Editor's note: Times' Columnist Philip Potempa will be reporting from Las Vegas beginning Sunday following Julie Beckwith's progress at the 46th annual Pillsbury Bake-Off.
There are big changes this year for the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Launched in 1949, for the first quarter of a century the Pillsbury Bake-Off was held annually. But beginning in 1976, it was changed to an "every other year" schedule. The event, produced by General Mills, is now going to return as an every year competition.
In 2010, Julie Beckwith of Crete competed at the 44th annual baking event in the "Entertaining Appetizers" category with her "Caprese Pesto Margherita Stackers."
Beckwith, her husband Jim and sons Jamie, 18, and Josh, 16, (at the time) headed to Orlando. Oprah Winfrey agreed to announce the $1 million grand prize winner live on her talk show.
Beckwith, who had lots of students also cheering her on because of her association as a speech language pathologist at Talala Elementary School in Park Forest, Ill., has been a familiar face in recent years at the Bake-Off. She didn't win the top spot in 2010. But in March 2012, Beckwith headed back to the Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando in the hotel ballroom of The Peabody Orlando Hotel when it was Martha Stewart who had the honor hosting the event and announcing the $1 million winning recipe, which unfortunately, was not Beckwith's Italiano Chicken Sliders recipe.
This year, she is once again among the 100 finalists for the 46th Pillsbury Bake-Off for her recipe for Upside Down Tomato Basil and Chicken Tartlets, which she's shared here today for Times readers. Her recipe is included in the "Simple Sweets and Starters" category, and among the new rules this year, online voting of the general public determined who would compete among the semi-finalists for the chance at this year's $1 million.
Beckwith made the narrowed down 100 finalists and will compete at this year's Bake-Off Contest finals, held this weekend Nov. 10-12, at the Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The competition is Monday morning and the winner is being announced Monday night during an awards dinner ceremony.
"I'm traveling to Las Vegas on Friday with my husband and my oldest son Jamie, who is now 21," Beckwith said.
"For the last Bake-Off, it was my sister and my mom with attended with me to cheer me on."
Also new this year, to encourage simpler, original recipes, submissions like Beckwith's were limited to seven or fewer ingredients and must take 30 minutes or less to prepare, not including baking or cooling time. There's also now only three contest categories to compete in this year: "Simple Sweets and Starters," "Amazing Doable Dinners" and "Rise and Shine Breakfasts." For more information, visit bakeoff.com.
Beckwith says though her family moved to the Chicago area when she was young, they still kept a culinary tradition from her roots in Southern California.
And now, the scalloped corn recipe her aunt used to make for Thanksgiving and Christmas is her job on holidays. After starting a family of her own, she earned both her bachelor's and master's degrees with young children at home.
Today, in addition to her cooking and baking craft, she's using her degrees to improve her students' lives.
"Not an easy task," she said. "They have a thirst for learning, and it is wonderful to see them take pride in their accomplishments."
As a requirement for the competition, contestants are required to use a number of brand name sponsor ingredients in their submitted recipes.
Upside Down Tomato Basil and Chicken Tartlets
1/3 cup Crisco 100 percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper and garlic seasoning blend
1/2 cup finely chopped deli rotisserie chicken breast
3 sticks (1 ounce each) tomato basil string cheese, finely chopped
8 thin plum (Roma) tomato slices (1 medium tomato)
1 can Pillsbury Place 'n Bake refrigerated crescent rounds
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil leaves
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 375 degrees. In small bowl, mix olive oil and 2 teaspoons of the seasoning blend. Let stand 5 minutes to blend flavors. In another small bowl, mix chicken, cheese and 2 teaspoons of the seasoning blend. Generously grease 8 nonstick regular-size muffin cups with 2 teaspoons of the olive oil mixture. Blot excess liquid from tomato slices with paper towels. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the seasoning blend. Place one tomato slice, seasoned side down, in bottom of each muffin cup. Remove dough from can but do not separate. With serrated knife, cut dough evenly into 16 rounds. Press each into 3-inch round. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 teaspoon seasoning blend over 8 of the rounds. Press seasoned rounds, seasoned side down, over tomato slices and partially up sides of muffin cups. Evenly divide chicken mixture into each cup. Top each with remaining crescent rounds. Press rounds so tops are even and tartlets will sit flat when removed from muffin cups. Bake 13 to 16 minutes or until deep golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes. Run knife around edges to loosen. Invert muffin pan onto heatproof platter to remove tartlets. Sprinkle with chopped basil. Drizzle with remaining olive oil mixture or use for dipping. Makes 8 servings.
Nutrition Information: Serving Size: 1 Serving, Calories 230 (Calories from Fat 160), Total Fat 18 g (Saturated Fat 4 1/2 g, Trans Fat 1 1/2g ), Cholesterol 15 mg, Sodium 570 mg, Total Carbohydrate 12g
SOURCE: 46th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off and General Mills
Julie's Chicken Italiano Sliders
4 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon McCormick Ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
2 cans Pillsbury Place 'n Bake refrigerated crescent rounds
3 tablespoons Crisco 100 percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon McCormick Italian Seasoning
1 (9-ounce) package refrigerated cooked Italian-style chicken breast strips, finely chopped
2 medium plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut into 16 slices
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly spray 2 cookie sheets with Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Freeze mozzarella cheese 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine mayonnaise, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of the chopped basil; mix well. Cover; refrigerate. Place crescent rounds 2 inches apart on cookie sheets. In small bowl, stir together olive oil and Italian seasoning. Lightly brush tops of rounds with 1 tablespoon of the oil mixture. Bake 8 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes. Using serrated knife, cut crescent rounds in half horizontally. Place 16 crescent halves, cut side up, on cookie sheets. Lightly brush with oil mixture. Bake 5 to 9 minutes or until golden brown. Repeat with remaining crescent halves and oil mixture. Shred mozzarella cheese. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon of the mayonnaise mixture on each cut side of crescent rounds. Top bottom of each crescent round with 1 rounded tablespoon chicken, 1 tomato slice and 1 tablespoon shredded mozzarella. Place on cookie sheets. Set oven control to broil. Broil 4 to 6 inches from heat 2 to 3 minutes or until cheese is melted. Remove from oven; top with remaining basil and crescent round tops. Secure sliders with cocktail toothpicks. Makes 16 sandwiches.
SOURCE: 45th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off and General Mills
Caprese Pesto Margherita Stackers
1 (8-ounce) container fresh mozzarella ciliegine cheese (24 cherry-size balls)
1 (11-ounce) can Pillsbury refrigerated original breadsticks (12 breadsticks)
3 tablespoons basil pesto
1 tablespoon Crisco 100 percent Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Pure Olive Oil
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
24 frilled toothpicks
24 grape tomatoes
24 fresh basil leaves
DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray 24 mini muffin cups with Crisco Original No-Stick Cooking Spray. Drain cheese balls; pat dry with paper towels. On work surface, unroll dough; separate into 12 breadsticks. Cut each breadstick in half crosswise; press each half into 3-inch by 2-inch rectangle. Spread rounded 1/4 teaspoon of the pesto lengthwise down center of each dough rectangle. Place 1 cheese ball on each rectangle. Carefully stretch dough around cheese; pinch edges to seal completely. Place seam sides down in muffin cups. Brush with oil; sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake 14 to 20 minutes or until deep golden brown. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Remove from pan. With each toothpick, spear tomato and basil leaf; insert into cheese ball. Serve warm. Makes 24.
SOURCE: 44th Annual Pillsbury Bake-Off and General Mills