“Ugh! Who comes up with these crazy basket ingredients?” This is a statement that I commonly hear and read after watching an episode of Chopped. But the truth is, someone does have to research and choose what four ingredients will go into a Chopped basket — three different baskets per episode. Do the ingredients get tested first? Has there ever been a repeated ingredient? And why are four ingredients the magic number and not three or five? These are all questions I asked Food Network Executive Chef Rob Bleifer last week when I sat down with him in Food Network Kitchens.
How are the ingredients picked?
Sara Nahas, the culinary producer of the show, and myself sometimes work together, sometimes work apart, but then come together to compare each other’s work. We’ll sit across from each other weeks in advance and knock out themed shows or random baskets — potential flavor and color combinations that will end up on the plate and, of course, that one ingredient that will get people talking. We have a list of ingredients we’ve already used in front of us, which is around 15 pages long, so I cross-reference that. In the past, we may have used an ingredient twice, but sometimes it’s intentional.
Is there a secret to a good Chopped basket (one part this, two parts that, etc.)?
While we’re creating the baskets, if we have to think too long about the possibilities of dishes, the baskets go away. If it takes us more than 15 seconds for a solution, it’s out. The contestants don’t have that much time.
We’ll often try, certainly in an entrée, to have a grain or starch or one ingredient that is substantial, whether it’s a protein or produce. But there’s no hard and fast rule that there has to be this, there has to be that.
Earth Day is this Sunday, April 22, and with that comes the chance to rethink our approach to clean, smart eating and cooking. This weekend and into the spring season, try to incorporate more wholesome, plant-based foods into your everyday meals. Joining the Meatless Monday movement is an easy way to lower your intake of animal products — just eat meat-free one day a week, Monday or any other. In celebration of Earth Day, we’ve rounded up a collection of natural recipes that feature fresh, seasonal ingredients like carrots, potatoes, rhubarb and more, so that you can enjoy what you’re eating and feel good about it too.
If you can’t find rainbow carrots like those pictured above, stick with the classic orange beauties when preparing Food Network Magazine’s Coriander-Glazed Carrots, made with fresh citrus, crushed coriander seeds and a sprinkle of cilantro. This quick-cooking side dish complements simply roasted seafood, grilled chicken and more.
Sometime last season, a seafood stand appeared at my local Saturday morning farmers’ market. I live in Philadelphia, so the Jersey shore and its world of fish, clams, mussels and more really aren’t more than an hour or so away. Still, it took me a while to adjust to the idea that I could pick up a pound of cod along with my carrots, kale and apples.
However, once I made the mental shift, I’ve found that having regular access to seafood that’s no more than a day out of the ocean has been incredible. It’s so fresh and quick to cook, and the people who work the booth are fantastically knowledgeable about the product they’re selling.
It’s thanks to them that I finally took the plunge and learned to cook scallops at home. I’ve long been a fan of these sweet bivalves and frequently ordered them when eating at restaurants. But for the longest time, I had it in my head that they were hard to cook and easy to ruin. At $20 or more a pound, I didn’t feel like it was something I could experiment with.
But after a bit of encouragement from my friendly seafood stand, I decided to give it a go. I bought 2/3 of a pound (plenty for just my husband and me) and cooked them in a little butter until they were brown on both sides and just firm to the touch. It was a dining revelation that we’ve repeated regularly since then.
Recently, several members from the Food Network Kitchens headed down to Nashville for three weeks to film Trisha Yearwood’s new show, Trisha’s Southern Kitchen. Most nights we would wrap up late and go to Rotier’s, a dive restaurant famous for their grilled and fried Southern food. We saw deep-fried spicy pickles on the menu and once we tasted them, we fell in love. Every time we ate them, we would tell each other, “OK, no more fried food,” and then we would find ourselves ordering them again. The balance of the cool, crispy pickle spears with a crunchy, flavorful crust was perfect with the spicy ranch dipping sauce. When we got back to Food Network Kitchens, I wanted to re-create the dish for Family Meal. The recipe below combines crunchy dill pickle spears with a smoky, crispy crust and a spicy dressing that reminded me of my times in Nashville.
Week two of Chopped All-Stars had gourmet globetrotting contestants Marcela Valladolid, Keegan Gerhard, Jeffrey Saad and Aarti Sequeira dealing with some offbeat ingredients. Some would even argue that the ingredients were more difficult than those dealt to the Iron Chefs the week before.
While we may not be running out to the market to pick up a pound of tripe, some of the ingredients are more commonly used, like chicken feet, which are great to flavor chicken broth.
Let’s face it, spring cleaning isn’t the most exciting chore of the season, but it’s so gratifying after it’s all done. The same notion also applies to making over meals, especially when the produce starts to become so abundant. Our friends over at Yahoo! Shine have invited FN Dish readers to join their Supper Club. This month, they’re challenging readers to make weeknight dinners that are as fresh and bright as the season.
Don’t know where to begin? Food Network’s Spring Produce Guide is a good place to start. From asparagus to rhubarb, you can find tips and recipes for cooking up spring produce at its peak.
Spring Peas With Dates and Walnuts from Food Network Magazine (pictured above) is a market-fresh salad that calls for not one but three kinds of spring peas: English, sugar snap and snow peas.
Chia seeds aren’t just for growing a fuzzy green pet — or getting that annoying jingle stuck in your head. This small, nutty seed is gaining popularity thanks to its long list of nutrients. Full of fiber, protein and antioxidants, chia seeds...
Here in Food Network Kitchens, we love simple, classic recipes. We are also paid to think about food all day. So we’ve taken classic foods and drinks and reimagined them into three, four or five different ways. No standard recipes here, just the occasional technique and pictures. Think of it as a picture recipe.
We were tired of the same-old buttered popcorn, and these sweet toppings brought out our inner kids.