7th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

Melted, gooey cheese. Golden toasty bread. Maybe some roasted jalapeño, a healthy heap of pork belly, a fig jam spread, perfectly crisped bacon. Yes, we’re talking about the grilled cheese sandwich and yes, the possibilities are endless.

There’s no better place to show off the versatility of this practically-perfect-in-every-way sandwich than at our annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown – a battle among Toads, family, friends, and community members for the coveted Golden Spatula Award.

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This year at our seventh annual, competition was tougher than ever. Here’s how it works: Everyone gathers in the Toad office backyard to watch our competing teams duke it out by whipping up their tastiest recipes. First sandwich off the grill goes to the judging table and the rest go to the salivating crowd (there’s a Peoples’ Choice Award too, so feeding the audience is equally as important!). If you can’t wait for the chefs’ creations, you can tide yourself over at the Make-Your-Own-GC station. And because nothing pairs with a grilled cheese like tomato soup and a cold one (or two, or three), we’re lucky that longtime partners Organic Soup Kitchen always show up with the soup and local fave Topa Topa was there to keep the beer flowing.

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This year’s lineup consisted of 4 Toad teams, plus teams from our friends at Alpha Resource Center, Luno Life, Los Padres Forest Watch, Ontraport, Topa Topa, The Sandbox, SB Fire Department, and UCSB Bren School. A few masterpieces included “You Are Bacon Me Crazy,” “The Hogfather,” and “The Cubano.” Mouth watering yet? Us too.

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Grill Nude

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When the sun sets, and panini presses are turned off, there can only be one Golden Spatula winner (OK, and a few runners up because we love to spread the celebrations). Congrats to the following teams!

All That Jazz: UCSB Bren School, Kimcheeze for Sheezy

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Best Solo Act: Toad’s Ian, The Big Cheesy

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Most Balanced: Los Padres Forest Watch, Gourmet Girls on Fire Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Peoples’ Choice: Alpha Resource Center, Pesto So Gouda

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Golden Spatula (Best Overall): Toad’s Guin and Helena, Frankenfromage 

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AND we asked realllyyy nicely and got Guin and Helena to share their mouthwatering secret recipe with us. Get your aprons ready (and fair warning, this is some seriously gourmet stuff)!

What you’ll need:

  • -Equal parts Gouda and Gruyere
  • -Parmesan
  • -5 sweet white onions (we used Vidalia)
  • -Beef stock
  • -Sherry
  • -White wine (mostly for the cooks)
  • -Kerrygold butter (It’s the fancy-pants kind and so worth it)
  • -Milk
  • -Half and half (or cream)
  • -Flour
  • -Bay leaf
  • -Fresh thyme
  • -Fresh flat leaf parsley
  • -French bread

 

Chop, and then caramelize the heck outta the onions in a pot. Simmer 2 hours, de-glaze with 1/2 cup sherry and 1/2 cup white wine (the rest is for drinking, remember?). Cook down for 2 minutes, add a splash of beef stock, and a few thyme springs. Remove 2/3 of cooked onions (should be super brown for maximum tastiness), add to blender, and blend into a puree. Set aside.

Pour remaining beef stock into onion pot, add bay leaf, leave to reduce and simmer for a good long while. Salt and pepper. Set aside.

Meanwhile –

Grate all that cheese. Make a roux out of 1/2 stick butter and 1/2 cup flour, slowly add milk and half and half, (3 parts milk x 1 part half and half) until your reach nappe consistency. Teamwork really helps here—one whisking furiously while the other adds ingredients. Next, a handful at a time, add grated cheese until incorporated. Keep whisking until creamy and salt to taste. Add onion puree to cheese mixture. Once combined, pour mixture into a loaf pan lined with parchment. Allow to cool then toss in the refrigerator until solidified (most likely overnight).

Next, chop parsley. Slice bread (we like the slices thick), butter the outside like there’s no tomorrow, crust outside of bread with parmesan, cook parm-side down on in a buttered pan using low heat. Remove chilled cheese loaf from fridge, slice 1/2 inch thick, place on top of bread, and sprinkle with parsley. Top with a second slice of parm-crusted bread and wait until it gets super golden brown and tasty tasty looking on both sides. Don’t flip it too early. Here’s how you’ll know it’s done: It should be a rich brown color, and if you tap the bread and it makes a low hollow noise, you’re good to go.

Remember the beef stock we set aside? Pour into cute little bowls and use as au jus for your cheese masterpiece!

And while we’ve got you in that grilled cheese spirit, we asked two of our esteemed Toad judges for their favorite full belly-approved Toad items to wear while chowing down on the good stuff.

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“I’m a big fan of the Mission Ridge Lean Pant. They’re so comfortable you’ll think you’re eating your grilled cheese at home on the couch. And if I’m grilled cheesing it up in the summertime, I’m all about the Lounge-Out Cord Short—because classics like cords and a tasty grilled cheese were meant for each other. And also, stretchy draw-cord waist. Enough said.” – Danny, Sr. Sales Ops

“Nothing screams summertime grilled cheeses like some 4-way stretch shorts, so the Cetacean Block Board Short is my go-to. I like to keep it classy on top with the Mattock II Short Sleeve Shirt, which also looks surprisingly good with a napkin bib.” -Neil, Sr. Ops Manager

“Best I’ve Ever Had” Pumpkin Pie

There’s no denying that the right pumpkin pie can be life changing. With a dollop of whipped cream and pinch of spice, a slice of pie can transform a so-so day into the highlight of the month. So this holiday season, brighten the lives of your holiday guests with a slice of “Best I’ve Ever Had” Pumpkin Pie.

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Rest assured, this recipe comes from a bona-pied baker: Norma, one of Toad&Co’s amazing Product Developers, has mastered every pie in the book (and then some).  She’s SO good, in fact, that her apple pie medaled at last year’s county fair! Norma is also an accomplished swing dancer and one helluva product developer (you can thank her for perfect arm-holes and  inseams). Turn on some tunes, round up your ingredients and get to work on your masterpiece.

Pumpkin & Sweet Potato Pie

Combine the following in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer (10-15 minutes). Make sure to mashing the yams nice and good.

1 can pumpkin (15oz.)
1 cup drained canned yams
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Whisk the following together then add to pumpkin mixture:

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 eggs and 2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Strain and pour into pie crust. Bake 350° until done, about 45 minutes.

Bourbon Whipped Cream

No slice of pumpkin pie is complete without a dollop of whipped cream. Try whippin’ up some Bourbon Whipped Cream to really get the party started.

1 cup heavy cream, well-chilled
2 teaspoons powdered sugar
4 teaspoons bourbon (and 2 oz. for sipping…)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in a chilled bowl and beat until soft peaks form and cream is billowy. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

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Need a delicious cocktail for your holiday party? Or just something to keep warm? These delicious drinks should do the trick!

Easter Dinner Around The Campfire

 

Easter Sunday is upon us, and with spring in full swing there’s a chance that you may find yourself pitching tents and gathering wood rather than bellying up to a table full of in-laws. But that doesn’t mean you can’t eat like the best of ’em! Our Women’s designer, Guin, doubles as an expert camp cook and offered up a camp-friendly Easter dinner that will surely leave you just as satisfied as Grandma’s sweet rolls and ham. To make any camp-cooking experience seamless, Guin recommends slipping a roll of tin foil in your kitchen gear. It’s good for layering on the top of the fire ring so you don’t lose any goodies to the embers below. Bring some extra wet wipes  to clean off your hands because you really don’t want to smell fish while you are eating your Easter Reese’s S’mores!

Campfire Roasted Asparagus:

Ingredients:
1 bunch of asparagus, trim by snapping off the bottoms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Toss in olive oil and salt & pepper
Finish with a squeeze of lemon

Instructions:
An Easter themed dinner should have asparagus roasted with garlic and lots of olive oil, salt & pepper.  Top with lemon and roast until golden brown. Mom will be happy to know you got some greens.

Campfire Cooked Fish:

Ingredients: 
1 large piece of frozen fish (skin on)
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of whole grain mustard
3 tablespoons chopped dill
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Ample olive oil
Parmesan packets
Salt & pepper

Instructions:
Pick a nice large piece of fish from the frozen section of the grocery store. Most times they are packaged and frozen on site, and depending on what part of the country you live in, the frozen stuff can taste fresher than something from the refrigerated section. Frozen fish is also great for keeping the cooler nice and cold AND will likely thaw to perfection in time for cooking! Guin’s camp kit always includes fresh cracked pepper because it makes all the difference in flavor. Coat flesh side evenly with whole grain mustard. Apply salt, pepper and minced garlic liberally. Press a handful of herbs fresh or dried on the mustard and garlic. Top with lemon slices.

Depending on how hot your fire is, it may take a while for these bad boys to cook. Flip halfway through cooking. Rule of thumb: It’s done when the fork slides through easily and begins to flake the grain of fish. If you’re one of those people who keeps parm packets from pizza delivery, dump that sucker all over everything.

Campfire Grilled Bread:

Ingredients:
1 loaf of bread of your choice, sliced
Olive oil
Salt

Instructions: 
Coat both sides of the bread with with olive oil and salt. Place directly on grate. Toast both sides. Keep an eye out so these don’t burn. A little char is good, but not too much.

Deviled Eggs:

Ingredients: 
12 eggs
Chopped herbs
2 mustard packets
1 packet hot sauce
Salt & pepper

Instructions: 
Coming from the Midwest, deviled eggs are a holiday favorite and Guin is an expert. This would be a great thing to prep at camp breakfast after you make coffee.  Place a pot of cold water on your camp stove. Drop enough eggs in for the group and bring to boil. Turn off and cover for about 17 min. Once finished, pop these in the ice chest for later. At dinner, peel and halve. Empty cooked yokes into a bowl. With a fork, mash the yokes and add a hefty portion of salt and pepper and a handful of chopped herbs you have with you. Add a squirt of mustard and combine. Spoon mixture into the halved eggs. Sprinkle a little cayenne pepper on top if you have it or add a dash of hot sauce. BOOM deviled eggs.

Reese’s S’mores:

Ingredients:
Graham cracker
Reese’s Egg
Marshmallow

Instructions: 
Nothing says Easter more than a Reese’s Egg. Why not combine this with the S’mores camp classic? Toast your marshmallow over the fire until it has a crispy brown layer all over it (or just light it on fire, however you roll it’s cool with us). Trap the marshmallow between two graham crackers and carefully add in the Reese’s Egg. Smash it down and enjoy!

People’s Choice Recipe from the 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

 

At the end of March we proudly hosted our 5th annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown. For those of you who are not familiar with this event, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is the biggest cooking competition west of the Los Padres Mountain Range. With competitors prepping and practicing their grilled cheese creations for weeks before the competition, attendees and competitors alike are treated to mouthwatering creations where bread, cheese, and butter are just the beginning. With so many delicious sandwiches premiering at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, we couldn’t keep all of the cheesy goodness to ourselves.

To win the Golden Spatula at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown means that you impressed the judges more than any other team in the contest. While that is all and well, impressing the attendees of the Grilled Cheese Smackdown may be even more of an accomplishment. To recognize such an achievement, the People’s Choice award is voted on by anyone in attendance and can be awarded to any team that makes a sandwich in the competition. This year it was none other than the Alpha Resource Center who took home the People’s Choice Award. Their sandwich Pure Cheese featured a touch of spice from pepper jack cheese as well as the satisfying taste of sauteed mushrooms, spinach, and garlic. Rather than making you salivate by thinking about the sandwich, Alpha gave us permission to share their recipe so you can make Pure Cheese for yourself! Comfort food secured.

Pure Cheese by Alpha Resource Center

Ingredients:
1 slice of pepper jack cheese
1 slice of Cheddar Cheese
2 teaspoon of parmesan grated cheese (spread across the challah bread)
1/4 cup of mushrooms
1 teaspoon of fresh cut garlic
2 slices of challah bread
Two teaspoons of butter (spread on the challah bread)
8 leafs of spinach
A pinch of chives

Instructions:

  1. While the grill is heating up, dice up the mushrooms, garlic, and slice the challah bread into two pieces, then spread butter over the outside of the bread.
  2. Press the buttery surface of the bread with parmesan to ensure that every bit of the bread gets some cheesy love!
  3. Both bread slices and both types of cheese go onto the grill. Once the cheese is soft, sprinkle a teaspoon of parmesan in to add some of that salty taste.
  4.  Use a little of the oil coming off the cheese, or a dab of butter on the grill to assist as you put the garlic, spinach and mushrooms on the side. Don’t let them mix yet, giving them a chance to get good and roasted before bringing them all together.
  5. Press the cheese down to ensure it’s frying, then scrape away the excess oil to prevent it from being absorbed by the bread which will make it soggy.
  6. Put one piece of bread on top, and use a spatula underneath to get everything off the grill, then complete the creation by resting it down on the other piece of parm grilled bread. Sprinkle a pinch chive on top, let it cool for about 3 minutes, and you’re ready to experience Pure Cheese!

Winning Recipe From The 5th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

 

For those unfamiliar with 5th Annual Toad&C0 Grilled Cheese Smackdown, it’s the biggest cooking competition west of Paris and it happens at Toad HQ. With competitors prepping and practicing grilled cheese creations for weeks before the competition, it’s the finest iteration of bread and cheese in the known universe. With so many delicious sandwiches premiering at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown, we couldn’t keep all of the cheesy goodness to ourselves.

This year’s top honors went to Visit Santa Barbara‘s Fromage de la Riviera. Fun fact about the name, ToadHQ is located in the Riviera neighborhood of Santa Barbara. Way to know your audience, Natalie and Danielle! Aside from an aesthetic masterpiece, Danielle and Natalie’s sandwich packed a serious punch of flavor. Who knew a mix of caramelized onions and mushrooms could be so tasty? Top it off with gruyere and swiss cheeses and you’ve got a winner on your hands. Permission to share winning recipes is rarely given (ok, not really), so take advantage and make yourself a Golden-Spatula worthy grilled cheese!

Fromage de la Riviera by Visit Santa Barbara

Ingredients for 2 sandwiches: 
2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin (about ¼”)
½ cup of butter, softened and room temp
1/2 up of white wine
1 small package of mushrooms, sliced 
2.5 oz. gruyere cheese, shredded
2.5 oz. swiss cheese, shredded
4 slices of local sourdough bread
Salt and pepper
Parsley
Rosemary for garnish, chopped 
2 garlic cloves, chopped

Instructions:

For onions:

  1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter and toss in sliced onions. Stir onions until soft, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Spread onions in an even layer, cover pot and reduce heat to low. Stir every 5 or so minutes. Continue until onions are nicely caramelized, about 25 minutes. 
  3. Increase heat to medium-high, add about 3 tablespoons of wine to deglaze the pan, and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom. Once all the liquid has absorbed, about 1-2 minutes, turn off heat and let onions sit. 

For mushrooms:

  1.  In separate saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter over medium/low heat. Add 2 garlic cloves (chopped) to pan and sauté for about 1 minute (Don’t let garlic brown!)
  2.  Add sliced mushrooms to pan and stir to coat with butter/garlic.
  3. Add about a 1/3 cup of white wine (a splash) and bring mushrooms to boil then reduce heat to simmer and cover. When wine has almost absorbed, remove lid and add chopped parsley for color and flavor. 
  4. Season with a few pinches of salt and pepper then set aside.

Turn it into a grilled cheese: 

Preheat skillet to medium heat. Butter both sides of bread, lay buttered side down on skillet and cover with a layer of swiss cheese, top with a handful of caramelized onions and mushrooms, then a layer of gruyere cheese, and top it all off with another slice of buttered bread. Cook until cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown (about 3 to 4 minutes per side). Add pinch of chopped rosemary to each side and bon appetite! 

For more winning recipes, check out The Overall Hottest Award (spoiler alert: Firemen and chilis are involved) and the People’s Choice Award (which we’re fairly certain won because it had grilled cheese on the OUTSIDE of the sandwich. Ya. Think about it). For more on the event, check out our video recap!

The En Fuego Grilled Cheese

 

For those unfamiliar with 5th Annual Toad&C0 Grilled Cheese Smackdown, it’s the biggest cooking competition west of Paris and it happens at Toad HQ. With competitors prepping and practicing grilled cheese creations for weeks before the competition, it’s the finest iteration of bread and cheese in the known universe. This year the Santa Barbara Fire Department let the fire burn with their sandwich, aptly named En Fuego! A combination of spicy peppers, two types of cheese, and tequila-buttered sourdough (yes, tequila butter), the only thing hotter than the sandwich was the firefighters themselves! Spice things up but proceed with caution – this delicious combination of bread, cheese, and peppers is highly flammable!

The En Fuego by Santa Barbara Fire Department

Ingredients:
Tequila-lime-cilantro butter
Sourdough bread (fresh made is best)
Homemade guacamole
Fire roasted pasilla chiles, red peppers and green jalapeño peppers
Queso fresco
Mexican cheese blend
Jalapeño mustard

Instructions:

  1. Combine 1 shot of tequila, 1 stick of melted butter, and finely diced cilantro. Whisk together and let sit until butter firms up.
  2. Liberally apply butter to two pieces of sourdough bread.
  3. On the non-buttered side of bread, evenly apply a moderate amount of jalapeno mustard
  4. On top of the jalapeno mustard, liberally apply homemade guacamole.  
  5. Press fire roasted pasilla peppers and jalapenos into the guacamole.
  6. Add queso fresco and mexican cheese blend to the top of the guacamole.
  7. Gently sandwich two pieces of bread together.
  8. Grill until cheese is melted and bread is crispy. Ole! 

 

That’s Just Peachy

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you a special announcement: It’s National Peach Month. Which means that we have just a few days left to give do credence to one of our favorite summer snacks. And what better way than grilling ’em up and slathering with sweet-yet-salty honey ricotta? Yep, we told you it was a special announcement.

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Recipes and Photos from Recipe Runner

Grilled Peaches with Cinnamon Honey Ricotta

4 peaches, halved and the pit removed
3/4 cup ricotta
2 tsp honey (and a bit more for drizzling on top)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (and a dash for sprinkling on top)
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta, honey, cinnamon and vanilla until it’s perfectly smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
2. Preheat your grill to medium high heat.
3. Brush oil or melted butter onto the cut side of the peaches, then place them cut side down onto the grill.
4. Grill peaches for about 3 minutes or until they are warm and have those fun grill marks.
5. Spoon a big dollop of the cinnamon honey ricotta mixture into the peach pit holes, and finish with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Bon appetite!