From the moment she stepped off the elevator at the TIMES NEWS office in Mahoning Valley, the aroma of LuAnn Noll's "Jack Burgers" had everyone wishing the judging would start soon.
While all of the finalists in the 2010 TIMES NEWS Cookbook and Recipe Contest prepared some tasty dishes, it was the Lehighton woman's burgers that captured the grand prize.
What made her burgers so special, was the sweet homemade sauce, with just a hint of Jack Daniels whiskey.
In addition to winning the grand prize, Noll was the winner of the Burger Bonanza category. She joined five of the other six category winners in Mahoning Township on March 18 for the final judging. Each finalist is asked to prepare his or her winning recipe and bring it to the TIMES NEWS office, where a panel of judges taste each one, before selecting a grand prize winner.
While each offering was excellent, Noll received the highest number of first-place votes.
"I was surprised when I won," Noll said after the judging. "The competition is usually pretty good. I always try the winning recipes."
Noll said she has every one of the TIMES NEWS cookbooks, Recipes from our Readers, that have been printed over the past 23 years, and enjoys looking through them.
A retired furniture buyer, Noll has been cooking since she was a teenager. She really enjoys making ethnic German dishes.
"We have traveled extensively through Germany," said Noll. "Our first trip was for our honeymoon. We met a chef who owned a restaurant. He was as fascinated with American cooking as I was with German cooking."
The chef, Werner Hake, became a lifelong friend to Noll and her husband Richard.
"He was the one who really encouraged me, and taught me methods Germans use in cooking."
Noll and her husband have traveled to Germany 23 times. On each of those trips, up until Hake retired in 2001, they would travel to his restaurant in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a city in the Alps. He would ask them what they wanted to eat, days before their arrival, and always prepare it special for them.
"He was an interesting gentleman and I learned a lot from him," said Noll. Hake died in 2007.
"He was like a grandfather," she added. "Visiting him was like going home."
In addition to Noll, other category winners included: Roxann Rehrig, Palmerton, with "Grandma's Own Picnic Potato Salad" in the Salads, Vegetables & Sides category; Kathy Goff, Jim Thorpe, with "Sour Cream Chicken and Mushrooms" in the Slow Cooker category; Shirley M. Leinthall, Summit Hill, with "Eggplant Casserole" in the Main Dish category; Kellie Williams, Lehighton, with "Tasty Toasties" in the Entertaining category; Tabitha Phillips, Gainesville, Ga. with "Peanut Butter Bites" in the Health Conscious category; and Amanda Steigerwalt, Lehighton, with "Chewy Granola Bars" in the Dessert and Baked Goods category.
This year's contest attracted some of younger generation, including two of the finalists Amanda Steigerwalt, 10, and Tabitha Phillips, 16 as well as cooks from around the country. In addition to Georgia, recipes were also received from California, Texas and Missouri.
Judging was conducted by the cookbook committee, as well as two guest judges Bob Urban, TIMES NEWS editor; and Joan Reinhard, Pencor wellness coordinator.
Committee members are Jennifer Benninger, Darlene Hentosh and Linda Muffley, advertising sales representatives; Donna Hall, classified advertising and national sales representative; Amy Zubek, reporter/photographer; Bob Miller, director of prepress operations; Tami Kunkel, production assistant; and Karen Cimms, Lifestyle editor.
Over $900 in prizes were awarded to this year's winners, including grocery store gift cards and gift cards to Roadie's Restaurant at Penn's Peak.