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

6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown

Every culture has a tradition that transcends time and becomes a shining beacon of pride. The Romans tout their architectural acumen, Hawaiians boast a proud wave riding culture, and Toad&Co is known the world over – nay, across the galaxy – for our unparalleled expertise in making grilled cheeses. But this rich cultural tradition (yes, we’re talking about the cheese) didn’t just pop out of thin air. No, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown was born out of both necessity and celebration. A celebration of the divine union of bread and cheese, and the need to find the one grilled cheese to rule them all. In 2011, the inaugural Grilled Cheese Smackdown was held by a handful of Toads in the office kitchen. It was the stuff legends are made of – fontina, cracked pepper jack, triple-cream brie… a tradition in the making. Well, grilling.

Over the years, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown has become a melting pot of intense competition, family rivalry, and good ol’ fashioned fun. Competitors line up at the ready and have 30 minutes to crank out 10 sandwiches – 2 for the judges, 8 for the crowd. Hungry onlookers watch the masters work and wait patiently for a bite of the good stuff. For the purists, a Make-Your-Own grilled cheese table has all the butter, bread and cheese you could ever want, and we recommend dunking into the world’s best tomato soup from longtime partner Organic Soup kitchen. To wash everything down, Draughtsmen Alework’s Blond Buxom poured freely all evening !

DSC01674The stuff dreams are made of (CARBS).
DSC01711A young chef in the making.
DSC01763Even puppies love the Grilled Cheese Smackdown!

While the competition at this year’s Smackdown was intense, a few sandwiches stood out. A rookie Toad&Co team, Kira and Helena from our Design and Product Departments, came out swinging with the “Santorini Panini”, a beautiful basil and olive sammy that left everyone’s fingers Greecy (see what we did there….). Longtime competitors, UCSB’s Bren School warded off all bad spirits with “The Vampire Slayer” with heaps of garlic and a parmesan crust that slayed the taste buds. Our neighbors at Toad HQ, Team Ontraport’s sando, “The Briegal,”made good use of brie and granny smith apples. DE-LISH.

DSC01692The Santorini Panini, in all its Greecy glory!
DSC01757UCSB’s Bren School knows that presentation is everything at the Smackdown.
DSC01752A little of this, and a little of that. It all came together for Ontraport’s Briegal sando!

But impressing the crowd is not enough. The judges are the ultimate authority on who will take home the coveted Golden Spatula Award. This year’s judges included past champions from Visit Santa Barbara, chefs from Organic Soup Kitchen, and our very own Danny, our West Coast Sales. In the post-eat interview, Danny referred to the event as “the best day of his life!” We can relate. When the dust settled, the judges declared the winner of the Golden Spatula to be UCSB’s Bren School for their scary-tasty Vampire Slayer Sandwich!

1st place at the Grilled Cheese Smackdown is an honor indeed, but the coveted People’s Choice Award is the true vote of the masses. More votes were tallied this year than ever before, and the perennial favorite, Alpha Resource Center once again clinched the people’s choice award.

As an event that has come to define Toad&Co and will (hopefully) take over the world, the Grilled Cheese Smackdown once again proved that a group of friends and a few beloved snacks is really all you need for an afternoon of epic proportions.

DSC01745.jpgBeer + Cheese = Fun!
DSC01772_lastThanks to everyone who came out to the 6th Annual Grilled Cheese Smackdown!

A Noble Game of Kings Cup

Stuck in a cabin or need to break the ice with your sister’s new beau? Kings Cup is the great unifier. It’s the trick up your sleeve that can turn strangers into friends and a quiet night in into a jolly holiday. Great for groups of 4 or more and doesn’t require a lot of movement. All you need is a deck of cards, adult beverages and a bit of humor. Bottom’s up!

How to Play:

To start, fan out a deck of cards face down around an empty vessel (preferably a large one.) Make sure that all players have a beverage of some sort. (Note: Lighter beer is ideal for this game since you’ll drink a fair amount. Cocktails beware.) Whoever’s birthday is next goes first. Player 1 draws a card from the table and everyone must follow the “rule”. Each card has a corresponding rule/activity (see below). When the rule has been carried out, the person to the left picks a card. Continue in this fashion until the final King card is drawn or there are no more cards on the table, the choice is yours. Remember, there are no losers in King’s Cup!

 

Card – Meaning – What to do.

Ace – Waterfall – Everyone starts chugging their drink. A player cannot stop drinking until the player to their right has stopped drinking.

2 – You – The player who draws can choose another player who must drink.

3 – Me – The player who draws must drink.

4 – Floor – Everyone at the table must reach down and touch the floor. The last player to do so must drink.

5 – Guys – All of the male players must drink.

6 – Chicks – All of the female players must drink.

7 – Heaven – Everyone at the table must put their hands in the air. The last player to do so must drink.

8 – Mate – The player who draws picks another player to be their “mate.” The mate must drink every time the original player does. This keeps going until another 8 is drawn.

9 – Rhyme – The player who draws must say phrase (“There’s so much holiday cheer”). Going to the left, players have to make up a rhyming phrase to stay in the noun (“I like to drink beer” or “the weather’s been clear”). The first player who fails to think of a rhyme must drink.

10 – Never Have I Ever – Everyone at the table must put up three fingers. Start a game of never have I ever (You say, “Never have I ever….” and if someone has done that, they put a finger down). The first player to lower all three fingers must drink.

Jack – Make A Rule – The player who draws can make a rule that must be followed for the rest of the game. Any player who breaks the rule must drink. Any player who draws a jack can overturn the rule. (ex: No pointing, must speak in an accent, must refer to all players as “sir and/or madam.”)

Queen – Question Master – The player who draws a Queen can ask questions throughout the game, but whoever answers the question must drink. Continue until another queen is drawn and a new question master is crowned.

King – King’s Cup – The player who draws must pour the remnants of their drink into the King’s Cup. When the last king is drawn, that player has to drink the King’s Cup and the game is over! Huzzah!

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