What a whirlwind weekend!  Last week my sister asked if I’d be willing to volunteer as a culinary judge for one of her principals who is passionate about this local ACT-SO program, showing kids that there are many ways to make it to college without sports.  They have 32 categories that kids could compete in to possibly advance to nationals, with the hope of winning scholarship money.  The categories ranged from dance, architecture, computer science and in the last two years, they have added culinary.

I jumped at the chance, then afterwards realized it was being held on the South side of Chicago, I had to be there at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, and that’s 60 miles from where I live, so I left my house at 6:15 in the morning.  You all know I hate being late and I didn’t know if there would be any construction delays, but I got there by 7:30 – 30 minutes to spare 😀

Three young girls competed for a chance to make it to nationals in Baltimore this summer.  Each girl was given two hours and 30 minutes to cut down their protein, show it to judges for inspection, then cook an appetizer, entree, and side dish, present and clean up.

culinary competition

I was literally blown away with the knife skills and menu planning these girls did.  One of the contestants made this vegetarian mushroom bite appetizer that was stellar.  Like, I wanted to climb over the judges table and take her display dish and eat that too!

I met a new friend Keith – he was one of the judges next to me – he’s probably 28 or 29 if that, but we got along like peas and carrots.  When we tried one of the dishes, we both said at the same time “this would be perfect if it had more salt and a bit more acid.”  We looked at each other like that scene in Brothers and I said “did we just become best friends?!”

We both said that we would be making this appetizer soon.  For me – it was Saturday night, then Keith posted his picture on Instagram on Sunday.  We did both have to tweak her recipe.  Not sure if she left off an ingredient, but as written, the mushroom balls didn’t stay together, even after I thought I may have to freeze them for a few minutes before frying.  

So this is my interpretation of her dish, that was inspired by hers.  I also made my version vegan, so my daughter in law could make it.  Love you Lizz!

  • 8 ounces mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch

For the ponzu sauce:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup cilantro

For the cucumber salad:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups sliced cucumber
  • 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper

For the mushrooms:  combine all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse, just until combined.  The balls should be wet enough to stay together when formed into a ball – I got 14 balls out of this recipe.  Deep fry for 4-5 minutes at 350 degrees or until golden brown.*  Salt immediately after coming out of the fryer.

For the ponzu sauce – combine everything into a food processor and pour into a mason jar until ready to serve.

For the cucumber salad – put all the ingredients except the cucumber and peppers, into a food processor.  Pour over the cucumber and peppers and marinate.

*since I deep fry, my balls are not greasy.  No one likes greasy balls.  To figure out the points though, I added 1 tablespoon of oil to the recipe, so each ball is 1 smart point.  The ponzu sauce is 1 point per tablespoon, and the cucumber salad is 1 point for 1/3 cup.

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Such a great balance of flavors!  Salty, sweet, crunchy – Hannah and I both made this our dinner on Saturday night.  I ate the plate above, and I think she ate the rest (Jacob may have had a couple).  Without the salad and sauce, each mushroom ball is 1 smart point.   Hannah said “I could eat these for dinner every night!”  #winning

I went to bed early Saturday since I was up at 5:45 in the morning, and was taking my Mom to the White Sox game.   Tony had asked that some of his ashes be spread at One was Sox Park, what we will always refer to as Comiskey Park, not US Cellular Field (the “Cell”) or now Guaranteed Rate field. 

sox game

I scooped Mom up at church and we got to the park about an hour before the game.  Plenty of time to walk around, see what the tailgaters were cooking up, and also to scope out our lunch options.  We decided to skip the stuff we can get anywhere outside of the ball park (pizza, Italian beef, etc.).  We both stopped when we saw Cuban sandwich.  It was 800 calories for the whole thing (they had that info on the cart!) so we decided to split it.  I originally tracked it was 7 points, but changed that to 9 later on.  So delicious!  We also split popcorn (5) and I had a Bud Light beer (7).  That was the first beer Tony and I had together nearly 17 years ago on our first date.  New readers can check out that story here.

Sox win!

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There was tons of security, but after the game scattered Tony’s ashes (which is the bottom right pic).  it was bitter sweet – a bit emotional, but I knew the time was right.   My Mom and I had a fun day and I was glad she was with me to help me carry this out.  Love you Momma!

So after a 21 point lunch, I made this quick and simple buffalo shrimp dinner for 3 points.  Perfect snacky plate dinner after a long, yet fun weekend.

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Today is the first day at my new office, which I’ve never been to.  It was crazy the last two weeks with the deadline of last Friday at 3:00  p.m., we had to be out of our old space to let the movers do their thing.  Now I don’t care if it takes me a month to unpack, I know eventually it will get organized. 

The train just made it into the station, so signing off – make it a great day!  Happy Monday!