Welcome to round eleven 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 each make a creative variation on the same ingredient or dish -- everything from pasta to seafood to cocktails to desserts. We serve both versions anonymously to our friends, who then judge which one they like better and why. We walk you through our kitchen process, bring the husband-and-wife smack talk and, of course, keep score. We also share our recipes here so that you can try them for yourself.
Our theme: Father's Day brunch
Brandon: Father's Day is coming up Sunday, and while it's a bittersweet holiday for Kristy and me - both our dads are gone - we thought it would be cool to honor our fathers' memories in some small, indirect way while celebrating all the other great dads out there. So I present to you ... the battle of the brunches! (Is brunch for dad a thing? Sort of? If not, it should be.) I'm no chef, but I know my way around an egg. My thinking was this: If I could take Kristy down in this cook-off while inspiring anyone out there to make something special for the paterfamilias in their life, it'd be a win for everybody. Except Kristy. Perfect.
My dad was a creative and intuitive cook - I remember him once on a whim adding barbecue sauce to fish stew - which made it even more disappointing when my first brunch effort was an inelegant mess. It was an egg-potato-sausage casserole, and it congealed into one big cheesy blob. (It was kind of tasty, though.)
So I started over, this time with polenta. Yeah, I know polenta isn't really a brunch dish. But if you think about it, polenta is basically cornmeal, and cornmeal is basically grits, and grits are on every brunch menu in the South. So I made a little moist polenta cake, following an Alton Brown recipe, and topped it with grilled sausage, roasted vegetables and Parmesan cheese. And a farm egg. (OK, it wasn't really a farm egg - I bought it at Kroger - but it was organic and from a cage-free, blissfully pampered chicken. Supposedly.) I cooked it sunny-side up.
And you know what? It was really good. My dad would have been proud, especially as he poured barbecue sauce on it.
Kristy: I appreciate the Father's Day angle, but I have to start by saying that we initially intended for this round of Spouse vs. Spouse to celebrate the French Open tennis tournament, not fathers. The two events are close together, but I lost my father at a very young age so I tend to think more about handsome men who hit tennis balls over a net during this time of year. (Don't cry for me, Argentina - I was too young to remember him.) I mention this because I chose to make chocolate French toast croissants for our judges, most of whom are members of my tennis team. But I hope lots of fathers out there would appreciate what I cooked up.
Keeping the French Open in mind, the recipe I concocted had a lot going for it. First of all, what's more French than a croissant fashioned into French toast? I started with a recipe I found on Epicurious that's egg mixture featured orange zest and orange juice. Then I upgraded it with melted chocolate. Finally, I added berries to combat the richness, sprinkled powered sugar over the top and poured some maple syrup on the side for dipping.
It turned out great the first time and truthfully, I didn't think I needed another test run. To keep going with the tennis theme, I'd just hit a backhand winner down the line while my clueless husband was standing in no man's land. And the recipe was simple enough for children to make. I could imagine fathers holding back tears of joy and appreciation as they ate the delicate, rich goodness with their spouse or little ones smiling proudly beside them.
But was it enough to beat my egg-head husband?
Judging: We had 14 brunch guests - 14! - who waited patiently on the terrace of our apartment building as we made individual plates for almost each person. Our judges liked "the subtle orange taste" of Kristy's French toast, although one said they "would save this dish for dessert" instead of brunch. They mostly praised the "savory flavor" of Brandon's dish, although some wanted more vegetables and a runnier egg while others weren't "wowed" by the polenta. When we tallied up the ballots, though, it was a landslide.
Winner: Brandon's polenta with farm egg, sausage and roasted vegetables
Overall score to date: 5 to 5, with one tie
Brandon: I'll admit I was a little freaked out at the thought of cooking individual egg dishes for so many guests. I just didn't want to poison anyone.
Kristy: Yeah, I'm with you. Common sense was not on board this train. Thankfully they agreed to share!
Brandon: I'm not sharing all my newfound kitchen secrets with you, though. This competition is getting too close for that. So much for your 2-point lead!
Kristy: Your newfound secrets? Ha! I didn't want to go there, but we both know where you got your farm-egg idea ... and the roasted veggies.
Brandon: Hey, good cooks borrow. Great cooks steal.