Kitchen creativity is rewarded

RUNNELLS – A flair for cooking, a love of Iowa agriculture and a competitive spirit have paid off in a big way for Cristen Clark of rural Runnells. Her most recent achievement? Her Sour Apple Pork Burgers, which earned her $17,500 in prize money in the Sutter Home Winery’s Build A Better Burger national burger cook-off in St. Helena, Calif., in May.

“I just wanted to do my best,” said Clark, whose sour apple pork burgers recipe is included in her popular blog, www.foodandswine.com.

“I was shocked when I hear that I’d won not only the People’s Choice category, but the top prize in the Alternative Burger contest.”

This isn’t Clark’s first time in the winner’s circle. She has earned countless ribbons and sweepstakes awards for her baked goods, desserts and more at the Iowa State Fair. She enjoys contests like the “Farm Kitchen to Farm Field” contest, where entries include foods that are easy to prepare and transport to farmers working in the field.

It’s a natural fit for Clark, who grew up on a farm near Prairie City and now raises hogs with her husband, Mike, who is also a swine nutrition specialist. “I have many fond memories of growing up on the farm,” said Clark, a public relations specialist who is glad she can keep her two children, Halle, 5, and Barrett, 2, connected to agriculture. “I draw on this inspiration as I create new recipes.”

This was reflected in her biggest win at the 2013 Iowa State Fair, where she earned first-place honors in the Kenmore Honored Harvest Time Recipe Contest. To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Kenmore conducted a year-long, nationwide search for recipes that have stood the test of time. Clark’s recipe for Sweet Corn Ravioli with Sauteed Summer Vegetables earned her a $5,000 Kenmore kitchen makeover and a trip to New York City last October. She joined some of the nation’s top chefs to serve up her award-winning dish at the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival.

To keep the creative juices flowing, Clark enjoys reading cookbooks and watching food channels on TV. She also started blogging in 2013, and offers cooking and baking classes from her kitchen in rural Runnells.

“I enjoy the people I meet through the classes I teach and the cooking contests I enter,” said Clark, a former Drake University softball pitcher who now channels her competitive spirit through food. “I like to help others discover the fun of cooking.”

Ultimate pork breakfast burgers

This recipe makes 6 generous breakfast burgers.

6 eggs, fried, seasoned with salt and pepper

6 slices of American cheese

1 /2 pound ultra-thick bacon, cooked until l chewy/crisp, long strips cut in half

1 1 / 2 pounds of ground pork

Seasoned salt (Cristen likes Lawry’s)

1 package King’s Hawaiian hamburger buns, split, buttered and toasted over grill

Fry eggs, remove from heat to plate, top with 1 cheese slice each. Cook bacon as desired. Set aside in warm area.

Shape meat into 6 patties of equal size, season with Lawry’s. Grill for 3 minutes per side over medium-high heat. Spread a small amount of butter on hamburger buns, toast on grill grate until golden. Set aside. Remove finished patties from heat. To assemble, place toasted bun bottom down, and top with patty, egg, bacon and bun top. Serve immediately, or wrap in foil to preserve warmth and serve as soon as possible.

Iowa Cattlemen’s sliders

Cristen has competed in the Westfest Des Moines’ Beef Slider Challenge. This recipe makes 18 sliders.

24 ounces ultra-thick-cut applewood-smoked bacon

2 pounds ground chuck (80/20 blend)

10 ounces Maytag white cheddar cheese or other cheddar or American cheese

60 slices of premium dill pickles (juice reserved)

5 to 6 cups (one large order) thinly sliced prepared fried onion strings/rings (*or prepare your own fried onions-see recipe below)

Western-style BBQ sauce or ketchup

18 wooden skewers

Preheat grill to medium-high heat. Cut bacon strips in half so pieces are smaller. Fry bacon in large skillet over grill grate until chewy/crisp. Drain slightly on paper towels. Set aside.

Divide ground chuck into 18 portions. Press into desired shape to fit slider bun, handling meat as little as possible. Depress center of raw burger slightly with thumb so burger doesn’t puff during grilling. Season patties with seasoning salt of your choice. Grill patties on one side 2 minutes. Flip patties; place a generous half-ounce of Maytag white cheddar cheese on each patty top. Finish grilling patties to medium rare or medium doneness. Remove from grill to platter and let rest three minutes.

Meanwhile, spread onion strings out in dry skillet. Toss to heat through and crisp. Toast buns over grill grate.

To assemble:

1. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon pickle juice on bottom bun.

2. Add cheese topped patty.

3. Add 2 “short” strips of bacon in an X pattern.

4. Add 3 slices of dill pickles.

5. Twist 1 / 4 cup onion strings together for each slider. Place on top of pickles.

6. Spread 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of western-style BBQ sauce or ketchup on toasted bun tops.

6. Cover onions with toasted bun top.

7. Place wooden skewer through burger to hold in place.

You can make your own onion strings by slicing onions very thinly into rings, soaking in buttermilk and tossing in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Fry in 350-degree oil for a couple of minutes until golden brown. Remove from oil with slotted spoon. Sprinkle with salt.

Old-fashioned cream cheese mints

Cristen always enjoys these tasty mints, which have traditionally been served at wedding receptions, graduation parties and wedding/baby showers.

8 ounces regular cream cheese, softened

2 pounds powdered sugar (32-ounce bag)

1 / 4 teaspoon almond extract

1 / 8 teaspoon mint extract

Food coloring of choice

Granulated sugar for rolling, shaping and storing

In the bowl of a sturdy stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds. Add powdered sugar and extracts. Mix well until incorporated.

Add food coloring a few drops at a time; mix until desired color is achieved. (For pale pink, for example, add just a few drops of red until desired shade is achieved. For turquoise, the ratio of 1.5 drops blue to 1 drop green.)

To shape without molds, pinch of a piece of the mixture and roll into a ball the size of a penny. Roll between your fingers. Roll in sugar. Place on sugar sprinkled wax paper or silicon liner on a sheet pan. Press with a fork until flattened slightly and tines make a decorative design. Sprinkle top with a pinch more sugar. Repeat until finished with batch.

Leave out at room temperature, uncovered for 24-36 hours to dry. Once dried, the mints may be stored in an airtight container in single layers between wax paper. Makes approximately 10 to 12 dozen mints.