43 New-to-Me ... #22 Rambutan

After trying and liking what I discovered to be overripe feijoa, I was eager to get my hands on a perfectly-ripe one to see how it was supposed to taste. I started stalking the produce aisle (not for the first time), but the feijoa never reappeared. However, my disappointment turned to glee when I spotted something different where the feijoa had been.... rambutan!!  

I'd had rambutan on my must-try list for years. I'd almost given up hope and was considering trying canned rambutan as part of 43 New-to-Me, but I knew that, at best, the canned version would pale in comparison to the fresh version. I'm so glad my patience was rewarded!

I bought the two rambutan that looked the most dissimilar, hoping that one of the two was properly ripe. As it turned out, both were. They were delicious. The taste and texture were similar to a peeled grape, though not quite as moist. I gave rambutan an 8. Even though I really liked it, I won't be buying it again. Grapes are so similar, but much, much cheaper.

New-to-me food #22, tasted, rated and scrapped!


Book Review: Button Mania

Last November, I reviewed the first two kids' craft books written by my very talented and creative boss, Amanda Formaro. Trevor and I loved both Rubber Band Mania and Duct Tape Mania. If you haven't checked them out already, I strongly encourage you to do so! They are full of fun ideas for school-age boys and girls and would make a thoughtful and affordable gift.

 I don't know how she does it, but Amanda has written three more books since then! The publisher sent me advanced copies of all three. The first book I dove into was Button Mania: Buttons, Bottlecaps and Beyond! 

As before, I am reviewing this not out of obligation, but because I think you will love it as much as I do! This colorful book is chock-full of fun projects. I appreciate the clear directions and many step-out photos. Each project has a supply list and is marked with a difficulty level. Button-themed tips, trivia and jokes are sprinkled throughout the pages.    

The book arrived just before Trevor's baseball practice. I couldn't wait to try a project, so I grabbed supplies for the Button Bracelet and brought them along with me to the field. I invited my friends and fellow baseball moms, Jenny and Rebecca, to join me in making bracelets. 

We had a great time stringing buttons, chatting and watching our kids practice. Steve was very helpful, both in taking photos of our crafting and in trying on my completed bracelet.

I'd brought along different types of cording to see how they would work, as Amanda's supply list said to use twine or cord. Jenny used cream embroidery floss with green, turquoise, brown and cream buttons to create a beautiful, layered bracelet. I used black waxed laces (left over from a leatherwork project Trevor made) with alternating white, red and blue buttons to make a patriotic bracelet. Rebecca used a stretchy red cord with red and pink buttons for her bracelet.

Here's a closer look:

The three cords yielded different looks. The embroidery floss was much more difficult to string, but the way Jenny overlapped the buttons was very pretty. My black laces were easy to string and added a contrasting design detail to the buttons. Rebecca's stretchy cord was easy to take on and off, but curled up and had to be straightened to look right. 

We had a great time and the 90 minute practice time was over before we knew it. Thanks to Jenny and Rebecca for playing along! They were both very impressed with Button Mania. We only came up with one critique and that is that the first chapter (Stuff to Wear) is entirely projects for girls (earrings, bracelet, locket, etc). The remaining chapters (Stuff to Play, Stuff for Outside, Stuff for Noise, Stuff to Hang, Stuff for Fun, Stuff to Create and Stuff for Home) are great for both boys and girls. As the mom of a boy, if I were flipping through the book at the store and started at the beginning, I might not buy it, thinking it was mostly for girls. That is definitely not the case! Trevor has marked a dozen projects that he wants to try eventually.

Button Mania is available for pre-order on Amazon (affiliate link below) and will be in stores in August. Check it out! You won't be disappointed.



43 New-to-Me... #21 Peanuts in Coke

Ever since I started my 43 New-to-Me project, friends have been sending me suggestions of interesting foods to add to my list. My friend Izzy, who lives in North Carolina, has been especially determined to find a Southern delicacy for me to try. The first dozen things she mentioned I'd already eaten. I've traveled to the South a handful of times, plus I've had many friends over the years with a Southern background who have fed me random stuff. Then, of course, there was the time I tried making fried green tomatoes without ever having seen or eaten them. 

Izzy was undaunted. Every once in a while, I get a message: "Hush puppies?" Then, "Tomato pie? Corn pudding?" Later, "Hummingbird cake? Divinity? Beignets? Moon pie?" And on and on. I'd had them all. And then, she hit on one I'd never had. I'd never even heard of it...

Peanuts in Coke. 

Apparently, it is very common in the South to open a glass bottle of Coke, take a swig, and then pour a packet of salted peanuts into the bottle. Check out this link from Coca-Cola itself, as well as this link from Serious Eats. And here's a fun link from Sprinkle Bakes.

Izzy went on to suggest that I try an entire menu of Coke. How fun! I'm always up for a cooking challenge. When my friend Sheena's family came over for dinner, I pulled out the peanuts and the Coke bottles and was surprised when Sheena knew all about it. She'd never had peanuts in Coke, but it was something her mom used to do.

Once the drinks were served, I plated up chicken, rice and broccoli with a Coke-pineapple sauce and an amazing Coke Cranberry Chutney.

For dessert, I used this recipe for Chocolate Coke Cake.

The cake and the chutney each deserve a 10 out of 10.... although I should have either served the chutney with a slotted spoon or added some thickener to it. But it was delicious with the chicken, rice and broccoli, so the extra juiciness was fine.

As for the actual 43 New-to-Me item of peanuts in Coke, it was fine. I drank it all and tapped the bottle to eat the peanuts at the end as instructed. I didn't think either the Coke nor the peanuts were improved by being mixed together, but they weren't made worse either. I gave this combination a 7. Steve rated it an 8, while Trevor, Sheena and Ken each gave it a 6.

It's been just over 3 months since I started my challenge and I'm at the halfway mark, not only with trying foods but with scrapping them too! It's been so much fun and I absolutely love the album. It's going to be great fun to look back on years from now.


Follow That Recipe... Part 2

Two weeks ago, I shared my first drafts for a "Follow That Recipe" contest I was entering. Here is the recipe we were to follow:

Both of my first drafts were well-received (equally so, frustratingly) so I was on my own to tinker and come up with a winner. The area that needed the most help was the cracker/cookie crumb layer. My biggest problem was that there wasn't nearly enough crumb to fill the entire bottom of a 9" x 13" pan. But, since I had to follow the recipe exactly, that was out of my control. I ended up heaping the crust evenly within a 7" x 11"ish area, knowing that I could serve the judges bar cookies from the center of the pan and not the edges. I would up the crumbs to at least 2 cups for any future, non-contest baking.

Besides there not being enough of the crumb layer, it came out pretty greasy in my trials. A stick of melted butter is WAY more than is needed for 1.5 cups of crumbs. Since I couldn't change the quantity of crumbs or butter, I decided to change up the type of crumbs I used, For my first batch I'd used shortbread cookies and vanilla wafers for my second batch. Both were tasty, but too high in fat to work well with that much butter. I guessed that the chef who wrote the recipe had graham crackers in mind instead of cookies, so I headed back to the store. Sure enough- graham crackers had less than half the fat as the same volume of vanilla wafers, which in turn had much less fat than the shortbread. Excellent!

I whipped up a final batch of cookies with chocolate graham crackers as the crust, semi-sweet chocolate chips, equal parts dried cranberries and cherries, pecans, and unsweetened, shredded coconut. I cut 7 generously-sized bars from the middle and plated them for the judges.

There were 16 competitors, with cash prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd. The judging was live, so we watched as the two judges tasted each entry while the clerk read the ingredient choices each contestant had made. That was very interesting. The cookie/cracker choices were very diverse: everything from vanilla wafers to gingersnaps to chocolate chip cookies to shortbread. The chocolate choices were about 50/50 milk vs. semi-sweet, with one or two contestants who used white chocolate. Almonds were the most popular nut, though peanuts, pecans, macadamias, walnuts, pistachios and cashews were all represented. More than half of us used dried cherries as the fruit, although I was the only one to add cranberries too. Others used dried pineapple, apricots, raisins, oranges, and mangoes (which, apparently, is the preferred plural of mango).

After they'd tasted each bar, the judges conferred and began announcing winners. Third place... not me. Second place... not me. First place... also not me. Drat. At that point, they invited all the contestants forward for individual comments and critique. I learned that my cookies took 4th. They didn't have any constructive criticism; everything about my cookies was good, but they were just a hair less interesting or creative than the ones that placed higher. I listened to the 1st place contestant's review. They liked her flavor combinations, of course, but also that the items were chunky enough to clearly identify individual flavors. She offered me one of her winning cookies, which I happily accepted. It had a graham cracker crust, large dried cherries, white chocolate and large slivered almonds. It was delicious. 

The judges had each prepared their own version of the recipe to show how they would have interpreted it. Their intention had been to pass out samples, but state law forbid them from doing so, which was a major bummer. But we did get to look at each and hear what each judge did. The first thing we noticed with the first judge's cookies were that they had been baked in a square pan and not the rectangular one required by the instructions. Consequently, she had a nice, thick crumb layer. We immediately jumped on that, asking if changing the pan size would have been OK. The judges said yes, though the written instructions we all received said to follow the recipe exactly. We also noted the whole walnuts, while the recipe specified chopped nuts. 

The judges were emphatic that they would have liked to see us 'play with the recipe a little' and not be so literal in following the instructions. None of us did because the entry form said to follow the recipe exactly. The judges said they will write the instructions differently for next year, because they do want to see creativity. As an example, the second judge showed his version of the cookies, which were garnished with whole pieces of the chopped fruits in the bars. 

This contest was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to playing along next year.


43 New-to-Me ... #20 Feijoa

I was picking up produce at Safeway to make dinner for friends a few weeks ago when I spotted something I didn't recognize, called feijoa. It looked similar to an avocado, though a paler green and somewhat more oblong. I gave it a sniff and guessed (correctly, as it turns out), that it was a tropical fruit. I put it in my cart, thrilled to have stumbled on something that I'd not only never had, but never even heard of! Even the checker hadn't heard of it. She said it was the first time she'd ever seen one in her line. She had all sorts of questions for me about what it was, how it was prepared, what it tasted like, etc. I told her I had no idea, briefly explained 43 New-to-Me, and said I'd let her know how it was the next time I was in.  

I googled feijoa when I got home to figure out what to do with mine. This video was very helpful. Right before dinner, I pulled out the feijoa with much fanfare, cut it in half, and discovered that the one I'd bought was somewhat overripe. Drat. We ate it anyway and found that it was quite delicious! The texture was a bit grainy like a pear, while the flavor was sweet, tropical and fruity, with hints of strawberry and maybe papaya. 

I gave the overripe feijoa an 8, as did Rebecca. Steve gave it a 6, which is shocking considering he hates every tropical fruit except pineapple. Trevor and Cailei each gave it a 5. We were all eager to try the perfectly ripe version to see how it would compare.

Alas, it was not at the store the next time I was there, nor in any visit since. I'm going to keep my eye out for it though!


Tablesetting Contest, Year 4

For the past four years, Trevor has been entering a children's tablesetting contest at the county fair. Each child decides on a theme, then creates a place setting, centerpiece and menu around that theme. In 2012, the first year he was eligible, Trevor dreamed up a meal for bunnies and their owners and placed fourth.


He chose an owl theme in 2013, incorporating a bunch of the owl crafts he'd made that year and placed third.


Last year, Trevor chose a spider theme. He'd paid careful attention to the judges' comments during his first two years and incorporated all their suggestions into this latest entry, including painstakingly hand-writing his menu instead of typing it. Heading into the competition, he felt great about his chances. After giving his presentation and listening to his competitors', we all felt confident he would place second. He actually got third. 

2015 was Trevor's last year before he aged out of the contest. He decided early on to go with a Lego theme. He chose a black background so that the Lego colors would show up well. He dreamed up a pool party idea and decorated the table with Lego swimming pool he built, then lined up minifigures in front of it. He put Lego stickers onto a green party hat (with a yellow Lego on top) and onto a red party cup. He made a Lego "T" and attached a "Trevor's Place" homemade sticker to act as a place card.

He built a Lego frame to hold his menu. His choice of foods for a pool party are a little more upscale than most pool parties I've attended, but it definitely sounds delicious.

The night before the contest, he added a diving board to his Lego swimming pool (after I'd photographed the tablesetting at home). You can see it between the frame and the pool in this photo, taken during the contest. Trevor is presenting his tablesetting to the judge and audience. 

Once again, we were confident that Trevor would place 1st or 2nd. But last year, we'd been equally confident when he actually went home with 3rd. We watched anxiously as the judge inspected every element of each contestants' entry carefully.

The judge announced 3rd place, then 2nd. Then, in 1st place..... Trevor deRosier!

He was so excited. Congrats to Trevor on a job well done!


2nd Annual(ish) deRosier-Salomone Cookie Bake-Off

Last November, when my childhood best friend Nancy and her kids were visiting from Colorado, we held a cookie bake-off at our house. Nancy, Marco, Julia and Trevor were the contestants, while I played the roll of Tim Gunn, their culinary advisor. Steve joined us for the judging. It was so much fun that we decided to make it an annual(ish) event. 

When our family made plans for a June visit to Colorado, we all agreed that we simply HAD to have another cookie bake-off while we were there! Trevor got right to work creating a Perler bead prize for the winner, using his beloved glow-in-the-dark beads to spell out COOKiE on a trophy. 

Nancy assembled an interesting variety of ingredients for contestants to add. Not even Tim Gunn was sure what Torani syrup would do to cookies. (Alas, Tim Gunn still does not know, as no one chose to use it.)

Last year, I'd created intentional scarcity of the ingredients so that no more than two contestants would be able to select the same item(s) before they ran out. Nancy didn't do this, which led to some interesting results... 

As before, I made the base dough and divided it into four parts. The contestants drew numbers from a hat to determine their baking order. First up was Julia (age 8), the reigning champion. 

Julia went straight for the mint chocolate chips, having won last year's event with a mint-flavored cookie. She added another mint element, chunks of Andes Mints. She asked me to help her pound a chocolate See's lollipop into bits to add to the cookies. Next, she added mini marshmallow bits. So far, so good. Her final ingredient was a sprinkle of Rainbow Nerds. Tim Gunn cautioned her, asking whether fruit flavors and mint go together. She was confident that they did. At the very least, they added really pretty dots of color to the cookies, which she named "Creamy and Crunchy."

Trevor (age 9) was the second baker. To my surprise, the first three ingredients he added (mint chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and Rainbow Nerds) were ones Julia had selected too. However, Trevor added significantly more of each ingredient, particularly the Nerds, than Julia did. His fourth and final ingredient was crushed mini Oreos. He named his cookie "Minty Deluxe." They had far less structural integrity than Julia's, a clear result of having equal parts dough and mix-ins.

The third baker was Marco (age 10). He immediately reached for the Nerds and marshmallows and dumped in a significant amount of each. (Why am I not surprised that the kids all went straight for the purest form of sugar available?) Tim Gunn cautioned him not to add too many more mix-ins, as the cookies were already more candy than cookie. He sprinkled in a few Heath toffee bits and then asked me to smash up some Icebreakers Strawberry Sours. I was skeptical. Do fruity Nerds, marshmallows, and toffee need strawberry-flavored powder too? He was confident that they did. He named them "Another Very Good Cookie."

Unfortunately, when Marco's cookies emerged from the oven, it was clear they had almost no structural integrity. I had to scrape them off the pan. I arranged them so that the least-mangled ones (those that actually resembled cookies) were on top.  

The fourth and final baker was Nancy (age 42). She regretted not following Tim Gunn's advice last time and was determined not to make the same mistake. She added butterscotch chips, white chocolate chips, macadamia nuts and a little bit of Heath toffee bits to her cookies. She was concerned that she had too many mix-ins for the amount of dough, but Tim Gunn reassured her that they would be fine. They were. She named them "Sweet Redemption."

When all the cookies were cool and plated, we sat down for judging. One by one, each contestant introduced their cookie. This was the first that anyone (besides me) knew what mix-ins the others had chosen. Here is Trevor, talking about "Minty Deluxe."

Here's Marco, describing "Another Very Good Cookie."

Each judge scored the cookies on a scale of 1-10. The contestants graded their competitors' cookies, but not their own. This time, I clarified that I didn't want any fractional parts besides 1/2, having had to do far more math than I wanted to last time in order to deal with scores like 8.335 and 7 15/16. I tabulated the scores while the contestants went to the stew room. 

There was a clear winner. Trevor had requested that I cover the winning plate of cookies with a cloche and reveal it dramatically like Ted Allen does on Chopped. Due to the lack of cloches in the Salomone household, I hid the winning cookies under a dishtowel and called the contestants back to the table. 

All eyes were on the covered plate. I whisked away the towel to reveal the winner....

Nancy's "Sweet Redemption" cookies were just that! She now holds the title until our 3rd Annual(ish) competition! Congrats to all the contestants for another great competition.


Mystery Craft: Self-Portrait

Choose at least four of the following eight items: button, CD, aluminum foil, cardboard tube, plastic cap, plastic silverware, tin can, and toothpick. Now use them to make a mystery craft for a contest. What would you choose? What would you make?

Did anyone say, "Self-portrait"? Because that's what I did. 

Trevor started out by making a marble run (on the right, with tubes and forks). When that was done, he started a cardboard tube rocket (on the left, covered in aluminum foil). 

I started with a CD, then added a plastic lid nose. I cut ears and a mouth for a cardboard tube, made tiny little aluminum foil eyebrows, and added button eyes, earrings, and a hair accessory.

When I was happy with my rough draft, I took it apart and started painting. I put a coat of gesso on the CD, lid, and cardboard. Then I blended paints until I got a shade that closely matched my skin. Turns out my complexion is Spring Rose + Camel. 

After all the painted pieces were dry, I glued the features in place. Then it was time to tackle the hair. I got out all of my embroidery floss and chose four that match the shades in my hair. Well, except grey. I left that out.

I separated each piece of embroidery floss into its six individual strands, then grouped them to make the hair. I attached them to a piece of rounded chipboard that I glued to the back of the CD. The proportions were odd, so I added an extra piece of chipboard. I painted it gold like the barrette I sometimes wear. I also colored the earrings gold.

Here's a slightly different view. It shows the dimension a little better.

A perfect likeness, right?!


Big Red, Chapter Two

When I blogged about trying Big Red soda for the first time, I certainly did not anticipate what would happen next! I got a comment on my blog from Amanda Fay at Big Red, asking me to get in touch. Turns out they have a program that generates a daily list of where Big Red is mentioned online. Their communications director saw my post and forwarded it on to Amanda, who offered to send me a different Big Red product to try. Exciting! Obviously, I said yes.

I was very curious what she would be sending to me. The Big Red website shows four other flavors of soda (Big Blue, Big Manzana, Big Peach and Big Pineapple), in addition to a zero-calorie version of Big Red. Would it be one of those? 

Nope! It turned out to be the limited-edition "Vintage Reset" version of Big Red. The 18 oz. cans proudly proclaimed, "Made with real sugar." Intriguing! I'm a fan of sugar, so I was eager to try it. I still had a few cans of the regular Big Red from the pack I bought originally, so I decided to do a blind taste-test to see how the two compared. 

The first step was finding some eager volunteers to taste along with me. I brought both the regular and the vintage reset cans to a family gathering, where six people agreed to do the blind tasting. I prepared two sets of tasting cups, marked A and B, then asked my brother-in-law (Brian) to pour the samples into the cups without letting any of us know which was which.

We started by smelling the samples. Sample A had a much stronger smell than Sample B; both smell like bubblegum, but A was so much more intense. Their appearance was the same. On to tasting. I noticed an immediate difference. Sample A was creamier, had a stronger taste, and was tastier than Sample B. Others added that Sample A was more robust, sweeter, and fruitier than Sample B. One person thought Sample B was more carbonated, but no one else noticed that. We each selected our favorite... all the way around the table, all six people chose Sample A. 

Those of us who had tried the regular Big Red felt confident that it was Sample A. It tasted just as we remembered it tasting: creamy, sweet, intense, and fruity. Sample B was good, but it paled in comparison with Sample A, so that must have been the new-to-us vintage version. We called in Brian to reveal which soda was which.

The winner of our taste test, Sample A, was.....

The Vintage Reset!  

We were all wrong. The version we overwhelmingly preferred was not the version we'd had before, but rather the limited-edition Big Red with real sugar. Fascinating!

Thank you to Amanda and Big Red for the soda. You make an excellent product. If you ever need a taster, you know where to find me. 


Shoebox Float

Have you ever heard of a shoebox float? They've been showing up as craft categories at county fairs recently. Basically, you turn a standard shoebox into a themed parade float. While I've seen them before, this was my first time making one. I decided to go with a Christmas theme by turning the whole float into a sleigh.

I started with a coat of gesso, then painted the shoebox a Christmas green. I cut tabs in the box and glued candy canes in the front and back to make sleigh runners. I glued random green sequins on each side of the box.

I cut a piece of white felt just smaller than the top of the float and glued it down. I trimmed it with gold beads, then glued cotton balls in place to make snow. I added a cork Christmas tree with a wooden star on top. I raided Trevor's Legos and borrowed Santa, the elf and the train. They're held in place with Glue Dots.

I tried a bunch of different techniques to make the presents before settling on something that worked well. I used scraps of patterned paper to wrap large dice and small blocks. I added an embroidery floss ribbon to most of the gifts, then topped them with a plastic gem.

Here's another look at the float, with a better view of the sleigh runners.

I'm really happy with how this came out. I definitely see more shoebox floats in my future.


Academic and Sports Program - The End

The Cub Scout Academic and Sports program has officially ended. Trevor has bridged on to Webelos and has already started working on the new achievements. This time last year, Trevor challenged himself to complete all of the Belt Loops before the program ended. That was a huge goal; he'd earned 23 in two years and was going for 30 more in just a single year.

So, did he meet his goal?

Almost. He earned 27 more belt loops this year, bringing his total to 50 out of the 53 possible loops.

The Belt Loops he didn't earn (Hockey, Softball and Ultimate) require equipment or facilities we don't have and/or a group of people to play with. We tried. Trevor is a little disappointed not to have earned them all, but he is very proud of the 50 he does have. He worked hard for them.

As you can see, not only did he complete 30 Belt Loops during his Bear (3rd grade) year, he also completed 19 more Academic Pins (bringing his total to 23 out of 25) and 6 more Sports Pins (bringing his total to 9 out of 28). This is a huge achievement. The pins can be quite involved and require research, hands-on activities, and a deeper knowledge of the subject matter. They were meant to be earned during the Webelos years (4th and 5th grade), so the fact that Trevor got so many of them as a Bear reflects significant effort. We're very proud of him.


Paper Plate Spacecraft

One of the best parts of my Fun Family Crafts job is getting to see so many cool kids' crafts. Almost every day a submission comes in that makes me want to stop working and immediately zip into the craft room to create. I can't always do that, of course. It's often days, weeks or months before I actually make the project that inspired me. And in that amount of time, the project morphs from the original inspiration into something quite different.

I saw this super cute paper plate project awhile ago and wanted to make my own version. But instead of looking out the porthole and seeing a whimsical alien, I wanted to create a more realistic scene. Here's what I came up with: 

As you can see, it is entirely different from the inspiration piece! I only used a single paper plate and didn't use aluminum foil at all. I'm really happy with how it turned out.

Paper Plate Spacecraft


  • paper plate
  • chipboard
  • gesso
  • paint
  • silver Sharpie
  • foam brush
  • stencil brush 
  • hole punch 
  • cardstock
  • foam adhesive dots

Cut a circle of chipboard the size you want Earth to be. Put a coat of gesso on both the chipboard circle and the paper plate. When that is dry, but a coat of black paint on the inside portion of the paper plate. Use the stencil brush (or an old toothbrush) to splatter bits of yellow paint onto the black. Set it aside to dry.

Time to paint Earth. I used four colors: dark blue, tan, green and white, in that order. Start by painting dark blue on the entire circle. Add areas of tan and green to suggest the shapes of the continents. No need to perfectly replicate their shapes, though I did consult some NASA images before painting. Use a stiff, dry brush to add white haphazardly over the other colors. When that is dry, use foam adhesive dots to attach it to the paper plate.

Paint the edge of the paper plate silver, being careful to create a crisp line between the silver and the black.

While the paint is drying, punch holes from cardstock. Color them with the silver Sharpie. Glue these to the silver portion of the paper plate to create the rivets on the porthole. 

I think it would be a lot of fun to create an entire paper plate solar system, as seen from a spaceship! I'm adding that idea to my mental list of approximately 2 million projects that I hope to eventually do...


Follow That Recipe

As a judge at the county fair, I am ineligible from entering any category that I judge, for obvious reasons. Therefore, I'm always on the lookout for interesting categories to enter that are outside my official areas of expertise. So when I saw a fair contest called 'Follow That Recipe' I was totally onboard. 

The concept is that everyone follows the same recipe for bar cookies, exactly as it is printed. You cannot alter the proportions or the cooking time, nor can you add or subtract ingredients. You do, however, get to select the specific items for your recipe. For example, the recipe calls for 1 c. chopped nuts, but it is up to each contestant to choose what type of nuts to use and how finely to chop them. There are four items in the recipe like that. In addition to nuts, each contestant can select what cookie or cracker crumb crust to make, what dried fruit(s) to add, and what type and format of chocolate to add.

I had some ideas. To confirm that I was on the right track, I polled my Facebook friends. Based on their input, I decided to create two test batches.

Sample A: Shortbread cookies, dried cherries, extra dark chocolate chips and pecans 

Sample B: Vanilla wafers, dried cranberries, large milk chocolate chips, and walnuts

I made a quick judging form and asked friends to vote between the two cookie samples, without telling them what was in each.

The results were interesting, but not very helpful! By the way, not everyone voted in every category.

Cherries (4 votes) vs. cranberries (5 votes)
Dark chocolate (5 votes) vs. milk chocolate (5 votes)
Pecans (4 votes) vs. walnuts (4 votes)
Shortbread crust (5 votes) vs. vanilla wafers (4 votes)

cherries, dark chocolate, pecans and shortbread (5 votes) vs. cranberries, milk chocolate, walnuts and vanilla wafers (5 votes)

Now I'm more unsure than ever! I did hear from my tasters that both versions were really good, so maybe I can't go wrong. There's no way to know what the judges' personal tastes will be, nor whether they're looking for something traditional and delicious or totally out of the box.