Monday, July 25, 2011

ARRRGH-Worthy Apps: Fourth of July Throwdown Recap

Last year, it was meat-in-a-casing and jean shorts. This year, appetizers and pirate garb. Next year, who knows, but it's already up for discussion. That's right, it's the annual extended Kelly family fourth of July cooking throwdown.

Earlier this month, Cooper and I, with Dixon and Bill in tow, drove the trustly 1987 Toyota RV up to Keuka Lake to celebrate America with Alicia and Mike's extended family. Just like last year, the big event of the weekend would be a Saturday night party featuring a massive cooking and costume competition. Also just like last year, Cooper, Alicia's Uncle Joe and I would be judging the food part of the competition.

This year's theme: appetizers (anything you can serve in a single bite) and pirates. This year's energy level: high. The phrase most often overheard, with respect to both the costumes and the snacks: "Wow, this year everybody really brought it."

This year, prizes were awarded for Best Taste, Best Presentation and Most Original/Creative (the concept award). There was also a crowd favorite, which everyone voted on, and a prize for best costume, which was also voted on by the whole crowd. As judges, we picked a winner, pluss runners up, for each of the three categories.

As always, we had a blast. The food was fantastic, the costumes were intense and the company was hilarious. To recap:

This year's party was held at Alicia's family's cottage. Most guests would arrive by boat and these waterfront banners announced that the Kellys are serious about their throwdowns. And about pirates.

A wave of guests (mostly Alicia's cousins) scout out the competition.

Dixon was ridiculously excited about his Captain Jack Sparrow-inspired outfit - especially the makeup. Maggie was a little less enthusiastic, especially about her hat, but she did enjoy a brief sword-fighting lesson from the master.

The Bargers and Bill show off their best "AAARGH" faces. Well, Alicia does, anyway. Bill was immediately called out for looking more like the Dred Pirate Bret Michaels than the Dred Pirate Roberts.

Alicia's Aunt Barb and Uncle Dan got seriously into the spirit. When you look at Danny's costume, keep in mind that it was a very, very hot day. Commitment. UPDATE: I can't believe I forgot to say this, but Danny won Best Costume. OBVIOUSLY!

Last year, throwdown winners got repurposed judges' medallions as prizes. This year, Alicia improved upon that quite a bit, making prizes out of lake rocks she found. She painted each white, glued on a "gold doubloon" from Dixon's collection and added a quick sketch of Keuka Lake.

Cooper, Joe and I took our judging seriously. Just like last year, we fell into an easy routine and found that we were on the same page about taste and appearance.
And now for the food:
The very first entry came from Alicia's dad Bill (aka "Big G"). His "Cannonball" - a perfectly seasoned meatball wrapped in pastry - set the bar high for the rest of the competitors. He was a runner up in the Taste category, plus he won Crowd Favorite (the judges broke a tie between Bill and his younger brother Robert).

Speaking of Robert, he delivered the second entry. Last year, he took home the overall, crowd favorite and best taste prizes with his Rochester white hot. This year, he got more than a little cheeky, calling his entry "Pirate's Penis & Balls" - and no, I am not kidding. It was a Scotch egg, cut in half, plus a stuffed pepper. Everything was served with a mustardy hollandaise. I thought the pepper was great, though Scotch eggs aren't my thing, and Cooper and Joe both liked all of it. And it certainly made us laugh. For that, Robert took home the Creativity prize.

Joe's wife Martha was a runner up in all three categories for her "Fresh Catch of the tomorrow's revenge." She served us fried pickles and cream cheese-stuffed peppers styled to look like fried fish. Both the pickles and peppers had great flavor and we loved the funny presentation - anytime you're presented with a roll of toilet paper alongside your app, you've just got to laugh.

Alicia's Aunt Kelly was a Presentation runner up with her "Island Seaweed Empanadas" - spinach empanadas served with a sweet and spicy mango-lime salsa. We loved the salsa and especially loved the cut-up hot dog octopi.

Aunt Mary's "Sailing the Greek Islands" didn't photograph all that well, but in person its tiny basil sails were cute enough to win a nod as a runner up in the Presentation category. It was also a Creativity runner up - we were impressed with the delivery of Greek salad flavors all in one bite.

Aunt Barb & Uncle Dan's dish, "Blackbeard's Snail Ceviche," was a fresh and spicy ceviche of fresh Key West conch (Barbie & Dan live in Florida most of the year). We loved it, awarding it the Best Taste prize, and I have to admit that I ate more than a little of it for lunch the next day.

Let me see your "Booty Roll." Alicia's cousins Jackie and Christina went all out on the presentation with their "Booty Roll" - and took home the Presentation prize for their efforts, along with a runner up nod for Best Taste. Accessories aside, their buffalo chicken egg rolls were really very good.

Alicia and Mike were disappointed with their "Fire in the Hole," a smoky combination of jalapeno, shrimp, bacon and cheese. We liked it enough, though, to give it a runner up spot for both Presentation and Taste.
Lydon was a Creativity runner up with her "Dip's Ahoy" - a tasty BLT dip served in a pretty cute crab dish.

Alicia's cousin Logan went all Top Chef on us with her entry, "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum." She served us tiny brandy-soaked cherries on top of marscapone cream, with homemade honey brittle for added texture, earning a runner up spot in Creativity. I personally loved this entry - while it wasn't strictly an app (it was a dessert), it was tasty and interesting.

And then there was Bill. He presented his dish - the infamous "Border Jumpers" (Tostitos filled with seasoned taco meat) towards the end, which is why I forgot to take a picture. He also accessorized with soccer napkins and a little castanet soundtrack, winning himself a special Mexican Soccer Award. As he mentioned numerous times following the competition, there was nothing in the rules specifying a pirate theme for the food. Fair enough. I have to admit, too, that I've had this particular app at more than a few parties and it's always a hit.

Following on Bill's footsteps, Alicia's brother Patrick presented his "Funnel Cakes from Hell" while humming carnie music. Possibly he hoped it would distract from his paper towel-themed presentation? The funnel cakes tasted good, though, and the whole mess got hiim a special prize for Best Carnival Food.

Alicia's cousins Kelly, Trish and Murph abandoned the app theme, but they did make us a pretty sweet 4th of July cake, which they pirated-up with the name, "Red, White & Booty."

Here are all of the winners, along with Cooper, Joe and I, after the big event. Do I look full?
Overall, the party was a huge success and from my judges' table vantage point, it looked like everyone had a fantastic time. Later in the evening, after most of the crowd dispersed, we spent some time with Mike, Alicia, her parents and Joe and Martha, just kicking around ideas for next year. Alicia has already opened the discussion up to her family and with a full year to plan, it's sure to be another rousing success.

Nobody, but nobody, does a throwdown quite like those Kellys.


Anonymous said...


Kit Pollard said...

OOPS! Uncle Danny, of course! I thought I mentioned it, but didn't! I'll fix it tonight.


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