July 4 Cookoff Winning Recipes!

Every year the Lake Claire Community Land Trust holds a 4th of July cook-off, potluck, and watermelon seed spitting contest.  The 2015 theme for the cook-off was BEANS. Anyone can enter a dish in the contest and anyone can taste and vote.  This year we had eight entries.  The winners: First Place went to Veronique Perrot for her Coffee Panna Cotta.  Jamie McGill’s Fudge Protein Bars won Second Place and Genise Spenle’s Red Bean Ice Cream won Third Place.

The tasting and judging was followed by a scrumptious potluck, after which we walked over to the Land Trust for watermelon seed spitting.  The seed spitting winners: Burges Richardson (adult division) and Royce Mann (youth division).

Here are the winning recipes:

First Place: Coffee and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta (Veronique Perrot)

Panna cotta is the Italian take on the blancmange dessert family.  It is sweetened and flavored cream gelled with gelatin or agar-agar.  I added a layer of coffee-flavored agar for visual and taste contrast.

The trickiest part of this recipe is to get the agar-agar concentration high enough for the cream to hold its shape, but not too high for a pleasant mouth feel.  Agar sets as soon as it gets cold, so it is easy to test the mixture by pouring a spoonful in a cold glass.  If the stuff in the glass is still runny after a few minutes in the freezer, add more agar, and heat mixture up until it is dissolved.

About agar: this substance, a thickener, is extracted from seaweed and is available in powder or in flakes.  The dosage by volume is different between the two, as the powder is denser than the flakes.  I found agar flakes at Rainbow (also available at Sevananda).

  1. Coffee agar

Find wide mouth jars, ramequins or shallow bowls to serve as molds for the panna cotta.  You’ll have to figure out how many you need to fit a total of about 4 cups.  You may want to put them in the fridge to speed up the setting of the agar.

In a glass measuring cup, pour 1/4 cup water and sprinkle 2 tsp agar flakes.  Heat in the microwave, stirring once in a while, until flakes have dissolved.  Prepare about 1/2 cup of strong coffee; sweeten it to your taste, and add to the water and agar to make 1/2 cup of coffee agar.  Rinse each of your molds, shake off the excess water, and pour a little of the coffee agar in each.  Refrigerate until set.

  1. Vanilla bean mixture

Heat in a saucepan on low heat:

2 cups heavy cream

2 cups whole milk

2 tbsp honey

3 tbsp sugar

pinch salt

1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped in the mixture

Let simmer a few minutes, then add 5 tsp of agar flakes, and let sit on very low heat for about 10 minutes, until the flakes dissolve. Turn off the heat.

Check that the mixture sets as desired by pouring a spoonful in a cold glass and placing it in the fridge for a few minutes.  You have plenty of time before the whole pan cools down enough to set.  Check for sweetness as well.  Once you are happy with the taste and set, let the whole pan cool to about 120F (the mixture becomes slightly viscous), and very gently spoon it over the coffee agar in the molds.  You may have to add only a few spoonfuls in each mold in turn, to keep the coffee agar from melting.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  To unmold, break the seal between the panna cotta and the mold with a knife and invert on a serving dish.

I had to strain the vanilla bean mixture before pouring it in the molds to obtain a smooth result.  It may be that boiling the cream led it to curdle a little.  I used a fine-mesh tea strainer – a bit of a drag, but this was for The Cook Off, after all!

Second PlaceFudge Protein Bars  (Jamie McGill)


1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed very well

6 tbsp dark chocolate or regular cocoa powder

7 tbsp vanilla protein powder

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup agave or honey

3 tbsp sugar

3 1/2 tsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup to 2/3 cup chocolate chips plus a handful to sprinkle


Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine all ingredients except chocolate chips in a food processor, and blend until absolutely and completely smooth.  Stir in the chocolate chips. Pour into a greased 8×8 square pan. Sprinkle extra chocolate chips over the top. Cook the protein bars 16 minutes. They will still look underdone, but this is okay. Let cool. Refrigerate overnight or freeze for about an hour. The bars will have firmed up and are now ready to cut and eat. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Makes about 8 bars.

Third PlaceRed Bean Ice Cream  (Genise Spenle)


4 cups plus 2 tablespoons half-and-half

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 large egg yolks

1-1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

2 cups red bean paste

scant 1/4 teaspoon almond extract

3 TLB coconut rum


Pour the 4 cups half-and-half into the top of a double boiler over medium heat.

Meanwhile, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl until the yolks turn thick and pale. Temper the yolks by gradually adding the hot half-and-half mixture a cup at a time while whisking vigorously so as not to scramble the eggs.

Return the mixture to the top part of the double boiler and whisk over simmering water until slightly thickened and heated through, 10 to 15 minutes. Dilute the cornstarch with the remaining 2 tablespoons half-and-half and add it to the mixture. Continue whisking to a custard consistency that coats the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes. Transfer the custard to a heatproof bowl and whisk in the red bean paste, almond extract, & coconut rum. Set over an ice bath and refrigerate overnight (or at least 12 hours).

The next day, pour the custard into an ice cream maker and process the custard according to the manufacturer’s instructions, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer the ice cream to a container and freeze until ready to serve. Makes about 1-1/2 quarts.

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