So, Thanksgiving cooking tomorrow, Iron Cook tonight! I’d like to thank TumbleBart (Josh and Jena) for taking the time and writing out this piece and compiling the photos. I, unfortunately, couldn’t participate, but it seemed like a great and creative culinary time! By the way, just throwing this out there, but if people are interested in guest blogging here, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love having people contribute!
Your secret ingredient is…
The word alone sends shivers down one’s spine. Or disappointment and annoyance. That would be the response we received when the secret ingredient was announced to the select 10 participants for November 13th’s Iron Cook Competition.
About a month ago, we sent out a series of invites seeing who would be interested in having an Iron Chef-style cookoff, ostensibly to see who could claim the culinary crown, but really to satisfy our gluttony by playing on the competitive instincts of our social circle. In our lust for varied and delicious foods, we laid a trap that we knew would easily ensnare our friends.
The rules were simple. Josh would announce a secret ingredient at noon via text, and at 7 PM we would all convene at our apartment (The J&J TumbleBart estate). There were five teams at final count. Since Josh knew the secret ingredient ahead of time, Jena would make the recipe selection, with Josh in the role of sous chef.
The initial choice for the secret ingredient was wine, but a last-minute discussion with an outside consultant (Jena’s aunt) resulted in a change to pomegranate; a minute later the text went out. Seven hours later, all five teams arrived chez TumbleBart with their respective masterpieces.
After sampling each submission, votes were cast and rankings were announced. Below, the entries, from last place through first. (corresponding photos are below the team’s description)
5) Team Fighting Mongooses – This team offered a pomegranate-glazed duck with a Swiss chard stuffing. Especially considering that this was the team’s first attempt at cooking duck, a notoriously finicky meat, it was delicious; the pomegranate glaze added a lightness and unexpected flavor to the dish.
They also prepared a vast quantity of vegan snickerdoodles – not pomegranate, but still much enjoyed by all.
4) Team Fail – This team did not fail to impress with their pomegranate stew, a Persian dish called Koresh Fesenjan. In addition to pomegranate, the stew featured ground walnuts and seitan, a vegan “meat”. The stew had a rich, yet bright and sharp flavor, and the leftovers survived only one day.
On a related note, did we mention how lovely it is to throw a big food party and then keep all the leftovers? Next time you need a nice surplus of food to last you for days, we suggest you throw your own such competition.
3) Team No God Only Pizza – We of the TumbleBart estate decided to create a roasted squash Kibbeh, a Lebanese hand pie with a bulghur “crust”. Roasted squash, spiced and blended with a pomegranate molasses, was blended with the bulghur for the shells, which were formed by hand and filled with a savory spinach blend. After baking, we served them with a pomegranate hummus for dipping. We may be biased, but this should have won best dish.
2) Team Tasaf – This team went all out. First, they prepared a sweet spiked pomegranate punch, to get our taste buds lubricated and inhibitions lowered. Next, they offered a Biryani made with jalapeño, garbanzos, and pomegranate seeds with an amazing redcurrant pomegranate chutney. Finally, they filled us to the brim with their dessert of vegan apple-pomegranate crisp. And lest you suspect that Team Tasaf went for quantity over quality – everything made by this team was amazing. The variety and creativity of this team surpassed all others until we discovered…
1) Team Pom Pom – This team prepared pork tenderloin with a marinade of pomegranate juice, orange marmalade, honey, and hot pepper. It was served atop an apple pomegranate and chestnut stuffing. Team Pom Pom was also thoughtful enough to provide an equally sumptuous vegan version of the stuffing. The presentation, the succulence of the pork, the glaze itself exploding with flavor; this team deserved their win (especially after cleaning our kitchen. No joke: they made us food and then cleaned our kitchen. At how many parties does that happen?).
Overall, it was a wonderful feast that left our guests rolling to their cars and subways, fat and full of delicious delicacies. Before we go, we leave you with these words of wisdom for your own Iron Cook Competitions:
1) Pick a good ingredient: It’s tough to find a secret ingredient that everyone likes, but what’s tougher is finding one that everyone will want to taste in every dish, for every course, and that will inspire the competitors to bring a wide variety of recipes to the table. Sure, garlic is awesome, but you’ll run the serious risk of getting five different pasta dishes with a side of garlic ice cream. Our selection of a somewhat esoteric fall fruit forced people to step back from their old reliable recipes and try something new.
2) Pick a large kitchen to hold this event: We luckily have a big kitchen that can fit up to 6 people at once, which made it easy for everyone to put the finishing touches on their food at our apartment, making for the best possible presentation and easy reheating.
3) Pick something that transports well: Team Fighting Mongoose had to show up 2 hours early just to finish in time, because they made a dish that was nearly impossible to transport, and not cooking in their own kitchen cramped their style. Cooking in your own kitchen is much easier.
4) Encourage your guests to bring food in cheap/disposable containers: It’s likely that whoever hosts the party is keeping the leftovers, not to mention that if you bring Aunt Mary’s heirloom pasta dish, you’ll have to either spend some party time washing it, or lug it home all greasy. Corollary: Hosts, make sure to have adequate serving utensils and platters. We started running out of these and had to make do with spatulas and larger plates.
5) Have fun: You’re not in it to win it, you’re in it to eat, try new things, show off cooking skills, and to laugh. This whole thing was a lot of fun – give it a try!
Thanks for reading Rori’s blog. May the force be with you.
Here are some more photos from the event: