No one’s dressing up and going out to any New Year’s Eve parties this year (or at least, you shouldn’t be!). But, hey, you can live it up at home! To aid you in that endeavor and usher in some much-needed luck for 2021, we asked the Pantry Kitchen Challenge champions-round contenders to make some festive New Year’s Eve appetizers.

The ingredients list? This very lucky foursome of collards, black-eyed peas, Champagne and — the zinger — Pop Rocks!

We had a baker’s dozen of entries from those who’d placed top three in any of the five rounds of this season’s challenges. Judging was based on presentation, creativity and the incorporation of all four ingredients. I once again enlisted the help of wifey Lauren and our baking-lover friend Amanda as sous chefs, and we re-created the top four recipes to pick a winner based on one additional criterion: taste.

The result: The winner of the champions round and the recipient of a $50 gift card to a grocery store of her choice is Kathy Hunt! Hunt’s lucky “Fortune Cookietizers” edged out the Bon Ton Roulet appetizer from second-place finishers, Steve Venard and Cathy Martin, by a quarter of a point!

Read on for the full results. To download all recipes from this round, click here or go to: st.news/pkcchamps2! Thanks for playing, everyone! Pro tip as gleaned from one competitor: If you have leftover Champagne and Pop Rocks, pour Pop Rocks into your mouth and chase with a shot of Champagne for an explosion that will blow your mind. It’s … entertaining!

Season 2 of the Pantry Kitchen Challenge

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The Champion

Kathy Hunt, for Fortune Cookietizers

Kathy Hunt’s lucky Fortune Cookietizers combined collards, black-eyed peas, Pop Rocks and Champagne in a delicious combo that we would order at a restaurant. Her appetizer looked easy to eat at a New Year’s Eve party, and delivered on the “lucky” theme, too. We would make this again! (Courtesy of Kathy Hunt)
Kathy Hunt’s lucky Fortune Cookietizers combined collards, black-eyed peas, Pop Rocks and Champagne in a delicious combo that we would order at a restaurant. Her appetizer looked easy to eat at a New Year’s Eve party, and delivered on the “lucky” theme, too. We would make this again! (Courtesy of Kathy Hunt)

Judges’ notes: Of the four dishes we created, this one stood out in both taste and creativity departments. We particularly loved the ponzu Champagne dipping sauce! We concede that this recipe wasn’t as creative with the Pop Rocks as a couple of others — they got mixed into the lucky red sauce — but, “this was the only dish we made today in which all the elements seemed to come together as one and didn’t leave me feeling like something was out of place,” said sous chef Lauren. Or as sous chef Amanda put it, “The ingredients were harmonious and didn’t fight each other!” A winner all around! Congratulations, Kathy!

Kathy says: “As a waitress, I rarely got New Year’s Eve off.  For this reason, among others, our tradition became to celebrate the Lunar New Year instead. This appetizer is a nod to that tradition.  What is luckier than a fortune cookie? A fortune cookie filled with savory symbolic foods! Starting with the black-eyed peas for LUCK and collard greens for WEALTH, I added pork for PROSPERITY, ginger for GOOD HEALTH, garlic for PROTECTION and bamboo for a little more LUCK. Finish them off with paper fortunes! Two is a Chinese lucky number (double happiness), so I made two sauces to go along with these symbolic power-packed appetizers. Red represents luck, joy and happiness. The citrus in the ponzu represents purification, money and luck.”

Second Place

Steve Venard and Cathy Martin, for Bon Ton Roulet appetizers

Steve Venard and Cathy Martin’s Bon Ton Roulet appetizers were very cute. And their hack to help preserve the explosiveness of the Pop Rocks — soak them in oil — was absolutely genius, and made for some mind-blowing sensations! But the judges’ consensus was that the roulet filling was too sweet. (Courtesy of Steve Venard and Cathy Martin)
Steve Venard and Cathy Martin’s Bon Ton Roulet appetizers were very cute. And their hack to help preserve the explosiveness of the Pop Rocks — soak them in oil — was absolutely genius, and made for some mind-blowing sensations! But the judges’ consensus was that the roulet filling was too sweet. (Courtesy of Steve Venard and Cathy Martin)

Judges’ notes: Steve, Cathy, your pastry was delicious. Yum. Also, you handled the Pop Rocks masterfully: Coating them in oil to maintain explosiveness was a next-level move that blew us away. The combo of watermelon Pop Rocks with Szechaun peppercorns, coriander seeds and olive oil was surprisingly irresistible and created, as I declared excitedly upon first bite, “an explosion in my mouth and a great nuanced bite!” It all came together so well! But, the judges unanimously agreed that the fatal flaw here was the ½ cup of sugar in the filling. What we thought was a no-brainer combo of collards, goat cheese, bacon and Champagne came out overly sweet with that extra sugar. Our advice for those who might re-create this dish at home: reduce the sugar level, and you’ll love it!

Steve and Cathy say: To really celebrate the end of this crazy year, our first priority in this challenge was to try to keep the Pop Rock’s “explosivity” alive. Exposing them to any moisture, even in the air, deflates their fun factor. We found coating them in oil was the key. Since this year has also been rather mind numbing, and certainly not as sweet as Pop Rocks, we decided to mix the Pop Rocks with ground Szechuan peppercorns, known for their slight numbing sensation. … We drained and mashed the cooked black-eyed peas and added them into a pastry dough. It was savory, crunchy, flaky and delicious! No one would guess that the source of the savory was black-eyed peas, even pea haters. In keeping with Southern tradition, and since pork is also auspicious, we added bacon and brown sugar to the collard greens and braised them in Champagne. Puréeing the resulting sweet stuff with a combo of cream cheese and goat cheese, we piped it into the pastries. Then, they were adorned with a circle of exploding magic. Too bad we can’t celebrate the end of this year with ALL the folks we hold near and dear, but we could (and did) make masked deliveries of these appetizers to our neighbors who have been so supportive, sharing grocery runs and holding outdoor happy hours. 

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Third place

Toni Hudson, for collard blinis with black-eyed pea mousse

The judges loved the mousse from Toni Hudson’s collard blinis with black-eyed pea mousse. It made for a very pretty dish. But the blinis were … polarizing. (Courtesy of Toni Hudson)
The judges loved the mousse from Toni Hudson’s collard blinis with black-eyed pea mousse. It made for a very pretty dish. But the blinis were … polarizing. (Courtesy of Toni Hudson)

Judges’ notes: We all loved the smooth, mushroomy, goat-cheesy black-eyed pea mousse. But mousse aside, this dish was the most polarizing of the four we made. Lauren loved the whole ensemble — “It tasted like beets and goat cheese, with fun popping!” — and ate quite a few! However, the other two of us weren’t big fans of the collard blini. Because as it turns out, transforming collard greens into fancy mini-pancakes somehow results in a bit of a wet-grass aftertaste? At least that was my impression. The mousse, however, I will eat by the spoonful!

Toni says: Who knew Pop Rocks could enhance an appetizer so well? We devoured these. This appetizer/canapé is great for a fancy New Year’s Eve party.  I was so excited to find that green apple Pop Rocks really brighten this dish. So fun!
The great thing is that you can pretty much make everything ahead of time and then assemble the day of the party.  This canapé base is a collard blini, layered with a light and airy chevre black-eyed pea mousse and topped with a brunoise of roasted beet, lemon zest and green apple Pop Rocks.  Each element in this appetizer contains Champagne. Champagne gives the blinis a nice “yeasty” taste, adds a tang to the mousse and flavors the beets as a Champagne dressing.  AND … just in case you haven’t had enough Champagne … use zest of citrus around the rim of a Champagne glass and dip in cherry Pop Rocks then pour in Champagne.  

Fourth Place

Laurie Kenneth, for shrimp and black-eyed peas sushi with collard greens “nori” and watermelon Pop Rock tobiko

Laurie Kenneth’s power move — making nori out of collard greens — certainly caught our eye. But while there were some tasty elements to this dish, beware the boozy rice! (Courtesy of Laurie Kenneth)
Laurie Kenneth’s power move — making nori out of collard greens — certainly caught our eye. But while there were some tasty elements to this dish, beware the boozy rice! (Courtesy of Laurie Kenneth)

Judges’ notes: We thought this so clever! The power moves of making nori with collard greens and using Pop Rocks to look like tobiko certainly caught our attention. We adored the fried black-eyed peas. They added crunch and would be perfect as a bar snack. Also, mad points for the black-eyed pea, wasabi Champagne dipping sauce. We ate lots of that. But there were a couple of fatal flaws. First, we couldn’t get the collard “nori” to crisp even after leaving it in the oven 25 minutes longer than listed in the recipe. Trying to “roll” sushi with it was challenging because it was soft and came apart easily. It also came with a slight earthy flavor. However, the bigger issue was that cup of Champagne used to cook the “Champagne sushi rice.” Again, genius idea. However, we couldn’t get over the overpoweringly Champagney taste of the rice. A little less Champagne would have worked much better!

Laurie says: I originally tried to dry the collard greens to make a nori but it fell apart when I originally tried to roll it.  My solution for collard-green nori involved making a slurry of the cooked collard greens, egg white and Champagne.  I spread it on a baking sheet and sprayed the slurry with a mixture of tamari and fish sauce to give it that seaweed umami.  This was baked at a low temperature to dry it out.  I love spicy, crunchy shrimp rolls but am gluten free and can’t eat the fried tempura.  When making sushi at home, I often crush up potato chips to get the crunchy effect.  For this version, I fried and then salted black-eyed peas to incorporate in the sushi. … I also used the black-eyed peas and Champagne to make a component of the dipping sauce.  I added the watermelon Pop Rocks on top the sushi as tobiko. 

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All the rest

New Year’s Eve rainbow fresh rolls

Lisa Sieberson used watermelon and blue raspberry Pop Rocks to add some color and pizazz to these rainbow fresh rolls with Champagne dipping sauce.  (Courtesy of Lisa Sieberson)
Lisa Sieberson used watermelon and blue raspberry Pop Rocks to add some color and pizazz to these rainbow fresh rolls with Champagne dipping sauce. (Courtesy of Lisa Sieberson)

I found this challenge to be the hardest so far.  I don’t make a lot of appetizers in general, and certainly don’t cook with Pop Rocks.  However, I think it also required a lot of creativity and ended up being pretty fun.  I didn’t think I would like having the Pop Rocks in this, but they were actually better with the Pop Rocks. 

Eric and Lisa Sieberson

Lucky Charms

The mother-daughter team of Joan and Keri Segna created this charming Southern-influenced appetizer of black-eyed peas on medallions of polenta.  (Courtesy of Joan and Keri Segna)
The mother-daughter team of Joan and Keri Segna created this charming Southern-influenced appetizer of black-eyed peas on medallions of polenta. (Courtesy of Joan and Keri Segna)

Southern tradition says that eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day brings you luck.  Eating one black-eyed pea for each day of the coming year brings you a year of luck.  You may not eat 365 peas in our appetizer but it is a good start.  We had fun calling on our inner Southern charm.  Grits, black-eyed peas and collard greens spoke to us as do warm lazy days, cicadas and trees laden with Spanish moss. … So, here’s to a great, charmed 2021!

Joan and Keri Segna

Black-eyed pea mousse

Paul Shapiro created a mousse from chicken liver and black-eyed peas, and his Pop Rocks and collards went into the gelée, with an accompanying Champagne sorbet. (Courtesy of Paul Shapiro)
Paul Shapiro created a mousse from chicken liver and black-eyed peas, and his Pop Rocks and collards went into the gelée, with an accompanying Champagne sorbet. (Courtesy of Paul Shapiro)

This was an emotional challenge. Back in 1987, a small group of friends decided to do something special for Christmas. … after the first two years, we moved the dinner from Christmas to New Year’s Eve. It began with five people and morphed into a wonderful five-hour dinner spanning a variety of cuisines for a dozen close friends, many of whom have come for nearly 30 years. But not this year. I looked through the menus of past years to find an appetizer that would be both delicious and could accommodate the unique (Ha … I use the term loosely) ingredients for the Pantry Challenge. The basis for the entry was a dish we prepared in 2003. A chicken liver mousse with a parsley gelée, rich and creamy with a hint of citrus. For this challenge, I added black-eyed peas to the mousse, Pop Rocks and collard greens to the gelée, and added Champagne sorbet with Pop Rocks to top it off.

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— Paul Shapiro

Vegan Middle Eastern good-luck appetizer platter

Tapasya Khatri channeled Middle Eastern flavors to create a vegan appetizer platter with rose and lemon sherbet. Pictured: fresh beetroot pita bread, with black-eyed peas, hummus and falafel, with a salad and the rose-lemon sherbet. (Courtesy of Tapasya Khatri)
Tapasya Khatri channeled Middle Eastern flavors to create a vegan appetizer platter with rose and lemon sherbet. Pictured: fresh beetroot pita bread, with black-eyed peas, hummus and falafel, with a salad and the rose-lemon sherbet. (Courtesy of Tapasya Khatri)

To align with the theme of New Year good-luck ingredients, I have created this recipe, adding ingredients like rose, that symbolizes love and beauty, sprouts that symbolize growth and prosperity, olives that are considered a source of peace, and diverse elements and flavors arranged in a platter to signify harmony. … In the coming year, may love and sweetness be at the core of all our actions. May we all support and uplift each other. May we all live a greener and healthier life and may we all grow to be better human beings. May the new year bring prosperity and good luck to all.

— Tapasya Khatri

Black-eyed pea faux gras pâté 4 ways

Laura Jones chose to spread the Pop Rocks love. The result, black-eyed pea faux gras pate 4 ways, a collard greens salad and pomegranate Kir Royale jelly flutes.  (Courtesy of Laura Jones)
Laura Jones chose to spread the Pop Rocks love. The result, black-eyed pea faux gras pate 4 ways, a collard greens salad and pomegranate Kir Royale jelly flutes. (Courtesy of Laura Jones)

My favorite New Year’s celebration meal is an assortment of appetizers followed by dessert, and, ideally, both courses should combine savory and sweet flavors. One of the more amazing bites I have ever tasted was a foie gras terrine topped with cocoa. Adding some whimsy, Pop Rocks and black-eyed peas to that memory, I arrived at black-eyed pea faux gras truffle pops as the center of my appetizer idea! The faux gras is both a more ethical and healthier alternative that also has an amazingly similar depth of flavor and texture.

— Laura Jones

Sweet-and-sour holiday veggie balls

After much searching for Pop Rocks, Kevin Rochlin incorporated them into these sweet-and-sour holiday veggie balls. Made with reduced sparkling cider! (Courtesy of Kevin Rochlin)
After much searching for Pop Rocks, Kevin Rochlin incorporated them into these sweet-and-sour holiday veggie balls. Made with reduced sparkling cider! (Courtesy of Kevin Rochlin)

After a few experiments, I realized that the Pop Rocks needed to stay dry and so decided that adding them to a cilantro garnish would be an excellent delivery system. With those components used, I asked whether people wanted BBQ or sweet-and-sour sauce, and sweet-and-sour won. It was made with reduced sparkling cider. I added a mocktail with a Pop Rock-dipped rim. The resulting vegetable balls were really tasty, and can be tweaked in a variety of ways. I was shocked when my finicky adult daughter pronounced them delicious and asked for them again. 

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Kevin Rochlin

Confetti cornbread sliders

After several false starts, Wendy Kan channeled Southern foods to make these confetti cornbread sliders. Pair with bubbly and toast to a better 2021!  (Courtesy of Wendy Kan)
After several false starts, Wendy Kan channeled Southern foods to make these confetti cornbread sliders. Pair with bubbly and toast to a better 2021! (Courtesy of Wendy Kan)

The Pantry Kitchen Challenge has been an inspiring addition to what I already try to do with ingredients, especially leftovers. OMG, a challenge it was! Here is my New Year’s appetizer to remind everyone of the South: Confetti cornbread sliders topped with ham hock salad with crunchy black-eyed peas and collard crisps. And, it’s not New Year’s Eve without a glass of bubbly to go with the appetizer. Cheers to a much better 2021!

Wendy Kan

Pop Rock tempura-battered black-eyed pea and collard green falafel

Jeff Abrams made tempura for the first time with his basket of ingredients, using falafel as the main concept for the black-eyed peas and building from there.  (Courtesy of Jeff Abrams)
Jeff Abrams made tempura for the first time with his basket of ingredients, using falafel as the main concept for the black-eyed peas and building from there. (Courtesy of Jeff Abrams)

I’d never tried making tempura before, but when I saw “Champagne” as one of the final ingredients for an appetizer, my head immediately went in that direction. Falafels also quickly came to mind, using black-eyed peas instead of garbanzo beans and collard greens rather than the parsley. It’s the Pop Rocks that threw me for a loop (as if your diabolical mind hadn’t foreseen that). I decided to embrace the true spirit of Pop Rocks and placed them front and center on top of my falafels. I gotta say, having a fried treat explode, flavorfully and physically, in your mouth was quite the experience. However, I don’t think I’ll be making Pop Rocks a staple in my cooking regimen. 

— Jeff Abrams

Lucky New Year’s savory tarts

Tom Finnegan enlisted his daughter’s help, and after deeming their first concept (stuffed collard greens) too simple, they used leftover pie crust to pair with the basket ingredients and some home-made smoked salmon to make savory mini tarts.  (Courtesy of Tom Finnegan)
Tom Finnegan enlisted his daughter’s help, and after deeming their first concept (stuffed collard greens) too simple, they used leftover pie crust to pair with the basket ingredients and some home-made smoked salmon to make savory mini tarts. (Courtesy of Tom Finnegan)

My daughter had done some baking the previous week and had some leftover pie crust dough. So, going with the idea of using what we have, we made savory mini tarts. To increase the luck, we added a couple other ingredients that are supposedly lucky — lentils, because they look like little coins, and fish, because they are apparently abundant. I’m not so sure that is the case these days, but we had some home-smoked salmon that needed to be consumed, so we went with it. They turned out very tasty, although there was some mixed reaction to the Pop Rocks candy.

Tom Finnegan