It turns out July 2013 was a very busy month for me, filled with all sorts of good stuff including my birthday and a trip to visit my sister in Brooklyn, where we gorged on all things food and I tried out for the show Home Cooks on Food Network.

But the OTHER amazing thing that happened was a little thing called the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in Baltimore, Maryland.

I was approached that June to participate in the cook-off with a bunch of other local bloggers, two of whom would be on my team. The only information we were given was this basic premise:

Imagine this, you just found out a friend and her husband are in town. Now you must pull together a meal for four in a flash! Oh and one thing. You only have a $15 budget and 45 minutes until dinner is served. You are invited to join the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off, where you’ll be put on a team to tackle a fun cooking challenge like the one above. Teams will then present their dishes to a panel of judges who will select the winning dish.

Fun, right? I was totally in, despite the fact that I’d never participated in a cook-off before (but always wondered what it’d be like), the event fell in the middle of the work-week, AND it was on my actual birthday. Happy birthday to me!

Seriously though, what thirtysomething parent with two young kids actually has birthday plans during the week? Exactly. My calendar was totally open.

Here’s the teaser video:

 

My blogger cohorts-in-crime and I had never met in real life before the Baltimore event. But, Roni from Green Lite Bites, Sarah from Capital Moms, and I quickly got acquainted through the magic of social media and never looked back. We knew we’d take it all! (Or at least we’d try our darnedest.)

Here’s the story in photos from that night, courtesy of Food Lion and the professional photographer they had on site!

Winning A Cook-Off

The night started off with everyone listening to the Food Lion reps talk about the brand and the challenge. About two minutes after this shot was snapped Sarah, Roni and I realized we were the only ones standing… Ha! Oops.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Sarah, Liza and Roni listening to the cook-off rules.

Next up, we had to select our protein for the meal. It was a surprise, and each team had a different meat! Roni was chosen to rep our team, and her pick revealed pork chops under our silver dome. W00T! We were psyched! I’m a big fan of pork chops, and they’re sooooo versatile.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Roni waits to find out which protein we’d be using.

I wasn’t joking when I said we had a $10 budget in the Food Lion pantry as part of this “frugal” cook-off. The total meal could cost no more than $15, and $5 of that was devoted to the pork chops. We were vigilant, as you can see with my notes here. Sarah (who, at the time, was blogging as “Capitally Frugal”) kept us on track and also took copious notes while we were cooking.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Roni and Liza talk through ingredients while Sarah keeps a meticulous budget.

So, with pork chops in mind, we had to figure out how to spend our $10 in the Food Lion pantry – including two My Essentials products. Our dish had to be complete with two sides along with the protein.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Liza writes notes to keep track of the recipe ingredients and stay within budget.

This is the beautiful kitchen at Talara where we all cooked our dishes (note: Talara has since closed). It was only my second time using a full commercial kitchen – pretty cool!

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
The beautiful commercial kitchen at Talara.

Once in the kitchen, Sarah, Roni and I scrambled to pull our recipes together, because we only had 10 minutes to decide what we were cooking and then get moving, and then only 45 minutes total to cook from start to finish. Whew!

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Sarah, Roni and Liza pulling the recipe together, starting with the pork chop filling.

So, after 45 minutes in that hot kitchen (I’m not sure how professional chefs can stand it!), we had to sit and wait for the judges to decide whose dish was the best. Over quiet, hushed whispers they finally tallied up the votes, and…

We won! Here we are, fresh off our win, and very excited – we’re glowing! (Or sweating…man, that kitchen was steamy.)

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
Sarah, Roni, Liza – winners!

In addition to winning Food Lion gift cards and a bag of our favorite grocery items (how clever and thoughtful!), we also got these super cool trophies to take home, and our recipes were featured on the Talara menu that weekend.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
The Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off trophies.

Here’s our winning dish: Apple & Spinach Stuffed Pork Chop, Balsamic Candied Carrots and Rustic Roasted Potatoes. The pork chop looks kind of “blah” here, but once we sliced it into medallions it looked fabulous!

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
The winning dish!

This is the whole group of DC/MD/VA bloggers that took part in the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off Baltimore. We had so much fun with everyone, meeting new people and enjoying lots of laughs.

Liza won the Food Lion Frugal Cook-Off in 2013 — get a behind the scenes look!
All the bloggers who participated in the cook-off.

What a great night!

Afterwards we appeared on My Fox Baltimore to talk through the recipes and give a demo. Take a peek here:

A version of this post originally appeared on amusingfoodie.com.

 

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