Cooking up prize winners one recipe at a time

Tuesday , February 03, 2015 - 4:21 PM

ROY — Not every home-baked after-school snack wins a national recipe contest.

Hummingbird Cake Doughnuts turned out to be a hit not only with Shauna Havey’s two sons, ages 12 and 7, but also with the judges of the 2014 “My Fresh Twist” recipe contest sponsored by Fisher Nuts.

The cream-cheese frosted doughnuts are the grand prize winner in the third annual recipe contest that spotlights cooking with almonds, walnuts and pecans.

Anything as traditional as pecan pie was off limits for Havey. She wanted a recipe that would stand out and found her inspiration in Hummingbird Cake, a classic Southern dessert loaded with banana, pineapple and nuts.

But instead of a cake, “Why not a doughnut?” she thought. Her prime taste-testers Mason, 12, and Luke, 7, were instant fans.

“By the time I get done frosting them, they’re eating them as they go,” Havey says during an interview at her Roy home.

Havey’s grand prize was a trip to New York City to meet celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli and dine at her restaurant. A self-described foodie, Havey says the chance to spend time with the star of “Alex’s Day Off” on Food Network — and have Guarnaschelli serve Hummingbird Cake Doughnuts at her Butter eatery — couldn’t be beat.

“For me that was like the ultimate thing, to have her cook my recipe and like it. That was worth more than anything,” says Havey, a graduate of Ogden High School and Weber State University.

‘Helpless’ no more

Havey’s cooking skills have recently netted her other contest wins, including a trip to the “Today” show as a finalist in Joy Bauer’s “Too Good to Be Healthy” competition and another journey to The Big Apple to meet chef Sunny Anderson as a finalist in Extended Stay America’s Away From Home Cooking Recipe Contest.

“I kind of started entering the contests to get credibility for my blog,” says Havey, who began sharing her love of cooking at in October 2013.

The blog includes recipes, party ideas, travel planning, craft projects and more, all part of what Havey describes online as “experiencing family life in a bold, fun and unapologetic way.” Her mission is to help folks celebrate all life’s moments — big and small.

The Roy resident estimates she’s entered 40-50 recipe contests and won or placed as a finalist in about 25 percent of them.

All this flair with food isn’t bad for someone who says she didn’t even know how to boil water when she married her husband Chad 15 years ago.

“I just felt helpless in the kitchen,” Havey says, until she started reading recipes, watching Food Network and experimenting. Recipe by recipe, meal by meal, cooking turned into her passion.

Nutty ideas

The judges for “My Fresh Twist” said Havey’s doughnuts stood out among the more than 865 recipes submitted for their use of ingredients in new and interesting ways, according to Guarnaschelli, an “Iron Chef America” winner, in a news release.

“The crunchiness of the nuts provided texture to the sweet, but not too sweet, doughnut and frosting,” the chef added.

The recipes were judged on originality, taste, visual appeal and integration of nuts.

“Nuts are a simple way to put a fresh twist on classic recipes,” says Howard Brandeisky, senior vice president for John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc., parent company of Fisher Nuts, in Elgin, Illinois, in an email interview. “Nuts can be added to almost any dish to provide texture and flavor.”

Havey says she always uses nuts in her cooking, which is one reason she wanted to enter the 2014 contest.

“They’re one of my staples,” she says. “I wasn’t trying to do something I don’t normally do.”

Brandeisky says some of the most unique entries were Walnut Rosemary Goat Cheese Fig Cookies, Pecan Pesto Chicken and Peach Skewers, and Spiced Butternut Squash with Fig and Pecan.

Havey submitted five recipes total; three made it to the final 15, which were selected by fan votes. Her other contenders were Chicken Almond Basteeya (a Moroccan chicken pot pie) and Pecan and Pumpkin Breakfast Hash.

Food snapshots

One key to success in the kitchen is not being afraid to try new things, Havey says.

“A lot of my stuff is kind of out of the box, not your run-of-the-mill casserole or crockpot (recipe),” says the cook, who also creates recipes on a freelance basis for the Athens Foods company.

From burning food to overseasoning it, Havey says things occasionally go wrong in cooking, but, “You can be a good cook and make mistakes. ... I just didn’t let it get to me and I just kept trying.”

Developing a tough skin is another part of the recipe contest game, Havey says, explaining, “You can have a great recipe and great photo but it wasn’t what (the judges) were looking for.”

Recipe photos, by the way, are now required in most competitions, Havey says. She got a big boost in that arena by winning a Nikon D3300 in her first contest, a photography competition sponsored by Food Network in May 2014.

In our Pinterest-happy world, a good recipe may lose out because of a bad photo, the Roy blogger and occasional guest on “Good Things Utah,” says, adding, “I think people want things that look pretty.”

All original

Few bloggers end up making a living at it but Havey enjoys fitting her hobby in during spare time away from her job at the Social Security Administration in Salt Lake City. On a typical Saturday, for instance, she may cook up two or three different meals before noon for her blog or contest entries.

“My grocery bill is horrible because I just buy a lot of food and make a lot of things,” she says.

The self-taught cook says she prides herself on the fact that her blog is full of her own original recipes, unlike some other bloggers who copy from magazines or “borrow” from famous chefs.

“Why am I doing it if it’s already out there?” she says. “I’m doing it to put something new out there that someone hasn’t already done.”

Havey hopes her blog will gain a handsome following and inspire others to give cooking a try.

“Just because you didn’t have an Italian grandmother who taught you how to roll cannoli by hand does not mean you cannot find your way around a kitchen,” she says.

Preheat that oven

January was a slow month for recipe contests but Havey is looking forward to spring and summer, which offer plenty of new opportunities.

Prizes in the contests run the gamut, from cookbooks to a $100 gift card to Havey’s biggest win, the Fisher trip to New York, valued at $5,000. The ultimate for many foodies is the esteemed Pillsbury Bake-Off, which has a $1 million grand prize.

“I told my husband I won’t stop cooking contests till I win that one,” Havey quips, adding, “That would be life-changing.”

Contact reporter Becky Cairns at 801-625-4276 or Follow her on Twitter at @bccairns or like her on Facebook at


1 ripe banana

1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple

2 cups flour

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 pinches nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 extra large egg, beaten

1 1/4 cups plus 1-2 tablespoons half-and-half, divided

3 tablespoons salted butter, melted, divided

3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Puree the banana and the pineapple in a food processor until smooth; set aside. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt into a large mixing bowl; set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in medium microwave safe bowl. Stir in 1 1/4 cups half-and-half, beaten egg, 2 teaspoons vanilla and reserved banana mixture. Add to flour mixture, stirring until just blended. It’s OK if the mixture is lumpy.

Spoon into doughnut pan, filling each cup about 3/4 of the way full. Bake 15-17 minutes or until doughnuts are cooked through.

Remove from the oven; let cool for five minutes in the pan before turning them out onto a cooling rack. Allow doughnuts to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: Combine powdered sugar, the remaining 1 teaspoon of vanilla, softened cream cheese and remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Beat on medium speed until smooth. Add a splash of half-and-half if the frosting is too thick.

Dip the cooled doughnut tops into the frosting and twist to remove excess. Sprinkle the tops with plenty of chopped pecans.

Note: Batter can be baked as muffins, if desired. Line 2 muffin pans with 18 paper muffin cups. Divide the batter evenly among the cups. Bake 17-19 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Frost and garnish the cupcakes as for doughnuts.

— Shauna Havey

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