I am by no means a trained chef, but I definitely have a basic knowledge of food and cooking technique. I am not at all embarrassed to tell you that my knowledge comes from the show Chopped. If you are not watching Chopped on the Food Network, set your DVR for Tuesdays at 10 (or just set the DVR and watch it ALL THE TIME). Chopped is like Iron Chef and Top Chef had a baby. It is a competition show that is self contained, so in each episode four chefs set out to make a 3-course meal, appetizer (in 20 minutes), entrée (in 30 minutes), and dessert (in 30 minutes) using mystery (ridiculous!) ingredients in different baskets. After each course one chef is chopped. It’s genius. I had no choice but to start watching the show after my friend Erin started critiquing all of our meals as if she was a judge. The judges are amazing! They are all New York based chefs who are super successful and talented in their own rite and take no prisoners. Here’s a classic quote from Alex Guarneschelli, chef at Butter: When tasting a contestant’s prune dessert soup, Alex remarked, “I do find the prunes large. I do think if I were just given a spoon and no instruction I would be wrestling with these prunes a bit.” She needs instructions to eat dessert soup! Never mind the fact that the soup was made in 30 minutes or that it is probably accompanied by chili-bacon biscotti dipped in melted down cinnamon candies. I’m telling you, this show is amazing!
So when the same friend who introduced me to this phenomenon invited me to a Sierra Mist cooking demo hosted by non other than AARON SANCHEZ, I jumped at the chance. And this Chopped judge (and All-Star winner!) did not disappoint. He is charismatic and charming and speaks spanish to his staff just like you dream he would. And he cooked for us! And fed us amazing food at Centrico, a restaurant I hope to visit again soon. Chef Aaron started by serving us his signature guacamole. This was not like any guacamole I had never tasted. My tablemates and I were convinced he must have added a “cream element” to the avocado. But no! How dare we accuse Aaron Sanchez of cheating on Mexican food! Here is what he said about guacamole. He uses Mexican avocados (which I assume are different than our crappy, non creamy, California avocados) and never garlic. He adds chile serrano, lime, salt, cilantro, tomato, and mexican oregano. Another guacamole tip: leave it outside, don’t refrigerate it because then you can’t really taste it. Like if wine is too cold, you can’t really taste it (of course, if my wine is too cold, I drink it anyway, so…)
While we were fed this guacamole, Chef Aaron showed us how to use Sierra Mist Natural to flavor and tenderize our chicken thighs in a slow cooker. The recipe is at the end of this post, but I really appreciated that Sierra Mist is all-natural and, in this case, is a great substitute for the citrus in this Chipotle Chicken recipe. Who knew, right?
After the demonstration, Chef Aaron took questions and berated us for thinking he cheated at guacamole (I’m Sorry!!). He stood up for his fellow Chopped judges who come off as, shall we say, less than friendly? (Yes, I’m looking at you, Scott Conant! Mr. I-don’t-eat-red-onion-and-if-you-undercook-your-pasta-I-will-glare-at-you). Also, he pointed out that someone like Alex Guarneschelli, who probably has the worst reputation (see prune soup comment above), has really had to work hard to get to where she is today. Being a professional chef as a woman apparently requires that you have “cajones” twice the size of your male counterparts. He gave me a new found respect for Alex and Amanda Freitag (Oh, who am I kidding? I love Amanda! She called herself a “pantry person” on Chopped: All Stars and after you watch a week’s worth of reruns you will understand how brilliant that is!)
And then he fed us. Oh, the food! Beyond the amazing guac, a papaya ceviche with plantain chips (it might have been mango? I couldn’t hear over the crunch of my chips), a chicken thigh with a spicy chipotle sauce and green rice I wanted to bathe in. Topped off by an amazing chile-chocolate lava cake with corn ice cream. Honestly everything was amazing and I will definitely go back to Centrico, but, Chef Aaron, if you’re reading this, and want to send your grandma’s green rice recipe my way (email@example.com), I promise to make it with love and care in my own kitchen.
Overall, what a fantastic event! Huge thanks to Sierra Mist for a great time (and the autographed Simple Food, Big Flavor cookbook)! What a great opportunity to learn from a master (who literally chopped an onion without even looking at it! WITHOUT EVEN LOOKING!) who happens to be on one of my favorite television shows.
Here are my favorite take-aways from the event (and the Chipotle Chicken Recipe):
· The bubbles in Sierra Mist help to tenderize meat in a slow cooker. Science is Magic.
· “Let the food speak for itself. Treat it with respect and honor” – Aaron Sanchez. He is really big on loving your food and allowing it to bring your family together.
· “Eat with your hands: bring people together”
· “If I can cook 50% as good as my grandmother, I’m doing okay!” Another great thing he said about grandmothers and why their food is so good, is that grandmothers are not in a rush! They will let something sit on the stove all-day and let all of the flavors develop. Note to self: Don’t feel like you have to constantly stir whatever happens to be on your stovetop.
And the recipe:
Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken
2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large white onion, thinly sliced (The Sierra Mist recipe says yellow, but Aaron said to use white since they are milder in flavor.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, finely chopped (These apparently come from Vera Cruz in Mexico, just like Selma Hayak.)
1 teaspoon ground cumin (Chef Aaron warns to use this in moderation as it can be very assertive)
1 12 oz can Sierra Mist Natural (Aaron says that this is the only soda he allows in his house because it is made with all natural sugar.)
1 15 oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes
1. Put the chicken in the bottom of a 4 or 6 quart slow cooker and scatter the onions, garlic, chipotle and cumin. Pour the tomatoes and Sierra Mist natural over and cover.
2. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 7-8 hours (Aaron said low for 6 hours)
This is a basic shredded chicken recipe that you can serve in tacos, tortillas or quesadillas with your favorite fixings. I personally plan to make some guacamole!
Thanks to Sierra Mist and Aaron Sanchez