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Bread, butter, cheese. . . . VICTORY!!!!!

Yes, you read that right: Victory!

But, as all tales start, I will begin more or less at the beginning.

Graham volunteered to DJ for CGI a while back, and I was undecided on what I would do this year. He's a GCI veteran, but aside from helping him last time, I was more or less a virgin. Part of me wanted to make a sammich, but part of me wanted to be sure that there were enough volunteers to put this thing on. Graham made some inquiries, and he found out that making sammiches would be preferred by TPTB.

So I signed up for the Kama Sutra (meatless) division with a sammich called Margharita Samba.

My favorite flavor combination in the whole wide world involves a melty cheese: fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, basil, and heart of palm. I make a salad with these things (and some black olives) at least once a week, and if given the option, I could eat only this for the rest of my life. So I just needed to turn that into a sammich.

My first complication was the tomato. In most grilled cheese sammiches with tomato, the tomato often doesn't get cooked well enough. So I knew I had to pre-cook the tomatoes a bit. My other complication was the basil. Leaves of basil in the sammich itself would get lost, I thought, but if it was blended with the butter... hmmm. I also knew that mozzarella, while awesome melted, often takes awhile to get to the melty point.

I had a crazy busy couple of weeks, and I never really had an opportunity to practice my sammich. It was purely theoretical. But on Thursday, I bought the cheese, hearts of palm and garlic at Kroger. My mom picked me up some campari tomatoes at Costco for me.

Bread was the hardest part. I wanted it to be as fresh as possible for the competition, and I wanted it to work with the rest of the sammich. It didn't need to necessarily have a strong flavor profile, because I thought the rest of the ingredients would handle the flavor, but it did need to work well with the sammich. I went to Kraftsmen bakery on my way to work a few days, but I never saw anything that I thought would work perfectly. Finally, on Friday, Graham and I went to Whole Foods during lunch and found an Italian round bread that would work.

I packed aprons, a cutting board, Graham's good knife, a butter knife for spreading, and a spatula for flipping.

Friday night, we drove to the ranch with Celosa after work. We were delayed by a nuclear missle/rocket booster/turbine that took up both lanes of 290 from Prarie View to Brenham. My parents were there for the weekend with another couple.

But when we arrived, we had plenty of time to get a lot of the prep work done. First, I sliced all of the hearts of palm length-wise into spears, and put them in a tupperware container with their juice. Next, my dad and Graham made sure that the wood burning oven was well heated, while I put the tomatoes in an earthenware casserole dish and drizzled them with olive oil. They ended up in the oven for about 8 minutes, while my dad baked some bread for dinner. Two heads of garlic also went in the oven in their own cazuela. The tomatoes were not quite charred, but definitely cooked, and they had a hint of the wood smoke flavor. Into another tupperware they went.

I julienned a good two cups of basil, and threw that, the roasted garlic and a pound of salted organic butter into the mixer. I chose salted butter, because this sammich would need salt somewhere. There was some in the heart of palm, but no where else. I toyed with the idea of salting the tomatoes, but I preferred to let them stand on their own. The butter was whipped for a good ten minutes, and it tasted sinfully delicious. It, too, ended up in tupperware.

I chose not to pre-slice the mozzarella because I didn't want it to dry out.

Then, prep work done, we went to bed.

Celosa had Graham up at first light. She loves the ranch and didn't want to miss a single second of being there. I don't think Graham was happy with her sleep schedule.

Graham wanted to be on the road at 11:00, and we more or less got things rolling on time. The event was supposed to start at 1:00, but he wanted to get there at noon, so we could help set up and he could get the music figured out. However, there were a few things to do before we left. First, we had to pack everything up in the cooler and dry goods box, and we got more or less everything. Then, we had the bread argument.

My dad made bread for breakfast. He also snuck in another loaf into the oven. He felt we would have better chances if we used his bread, instead of storebought bread. The issue wasn't the bread quality: we agreed that his was superior to most other breads, but the amount was questionable. We needed to make 20 portions (my dad had a little trouble understanding that EVERY sammich we made would be judged), and we weren't sure if his loaf would be enough. But we agreed to take it with us.

We packed mostly everything into the car, kissed Celosa (who literally howled in protest that we were leaving without her), and took off.

I think we got there around 12:20ish. People were still setting up, but they were our people, so we pitched in to help where we could. Graham quickly found the DJ set up, and plugged his laptop in, immediately starting with his RAWK (glam rock from the 70s, and the response to glam rock in the 2000s) set. I got the lay of the land and checked in as a participant (It didn't occur to me to register under any name but 'stina. When I looked at the list, though, everyone else registered under their real names. Fortunately, Connie Lynn knows who I am). And then I hung out with those who were in a hang out mode and caught up.

An overview of GCI from the balcony of the Moose Lodge/DJ booth.

The first wave started at around 2:10, and I almost didn't get to go. There was confusion about which sandwiches were supposed to start. The MC and two officials said that only the missionary category went in the first wave, so a friend and I didn't go on and waited out the missionary wave. Ooops, we were supposed to go then. Graham played his Ska/Irish set around this point, and I think he might of played some electro swing.

Fortunately, there were two free stoves in the second wave. The timing actually worked out great, because a band came in for a set, which gave Graham the opportunity to take off and be my sous chef/runner.

The way the GCI works is that the attendees are the judges. You (member of the public) get two tickets when you walk in the door after paying your $5 donation (I think it's $15 in LA). This entitles you to try two sammiches. Attached to each sammich is a ballot, and you fill it out, ranking a variety of factors. There is a King and Queen of Cheese, and they try every single sammich, but theirs only counts as 1 vote. So you (the chef) have to be consistent, and you (the chef) have to understand that the judging can be wildly inconsistent, because everyone has different tastes. Still, it's a pretty damned good way of getting prizes figured out.

And remember when I said we had more or less packed everything? About five minutes before start, I realized that we forgot to grab the cast iron grill pan that I had planned on using to cook these suckers on from the ranch. Fortunately, the GCI provided a small aluminum pan for such idiots, and though it wasn't exactly the quality that I was expecting to use, I wasn't going to be picky. It could have been worse, I could have forgotten something important like the butter or cheese.

Armed with my provisions, we had five minutes to set up. This was where we had to make the bread decision. After pulling everything out, Graham and I didn't have any other prep to do, except slice the mozzarella, so while I did that. He sliced my dad's bread to see if we had enough for judging. Most people cut sammiches into quarters, but this was a fairly narrow loaf, and we knew that we had to go by halves. We had just exactly the right amount, assuming there were no screwups, so we decided to go with my dad's bread.

The bread

And then it was go time!

Most of the ingredients of the sammich, minus the tomatoes. The beer was essential to lubricate the chef.

Despite the small pan, we got ourselves into a rhythm fairly quickly. Throw butter in pan. Butter one side of bread, throw it on the pan butter side down, put on the mozzarella, cover that with a few spears of heart of palm, crush two tomatoes, and put them on the sammich. Grill. Take two pieces of cheese and throw them in the butter cooking on the side of sammich. Cover with other piece of buttered bread (butter side out). Grill some more. FLIP! Reassemble sammich post flip (if applicable). Cover top of sammich with melted cheese. Grill some more. Pull off pan and onto plate. Slice in two and place on two plates. Garnish plates with whole roasted tomato, heart of palm spears and sprig of basil. Present to judges.

We did this ten times.

As we were going, a crowd began to form around our station. People kept asking us which number we were, because they wanted to try our sammich, and that was the only way to do so. We took that as a good sign.

Most other competetors were making five sammiches, not ten, but we didn't really feel behind at any point in time. I think we finished with three minutes to spare.

Then, we had to wait for the last wave to go. They were the honey pot wave, and there were some creative endeavorers presented in that wave. Graham went back to djing. General mashups, and then some really cheesy stuff. Friends came and went. I bought a commemorative tee shirt. More Lone Star was drunk.

And then I went to sit with Graham in the DJ booth as the awards were announced. I kept telling myself that despite good response from the crowd, this was anyone's game. But I was also feeling good about my sammich concept. Execution was more or less good, though I probably could have been more consistent. Some didn't have the melt in the cheese that I would have preferred, while others were a little fall-apart-y. I would have also have liked to have brought my creme brule torch, so I could have better melted the cheese.

XT got to my category after the King and Queen of Cheese awards were given out and the missionary awards were given out. The trophys were awesome, and I really, really wanted one.

I kept telling myself there were a lot of other competitors in my category, and THEY were smart enough to pre-test their concoctions. I knew a lot of the competitors, and their sammiches looked good. When XTC got to second place in the Kama Sutra, she said that this winner didn't have to walk very far, and she called my name.

Me and my trophy

I won! I won! I won!

I went up to the mic, yelled at the dj for playing over me (he played the Olympic theme while I walked up), and then described my sammich. I forgot to thank my sous chef.

And I never actually tried the sammich. Apparently it was pretty good.



( 6 comments — Say something )
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:07 pm (UTC)
Congrats! It sounds FABULOUS...will have to try it someday when my hubby isn't sharing lunch at home with me (he's a strict vegan with a gluten intolerance, so he could eat the tomato and the basil and that's all!)

Sounds like it was a fun event!
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:23 pm (UTC)
Mazel Tov! Your sammich, by the way, sounds divine. I would eat that daily if I could as well. In the summer I think I live on mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil salad type stuff. (On bread, on pasta, on salad greens or just by themselves.)
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:43 pm (UTC)
SO frigging COOL!
Mar. 28th, 2011 06:49 pm (UTC)
Congratulations!!! And you look so cute! :D
Mar. 28th, 2011 11:12 pm (UTC)
Congratulations!! This sounds like the best sandwich ever.
Apr. 3rd, 2011 05:02 am (UTC)
I got a bite of your sammy from a judge who was sitting near me and sharing! It was tasty!

( 6 comments — Say something )