Sunday, November 6, 2011

The First Loser

Growing up a competitive athlete, I've acclimated myself through the years with the highs and lows of winning and losing.  But soccer, softball and volleyball are all team sports and we always had each other to lean on and the next big game to look to for redemption if the odds didn't fall in our favor. So this weekend, as I stood alone in front of dozens of food fanatics and a few critically acclaimed, famous chefs in the final leg of a local competition hosted by GoodTaste! Pittsburgh, I had absolutely no intention of experiencing the agony of losing on my own for the first time.

But I did it anyway.

Going head-to-head with a connoisseur of Caribbean cuisine like KDKA's Olga George was certainly an amazing experience that I will never forget.

After confidently making my way through the first two stages of the competition I knew there was a lot of pressure going up against someone as talented (and as hard to hate...) as Olga.

So for the finals of this competition, I stepped up my game and pushed my limits, committing to cooking TWO dishes in only thirty minutes -- both of the baked variety.  And although I technically pulled it off, I believe (at the risk of using cliche food terminology too early on in this post) I bit off more than I could chew.

I don't know about you, but November hit me like a ton of bricks (wasn't it just June a few minutes ago?) and the moment Halloween is over I immediately morph in to Thanksgiving mode, so I decided to go with a "leftovers" theme for my dishes.  That way, I could creatively brainstorm for what I was going to do with my own Thanksgiving leftovers while spreading my love of creative baking to a few innocent by-standers.

My first go? A Turkey & Stuffing Leftovers Cake-Cup with Mashed Potato Topping.

Wanna give it a try? Here's the recipe:

Yield: 12 "Cake-Cups"
  • 15 oz. (5-7 slices) cooked, leftover turkey meat, diced
  • 1 1/2-2 c.leftover stuffing (from a box or your favorite home made)
  • 1 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 c. milk 
  • 1 large egg
  • dry herbs, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 c. leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1/3 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 c. sour cream

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Mix together all of the ingredients in a large bowl
  3. Line 12 cupcake tins with wrappers (preferably foil)
  4. Fill each wrapper to the brim with your mixture
  5. Bake for 45 minutes
  6. While cakes are baking, whisk mashed potatoes, heavy cream and sour cream together until you get a smooth consistency
  7. Fill a piping bag (or ziplock bag with a snipped corner) with the mashed potatoes and pipe on the finished mashed to resemble frosting on a cupcake.
  8. If desired, drizzle gravy on top of your finished product for a little added texture and flavor!

OK I'm just gonna say it.  This may technically be a losing dish, but it was absolutely DELICIOUS.  I have to apologize to my poor, poor judges who received a cold version of this dish since there was no working microwave on set to heat up my mashed potatoes and gravy.  You seriously missed out, and I'm so bummed about that. But I certainly can't wait to make these again after Thanksgiving is over. Cuz........ yum.

While these guys were baking away, I got started on my second dish -- which I have way fewer pictures of but was just as good..........if not better.  We all know that there is always leftover Sweet Potato Casserole that never gets eaten. So, what to do with it?  Just use it as-is -- brown sugar, marshmallows and all -- and make yourself a DARN good cupcake. No seriously. It's good. I appropriately paired it with a Toasted Marshmallow Meringue and made myself swoon.  You may be questioning how a Sweet Potato Cupcake could be that delicious, but I promise you. Give it a try this year and you won't be disappointed.

Here's how you'd do it:

Yield: 24 cupcakes

For the Cupcakes:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 2 tbs. potato starch
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 8 tbsp. (one stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups leftover sweet potato casserole or sweet potato puree
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, potato starch and salt into a medium bowl and add the cinnamon.
  3. Cream your butter on medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, then add the sugar.  Mix until smooth
  4. Add in the sweet potato casserole or puree and continue mixing on medium-low as you gradually add in the flour mixture and vanilla until incorporated.
  5. Evenly distribute among 24 baking cupcakes and bake for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting.
For the Frosting:
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup cold water
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1½ tsp Cream of Tartar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-3 drops marshmallow flavoring (if desired)
  1. Heat the sugar and water in a saucer on high (on stovetop) until it reaches 265 F. (use a candy thermometer)
  2. As you wait for the sugar to reach desired temperature, use an electric stand mixer with the whisk attachment to beat your egg whites and Cream of Tartar on medium-high speed.  Keep a close eye on your sugar water.
  3. When your sugar reaches 265 F, quickly remove it from the heat and immediately (but slowly!) add it to your whisking eggs, still on medium-high speed. 
  4. Add vanilla and marshmallow flavoring and beat on high for 3-5 minutes or until peaks start to form. 
  5. When your meringue reaches desired consistency, immediately fill a piping bag and frost your cupcakes. 
  6. Use a kitchen torch to lightly toast your frosted cupcakes and serve.

I tried, and loved, both of these "cupcakes" and wouldn't change a single thing about my recipes, though I have to admit, I'd probably try to be SLIGHTLY less messy in the kitchen and maybe not so ambitious for a 30 minute competition next time (Ha. Next time...).  I was so blessed to have cooked my heart out on stage in front of a LIVE audience who were there to learn from me.  It was exhilarating and competing against Olga in front strangers, but more importantly my family and friends who gave up their Saturday mornings and traveled hours to see me compete, was such an amazing feeling.

Did I win? Nope. At first, I felt completely defeated. Like a failure.  I was standing in front of people whose cookbooks I own and whose television shows I'd followed religiously.  I had the opportunity to knock their famous socks off, and I just didn't do it. But when I looked back on the competition, the day and the fact that I was given the opportunity to do this, my opinion began to change. The hugs and praises I received from my friends and family (who I've always known but was simply reaffirmed are the greatest people on the planet) and the random compliments I got from the woman I ran into in the bathroom after my performance were prize enough for me.  And I guess it's pretty cool that I dreamed up a few bad-ass recipes that I will definitely be using again, too.

So in the end, I learned myself a pretty good lesson. Winning really isn't everything.  Nor is it a greater majority of things. It's the memories that you create and can eventually look back on and say "wow, that was amazing" that really help you coast through life with the top down.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Mere for writing a wonderful, insightful piece. You are such an inspiration and I applaud you - congrats on your "losing" accomplishments because in the end, you won big time!