Recently, I was invited to “Crocktoberfest.” It was a celebration of two of my most favorite things, pork and crockpots. Presented by The National Pork Board, Crock-pot and Reynolds, we got to meet Candace Cameron Bure (DJ from Full House) and Chef Hosea Rosenberg (former Top Chef winner). Are you noticing a Full House theme on this blog lately? The main event was voting for “America’s Pork Crock-Star.” Hundreds of recipes were previously submitted by people from all over the country and the top five were selected to come to New York for us to judge who had the best recipe.
After arriving at Hudson Terrace, which is conveniently located in the middle of the Hudson River, past The Intrepid, we were given a Bacon Vodka Cocktail. It had bacon-flavored vodka, a shot of Jack Daniels, and some sort of mixer. The best word to describe it is: AWFUL. One of the worst drinks I ever had. BeerBoor tried the cocktail without the Jack, and it too was awful. I tried a bacon vodka & soda, but unfortunately it was the same. This is the first instance in the history of the world where bacon does not make everything better, though in all fairness, it’s quite possible that the vodka, pre-bacon, was the weak link.
Pic courtesy of The Beer Boor
Luckily, there were a bunch of passed hors d’oeuvres to cleanse the palate.
Yvo says: and how! I don’t know if they were expecting a lot more people or if they just wanted to make sure everyone went home stuffed to the gills, but there were a ton, ton, ton of trays being circulated. Seriously, the same 4-5 cater waiters came by to offer us bites repeatedly, it got to be absurd where I was just like, we’re good! Speaking of which, the bussers were a bit overzealous and kept clearing my not-yet-finished Sprite. Grrr.
A pork cheeseburger slider. Tasty enough as I was hungry. It’s hard to lose with a pork cheeseburger.
Grilled pork on a stick. This was almost jerky-like, i.e. pretty tough with a lot of chew.
Olive tapanade and roasted pepper crostini.
Mini bacon grilled cheese. What’s not to like? It is the quintessential comfort food.
I believe this was melted mozzarella with a roasted tomato on a crostini.
Another crostini had brie and a bit of apple preserves.
Proscuitto-wrapped cantaloupe bite.
Yvo says: I liked this even though the prosciutto was quite mild – domestic perhaps? – and the cantaloupe was really out of season. Maybe the fruit made me feel healthy – lord knows I must have ingested about half a pig’s worth of pork over the course of the evening…
The top five cooks along with Candace and Hosea each had their own crockpot station to present their offerings. One thing I noticed was that each of the contestants had 2 crockpots. There weren’t a lot of people at the event, but maybe they made a lot of food? More on that later.
I decided my best plan of attack was to start at one end of the room and make my way down the line. Candace’s and Hosea’s dishes were not in the running, so they did not have any pumpkin piggybanks for us to place our voting chip in.
First up, was “Candace’s Carnita Tacos.” Unfortunately, neither Candace nor Hosea were serving their own dishes, they were too busy eating/schmoozing. Your guess is as good as mine if the recipe is actually hers or just has her name on it. I think I had the first taco of the night so the portion size was just a bit out of control, but a win for me as it was one of the better offerings. The pork was nice and juicy. The guacamole had a nice kick to it and the cabbage had a good crunchy freshness. Unfortunately, I got too full to come back for seconds. Informal polling seemed to indicate that if this could have been voted for, it would have won.
Yvo says: This was very tasty, even though the guacamole had just a touch too much heat for me towards the end. Also, though this may just be me, when it comes to the crockpot, I want a one pot meal. It seems a bit… well, ‘cheap’ that all that’s made in the crockpot is the pork part, while the rest – guacamole, cabbage slaw, even the tortillas, had to be prepped separately. I want easy! That said, this was good, but I’m glad it wasn’t in the running.
Hosea’s Cajun Sausage Jambalaya. I also liked this a lot. It didn’t have over-the-top flavor, but still was a good dish. I definitely have a jambalaya deficiency in my diet, but CT has been busy perfecting her own recipe. Beer Boor was not a fan, as he deemed it too dry and while it had a nice spiciness it didn’t really capture jambalaya as he prefers it.
Yvo says: Hmmm, Beer Boor said it was too dry? I thought the rice was too soggy/soft. I prefer my jamabalya perfumed, fluffy, but not almost sticky the way this was. Flavorful, and lots of spicy pork sausage punctuating the rice, but the rice’s texture really put me off this dish.
The first contestant was Linda Cifuentes from Mahomet, IL with “Kapusta Pork.” This was basically a mixture of pork loin, bacon, cabbage, sauerkraut, and beer. I liked that it had cabbage and sauerkraut because if it was only sauerkraut it would have been way too overwhelming. The bacon gave a nice bit of saltiness to the dish. Linda (along with the other contestants) were super excited to be there and joyfully served huge portions of their dishes.
Yvo says: Linda was the first contestant I spoke to, and she was effusively friendly, happy and eager to tell me about her dish. Kapusta sounds like, to my untrained ear, a Hawaiian word, so I was surprised by its actual origin being what I believe is Bavarian – the Germanic region of the world. In any case, this dish actually was something I could totally see myself making, because it is a complete meal in the pot- maybe add a roll or some potatoes if you need carbs. I found it pretty tasty and it sounds really easy to make… I will definitely be making this. (Also, there’s no salt or pepper in this recipe. That is awesome.)
After talking to Linda for a little bit, I understood why there were two crockpots on each table. It turns out the in-house chef cooked all the dishes, not the contestants. He cooked the pork separately from the rest of the ingredients, which totally defeated the purpose of it being a “crockpot event.” Almost everyone’s pork got super dried out, so we definitely did not get the best representation of the dish. Maybe the chef never used a crockpot before and didn’t know that crockpots are for cooking, not just keeping food warm?
Yvo says: I was pretty pissed on behalf of Linda, then the following contestants as well. The flavors didn’t blend together as well as they could have, and honestly, the appearance of two crockpots on each table really confused me. I don’t have the space to house two crockpots to make a good meal! But for the most part, the contestants were good natured about a professional chef “messing up” their recipes and making them wrong.
Next was “Harvest-Thyme Pork ‘N Pears with Fennel” from Shirley DeSantis of Bethlehem, PA. This dish was one that suffered the most due to the pork being cooked separately. Unfortunately, without the flavors having a chance to meld, it was just ok. It was weird that the chef gave Shirley whole springs of thyme as a garnish. No one I know likes to eat the sprigs of thyme, just the leaves please. BeerBoor, on the other hand, liked how the thyme complemented the pork and, along with the pears, made a very tasty dish.
Yvo says: Another lovely contestant who was enthusiastic about explaining her dish, though she had trouble in the dimly lit place seeing things. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell what her dish was really supposed to taste like – it kind of tasted just like mush – but I’m going to blame the in-house chef.
“This Little Figgy Stayed Home” from Laura Ploeger of Brandy Station, Virginia. Like Shirley’s dish, the pork was dry. The figs and apples would normally work perfectly with pork, but here, not so much as it was a topping rather than all mixed together.
Yvo says: I’m not sure why but the figs tasted really weird to me. Other than that, as TT says, it didn’t really work well together the way it was done. Sadface.
Here is a local contestant, Cheryl Bailey of NYC with “Trip-to-Tuscany Pork Tenderloin.” Cheryl had a story to go along with the dish. Basically, her travels to Italy were the inspiration of this with the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and mushrooms. I thought the veggies were very tasty. Yvo figured the artichoke hearts were marinated, not frozen as the recipe called for, which I thought possibly made the dish a little overly salty. BeerBoor had the same issue with dry pork, which required more sauce and vegetables to rehydrate than usual.
Yvo says: I actually liked this dish the best and, I admit, I voted for this one. I love artichokes and I liked how flavorful the topping was, and I wonder how much more incredible it would taste if it were cooked the way Cheryl intended – together. This is another dish I will definitely be making… Plus, Cheryl gave me a lead on where to find frozen (not marinated) artichoke hearts: Trader Joe’s. I went, and they were $2.29 a 12 oz bag! So cheap!!! (And yet another funny moment, since the artichokes tasted a bit marinated; someone responded to my suggestion of this with “Maybe the chef didn’t know where to get the plain frozen ones either” after I mentioned my own troubles finding it… I’d only seen it once or twice at Gristede’s or D’agostino’s for ridiculous prices!)
Here is a great shot of Candace and Hosea trying out some of the dishes. It turns out that the photographer to the left (see the camera) works for The Wall Street Journal. I found this out when I saw it in the paper a few days after the event. No mention of Feisty Foodie in the Journal, though. 🙁
Finally, the last entrant of “Herbes de Provence Sausage” from Shannon Dolan of Villanova, Pennsylvania. Earlier in the night, someone thought the sausage was undercooked. My serving did look a little pink, so I only tasted a little bit. BeerBoor ate this dish first, and while he didn’t notice (or care) if the sausage was undercooked, he thought it was flavorful, though the rest of the dish was on the bland side. This dish seemed an odd choice for the crockpot. I would make this on the stove.
Yvo says: I thought serving this over spaghetti seemed a bit odd. Shannon assured me she serves this with rolls sometimes (and stuffs the sausages inside the soft rolls). A fine dish, though not suited to my own personal preferences.
Here is a poster showing what the winner would receive. Not too shabby!
Candace & Hosea are ready to announce the winner.
All the contestants look pretty nervous to me.
And the winner is……
Linda and her Kapusta Pork. Yay, I voted for her! She was so excited and shocked. It was pretty funny. Congrats Linda!
The event wouldn’t be complete without the requisite swag bag.
2 boxes of Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners, “Piggy Popcorn”, a special crockpot spoon, Vosges Chocolate Bacon Bar, a thumb drive with the recipes and a bunch of printed recipes.
Yvo says: I am really excited to try the slow cooker liners. I admit I use my crockpot (yes, I have an actual Crock-Pot) less often because I have a 6 or 7 quart one – really big – and I hate cleaning it. Not because it’s particularly hard to clean – it isn’t, even this one time I burned something onto it really well somehow – but because the ‘liner’ (the ceramic pot part) is super heavy and it’s unwieldy to clean. I’m always afraid of dropping it while washing it and then it breaking and having to buy a new one just to use it… I have a feeling I’d wind up just getting rid of it!
Thanks to The National Pork Board, Crock Pot and Reynolds for hosting this fun event. If you would like any of the recipes used, please leave a comment with your real email address and I will send it right over.
Please note that this event was courtesy of The National Pork Board, Crock-Pot and Reynolds. I received no monetary compensation for this review, nor was I obliged in any way to post about this meal, positively or otherwise. This is my own opinion and I feel it was unbiased; you are free to take from this what you will.