Fun Foodie Stuff

One of the things about being internationally famous, award-winning food bloggers is that you get invited to a lot of things.  Since we are not famous or award-winning, we get pretty excited when someone invites us to an event.  One such event happened recently in Valdosta, where I attended Cook and Care, which benefits the Children’s Advocacy Center of Lowndes County.  The event is held at the Quail Branch Lodge, which is right near the GA/FL border.

The lodge is huge.  dscn4347

This is just one room, but there must be four more just like it.  Add to that a large outdoor deck, and you have a very impressive facility.  Someone invite us to a wedding here.

So what is Cook and Care?  It’s a cooking competition and along with three others, I’m a judge.  Just like on “Chopped”, but nobody gets cut.  Instead, three teams (with up to four on a team) cook an appetizer, entree, and dessert and are judged by their work on each course.  Let’s meet our contestants…

From Steel Magnolias in Valdosta, here’s Chef Greg Yale and his team.dscn4350

Caterer to the stars Jeff Lind of The Gourmet Guys heads our second team.  dscn4349

Lind tries to bribe this judge with a glass of single malt scotch before the competition begins, but I am a man of honor and don’t accept until after the competition is over.

And finally, here’s Birdie’s, a sister restaurant of Steel Magnolias.  There is some sibling rivalry here.dscn4348

There is no kitchen at the lodge.

Instead, each team must bring everything they need to cook with.  Ovens, fryers, pots, pans, serving plates–everything must be brought in.  There is a pantry table where the teams can go get food.dscn4345

Just like in “Chopped”, there is a basket that holds secret ingredients.  Inside the basket the chefs find pork belly, chicken, cauliflower, eggplant and mushrooms.  The chefs don’t have to use every ingredient, but they do have to use the super top-secret ingredient, which tonight is strawberry licorice.  Here’s my view for the night:dscn4346

How was the food?  Excellent.  These guys are pros.  Don’t try this at home.  All night long I sat amazed at what was coming out of their makeshift kitchens.  I took a picture of all nine dishes.  Here we go, starting with the appetizers.

Steel Magnolias: Fried ravioli
Steel Magnolias: Fried ravioli
Gourmet Guys: Pork belly and peppers
Gourmet Guys: Pork belly and peppers
Birdies: Johnny Cake with chicken
Birdies: Johnny Cake with chicken and chocolate sauce

I rated the fried ravioli the best because they made the pasta and then fried it up in a makeshift kitchen.  Excellent creativity.  Birdie’s  chocolate sauce on the Johnny cake was a nice touch, and they melted up the licorice within it.

I starved myself all day so that I could eat a lot tonight.  Here’s our next course, the entrees:

Birdies: Pork belly and stuffing
Birdies: Pork belly and stuffing
Steel Magnolias: Eggplant with chicken and cauliflower froth
Steel Magnolias: Eggplant with chicken and cauliflower froth
Gourmet Guys: Rustic curry chicken with garlic green beans and cauliflower mash
Gourmet Guys: Rustic curry chicken with garlic green beans and cauliflower mash

I absolutely adored the pork belly and stuffing and begged Birdie’s to put it on their menu.  They put pomegranate into the stuffing, which gives each bite a pop as the seeds explode in your mouth.

The stomach is filling up, but there’s always room for dessert.

Birdies: Sweet date flapjack with basil cream
Birdies: Sweet date flapjack with basil cream
Gourmet Guys: Cinnamon corn cake with cream cheese topping
Gourmet Guys: Cinnamon corn cake with cream cheese topping
Steel Magnolias: Fried ravioli with fruit
Steel Magnolias: Fried ravioli with fruit

The Gourmet Guys won this round with me for delivering a nice, simple dessert with no gimmicks.  Interestingly, I preferred a course from each of the three teams.  Who won?  The vote tally was close, but the Gourmet Guys eked out a win.  It must have been the scotch.

Thanks to the nice folks in Valdosta, especially event chair Lu Williams for having me at this fun event.  They raised a pile of money for a good cause and it was an honor to be a part of it.

Date Night Goes Naked!

Get your minds out of the gutter.  The folks at Bear Naked granola asked us to try their site and tree-hugging granola eaters that we are, we thought it would be a great idea.  It can’t be easier–just go to their web site and get started designing your own custom granola canister.  You get to choose from three base granolas and then you pick what you want to put in it from a list of fifty ingredients.  The combinations are endless, but the site tells you if your ingredients are not compatible with each other.  We chose the honey granola and added cherries, cranberries, and banana chips.   A few days later, here’s what came to our house:

img_4391  Open up the box and here’s what you get:img_4390Inside the can is your granola.img_4392Ours was a soft granola, not very crunchy.  It was fun knowing that we designed it ourselves.  At around $10 a can it’s not cheap, but it could make a fun holiday gift for those of you who like to give something healthier than cookies.  They usually give you 10% off on the website, but if you don’t see the discount, you can try the discount code READ033.  Give it a try.

Disclaimer time:  Date Night did not pay for our Bear Naked granola, but our words are priceless.

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