Saturday, October 2, 2010

Food Fight!: My Round 2 Adventure

This morning the whole family headed downtown to watch me participate in Round 2 of the Aetna Healthy Food Fight. I was only the tiniest bit nervous and mostly just excited to get going. When we arrived on the plaza outside the new Grand Hyatt in San Antonio (a really beautiful hotel, by the way), the kitchen stations were all set up and there were a few people milling around. As I’d suspected, “Be there by 9:30″ was really code for “Don’t be late for your 10:00 time slot.” But I’m never late for anything, and if you tell me to be there at 9:30, I’ll be there at 9:25. It’s just how I’m built.

So, we waited. Luckily, it was a beautiful morning to be outside. The kids enjoyed lounging around in an enormous wicker chair on the Hyatt’s outdoor patio while I chatted with two other contestants, both of whom were scheduled for the 12:00 time slot and thus put my supposed punctuality to shame. One of them had brought her own fresh vegetables from her garden in Louisiana. There were no rules prohibiting this, but the Food Fight staff provided all the food as part of the competition and I just assumed that whatever they bought for me would be fine, since the veggies would be cut up and bathed in cheese sauce. 

Before too long, more members of the event staff trickled in and I was assigned a kitchen station, given an official Food Fight apron, taken into the “pantry” area to select my cookware and make sure my ingredient tray looked correct, then shown how to use the induction cook top and convection oven. Frank, the kitchen guru, told me that the burners would cook faster than what I was used to and the oven would cook slower than what I was used to. I’d had a dream last night in which I’d forgotten to pre-heat the oven, so I did that the minute Frank showed me how to turn it on. 

Then we got started: the emcee gave us an official countdown to kick off the competition and I got busy chopping. I was relieved to discover that the frozen corn and spinach my Veggie Enchilada recipe calls for was already thawed, so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. Also, having things like flour and coriander pre-measured into prep bowls helped a lot. (I re-measured as I went along, since the event staff told me they’d measured hastily as they were prepping trays and I should definitely check my amounts.) In no time I had the onion and garlic ready to get in the sauté pan. The red peppers joined them shortly afterward. I was well ahead of schedule and, as a result, feeling pretty calm.

A small crowd gathered around my cooking station, including a few of the judges, probably drawn there by the smell of sautéing garlic and onions. One asked “Is that legal in San Antonio, Veggie Enchiladas? Aren’t you required by law to include beef or chicken or something?” At this point, The Girl (who was officially tasked with taking the photographs you see here) informed him that I do, in fact, make Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas sometimes, but that she prefers the veggie version.

While I mixed together my sour cream sauce, I chatted with Karen. She and her husband Walter are from Seattle and just lucked into being in San Antonio for a conference while the food fight was going on. “This is like seeing Food Network in person,” Karen said, though Walter later observed that it was better than Food Network because he could smell the food as it was being prepared. Throughout the competition I chatted with the emcee when he stopped by my station, telling him a little about what I was doing and how I planned to put everything together. 

At 10:40, I had a pan of enchiladas in the (pre-heated!) oven and breathed a sigh of relief while I chopped some of the remaining red pepper for a garnish. At 10:45, however, I spotted the can of cooking spray on my station and realized that I’d forgotten to spray the pan before I loaded it up. I had visions of my enchiladas sticking to the pan, falling apart when I tried to plate them. The horror, the horror! When I checked on the pan, though, nothing looked like it was going awry. Perhaps the pan was new enough that the non-stick coating was still doing the job on its own. I did notice that two of the enchiladas were getting a little toasty on one edge, so I flipped the pan around in the oven. Ten minutes later, when I checked again, the sauce was nice and bubbly and had browned across the top. Ahead of schedule, but the dish was clearly ready to go. I signaled Frank, which brought the presentation plates (and the Express-News photographer) to my station.

Five of the enchiladas went on a large presentation plate; the other five went on separate tasting plates for the judges. I was the first contestant to walk my presentation plate over to the judging station, enjoying the applause of the audience as I went. I smiled, told them they were in for a yummy treat, then turned around to hug my kids. “Those enchiladas smell amazing,” Walter said, and I thanked him for the words of encouragement.  “If you see me on Food Network in the finale, you can tell your friends ‘That’s the enchilada lady from San Antonio! We’re on her blog!’” I said.

In the mother of all ironies, I walked away from my healthy enchiladas to have cheeseburgers at Hard Rock Café with my family. But we did spend a good bit of time downtown, just walking around and enjoying the afternoon together, so perhaps that balances everything out. What I know for sure is that I’m glad I submitted my recipe to the Healthy Food Fight, and I’m glad I was brave enough to complete in Round 2, and I’m really glad I got to keep that Food Fight apron. Even if I don’t make it to the final round, I feel like a winner in all kinds of ways.

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4 Responses to “Food Fight!: My Round 2 Adventure”

  1. 1

    Cyn Huddleston — October 2, 2010 @ 11:56 pm

    That sounds like so much fun. I am so glad you were able to enter and get to participate. The picture of you brandishing the spatula is great and the enchiladas look fabu. I will definitely make them for my vegetarian girl.

  2. 2

    Racheldyanne — October 3, 2010 @ 12:09 am

    That is very, very cool! What a great experience. When do you find out how you did?

  3. 3

    Pam — October 3, 2010 @ 12:35 am

    I had tons of fun, and I'm so glad I did it. The competition continues through 6 p.m. tomorrow, and then they'll have to calculate scores, so I'm not expecting to hear anything for at least a week–maybe more. They're running a competition every few days. Busy, busy people!

  4. 4

    B. Barry — October 3, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

    I read about this in the SA Express-News today. It sounds like you had a lot of fun. Congratulations!

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