Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to Win a Cook-Off

As I mentioned last week, I was boycotting the appetizer cook-off, but once word got out that MT (the three-time reigning champion) was not participating and that there would be PRIZES (Starbucks gift cards), I couldn't help but channel the knowledge I had learned from previous failures into one final Herculean push. Come cook with me.

Step 1. Find a good recipe. This sounds simple, but it's actually the hardest part. You want something familiar yet creative, spicy yet flavorful, daring but accessible. I failed miserably by making pumpkin chocolate chip cookies because they were too 'edgy', my soup was delicious but lacked a kick. With this being an appetizer cook-off, the stakes are considerably higher because there are NO RULES. Maybe someone will go insane and make something fancy with salmon or some French word no one can pronounce correctly. Maybe someone will make a hummus that would end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. My only hope was to find something that played to the lowest common denominator: BACON. The recipe was called Bacon and Tomato Cups, but they may as well had called them 'Bagel Bites for Adults', because that is what they are. It was love at first sight.

Here is what you need:

Bacon, Swiss Cheese, Bruschetta, Flaky Dinner Rolls, Onion (not pictured), some Mayo. It does not look like much, I will concede you that.

Shred cheese and put in bowl. I don't like Swiss cheese, but I followed directions like a good boy because this was serious business. I could not resist sprinkling in some Cheddar, because Cheddar improves everything and we own a bag of shredded Cheddar so big that we could make nachos for everyone within Arlington city-limits. 
This is the bag. See JL for scale. Also, you can't tell from the picture, but his arm is trembling from its weight. 
Then make your bacon. I have never made bacon before. I should have used the microwave, and a lower setting, because bacon grease is hot. Long story short, cook in pan until bacon looks like bacon should look like. Like this:
Once you have cooked all your bacon, it is imperative that you practice due diligence and make the bacon-paper towel sandwich to remove the grease from this animal product that is 87% fat already. I usually scoff when people do this to slices of pizza (HELLO. YOU ARE EATING PIZZA. GREASE IS EXPECTED). I think this is done purely for peace of mind, but I have captured a photograph of it for prosperity.
See. And yes that is a Mojito tool, but I was not drinking. I have never seen that used in my apartment but it is always in the dishwasher or in the sink. It must do other things I am not aware of. That's what she said.
From here you essentially make your own bacon bits. Why didn't I simply buy bacon bits may you ask? Because I'm 'In it to win it', as they say. That and last time LK cooked maple-cured bacon it smelled like bacon in the apartment for the better part of two weeks. It was awesome, but also sad, because every morning I thought there was bacon. 
 Add bacon to cheese. Add Bruschetta and diced onion. Mix until it looks like this. And yes, I know you can see my toe in this picture. 
Beginning to look gourmet. Kind of like an Italian version of Salsa con Queso. If only Italians had chips to dip in it. Get with the program Italians. Hispanics have tortilla chips, the Middle East has pita chips, the US has potato chips, Asia has wontons (do these count?). Get on the chip train Italy. 
Here is where things get real fancy real fast. You cut the biscuits in half horizontally, and then massage and stretch them into a thin circle. Basically pretend you are a giant working in a pizza shop. That's what I did. Once this is done, place the dough into a mini-muffin tin and spoon in a generous portion of the bacon/cheese/bruschetta topping. Not too generous however, because things expand during heating, especially dough (DUH.).
Adorable. And off-center due to yours truly trying to hold the camera with his wrists to protect it from his doughy fingers. Sigh, the things I do for this blog.  

15 minutes @ 375F or 190.5C or 463.65K (if you must) and you will have these cheesy golden brown morsels. They will probably still be ~375F so I recommend waiting a few minutes. I'm not sure if they will win, but I know I will beat MT and honestly, that's all I REALLY cared about the whole time. 


  1. OOOOOooooOOOOoooOOooOoOOOOOooooOOOOOOoOO....! They look scrumptious! and i am not competing but i hope you win. maybe next time ya punk.

  2. p.s. <3 julia child!!

  3. How do we know what scale JL is? He could be 4 feet tall or 8 feet tall! I guess we'll have to take the average.

  4. Results are in:
    MD (a.k.a. "Tha Contenda") wins undisputed victory: takes 1st place in appetizer cook-off.

    Perhaps he has been itching to run a digital victory lap by posting said news at the top of this page in the largest font allowed by blogspot, yet he has restrained himself admirably (likely wrestling with the classic indie-boy conundrum: how to spread awareness of your clearawesomeness without appearing to self-promote too obviously or care a bit too much).

    But, all snark aside, I (as an official judge) can hereby attest that MD's win was well-earned. his bacony-cheesy-fatty-salty-carby-bites-o-goodness hit all the right notes while fully (albeit narrowly) overcoming the soggy-texture-trap that is so often the bane of this type of recipe.

    That's the cool thing about cooking -- it's essentially trial and error, complemented by knowledge,research,observation,technical execution,and experience. At any point one should expect to fail (even "edgily", pumpkin-cookiemuffin-style), but then eventually to succeed -- sometimes randomly, but usually as a result of continuing to work at it, continuing to come at things creatively while incorporating learned experience. (applicable quote: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." ---Samuel Beckett)

    Because he so clearly exhibits(in alternately endearing/exasperating fashion) such promising versatility (right brain/left brain, scientist/creative, stubbornness/experimentation), I must-- at the risk of inflating his head -- acknowledge that this is likely not a one-hit wonder...there is solid cook potential here (no homo).

    So while it's true that several key traditional powers sat out today's event, it's also true that md's "pizza muffins" would have held their own in any contest. Even if one were to consider this the equivalent of winning a tripleA batting crown, Pride Fighting Championship, or WNBA title, that takes nothing away from the fact that md was the best chef in the arena today. (just don't expect him to win the upcoming cupcake bakeoff.) kudos to him as well as my thanks for providing 1/5 of my lunch.