Ultimate Recipe Showdown (oh, and yummy Carrot Muffins!)

URS2_Julie-Hession_cakes_s4x3_tz I have been a fan of The Food Network for as long as I can remember.  I recall first learning about the now ubiquitous chipotles (a.k.a spicy raisins) from Hot Off the Grill with Bobby Flay!  Sara Moulton taught me how to properly dice an onion, and watching shows like Food Finds and Sweet Dreams (oh, how I miss Gale Gand!) made my time on the treadmill fly by in a flash.  The Food Network is usually on when I am working in the kitchen, and I think that I even heard Eric say "E-V-O-O" the other night.  You get the idea.

I have mentioned a few times in the past that I started entering recipe contests a little over a year ago for fun.  I had seen a few of the challenges that were aired on The Food Network, but I had no idea how many of these contests and cook-offs actually exist.  There is even a website, Cooking Contest Central, solely dedicated to recipe and food-related competitions.  After my first win, for which I just casually entered a few recipes with no expectations, I was hooked.  I had been bitten by the "contesting" bug, and there was no turning back.  Muffin2

Last spring, The Food Network starting calling for entries for Ultimate Recipe Showdown 2, a televised cook-off during which contestants would compete against each other by preparing their original recipes in various categories.  I had watched the first season of URS, which I had learned about too late to enter (darn!), so I didn't need to think twice about submitting some recipes for season number two.  Some ended up being many. Dozens.  I really wanted to be chosen for this competition.  I really wanted to compete on The Food Network.

Well, long story short, the recipe Gods must have been looking down on me as I toiled away in the kitchen.  During the summer, I received notification that I had been chosen as one of four contestants to compete in the Ultimate Recipe Showdown: Cakes competition (insert excited scream here)!  Food Network would fly Eric and I to New York in September, and I would be competing at the Food Network studios (insert second scream!)

For me, visiting the Food Network studios was like going to Disneyland.  I practically skipped through the halls.  I was able to spend some time in the test kitchens, and I even saw a few familiar faces while I was there.  I truly, truly, didn't want to leave (but I thought that clinging to the door probably wouldn't be the best way for them to remember me.) 

Although I can't really reveal very much about my experience with the actual competition, I will say that I had a wonderful time, and I made some fantastic new friends.  I also have a whole new appreciation for the amount of work that goes into producing a show like this.  Guy Fieri, of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives fame, was the host, and I found him to be so down-to-earth and friendly, not to mention charismatic and lightning-quick with his come-backs.  I plan to try out next year too.  Boy, would I love to go back (even if they just let me hang around The Food Network for a few days….)

The episode that I appear in airs one week from today, January 18th, at 9 p.m.  Here is a small promotion video that the Food Network put on their site. Tonight, I believe that the Burgers episode is airing, and last week, they showed Comfort Foods, during which my friend Michaela prepared the most fantastic looking fritters.  After my episode, they will air Hot and Spicy, Desserts, and Hometown Favorites.  The winners get a nice check, and their recipe will appear on the T.G.I. Fridays menu nationwide for a limited time.  Not a bad gig, huh?    Muffin1 

So, I didn't want to just go on and on about myself without at least providing you with a recipe at the end of this post.  This is another "preparing for my parents" creation, as they both enjoy homemade muffins.  I've made many variations of carrot cake and carrot muffins over the years, but they have always been other peoples' recipes.  A recipe of my own was long overdue.  The one that I finally came up with draws from my favorite aspects of the other recipes, but I tried to make my version a bit healthier by incorporating whole wheat flour and by replacing some of the oil with grated apples.  These muffins are not overly sweet, and they have a nice, almost chewy texture from the inclusion of coconut and golden raisins.  Pecans add a toasty crunch.  Here are a few extra tips for making these slightly sweet and healthy treats:

  • Grating carrots and apples on a box grater can be a bit of a chore.  If you have a food processor with a grating disk, use it.  This is a major time saver, and you can grate both the carrots and the apple in one batch.
  • When I add apples to a muffin or bread recipe, I tend to keep the peel on, but feel free to peel the apples before grating them.
  • Depending on how sweet you like your muffins, you can use sweetened or unsweetened flake coconut.  I found that the addition of the apples, carrots, and sugar makes the muffins sweet enough, so I opted for the unsweetened coconut.
  • This recipe makes quite a few muffins.  Seal some in sip-top bags and freeze them for up to two weeks.  Take one out in the morning (or the night before) to defrost for an easy and portable breakfast.
  • I like to use safflower oil in my recipes because it has a neutral flavor, but you can certainly use canola, sunflower, or vegetable oil instead.

Carrot, Apple, and Pecan Muffins

Makes about 24


1 1/2 cups flourMuffin4

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2/3 cup light brown sugar, packed

2/3 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup safflower oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3/4 pound carrots, peeled and finely grated

1 large apple (about 8 ounces), cored and grated

1/2 cup flake coconut

1/2 cup golden raisins

3/4 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 375F degrees.  Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.  In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix both sugars with the eggs at medium speed until well combined, 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the safflower oil and the vanilla. 

Stir the carrots, apples, coconut, and raisins into the wet ingredients until thoroughly incorporated.  Stir in the pecans.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing until just combined. 

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them almost to the top.  Bake the muffins for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean.  Cool the muffins for 5 minutes in the pans and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (or serve them warm!)


  1. says

    Congratulations on making it on the Food Network. I watched the last season of URS and have seen the first two episodes of Season 2. It’s a fun show. I wish I had the cooking skills to enter things like that, it sounds like fun!

  2. Foodie at Heart says

    I have been looking to your show’s airing. Eric mentioned when you filmed the episode is September, but of course didn’t let us know how the outcome turned out. Even though the results are in, Good luck! I always thought you should be on Next food network star since you mentioned you would want a show.

  3. says

    Wow, that’s so cool that you were chosen for URS! That must have been quite an experience. These muffins look so good — I hope to try out your recipe. Glad to have stumbled upon your blog!

  4. says

    I was watching the show and heard you mention your blog -so since I’m a blog addict I came looking for you. I’ll be checking back – your recipes look lovely!

  5. says

    Hey Julie, I am still watching today’s URS and was curious to check out ur blog. Congratulations on appearing on Food Network. Love the color of your sweet potato layer cake!!


  6. says

    I have to tell you that you are on TV right now and that is how I found your blog. But now that I have I am glad because you have tons of great recipes

  7. Angela - from Orlando says

    Congratulations on your win at the URS at Food Network! I can’t wait to try both your recipes! Good luck in your future endeavors!

  8. says

    Congratulations Julie! I just finished watching the show and I am so pleased that you won. Both your cake and your cupcakes looked great. Will you be sharing either of those recipes with us?

  9. Patricia says

    Congratulations on your win on URS. I saw the show today and really enjoyed watching everyone prepare their cakes. Good luck in future contests and competitions. Who knows? We might just see you on your own show soon!

  10. says

    Congrats on your win! When I heard you mention your blog on the show I turned and punched my husband in the arm and yelled “I’ve read her blog before!!” I was so excited for you! I make a malted milk cupcake as well, but am not a fan of fruit and chocolate together – but that cupcake looked fantastic!

  11. Sobaka says

    I’ve been a silent reader for several months and I love your blog. I watched the episode and was very impressed with your grace under pressure. I was rooting for you all the way and I really admired your baking ability and poise in front of the camera. Both cakes looked delicious. I am looking forward to making the chocolate malt cherry cupcakes. Congratulations on a well-deserved win!

  12. says

    Congrats Julie!!!! Me and dh were watching the showdown last night and they said a blogging baker. Then they said the name of the blog. I said I know her I told my husband remember the pecan pralines we made that was her blog. I am so glad you won how cool is that.

  13. says

    I saw your win on Sunday! Congratulations! I thought your cupcakes AND your cake looked amazing (underbaked? Looks more like MOIST to me!). I’m about to go scour your site for the receipes :]

  14. says

    Congratulations on your win, Julie! I watched the show and was very impressed! I would have been a nervous wreck! I looked up your blog as I was watching the show with my son and have since subscribed. Good luck with future contests.

  15. Hannah Darter says

    Congrads on the win! My name is Hannah and m mother and I are watching the episode now and she is dying to know t sweet potato layer cake recipe I can’t find it anywhere on the site!!!! :( Can you lease email it to me!!!!my mom absolutely loves sweet potato!! thanks!!

  16. Teri Walker says

    Hi Julie,
    I have to say, you have done something not only I would love to do but I am sure many others out there as well. I come from Texas and am now in Las Vegas, but with this said, can you belive how ard it is to get down home cooking and good cooking (no offence to all the chefs on the strip). Locals shy away from the stip. I always say, If I opened a resturant…….
    Well Congtats on the win. I would however LOVE the receipe to the Chocolate Malted Cherry Cupcakes.

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