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Grateful for the first win on the Next Food Network Star episode one

June 9, 2009

Wow, I am so grateful to have won the first episode. What a relief. As you could see I was really scared I was in trouble right out of the gate. Fortunately what saved me was a lot of mind-tasting and several adjustments. My original idea was to use achiote (a paste of ground annatto seeds. It is the same stuff that gives cheddar cheese its orange color). It is a classic ingredient in the Yucatan region of Mexico in a dish called cochinita pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish).  I was going to grill green and yellow zucchini and mix that with some well-roasted mushrooms simmered in a citrus/achiote sauce. By itself, achiote does not have a lot of flavor but when mixed with fresh citrus (orange and lime) it takes on a deep, earthy flavor that balances the acid and gives the dish a beautiful earthy, orange hue. It makes otherwise boring vegetables come to life. Because we all “taste” with our eyes this orange color was to be a great part of the presentation.

My back up plan was to make my own paste out of annatto seeds, and my third choice was to use dried chiles (ancho or guajillo) to make a deep red chile paste and then do the same thing. When I pulled chile powder out of the bag my heart stopped briefly, and my tongue rolled back! Chile powder works for a spice rub or to add to a homemade BBQ sauce, but when doing simple vegetables it becomes too prominent and can have a bad mouth feel and a muted flavor. Paprika is about the only ingredient that is meant to be great as a powder. Everything else suffers when powdered because you lose all the oils the carry the bright flavor (spices, chiles, etc). That is why grinding spices as you need them really intensifies a dish. A $20 coffee grinder and a load of fresh spices transforms your kitchen into a flavor factory!

I started to think about how I could wake up the chile powder, keep the citrus bright and allow the grilled zucchini to not get too muted. I needed to grill the zucchini enough to give it nice char marks for flavor but not so much as to soften it. When you keep it slightly hard it still has body and becomes a nice base for other flavors and ingredients. Ok, zucchini is done. Now I roast the mushrooms to golden. That is the key to great mushrooms. You need to sauté them on medium high heat and get them nice and dark brown. Mushrooms can take it.  Now they were ready to take the sauce. I juiced my oranges and limes and simmered it. I realized I needed something to soften the acid and round out the dish. I added some chicken stock and reduced. I then added some honey, a little at a time. The honey took off the edge on the chile powder, balanced the acid of the citrus and created a deeper flavor. Yes! Last minute right before service I decided to dollop some soft goat cheese on top. I figured the rich, creamy texture of the goat cheese would further balance the acid of the citrus while introducing a new form of sharpness to the dish.  In addition, goat cheese has the same tactile, slightly granular texture as the achiote. It worked! One down. Let’s see what happens next week. Thanks for watching!

Eat well, enjoy life, be happy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shannon permalink
    June 10, 2009 6:25 pm

    I loved the show! And I loved your explanation!

    When that woman came back with the sponge cake and the ground peppers, I thought the top of my head was going to explode!…It seemed like deliberate sabotage to me! Then when she completely divorced herself from the dessert and refused to take responsibility for it…I don’t know how you all managed NOT to smack her in the face with the sponge cake!

    I LOVE that you won with a vegetable dish! That is next to impossible. I am so in your corner. I’m loving your recipes and I can’t wait to see what you do next!

    If you get the chance to shop, I hope you bring her back a can of spam, a loaf of wonder bread and a bag of stale marshmallows and tell her “Good Luck!”- she deserves it!

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink
      June 30, 2009 9:18 am

      sorry I missed this before. Too funny! Thanks for watching!
      Jeffrey 🙂

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