Chopped: Frost Family Edition (Or, I Made Chocolate Curls)

I made homemade chocolate curls last weekend and it wasn’t a big deal (so easy, who knew?!). But still, I MADE chocolate curls. Gold star?

Several years ago we went through a period of watching The Food Network as a family. Abby, in particular, couldn’t get enough of Beat Bobby Flay and The Pioneer Woman. But her favourite show was Chopped.

The premise is simple: four competitors start by making an appetizer. The catch? Their workstation contains a basket with secret ingredients which have to be incorporated/highlighted in their dish. And these secret ingredients can be downright strange. Gummy bears and chicken in an entrée, hotdogs and pecans in a dessert. After each course, one chef is eliminated until two people remain to battle it out over dessert.

Abby loved this show (every iteration, but especially Chopped Junior).

At some point, we introduced a few elements into special cooking challenges at home. Abby and I would choose a “secret ingredient” for dessert and allow 15 minutes to prepare something for John and Levi. Other times we had informal judging – no winner, but an elaborate meal for which family members were invited to offer critiques and compliments.

Then, in early 2020, just before COVID shut down the world, we jumped in with two feet. My parents were overwintering locally and offered to serve as judges. We paired off into teams (John + Levi; Elisabeth + Abby) and printed off scoring cards. We planned for weeks, shopped covertly so the opposing team didn’t catch wind of our menu, and covered the French door to our dining room with butcher paper (so my parents couldn’t spy on the kitchen prep).

From start to finish it was a lot of work, but Abby was in rapture and my parents couldn’t stop raving about the food. I’ll admit – it was delicious food. But did I mention all the work?

For several years we had a reward system in our house called “Warm Fuzzies” – a glass jar filled with (fuzzy) multi-coloured pom-poms. If someone did or said something encouraging or kind, we would add a warm fuzzy. If someone was deliberately unkind or rude, we would take one away. The kids worked steadily toward a goal – most recently, to host another Chopped competition.

They reached that goal over a year ago by accruing 40 Warm Fuzzies…and we only got around to fulfilling our promise last Saturday. #PandemicLife. But, better late than never.

We invited a neighbour couple (the ones who bake the kids cookies, offer us fresh produce from their garden, and bought the whole neighbourhood a basketball hoop and set it up in our driveway; for long-time readers, this is also the couple who leave Christmas lights up for our benefit, help shovel our driveway, and have PB & Banana sandwiches each Friday so, basically the sweetest neighbours ever) to assign the secret ingredients and judge the resulting dishes. (We made things a bit easier with just a single ingredient set for each course.)

John and Abby teamed up, which left me paired with Levi.

I tend to be the killjoy in this sort of event as I find it exhausting to juggle so many dishes while worrying about presentation (Oh, and did I remember to clean the bathroom for our guests?), all while working as a team with a CHILD who has very strong opinions about what they want to do (and, if I’m being completely honest here, I just want to do it all myself and win the competition). The prep, the shopping, the execution, the managing expectations. It’s a lot.

But I survived and it was great.

The secret ingredient selections were: cheese in the appetizer, bacon in the entrée, and chocolate in the dessert.

We had the table set with score cards (again, judged blind – they didn’t know who was paired with whom) and menus.

We weren’t judged on the drinks, but each team made a punch that was similar in taste and appearance, so here’s a representative picture.

How do people make their hands not look weird in pictures? Does anyone else feel self-conscious of their hands in pictures? I never think about my hands in real life, but “picture hands” just always feel…strange looking to me.

And here’s how it all played out:

John + Abby’s Menu (Abby designed/coloured their menu; gold star to her):

Oops. I only took a picture of the front page of their menu…

Appetizer: Tomato bisque + a trifecta of grilled cheese

Appetizer; this was one of the best tomato soups I have EVER had. And each strip of grilled cheese had a different flavour/cheese profile. Also, didn’t they nail the presentation?

Entrée: Beef tenderloin, bacon-wrapped scallops, garlic/onion/bacon mashed potatoes, grilled red pepper, and green beans with hollandaise.

We don’t eat much red meat, but John got an incredible cut of local beef tenderloin from the butcher and it was…delicious.

Dessert: A layered ice-cream cake.

Sadly you can’t see the layers in this homemade ice-cream cake; a chocolate crumb base, peanut butter cups, Skor bits, homemade chocolate sauce and lots of ice-cream. It was so good!

Levi + Elisabeth’s Menu:

Giving credit where credit is due – Abby coloured the flowers.

Appetizer: A three-cheese buttermilk biscuit topped with smoked paprika and dill cream cheese, smoked salmon and Parmesan crisps.

This was our weakest dish; everything tasted great, but the presentation was lacking colour, and – I’ll talk about this tomorrow – 15 minutes before this picture was taken I was cleaning up a torrent of water on the kitchen floor on my hands and knees, so was rather distracted). Maybe the monochromatic look is in?

Entrée: Bacon-wrapped asparagus, bacon cornbread bites, and bacon/chicken alfredo. The homemade alfredo sauce was the bomb.

This was so good!

Dessert: A chocolate panda (Nutella + PB filled) lava cake, with an ice cream head, and chocolate curl limbs.

This panda won the competition. Literally. Levi and I ended up winning by several points and it was all due to the panda dessert which was, I’m the first to admit, entirely Levi’s idea. He has been working for WEEKS on a panda project in school and this was the one thing he insisted on incorporating into our meal. It turned out about 100 times better than I imagined. I was going to do the ice cream head off to the side of the lava cake as an afterthought. But as we were plating, Abby (gold star to her for so generously helping her opponents) suggested we make a complete panda. Levi was so, so proud. And, it was delicious (though, I ask, could a chocolate lava cake NOT be delicious?)!

The raspberry was an afterthought as the peanut butter filling was leaking and made a hole at the top of the cake which we covered with a raspberry, forming a very adorable “belly button.”

Prepping the ice cream heads the day before!

And that’s enough Chopped for a few years. Lots of fun (and delicious leftovers), but also…exhausting!

Three cheers to the kids for being such great sports. Three cheers to John for loving to cook so much and encouraging and organizing so much of this event. And three cheers to our neighbours who were genuinely delighted by the whole experience and the most enthusiastic participants we could have hoped for (they very sweetly brought us a long thank-you note the next day and actually showed up to the “competition” with a plate of their famous cookies).

Anyone hungry? (Aside from vegan/vegetarian readers – sorry!).

Header photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

16 thoughts on “Chopped: Frost Family Edition (Or, I Made Chocolate Curls)”

  1. Omg this really does sound amazingly fun- and a lot of work. I love how you incorporated the neighbors into this escapade! Funny, because I love Beat Bobby Flay and I have a new favorite, “Throwdown” which is an old Bobby Flay show. They pick a person who’s an expert at a certain dish, like hot dogs or cheesecake or something, and Bobby challenges them to a throwdown on that specific thing. My son is coming home from college soon and he said he wants to get into cooking this summer (YES!!!). I was thinking it might be fun to have a “throwdown” type competition. I’m not sure I’m quite up to a “Chopped” event like you did. I’m very impressed with the panda dessert! You guys definitely deserved your win.

    1. I think Abby watched Throwdown, too? She liked every show!
      It was a lot of fun…and a lot of work. I’m happy enough for it only to happen every few years. Enough to feel like part of our family “tradition” without being too onerous.

  2. Oh, this all sounds so wholesome. What great skills your children are learning – all the preparation, and even that little bit with Abby suggesting the entire panda to the competition was so sweet, and actual cooking techniques! And your neighbors sound wonderful. It does sound like a lot of work, but what a wonderful memory for your family to have!

    1. I hadn’t really thought about the skillset related to the preparation, but you’re so right! It’s surprising how “into” it both kids get.

  3. I love this so much! What a fun event. I am sure it is something your kids will always remember. I love that Abby helped the competition, too. What a good sport! I haven’t watched Chopped in years as we don’t have cable and I don’t know if any of our streaming services have food network shows. But I’ve always really enjoyed Chopped and appreciate how quickly people can think on their toes. All of the courses look so great and I love that you included your sweet neighbors!! I agree with NGS – your kids are learning a lot of skills through this activity!

    1. I think because it’s so much work and the kids are the main instigators, it will stick out as a big memory from childhood (even though it was over 2 years between events!)?! Hopefully 🙂

  4. That does sound like fun (and exhausting)! I agree with the others saying the children are getting great experience and skills by participating in this activity.

  5. Can I admit that I’ve never watched the food network? While I am very much into cooking, watching others cook for some reason is hardly ever appealing to me.
    I love that you pulled off this competition though and I would gladly take the place of the neighbors who got to observe and enjoy all your hard work!

    1. I love the Great British Bake Off (not the same thing), and occasionally enjoy watching a cooking show, but it’s not really for me, either. Mostly makes me hungry and/or they’re cooking things I’ll never actually cook. I’m also just not a fan of watching TV! But Abby LOVES cooking shows (though we don’t have access to The Food Network these days and so she hasn’t been watching any for a long while…)

  6. This made me want to watch Chopped, which I’ve never watched before. I wish it was on a streaming platform!

    What a lovely activity for your family to participate in. These are the memories your kids will treasure for years and years. I love how you guys get so very into it, with menus and everything! I love this!

    1. I bet there would be some episodes on YouTube? I mostly enjoyed the show because Abby loved it so much. She would get SO into it (especially when they had crazy ingredients like gummy bears in an entree, or if we were watching a Junior episode). My favourite show is definitely the Great British Bake-Off. I used to call it an hour of free therapy. I have no desire at all to make desserts like they make (I am all about simple with very little decoration)…but find it unexplainably relaxing to watch that show!

  7. Same as Stephany, I’ve never watched Chopped. But, I get the idea, I think, from your post. And what a fun activity – seriously, you and John are amazing parents! To do this with and for your kids – risking a chaotic and messy kitchen, not to mention the possibility of, um, less than palatable results (:>), goes above and beyond, IMO!
    (I cannot ever see my parents doing this… they had a very, shall we say, traditional approach to parenting and division of household labor. If I had ever had kids, I seriously doubt I would have done anything like this, either!)
    The pictures are just fabulous – thank you for sharing!!

    1. We have our moments (with parenting)…but this was a genuinely great family experience.

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