Some nights I imagine I’m on Chopped (perhaps my favorite of all shows on The Food Network) and decide to challenge myself based on featuring four random ingredients and transforming them into something that would delight the Chopped judges – or in this case me. Okay guys, work with me here……
In my Chopped fantasy, Ted Allen asks me to open the basket and announces my four mystery ingredients:
Dried Black Mission Figs
If you regularly watch Chopped, you’re likely thinking I got lucky – no gummy worms, eel or headcheese in my basket. Keep in mind, if I were on Chopped (seriously on my bucket list) it would be a home-chef episode. For those shows they typically don’t give the contestants something that would send them running from the studio in tears.
Here’s what I decided to make with my basket ingredients:
Pre-heat the oven to 500 degrees, place your baking stone in the oven. Mix together a pizza crust mix (add water, olive oil, knead, cover rest for 10 minutes) Place dried figs into boiling water to hydrate – set aside. Prepare the toppings – prosciutto, chopped shallots, spinach, slice the figs in half. Using a cutting board with a dusting of corn meal and garlic powder, manipulate the pizza dough into the desired shape and thickness. Place the prosciutto, spinach, shallots, figs onto the unbaked crust, add red pepper flakes and top with shredded mozzarella and a drizzle of good olive oil. Pull the heated baking stone from the oven and slide the pizza onto the stone. Place in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the crust is nicely browned. Remove from oven, top with chopped hazelnuts and cool for five minutes. Slice and enjoy.
And yes, in my Chopped fantasy – the judges not only rave about my culinary skills but I’m offered my own show on The Food Network on the spot. Of course, I humbly accept their accolades and realize I’m going to have to come out of retirement to do my show but this is a tradeoff I must make to follow my passion….
I’m a foodie and proud of it. There are those who live to eat or eat to live. I’m in that first group. There’s something that nourishes my soul when I’m preparing a meal, the creative process, the aromas. Then savoring that meal – bliss. There’s a joy that I get from reading cookbooks, food magazines and an obsession for the Food Network that hasn’t diminished over time. I’ve always photographed food that I’ve prepared. I do the same at restaurants and have filled many travel journals with detailed descriptions of what Spence and I’ve eaten as we’ve traversed the globe. When still working (ironically I worked with foodies) time between customers was filled with talk of food, recipes exchanged, restaurants recommended, what we wanted to have for lunch that day. It was through a co-worker that I learned of Pinterest which further fuels my passion; I have no less than 10 specific food boards. Since retiring, I’m making more things from scratch as I have that luxury of time. And though my first from-scratch batch of gnocchi wasn’t perfect (but darn good) with my potato ricer spewing potatoes all over the kitchen, I won’t be deterred. And I’ll learn to make crepes and tamales within this first year of retirement, my to-do list knows no bounds. Stay tuned for more recipes and stories of my foodie ways…..
I like to think I came upon my cooking skills from God-given talent, inspiration by family cooks, collecting and reading numerous cookbooks plus my avid interest in food. What I know for sure is that I’m far better today due to my obsession with watching The Food Network. Keep in mind that I was well into adulthood before The Food Network was ever conceived and what now may pass for common knowledge was not so common back in the day. I’m nowhere close to knowing it all and will continue “my education” while watching my friends/instructors Rachael, Ina, Giada, Bobby, Mario, Michael, Geoffrey, Alex and Jeff, to name a few.
Here are the top ten things that I’ve learned from The Food Network
1. Cooking with Wine – Only cook with a wine you’d drink, as it will reduce. If you wouldn’t drink it (think “cooking wine” ick!) then it isn’t worth cooking with.
2. Salt your pasta water – I’m not talking a dash of salt. Get your “salt on” and in doing so you’ll flavor the pasta while cooking it. It makes more of a difference than you’d think.
3. Dry your Sea Scallops – Spence and I love sea scallops yet for years I sadly wasn’t getting a nice golden crust on these tasty treats. Lay out a paper towel and spread them out, now lay another paper towel over the top and press lightly, removing excess moisture, then let them continue to air dry a bit more. Add dry scallops to a searing hot pan and you’ll get lovely, golden scallops on your plate.
4. Don’t fear the Anchovy – I’ve always liked anchovies but thought of them in terms of topping pizza or an ingredient in a Caesar dressing. Where they really shine is as the “salt” element and that little “je ne sais quoi” when added into a sauce or pasta dish. They “melt” into what you’re making (use the back of a wooden spoon to break down if you want). You will not taste any fishy flavor but I guarantee, they add a depth of flavor that takes any dish up a notch.
5. How to make a better pot roast – I always thought I made a darn good pot roast and I probably did. Then, watching Jeff Mauro (The Sandwich King) who’d just won The Next Food Network Star, I learned something that rocked my pot roast loving world. I rarely follow recipes (I tend to “wing it”) but after having made this one time, I have not deviated since. The most important lesson – sear not just the top and bottom of the roast but all the sides. I use a big fork to achieve this, propping the meat as I turn it, getting a nice sear on all surfaces. But then the recipe is so perfect that honestly, I believe each step is critical to the final success, even the cooking time as something magical happens in the last 30 minutes. Jeff eventually turns this into a sandwich (which I’ve no doubt is fabulous) but I serve it as a pot roast. The gravy that results with the broth, red wine and pan drippings is phenomenal. Here’s a link to the recipe: http://foodnetwork.com/recipes/jeff-mauro/c/ch/chi/chic/chicago-italian-beef-pot-roast-style-recipe.html
6. Use fresh shrimp – It’s so easy now to get raw, easy-peel, deveined shrimp and cooking with raw shrimp is not time-consuming but the flavor and texture is so much better. For years I would buy cleaned, cooked frozen shrimp and just pop them in at the end of a recipe for shrimp scampi (as an example). Using raw shrimp in any preparation is far superior. An example? Try my Shrimp Ceviche (link below) and then report back to me. I also make a cream of shrimp soup (recipe will appear in the future) using raw shrimp and there is a depth of flavor raw shrimp adds.
7. Don’t Fear Red Pepper Flakes – There was a time that I only used red pepper flakes to enhance my pizza. Not so any longer. My friends/instructors at The Food Network always add red pepper flakes to recipes to “kick up the heat” and now I constantly have them at the ready. Use a little or a lot depending on your need for heat but there’s something magical about what they do to the most basic recipe. Trust me.
8. Use good ingredients – When you really love to cook/eat/entertain – wow your friends and family, don’t skimp. I love Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. If you’ve watched her show or bought one of her cookbooks you’ll notice that she strongly suggests using a good olive oil, mayonnaise or champagne vinegar (as examples). Why? Because when you use good ingredients, your end result is better. Like a Hallmark Card, you care enough to send the very best? Then use good ingredients. Enough said.
9. Deglaze, carmelize, braise, brine – Just knowing terminology and how to apply this to your cooking can put you ahead of other home cooks. I still believe that one day I’ll be competing on The Food Network simply because of the techniques and technologies I’ve learned.
10. The Power of Compound Butter – I love butter. Slathered on an english muffin or mashed potatoes, in a really great shortbread or taking it to the next level and creating a Compound Butter by integrating another ingredient or several ingredients to softened butter, then using that compound to create something magical. It’s no longer just butter. It’s a burst of flavor and I have numerous recipes, here’s one below that you can use for a roast turkey or chicken.
Eating, cooking, reading about it . The Food Network is nirvana for me. An enthusiastic reviewer on Trip Advisor, when traveling my journals are full of details on the meals I’ve enjoyed. I’m always thinking about my next meal. When I see a movie that “feeds” my passion for food, I’m one happy chick. Earlier this year, two stellar food-themed movies premiered, Chef and 100 Foot Journey. They are among the best movies I’ve seen this year. I’ve added a few older movies, (shown above) that deserve a shout out as entertaining flicks which also feature food prominently. And even if your life doesn’t revolve around food to the extent mine does, these movies are worth seeing. Enjoy!