Archive of ‘Uncategorized’ category

How to Win a Grilled Cheese Competition

Last week, I was thrilled to win 1st place in the grilled cheese competition that I competed in (out of 12 teams), so in case you were wondering how to win a grilled cheese competition, here’s how:

1. Get a Good Partner – My friend asked me if I would be her partner for her friend’s grilled cheese competition and she said up-front that she wanted to win. I was on board with that – she proved to be a very good and competitive partner.

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2. Do Your Research – We went to a grilled cheese food truck website, looked at the menu items and recreated a few of the sandwiches to see which one we liked best. We chose a sandwich that had pepper jack cheese, fire roasted salsa, Fritos (we renamed it “corn chip crumble” to be fancy), and a cilantro-lime sour cream. After tasting the sandwich, I suggested that we add some chipotle for some flavor and spice. Perfect. We also added a black bean soup shooter to go along with the Tex-Mex theme. 

3. Dazzle them with Presentation - Anytime you watch Top Chef and other food shows, the story & presentation is key. Integrate as many of the elements together as possible. Because we had a Tex-Mex style sandwich, we enlisted some help from one of our copywriter friends that developed the name “Queso & Besos” (Cheese and Kisses) – it rhymes, it incorporates cheese, and it’s just plain cute. I used a piping bag to pipe out the cilantro-lime sour cream and added a sprig of cilantro as garnish. We served the sandwiches on trendy, rectangular white plates (the other contestants just used the plates that were provided), and we used square-shaped disposable shot glasses to serve the soup (Amazon.com is great for ordering these types of things, by the way). We also served Hershey’s Kisses as a “dessert” to go along with the “Besos” part of our name. It also didn’t hurt that we had custom-made Queso & Besos t-shirts. When we came into the room with those shirts on, everyone knew that we meant business. There was also a team song requirement, so we chose the very popular and upbeat Harlem Shake song which starts out with a spanish phrase. 

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4. Prepare in Advance – We made sure to prep everything in advance – we made the cilantro-lime sour cream and put it in the piping bag so it was ready to go. The black bean soup was cooked and blended and placed in a crock pot for the event. The Fritos were pre-crushed and placed in a plastic bag. Anything you can do to reduce the amount of cooking time at the actual event will help to relieve stress & help you to focus on cooking an amazing sandwich.

If you follow these tips, you will have an excellent chance at winning a grilled cheese competition (or other cooking competitions), should you compete in one.

This party was top-notch. The hosts like to throw fabulous theme parties and went to an events company and rented burners, extra tables for counter space, lights, and pillars. I felt like I was on Food Network in kitchen stadium. They had microphones, an emcee and a videographer. There were also 10 judges selected at random (I happened to be a judge as well), and all of the sandwiches were judged on taste, presentation and creativity on a scale of 1-5. As the winners, we were awarded with a trophy and bragging rights until next year, where we will defend our championship title. 

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Below is the video that captures the evening – it was a great party and I had a wonderful time. Enjoy!

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/59950082 w=400&h=300]

 

Flavors – A Culinary Experience: Event Recap

Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of attending Flavors – A Culinary Experience, which was a fundraiser to benefit the American Liver Foundation. The event was held at the Renaissance Hotel in Chicago (my first time visiting this hotel), and it was very well organized with over 80 silent auction and raffle items, however this event was all about the food.

The concept was quite unique with over 15 restaurants crafting table side meals with a custom menu from each restaurants. Featured Chicago restaurants included Browntrout, Frontier, Tavern on Rush and Bread and Wine. 

I was seated at the Chicago Renaissance Hotel restaurant table which featured a 5-course dinner with Executive Chef James Samson. Usually when I think about restaurant food from a hotel, I think “eh…just ok. Rubber chicken” – it just reminds me of the countless business meetings and weddings that I’ve attended that have “just ok” hotel food. This was quite the exception. Chef Samson had some very thoughtful and flavorful dishes, each of which were paired with wine. 

We started off with an Asparagus Salad, and my favorite part was the fried brie. There is nothing like some good fried cheese. Tuna Tartar was the second course, and the highlight of this dish was a compressed watermelon, which was put into a special machine overnight to make a large piece of watermelon fit into the palm of your hand. It was much like a dehydrated mini watermelon. Very interesting. The third course was the Beef Fheek Pierogi, which was very tasty – I don’t believe that I’ve eaten beef cheeks before, and now I won’t hesitate to try it again. Next was a perfectly cooked Lamb Porterhouse with a chic pea mint ragu. We finished off our meal w/a chocolate dessert that looked like a masterpiece. 

As I mentioned previously, this event was a fundraiser to benefit the American Liver Foundation, and we heard some touching stories about people that had been affected by Liver Disease, and it really put faces and names with a cause that does not get a great deal of exposure. One of the speakers almost had me in tears as she talked about her two babies that she lost to liver disease shortly after their birth. This is truly a cause worth supporting. 

The American Liver Foundation has these events every year, and they take place all over the country. Below is a link to the website for more information. Definitely check it out if you have the chance:

http://go.liverfoundation.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2012_flavors_localevents

I would also highly recommend Chef Samsons food – you can experience it yourself at Bar Novo at the Renaissance Hotel. The menu looks good, and it has 4 stars on Yelp. I’ll be visiting to try the bacon-wrapped dates. You can’t go wrong w/Bacon-wrapped dates!

So delicious

That Sneaky Sugar…

The other day, I was commenting to one of my friends about how much I was enjoying my iced tea. She took it from me and looked at the nutrition facts panel to find that it had 36 grams of sugar. She then informed me that the sugar in this iced tea included more than my daily recommended value of sugar. How much sugar should you have a day, you ask? According to the American Heart Association, women should have no more than 24 grams of sugar a day (equal to 100 calories or 6 teaspoons), and men should have no more than 36 grams per day, (equal to 150 calories or 9 teaspoons.)

All of this is quite disturbing, considering that I have a huge sweet tooth. Be sure to check your nutrition labels on processed food. For example, my favorite Yoplait strawberry yogurt has 27 grams of sugar. A 7-Up soda has 38 grams of sugar, and even innocent Mott’s Apple Sauce has 22 grams. I will definitely be paying more attention to what I’m eating and will be looking for alternatives. Don’t get me wrong, I will still enjoy my occasional soft drink, but I probably won’t be drinking them as much as I used to. What are you doing to manage your sugar intake?

Introducing Taste Bud Diaries!

My name is Erica and food is my passion. I love to eat it, cook it, and talk about it. I’m starting this blog to share, inform, and inspire in all things food.

I’ll share recipe ideas, restaurant recommendations, and even some of my favorite foods from the grocery store. I’ll also provide entertaining ideas and tips, and highlights from my adventurous travels (food related, of course).

My hope is that you will be inspired after reading my blogs… inspired to cook something for someone else, have a party, try a new recipe, or visit a restaurant that you’ve never heard of. Overall, I just want to help you to celebrate life through great-tasting food. Just follow your taste buds.