$15.00 to spend. 20 minutes to plan and shop. 45 minutes to cook. Oh yeah, and one secret ingredient. Those were the contestant guidelines at the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off, which was held last week in Raleigh, N.C. To be honest, I had not heard of this event, which has been held previously in Baltimore, Roanoke, Charlotte and Charleston (SC), but was quite honored to be invited to be a contestant and jumped at the chance to participate.
Not only was I going to put my cooking skills to the test, but I would meet other area bloggers who were also competing and would be placed into teams. And Food Lion sweetened the pot by offering a bag of Food Lion brand goodies as well as two gift cards to its store, one for each blogger and one for the blogger to give away to her/his readers — at least $100 each for all participants, and $250 each to the lucky winner of the competition (see below for details!)
And here’s how it all went down.
Two days before the actual competition, the contestants found out who their teammates were. I was thrilled to be paired with Rachel Withers. Her blog is FitTriangleMom (http://www.fittrianglemom.blogspot.com/) and I knew she would take a healthy approach to our menu, which needed to consist of an entrée (the secret ingredient, BTW) and two sides. We were told upfront that the secret ingredient would be tilapia filets, boneless chicken breasts, boneless pork chops or ground turkey, so both of us looked for creative and frugal recipes for all of these. Rachel created a “secret” board on Pinterest where we could share our ideas, which was a great way to stay organized.
Once we decided on the recipes, we started thinking about our side dishes, all while staying within the $15.00 budget and the 45-minute timeframe. We were told that we’d be provided with some kitchen staples at no cost, such as seasonings, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, flour, etc. And our secret ingredient was free, too.
We printed out all of the recipes just in case we couldn’t access them online, and were feeling pretty good about all of our pre-planning. Until we got there and saw the pantry from which we would shop (somewhat generous on canned goods and dairy, not so much on fresh produce.) Uh-oh. More about that later.
Contestants and their guests (you could invite up to six friends) were invited to enjoy some appetizers and cocktails 30 minutes before the competition, which was held at Driftwood Southern Kitchen (8460 Honeycutt Rd #112, Raleigh, NC 27615.) If you haven’t tried this restaurant, check it out. According to its website, its “ever-changing menu showcases the finest of ingredients from supporting local farms and purveyors, allowing us to make as much as possible in house.” Several of my friends who live nearby are fans!
Contestants were given a great bright green apron with their names and blog embroidered on it when they checked in. Sweet!
This pre-competition get-together gave Rachel and me time to scope out what ingredients we could buy. We knew were in trouble because our planned starch for any of the secret ingredients was either roasted sweet potatoes or roasted red potatoes, and neither were on hand. Back to the drawing board for that side dish. Plus, we weren’t feeling the love for the available green veggies, so we decided just to wait for the secret ingredient reveal and go from there.
At 6:30, the folks from Food Lion introduced the judges and competitors and talked about some of its new products and packaging. We were given a tour of the kitchen from one of Driftwood’s chefs and then led to our stations, where we found out our secret ingredient – ours was chicken!
We went with our planned recipe, sautéed lemon chicken, and purchased the ingredients for that so we’d know how much to spend on the sides. And then we started brainstorming.
Right before I left for the event, I printed a copy of my basic black bean salad, because I thought it would go well with tilapia, just in case that was our secret ingredient. We had to modify it a bit based on the ingredients on hand, but I knew it would look festive and still taste good. But what to do for something green? There were canned green beans (wrong on so may levels) or frozen green peas (boring), and we weren’t thrilled with either choice. So we decided to make a simple and fresh cucumber salad with a red wine vinegar marinade, based on one I’ve been making for years. We were thrilled when our total bill came to $9 and some change, and were feeling pretty confident!
The 45-minute cooking time flew by, with the Food Lion folks and PR consultants taking pictures and asking questions about our dishes, which we were able to plate before time ran out. Speaking of plating, Rachel consulted with Driftwood’s chef and decided to use a flat wooden slab with a mini cast iron pan – how rustic! So we named the meal “Rustic Lemon Chicken with Black Bean and Corn Fiesta Salad and a Cucumber Onion Medley.”
The judges then scored each team’s meal based on taste, presentation, cost and originality.
When the winning team of Malise and Christie was announced, I was a bit sad it wasn’t us, but quite pleased with our meal and the entire experience — Rachel and I both felt like winners!
By the way, check out Rachel’s post about the experience here: http://www.fittrianglemom.blogspot.com/2014/10/cinderella-food-lion-frugal-cook-off.html. Oh, here’s a picture of the winner’s meal — so creative, with its ground turkey sliders and squash fries – yum!
Okay, now for the $100.00 Food Lion gift card giveaway. There are 3 easy steps to qualify:
- Like Kel’s Café on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kelscafe
- Like Food Lion on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/foodlion
- Comment on this blog post: https://kelleychisholm.com/
To enter, you must complete all three steps on or before Friday, 11/7/14, by 11:59 pm (ET). Not bad for a chance to win a $100 gift card to Food Lion! Pretty darn easy, if you ask me, and who can’t use free groceries, especially this time of year!
OK, I want to give a special shout out to those guests who showed up (thanks Brad, Wendy and Michelle!), those who tried but couldn’t make it at the last minute (Mom and Mandi), and all of you FB well-wishers — thanks for your support!
Thanks to our Food Lion contact Allison, who helped make this event run smoothly, and to the judges and other officials. And finally, it was great meeting other area bloggers, especially my teammate Rachel! What a fun, fun evening!
Eat, drink and be merry!
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