Will this be the year you'll be inspired to compete at the State Fair?

With the calendar turned to September, our thoughts have turned to the State Fair of Texas. Specifically to the fun, funky and positively fattening food! (Fried beer, fried Cobb salad or fried Pop-Tarts, anyone?)

It's time once again to enter your favorite recipes in the fair's many cooking contests -- come on, you know you want to take a stab at one. (Hey, you never know when Oprah and her pal Gayle will show up to judge entries, as they did on an episode of her show broadcast from the State Fair last year.)

There's a contest for just about every home cook again this year, from bread bakers to candy makers to those who venture to get creative with Spam.

Information about the contests -- including schedule, rules, prizes and entry fees -- is on the State Fair website, (click on Creative Arts, then Contests and scroll down to "Contests During Fair"). The State Fair begins Sept. 24 at Fair Park in Dallas.

Here are two recipes for inspiration -- one from the Ghiradelli Chocolate Championship (taking place Sept. 25 this year) and the 2009 national grand prize winner in the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie Crust Championship (taking place Sept. 26).

Chocolate saltine toffee

makes about 2½ pounds

Saltine crackers, about 60

2 cups granulated sugar

2 cups unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons corn syrup

1 cup (½ bag) Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips

5 ounces sliced almonds, toasted

1. In a half sheet pan lined with parchment paper, lay out saltine crackers, salt side down, in a single layer. Set aside.

2. In a medium-size sauce pot, combine sugar, butter and corn syrup. Place over medium heat until butter melts, stirring continuously. Increase to high heat and cook until mixture registers 300 degrees on a candy thermometer, stirring occasionally.

3. Remove from heat and carefully pour mixture over saltines, spreading evenly. Let sit a few minutes and then sprinkle chocolate over toffee. Once chocolate melts, spread in an even layer over toffee. Sprinkle sliced almonds on top.

4. Freeze until chocolate sets. Once the chocolate is set, break into pieces.

Nutritional analysis per one-ounce serving: 183 calories, 13 grams fat, 17 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram protein, 25 milligrams cholesterol, 62 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 61 percent of calories from fat.

-- Blue Ribbon Group

Pillsbury pear cream pie

Makes 8 servings

1 box Pillsbury refrigerated piecrusts, softened as directed on box

5 cups sliced peeled fresh pears

¾ cup sugar

¾ teaspoon fruit protector (ascorbic acid)

1¼ cups water

3 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch ¼ teaspoon salt

1¼ cups milk

¾ cup evaporated milk

1½ teaspoons vanilla

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

1 cup whipping cream

¼ cup sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place 1 pie crust in 9-inch glass pie plate as directed on box for One-Crust Baked Shell. Bake 9 to 11 minutes or until light brown.

2. To make lattice top, cut second crust into ½-inch-wide strips with pastry cutter. Line large cookie sheet with parchment. Weave strips together to make lattice design; trim to fit top of pie. Bake 7 to 8 minutes or until golden brown.

3. Meanwhile, in large saucepan, place pears, ¾ cup sugar, the fruit protector and water. Cook over medium heat until pears are tender and almost all liquid has evaporated. Cool slightly while cooking filling.

4. In medium saucepan, place egg yolks; beat with whisk or fork to blend. Stir in 1 cup sugar. Add cornstarch and salt; mix well. Stir in milk, the evaporated milk and 1½ teaspoons vanilla until blended. Stir in butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick and bubbly. Spread pears in cooled baked shell. Spread cream filling over pears. Carefully slide lattice top onto pie. Cool; refrigerate 4 hours or until filling is set.

5. In chilled small bowl, beat all topping ingredients with electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form (Do not overbeat.) Decorate top of pie with whipped cream as desired. Serve with any remaining whipped cream. Store covered in refrigerator.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 616 calories, 29 grams fat, 87 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 151 milligrams cholesterol, 284 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 41 percent of calories from fat.

-- Blue Ribbon Group