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Hurricane Cook Off (Florida Style)

Last week Peggi and four of her girlfriends (including Leigh and Susan from the Cooking Cottage) went to spend a few days at her vacation home on Anna Maria Island, FL. The girls were scheduled to depart on Sunday evening a few hours after Peggi’s husband and two of her daughters arrived to join her for the coming week. The return flight was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy so the little house on the Gulf Coast was packed with guests for the next three nights. What to do but have a cook-off?

Molly wrote the Rules & Sign Up Sheet

First up was Team Peggi & Susan J. in the Brunch-Lunch category.

The lovely team of Peggi & Susan J!

They went more the Brunch route with a delicious Bacon, Tomato & Cheese Egg Puff served alongside Fresh Fruit Cups with Toasted Coconut, Whole Grain Toast & English Muffins (with Cherry Preserves – highly recommended if you’ve never tried) and, of course, Mimosas.  Peggi had also brought a little Chocolate Babka from Zabar’s down south, which was just the right sweet treat to round out the meal!

A Delicious Brunch!!

Dinner on Night 1 was handled by Team Kate & Dad.  After a round of Cosmopolitans mixed by the master bartender himself, we all tucked into three big bowls of Steamed Clams with White Wine and Garlic paired with Sauvignon Blanc.  Not just any clams, they were local FL Gulf clams Kate had procured earlier in the day from the famous Star Fish Fishing Market over in Cortez, and they were just so out of this world delicious.  Using a whole head of garlic didn’t hurt either.  I will dream of these mollusks.  Ok anyway here they are:

I’ll probably frame this picture and hang it on my wall someday.

Next, Team Kate & Dad served burgers with a big salad as the main course – but not just any burgers, these are the “Simple, Perfect Fresh-Ground Brisket Burgers” you may have seen in the November issue of Cooking Light, their “beefiest” recipe in the last 25 years (p.156) – and we would all recommend them!  (Kate had the butcher grind the brisket for her, no problem.)  Everyone sipped a little Full Sail Amber Ale (OR) with their burger.

The salad was jicama, sweet corn, tomato, avocado & sunflower seeds with spinach & romaine in a garlic meyer-lemon olive oil & sherry vinegar vinaigrette.

And for dessert, Milk Chocolate Souffles with Nougat Whip & Toasted Almonds, paired with a heady Zinfandel, oh yum!

The Master Bartender mixing pre-dinner cocktails; Chocolate Souffle for dessert.

And that was just Day 1!!

On Tuesday, Molly and Donna were up for Lunch and they decided to jazz up the traditional Salad-Soup combo. Here they are with their Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Crab (recipe from our Soup’s On! classes this fall). The curry smell just filled the house as they made the soup and I could not wait to get to the table!

Team Molly & Donna with Day 2’s Lunch.

The soup was served alongside Molly’s favorite salad: Apple, Blue Cheese and Avocado Salad tossed in Honey-Cider Vinaigrette.  We’ll actually be making this salad later this month in our Hudson River Valley class.  Soup and salad were accompanied by artisinal sourdough and multi-grain breads from a local bakery.

Apple, Blue Cheese, Avocado Salad with Honey-Cider Vinaigrette… so good!

For dessert this creative duo served a tart Frozen Lemon Granita and they actually hollowed out halved lemons, froze them and used them as individual serving dishes.  It’s easy to do and makes an impressive and adorable presentation.  This dessert was so refreshing!

Leigh enjoying the Frozen Lemon Granita from Team Molly & Donna.

Last up was Team Susan Z. & Leigh, and they prepared an amazing Fish Taco Dinner.  To get us ready for the tacos, they served a wonderful, creamy guacamole accompanied by blue corn tortilla chips, salsa, and the best Margaritas!

Margaritas were available on the rocks or frozen. Flamingo glass or regular glass.

Then we sat down to the most gorgeous spread of taco-makin’ fixin’s accompanied by what else but Corona beer.  Leigh & Susan Z. did not prepare just any fish to fill these tortillas, but locally caught Grouper Cheeks.  Yes, cheeks.  Big fish (like grouper, haddock, halibut, etc.) have big cheeks, yielding meat that is just delicious and a perfect choice for tacos because the pieces are already smaller than the large filets you usually buy – and you’re just going to cut them up anyway.  Also, some people (like me) actually enjoy the meat of the cheeks more than the filet, it’s more succulent and tender. Fish cheeks are often found on the menus of upscale restaurants, so keep an eye out and, if you haven’t yet, you should try them sometime! But I digress.  Look at this table of tasty taco trimmings:

Tangy lime dressed slaw, two kinds of salsa, sour cream, smooth guac, homemade chipotle mayo, Spanish rice & beans, tortillas, Coronas, and a big plate’o Grouper cheeks. Ay caramba!

Predictably we needed a break after that, before the absolutely decadent dessert that was coming our way.  So we draped ourselves around the living room and enjoyed watching The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – what a lovely film, I recommend it to anyone.  As we were watching, Leigh and Susan Z. served up some Oreo-Crusted Chocolate Pudding Heath Bar Crunch Pie.  A truly indulgent ending to our two day cooking marathon.

The most decadent of pies; Team Susan Z. & Leigh platin’ their pie.

The cook off was a lot of fun during a couple of days when bad news was pouring in from the phone and the news.  Luckily on Wednesday morning the girls were able to catch their flight home and go back to their families.

So the next time you’re on vacation with a large group of people, we recommend holding your own cook-off.  We didn’t keep score, but as they say…. we were all winners!  Thanks for reading! :)



  1. Sharon Berger says:

    Hi Peggi and friends/family – all I can say is I am now officially starving!! Your food descriptions and photos are simply enticing, and just about professional quality!! Then again, cooking is your business. Sorry you were stranded in FL while we were enduring “Sandy’s wrath.” I hope you all arrived safely back in PA, and will try to get back to classes soon

  2. This was so fun!!!!! And I should add, extremely delicious.

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