I completely forgot to tell you about the best dinner party I had a couple weekends ago. Sam and I had a Top Chef style throw down with two other couples, and it was amazing. We all get together pretty often for dinners and brunches, but we decided it might be fun to mix things up a bit with a little healthy competition. Not only did we all cook some incredible dishes, but we had a blast. We took the competition very seriously, and planned out all sorts of rules and regulations. Here's how everything went down...
All 6 of us met at a Whole Foods, where the men drew knives (Yes, knives! Even if they were just butter knives) to pick their female partner for the night. One of the rules was that you could not be partnered with your spouse. Then the the women drew knives for proteins, and we were given 10 minutes to plan our menu with our partners. Leading up to the competition we all gave suggestions for what our theme would be to help stock the pantry in advance. The winning theme for our event was Southern Cooking, so basically we stocked the pantry with a ton of cornmeal, flour, eggs and oil. I mean really, what else do you need in a Southern pantry? Each team had a budget of $40 to prepare one dish and 30 minutes to shop.
Once we were back at the kitchen, things started to get heated! We were a pretty serious group, each trying to come up with a winning dish. Molly and Sam drew chicken as their protein, and to everyone's delight, they got working on fried chicken with succotash. Elisa and Ian were given shrimp as their protein, and started whipping up cheesy grits. Alex and I landed with pork, and we decided to go all out with an obnoxious Top Chef style trio of pork. How can you honestly choose just one cut of pork though? We grabbed pork sausage for biscuits and gravy, pork cheek and paired it with a roasted corn and okra hash, and pecan crusted pork tenderloin served with fried green tomatoes and a peach reduction sauce. But 10 minutes into our 60 minutes of cooking, each team was given a surprise ingredient to incorporate into their dish. (Each of us brought an ingredient in a brown bag. We numbered them, then randomly drew bags.) Molly and Sam landed with duck fat (uh, yum), and used it in their succotash to give it an amazing flavor. They also topped the fried chicken off with a little fresh garlic aioli, for something tasty and unexpected. I'm a sucker for anything cornmeal, and Elisa and Ian's grits were no exception. They mixed in parmesan and topped it with fried shrimp. No one is sure what they breaded the shrimp with. I think it's a secret recipe now, but they were amazing. All I can get out of them is that a little sugar and cinnamon were involved (sounds strange, I know, but they were perfection.) Alex and I were given egg yolks which we used to help dredge the tomatoes and tenderloin.
This was one of the best meals I've ever had, not just for the delicious meal, but the experience too. And I'm pretty impressed that not only did we actually cook all this good food, but that we made it under all these constraints. Did I mention we were not aloud to look up any recipes? No googling or cookbooks aloud! (It was touch and go there for a while with the biscuits I made, because sadly I've only ever made them using Bisquick!) Since Padma, Tom and Gail couldn't be there to judge us, we ranked the dishes by secret ballot. Yes, we really were that competitive that we had to have a clear winner. And someone had to take home the gold spray painted trophies. In the end, Alex and I were victorious. He now is the proud owner of a gold toaster, while I have a lovely gilded sauce pan.