Some days on the job are more fun than others. This was a great day.



The Astros held their Fan Recipe Challenge Cook Off on Saturday, and you could say I was more than a willing participant as one of five judges.

Yes, I’m a team player, but more than that, I’m perpetually hungry. I also have a weakness for anything loaded with sugar, so when I heard Nancy Doctor’s sourdough cinnamon rolls were on the docket, I jumped at the chance to be a taste-tester.

The Astros were looking for new ideas for menu items to be offered at Minute Maid Park in 2010. So they opened the floor to the fans, and the recipe ideas arrived in droves.

The Astros waded through dozens of ideas and narrowed them down to four. On Saturday at the FiveSeven Grille, the contestants cooked up their tasty delights for the panel of judges.

The lineup:

Sarah Robinson’s “Slammin’ Chicken Sandwich;”
Dawn Harmon’s “Chicken Lettuce Wraps;”
Brad Turcotte’s “Green Chile Cheeseburger;”
Nancy Doctor’s “Sourdough Cinnamon Roll.”

We were asked to judge the items based on three criteria: taste/quality, ability to produce in a stadium environment and creativity.

The winner will be introduced next Friday (Sept. 18) on FS Houston, on the Astros reality-based show “Here’s the Pitch!” hosted by Jennifer Vogel. The show starts at 5:30 p.m. CT.

The first place winner receives 12 game tickets and use of a Luxury Suite for a game next year, plus a Lance Berkman signed ball. And, of course, his or her dish will be served at the ballpark every game next year. Second, third and fourth place finishers received signed bats and four game tickets.

From behind the camera lens: 

The judges, left to right: Astros right-hander Bud Norris, Houston Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman, myself, Vice President of Guest Services Marty Price and Executive Chef of Minute Maid Park and Aramark Sports & Entertainment Jason Kohler.


Norris took his judging duties seriously, as you can see here. He was also planning an extra workout to offset the heavy intake of calories (mostly from those delicious cinnamon rolls).




Dawn Harmon prepares her chicken lettuce wraps.


 Ken Hoffman tastes chicken lettuce wraps.


Sarah Robinson gets ready to wow the crowd with her slammin’ chicken sandwich.


Nancy Doctor prepares her mouth-watering cinnamon rolls.


Brad Turcotte takes a brief break from preparing his Green Chile Cheeseburger (actually, it’s a turkey burger) to pose for a picture.



The contestants gather for a group shot upon the conclusion of the cook off.



Astros honor late sportswriter (and friend) Neil Hohlfeld


Three years ago when the Astros created the Houston Baseball Media Wall of Honor, I figured my friend Neil Hohlfeld would eventually win the award, which is voted on annually by members of the Houston media.

But I never could have imagined that he would receive the honor posthumously, which is why Saturday’s dedication came with a touch of sadness for those who knew and loved the longtime Houston Chronicle sportswriter.

Hohlfeld covered the Astros as the Chronicle’s beat writer from 1979 until 1995 and remained with the newspaper until last summer, when he passed away from a heart attack at the age of 56.

His family was presented with a replica of the induction plaque that now hangs on the broadcast level of the Minute Maid Park press box, next to inaugural winner Anita Martini and last year’s recipient, Gene Elston.

In this photo, president of baseball operations Tal Smith and FS Houston’s Greg Lucas present the plaque to Hohlfeld’s wife, Lynne, and his sons, Joey and Andy. (Neil’s daughter, Maggie, is attending college in Ohio and could not be there for the ceremony.)


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No love for my wife’s “Biggi-O Rings” (onion rings) or her Minute Maid Orange Julius.😦

A terrible end to a terrible season.

Neil had the greatest laugh. RIP Neil. We miss you.

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