It's not uncommon for people to make a hobby of cooking, but Rancho Santa Fe gardener and kitchen whiz Lynn Scully takes her interest in cooking one step further: She's in it to win.
Her contest entries have garnered local and national success, with her most recent entry finaling in Simple & Delicious magazine's Beat the Heat contest.
Fresh Mozzarella & Tomato Salad is one of the many original recipes Scully has developed for family and friends to enjoy. While she usually focuses on creating cookie concoctions, she developed this salad to make the most of the season's fresh produce.
"This one is kind of a natural for us in Southern California," Scully said of her warm-weather dish. "I think it's just a great combination of flavors, especially if you have a garden."
Scully, 46, works at the Carlsbad Police Department and lives on a 3-acre ranch with her husband, Rick Scully.
While Lynn Scully has enjoyed cooking and entertaining for years, it wasn't until she moved to Rancho Santa Fe that she had an opportunity to try her hand at gardening.
"We love working outside, and the gardening is just one of our things we love to do," she said.
Because she and her husband are also health-conscious, they prefer to dine at home in order to enjoy high-quality, nutritious, flavorful food. It was her interest in food and flavors that led Scully to begin creating her own recipes. The contests are just another way to have fun and share her love of cooking.
"It gives me a little incentive to come up with new ideas," she said.
Every year, Scully enters the San Diego County Fair contests and walks away with honors.
"Pretty much every year I take home some ribbons," she said.
Her most prestigious - and exciting - contest win came about four years ago when her Almond Rocha Cookies earned her a place amid four winners selected in a nationwide cookie contest sponsored by professional chef and television personality Emeril Lagasse. As one of the winners, she was flown to New York City to appear on Lagasse's TV show.
In an interesting twist, the Fresh Mozzarella & Tomato Salad is one of the dishes Scully served to Lagasse's film crew when they came to her home to shoot footage of her cooking.
When it comes to developing recipes, Scully said she starts with a basic concept such as a bar cookie or drop cookies and then brainstorms new flavor combinations.
"Every year I go through this process where after the holidays … I start working on recipes for the fair," she said. "I make them and remake them and adjust them and send them to my husband's work every week and they send feedback."
The toughest part is fine-tuning the small details. Is the recipe better with sweetened coconut or unsweetened coconut? Does the cookie taste better with frosting or a glaze?
"Every once in a while, I'll have something that's a total flop that ends up in the garbage can, but not very often," Scully said. "The one that won the Emeril contest was truly an awesome recipe."
Scully said there are a few things to remember when creating a recipe for a contest: The dish should be easily reproducible, the ingredients should be easily available, and the directions should be clear and comprehensive.
"It's got to appeal to people," she said.
Aside from the pleasure she gets working in the kitchen, Scully said the best thing about spending the last 10 years developing dishes is her amazing collection of recipes, an archive she readily shares both on serving platters and index cards.
"It's the way I show I care," Scully said.
Fresh Mozzarella & Tomato Salad
- 6 plum tomatoes, chopped
- 2 cartons (8 oz. each) fresh mozzarella cheese pearls, drained
- 1/3 cup minced fresh basil
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh mint
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 medium ripe avocados, peeled and chopped
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cheese, basil, parsley and mint; set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the tomato mixture; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
Just before serving, stir in avocados. Serve with a slotted spoon.
Yield: 8 servings
Blue Ribbon Almond Roca Cookies
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter, room temperature
- 2 eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 package toffee bits
- 1 cup coarsely ground almonds
- 4 ounces milk chocolate
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend sugars together on medium speed. Add butter and mix to form a grainy paste. Add eggs and vanilla and mix at medium speed until light and fluffy.
At low speed, slowly add the flour mixture and then the toffee bits. Mix until just blended; do not over-mix.
Place ground nuts in a small bowl. Using hands, roll balls of dough into 1- to 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in the ground nuts. Place on cookie sheets several inches apart. Bake approximately 22 minutes and then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.
Melt the chocolate with the vegetable oil in a double boiler or in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Drizzle melted chocolate over cooled cookies. Place cookies on a cookie sheet and place in freezer or refrigerator until chocolate is firmly set.
Yield: 3 dozen