Autumn’s bounty of food fests, hearty recipes, cooking contests

KOHLER FOOD AND WINE EXPERIENCE PHOTO

KOHLER FOOD AND WINE EXPERIENCE PHOTO

Hard to believe it’s October as I write this because forecast temps remain about 10 degrees higher than average for the month, but that hasn’t stopped me from shifting my menus to soups, stews and anything else that seems traditional for this time of year.

For some people, this is a month of pilgrimage. The Kohler Food and Wine Experience, Oct. 20-23, attracts fans of celebrity chefs, lovers of gourmet fare and home cooks in search of inspiration. Headliners include chefs Spike Mendelsohn, Aaron Sanchez and Amanda Freitag of the Food Network; Jack Bishop, Bridget Lancaster and Julia Collin Davison of America’s Test Kitchen.

The 16th annual event keeps growing, both in size (a record 106 ticketed events this year) and popularity (80 percent of those tickets were sold before September ended, less than two months after going on sale).

Most everything that involves tailgating recipes is sold out. That includes a Tailgate Challenge for Kohler restaurant chefs on Oct. 20.

Reps from more than 50 wineries introduce some of the world’s best varietals. Their hourlong tasting seminars are specific, covering the worlds of Malbec to Prosecco. On the biggest stages, chefs share cooking advice while demonstrating recipes in all courses for up to 200 onlookers at a time.

Why here? “It began as a way to give the locals to Chicagoans something to do during a time of year that tends to be quieter,” explains Jenna Check, associate director of special events.

Larger gourmet food/wine festivals exist in the nation, but she is proud of the level of expertise that the Kohler event attracts. Attendees often have an opportunity to converse with a celebrity chef, she says, “something not possible at lots of other festivals, where the chefs are just whisked in and out.”

Even if you don’t attend a ticketed event (most are $39 or $49), there are free nibbles during a daily vendor fair at Woodlake Market, a Gourmet Marketplace at The American Club and free seminars at Kohler Design Center. For more: kohlerfoodandwine.com, 855-444-2838.

Prefer to simply cook instead of hear others talk about it? Our good neighbor to the west has ideas to share. U.S. Rep. Tim Walsh, D-Minn., is winner of the sixth annual Minnesota Congressional Delegation Hotdish Off hosted by former “Saturday Night Live” comedian Al Franken, a U.S. senator for the state since 2008.

“It’s always nice to put aside our differences and come together over some great hotdish,” Franken says, in a press release, about the nonpartisan event that promotes Minnesota cuisine and had 10 congressional entries. The event motto is “Working together to improve the lives of Minnesotans, one hotdish at a time.”

Here is the winning recipe, selected in a blind taste test by three judges who included a newspaper food critic. Serve this hotdish with sour cream, hot sauce, avocados, cilantro or your favorite taco topping.

TIM’S TURKEY TACO TOT HOTDISH

1 large red bell pepper
1 yellow onion
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt, as needed
Pepper, as needed
2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 pound ground turkey
1 can sliced black olives
3 cups sweet corn
1 can diced mild green chilies
1 bottle taco sauce (medium)
4 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
16 ounces sour cream
1 bag frozen tots
Cherry tomatoes, diced
Green onions, sliced
Iceberg lettuce, shredded

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Dice bell pepper and onion and sauté in olive oil, salt and pepper for 15 minutes or until tender. Remove and set aside in mixing bowl.

In small bowl, mix paprika, chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder. Add one-half of mixture to turkey, while browning.

Add turkey to onion-pepper mixture. Add black olives, sweet corn, green chilies, taco sauce, two cups of cheddar cheese and sour cream. Stir mixture until combined.

Place mixture in a 9×13 or other baking dish. Sprinkle remaining two cups of cheese on top. Add tots, then remaining spice mix. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tots are crispy and golden brown. Remove from oven, sprinkle with tomatoes, green onions and lettuce.

OK. So maybe you’re good with recipes – so good that you believe others (and yourself) could benefit. No food/entertaining magazine in the world has a bigger circulation than “Taste of Home,” produced in Greendale, where recipe contests commence frequently.

Oct. 28 is the deadline for a homemade soup recipe contest, and entries must use no more than 12 ingredients. Taste, visual appeal, creativity and crowd appeal (how likely will others want to make it?) all carry equal weigh with judges. Grand prize is $500.

Consult tasteofhome.com/contests for details about this and other recipe challenges.

“Taste of Home” cooking schools happen at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at the La Crosse Center, 300 Harborview Plaza, La Crosse; and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at Jefferson County Fair Park, 503 N. Jackson St., Jefferson. Tickets are $15. Details are at tasteofhome.com/cookingschools.

Last: The third annual National Sausage Month Recipe Contest is sponsored and judged by the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Send recipes that can be made in 20 minutes or less. Creativity, ease of preparation and taste also are judging criteria.

The deadline is Oct. 20. Grand prize includes a $100 gift card for the winner’s favorite sausages. hot-dog.org