kitchen failures and the bob’s red mill experiment

I’m going to start by saying I’m dubious of recipe contests. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s my fear of rejection, or my natural uncompetitiveness. However, when my friend Kara told me about the Bob’s Red Mill Spar for the Spurtle contest, I jumped. I have the time to experiment and develop a recipe, and the $5,000 first place cash prize is appealing too. 

The contest rules were simple. Create a recipe that can be executed in 30 minutes or less using Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats. There was some fine print, but the gist sounded like a contest I could embrace.

Because I had been experimenting with a lot of veggie burgers lately, I decided to go in that direction for my entry. With the contest deadline looming, a trip to Portland last month got my motivation into gear. Being the fantastic house guest that I am, I invited a few Portland friends over to my girlfriend Kara’s house for a dinner party/first round of recipe tasting. Being the fantastic friend and hostess that she is, Kara mowed her grass, cleaned up her patio, and a backyard dinner party ensued.

Before this contest, I had never used steel cut oats. The idea that seemed to make sense in my head was to make two versions of veggie burgers. One version with cooked steel cut oats, and the second with raw oats to stand in as a substitute for bread crumbs. I even threw the uncooked oats into a food processor so they would take on more of a bread crumb consistency.

Ten friends were gathered in Kara’s lovely backyard patiently waiting for the main event: the veggie burgers that were going to win me fame, notoriety and $5,000. Inside in Kara’s kitchen I tried to form the batter into patties. I use the words ‘tried to form patties’ because they were so gloppy that the patties resembled more of an amorphous mass than what I had expected to be a neatly formed patties. Luckily, these friends were both understanding and gracious. With help from Kara, we ended up improvising and sticking the batter in a baking pan. We dined on veggie burgers that had to be baked in the oven (which is against the contest rules).  We had to cut the finished product into square-like pieces, polenta style, to put inside the beautiful Grand Central Baking hamburger buns I had bought that morning. This was my first public kitchen failure.

After returning home to the Bay Area, I regrouped and tried again. Failure number two. This version was less gloppy and held together reasonably well after pan frying in a skillet, but still not good enough. Luckily, this failure was semi-private, with my husband as the only witness.

A week and a few adjustments later, round three yielded patties that stayed together like a proper veggie burger should. The contest deadline was August 15 and I entered my recipe with a day to spare.

The process has been humbling and reminds me of how much time, knowledge and patience recipe developers must possess. I have a newfound respect for those who create.

Thank you to Kara for letting me take over her kitchen and house, and for providing inspiration for this contest. To the friends who cheerfully tried the round one failure, you’re the best. And thanks to my husband for standing by me in the kitchen, spatula in hand, for round two and three.


Oat-plant Burgers – created for the Bob’s Red Mill Spar for the Spurtle recipe contest 

1 large globe eggplant, diced into ½ inch cubes

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon salt

1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

½ cup chopped green onions, both white and green parts

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 cups cooked Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs) or bread crumbs

Makes 6-8 patties

1. Peel eggplant and cut into ½ inch cubes and sprinkle with1 tablespoon salt. Over medium high heat, add ¼ cup olive oil to a large skillet. Add salted eggplant and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add ½ cup water to eggplant, increase heat to high and cover skillet. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Eggplant should be sufficiently mushy.

2. Transfer cooked eggplant to a large bowl.

3. To eggplant add chopped flat leaf parsley, chopped green onions, minced garlic, freshly ground pepper and cooked steel cut oats.

4. Mix ingredients together using hands until well incorporated.

5. Add shredded cheddar cheese and mix until incorporated.

6. Cool mixture in refrigerator for 2-4 hours, or overnight. (The contest states the recipe must be executed in 30 minutes or less, but I emailed Bob’s Red Mill and clarified that it’s active time, so cooling down the batter is allowed, and advised.)

7. To cooled eggplant mixture add panko or bread crumbs and mix thoroughly.

8. Add enough olive or vegetable oil a nonstick skillet over medium heat.

9. Form mixture into 4-inch round patties. Add patties to heated skillet and fry for approximately 4-5 minutes on each side, until browned, pressing down on the patties with the back of a spatula.

10. Serve and enjoy with lettuce, onions, sliced tomato, mayonnaise and Dijon.

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