Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Of Hot Sauce and Peppercicles

This was the weekend for food contests. Valery entered not one but two contests this week, and both came to a climax on Sunday.

One of these events was the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. Readers will recall that Valery's already won this event, as well as having placed second a couple of times. This means that her hot sauce is good, Damn good, if you ask me.

The reason it is so good is because it's made fresh. So many people either cook or puree their sauces to the point where little is recognizable other than the red color. Technically, I guess that Valery's sauce is a 'pico' rather than an actual salsa, but what makes it so good, what sets it apart from all the others, is the freshness.

Valery shops for the ingredients at the Farmer's market the day before, then gets up and makes the salsa from scratch on the morning of the competition. There is no cooking involved, but a lot of chopping, dicing, mincing, grating, and, of course, tasting. The texture's important, but we all know that it's all in the taste. Valery's got that wired.

Alas, she didn't win this year.

She says, 'been there, done that' but I know it's a disappointment. The only consolation is the fact that it always feels good to compete, to do something, even if you don't win, or even place. It's a tired cliche, but the reward's in the doing, not in the winning. Ok, so that's not going to satisfy Valery's competitive nature, but it will keep her going, trying it again.

She's not been satisfied with trying the same thing, however. This past week, she also entered Central Market's Hatch Chile recipe contest, with not just one, but two very inventive and interesting ideas.

The first was Hatched Chile Soup. The idea here was very simple and the presentation very clever.

The soup consisted of roasted hatch chiles, vegetable stock, egg yolks and a bit of cream. After a brief bit of heat to cook the eggs and warm the stock, the ingredients are blended until creamy.

Then came the clever bit. The presentation was in a 'hatched' egg shell. She poured a bit of the soup into the cleaned out eggshell, then topped it with a generous dollop of creme fraiche. The finishing touch was the hatch chile stem garnish, emerging from the hatched egg soup.

Clever and delicious! I tasted it and can testify. I thought she had a lock with this one

But Valery wasn't done yet. Now that she was going full steam, so to speak, she came up with another great idea at literally the last minute.

In a span of about twenty minutes before the deadline, she came up with her second recipe, Watermelon Hatch Chili Peppercicles. Again, it had both the flavor and the cleverness a recipe needs to be considered. But she didn't have time to test it out, so she just typed up the recipe and entered it in the contest.

Oh, and there was one catch. She couldn't enter twice. Only one entry per household.

Now, Henry was staying with us that day and had already helped Valery write up the recipe for her Hatched Chili Soup, so he suggested that Valery enter the Peppercicle recipe under his name.

You see where this is going. Henry got the call back from the coordinator, who told him that out of the several thousand recipes submitted to Central Market, they picked seven. The Watermelon Peppercicles was one of them.

Needless to say, this was both a delight for Valery and a bit of chagrin as well. After all, not only were the Peppercicles a last-minute thought, they weren't even tested.

The next step was to actually make the Peppercicles for the judges.

Since Henry lives in Nacodoches, he couldn't come to the judging, but he called the coordinator for the event and they agreed to let him send Valery as his proxy.

Meanwhile, Valery was quickly assembling the ingredients and testing it out. She only had a day to prepare, and this at the same time she was preparing for the Hot Sauce Festival.

Sunday morning, after she finished her hot sauce entry and delivered it to Waterloo Park, she came back home to knock out the Peppercicles. In just a couple of hours, they were in the freezer, waiting for the trip to the judges.

I went to get some dry ice and a little cooler to transport them in, and this proved to be fortuitous because when they came out of the freezer, the Peppercicles weren't completely frozen. Packed next to the dry ice, however, by the time she arrived at the store, they were frozen solid.

Judging took place at Central Market South, right in next to the potatoes and onions.

Valery and the other seven participants brought their dishes up to the judges one at a time. Valery went second, finishing each Peppercicle with a bit of shaved pink Hawaiian sea salt to bring out the sweet and hot flavor of the frozen treat.

The judges seemed to like them, and finished them all off in just a few bites. Then, the wait began while they tallied up the results.

Sadly, Valery's wonderful little treat was beat out by a pizza!

Can you believe it? I am not sure what the criteria were exactly, but I can't imagine that a pizza is any more flavorful than then Peppercicle and not even nearly as clever. In fact, I'd say it was a downright disappointment that the judges went with such a mundane selection. Bleh!

What's encouraging here is the fact that Valery is not just competing, but she's doing well at it. While I am not surprised, because I know how creative and talented she is in the realm of food, I am delighted because I think this will lead to bigger and better things.

Look out Pillsbury Bake Off! Valery is in the house!


valgal said...

yummmm!!! and i'm am doing no more freebies - next contests are for $$$$!! wellllll, ok - maybe a few freebies to keep my imagination flowing and my humbleness intact.heh

bc said...

I call this downright Austintatious and as clever as Valery can be. It certainly has to have been better than pizza! Why don't you make these for the Mighty Cone and freeze them in paper cones? (Dry ice seems to work pretty well...) and sell them for a little $$$
I tried to post a comment on the write-up from the paper but it didn't seem to take.