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Sugar Challenge

Grand-niece Emmaline

Grand-niece Emmaline

My family finally got together for the holiday!  (And incidentally I got to meet the new baby!)

1 year old Charles.  Isn't that what Christmas is about?

1 year old Charles. Isn’t that what Christmas is about?

As promised there was a new challenge this year.  SUGAR.  This wasn’t as easy as it sounds and the competition was fierce.   My youngest sister and her family opted out.  They celebrated with my folks over the Solstice.  (I was not available.)  Andrea (the middle sister) and Butch hosted and friends of theirs stopped by.  We’ve known them for at least 25 years, they’re family!  In spite of every Besnett debating in their head if their dish would stretch there was plenty to go around.

Because of timing, scheduling, and all the comings and goings courses were not served individually this year.  Instead the feast was piled up for everyone to take some and find a seat.  So I’ll have to give you the plate by plate low down the way I saw it.

The "spread"

The “spread”

That soup in the corner was Darcy’s offering.  She’s the new Mom, the mother of the 1 yr. old and the mother of Adian who is maybe in 2nd grade?  Anyway, she’s got a lot on her plate and still managed to produce a very tasty offering in spite of all the obstacles in her path.  Admittedly I was one of them.

From the stove to the table, not much for presentation.  And it's such a pretty soup!

From the stove to the table. And it’s such a pretty soup!

The soup is a curry with sweet potatoes and peas.  Darcy figured she’d just grab some curry powder out of the cupboard at Andrea’s.  That’s when I got in her way.  Most commercial curry blends have cinnamon in them, and I’m deathly allergic.  Sorry Darcy.  In my defense I did mix her up a curry blend that I could eat.  I tried to make it better and many of us agreed it was a very tasty soup, but Darcy wasn’t happy with her offering and that’s probably mostly my fault.

Alyx wasn't giving up her turn with the new baby.

Alyx wasn’t giving up her turn with the new baby.

Alyx, my niece, is prepping her dish with her new niece tucked into her hoodie pockets.  She also did a sweet potato dish, but the main ingredient (all that green stuff) is minced brussel sprouts.  This is why the competition is so close.  Everyone manages to find a way to challenge their own abilities and up their game.   A lot of people who don’t usually like brussel sprouts thought it was great.  Alyx told me she got nervous and may have added a little too much pepper.  For a novice cook it was a great effort.  Unfortunately the judges ruled it didn’t place.

Dad's job is always taking things out of the oven

Dad’s job is always taking things out of the oven

Mom and Dad went all out with that duck.  It was beautifully cooked, nicely carved and pretty tasty.  The dipping sauce was genius.  It had a crushed raspberry base.  Between the honey in the marinate and the sugar in the dipping sauce it was a great presentation of sugar without being crazy sweet.

Presentation was pretty too.

Presentation was pretty too.

Karina and I thought they should have at least placed but the judges didn’t.  I suspect the judges like the notion of Mom and Dad continuing to take the main dish next year.  I know I do!

Aren't carrots sweet enough to count as sugar?

Carrots are sweet enough to count as sugar, extra with the glaze.

That’s Andrea, our hostess, with her carrots.  She did a flambé with brandy.  She got the judges involved, but most of the group missed that part of the presentation.  Her modest entry involved a lot of time and effort and  she could have raked in cheers if she’d made it a production.  They were perfectly cooked carrots, beautifully plated.  Her son Zac (last year’s winner and the other judge) knew one of the extra guests wouldn’t touch carrots.  The fact that he not only ate them, but liked them gave Andrea extra bonus points.   When they announced her second place the judges said that was the reason.

Karina plates with precision

Karina plates with precision

Karina has been swamped.  As a professional baker she’s working extra with catering orders this time of year.  Adding to her stress was her assistant quitting right before Christmas production started.  Bless her boss for gifting her the perfect solution to our secret ingredient.

Is this really a side dish?

Is this really a side dish?

The beans are steamed, the nuts are sugared but it’s the sauce on the wings that had the judges attention.  Made with pure sugar cane syrup – thank you Alex!

I know this post is getting long, but hey it was a BIG MEAL.  We still have to have dessert.  I coerced Dylan (Karina’s boyfriend) into being on my team rather than hers.   I needed the help!   He doesn’t have a lot of cooking experience, but he stepped up with flying colors.  With dessert we knew we had to take sugar seriously so we spent a day in my kitchen experimenting with pulled sugar.

Karina stood on the counter to take this for proof Dylan helped.

Karina stood on the counter to take this for proof Dylan helped.

In planning for dessert I knew by the time we got here everyone would be too stuffed to want anything too heavy.  I had the perfect solution.   We made both peppermint and cayenne pepper sticks.   I made handcrafted marshmallows.  At Andrea’s we made hot cocoa with organic sugar and high-end cocoa powder and to seal the deal spiked it with Bailey’s Irish Cream.

I thought it plated pretty too.

I thought it plated pretty too.

The peppermint and cayenne sticks stuck in the cocoa were perfect.  The great part was that dessert was adjustable to taste.   Everyone had control of the spices.   They could have alcohol or not.  I even offered good coffee as an alternative to the cocoa.  We got RAVES.   Of course Dylan and I thought we should have won.  We placed third.

The victor for the day, and judge (along with Butch our host) for next year is our baker: Karina.  I’m happy for her.  She can use the break over the holidays given her busy work schedule.  It also means next year the judging will be at a whole new level.  Those two can really talk about food!  Watch out family – I’m playing to win!

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