I had the best time of my life at a “chopped” birthday party

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Turns out restaurant reservations are the least exciting way to celebrate a foodie friend’s birthday. I learned that last night, while attending a Chopped– themed birthday party. Points were awarded, fight words were exchanged and the chef’s whites were irreparably smeared in what was, without a doubt, the best birthday bash ever.

Round 1: Preparing a Chopped to party

My friend Michelle planned the Chopped party for her fiancé, Patty, an irreverent top-notch foodie. (By “irreverent foodie” I mean “person who sips peanut butter and jelly martinis with abandon and once recreated Guy Fieri’s apple pie hot dogs for a potluck. “) A few weeks ago, Michelle sent a Facebook message detailing the rules of the contest:

  • Guests choose a dish to prepare before the party: starter, main course, dessert or cocktail.
  • Guests design their dish around ingredients from a Chopped– basket style – nicknamed Patsket in honor of Patty. Patsket ingredients are each assigned a value: three points, two points, or one point.
  • Guests may supplement their recipes with non-Patsket ingredients, but Patsket ingredients must take center stage.
  • Guests bring their prepared dish to the party, at which time they will be judged by Chef Pat.

Unfortunately, we weren’t promised a $10,000 prize if they win. Still, we’re a competitive, kitchen-savvy bunch, and we were excited to show off our stuff.

Round 2: Design the perfect dish

I’m more confident in my baking skills than cooking, so I asked for the dessert course. I started by consulting the Patsket (see screenshot) to design my recipe.

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Screenshot: Lillian Stone

With snickerdoodle cookies and peanut butter in the three-point section, a cinnamon the sugar/peanut butter recipe seemed like a no-brainer. Dessert toppings like nuts and chocolate chips also seemed like an easy way to take advantage of the “exactly 27 of one ingredient” bonus. (The party was for Patty’s 27th birthday.)

I didn’t see as many possibilities in the two-point section, although the heavy whipping cream and strawberry milk looked promising. Oh, and “any ingredient the chef can justify that represents Patty”. I am a writer. I can justify just about anything.

Finally, from the one-point section, I decided to take advantage of the “anything that can be connected (even loosely) to the state of New Jersey” bonus. (Patty is originally from Jersey.) The other ingredients sounded intriguing – a savory blackberry and cheesecake dessert, perhaps? – but I decided to keep it simple. Well, sort of.

Round 3: Preparation of the dish

My whoopie pie inspired snickerdoodle sandwiches, nicknamed Jersey Devils

My whoopie pie inspired snickerdoodle sandwiches, nicknamed Jersey Devils
Photo: Lillian Stone

I decided to get my money’s worth by combining two desserts into one and forming a kind of whoopie pie. (Fun fact: the whoopie pie is the maine state treatment.) First, I prepared a batch of very large snickerdoodles. I let them cool, then applied a thin layer of peanut butter to one side of each cookie, taking advantage of the peanut butter three-point bonus. I then used heavy whipping cream and ricotta to make an easy cannoli filling, meant to loosely represent New Jersey’s hardy Italian population. (A stretch, I know.) I folded exactly 27 chocolate chips into the filling, removing another Patsket bonus.

Finally, I assembled the whoopie pies by sandwiching a thick dollop of cannoli cream between two peanut butter pies. snickerdoodles. Just before the party, I added a garnish: three little plastic men, which I acquired as gifts (another bonus). They were meant to represent Patty: stylish, easy-going, and always ready to party.

Round 4: Presentation of our creations

As I expected, the other revelers went all out with their recipes. Our friends Jon and Chris brought the appetizer, a Jersey-inspired mini bagel sandwich adorned with a small flag featuring former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. They received extra points for sentimentality in honor of Patty’s former employer, a Jersey bagel shop called Bagel Princess.

The Anniversary Chef, very happy with the starter of the day

The Anniversary Chef, very happy with the starter of the day
Photo: Lillian Stone

The starter arrived courtesy of Pat (not to be confused with Patty), an enthusiastic cook who specializes in savory dishes. Pat didn’t come to play. He brought a chili pot with a base of Dr. Pepper, a dollop of peanut butter, heaps of peppers, a handful of mushrooms and squash, and toppings from every point category. It was delicious, surprising absolutely no one.

After that, I presented my whoopie pies, nicknamed Jersey Devils. Patty ate them with gusto and compared them to a “snickerdoodle fluffernutter.” We topped it all off with a cocktail made by my boyfriend, Sean, who whipped up a strawberry milk White Russian with a peanut butter and snickerdoodle sugar rim. He prepared the cocktail while reading the Wikipedia entry for the state of New Jersey in a Bruce Springsteen voice, which was admittedly very impressive.

Round 5: Judgment

Michelle, keeping score

Michelle, keeping score
Photo: Lillian Stone

Pat’s Dr. Pepper won first place by a landslide, which was tough but very fair. I claimed second place with my Jersey Devils, a very respectable result. The bagel appetizer tied with Sean’s cocktail for third place, although Sean was pushed back a few points by a last-minute technicality. A good Springsteen impression goes a long way.

Yes, I did not claim the prize. Still, Chopped the night was the perfect way to celebrate a good friend and get a little creative in the process. The idea was incredibly thoughtful on Michelle’s part, proving that a foodie birthday party doesn’t have to break the bank or involve the stress of jostling for coveted restaurant reservations. I’m going to have Dr. Pepper on tiny little plates any day.

Joseph K. Bennett