It turns out that restaurant reservations are the least exciting way to celebrate a foodie friend’s birthday. I learned that last night, when I attended a Chopped-themed birthday party. Points were awarded, fighting words were exchanged, and chef’s whites were irreparably dirtied in what was, without a doubt, the best birthday party ever.
My friend Michelle planned the Chopped party for her fiancé, Patty, an irreverent foodie of the highest order. (By “irreverent foodie,” I mean “person who sips peanut butter and jelly martinis with abandon and once recreated Guy Fieri’s apple pie hot dogs for a potluck.”) A few weeks ago, Michelle sent out a Facebook message detailing the rules of the competition:
- Guests choose one course to prepare before the party: appetizer, main, dessert, or cocktail.
- Guests design their dish around ingredients from a Chopped-style basket—dubbed a Patsket in Patty’s honor. Patsket ingredients are each assigned a value: three points, two points, or one point.
- Guests may supplement their recipes with non-Patsket ingredients, but the Patsket ingredients should take center stage.
- Guests bring their prepared dish to the party, at which time they’ll be subjected to the judgement of Chef Pat.
We unfortunately weren’t promised a $10,000 prize for winning. Still, we’re a competitive and kitchen-savvy bunch, and we were excited to show off our stuff.
I’m more confident in my baking skills than my cooking skills, so I claimed the dessert course. I started by consulting the Patsket (see screenshot) to design my recipe.
With snickerdoodle cookies and peanut butter both in the three-point section, a cinnamon sugar/peanut butter recipe seemed like a no-brainer. Dessert garnishes like nuts and chocolate chips also seemed like an easy way to take advantage of the “exactly 27 of only one ingredient” bonus. (The party was for Patty’s 27th birthday.)
I didn’t see as much possibility in the two-point section, although heavy whipping cream and strawberry milk both seemed promising. Oh, and “any ingredient the chef can justify which represents Patty.” I’m a writer. I can justify pretty much anything.
Finally, from the one-point section, I decided to take advantage of the “anything that can be connected (even loosely) to the state of New Jersey” bonus. (Patty’s a Jersey native.) The other ingredients looked intriguing—a savory blackberry and cheese dessert, perhaps?—but I decided to keep it simple. Well, sort of.
I decided I’d get the most bang for my buck by combining two desserts into one and forming a whoopie pie of sorts. (Fun fact: The whoopie pie is the state treat of Maine.) First, I baked up a batch of extra-large snickerdoodles. I let them cool, then applied a thin layer of peanut butter to one side of each cookie, taking advantage of the three-point peanut butter bonus. I then used heavy whipping cream and ricotta to whip up an easy cannoli filling, meant to loosely represent New Jersey’s robust Italian population. (A stretch, I know.) I folded exactly 27 chocolate chips into the filling, knocking out another Patsket bonus.
Finally, I assembled the whoopie pies by sandwiching a thick dollop of cannoli cream between two peanut-butter-slathered snickerdoodles. Just before the party, I added a garnish: three tiny plastic men, which I acquired as a gift (another bonus). They were meant to represent Patty: stylish, easygoing, and always ready to party.
As I expected, the other partygoers went all out with their recipes. Our friends Jon and Chris brought the appetizer, a Jersey-inspired mini bagel sandwich adorned with a tiny flag featuring former New Jersey governor Jim McGreevey. They were awarded extra points for sentimentality in honor of Patty’s former employer, a Jersey bagel shop called Bagel Princess.
The entree arrived courtesy of Pat (not to be confused with Patty), an enthusiastic home cook who specializes in savories. Pat did not come to play. He brought a cauldron of chili featuring a Dr. Pepper base, a dollop of peanut butter, loads of peppers, a handful of mushrooms and squash, and garnishes from every single point category. It tasted great, surprising absolutely no one.
After that, I presented my whoopie pies, dubbed Jersey Devils. Patty ate them with gusto and compared them to a “snickerdoodle fluffernutter.” We capped things off with a cocktail prepared by my boyfriend, Sean, who concocted a strawberry milk White Russian with a peanut butter and snickerdoodle sugar rim. He prepared the cocktail while reading the Wikipedia entry for the state of New Jersey in a Bruce Springsteen voice, which was admittedly very impressive.
Pat’s Dr. Pepper chili won first place by a landslide, which was tough but very fair. I claimed second place with my Jersey Devils, a perfectly respectable result. The bagel appetizer tied with Sean’s cocktail for third place, although Sean was bumped up a few points by a last-minute technicality. A good Springsteen impression goes a long way.
Yes, I failed to claim the prize. Still, Chopped night was the perfect way to celebrate a good friend and get a little creative in the process. The idea was incredibly thoughtful on Michelle’s part, proving that a foodie birthday doesn’t have to break the bank—or involve the stress of wrangling coveted restaurant reservations. I’ll take Dr. Pepper chili over dinky small plates any day.