21 Apr Edwina’s Winning Ways
Great Falls cook whips up top finisher in national chocolate cooking contest
By SYDNE GEORGE For the Tribune
Winning cooking contests is becoming old hat for Edwina Gadsby. The Great Falls woman recently learned she was a $10,000 grand prize winner in the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest for her Smoky Cocoa Dusted Pommes Frites with Peanut Cumin Dipping Sauce.
Cooks were invited to create recipes using Scharffen Berger chocolate products and one or more of 16 specified adventure ingredients— fresh mint, ginger, pandan leaf, banana leaf, sumac, raw honey, cacoa nibs, chili pepper, Malbec, peanut butter, blackeyed peas, rice flour, papaya, cumin, paprika and smoked sea salt — chosen to pair well with the sponsor’s chocolate.
Inspired by her travels through France and Belgium where she saw street vendors selling pomme frites with a mayonnaise- based dipping sauce, Gadsby started with something she had made before, french fries. In developing her recipe, Gadsby wanted to use the unsweetened cocoa powder because she said it adds a different dimension to recipes. She ended up dusting the pomme frites with it. Working with the warm and smoky array of spices, she incorporated cumin into the mix, “and the flavor just popped,” she said, adding that the peanut butter gave a nice hint of flavor.
Gadsby was shocked when Lisa Schiffman, founder of contest sponsor tuttiefoodie.com, called to tell her she was a grand-prize winner.
“It was really a surprise,” she said.
Gadsby said this was an especially fun contest.
“I like a challenge,” she said, “and it was a chance to think outside the box. It was a lot of fun putting together flavors.”
Gadsby is not sure yet what she’ll do with the $10,000 that comes with winning, but she and her husband might take a trip in the fall to San Francisco and the Napa Valley, an area they particularly enjoy. She said they are getting close to retirement, and they are saving toward that as well.
She’s been entering cooking contests for more than 10 years and typically enters eight to 10 a year.
The first contest she ever entered was one for Country Living magazine, sponsored by Land o’ Lakes butter. She remembers flipping through the magazine and seeing that the grand prize was a trip to Vermont to stay in a bed and breakfast there.
“I had always wanted to go to Vermont, so I entered, and I won for a recipe for a baked caramel apple French toast,” she said.
Since then, she has amassed a long and prestigious list of cooking contest wins, but she said she’s not sure there is a secret to her winning ways. She likened her contest preparation to cramming for a test.
“I think what you should do is read the rules of each contest and get an idea of what they want,” she said. “Look at previous winners and get a feel for what they are looking for and a sense of how to use their product.”
She’s been to all the major cookoffs — the Pillsbury Bake-off, Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest, National Chicken Cook-off, National Beef Cookoff as well as many magazine contests. She currently is in the April issue of Better Homes and Gardens for winning a dessert contest.
“I just enjoy doing it,” Gadsby said. “I think the first thing I remember doing was Christmas cookies.”
Before moving to Great Falls, Edwina and her husband Bob lived in San Diego, where she worked as an accountant for the city. Living there exposed her to different cultures and flavors, which have been a source of inspiration for Gadsby in her recipe development. Being close to the Mexican border in San Diego as well as having Asian influences there, had an impact on Gadsby and caused her to get out and try new things, she said.
Now as a homemaker and self proclaimed “contester,” she spends her time taking care of the house and her husband and their dog. She sees these contests as a creative outlet.
“I cook every day and try to make everything from scratch,” she said, so entering cooking contests was a natural extension of that.
“For me, the kitchen is my workshop and I get to experiment,” Gadsby said. “It’s a challenge to create something nobody’s done before. It’s fun to put my own spin on something, something no one’s thought of.”
The process of entering a cooking contest really varies, Gadsby said, adding that sometimes she’ll see a really big grand prize but she’s not inspired by the product, so she doesn’t enter.
Other times, like with the Chocolate Adventure Contest, she’s excited from the start. According to Gadsby, everybody loves chocolate, and she enjoyed experimenting with the adventure ingredients. She jumped right in and began thinking about what would taste good with cumin and ran with it from there.
For Gadsby, there seems to be a systematic process to entering the contests.
“First, I have to visualize it, taste it in my mind,” she said.
Then she does a rough draft and gets in the kitchen to start creating. She makes it once and then critiques it. Then she might make it one or two more times until it is the best it can be, she said.
Her husband Bob has had great success in the contest arena as well, entering his first contest a year or so after Edwina began entering. And just like his wife, Bob won the first contest he ever entered.
“He doesn’t have as much time to play in the kitchen as I do, but we do bounce things off of each other,” she said.
They act as each other’s critics. While Bob doesn’t love everything Edwina makes, she said he’s honest, and she appreciates the feedback.
Edwina’s not sure what’s next and but said she is having fun doing what she is doing right now. The contests have allowed the Gadsbys to travel and meet wonderful people.
“It really has been a great adventure,” she said.
SMOKY COCOA-DUSTED POMMES FRITES WITH PEANUT-CUMIN DIPPING SAUCE Pommes Frites
2 tbsp. Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder (available at Pizazz)
1½ tbsp. smoked paprika
2 tsp. cumin
1½ to 2 tbsp. smoked sea salt, to taste
5 large baking potatoes (Russet or Yukon Gold), peeled
1 quart peanut oil or vegetable oil
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano or cilantro, optional Dipping sauce
1 cup good-quality mayonnaise
2 tbsp. creamy peanut butter
2 tsp. raw honey
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. cumin
For Pommes Frites: Combine Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder, smoked paprika, cumin, and sea salt; set aside.
Cut potatoes into ¼-inch thick slices, then cut each slice into ¼inch thick fries. Place in large bowl of cold (ice) water.
Heat oil in large saucepan to 325°. Drain fries, in batches, on paper towels. Fry in batches until a pale golden color, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Increase oil temperature to 375°. Working in batches, fry the potatoes again, until golden brown, two to three minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels.
Liberally season with the cocoa mixture. Sprinkle with oregano, or cilantro, if desired.
For dipping sauce: Whisk together mayonnaise, peanut butter, honey, lemon juice and cumin.
Presentation: Paper cones filled with the fries and individual dipping bowls make for a fun presentation.