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Best (Kosher) Cooking Contest Ever

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Last Friday, the seventh-floor conference room at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square could have been the Kodak theater at this Sunday's Oscars, for all the excitement generated by the 3rd Annual Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off. Six finalists chosen from nearly 2,000 entrants each had passionate partisans cheering them on as they competed for serious prizes: $25,000 in GE appliances—and Manischewitz products. Myra Smolev was cracking jokes as she assembled her delicious Sloppy Moses potato pancakes stuffed with ground beef and mushrooms; Deborah Leebove from Denver nearly lost it but managed a miraculous recovery when she realized her oven wasn't on to bake her superfluffy Mani Meatloaves. They each hoped to make the tastiest dish in under an hour using at least one Manischewitz product; I got to be a judge. I had no idea, but the New Jersey–based company, founded in 1888, today makes over 400 items, everything from matzo to kosher pasta sauces. Only about a dozen were used, particularly the borscht (which turned out to be great flavorer for Shana Schuman's Meaty Manischtroni), and the Tam Tam crackers (Leebove's meatloaf secret weapon). The winner used the falafel mix: Calm, collected Amy Siegel from Clifton, NJ, came through with her Marvelous Mediterranean Falafel Sliders—juicy mini burgers made with ground turkey and topped with caramelized onions that I'd readily make myself. Congratulations, Amy. But watch your back—I may have to enter next year.

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