GULFPORT -- Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College got a jump on the holiday season recently by showcasing some seasonal delights prepared by its brightest chefs.
The second annual Holiday Hobnob and Cookie Competition, held at the school's Hospitality and Resort Management Center on the Jeff Davis campus, featured holiday cooking competitions, cocktails and seasonal sounds provided by a three-piece jazz combo.
"The Hobnob features our culinary arts students, and they compete in a holiday sides competition and our baking and pastry students compete in a cookie competition," Christen Duhé, director of business development said. "We've encompassed all of the holidays, so there's Thanksgiving, Christmas and Halloween. Some of the cookies have different themes and the tables are all decorated differently."
According to Duhé, the event is an annual fundraiser for the students at the Jeff Davis campus of MGCCC.
"All the money goes to scholarships here at the JD campus," she said. "All of the guests will vote for their top three cookies and their top three sides. The winner of the competitions wins a half-tuition scholarship."
The return of the macaroon
In the cookie competition, the sweet treats ranged from traditional fare such as pumpkin cookies and peanut butter cookies to more imaginative confections such as peppermint mocha cookies and non-dairy Russian cheesecake squares.
One cookie that has seen a surge in popularity is the macaroon. The macaroon is a meringue-based cookie that traditionally is filled with buttercream, chocolate ganache or a fruit spread. It dates back as far as the 8th century.
Culinary student Taryn Hendren made certain the trendy sweet was represented in the recent competition through her variation, the eggnog macaroon. Hendren was the winner of the cookie competition.
"They are such a light and airy cookie with a great texture, and they can be filled any way you would like them," Hendren said. "You can take them in any direction. I love eggnog, and I like macaroons and I thought it would be an interesting experience to combine the two."
Good old side dishes
The side dish competition also ran the gamut from the traditional to the somewhat exotic as the amatuer chefs prepared everything from collard greens to several seafood-based dishes such as crawfish potato salad and seafood eggplant casserole, which combined creamy eggplant with shrimp and crab.
"This is my first time to participate in the Hobnob," Melissa Hamilton of Lucedale said. "I made squash casserole with crab salad. Normally during the holidays, I just do a squash casserole. But I wanted to dress it up a bit so I made a crab salad and I added some crab meat into the squash casserole."
Patricia Collins said she decided to stick with an old family recipe for the cooking contest.
"I made cornbread dressing," she said. "When I have this dish, it's usually with my grandma. It's a comfort food. I've always loved dressing. I used my grandmother's recipe for my dish."
The winner of the side dish competition was Noah Kendrick for seafood pasta.
Holiday cooking woes be gone
Chef Todd Reilly, a culinary arts instructor at MGCCC, also was on hand to serve up some coffee and maple-brined smoked turkey and smoked hams.
Reilly said the holiday season is not necessarily the best time to start a diet.
"Holiday cooking is all about the feel good," he said. "Skip the healthy stuff and skip the diet. Just enjoy yourself for the holidays."
With Thanksgiving coming up and Christmas rapidly approaching, Reilly said any prep that can be done ahead of time will save you a headache once the big days arrive.
"Anything you can do early, do it," he said. "This includes shopping. Cornbread stuffing, green bean casserole -- just about any of those side dishes can be made ahead of time, and they freeze really well. You can make them two or three weeks in advance and then all you have to do is pull them out of the freezer and reheat them that day. This will cut down on your time in the kitchen so you can spend more time with your family."
Another way to save your cooking time is to let Reilly do part of the cooking for your holiday meal.
"We are selling the coffee and maple-brined turkeys and smoked ham," he said. "You can pick them up right before Thanksgiving.
To purchase a smoked ham or turkey, call Reilly at 897-3725.
(Makes 2 dozen)
4 ounces almond flour
8 ounces powdered sugar
5 ounces egg whites
2½ ounces granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp kosher salt
Cinnamon, for sprinkling
Line 2 pans with parchment paper. Sift the almond flour and powdered sugar together and set aside. Mix the egg whites, granulated sugar, vanilla, nutmeg and kosher salt on low for 3 minutes, then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes and finally on high for 3 minutes. The meringue should be very stiff. Add the almond and powdered sugar mixture and fold it into the meringue until it has deflated. It should look like molten lava that will hold its shape for a bit and then melt into the mixture. Pipe the batter into small circles on the parchment paper. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Hold the pan and firmly smack it against the counter a couple of times, turn the pan and smack it again to remove the air bubbles. Bake at 300 degrees for about 18 minutes or until the macarons can be easily removed from the parchment paper. If they stick or the shell comes off the but bottom sticks, bake them a little longer. Cool completely on the pan and then remove to add the eggnog frosting.
-- Culinary student Taryn Hendren
(Makes 2 and a1/4 cups)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp cinnamon
4 cups powdered sugar
Eggnog to taste/desired consistency
Beat butter, shortening until creamy and light in color. Mix in the vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time, with the mixer on low speed. After the second cup, add one tablespoon of eggnog. Then, add the last two cups of powdered sugar and finally the last tablespoon of eggnog. Beat until light and fluffy.
CHOCOLATE BOURBON PECAN CAKE
1 lb toasted chopped pecans
1 lb butter
1 lb semisweet chocolate
1 lb 7 oz sugar, 1 lb 7oz
8.5 oz cocoa
3/4 cup bourbon
Grease and line a 10 inch round baking pan with parchment paper. Melt butter and chocolate and let cool. Mix sugar and cocoa then add the eggs, butter and chocolate. Add chopped pecans. Add bourbon. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.
-- Holiday Dessert Recipe by Chef Lori Vrazel Pearce, MGCCC Culinary Arts
SWEET POTATO AND CARROT SOUFFLE
1 ¾ lb. peeled carrots
2 ½ medium size sweet potatoes
2 cups sugar
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 tblsp plus 2 tsp all purpose flour
5 whole ggs
¾ cup melted butter
powdered sugar to taste
freshly ground nutmeg to taste
Cut carrots and potatoes into large cubes so that they cook evenly, Microwave or steam until fork tender and can be mashed. Drain potatoes and carrots and place in bowl of stand mixer. Add the sugar, baking powder, vanilla and flour. Beat slowly until well mashed and then beat on high speed until very smooth. Turn speed back to low and add eggs one at a time to incorporate before adding next egg. Gradually add the melted butter. Butter the sides of a small casserole (1 ½ - Qt.) Place in a pre-heated 350 oven for approximately 1 hour or until top has puffed and is a light golden brown. Garnish with powdered sugar and nutmeg.
-- Holiday Side Recipe by Chef Terry Newkirk, MGCCC Culinary Arts