Winning the cook-off on Park Avenue

8 August 2011 § 19 Comments

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to compete in the Whole Foods Healthy Eating Cook-Off on Park Avenue as part of NY Summer Streets. I am very proud (and still excited to say) that I won!

Here’s a video of the morning

I entered my grilled vegetarian salad online about a month ago. Then, 10 days ago, I received an email from Whole Foods to say my salad had been chosen as one of the three finalists in the competition!

So armed with a very sharp knife, I went to Park Avenue to make my grilled peach salad with arugula, feta, Vidalia onions and pistachios. The whole morning was very surreal, the weirdest thing though was there were no cars on Park Avenue – just people cycling, walking, pushing strollers, skating.

Do you ever have a moment when you wonder what goes through your head? A woman was given out Statue of Liberty kid’s temporary tattoos – promoting the event. I grabbed a few to take back for The Ladies™. She then asked – “would you like one?” I declined, then I thought Lady Liberty might bring me luck so I said – “sure”. I lived with it for about 10 minutes then realized it looked ridiculous so 30 minutes before going on stage, I started to scrub it off in the bathroom. I realized it was not budging, and my arm was getting redder and redder, now resembling a bad prison tat. I gave up and went on stage, bad (temporary) tattoo and all.

The event was sponsored by Whole Foods Market and hosted by the very charming and very tall, QVC presenter, David Venable who really tried to put the contestants at ease.

The judges were a formidable team – Chef Carmen Quagliata executive chef at the rather lovely Union Square Cafe, Andrea Beaman – TV presenter, author and Top Chef contestant, Ashley Koff – celebrity dietician and food writer and Lori Ardito – First Deputy Commissioner of the NY DOT.

The judges (l to r) - Lori Ardito, Andrea Beaman, Chef Quagliata, Ashley Koff

It was a big day for Ashley Koff as her book – Mom Energy (I need plenty of that ) -  has just been published. It was very sweet as her mom was there with her.

Ashley Koff, author of Mom Energy

I was lucky enough to watch Andrea Beaman do a cooking demonstration before the cook-off. She made it looks so effortless and looked so relaxed up on stage, unlike me.

With the vivacious Andrea Beaman

Before I knew it, we three contestants were invited onstage.

The contestants - me, Adam and Mariko

We had 30 minutes to prepare our dishes – I really thought I would be done sooner as at home I can prepare this pretty fast. Onstage time flew by and I was up to the wire. I could not believe it when David announced the last 30 seconds. My aspirations for elegant plating were literally thrown to the wind as I was flinging the cheese and nuts over the salad.

The final fling

You can probably judge for yourself in the picture below. Not my best work, I’ll admit.

A leftover one

Sadly King Marv could not be with me to share in my fleeting moment of glory as he was on his way back from Sweden. And as much as I love The Ladies™ I left them back in the ‘burbs as I feared they would want to help me out onstage.

But luckily my NY posse were there to support me – Leslie, Fiona, John, Nikki and Nicky – I love you guys!

Here they are - Leslie, Fiona, John, Nikki and Nicky

These two are very lovable too – my friends’ daughters who devoured the spare plate.

These guys are the toughest judges of all

NY Summer Streets is designed to get people out to play, run, walk and bike on the streets. 6.9 miles from the Brooklyn Bridge to Central Park was completely closed to cars -  not a yellow cab in sight. Car-free Saturdays will be happening again on August 13 and 20 from 7am to 1pm.

Grilled peach, arugula and feta salad

13 July 2011 § 10 Comments

New Jersey (and New York) peaches are just showing up at the Farmers’ Markets, but they are still a bit too firm for my liking. So what do you do with all those hard peaches? Easy, you get grilling.

This salad is inspired by the arugula and goat cheese salad at one of my favorite restaurants, the Peekamoose in Big Indian.

The original Peekamoose version has peach, arugula, red onion, pistachios and goat cheese. It is an explosion of flavor – the pepperiness of the arugula offset by the creamy chèvre.

I could wax lyrical for ages but back to my version -  made with tough-as-boots peaches. A hard peach grills better than a soft, ripe one and it holds up better in the heat.

With handfuls of fresh arugula from our garden I got to work. First grill the peaches to give them a richer, sweeter flavor. Just brush a little olive oil on a moderate-heat grill and put the peaches on for just three minutes each side.

I know you all know how to make a good salad, which is why I’ve been very vague about quantity – it is all a handful of this and that.

However there are 2 commandments when making salad:

1) Wash and spin the lettuce bone-dry as there is nothing worse than a soggy green.

2) Shop-bought dressing is a big no-no….why would you? Answer me if you dare.
Salad Ingredients:

  • A few handfuls of arugula and red leaf lettuce (I like the combination of the 2 leaves)
  • ¼ sliced Vidalia onion
  • Handful of shelled pistachios
  • Handful (you guessed it) feta or chèvre
  • 2 peaches sliced and grilled

Wash and spin lettuce. Mix all the ingredients and dress just before serving.

Dressing ingredients:

  • 2 tbs white wine vinegar
  • 4 tbs walnut oil or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar until it emulsifies. Season to taste.

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