Florida cooks are finalists in Pillsbury Bake-Off

The iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off has announced this year’s finalists: 100 cooks who will face off in November in Nashville for $1.3 million in prizes.

Four finalists are from Florida: Carolyn Nace of Windermere (Bacon Peanut Butter Chocolate Fries), Rachel Ruiz of Hurlburt Field (Chewy Chocolate Chip Almond Bars), Anna Zovko of Tampa (Cinnamon-Pumpkin Muffins) and Jane McMillen of Winter Garden, whose recipe for Polynesian Pull-Aparts appears here. Monkey bread goes tropical in this easy take made with refrigerated biscuits, cream cheese, macadamia nuts and pineapple. Find the other finalists’ recipes at

Do you have a favorite Bake-Off recipe? Tunnel of Fudge Bundt, Peanut Butter Blossom cookies and Orange Kiss-Me cake are among my favorites. Let me know if you remember one that ought to be on the list.

Pumpkin patch

It’s barely September, but fall is nipping in — if you count the early arrival of pumpkin-flavored everything popping up on menus.

Starbucks raided the pumpkin patch already, with its most popular seasonal concoction, the pumpkin latte, making its debut before Labor Day.

Others are not far behind: Pumpkin Spice Lava Cake returned to the LongHorn Steakhouse menu this week, and Pumpkin Cheesecake will be back at the Olive Garden Sept. 22. I’ve encountered pumpkin Oreos, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin beer, pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin doughnuts, too.

I’m a pumpkin fan, so I am happy to see pumpkin coming out of its only-on-Thanksgiving shell. The pumpkin martini here is a hoot, from Bull Market in Fort Lauderdale. The leaves may not be turning, but there are all kinds of fall-inspired cocktails being shaken now — a pumpkin old fashioned made with small-batch bourbon, pumpkin and maple syrup, and a half and half made with Guinness and pumpkin ale.

One of my favorite pumpkin recipes has long roots in South Florida, a twist on traditional Seminole Indian fry bread. I got the recipe back in the 1970s at a festival in the Everglades. It’s crisp and puffy and best served right out of the skillet so it’s almost too hot to handle.

Rosh Hashana

Celebrity kosher cook Jamie Geller is known for her family friendly, easy but delicious recipes — like the in-the-oven-in-minutes chicken recipe here. She’ll be demonstrating recipes suitable for the upcoming holidays at the Tamarac Winn-Dixie (7015 N. University Dr.) at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11.

Geller, sometimes called the “Jewish Rachael Ray” is a bestselling cookbook author, magazine founder and blogger at You can find more recipes at

Sleuth’s Corner

Q. When I was growing up, my babysitter was from Ecuador, and she made the most incredible cheese soup for us, which I believe she called papaloco. It is not the soup called locro because it was not a stew, it was creamy and cheesy but not meaty. I have looked for years for a recipe and hope someone can help.

Jessie K.

Send questions and responses to or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Main dish

Honey-Glazed Chicken Thighs

1 cup apple juice

12 pitted dates, coarsely chopped

6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

4 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt

8 (about 3 pounds) large bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking oil spray. In a food processor, combine apple juice, dates, garlic, honey, olive oil and salt. Pulse until fairly smooth. In a large bowl, combine chicken and glaze; toss to coat well. Transfer to the prepared baking dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, basting occasionally, or until chicken reaches 175 degrees internal temperature. Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 263 calories, 10 g fat, 5 g protein, 41 g carbohydrates, 18 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 349 mg sodium.

Source: Jamie Geller, Joy of Kosher magazine.


Polynesian Pull-Aparts

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided

3 tablespoons finely chopped macadamia nuts

1 can (8 biscuits) Pillsbury Grands refrigerated Southern-style biscuits

1/3 cup butter, melted

3 ounces cream cheese, softened (from 8-ounce package)

1 to 2 tablespoons pineapple juice

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a10-inch fluted tube pan with cooking spray. In a 9-inch pie plate, mix 1 cup of the sugar and the macadamia nuts; set aside. Separate dough into 8 biscuits. Cut each biscuit in half. Dip both sides of biscuit halves into melted butter, then roll in sugar mixture to coat all sides. Place cut sides up in bottom of fluted tube pan. Sprinkle any remaining sugar mixture over biscuit halves.

Bake 25 to 35 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; turn ring upside down onto serving plate; cool an additional 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese and remaining 1/4 cup sugar with electric mixer on medium speed 30 to 45 seconds or until smooth. Beat in 1 tablespoon of the pineapple juice and the coconut extract; add additional pineapple juice, 1 teaspoon at a time, until thin enough to drizzle. Drizzle over hot pull-apart ring. Serve warm. Makes 8 Servings.

Per serving: 420 calories, 19 g fat, 4 g protein, 57 g carbohydrates, 36 g sugar, 570 mg sodium.

Source: Pillsbury Bake-Off.


Pumpkin Martini

1 1/2 ounces RumChata (see note)

1/2 ounce vanilla vodka, such as Stoli

1 ounce pumpkin purée, plus more for garnish

1 tablespoon graham cracker crumbs

Combine RumChata, vodka and pumpin purée in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a martini glass rimmed with pumpkin puree dipped in graham cracker crumbs. Dust martini with graham cracker crumbs, and serve. Makes 1 drink.

Note: RumChata is a liqueur made from a blend of Caribbean rums and cream and flavored with cinnamon, vanilla and other flavors.

Source: Bull Market, Fort Lauderdale.


Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread

4 eggs

1 cup milk

1 cup mashed, cooked, pumpkin (see note)

2 tablespoons butter, melted

3 tablespoons sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Syrup, butter and/or sifted confectioners sugar for garnish

In a food processor or blender (or by hand with a whisk) combine the eggs, milk, pumpkin, melted butter, sugar, salt, flour and baking powder. Blend until smooth, then let stand at least 10 minutes. Heat a well-greased griddle or skillet. Pour about 1/2 cup batter onto griddle and fry as you would a pancake, turning after bubbles appear throughout. Serve with butter, confectioners sugar or syrup to taste. Makes 8.

Note: Use fresh or canned pumpkin , but not pumpkin pie filling.

Per serving: 162 calories, 7 g fat, 6 g protein, 20 g carbohydrate, 0.4 g fiber, 118 mg cholesterol, 192 mg sodium.

Source: Linda Cicero Cook’s Corner Archives.