar, Easy and Decorated and the ever-popular Cookie Man.

The latter is a decorated category judged on looks alone, and the winner serves as the contest mascot for the coming year. And this year the mascot got cuter and more furry: The Cookie Man crown for 2016 goes to a cute-as-a-button llama (dubbed Fa La La Llama) by Suzy Cravens. Since the contest&rsquos inception in 1996, home bakers have been coming through each year with an amazing array of recipes. The 2016 contest brings the total raised in entry fees to almost $30,000 for the Dallas Morning News Charities benefiting the hungry and homeless.

Protecting the water system

This year we also had an additional sponsor, the City of Dallas, represented by Helen Dulac from the Office of Environmental Quality, who came to spread the word about an important way home bakers can assist in protecting the public water system. Most experienced home cooks know better than to pour cooking fats and oils down the drain, but did you know that flour dumped in the sink wreaks havoc on pipes and the sewer system? A flour and water combination hardens in the pipes, similar to papier-mâché. Scrape unused flour and dough remnants into waste cans before washing bowls and work surfaces. Approximately 60 contestants were asked to bring cookies to the final judging at Central Market on Lovers Lane on Nov. 2. While the judges deliberated, the finalists and their guests enjoyed refreshments and exchanged recipes. The top three awards in each of five categories were Central Market gift cards of $150, $100 and $50. Cravens received a $150 gift card and a stack of cookbooks for winning Cookie Man. The artistry of the entries, judged on taste, appearance and technique &mdash all approachable for the home cook &mdash wowed our panel of judges: Karen Cassady and Michelle Rodarte of Central Market Dallas Helen Dulac from the City of Dallas Erin McKool, founder and owner of Start Restaurant and Rebecca White, food blogger at apleasantlittlekitchen.com.

&ldquoI am just amazed at the creativity,&rdquo said McKool, who is known for clean fare made from scratch with carefully sourced ingredients. &ldquoGluten-free cookies are usually difficult, but these chocolate cookies can be made quickly. I&rsquom going to get some of these recipes and put them out at Christmastime,&rdquo she added. Fun spins on ingredients included marshmallows, poached pears, Parmesan cheese and, as noted, booze. First-time entrant Sarah Dozier, 30, of Dallas, entered a cookie variation of milk stout cupcakes she makes for friends involved in the QuakeCon video gaming conference. She had no idea of the size of the contest when she received her invitation to the finals. &ldquoI live nearby and just carried my little paper plate of cookies over here. I am shocked and amazed,&rdquo she said. Contestants also embraced the Special Diet category. &ldquoThe new category had me thinking out of my comfort zone,&rdquo Randy Pruett, 61, of Dallas, said. &ldquoI entered a chewy bar and coconut cookie that is vegan, gluten-free and healthy.&rdquo


Cookie contest FAQs

For those of you who might be wondering just how we judge cookies for the Holiday Cookie Contest, or why your cookie didn't make the cut, we prepared this list of FAQs:

Q. Why do you ask for entrants to bake and deliver cookies rather than just submit recipes?

A. Three reasons. One, it's impossible to look at a recipe on paper and know just how it will taste. We're often surprised after tasting a cookie we love to see just how simple the recipe is.

Two, we are judging not just the recipe, but the execution. And generally speaking, bakers who take care in the kitchen are more apt to submit polished recipes.

Three, logistically, this is a much more efficient way to conduct a contest, and it enables us to taste the cookies when they are truly fresh. (We do not have a test kitchen on site or professional testing staff.)

Q. Who are the judges?

A. Besides the food editor, judges consist of newsroom staff members with personal or professional food expertise, including the Journal Sentinel's restaurant critic and others.

On the final day of judging, the previous year's top winner helps us select the new winners from the finalists we've set aside. This year, that was Jane Mathews of Franksville. (Thank you, Jane!)

Q. What is the judging process?

A. Each day, as cookies arrive, we sample them and take notes. We separate out potential finalists, refrigerating the more perishable entries. On Friday, we resample the finalists and make our choices.

Q. Is there a scoring system?

A. No. We judge by discussion and consensus, waiting until everyone has had a chance to taste a cookie before sharing opinions.

Q. What kinds of things cause a cookie to be eliminated?

A. We approach each cookie expecting/hoping to like it. Among the qualities that have led us to eliminate a cookie from the winners' bracket are these: the "cookie" is too much like cake (one shouldn't need a fork to eat it) it's too floury or too dry the crust is soggy where crisp would be better the flavor lacks that special oomph, there is an "off" flavor or niggling aftertaste, or one flavor is too dominant the cookie is overly sweet it's underbaked or overbaked.

In some cases, it's a very good cookie, but it's not a holiday cookie this generally means it's too big and is more properly regarded as an after-school cookie.

Also, while we do not require 100% original recipes, we do expect them to be at least an adaptation. Cookie recipes we recognized or could easily trace verbatim to another source were automatically excluded from consideration.

Q. What was unique about the entries this year?

A. It was fun to see how entrants interpreted Localicious, a new category created to honor Wisconsin ingredients. Cranberries were probably the most common ingredient, but cookies also incorporated cherries, strawberries, potatoes cheese (mascarpone, even chèvre) sorghum, maple syrup or honey hazelnuts or black walnuts and in one novel case, craft beer.

Some entrants highlighted common baking ingredients such as eggs or butter as "local" by naming the Wisconsin brand or farm of origin. But a note to next year's aspirants: Roundy's brand flour and sugar do not meet the "local" criteria.

Q. How many calories do you consume each year during cookie contest week, and how much weight do you all gain?

We don't know, nor do we want to. Some questions are best left unanswered.


Best for Caribbean Barbecue: "Jerk From Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style"

In order to achieve the Caribbean flavor profile known as “jerk,” you need more than just the Islands’ signature spice blend—you need smoke. This distinct barbecue style is the subject of Helen Willinsky’s "Jerk From Jamaica," a collection of more than 100 recipes that go beyond chicken with jerk pork, beef, lamb, goat, and seafood, plus traditional Caribbean barbecue sides and desserts. If you're a fan of spicy smoked meats or ready to expand your barbecue repertoire, this is the barbecue cookbook for you.


Judging Barbecue Cook-offs

The third Saturday in August is a very important day for Texas barbecue. It marks the annual Taylor International Barbecue Cook-Off. This year was the twenty-second time the event has raised the temperature in Murphy Park.

Even before the annual barbecue cook-off began, Taylor was known far and wide as the barbecue center of Texas. Three world-famous barbecue cafes are located within blocks of each other in Taylor. Rudy's Barbecue, Louie Mueller's Barbecue and the Taylor Cafe all have their devotees.

I was selected to be a judge at the very first Taylor International Barbecue Cook-Off. It was such a fine way to spend a day that I've only missed two of the twenty-two events. The competition is sponsored by the Taylor Junior Chamber of Commerce. Invitations to the judges go out about two months in advance. The prospective judges are asked to give their preference as to what categories they wish to judge.

On the day of judgment, the judges gather at the Durango Room of Rudy's Barbecue for a mixer and a briefing on judging procedures for the new judges. Tim Mikeska and his sister, Mopsy, host the gathering and provide a fine noon meal for the judges. The meal is non-barbecue. Tim and Mopsy turn out some of the finest fried chicken and catfish around, along with the "trimmin's". No one has ever been able to get an accurate count, but there are always from 50 to 75 judges. At about eleven o'clock, the judges adjourn to Murphy Park for the judging.

One thing you can count on at the barbecue, the weather will be HOT! Temperatures in the triple digits are the norm. In the cooking area amid the dozens of barbecue pits, the temperature can run much higher. The cooks have learned to cope with the heat. They bring shade, drink plenty of liquids and dress for the weather.

This year I was assigned to judge the finals of the brisket competition. I wasn't due at the table until 2:45, so I had time to visit. Right off, I spotted my old friend Bill Bridges from Palestine, Texas. Bill is a retired writer-photographer and is the author of The Great Chili Book, which is the best tome on the subject. Bill and I exchanged our latest medical reports and then discussed various barbecue establishments we had visited. Bill has probably been in more barbecue cafes than any other living American.

Bill left to go judge the "Best looking Pit" category. I went to visit Harley Goerlitz, champion barbecuer and fence builder from Giddings, Texas. Harley is one of the cookers who has learned to dress for the weather. Harley wears a pair of cut-off jeans, a pair of boots, an apron and a straw hat. I arrived at Harley's camp just as he was sending his seafood sample in for judging. I got one of the shrimp that didn't fit in the container. Harley's shrimp was grilled with a good red sauce and bell pepper. Was very good. Harley and I exchanged news and then he had to go back to finishing his other entries for the competition.

There are seven divisions for barbecue at Taylor. Beef, ribs, pork, poultry, lamb, seafood and wild game. Multiply seven divisions by 85 to 100 contestants and you get a lot of barbecue. After the judging is completed, the leftover samples are collected by one of the Taylor food pantries and will end up on the tables of some needy folks.

Seafood is the most popular category with the judges. They can always count lots of shrimp. This year, there was a bit of lobster to compete with the shrimp. Various fish round out the category. Ribs get a lot of attention, too. Everyone loves a good rib. All the categories have their champions, so there is never a paucity of judges for any one category. For years, my favorite category was wild game. There was always a real assortment of meats to choose from. I've had armadillo, alligator, rattlesnake, venison, and a lot of things that were known only as "mystery meat". One year, my friends from the Great Northwest made me believe their sample was cougar. For those of you who wonder, it was like a giant chicken gizzard.

The last few years I have concentrated on the brisket at Taylor. After all, brisket is THE Texas barbecue. Every year there will be a half-dozen or more of Texas's finest brisketeers competing at Taylor. It is worth wading through a few so-so briskets to reach one of the really great briskets. This year there were seventeen brisket samples on the final table. The preliminary judges had culled out the wannabees and left the final judges with the cream of the crop.

There were six judges on the final table. The judges are provided with drinks, a plate of cheese, crackers and grapes for clearing the taste buds, a knife and fork, and the all-important judging sheet and pencil.

The samples are in Styrofoam cartons. Each carton has a judging number written on the top. The cooks are allowed to wrap their samples in foil to keep in the warmth and moisture. Nothing else is allowed in the judging carton. Each sample is passed around the table. The judges check for appearance, aroma, tenderness and taste. They also use their own personal criteria for judging. Each sample is scored from one to ten, with one being the low score, and the scores are recorded on the judging sheet. Conversation ceases while judging is in progress. Each judge is concentrating on the sample in front of him or her. A bevy of nice young ladies keep the judges' glasses charged with beer, tea, soda pop or water. No one goes dry.

As the samples passed me, I recorded my scores. The first few samples were just about average so they got a "five". Then came one that had the proper black crust, decent smoke ring and a taste that went all the way through the slice it scored a "seven". There were a couple of disappointments. One sample resembled roast beef more than anything else -- no smoke flavor, no crust. Another was sliced really thin. When the cook gets a tough brisket, he slices it really thin hoping the judges won't notice. Toward the end of the judging came the brisket I had been waiting for. It had the black crust, deep red smoke ring about three-eighths of an inch thick, and it was as juicy as an orange. But most of all, it had the taste that only a championship Texas brisket can have. Just delicious. I gave it a "nine" because we all know there is no perfect brisket.

I've already marked the third Saturday in August, 2000 as Taylor International Barbecue Cook-Off Day. Why don't you do the same?


Linda J. Amendt

Linda J. Amendt is widely known for her extensive blue ribbon baking expertise, exceptional blue ribbon preserves, and the outstanding quality of her delicious creations. She loves sharing her blue ribbon baking and home canning knowledge, techniques and tips, and award-winning recipes with home cooks everywhere.

Cookbook Author

Linda J. Amendt is the author of six cookbooks, earning 16 national and international book awards for her food writing. Her friendly, easy-going writing style appeals to readers of all ages and makes home cooks feel like she is right there in the kitchen with them, guiding them through the process of preparing her delicious and creative recipes. She has the unique ability to speak to readers on their own experience level, whether they are a beginner or an advanced cook. Linda Amendt fills her books with an abundance of tips and shares her secrets to success so anyone can achieve great results at home in their own kitchen.

Blue Ribbon Baker and Canner

Linda J. Amendt is an accomplished and experienced blue ribbon baker and home canner, winning nearly 1000 awards in state and county fair food competitions and baking contests across the country, including over 700 first place blue ribbons and special awards for excellence, and earning national recognition for her exquisite food creations.

In competitions at state and county fairs using the American System of judging, Linda Amendt had over a 50% 1st place win ratio &ndash over half of all of her entries earned 1st place awards. At fairs using the Danish System of judging, she maintained a
100% 1st place win ratio.

State and County Fair Judge

With the publication of her first cookbook, Linda J. Amendt officially retired from state and county fair food competitions. The 2-time Top Preserved Foods Competitor in the United States and multiple Baked Foods Sweepstakes winner currently serves as a highly respected judge, advisor, and sponsor for baked foods, preserved foods, and special food contests at state and county fairs. She thoroughly enjoys judging baked goods and preserved foods competitions and specialty contests.

Linda also shares her insider secrets on preparing the best entries and how to win those coveted blue ribbons in baked goods and preserved foods competitions. Linda Amendt enjoys talking with other home cooks and bakers and sharing her extensive award-winning knowledge, expertise, and experience.

Cookie Cookbook

Turning her expertise to sharing her special award-winning cookie techniques developed through years of baking experience and competition, blue ribbon baking authority Linda Amendt's third cookbook, 400 Sensational Cookies, was released on September 1, 2009.

400 Sensational Cookies contains a wide range of tantalizing and delicious cookie recipes and extensive information on baking equipment, ingredients and techniques to make the best cookies. From drop cookies, bars and squares, and brownies to biscotti, shortbreads and many more, this special book is jam-packed with easy recipes to make great cookies. You are sure to discover several new favorites!

Home Canning Cookbooks

Linda Amendt&rsquos newest preserved foods cookbook, 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads, has earned an acclaimed International Cookbook Academy Award, the Culinary Accolade of the 21st Century.

175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads focuses exclusively on soft spreads &ndash the most popular category of home-preserved foods. It contains tantalizing recipes for everything from jams, jellies and marmalades to preserves, conserves, butters and curds. 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads also includes special chapters focusing on Savory Spreads and even Drunken Spreads containing a variety of liqueurs.

Her first cookbook, Blue Ribbon Preserves: Secrets to Award-Winning Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & More was chosen by the International Association of Culinary Professionals as a finalist for the IACP Cookbook Awards in the category First Book: The Julia Child Award. This prestigious category honors the best cookbooks written by new authors.

Both 175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades & Other Soft Spreads and Blue Ribbon Preserves have been featured by The Good Cook book club, a division of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Future Cookbooks

In future cookbooks, Linda J. Amendt will focus on recipes for delightful breakfast and brunch treats, sweet and savory quick breads, luscious cakes and cupcakes, and flavorful pies and tarts.

Other Interests

In addition to her love for baking and home canning, the author and California native also enjoys gardening and has worked as a volunteer float decorator for the Tournament of Roses Parade for over 30 years.



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