Mark your calendars and loosen your belts: It’s food fundraiser season

maxresdefaultEarly spring is typically the time local churches and organizations start feeding people for a cause. That season unofficially launches Monday in Wichita.

A whole lot of food-based fundraisers will happen over the next couple of weeks. Some are simple chili feeds. Other are elaborate galas with huge spreads and fancy attire.

Following are a few to put on your calendar:

Dining with Friends, Monday, Feb.24: This event is a benefit for Positive Directions and includes a special dinner at Taste & See, 255 N. Washington. It’s a five-course dinner with two wine pairings per course. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the dinner is $65 a person. Reservations are required by calling James Woods at 263-2214 extension 109.

Palette to Palate, Friday, Feb. 28: This annual fundraiser for KETCH mixes art, food and drink. It includes food from local restaurants, wine tasting and silent and live wine auctions. The event starts at 7 p.m. Friday at Beech Activity Center, 9710 E. Central. Tickets are $75 a person. Tickets are available at ketch.org or by calling 316-383-8889.

Prairie Fire Chuckwagon, March 1: This all-you-can-eat chili and stew feed is put on by Grace United Methodist Church, 944 S. Topeka, and happens from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 1. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under and include dessert and a drink. Additional desserts can be purchased for 50 cents. For more information, call 316-262-6195.

Throw Down in Old Town, March 6: Women in Aviation Air Capital City Chapter are putting on a cookie competition from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, March 6 at Social Manor, 920 E. Douglas. The event will put local cookie chefs against each other, including Bruce Reesman from Twizted Confections and Nancy Bell Ringer, the Dish Diva. Tickets are $15, and chances to vote for a favorite cookie are $1 each. Tickets are available at www.childrenfirstceo.org.

Wichita Airport Lions Club Chili Feed, March 8: This is the 22nd annual chili feed for this club, and it lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 8. It happens at the Sedgwick County Extension Office, 7001 W. 21st St. N. Tickets are $7, and the event  offers all-you-can-eat chili and crackers and unlimited coffee and tea. Soft drinks and desserts are available for purchase. The proceeds will go toward community service activities and projects for the club.

Death by Chocolate, March 8: This eighth annual fundraiser for Exploration Place fills the children’s museums with chocolate creations prepared by local bakers, chocolate makers and restaurants. Visitors also can enjoy wine and chocolate parings, liv emusic. an open bar, and a silent auction. The event is from 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, March 8. Tickets are $80 a person and are available at exploration.org/deathbychocolate.

Death by Chocolate: I didn’t die

Velvet Cream Bakery's Kelly Duggan, right, is on a roll lately. Not only did she win the top prize at Cocktails & Cookies last month, but she also got judges' choice at Death By Chocolate.

Saturday’s sixth annual Death by Chocolate event was, as always, a good time, even though my sugar crash was pretty severe.

Vendors go all-out for the event, which allows attendees to sample gazillions of chocolate creations, all beautifully displayed and adhering to a pirate theme. It’s a tad overwhelming, not only for the eyes but for the digestive system.

I served on a very interesting panel of judges assembled by the very interesting Joe Stumpe that included Tanya Tandoc of Tanya’s Soup Kitchen, Bonnie Aeschliman of Cooking at Bonnie’s Place, and Chuck Giles, the owner of Neighbors Bar & Grill.

We were pretty unanimous on the winners.

Judges’ Choice went to the amazing Kelly Duggan, owner of Velvet Cream Bakery. She also was the winner at Cocktails & Cookies last month, and it’s becoming apparent she knows her sweets. Her Death by Chocolate entry was an array of chewy and perfect macaroons in several flavors, including orange and lime margarita, Limoncello and Mayan chocolate.

Cocoa Dolce, which brought rum shots encased in chocolate, won not only “Most Creative Use of Chocolate,” but they also won the People’s Choice award.

Best Presentation went to Buckingham Cakes, which put out a beautiful display of beer-infused mini-cupcakes. (I tried one flavored like Blue Moon, one of my favorite brews.) And the Best Savory award, given to one of the few vendors offering non-dessert items, went to Two Brothers BBQ, which offered a delicious barbecue sandwich served with chocolate sauce.

Here are a few more pics from the event, courtesy of my date, photog Jaime Green.

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Velvet Cream Bakery’s bite of heaven

Kelly Duggan, owner of Velvet Cream Bakery and the winning dessert maker at Saturday's Cocktails & Cookies event.

Saturday night’s Cocktails & Cookies event at the Drury Plaza Broadview once again sent me into a sugar coma, but I regained consciousness in time to gather all the pertinent information about the Chef of the Hour, Kelly Duggan.

Duggan is the owner of Velvet Cream Bakery, and her cookie truffle was the winning dessert at the event, in which local chefs try to create the best dessert using Girl Scout Cookies as one of the ingredients. This is the second year I’ve helped judge at the event, which is a fundraiser for Girl Scouts of Kansas Heartland. It’s a tough job…

Duggan, who started her bakery out of her home two years ago, created an amazing bite of lemon heaven she called a “cookie truffle.”

She used the Lemonades Girl Scout cookies, combining them with cream cheese for a soft center that she encased in white chocolate and topped with a limoncello lemon curd. (She’s posted the recipe on her blog.)

My fellow judges, KSN personality Barbara Baan and Old Chicago East manager Sean DiGiovanni, and I were pretty united in our love of her citrus-y creation, which packed a lot of flavor into a little package.

Duggan also told me that soon she will begin selling her cake pops and cake truffles out of W.O.W. Cakes, a wedding cake business at 2724 N. Amidon.

Cocktails & Cookies had an awesome invention called FanCam, sort of a social media photo booth. Here are me and my date, the lovely Katie Grover.

All the desserts were pretty fabulous, and other entrants included Chef Ben George of Tallgrass Country Club and Adam Courtney of AVI.

You’ll have another chance to sample Duggan’s creations at next month’s Death by Chocolate, an Exploration Place fundraiser scheduled for March 31.

I’m a judge at that one, too, so I’m already prepping for my next sugar coma.