A Little Bit of Chicken Fried at the World Food Championships

 

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It was 2008 when the Zac Brown Band came out with their hit “Chicken Fried”. The song was an instant Will Keys favorite with its uplifting country beat and lyrics of love for family, friends and the USA. I can still see him turn up the volume, hear him sing it out loud and flash that big smile of his. That song made him happy and inspired one of my best recipes, yet. Once again I am reminded that this blog is all about a celebration of his life, love and the healing power of food.

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Filled with self-doubt, but encouraged by my husband & daughter (#1 recipe tester…she has incredible taste buds) and supported by Team Saucy Mama, I ventured to the World Food Championships in Orange Beach, Alabama along with my long-time best friend and sous chef, Lynn Beamer. Never in a million did I think my signature dish, a little bit of chicken fried, would score a 99.625 out of a possible 100 points. It was the high score of the Recipe category and in spite of a few technical difficulties launched me into second place after three recipes and two rounds of cooking. Hats off to Team Canada who beat me by 1.2 points.

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WHOOSH ❤ Don’t you know that when I was accepting my Top 10 medal that Zac Brown Band song came blaring over the loud speaker. A Little Bit of Chicken Fried and a bear hug from above. Just like that William is up on that stage with me. It’s the most uncanny thing. I just believe and all the doubt washes away.  I will keep cooking because it keeps him close. Like the song says, “Feel the touch of a precious child And know a mother’s love”. He somehow never misses a beat when it comes to cheering me on.

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Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

And now for the best fried chicken sandwich you will ever eat. Asian inspired and served on a steam bun, it’s all about the crispy well seasoned coating and the juicy flavorful chicken inside. I suggest using boneless chicken thighs, but you can substitute boneless breast, if you must. Top it with the most magical black garlic hoisin, spicy slaw and a crisp sweet potato pickle and call it a winner. Oh, goodness-there is bacon in the mix as well.

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Asian Fried Chicken Steam Bun with Spicy Gingered Slaw & Sweet Potato Pickle

2 cups tempura mix

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 egg

2 tablespoons Saucy Mama Sweet Heat Marinade

6 chicken thighs, boneless, skinless

Lane’s BBQ Brisket Rub seasoning

peanut oil for frying

6 plain Asian steam buns

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

1/4 cup Jelly Queens Black Garlic Rosemary Sauce

toasted sesame seeds

Gingered Slaw (recipe follows)

6 slices cooked crisp bacon

Sweet Potato Pickle (recipe follows)

fresh cilantro

Whisk tempura mix and salt on a plate. Whisk buttermilk, egg and marinade in a bowl. Season chicken thighs with brisket rub. Dredge chicken in dry tempura mix then drop in buttermilk mixture to coat. Spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of buttermilk mixture into remaining dry tempura mix and stir with a fork forming small clumps. Dredge chicken again in tempura mixture pressing so clumps adhere. Heat oil to 375F. in large skillet. Fry chicken until a deep golden brown on all sides and cooked to an internal temperature of 165F. on an instant read thermometer. Cook buns in steamer basket until soft and heated through, about 5 to 8 minutes. Open buns and spread inside with hoisin sauce and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Top with gingered slaw, bacon, chicken, sweet potato pickle and cilantro. Close with wooden skewer.

Spicy Gingered Slaw

½ cup mayo

1/3 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon Saucy Mama Spicy Garlic Wing Sauce

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro plus additional for garnish

½ tablespoon packed grated fresh ginger

1 bag Mann’s broccoli slaw mix

½ teaspoon kosher salt

few grinds fresh black pepper

Whisk dressing ingredients; toss with broccoli slaw. Season with S&P

 

Sweet Potato Pickle

1 small red onion, sliced

1-cup Mann’s Sweet Potato Ribbons

1 star anise

5 peppercorns

½ cup water

½ cup white vinegar

1/3-cup sugar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Place vegetables in heat proof bowl. Add star anise and peppercorns. In small saucepan, bring remaining ingredients to a boil, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot mixture over vegetables; let stand until ready to use. Drain. Can be stored in the refrigerator for a week.

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Big shout out to my Team Saucy Mama. You ladies are my family and I love you to the moon and back. So blessed to have your support and encouragement. I also need to thank the Mann’s Company for their recipe contest that qualified me to get back to the WFC and for their amazing fresh cut vegetables that saved me so much time in the kitchen arena. I made it to the judges table with 1 second to spare in round one. WHEW!

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hugging the winningest sous chef of 2017

 Further thanks to Springer Mountain Farms and The Jelly Queens for sponsoring the Recipe category this year at the World Food Championships. Amazing products created with love and great care here in the USA make the best food.

What I Miss & Perfect Pairs

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Yesterday was William’s 29th birthday. Cheers to my boy. His birth was truly one of the best days of my life. Missing him more than I can express I celebrate him in the best way I can. In the garden planting seeds and in the kitchen creating a few recipes inspired by him he continues to be a bright light in my heart. I’m thankful for my hobbies and my passion to want to learn and try new things. Getting through tough times? It’s all about the distraction. Cooking, baking and gardening do it for me. How do you do it?

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I have been practicing my food photography with a new camera and have already received some very exciting feedback from some recipe/food sponsors. Can’t reveal what that is right now, but it sure made me feel good about trying something new and difficult. These days’ recipe contests require quite a bit of work. I miss the old days when all I had to do was create a recipe, write it down and mail it in. Now, in addition to preparing an original recipe, I am required to be a food stylist, food photographer and a creative writer. My poor husband. He knows he is not allowed to eat anything in the house until I have photographed it…on many a day we eat the food cold.

Probably one of the more wonderful things that have been on my plate lately is teaching two really smart and joyful young ladies, ages 11 & 9 how to cook. Sharing what I know about cooking and baking with the younger generation is quite fun and exciting. We are cooking our way around the globe and just finishing up Mexico with a Mango Tres Leches Cake. I think I was channeling my favorite teachers of Mexican cuisine Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken of Too Hot Tamales. I miss those cooking shows that really taught me and helped build my knowledge in the kitchen.

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Mango Tres Leches “Celebration” Cake is perfect for a birthday or Cinco de Mayo

Are there any famous chefs that you have learned from and would like to meet? Wouldn’t it be great fun to travel  to the 2017 Vegas Uncork’d Expo food & wine event happening next week? Take a look at that celebrity chef schedule. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Giada de Laurentiis will be preparing their dishes alongside perfectly paired cocktails. There are a few I would love to learn from, but if I could only pick one my heart still belongs to Mary Sue & Susan as they opened up a whole new world of Mexican cuisine and especially cheeses to me.

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queso fresco on scrambled eggs makes a perfect pair

Speaking of cheese and back in my own kitchen I have been working on some new recipes for grilled cheese sandwiches. After a hard day in the garden cooking up something like a grilled cheese and dining out al fresco on the deck is an easy and delicious way to end the day. Heading into the warmer weather we often enjoy a cool glass of rosé wine with a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a rustic perfect pairing, but who says wine has to be fancy? Rosé matches quite well with just about any cheese and bread. It’s not as elaborate as some famous celebrity chef dishes, but it works.

Cheers!

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Here is one of my winning cheese sandwiches from yesteryear. The salty bacon and olives with the sweetness of fruit, peppery arugula and luscious burrata pairs perfectly with a glass of Rosé.

Burrata & Bacon Ciabatta, Oh My

3 slices thick cut bacon

¼ cup apricot jam

1 (4-inch) ciabatta roll, toasted

2 tablespoons Mezzetta Napa Valley Bistro Homemade Style Basil Pesto

¼ cup arugula leaves

2 Mezzetta Sweet Cherry Peppers, seeded, diced

1-ounce burrata cheese (1/2 of a 2 ounce ball)

1 ripe apricot, sliced

4 pieces Mezzetta Sliced Greek Kalamata Olives, chopped

1-teaspoon balsamic vinegar syrup

Heat oven 400F. Line bottom of broiler pan with foil. Coat both sides of bacon with jam; place on broiler pan rack set over foil-lined bottom. Bake 30 minutes; transfer bacon to a plate. Spread bottom half of roll with pesto. Layer with arugula, cherry peppers, bacon, burrata, apricots and olives. Drizzle with balsamic. Cover with remaining bread slice.

 

 

A Day In the Life of a Cook-Off Contestant

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She rises early for a cross-country trip that takes 13 hours. The hours of preparation to get to this point are even greater. A creative thought process, grocery shopping, recipe development, more shopping, testing, food styling, photography, writing it all down and submitting to the sponsor of the recipe contest; it takes a lot of time. She is passionate about what she does and has a positive outlook. As the airline agent checks her overweight bag filled with all the necessary cooking utensils she prays her bag arrives safely. There is no question that her recipe is darn delicious. She hopes the professional judges at the garlic cook-off love it, too.

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Welcome to the 38th annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and The Great Garlic Cook-Off. The ultimate summer food fair is truly one of the greatest shows on earth. Run by over 4000 generous volunteers, this event has raised over 11 million dollars for local charities since its inception. Celebrating the love and appreciation of garlic it has everything you’d expect from a top-notch festival including family fun entertainment, arts & crafts, food and cooking contests. There’s even a scholarship pageant featuring a stunning and accomplished garlic queen and her court waiting to crown a garlic cook-off winner. It won’t be me. Happily, I’m in attendance as a food blogger following one of the finalists and reporting on her experience.

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My friend, Veronica Callaghan, beat out hundreds of others to take one of the 8 highly coveted finalist spots. She is a well-seasoned cook-off winner and after a full day of sourcing a few local ingredients she is ready to go. Just prior to cook-off time she is feeling a little nervous. Apparently, she took a big risk entering her garlic-roasted pizza. “Pizza has never been done before on this cook-off stage!” announces the emcee. Will she and her homemade yeast crust rise to the top? Veronica is worried her oven is not getting up to temperature. A hot oven is crucial in baking the thin, crispy crust she is aiming for.

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Veronica and fellow competitors have two hours to cook in a most professional kitchen stadium. The set-up is one of the best I have ever seen with each contestant having plenty of space in their individual kitchens including stoves and sinks and counters. In addition, each contestant is assigned a volunteer helper and Veronica’s couldn’t have been more wonderful. Chris happily takes direction from Veronica grating fontina cheese, pouring a most refreshing peach sangria (yes, I got to taste) into judges glasses and cleaning up as they go, so Veronica can fully concentrate on the execution of the perfect pizza.

Veronica does not disappoint. She preps and cooks several pizza toppings like a pro. The aroma  of rosemary roasted garlic, wine infused sriracha caramelized onions and perfectly crisp bacon fills the stadium. She is in the cooking zone and cool as a garlic clove (or is that cucumber)?

It’s obvious she is happy with her pizza dough. She rolls it out and tops it with an artistic flair finishing it off with sliced dried figs for sweetness, a sprinkle of  flavorful cheeses and fresh rosemary. It’s oven ready. With a flick of her wrist it slides onto a hot pizza stone.

It’s clear this pizza is not your average take-out, but is the crust crisp and does the garlic shine? Did the oven get hot enough? You betcha! When it comes time to face the judges one of them holds up a slice to the audience and does the ultimate crisp crust test. He snaps it into the classic fold and it holds its shape.

The Italian judge is so impressed with her presentation, balance of fresh ingredient flavors and crust execution that he confides in me that she should go into the pizza making business. In fact, all the judges seem to be over the moon with her pizza, but they have 7 more garlic infused fabulous dishes to taste and score.

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The final results are tabulated and the contestants wait anxiously for the announcement. “By the hair on a frog” (I swear the judge said it) Veronica just misses first place, but is pleased to take second and receive a garlic crown. Her hard work is further rewarded with a generous cash prize and the admiration of all her peers.

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Do give her pizza a try. It just may inspire you to enter the cook-off next year or at least to up your own game on pizza making. Check out this link to find out more about the other contestant entries and if you are interested in purchasing the cookbook you may order by phone: (408) 842-1625.

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Congratulations, Veronica and thanks for letting me tag along. You inspire me.

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