Major Key: Philly’s Florida Keys Cookoff

In 2014, I saw a very long line for a photo opportunity. It was at the Southernmost Point of the continental United States. Luckily, I was able to push my way to the front by letting the line know something especially important:

Hello, everyone. In three years, I’ve got this cooking competition I’ll be doing. If I win, I get to come back. Would you mind if I snapped a quick shot?

And, just like that, the crowd parted and I nabbed this gem.

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Finally, last week, the time had come.

I, along with 23 other hungry bloggers, radio hosts, and news anchors, filled the kitchens of The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College  for tours, tastes, and tests of skill. Our assignment seemed simple enough:

  • Cook up two dishes.
  • One will be seafood.
  • One’s a Key Lime Pie.
  • You can bring ONE special ingredient for your Key Lime Pie.

Now, I’ve gotta say, this event is not WHY I got into blogging… but my WORD it was easily the most fun, and certainly the type of event that keeps me putting all these words out into the ether. (P.S. Thanks for reading. Seriously.)

The team from the Florida Keys and Key West, in hopes to encourage us chilly Philly folks to head south more often, wanted us to bring a Taste of the Keys to town.

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My very official station

We started with dessert. Because we’re grownups and we can.

My secret ingredient was a way to bring a taste of Philadelphia to the Keys: Pretzel Crust! The crust recipe was loosely based on The Gold Lining Girl’s Recipe, but I pulverized my pretzels at home and added a teensy bit of cinnamon to my crust.

We had 50 minutes. We were given all the other ingredients.

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Almost no one drank the “cooking wine”. We all tried to avoid mixing the seafood ingredients with the pie ingredients.

At times, things got a little sticky…

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Probably flexing for the camera. Definitely cramming butter sugar pretzel dust into a pie tin.

I’ve never made a Key Lime Pie. It’s SO easy. You should try the Florida Keys Key Lime Pie Recipe at home. I personally would recommend the pretzel crust but (spoiler alert) that probably won’t win you a trip to the Florida Keys.

While our pies cooled, we were able to sample some of the cocktails downstairs AND mingle. I even got to mingle with the most petite chef of the night, Emily of HerPhilly!

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And then it was onto the seafood. In this case: SNAPPER!

My dish was a blackened yellowtail snapper with a mango and lime salsa. I didn’t have an exact recipe but I’ve linked to a similar one.

Things really heated up…

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Moments later, I switched to a cast iron skillet, making this a simply useless photo

In the end, I was pretty pleased with what I produced:

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Sure, I didn’t win. But I did immediately look for flights back down to Florida ($98 RT to Miami from PHL, in case you were wondering…)

All in all: I LOVED living my TopChef dreams. In case you weren’t sure if I had fun…

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The MOST fun

Thank YOU to everyone, from Aversa PR  for the invite to the Restaurant School  for hosting us to the Florida Keys crew, for bringing the heat to West Philly!

 

Winston-Salem: More like WINNING Salem!

Good afternoon and happy belated No Pants Wednesday! A day late, I know, but I was out in public yesterday and honestly, I doubt the folks at Shiki Sushi would’ve been too happy if I de-pantsed during the lunch rush.  That’s not the Shiki way….

Today, though, lunch was enjoyed in the comforts of my own home. And that can only mean one thing (well, false, it can mean several things, but today it means one….)

The greenest of all salads

I’ve missed the crunch of the spinach and peppers, the almost sweet taste of the tomatoes, creaminess of the avocadoes, the warm black beans and the HOT CHA CHA of the salsa. I definitely needed this taco salad.

See, the first two days of this week, after hopping off a (delayed) Southwest fight (due, of course, to my Irene experiences), I hopped right into my car and headed to Winston-Salem, NC. Home of the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest, Old Salem Museums and Gardens, and, for two short days, Yours Truly!

Though I was in town for a work training, all work and no play makes Jordy a dull girl. Instead of boring you to death with tales of lesson plans and interactive sessions, I’ll skip straight to the good stuff.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner for the historic Old Salem Tavern.

Oh, you fancy, huh?

This Moravian gem has been around for over 200 years!! And, yes, I’ll admit, at times you were reminded of this. The seats weren’t too comfortable, and the tables were rickety, but if you’re looking for ambience and an authentic experience, look no further.

Stunning outdoor seating!

Though we weren’t able to enjoy the outdoor seating, it was gorgeous. I wish that I could take a certain Philly boy on a date here, if only for the possibility of sitting out here!

We were served a warm basket with two different kinds of bread.

Heavenly, just like your Morvian mama would make!

I went for a roll several of the small pumpkin raisin rolls. Oh sweet mother of Morvians! This was unbelievably good, warm, and so crumbly, accented perfectly with a few swipes of their butter pats.

While the menu was not too long, the options felt endless!

So many options, how will I choose?!

Though I’d checked Yelp for some recommendations, I wasn’t really in the mood for the infamous Moravian Chicken Pie. So I went for something a little different. And after enjoying the heck out of the pumpkin rolls, that may have tainted my choice.

Pumpkin an sunflower seed crusted salmon over wilted spinach and a blood orange vinaigrette

This was hands-down the best choice I could’ve made. The salmon was cooked perfectly for a gal like me, still pink but definitely all the way done. The pumpkin taste wasn’t actually too obvious, but the blood orange vinaigrette stole the show. I wish I could pour this over all future fish endeavors (and then bathe in it myself…. TMI? NEVER!)  The wilted spinach also featured a few onions, and had soaked up the flavors of the blood orange the make it both sweet and tart. The dish was light enough (and I was hungry enough) that I really had no option but to try some of their many tasty looking desserts.

Moravian Gingerbread with Lemon Ice Cream and Key Lime Pie

I promise, these two desserts were not just for me and, in fact, we split them among the three of us.  I will admit, and it should go without saying, that I could’ve eaten every last bite/drop without hesitation. I’m just that kind of human garbage disposal.

My other favorite pie.

Key lime pie is a usual favorite of mine and, though I doubt this was a “traditional Moravian recipe”, the taste was totally on point. It was tart to a slight pucker, but sweet and creamy with a texture that resembled a cheesecake.  The crust was so thin, yet tied the whole pie slice together. And whipped cream…. well that was just icing cream on the cake pie.

It was the gingerbread that stole my heart, though, served warm and paired with a teeth chatteringly cold, tangy lemon ice cream. Not lemon sorbet, not lemon water ice. TRUE lemon ice cream. This is not an easy accomplishment, to make a quality lemon ice cream, but Old Salem Tavern hit it out of the park. The combination of cold and warm left me LITERALLY picking up little crumbs with my fingers and wishing we could order a road-dessert. Alas….

Sweet tunes, sweet outfits, sweetness abounds.

The servers wore authentic old timey outfits, which is always fun and uncomfortable looking, but went nicely with the theme. There was live music, though it definitely was not my cup of tea. Luckily, the average age of the clientele was about 3x my own age (which is 24, IN CASE YOU FORGOT MY BIRTHDAY!!) and thus they enjoyed the “easy listening” as I personally felt that Tracy Chapman would’ve turned over in her grave listening to it.

Sidenote: Tracy Chapman isn't actually dead. But I think hearing the butchering of her music may have killed her, and then had her turning over in her untimely grave (click for Source)

Luckily, we were seated across the hallway of the cool jams, and so we enjoyed our meal in peace (mostly… thin walls = you can hear pretty much anything. That’s just math.)

When I returned to the hotel, I spent about an hour or so prepping for the next day of training, and going over notes.  And then I crashed into this bed…. HARD.

Is that a cloud? Nope. Just my bed.

But not before engaging in another new Winston-Salem favorite… That’ll just have to wait until the next post, though.

Pants on, back to work.

Have you ever been to one of those “old timey” restaurants where the folks stay in character like it’s their job (oh wait it is their job)? Did you like it?

What’s your favorite kind of pie?