Judging fun at the Iron Chef Clinic

There is nothing I like better than a fun program that teaches lessons in cooking and pits teams against each other in friendly competition at the same time.

I was overjoyed when asked to be a judge for the annual Iron Chef Clinic this year. I must admit that I also was curious as to how the teams would comply with the need for bacon in the dessert category, the one I was judging with Stephanie Pethel, chef and owner of A Touch of Elegance Bakery and Cafe.

The teams, comprised of anywhere from two to five members, competed for first place in the categories of appetizers, entrees and desserts. Along the way they learned terms in recipes and how to properly read the directions listed below the ingredients. They also learned when you most want to impress judges with the finished product that it could turn out bad.

Every team in the dessert category admitted that it took two or maybe three tries to get the desired effect.

I have to admit that when I first learned that bacon was to be the featured ingredient in the dessert category I was leery. Appetizers and main dishes fit in well with the crisp pork product, but I could not imagine a cupcake filled with bits of bacon or sprinkled on top in the frosting.

I quickly learned that this is a good combination, sweet and savory, especially when paired with chocolate or pumpkin.

I was very impressed with the appearance of the tables bearing the chosen recipe product. Many had a pig featured. One had a patriotic pig, one a floral pig, and there were many plain pigs.

There was a table with fresh flowers and bottles of water for the benefit of the judges and for the patrons who would be paying a small amount to get to taste any food product of their choice at the end.

One table had a Hawaiian theme, with the cooks wearing the floral shirts of the balmy islands. This was the Liberty Gals and Guys 4-H Club, and their recipe was Bliss on a Bacon Raft – a recipe they dreamed up themselves.

Jason Roach was familiar with a simple cheesecake recipe that called for Oreos, cream cheese, sugar, an egg, and vanilla. The tiny finished cups of cheesecake were placed on bacon rafts and drizzled with caramel syrup. Yummy.

Two of the younger members said they were responsible for weaving four bacon strips together to make rafts. Older ones cooked the bacon until it was crisp, so all had a part in the plan.

Madeline Doyle and her younger brother made cookie bars with pumpkin for the Country Kids 4-H Club. They were called Pumpkin Caramel Bacon Bars with Nuts and had a delicious caramel frosting with a sprinkle of crisp bacon bits.

The Country Classics 4-H Club had turquoise aprons and black chef hats that were made by Lilly Larkins’ mother. They looked very professional and wore purple gloves for sanitation purposes.

One young man admitted that he was getting very hungry looking at all the good food and would give anything for a cupcake at that minute.

A young man from another club knew the answer to what fusion was when this word appeared in his recipe. It means combining two or more products.

I learned that there are many types of cupcake liners now – not just the pink, pastel green and blue ruffled papers. They are in many different shapes, sizes and patterns.

The Steubenville Spirits 4-H Club team looked like very elite servers in their white shirts, black ties and trousers. Ryan Wood was the team captain, but his crew of Marquan Jackson and Alison Lynn were giving knowledgeable answers, too.

Jennifer Barnett was assisting Stephanie and me when needed. She was quite nervous as she knew her daughter, Rachel with the Country Rangers 4-H team, was competing in an entree category.

The Backwoods Gang 4-H Club table was visited by Dave Maple, Jefferson County commissioner. Some of the recipes in the contest contained maple syrup, a good combination with bacon.

While 4-H members were awaiting the judging results, there were classes on how to cook at safe temperatures and how to keep food warm enough when it has to set for awhile.

Cooking food safely is a matter of degrees, it was noted. Foods are properly cooked when they reach a high enough internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness.

The best way to determine this, according to the brochure, was to use a food thermometer. These temperatures range from 140 degrees when reheating pre-cooked ham to 170 degrees for well done pork, beef, veal or lamb.

The Iron Chef Cookbook will be out soon and can be purchased at the Ohio State Extension office. Some of the recipes will be featured on a Herald-Star and Weirton Daily Times food page as well.

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I want to extend sympathy to the family of Debbie West who passed away on March 29. I had recently printed her white sheet cake recipe that had been featured in the St. Paul A.M.E. Church calendar in 2012 and was thinking of her.

She was the most cheerful lady you could imagine. Brenda Harris, her best friend since school years at Mount Pleasant, said that she never complained about being ill, even when she was suffering.

Brenda was attending the Smithfield Christian Church when the St. Paul congregation met there before its demise. We all considered her one of our members.

Her sunny smile and happy hello will be greatly missed in the community and her home town of Mount Pleasant.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)