PHELPS — Really, her main entrée is only Bloody Mary inspired, Rayne Hammond-Benz promised, and not a concoction dreamed up from too many Bloody Mary drinks on a Sunday morning.
But Hammond-Benz's Bloody Mary-inspired sauerkraut bread pudding, with horseradish garlic aioli and a bit of Phelps' own Smokin' Tails Distillery's Liberty Moonshine, which is cooked off, she noted, looked like a dream as judges rated this and other entrées, appetizers and desserts using sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut, after all, is the inspiration for the Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend, which just completed its 55th year.
The recipe contest – Hammond-Benz's dish won in the main dish category – is one of the events that tests the skill and creativity of home chefs in town and beyond.
“I thought it was a fun way to participate and to get creative with an ingredient that we don’t often think that deeply about,” Hammond-Benz said.
To many, if they think about sauerkraut at all, it’s certainly not something you’d think to include in anything beyond a topping for a hot dog, and most certainly not for dessert.
Think again. Seventeen-year-old Lauren Leasor’s lemon-raspberry kraut cake won in the dessert category.
Sauerkraut, as an ingredient, is highly underrated, said Bobbi Beniamino, who this year took over as head judge of the contest and who in the past won for appetizer, a Reuben braid, and dessert, sauerkraut brownies.
“They wanted to get rid of the competition,” cracked another judge, Diane Smith.
Beniamino knows her stuff when it comes to sauerkraut, which she admits is an underrated ingredient.
First, it’s moist and versatile, so it can easily be interchanged with zucchini in recipes that call for that. And many times, you can’t even taste the kraut, she said.
So why the reluctance, perhaps because it's really fermented cabbage?
“I think they’re afraid to use it,” Beniamino said. “A lot of people do not like sauerkraut. They put it on their hot dogs but they don’t think to use it in their recipes.”
Hammond-Benz is in the camp that loves it, and in addition to her winning recipe, she also prepared sauerkraut grilled cheese sandwiches and sauerkraut brine and bacon soup.
"Sauerkraut’s great,” Hammond-Benz said. “It’s sweet and savory. You can do a lot with it.”
Obviously, you had to use kraut here in Phelps – they named a festival and weekend for it, after all. But more likely, one gets the sense that each of the recipe makers enjoys using kraut, in a contest or for a Monday night meal after work.
In each of the categories, judges were looking at appearance, taste and flavor, the use of farm-to-table ingredients, and originality.
And each of the dishes had them in abundance.
For an example of originality, try Marki Michaels’ dish, which topped the appetizer category. She made a Reuben naan pizza, with thinly sliced kielbasa. Now that’s rethinking the old pizza pie.
Leasor, who would have been competing for her seventh year in a row if COVID-19 hadn’t forced the cancellation of the contest in 2020, believes she has placed in some category in most of the years she’s competed.
An old pro, the Palmyra-Macedon student is 17 – and that means she’s been doing this since she was 10.
Leasor, who isn’t ruling out being a chef someday, took home honors for her kraut cake and her kraut and chicken French.
Kraut is king in Leasor’s book.
“I love German heritage and so it’s fun to participate and do cooking competitions with that element,” Leasor said.
The cake, Beniamino said, was gorgeous. And Hammond-Benz's sauerkraut bread pudding was gorgeous as well -- almost too well done to eat.
"She does have some good recipes,” Beniamino said. “They were all very good.”
Can't beat kraut and dogs
A shout out to all the participants who participated in the hot dog and sauerkraut eating contest, which also was part of Phelps Sauerkraut Weekend. To read more about it, sign up here for the ROCFlavors newsletter.
Eat, Drink and Be Murphy
The Eat, Drink and Be Murphy column explores the region’s bounty of food and drink — and the people who bring it to you — soup to nuts, accentuated with a craft beer or Finger Lakes wine. After all, who doesn’t love to eat and drink? Email assistant editor Mike Murphy at email@example.com or call 585-337-4229 with ideas and suggestions.
This article originally appeared on MPNnow: Phelps NY Sauerkraut festival brings the best in unique recipes