When I woke up early at 6 a.m. Monday at the farm, a light coating of frost covered the shaded areas of the surrounding lawns and there was even a thin layer of ice on the birdbath.
The temperature readings this week on the yard thermometer are now starting to match the dates on the wall calender in the farm kitchen, as we've already reached the half-way point for the month of October.
It's a great time to showcase chili, using any final tomatoes and peppers from the gardens, for fall menus.
On Sunday, I served on the celebrity judging panel at Lansing's Autumn Fest in Lansing, Ill. for the 2nd Annual Lansing Autumn Fest Chili Cook-Off. Our judging criteria was based on texture, flavor, consistency, spice, color and aroma.
The panel of judges also included Illinois State Representative Marcus Evans for the 33rd District, Illinois State Representative Elgie Sims for the 34th District, Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore for the 4th District and TV Producer Meghan Hoffman Baher, who has served as the producer for country singer Trisha Yearwood's popular Food Network cable cooking show "Trisha's Southern Kitchen" for the past four seasons.
Meghan, who lives with her husband in Chicago when not shooting episodes for Trisha's cooking show, is the niece of Laurie Crosby, who serves as one of the directors of the Lansing Association for Community Events, the organization that hosted Sunday's fall festival and chili competition.
Meghan stays busy dividing her time between Chicago and Los Angeles for the editing and post-production of the cooking series, which is shot right in Tulsa, Okla., where Trisha and husband Garth Brooks have their home with their three daughters.
It was a perfect time to spend some time chatting with Meghan, since Trisha is creating lots of buzz this week with everyone talking about what Meghan confirmed to be the singer's recent close to 30-pound weight-loss.
"Touring and doing concerts on the road are the hardest part for keeping an eye on menus and watching your weight," said Meghan, who also hinted that Trisha has her own fantastic chili recipe she's previously shared with her fans and viewers.
Much of this week's buzz about Trisha has been generated by the release of the November issue of Oprah Winfrey's O Magazine, which hit stands yesterday, and includes an incredible spread about the country singing sensation, featuring an interview about how she lost her weight and a knockout fashion photo spread.
Meghan said this marks the first time Trisha has done a big fashion photo shoot, which is also timed to remind the masses about the launch of the new season of her Food Network show 9:30 a.m. CST Saturday, Nov. 9 with details at foodnetwork.com/trisha
Trisha tells O: "I lost the weight eight months ago, and I still wake up every day and think there's no way my clothes will fit. I used to try on 10 things and just wear whatever was the least offensive. I guess I still have that mental block."
Meghan said she noticed Trisha even began to adapt some of the featured recipes on her show in recent years.
"I'd stay starting in Season Two, was the first time Trisha began including some new twists to favorite recipes, such as a vegan lasagna that included tofu in place of the ricotta cheese," she said.
Meghan, who said Garth is also following his wife's lead and dropping some pounds, said some great guest stars have already shot episodes with Trisha for their appearances on this new season's shows, including Kelly Clarkson, football star Kurt Warner and even Oprah claim-to-fame personal chef Art Smith, the latter, who has also dropped considerable weight in recent years.
As for the top winner of Sunday's chili contest, the honor went to Debra Hunt of Markham, Ill. with her "CSI Chili" creation. As the first place winner, she received $100 in cash, a trophy and free entry for the ICS Chilly Willy Chili Challenge in Orland Hills, Ill. Since Debra's chili is still headed for another round of competition, I can't share her recipe with readers.
So instead, I'm sharing a recipe that was promised to be published last week, but was omitted when my column had to be trimmed for space constraints, prompting readers to call and write in asking the status of the recipe. So, just one week late, here is Valparaiso University Professor David Weber's recipe for a great Parmesan cheese flat bread, perfect for turning on the oven to take the chill out of the house and ideal to serve up with a fresh batch of homemade chili.
Professor Weber's Easy Parmesan Flat Bread
3 tablespoons of yeast from jar
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste
1 cup of yogurt, heated to 100 degrees
Agave or molasses or honey, to taste
1 cup oatmeal, not instant
3 cups white flour
Cornmeal as needed
Brushing of olive oil or melted butter
Parmesan cheese, grated as needed.
DIRECTIONS: Combine the yeast, salt and white pepper with the heated yogurt to proof yeast. Once yeast activates, add eggs and enough agave, molasses or honey to taste and texture, adding 1 cup oatmeal and 3 cups of white flour to make a sticky dough. Allow dough to sit for at least 24 hours to begin souring. Roll dough out with large amounts of corn meal on a high temp pizza stone or baking sheet. Cut into strips before baking. Brush with oil or melted butter and sprinkle with Parmesan and bake at 500 degrees 3 minutes on one side and 2 minutes on the other. Makes 10 servings.