Friday, October 29, 2010

Victory Tastes like Blackberry Cabernet!

I have always been a huge supporter of Jay and his wine and food ventures. Nothing makes me happier than to watch his hard work pay off; whether the payoff is a delicious meal, amazing wine or accolades from others for both. You could not have found a wife more proud of her husband than me as he walked to the podium over and over to receive his medals at the WineMaker Magazine awards dinner in May. But from that pride for him plans were hatched to get one of those sweet medals for myself!

I am humbled to say that those plans have paid off. As I posted a few months back I had worked under the tutelage of my husband (or as we Star Wars nerds say: the Padawan Learner to his Master Jedi) developing a Blackberry Cabernet. This idea came about when Jay had some Cabernet juice left over and I eyed a few large bags of blackberries (look at them above just waiting to be turned into award winning wine!) picked at our house in Vermont. The resulting wine was wonderful, the blackberry enhancing the berry flavors from the Cabernet juice without overpowering it. Both red and fruit wine drinkers alike gave me good feedback. Still, you never know with the judges.

This past weekend we found out that my wine had taken a Silver Medal in the Amenti del Vino 2010 Competition. To say that we were thrilled with this news is an understatement. Though I deeply appreciate being recognized by the judges it does not compare with allowing Jay to feel a little bit of the pride that he has given me the opportunity to feel over the years.

Now….only 26 more medals and we will be tied with Jay. I may not get there but it will be fun trying!



Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Don’t Know Until You Try

Anyone that is married to a creative Chef has had those moments. The one where said creative Chef throws out a recipe idea and all you can think is: you’re making what, and I have to eat it? But then, every person married to a GOOD creative Chef knows that those moments are often followed with amazing, delicious experiences. This is a story of one of those moments…

My only request for dinner was that it be pizza, most likely due to the Travel Channel show I had just watched devoted to the subject. Jay has come up with some wonderful pizza ideas in the past when issued this challenge. (Pulled Pork Pizza and Hoisin Chicken Pizza being two of my favorites.) As always when faced with a dinner challenge he went to the kitchen and pondered the ingredients we had on hand.

Two items caught his eye: first the home made dill pickles, second the package of bacon. When he came back with the idea of Bacon Pickle Pizza I was a little skeptical. As always I should have known better!

The resulting pizza was better than I ever could have imagined. The crunch and light brine of the pickles mixed with the salty goodness of the bacon was so perfect.

Both the toppings played so well off of the standard red sauce and mozzarella cheese and the flat bread crust was the perfect conveyor. It was like all the best things about a bacon cheeseburger without the burger overpowering the other flavors. (Though you could add beef as an additional topping I think that it would take away from the other flavors).

Never doubt a creative Chef… It pays to just go with the flow and enjoy the delicious ride.



Monday, October 25, 2010

Wine Riot Post #2 and Getting Tagged

This is going to be one jam packed post. Wine/cider awards, the final recap from the Boston Wine Riot and getting tagged in the food blogger game of tag.

First off last week was a big week for the Ancient Fire homemade wines and ciders. Margot took a Silver Medal for her Blackberry Cabernet in the Amenti del Vino Competition. I took First Place in the Common Cider category for my hard cider in the New England Regional Homebrew Competition. This was Margot’s first win and the first win for our ciders. Needless to say we are pretty excited with both of these results. With the cider finish we now have medals for wine, mead and cider. Next year I want to slot in a win for beer and hopefully wine a mixology competition. What will that mean? That I know how to drink!

In yesterday’s post we presented the overall Boston Wine Riot session we attended and offered reviews of couple of red and white wines. Our coverage wouldn’t be complete without three additional topics, the food, the crash courses and reviews of bubbly and dessert wines.

We tried food selections from three of vendors, Redbones, KO Catering and The Upper Crust Pizzeria. In our first round (you gotta eat when you are drinking!) Margot had the Pulled Pork Sliders from Redbones and I had the Classic Aussie Meat Pie from KO Catering. Margot loves BBQ so this was a match made for her. I had a bite and agreed that the pork was tender and juicy with excellent, but not overpowering, flavor from the sauce. The Classic Meat Pie from KO Catering contains a filling of ground beef, onions, spices in a tomato based sauce. The flavor was fantastic and the crust was cooked very well. Both selections did the trick after an hour of sampling wines. A bit later we got slices of “The Swellesley” pizza (on thr right) from Upper Crust. I saw chorizo in the ingredient list and had to. I missed the red pepper flakes though and it ended up being spicy. Margot fought through it though. The pizza was thin crusted with the right amount of sauce, chorizo, garlic, basil , red pepper flakes and parm cheese. It definitely hit the spot! Margot was feeling the effects of the wine and went back to KO Catering for the Curried Veggie Pie. The crust was right but the vegetables didn’t have enough curry seasoning and were in need of salt. While it filled the need for food, it didn’t feel like it was what was expected.

During the session there were crash courses being offered every 30 minutes on all sorts of wine related topics. We attended two after a friendly Wine Riot staff member brought them to our attention.

In the first course, “In Vermouth, Truth”, Andrew Quady (shown on the left) of the Quady Winery explained some of the history of vermouth, how it is made and served samples of both the dry and sweet versions they make at Quady. This crash course was of particular interest to me as I plan to make my own vermouth early next year. We already have the wine aging, we just need to decide on the herb blend and source the ingredients. Both of the vermouths were very flavorful and I could see enjoying both on the rocks as they do almost everywhere else in the world (the wine drinking world) outside the US. The 50/50 cocktail with the orange twist was a crowd pleaser and something I could see serving at home to spread the word about vermouth.

The second crash course was about pairing Chinese take-out with three different styles of wine. Each attendee was given a plate with some fried rice, General Gao’s chicken, and bone-in BBQ rib. We paired the food with a sparkling wine, medium-dry Riesling and a Pinot Noir. The sparkler was a great match, but honestly it seems to go well with almost anything, and the Riesling also resonated with me. The Pinot came off as tart and overly tannic which was odd since it was a low tannin (so it was presented) selection. I worked at the Pinot pair with the BBQ rib, but just didn’t find it. At any rate it gave me an opportunity to think about a pairing that I really hadn’t ventured into yet. Ideas for another day.

Our wine reviews wouldn’t be complete without a couple of sparkling and dessert selections, which we very much enjoyed.

Sparkling Wines/Ciders

2008 Farnum Hill Kingston Black – the Kingston Black is a old cider apple with a specific flavor. It makes a dry cider with strong aromas and flavors but very pleasing. Farnum Hill is the gold standard for cider in my experience and the fact that they are a NH business means I’ll wave their flag all day long!

Mionetto NV Moscato – this sparkling Moscato was sweet and bubbly with wonderful fruit flavors and a palette cleansing finish. The Italians definitely know how to make a refreshing bubbly!

Dessert Wines

Quady Winery 2008 Essensia – picking just one of the Quady Winery dessert wines was hard. They make two things, vermouth AND dessert wines, and both are fantastic. Made from Orange Muscat with oak influence and some fortification this is am extremely complex and flavorful wine. I can only say that I could have spent the whole afternoon at this one table slowly sipping and exploring these wines. If you like sweet wines these are not to be missed!

Peter Brum Eiswein – anytime I get the chance to try a real German Eiswein (ice wine) I do. We saved this for our last wine of the day and we were rewarded for our patience. The honey, dried fruits and mouth coating sweetness was all there. It had that right balance of acidity and sweetness that you would expect. Can I have some more please?

Update after posting: Check out The Passionate Foodie's coverage of the Wine Riot. You'll see some common themes!

Kim at the Liv Life blog tagged me last week. The way this works is that you get tagged and have to answer eight questions from the person who tagged you. In addition you have to tag eight others and pose eight new questions to them. Got all that? Here I go with the eight questions I have to answer.

1. What is your favorite restaurant? This is a tough one for me because we don’t eat out but maybe once per month. I love eating in my home kitchen but that is a boring answer so I’ll share a memorable experience we had years ago. For a time Ming Tsai had a very popular show ion Food TV called East Meets West. We lived in MA at the time where his restaurant The Blue Ginger is located. For our anniversary we booked a reservation and anticipated a great meal. At the time Ming was a big celebrity and I didn’t figure he’d be at the restaurant on the random night we chose to be there. Sure enough he was and sure enough our server asked him if he would come out to talk to us. Well, he did and I couldn’t get a word out. Margot still makes fun of me for being so star struck that couldn’t talk. That is so not me, you can’t normally shut me up!

2. When dining out do you prefer a fancy, dress up affair or casual with flip flops? Somewhere in between. Not super black tie fancy, but getting dressed up a bit does help frame an occasion. Khakis, button-up shirt and my dress shoes offers class and comfort all in one.

3. Do you do fast food? If so, what is your favorite? Only when we are travelling. We use it for the convenience that it offers, but try to stay away otherwise. McDonalds always does the trick when we are flying.

4. Do you remember one of the first recipes that you ever made? If so, do you still make it? Oatmeal raisin cookies. I learned how to make these in junior high Home Economics class. I am sure I made stuff before this but I can’t recall them specifically. I haven’t made them in a long time. I should.

5. The world is open to you. A personal private jet with pilot is waiting for your direction... Where will you go? Australia & New Zealand. So much food, wine and adventure in the same place.

6. How close do you now live to where you were born? About two hours. I moved back there right after college and we have been moving back towards where my wife was born since. We have gotten as far as the next town over. I think that is close enough!

7. Wine... red, white or bubbly? All of them! Depends on what and where I am eating. They all have a role in a multi-course meal.

8. Why did you start blogging? Because I thought it would help me ferment (a little beer, wine and cider-maker joke) my food and wine pairing education. Little did I know it would explode!

OK, with my answers out of the way I now need to tag eight bloggers and pose eight questions to them.

My Tag Questions

1. Desert island dish. You are on a desert island, what dish will you take to survive?
2. What kitchen utensil explains your food personality the best?
3. When you were younger, you pick how long ago, how hard would you have laughed if someone told you this is what you would be doing right now?
4. What is the nastiest, grossest, most detestable food you have ever had?
5. What is your favorite food you don’t make and how far would you travel for it?
6. Who is the best person to have in the kitchen with you, and why?
7. First alcoholic beverage you ever had.
8. What is your biggest food blog challenge and how are you working to overcome it?

The bloggers I am tagging are:

Kim at Lighter & Local
Brian at A Thought For Food
Jessie at the Messie Kitchen
Janis at Bite Me New England
The Baking Barrister
Don at The Manly Housewife
Evan at SwEETs by E
Belinda at Zomppa

Whew! This took longer than I expected.



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boston Wine Riot Post #1

One quick diversion. Earlier in the week I responded to a tweet from Red White Boston about why I drink what I drink. I said, “I drink bourbon because like me it is bold and flavorful with a questionable past.” This is my new tagline/motto. I’ll pull this one out from time to time for a good laugh.

A couple months back I saw an advertisement for Second Glass the Wine Riot in Stuff Boston Magazine. Wine tasting in an unpretentious setting. Over 250 wines to taste. Food to enjoy with our wine, with all items at $5 or under. Really? I’m still getting acclimated to the Boston wine scene but this event seemed like one we should put on our calendar.

We headed into the city in the late morning, using our old favorite the Malden Center T station as our way point to hop on the train to get back and forth to the Boston Center For The Arts where the event was being held.

The Cyclorama facility at the BCA is a big huge round room with a very high ceiling. The DJ was spinning a nice variety of danceable beats and you could basically walk around in circles all afternoon trying different wines.

We ended up tasting 50 wines between the two of us and overall everything we tried was worth it, some more than others. We spent the time to evaluate each one and even considered how we might use them with food. Now for some specific notes.


2009 Oveja Negra Reserve Cabernet Franc/Carmenere – smoky and earthy with medium tannins. Good fruit flavors, I would definitely drink this again. (Chile)

2009 My Big Fat Greek Wine Agiorgitko – this is a grape that is indigenous to Greece and a new one for me which is why I tried it. The wild aromas and very earthy flavors take a bit to process and I would have to spend some time with this type of wine to develop a taste for it. Worth the experience though.


2009 Enoitalia Si Soave – we both enjoyed this wine. It has mild aromas of flowers and citrus and flavors of apple and pear with light acidity. The finish is clean and dry. (Italy)

2008 Esporao Reserve White – blend of white grapes from Spain with some oak again. The oak is available in the nose and the fruit flavors are present but in good balance. Slightly creamy awith a nice texture overall. Medium length finish. This was served at the correct temperature as opposed to the Defesa White (same grapes, no oak) which was too cold to properly evaluate.

In the picture to the right you can see one of the Wine Riot staff members engaging a group of rioters. I have to say the staff was great whether it was running ice, water, etc to the tables, keeping rioters up to date on the class schedule or answering questions. Well done!

Check back tomorrow for our reviews of a couple of sparklers and dessert wines, feedback on the food and the crash course classes we attended.



Saturday, October 23, 2010

Guest Post at Sticks Forks Fingers - Celebrating A Life Together

For our last guest post while Pam is away on her honeymoon we shared the story of our ten year anniversary party. We had a small wedding/reception and the party allowed us to kick it up a bit when we had the resources to do so. Please take a swing by and leave a comment for Pam. She will be home soon and our warm hugs of congratulations will be a nice welcome home.

We will be attending the Second Glass Wine Riot in Boston today. Check back tomorrow for a report on all the wines we tasted and the energy of the event.



Friday, October 22, 2010

Nuts About Nuts About Granola

As much as my little foodie heart would hate to admit it, I love children’s cereal. No not acceptable children’s cereal, I mean the good bad stuff that I grew up on in the 70’s and 80’s. Cocoa Puffs, Trix, Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, Cocoa Pebbles…and God save the person who gets between me and a box of Count Chocula. Yup that’s right, cartoon character on the box, sugary, evil cereals. Jay likes to talk about how he could only choose from Corn Flakes or Rice Krispies. My response, your mom had 2 kids to get out the door, my mom had 6. I think at some point she was just happy that we had something to eat. Her threat when we did not want the dinner she made “The only thing you can have to eat for the rest of the night then is cereal.” Hmmmmm liver and onions or Trix: decisions, decisions.

Recently I have been making a conscious effort to eat fewer processed foods. One of the many commandments of eating this way is never eat a cereal that turns the milk a different color. Wow, there goes my whole list. I have tried some Kashi cereals and they are ok but they just didn’t give me that sweetness I was looking for. As always Jay came to the rescue.

During a “Foodies Night In” event Jay won a prize from the sponsors NutsAboutGranola. With the gift certificate he received he went online and placed his order. We got Jungle Fever, Off Road Edition and Lover’s Combo. Each was well balanced and had the sweetness I was looking for without being overwhelming Each had something different to offer.

Jungle Fever – At first I was hesitant as this had coconut in it and I am not a big fan of coconut. Taking a deep breath and reminding myself that this was about foodie exploration I topped it with some vanilla almond milk and dug in. I was very pleasantly surprised, the coconut though present was not overpowering. The mixture of the oats with the macadamia nuts and lemon infused flavor gave an overall feeling of tropical fruit and flavors. I really liked this and one serving kept me satisfied for a while.

Off Road Edition – Again covering it with vanilla almond milk this also had a great fruity flavor and that natural sweetness you only get from dried fruit. Though OK with the milk it was actually better to eat it right out of the bag as the website suggests. I will say that the dried fruit had a tendency to be very chewy but since granola is suppose to be eaten in smaller portions that really did not bother me.

Lover’s Combo – Peanut Butter Granola and semi-sweet chocolate chips. Seriously, need I say more…ok…I will. The great thing about this is that there is just enough of the chocolate so you can still taste the granola, which is quite good. This was wonderful with the almond milk but even better with a banana mashed right into it.

Though each was great, and I look forward to trying more, the Lover’s Combo was by far my favorite. It is the one that brought me back to that naughty feeling I had with my childhood favorites. I may just have to break up with Count Chocula, I hope he can get over it.



Thursday, October 21, 2010

New Zealand Wines

Check out our guest post at Sticks Forks Fingers on New Zealand wines today. Pam is off enjoying her honeymoon in New Zealand and keeping with the theme we have provided a little back ground on New Zealand winemaking and a review of a Pinot Noir from the Marlborough region we recently enjoyed.

Check back here tomorrow for Margot's review of three granolas from the Nuts About Granola company.



Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beantown Pub

I had a ticket to the Thievery Corporation / Massive Attack show at the Orpheum in Boston last night. Feeling pretty well recovered I decided to fight through a long day of work and then an evening show. Before the show I headed over to the Beantown Pub on Tremont Street for dinner and a beer. I hadn't been there before and was only going on the reviews I found on the web.

The bar winds it way from the front entrance all the way to the back where it overlooks the pool/games area and an adjacent room with more tables. I found a spot nearly at the end and took a quick look at the draft options. Allagash White. Hell yeah! A tasty Belgian white is food friendly and easy drinking. The bonus is that Allagash does this style really well so there is lots of flavor in a nice light-bodied beer. The bar area is well kept and nice looking but looking around you can tell they see a lot of traffic and do their best to keep things looking fresh and clean.

While I enjoyed my beer I struck up a conversation with Travis, a recent transplant from Seattle who lives in Northern Rhode Island and works as a server at L'Espalier in town. He was also going to the show and killing time before his friends arrived. We talked about all sorts of things and genuinely enjoyed the random meeting. He recommended I check out one of the Wine Monday fixed price dinners at the restaurant. His experience is that the sommeliers go all out to great memorable pairings and explain the wines and pairings in down to earth terms. Maybe I'll put my money where my mouth is sometime soon and book a reservation at L'Espalier. I might just run into him again that way.

For dinner I ordered a Paul Revere pub sandwich which consisted of pastrami, corned beef, Swiss cheese, red onions and a sweet dressing with a side of fries. The meat was warm, tender and juicy and the combination of flavors of everything on the sandwich hit the spot. The fries were very well cooked and hot. I saw reviews that said their New England Fried Chicken is also very good so I'd say stopping in for a bite shouldn't be a nervous choice.

They had multiple Sam Adams selections on tap and several other local (New England) brews that should satisfy a wide range of drinkers. I also saw quite a bit of wine going out so the after-work crowd seemed well lubricated.

The show was fantastic and the groovy music of both bands floated me home to New Hampshire. Having had another new dining experience in the city I am even more sure Margot and I need to spend more time there to see what we can turn up.



Monday, October 18, 2010

Taking It Easy – Baking Cookies

( Pumpkin Pie Bars )

Being a good patient I was following my doctor’s orders to the letter. No stacking firewood, no lawn cleanup and no high impact workouts. He didn’t say anything about time in the kitchen though. It turns out that standing at the counter for too long can be more taxing when you are fighting an infection and haven’t got back to sleeping normally yet. I fought through it though.

As I was working through the messages in my Foodbuzz this past weekend inbox I came across two cookie recipes that screamed Fall! It turns out both are from the Brown Eyed Baker which comes as no surprise!

Pumpkin Pie Bars


Gingered Carrot Cake Cookies

The only difference in my final product as compared to the recipes linked above is that for the Pumkin Pie Bars I used freshly roasted pumpkin and I used walnuts in the Carrot Cake Cookies.

Both of these recipes are very straightforward and came out exactly as advertised. I am a sucker for anything pumpkin and pumpkin bars had such a wonderful texture I was very glad they were destined for the freezer. Eating too many is would not be good for your health!

Both of these cookies were thoroughly enjoyed with a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee (Margot's idea) on a cool autumn afternoon. While my cooking adventures slowly come back to normal it is moments like these that make me realize that simple is ALWAYS better!



Thursday, October 14, 2010

Guest Post At Sticks Forks Fingers

( Margot and I celebrating our meeting in Jamaica )

Check out our guest post at Sticks Forks Fingers as a celebration of Pam's wedding and honeymoon to New Zealand. Margot and I share the story of how we met and how we've celebrated that meeting since. We've never shared that story in our own blog so take a peek for another view of Margot and I.

Be sure and leave a comment for Pam to pick up when she gets home.

I am on the mend from a nasty infection that reached my blood and had made me very sick. It was very sudden, very scary and brought me very close to not having another day to enjoy so I am taking each day to recover as a true prize. Thank you for all your wishes of support.



Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Brief Break, But We'll Be Back

We've had unexpected break in our blogging activites as I tend to a freak health issue. I am home and on the mend, but the blogging will resume slowly.

Thank you all for you consistent support.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

So You Think You Can Judge A Salsa Competition?

I was randomly approached and asked if I wanted to be a judge for the 2010 World Championship Salsa Competition. My response was “are you sure, I have never done anything like that before?” I quickly found that no prior experience was necessary. There are some guidelines to the judging process but it really comes down to how the entries taste.

After I got signed up to judge, got my fancy judging medallion and judge’s apron I had to wait around a bit. I took this opportunity to ask some of the other judges how it all worked and what I should be thinking as I participated. It seemed pretty simple, work around the table you are assigned to tasting as much or as little of each sample. We would be judging the best in the world of salsas so it isn’t a matter of good versus bad, rather how good. If the salsa really knocked my socks off I was told it would be smart to put a mark on the judging form next to that entry so I could come back. Palate cleansing with water or beer in between was advised. If the entry didn’t make a strong impression, no mark and no return, so it would effectively not be culled down to my 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices. As I went I shouldn’t make any outward expressions about my likes or dislikes so as not to influence others. Once I had made a second (third or more) visit to the ones I liked I would have to pick the top 3 in order. Judges are also obliged to provide a comment on each entry to help competitors understand how their entry was received. Comments should be positive, e.g. “I personally thought there was too much salt”, “I would have liked more heat” or “excellent balance of flavors.” Got it, this is going to be fun!

The judging organizers corralled all the judges and addressed us with the process, explained the rules (which were presented well in what I heard above) and had one additional order of business, picking the judges for the final table. I was randomly selected to judge the 26 final competitors and cast my vote for the World Champion of Salsa. I never thought I would have that on my resume! This meant more waiting, but I had struck up conversations with several folks by now so the time was easily passed.

( Very organized and waiting for judges )

I found out some more inside scoop on these types of cookoffs. Not only would you expect competitors to travel the country to enter chili cookoffs, but there are also folks that travel more regionally to participate as judges for the competitions. Loving chili and salsa and supporting the community around cookoffs is more interesting than I would have ever imagined.

When it was time for the final judging I stepped up with my pencil, ballot and bottle of water. The tasting was done by placing a spoonful of salsa on a chip from a numbered container. I chose not to eat the chips to cut down on the extra salt influence as I tasted. This was a preference and not something everyone did. The water wasn’t working well as a palate cleanser so I grabbed a beer. Miller Lite! For those who know me, I like my beer with a bit more character for casual drinking and I often share my disbelief in how much light colored, flavorless beer we drink in America. I found a scenario where those attributes worked out OK, salsa judging. A combination of beer and water seemed to give me a reasonable fresh start to taste each in the sequence of samples, but I still don’t think Miller Lite will show up in my fridge any time soon!

( Grabbing a sample )

( Lunch anyone? )

( The serious business )

( Margot had to take a picture of this! )

( And me drinking it. She's too funny. )

Tasting and judging these entries was hard. These were the best of the best. Salsa is an open category which means the contents of the salsa can be from a wide range of ingredients and whether it registers as salsa to any one person might be a question. There was only one salsa, it contained cheese, that I would really say was not what I typically consider salsa. But it was good and made it this far so I gave it the fair evaluation that it deserved. There were several sweet and/or fruit influenced salsa including one that tasted like the Caribbean islands. I really liked that one and it made me think of eating chips with it on the beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Nice vision. There were others that tasted like they contained dill pickles, sweet relish and several that were very, very hot; almost too hot. Ultimately I picked 3 that had good balance, waves of flavors and freshness to them. I would eat those consistently if given the opportunity. I cast my ballot and headed on to see what the chili world had to offer.

I would encourage anyone who was interested in the chance to judge a sanctioned salsa or chili competition to check out the International Chili Society’s web site for a list of events. Contacting the organizers of the event ahead of time should be done to determine if they are in need of judges, although some will still have spots open on the day of the event and will sign you up on the spot.

I would like to thank Margot for taking all the pictures. Being able to provide a step by step in pictures was a pretty cool outcome.



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Chili Charities – Foodie Fun for a Cause

As Jay mentioned in our first Chili Cook Off post the International Chili Society (ICS) has raised close to $90 million dollars for charities since it began. This year the three charities that are benefiting from the cookoff are: The Greater Manchester YMCA, Families in Transition and the New Horizons Soup Kitchen. All of these organizations do wonderful work in the Manchester community and in this economy any opportunity to raise funds and awareness for a non-profit it very welcome.

On Saturday as we left the Welcome Center and headed for the front entrance we met Nancy Comai and Michelle Casale from New Horizons. As Michelle headed off to her volunteer post Nancy was more than happy to satisfy our interest in how the charity support aspect of the cookoff worked.

Charities in the area that the cookoff is being held responded to an RFP that is organized by the ICS. The charity must be willing to supply a minimum amount of volunteers to work the event for one of the days. Volunteers work in shifts between 7am and 8pm each day handling all manner of logisitcs tasks including ticket sales, trash collection, parking, information booths, etc. In return the charity receives $1 for each $5 ticket that is sold on that day. Based on the crowd that we saw on Saturday New Horizons had a very successful day.

Jay and I both agreed that it was fitting to have the proceeds from a fun food day go to an organization that supplies meals and shelter to those in need. Michelle was very happy to share information about New Horizons including the following:
  • Out of the 900 school-children within walking distance of the New Horizons facility that receive free or reduced lunch, New Horizons would be feeding nearly 400 of them dinner per month by the end of they year.
  • New Horizons typically serves approximately 200 meals per day.
  • The food pantry provides pre-packaged food items to over 700 households each month.
As foodies we have the luxury of not only having enough to eat but also conveying our passions through our food. Not everyone is so lucky.

If you would like to donate to the New Horizons Soup Kitchen, Pantry and Shelter you can do so here:

Thank You

Margot and Jason

Monday, October 4, 2010

Red Chili Champions

*** Competition update: After this post was published the complete results of Sunday's contest were made available. Luck was shining on more of the folks we have introduced you to in the last few days. David Garcia took first place in People's Choice and Mary Alice Kropp took second. Add LeeRoy Watson's second place finish in the Verde People's Choice contest and Margot and I feel so lucky to have been in the right places at the right times to meet all of them. Congratulations to everyone who competed!!! ***

Red chili is big business. Everyone we talked to on Friday and Saturday told us to expect more people and more showmanship during on the last day. The size of the crowd ebbed and flowed and it is likely there were more people overall, but at its peak the crowd seemed similar to the day before.

The energy level however, was definitely turned up to 11. Competitors were calling out their identification numbers to remind cookoff-goers who they should vote for in People’s Choice. Booth flair was in high gear with decorations, snarky signs and lots of goodhearted ribbing between competitors. The potent smell of spices in the breeze shortly after noon when the cooks could get to cooking was wonderful.

We checked back in with Garcias, who we met on Friday, and found them hard at work getting their competition entry started. They had a good location at the end of the first row of booths to the right of the stage. I’m sure they saw a lot of traffic once their samples were ready. We both found their chili to be pleasantly smoky with a nice texture to both the meat and vegetables.

( Alicia & David Garcia hard at work. )

As we walked around the booths a jacket with competition dates embroidered on it caught our attention. The owner was Charlie Ward. He and his wife Barbara were both competing in the day’s event. They have been competing in chili cookoffs for over 27 years and Charlie is the only ICS competitor ever to have won twice in three different countries. Between the two of them they have cooked or judged in 48 of the 50 states. They hail from Rosamond, California home to Edwards Air Force base, a frequent landing spot for the Space Shuttle. They were so happy to talk to us. It was very easy to see their passion come through.

( Barbara said the embroiderer thinks there a few more years left! )

( Twenty-seven years of smiles. )

We asked Terry Brow what made Canadian chili different. Jokes about how chili was invented in Canada were fast and furious, but the answer was to come in the taste. Margot identified a hint of maple syrup imparting a nice earthy backbone. Yet another wonderful usage for a plentiful product around these parts.

We checked in with hometown team, Mike and Mary Alice Kropp, again who were the only NH residents competing in the final day. Mary Alice was the official qualifier but was surrounded by family as she crafted what she said “was the best pot of chili I’ve ever made.” The line flowing out from their booth was consistent with both a beef-based and a vegetarian offering to please visitors. Mary Alice told me to come back at 2 PM after her entry was complete and turned in for a taste of her carefully crafted chili. I did, and I wasn’t disappointed!

( The flag was flying proudly over an event bringing all of America together. )

( Jason really enjoyed the chili samples! )

Through all of our adventures we have learned that everyone has a story. That is one of the main reasons why people blog after all, to tell their stories. During our Chili Cookoff weekend we met many wonderful people who graciously offered us a glimpse into their chili story, and their lives. One such person was Lee Wood from the RatPack in Massachusetts who we had the pleasure of meeting on Saturday.

Like most of those we met we asked Lee how he got started in chili, and the answer was one of the best, and most heartwarming we heard. Lee got into the chili scene with his brother Darren as his partner. As a team these two brothers managed to make it to the Worlds many times, Lee has qualified 9 times for different categories. Then, in 1999 Darren was diagnosed with cancer and within 9 months of diagnosis lost his battle. It was a hard blow for sure and something that still brought tears to Lee’s eyes 11 years later.

Lee continued to talk about his and Darren’s collaborations the main one being “The Silly Hillbilly Chili” booth that they built together to bring to competitions. This booth was a trailer decked out with a hillbilly theme. Those that worked the booth dressed and played the part for the crowds. Lee lit up as he recalled Darren’s ability to lose himself in his character, working the crowd and making sure that everyone was a having a wonderful time. With a Banjo player and their father on harmonica Darren was grab people from the crowd and dance and carry on, from the youngest child to the oldest lady no one was safe.

Before he passed Darren made one request of his brother Lee: that he would not get rid of the booth until they won a world title. Lee made sure that the booth could last, coating his brother's hand painted designs so they could weather the elements for as long as it took. Lee, his family and friends agreed that once the promise was fulfilled they would have a huge bonfire and send the Hillbilly booth off right. When we finished speaking with Lee he said that he was hopeful that this year would be the one that they could win for best booth and that they could finally honor Darren’s request. Lee told us that he had just received approval from the Manchester Fire Department the night before to bring the booth in on Sunday.

We were both very excited to see this booth and to meet up with Lee again today. We looked everywhere for the Silly Hillbillies but were unable to find them. We are not sure what happened but we hope that Lee, if he is reading this, can let us know. Lee, thank you for allowing us to hear Darren’s story and we will never forget. So booth or no, you and Darren have touched our lives.

( Curtis, Lee and Jason spending time before the salsa judging. )

To finish another beautiful autumn day Manchester-area perennial favorites Mama Kicks provided soul and blues inflected rock from the stage. Lots of children took to dancing and admiring the skill and energy of the band. The audience recognized the energy with applause after many expertly executed covers of much-loved songs.

Let's hope this isn't the last time this event, and many others like it, come to Manchester. We loved sharing our local color with folks from all over. We can tell they enjoyed it and are going home with stories of those crazy people from New Hampshire who really like their chili!


--Margot & Jason

The final day's results have been partially posted at the ICS web site.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

World Championship Chili Cookoff

October 2nd is LIVESTRONG Day. We dedicated this blog and the fun we had to all those who have been affected by cancer. We are are, we are fighting, we will. We must have HOPE. FIGHT BACK!!!

The energy on the second day of the World Championship Chili Cookoff was incredible and choosing how to illustrate in words and pictures turned out to be harder than we thought. So, we’ll start with some of the stories Mike and Mary Alice Kropp shared with us on Friday night and take it from there.

When we asked about any “whoopsies” that they might have experienced Mike (on the left prepping some cilantro) was quick to share two that he thought made for good stories. In 2007 Mike placed 4th in the World Championship for Red Chili, something he is and should be quite proud of. That year during a busy lineup of back to back weekend competitions disaster struck and his pot tipped over spilling competition chili over on the adjacent cooler. Picture Mike and a friend scraping chili back into a pot in hopes of salvaging it! More recently Mike had another unfortunate experience when he poured tomato sauce into the Chili Verde pot, only realizing it at the last of the sauce hit the pot. Bummer! Not one to give up, he plodded on and submitted his Chili Verde with a some added tomato to the judges. As you might expect the judges commented on the color and flavor and a good finish wasn’t to be had. In the end it makes a great story win or lose.

Saturday brought the wonderful fall weather that everyone was hoping for. Margot and I headed to the Welcome Center to hook up our press passes. All of the volunteers were friendly and helpful, another confirmation of the family theme we experienced the night before. We laughed that hanging out at the welcome center would be a story in itself with so many Manchester personalities coming through.

This story isn’t worth telling without the next happening being mentioned. We weren’t inside the event but 90 seconds and we were approached with the question “what are you doing right now?” Our answer had to do with finding competitors and guests to interview, but that would have to wait. I (Jason) was asked to participate as a judge in the salsa competition. I had to ask if they were sure because I had never done anything like that before. They assured me that there would be other new faces and that judging always included volunteers to keep everything fair. "Where do I sign up?" But, we are going to make you wait for another post for that story.

This event brought out the many faces of Manchester playing host to folks from out of town that hail from everywhere. The Rustic Overtones provided a nice groove for several hours during the afternoon and people filled the aisles between the cooking tents, the beer garden and the restaurant tents. Whether it was competitors working furiously to finish their pot or serving samples to lines of chili fans, the excitement was palpable.

The growing crowd.

Patiently waiting for the sample pot to be ready.

Many competitors were extremely social with guests.

Friends enjoying some chili on a beautiful day.

A DIY sample serving utensil. Brilliant!

A cancer survivor shouts out loud and proud on LIVESTRONG day!

Rick and Susie Decker from California. Six time World Championship
competitors. They had quite a trailer based kitchen they towed from home!

Scott Barrett carefully tending to his competition entry.

Chili Verde sample from Joni Deere winner of Kansas State. She
said "she converts a lot of red chili fans with this."

Margot and our friend Will picking up a sample.

Maureen Barrett, 2009 World Champion in Red Chili.

A red chili sample. None of the red chili's we tried bowled us over.
Sunday will bring on the People's Choice samples to try.

The back of a shirt Margot saw at the cookoff. Sums it up pretty well.

We caught up with LeeRoy Watson a couple of times, first when we picked up a sample and a second time when he was cradling his Chili Verde entry on the way to the judging table. As you can see from the picture below, he means business and watches his operation with focused attention. But is pays off, he and his Chili Verde came in 2nd place in the People’s Choice competition on Saturday. Congratulations to LeeRoy and his whole family! We are so happy to have met him on Friday night so that we could come back to cheer him on. We included a photo of our People's Choice ballot that helped propel him to a great finish. What fun! We had never had Chili Verde until we tried his sample. Immediate conversion. The flavors are fresh and the soft texture of the pork is incredible. The mellow heat from the green chilies is totally different. He shared his recipe with me in hopes that I could take away a few tips to try my hand at Chili Verde for the first time at home. I'll try.

Would you want to cook in his kitchen?

Congratulations LeeRoy!!

We did hear some concerned words from a number of cookoff-goers about the amount of samples available and that some booths had completely run out even before the 3 PM closing time suggested by the brochure. There are two sides to this issue. There is reasonable ground to assume that a chili cookoff event would have an abundance of samples available to the public. Not being familiar with chili cookoffs we started out under that assumption. After talking with competitors on Friday night though, we quickly understood that unless they are competing in the People’s Choice event they aren’t going to have a huge volume to sample, and either way it might not be their prized chili. As one competitor said, “we aren’t here to give out samples, we are here to win an award.” Understandable when you have all the facts. The point we took away from our understanding coupled with the comments we overheard from cookoff -goers is that more emphasis needs to be placed on getting this truth out, especially to people new to how cookoffs work and in a city that isn’t known for this type of event.

The business of the day was carried out in the judging tent. In the picture below you can see the judges circling around tables of numbered containers sampling, scoring and deciding the 2010 Chili Verde World Champions.

The full results from Saturday’s competitions can be found at the ICS web site. Check back tomorrow for stories from Red Chili day.


--Margot & Jason

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The World Champions of Chili Come to Manchester, NH

What do you do when you live in New Hampshire and love chili cookoffs? You pitch the Mayor of Manchester on submitting a bid to host the World Championship Chili Cookoff!

And that is just what Mike and Mary Alice Kropp of Londonderry did. Their pitch led to Manchester beating out Las Vegas to host the 2010 International Chili Society (ICS) event. When Margot and I spoke with Mike & Mary Alice at the VIP Reception there was considerable excitement in the air. Although Mike didn’t win a shot in the red chili competition from the Last Chance cookoff, there isn’t much cause for sorrow; he will be cooking in both the Salsa & Chili Verde competitions on Saturday. Mary Alice is going for the “three-fer” qualifying to cook in all three competitions this weekend.

( Jason, Mike Kropp, Mary Alice Kropp )

Earlier in the year we worked with Kiersten Stevens from Foodbuzz to get connected with Chris Wellington from the Manchester Economic Development office who is organizing the event. Chris arranged press credentials for us and invited us to the VIP reception for a chance to talk with city officials, organizers, competitors and judges about the cookoff.

Before the reception started we struck up a conversation with David & Alicia Garcia this year’s Idaho State Champions for Red Chili. They have been competing for over 10 years and “have won lots of second places until this year”. They shared a secret to their success with us. Alicia said that “constructive criticism has helped build a winning chili”. She confided that while she is very comfortable and enjoys cooking that “he (David) often says it needs a little of this or a little of that” and trying those things has helped them get better each year. This year they were especially proud of the chili tastings they held at local farmstands, drawing in big crowds, resulting in being asked to come back for three additional weeks because it was such a boost for the markets. This is their first time competing in the World Championship Cookoff. We wish them a lot of luck and will check in with them on Sunday during the competition and see how things are going

( David & Alicia Garcia )

We next met up with Ron & Dolene Michel and Sharon & Ralph Wilkinson from Calgary, Alberta. Ron & Dolene will be judging this year and have been involved in organizing or competing in ICS cookoffs since the early 1980’s. Sharon & Ralph are competing in the Salsa competition on Saturday. Both couples will be spending some time in the area after the competition with plans to travel along the Maine coastline before heading back to Montreal to fly home. I’m sure we’ll run into them again before the last winner is announced on Sunday.

As the room filled up and we continued to talk with different folks we began to get a sense that there was a real family here. More than once we were told that the World Championship is a reunion of friends from all around the country that most likely don’t see each other but this one time each year. This feeling is worth exploring and so we had to seek out more excited people to find out more.

Next up was LeeRoy Watson and his daughter Michelle from Arizona. LeeRoy started competing in chili cookoffs in 2004 after friends pushed him to enter a competition being hosted by a local bar. Michelle used to help with the dishes for her father, but now she competes with him in the same category, Chili Verde!! Both LeeRoy and Michelle use similar recipes and share ideas, but have their own tweaks that they employ to personalize their submissions. Leroy explained that his basic recipe for a Chili Verde contains pork, Hatch green chiles, onions, jalapenos and of course spices. Chili isn’t all about heat and finding the right balance of spices and heat is the key to winning. LeeRoy is the 2010 Arizona State Champion and he and Michelle have been lucky enough to finish first and second together more than once! LeeRoy and Michelle said something we also heard from the Garcias, that they drove from home to the competition so they could bring the equipment they needed without any travel restrictions. LeeRoy said he has been feeding his coolers of chili meat with ice since they left on Sunday. A World Championship Cookoff can be overwhelming, and both Leroy and Michelle said “we were surprised at how many people there were” at their first World Championship visit in 2007. Since then they have found that the “chili community is very welcoming” and that being here is a lot of fun. LeeRoy made sure we knew that we had to stop by for a sample on Saturday. You don’t have to tell us twice!

We had a few procedural secrets shared with us that we found interesting enough to pass along. Competitors will have samples available for the public during the event Saturday and Sunday, but many could be serving canned chilis that they may or may not alter. LeeRoy and Michelle believe that they will be one of the few, or maybe the only, Chili Verde competitors serving their own homemade chili. The other item, and this one is even weirder, is that the competitors that choose to participate in the People’s Choice event must put beans, rice or other filler in their samples; something not allowed for judged entries. Pretty technical if you ask me.

We were lucky enough to meet and talk to Carol Hancock the current president of the International Chili Society. Everyone knows Carol and the “family” element came out in all the hugs and greetings she was getting. We asked Carol “why Manchester.” Her response, “the people were fabulous.” She also indicated she was taken with the beauty of Veterans Park when she first saw it and that the commitment made by the city to raise the funds to host the event was very strong from the beginning. Carol introduced us to several other people including her husband Dave, her son Greg and Fred Parker founder of the Hard Times Cafe chain of restaurants. Thanks for helping us meet more of the family Carol!

Fred and Dave filled us on some ICS history, notable figures and further defined what the chili family is all about. Caroll Shelby (yes, that Caroll Shelby for you car geeks) is the last living founder of what is the current International Chili Society and is credited by the society for his unending vision and support of mission of the ICS. What started as a showdown between two men for who had the better chili has now turned into an event that brings in competitors from around the world.

Fred mentioned Ormly Gumfudgin, another ICS founder who passed away in 2009, as having had a considerable influence building the family we were enjoying time with. He attributed a quote to Fred Wieland a long time chief judge for the ICS who had planned to be at the World Championship but unfortunately passed away earlier this year. “If you don’t have fun today, it’s your own damn fault!” Dave explained that “competitors help each other out” and that the chili community spans “all age groups” and “all kinds of people.” Both Fred and Dave cheerfully answered our question about how much money has been raised for charities through the ICS. Since starting 45 years ago the ICS has raised nearly $90 million for local charities all over the country. The family gives back!

( Fred Parker, Carol Hancock, Dave Hancock )

Margot caught up with Audrey Falkowski who with her husband Steve has been competing in chili cookoffs since 1989. Originally from California, but now living in New York State they are elated that the championships are being held in New Hampshire this year. In 1997 Steve was the first World Champion from east of the Mississippi River, something Jerry Buma from Massachusetts also did 10 years later. Audrey recalled how crazy the crowd at the Northeast Regional Cookoff went in May when the Manchester location for this event was announced. That’s right, we know how to party! Audrey demonstrated the family ideal almost as if on cue, searching out Mike and Mary Alice Kropp so that she could introduce us. Thanks Audrey! Steve also made a point to Margot that we should come by the judging booth so we could get another view of the cookoff. That is one invitation we will be sure to take.

We talked with Mike and Mary Alice Kropp for a while. They shared funny stories about their cookoff adventures, some inside scoop on how they search for ingredients and they even laughed about Mike’s lucky spatulas; but we will save those nuggets for our next installment. We hope to have good news to share about their salsa & chili them when we do.

Thank you to everyone who spoke with us, Chris Wellington for working out logisitics and Carol Hancock for helping us learn more about this wondeful and fun event. Come back tomorrow and Monday for competition reports and our thoughts on the sights, sounds and food of a World Championship Chili Cookoff.


Margot & Jason

Check out theses links and news reports about the cookoff.

City of Manchester Cookoff Info

International Chili Society

Hippo Press

Union Leader