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Bake-off picks up trends in cooking

The Pillsbury Bake-Off is history, but what does this year's contest tell us about the current style of cooking in America? Mainly that favorite recipes today owe more to grandmas than great chefs. Entries indicated that consumers have streamlined preparations for all kinds of dishes ranging from family-oriented recipes to entertaining and indulgent fare.

Taste and quality are still important, but consumers have achieved them with a more relaxed cooking and baking style, rather than the fancier approach that characterized the '80s.

Other contest entry findings, noted by the judging agency's home economists, include the following:

Consumers, while interested in creating healthy recipes, are somewhat inept at knowing how to team ingredients. Many used healthful ingredients such as non-fat yogurt and high-fiber foods along with ingredients high in fat, calories and sodium.

Indulgence is still "in" (from appetizers to breads to desserts, etc.) with the use of liqueurs, macadamia nuts, almond paste and multiple forms of chocolate.

Peanut butter is not just kid's stuff _ cooks are using it to create fancy desserts.

Citrus, specifically orange and lemon, are favored for creating lighter, less-filling desserts.

American pantries have been internationalized with foods such as roasted red peppers, cilantro, cumin, black beans, feta cheese, pine nuts, lamb and spicy sausages.

Grandma's best recipes from the church cookbook and the potluck supper are showing up on the American dinner table again, but in new dress.

Modernized, updated versions of the familiar green bean casserole, old-fashioned pound cakes, specially flavored dumplings and apple pie were among the entries.

Soup recipes were prominent among the entries as well.

Muffin mania, which has swept specialty bakeries, has reached the American kitchen. Mini to jumbo, muffin entries were made sweet and savory with chocolate chips, jam, cheese, herbs and vegetables.

Mexican and Italian foods continue to top the list of favorite ethnic cuisines, but many entries featured an inventive blending of different ethnic cuisines.

Among them were enchiladas with spinach, egg rolls with an Italian-style filling and pizza topped with shrimp and feta cheese.

The microwave was most often used as a helper in recipe preparation, rather than as the primary means of cooking.

Now you can toss out many of those dog-earred newspaper and magazine clippings of former Bake-Off contest winners. Many of them can be found in the new The Pillsbury Bake-Off Cookbook (Doubleday; $18.95). The colorfully illustrated book features a collection of 200 prize-winning recipes culled from 40 years of Bake-Off contests.

The winners

PHOENIX _ These are the winners in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Cooking and Baking Contest:

$40,000 grand prize and $10,000 kitchen makeover: Linda Rahman, Petaluma, Calif., in the flour category.

$10,000 Winners: Paula Cassidy, Berkeley, Calif., refrigerated pie crust category; Christine Vidra, Maumee, Ohio, cake and brownie mix; Scott Wolf, Salem, Ore., frozen vegetables; Nancy Woodside, Sonora, Calif., canned vegetables and mashed potato flakes; Sharon Richardson, Dallas, refrigerated crescent dinner roll, biscuit and pizza crust.

$2,000 winners by category: Refrigerated crescent dinner roll, biscuit and pizza crust _ Debra Wolf, Salem, Ore.; Marie Mickelson, Columbia Heights, Minn.; Gloria Pleasants, Williamsburg, Va.

Refrigerated pie crust _ Robert Holt, Mendota Heights, Minn.; James Sloboden, Puyallup, Wash.; Eugenia Ward, Amherst, Wis.

Cake and brownie mix _ Helen Peach, Pensacola; Frances Sheppard, Corsicana, Texas; Janice Weinrick, La Mesa, Calif.

Frozen vegetable _ Jeanine Alfano, Montauk, N.Y.; Vesta Frizzel, Independence, Mo.; Joan Schweger, Elburn, Ill.

Canned vegetable and mashed potato flake _ Birdie Casement, Denver; Mary Lou Cook, Fallbrook, Calif.; Ellen Nishimura, Fair Oaks, Calif.

Flour category _ Anita Atoulikian, Parma, Ohio; Constance Dudley, Stanardsville, Va., Jean Olson, Wallingford, Iowa.