Spouse vs. spouse: A holly jolly appetizer competition
December 14th, 2011
09:30 AM ET
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Welcome to round five of Spouse vs. Spouse, a series in which a couple of married food freaks, CNN’s Brandon and Kristy Griggs, square off in their Atlanta kitchen for culinary bragging rights – and invite you to weigh in too.

In each installment, Kristy and Brandon will each cook a creative variation on the same ingredient or dish – everything from pasta to seafood to cocktails to desserts. We’ll serve both versions anonymously to our friends, who will then judge which one they like better and why. We’ll walk you through our kitchen process, bring the husband-and-wife smack talk and, of course, keep score. We’ll also share our recipes here so that you can try them for yourself.

Our theme: Holiday appetizers

brandon griggsBrandon: It’s holiday party season, for better or worse, and if you see one more recipe for a cheese ball or baked brie appetizer, you might spit up your eggnog on your ugly Christmas sweater - and no one wants that. So we’re here to help. Kristy and I are facing off in the kitchen over holiday party food, and we’ve both tried to create something you haven’t seen often. Or maybe ever.

I aimed for a variation on the potato cake and caviar canapé you sometimes see at fancy shindigs. No, not that outrageously expensive little black caviar - we’re in hard economic times here - but the large red salmon eggs that look like holly berries and cost about $15 for a little jar. Not cheap, but doable for a special occasion.

What set my canapé (wow, that’s a stuffy-sounding word) apart, though, was an odd ingredient: roasted kale. The idea was inspired by a recent chat I had with one of the best cooks I know: my brother Barklie, who said he likes to roast pieces of kale with olive oil, salt and lemon until the greens turn into crispy, healthy little snacks. Sounds kind of weird, right? But I made them myself, and they’re surprisingly tasty.

So after several disastrous rehearsals I finally taught myself to make decent little potato pancakes (adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe, but with garlic). Then I topped each one with pieces of the kale, a dollop of crème fraiche and a tiny spoonful of the caviar. The result was a pleasing study in contrasts: warm and cool, soft and crunchy, white and green and red. Christmas colors! Kristy took one look and made a face like someone just handed her a lump of coal.

KristyKristy: Oy! This holiday appetizer competition made wrapping presents for 24 hours straight seem attractive. I had a very hard time deciding what to serve. Part of the issue was that I knew our judges - two discerning couples, including our friend Lindsay, who is an awesome cook - were going to be tough. Also, I wanted to pair it with the cocktail I was serving (part 2 of our holiday smackdown, coming soon!) which was an organic, farm-to-table drink.

So in the course of 10 days I did trial runs of goat cheese tarts, a farm egg, a tomato-and-avocado terrine, chicken tikka masala lettuce wraps, and finally, pickled cherry tomatoes with a layered, steamed salmon cake (it looked more like a tiny dessert cake rather than the fried kind). Finally I thought I had a potential winner, and I went into the day of the event feeling confident.

But at the last minute Brandon miraculously pulled his potato cake together. And on the other hand, the salmon I bought wasn’t working with me. After steaming it and cutting it into rounds, I realized its consistency wasn’t going to survive my layering idea. So I decided to cover each cake with a caper-and-garlic-based frosting. The result was tasty, but I knew that Brandon’s looked better. (I was competing with food that looked like holly berries.)

When Brandon trotted out his concoction, with the little red salmon eggs glowing on their beds of green kale, I had to excuse myself to the kitchen as our guests fawned. I knew I was in trouble.

Judging: Seduced by our cocktails and maybe some holiday cheer, our four judges were graceful and complimentary. They called Kristy’s salmon cakes “light and unique,” and said Brandon’s potato-caviar canapés “looked amazing.” Both plates of apps were pretty much gobbled. But when we tallied up the point totals, there was a clear favorite.

Winner: Brandon’s potato-and-caviar canapés

Overall score to date: We’re all tied up! Kristy 2, Brandon 2, with 1 tie

Parting thoughts:

KristyKristy: Many of the judges said Brandon’s app was more inventive. I hate to point out that it was based on a recipe, while my salmon cakes were 100 percent all mine.

brandon griggsBrandon: Yeah, but that recipe didn’t have crispy kale in it. Genius!

KristyKristy: Really? You're going to go there? Caviar is cheating. And that kale was your brother's idea.

brandon griggsBrandon: But he never suggested adding it to a recipe – that was all me. You’re just mad because your 2-0 lead evaporated faster than the turkey in “Christmas Vacation.”

On to the recipes!

Brandon’s Potato-and-Caviar Canapés
Makes 2-3 dozen

potato canape

2 cups uncooked Yukon Gold potatoes, grated or finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 bunch of fresh kale
1/4 cup olive oil
8 ounces of crème fraiche
50 grams (1.75 ounces) of salmon caviar
1 ounce truffle oil

Peel potatoes (about six) and grate or chop them, fairly finely. (I got lazy and used a food processor to chop them, which worked surprisingly well, although don’t purée so long that the batter gets runny.) Mix in large bowl with onion, garlic, flour, eggs and salt.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse kale and tear into about 30 bite-size pieces. Coat lightly with olive oil (I did this by putting the kale pieces in a large plastic bag with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil and shaking the bag until the greens were coated.) Spread on a baking pan, sprinkle with salt and roast until crispy, about 8-10 minutes.

Heat oil in large pan on medium-high. Add potato cake batter in small round dollops about two inches wide. Cook about 3-5 minutes on each side, flattening cake to about 1/4-inch thickness with spatula, until golden brown and crispy on the edges. Dry on paper towels. Brush lightly with truffle oil.

Top cakes with kale, then a dollop of crème fraiche and finally a small amount (about 1/4 teaspoon) of the caviar. Serve immediately.

Kristy’s Salmon Cakes with Pickled Tomatoes
Makes 15 cakes and 30-40 cherry tomatoes

salmon cakes

Pickled tomatoes (from Epicurious)
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup water
4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 strip of lemon peel (removed with a vegetable peeler)
12 ounce cherry or grape tomatoes
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dill (don’t skip the dill, the flavor is key)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Remove from heat. Cool 20 minutes.

Pierce tomatoes with a wooden skewer. Toss tomatoes, dill, garlic and crushed red pepper in a large bowl. Add vinegar. Let stand at room temperature for at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours. (I let them pickle overnight - 8 hours at room temperature and the rest of the time in the fridge.)

Salmon cakes
You will need a small - no larger than 2 inches wide – rounded biscuit or pastry cutter

2-3 thick salmon fillets (cut in half lengthwise)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 jar of capers
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons crème fraiche
Fresh green herbs - mint, chives or basil
Greek-style caviar spread (I used Taramosalata, a Greek-style spread made from the delicate roe of carp. It’s usually $4.99 for a jar)

Fill bottom of a medium-sized frying pan with 1 to 1-1/2 inches of water. Drizzle in olive oil and bring water to a boil. Place salmon in pan and cover with a lid for 7-10 minutes until fillets are done.

Remove fillets from pan to a plate and let cool.

Combine capers, garlic cloves and olive oil in a food processor (if you don’t have a processor, finely chop and combine well).

In a small bowl, combine four tablespoons of the Greek caviar spread with two tablespoons of the caper mixture until you’ve got a thick spread. You may need to make more depending on the size of your salmon patties.

Using a 1 1/2-inch wide, round biscuit cutter, cut out patties from salmon and place on a separate platter. Using a butter knife, frost each cake with the caper spread. Refrigerate for an hour. Top with a dollop of crème fraiche and a shred of green herb such as mint or chives.

Serve chilled with side of cherry tomatoes (the flavor of the dill should really come through and combine very well with the salmon cakes).

Next up: Holiday cocktails

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Dover

    Spouse vs Spouse has always been a train wreck of two people that should just stay out of the kitchen. Eatocracy sometimes runs good blog post, maybe 40 or 50% of the time. Here is a great food blog I just ran into: http://www.thefoodinmybeard.com/

    December 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
  2. Shawn l

    I think it would be far more interesting if you had a battle with the same exact food. Ie, bbq ribs. Hamburgers... pizza, burritos, tacos, whatever, with each of your unique spins on them.

    December 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Brian

    ummm.... neither. Pretentious, pricey, and I imagine not all that good. Not tempted to try either!

    December 16, 2011 at 1:25 am |
  4. Shawn l

    Oh and stop using nasty trufle oil in your recipes. It's not even real food, its disgusting and made by chemists and perfumers.

    December 16, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  5. Shawn l

    Both look gross. Sorry, salmon eggs = fish bait. When I was a kid, we would get a jar of em for a couple bucks, and use em to catch trout in the river. Couldn't even imagine eating them. Gross. Try not going the fish route. If you want to win, make something actually tasty and that looks appetizing.

    December 16, 2011 at 12:16 am |
  6. Duh

    Divorce the witch!

    December 15, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  7. Jerv

    The picked tomatoes sounds great but that photo of the salmon cakes don't look so hot.

    December 15, 2011 at 8:23 am |
    • IHEG

      I agree, too messy

      December 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  8. cosmicsnoop

    I'll stick to the baked brie, thanks.

    December 15, 2011 at 8:18 am |
  9. ray vince

    Who wants to put that much work or money into an appetizer? I had to let my wait-staff go, when they reduced my hours at WalMart.

    December 15, 2011 at 1:52 am |


    December 14, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Don't be a D0uche

      Yes, yes, yes you are, are, are.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  11. Martini

    @Teamom Please Please Please brew yourself a pot of chamomile tea and drink the whole thing cuz you need to chill out lady! This is all in fun, or is someone in your kitchen holding a gun to your head forcing you to re-create both of these recipies and eat all of both at once?
    @the contenders I really want to challenge the two of you to a couple's cook off me and my fiance and against the married couple dunh dunh dunh...

    December 14, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  12. ouch

    Brandon won because he cheated using caviar. Anyone can win when they slap something fancy infront of someone. Kristy would have had a better chance if she put a lobster claw on there.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • yikes

      Respectfully, I disagree. If Kristy had put caviar on her salmon cake, it would still look like a mayo covered tofu medallion – with caviar on top. It wouldn't look any more appetizing or be a simpler recipe because of that one ingredient.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
  13. Liz Wilson

    I had some difficulty following Kristie's recipe directions. The instructions indicate to cut out round from the salmon, place the patties on a separate plate and then to ice the "cakes" – which I think is actually the patties.

    I agree with the previous comments about the impact of visual image when deciding upon the better recipe.

    Brandon's recipe sounds really good and really fattening compared to Kristie's. Baked kale was the winner for me. I am going to try that tonight.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. Chuck

    Imagine the photographer tasked with photographing that salmon cake mess.

    Maybe if we put the cake off-center and focus on the fork... yeah, that's the best that can be done.

    December 14, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • Judgmental Nature

      LMAO! Or the photographer had it all centered up when someone came along, bumped it and said, "don'tshootthat!"

      December 14, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  15. Chuck

    Appearance is very important for appetizers. The salmon cakes just look horrible. And they certainly don't look like something I want to pick up and try to eat with my fingers.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Honeydip74

      That's exactly what I said. I mean I heard Salmon Cake and thought yum but that just looked gross. Plus around the holidays I like full flavor but simple recipes and she had too many steps and again an unappealing outcome.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  16. Kitty

    Personally both look like they combined a few iffy ingredients, but hey as Andrew Zimmerman says "try it first before you judge it".
    I personally voted Brandon due to presentation, it was more organized and looked better than Kristy's.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Judgmental Nature

      Boorah! That's what I'm talkin' about.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  17. Reds

    I LOVE baked kale. I eat it all the time. :)

    December 14, 2011 at 11:54 am |
  18. Patrick

    Oh, and by the way, teabagmom.....I'll cook circles around you.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • teamom

      Probably not.
      p.s. No teabags. Those are for amateurs.

      December 14, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
      • MBob

        Yes, but teabagging is for pros.

        December 14, 2011 at 6:47 pm |
  19. Multi-Tasking @ Work

    love this Blog...WTG Brandon...really nice try Kristy

    December 14, 2011 at 11:36 am |
  20. Judgmental Nature

    If the pictures are any indication of the quality of flavors, Brandon's got it hands down.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • Tammy

      hhhmmm funny, I think I'd rather puke in my mouth and have to swallow it if the pictures are any indication of the quality of flavors.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  21. teamom

    This is by far the worst recipes that Eatocracy has posted. Neither of them are good – just examples of americans cooking with things that they do not understand, and trying to be "hip". The first (Brandon's) is just normal latkes gussied up with truffle oil, kale, and "caviar". Either, or. Do not combine. Umami overkill. Kale, the vegetable of the year? Spare me. The only saving grace was that there was no bacon.
    At least the photo was nice. Not the case with Kristys. Intensely unattractive. Why would one take a quality piece of salmon and cut it into rounds, then try to "frost" it like a cake? Presentation gone wrong. If the recipe didn't work, fix it before you post.
    Then comes the actual writing of the recipe(s). No appropriate quantities. "One head of kale" for Brandon? How many weeks will I need to eat so much kale? 1 oz of truffle oil? Either he is using sucky (or fake) truffle oil or has a cold. White or black truffle oil?
    Kristy – This recipe is the pits. What is the weight of the salmon fillets? What does the "jar" of capers weigh (I buy large jars, usually 32 oz)? I do not think that I would put a whole jar into this recipe.
    This is fall/winter. Why tomatoes?
    Why basil? "A shred of mint or chives"?
    Sorry everyone. These are sorry recipes.

    December 14, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • No MSG


      December 14, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Multi-Tasking @ Work

      wow, pretty critical. this is light hearted fun...chill out

      December 14, 2011 at 11:44 am |
    • Patrick

      Hey teabagmom,
      I agree that these recipes leave a lot to be desired, however, you could tone down your vile criticism a bit. I don't think these people are professional chefs, are they? It's the holiday season. We'll come across plenty of food that is great, as well as things that are not so appetizing. The bottom line is you eat what you like and say no thank you to what you don't, and you don't make disparaging comments about how things taste or people's different approaches to preparation and presentation. Christmas brings out the amateur chefs in droves. You have to give people credit for trying different things.

      December 14, 2011 at 11:49 am |
      • Tammy

        "Welcome to round five of Spouse vs. Spouse, a series in which a couple of married food freaks, CNN’s Brandon and Kristy Griggs, square off in their Atlanta kitchen for culinary bragging rights" indicates to me that a the very least they have culinary training and they hob nob with some of the best culinary ppl, at the very best one or both have gone to culinary school and make a living cooking for high class ppl.

        December 14, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
      • Ally

        Interesting take, Tammy. "food freak" indicates to me someone who loves to try new and different foods and likely likes to experiment in the kitchen. I consider myself a food freak and have zero culinary training....past that sememester of home-ec I was forced to take in middle school.

        December 14, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Erik

      Seriously? You sound like you are a LOT of fun to be around. Are you this critical of your children? Relax a little bit and enjoy yourself, life is too short.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • Little Timmy

      Geez lady. Who p33d in your corn flakes?

      December 14, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Ned Flanders

      And to think I thought you were a Christian!

      December 14, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
      • Homer Simpson


        December 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Chuck

      Truffle and caviar are classic combination. I wonder about the use of a whole ounce of truffle oil. Truffle oil is a powerful flavor. I would go really easy on it at first; you can always add more.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Wastrel

      Hahaha. You hit the nail on the head with that, teamom! The food is not so good. People may tell you to lighten up, but I say speak your mind since you obviously have one of your own!

      December 14, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
      • MBob

        I don't think she needs to lighten up, I think she needs to get laid. At least 4 or 5 times in a row.

        December 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Hannah01

      I agree. This was a waste of space. Her recipe makes me want to gag. What a waste of salmon too.

      December 15, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
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