Healthy Holiday Party Cook-Off + Quick Thanksgiving Recipes

Posted November 25, 2014 in healthy cooking, healthy eating, cooking challenge, healthy holidays, holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas

I don't really think of myself as a competitive person. 

But when I received an email at work about the Healthy Holiday Party Cook-Off Challenge organized by the Kinesiology and Sports Sciences Department, the Employee Health and Wellness Program and the Physical Activity and Wellness Lab (at the University of Nebraska at Kearney), I was intrigued. Then before I knew it, my office neighbors were forming a team, and I was on it!

Here were the rules: We had to form a team of five with two coaches and three chefs, two team members had to be students, and we had 30 minutes to cook.

I had lots of anxiety about what to cook. I wanted it to be healthy, but still something everyone would enjoy. I've been told that I eat weird things by a few people so it's hard for me to know what others will eat. I was really leaning toward roasted Brussels sprouts with walnuts, dried cranberries, gorgonzola and turkey bacon. When I asked the organizers for some guidance, they suggested making a traditional Thanksgiving dish but healthier. But when I looked up recipes for green bean casserole, stuffing, sweet potato casserole and other recipes, I knew there was no way we could finish those dishes in 30 minutes.

Then I remembered an appetizer my cousin made at Christmas one year - bacon wrapped dates. They were so incredible, and one of my fave parts of that holiday dinner. Since the dates would take just a few minutes of preparation and then sit in the oven for 20 minutes or so, I thought we could make two recipes!

For our second recipe, we decided on a potato cauliflower mash. This is one of my fave recipes that I make all year-long. It's a good way to make your mashed potaotes a little less carby. 

Our team consisted of me, Lee Ann and Ryan (my office neighbors) and students Mariah and Billie. I wore my apron so that I would look super professional.

Our team showed up early to the event because Lee Ann and I were a bit anxious about how long it would take to boil water. I boiled a pot of water and timed it before the competition started to make sure we would have time!! 

It wasn't until I mentioned to the organizers that I'm not competitive, and they looked at me like I was crazy, that I realized that I may be a bit competitive.

Then we found out we had to wear these hats…

My head is so small.

The 30 minutes flew by! It was pretty intense, but with three of us cooking we were able to get everything done on time. Here's a fun video of us working. As you can tell, the hats were a little large for some of us. 

(Video by Ryan Rodehorst)

I'm not sure why I just seem to walk around in circles.

We ended up getting everything done on time, and we plated our food in the last minute! Intense!

(Photo by UNK KSS Department)

The plate we presented to the judges...

I talked to one of the judges after, and he seemed pretty impressed with our dishes. I felt like that was a great compliment since he is a chef for our dining services on campus! Below is the judges after they recieved our plates.

Most importantly, it was super fun!

The other team that cooked at the same time as our team made a Brussels sprout, sweet potato, apple dish that was also pretty tasty.

Our team headed back to work and class after we finished, but three more teams competed after us. The team that won made a Christmas tree shaped brownie topped with strawberries, red hots, peppermint candies, frosting and Cool Whip. Desserts always win. This doesn't fall on the super healthy spectrum, but I heard that their presentation was spot on.

Here are our recipes from the challenge...

Stuffed Bacon-Wrapped Dates

Medjool dates

goat cheese

turkey bacon

Cut open one side of each date. Scoop about 1/2 tablespoon of goat cheese into each date. Cut turkey bacon in half. Wrap eat date with 1/2 a slice of turkey bacon. Place on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until bacon is crispy.


Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower with Bacon Crumbles

8 yukon gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 head of cauliflower, chopped into 1/2-inch pieces

4 garlic cloves, cut in half

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

2 tbsp. butter

½ cup vegetable broth

1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt

4 slices turkey bacon

salt and pepper

Place potatoes and garlic in a pot of boiling water. Cook until potatoes start to soften, about 7 minutes. Add cauliflower. Cook until both are soft. Drain water.

While vegetables are cooking, cook bacon on a skillet until crispy.

Add olive oil, butter, broth and Greek yogurt and whip with a handheld mixer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Crumble bacon on top. 

(We added crumbled goat cheese on top at the last minute, and it was delicious!)


Have you ever participated in a cooking challenge? What was your strategy?

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