Judging The Great PhillyMag Cookoff!

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The Other Side of the Hot Seat

There's a first time for everything.  When you participate in cooking competitions, you are used to being the one in the "hot seat" while the judges do their business.  So, when I was asked to be the judge for Philadephia magazine's first Great PhillyMag Cookoff!  I was thrilled and honored to do so!

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Callahan, Executive Editor for Philadelphia magazine, at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest in Vegas this past November.  Inspired by the Bake-Off excitement, he decided to organize a casual in-house cookoff among the editors at the magazine.  They each chose and prepared one of the 100 Pillsbury Bake-Off finalists' recipes.  My job was to judge each dish on taste alone - no bribes accepted (and yes, they were offered)!  This was going to be a tough job as everything looked and smelled delicious!  Woo Hoo!  Let the tasting begin!

Emily Leaman, Health and Fitness Editor, made Sandy Reiter's Easy Chili with Twisted Cheesy Cornsticks.  The chili was hearty, warming and really flavorful.  A perfect dish for this "Polar Vortex" weather we're experiencing!  The cornsticks were delightful for dipping!

Emily Leaman, Health and Fitness Editor, made Sandy Reiter's Easy Chili with Twisted Cheesy Cornsticks.  The chili was hearty, warming and really flavorful.  A perfect dish for this "Polar Vortex" weather we're experiencing!  The cornsticks were delightful for dipping!

Art Etchells, Editor, Foobooz.com, made Frances Pietsch's Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad on Walnut Flatbread.  Yum!  Love at first bite!  This sandwich had great flavor balance and texture!  i would like another bite right now please!

Art Etchells, Editor, Foobooz.com, made Frances Pietsch's Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad on Walnut Flatbread.  Yum!  Love at first bite!  This sandwich had great flavor balance and texture!  i would like another bite right now please!

Rich Rys, Senior Editor, made Julie Pando's Fudgy Chocolate Hazlenut Bars.  These were a moist, fudgy, chocolate lover's dream!

Rich Rys, Senior Editor, made Julie Pando's Fudgy Chocolate Hazlenut Bars.  These were a moist, fudgy, chocolate lover's dream!

Michael Wilson, Design Director, used his eye for detail to craft Jennifer Fisher's Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Samosas.  They were cooked to golden brown perfection and had a balanced savory/sweet flavor with just a touch of spice.

Michael Wilson, Design Director, used his eye for detail to craft Jennifer Fisher's Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Samosas.  They were cooked to golden brown perfection and had a balanced savory/sweet flavor with just a touch of spice.

Sandy Hingston, Senior Editor, baked up Nancy Fahey's Almond Cafe Cookies.  They were big, gorgeous cookies with the perfect amount of chew and crunch.  I loved how the almond flavor was not overpowering. 

Sandy Hingston, Senior Editor, baked up Nancy Fahey's Almond Cafe Cookies.  They were big, gorgeous cookies with the perfect amount of chew and crunch.  I loved how the almond flavor was not overpowering. 

Tom McGrath, Editor, baked Marie Sheppard's Blueberry Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake.  Mmm... this would be perfect for a relaxing weekend morning with a steaming cup of joe!  The cake was loaded with fresh blueberries which melded beautifully with the cinnamon and citrus flavors.  Toasty pecans topped off the dish and added a wonderful crunchy texture.

Tom McGrath, Editor, baked Marie Sheppard's Blueberry Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake.  Mmm... this would be perfect for a relaxing weekend morning with a steaming cup of joe!  The cake was loaded with fresh blueberries which melded beautifully with the cinnamon and citrus flavors.  Toasty pecans topped off the dish and added a wonderful crunchy texture.

Brand Editor, Ashley Primis, made Carolyn Westerback's adorable Chipotle Meatball Appetizers.  Each bite of these meatball cups was packed with tons of flavor.  I loved how the avocado pieces cooled the spicy bite of the chipotle sauce.  These would be perfect to serve at your game day party! 

Brand Editor, Ashley Primis, made Carolyn Westerback's adorable Chipotle Meatball Appetizers.  Each bite of these meatball cups was packed with tons of flavor.  I loved how the avocado pieces cooled the spicy bite of the chipotle sauce.  These would be perfect to serve at your game day party! 

Brian Howard, News Editor, made headlines with Cathy Wiechert's gorgeous Orange Cardamom Blueberry Crostata.  The beautifully pleated golden brown crust of this dessert holds a whopping 2 cups of blueberries that are sweetly spiced with orange marmalade and cardamom.  I just love the rustic simplicity of this crostata. "Crostata Boasts Blueberry Bonanza!"

Brian Howard, News Editor, made headlines with Cathy Wiechert's gorgeous Orange Cardamom Blueberry Crostata.  The beautifully pleated golden brown crust of this dessert holds a whopping 2 cups of blueberries that are sweetly spiced with orange marmalade and cardamom.  I just love the rustic simplicity of this crostata. "Crostata Boasts Blueberry Bonanza!"

Senior Art Director, Jamie Leary, crafted Denise Pounds' Chicken Lettuce Wraps & Sesame Crescent Noodles with artful detail.  The color and crunch really made this dish pop!  I loved biting into the buttery lettuce, tender chicken and crispy noodles.

Senior Art Director, Jamie Leary, crafted Denise Pounds' Chicken Lettuce Wraps & Sesame Crescent Noodles with artful detail.  The color and crunch really made this dish pop!  I loved biting into the buttery lettuce, tender chicken and crispy noodles.

Christy Lejeune, Editor at Large, baked Joan Cossette's Lemon Pistachio Blackberry Thumbprints.  These large soft cookies had great texture and were bursting with flavor.  I loved the hint of lemon and that drizzle of honey glaze.

Christy Lejeune, Editor at Large, baked Joan Cossette's Lemon Pistachio Blackberry Thumbprints.  These large soft cookies had great texture and were bursting with flavor.  I loved the hint of lemon and that drizzle of honey glaze.

Research Editor, Malcolm Burnley, discovered a great recipe in Mindy Beaumont's Honey Roasted Corn and Crab Puffs.  One bite of the sweet corn and crab in these little nuggets transported me right to my summertime happy place.  I could practically feel the sand on my feet! 

Research Editor, Malcolm Burnley, discovered a great recipe in Mindy Beaumont's Honey Roasted Corn and Crab Puffs.  One bite of the sweet corn and crab in these little nuggets transported me right to my summertime happy place.  I could practically feel the sand on my feet! 

Claudia Gavin, Assistant Photo Editor, made Donna Beck's Ham and Creamy Sriracha Pizza.  For a sriracha lover like me, the spread on this pizza was a hit.  It had that addictive spicy quality that made you want to come back for more!  

Claudia Gavin, Assistant Photo Editor, made Donna Beck's Ham and Creamy Sriracha Pizza.  For a sriracha lover like me, the spread on this pizza was a hit.  It had that addictive spicy quality that made you want to come back for more!  

Wedding Editor, Carrie Denny, united 3 gooey ingredients in heavenly matrimony to make Wendy Wiseman's Peanut Butter Caramel Sticky Rolls.  These spirals of warm baked goodness will make you laugh, cry and will definitely leave you with sticky fingers.  

Wedding Editor, Carrie Denny, united 3 gooey ingredients in heavenly matrimony to make Wendy Wiseman's Peanut Butter Caramel Sticky Rolls.  These spirals of warm baked goodness will make you laugh, cry and will definitely leave you with sticky fingers.  

Jack Cotter, Digital Projects Editor, presented Sonya Goergen's Mini Italian Shepherd's Pies.  These savory morsels practically pack a full balanced meal into 2 bytes!  I loved the spinach in the mashed potato topping.  

Jack Cotter, Digital Projects Editor, presented Sonya Goergen's Mini Italian Shepherd's Pies.  These savory morsels practically pack a full balanced meal into 2 bytes!  I loved the spinach in the mashed potato topping.  

Executive Editor, Michael Callahan, whipped up Craig Partin's Malted Milk Ball Peanut Butter Cream Squares.  I loved the whimsical quality of this dessert with its chocolate squiggles and sprinkling of fun candies from my childhood.  The crunchy peanut butter cookie base was a perfect contrast to creamy dreamy topping.  

Executive Editor, Michael Callahan, whipped up Craig Partin's Malted Milk Ball Peanut Butter Cream Squares.  I loved the whimsical quality of this dessert with its chocolate squiggles and sprinkling of fun candies from my childhood.  The crunchy peanut butter cookie base was a perfect contrast to creamy dreamy topping.  

The Big Decision!

After the tasting was complete, I was sequestered to ponder my decision.  Whew!  Judging proved to be challenging as everyone did a really great job.  In the end, I chose 4 dishes that were not too sweet, not too salty and left me wanting more!  

Congratulations to:

4th Place: Rich Rys, Fudgy Chocolate Hazlenut Bars

3rd Place: Sandy Hingston, Almond Cafe Cookies

2nd Place: Michael Wilson, Spicy Beef & Sweet Potato Samosas

1st Place: Art Etchells, Bacon and Goat Cheese Salad on Walnut Flatbread 

The first place winner, Art Etchells, won a $100. gift card to Tashan Restaurant.   

Thanks Philadelphia magazine!  I had a great time!

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Thanks for spending some time in the cloud with me!  Tina ( :