Thank goodness for Google.
Without it, two of our Cook of the Week Challenge contestants might still be sifting through a vegetable encyclopedia trying to determine what to do with salsify, the secret ingredient selected by the culinary team at College of DuPage.
Instead, one of them, Michelle Abraham of Schaumburg, at 25 the youngest of the 16 competitors, will be preparing for the second round of recipe matchups. Abraham's salsify and spinach pizza with pear salad beat out Sarah Lee's Korean-fusion salsify tostada.
Joining Abraham in Round 2 is Anthony Barone, an attorney from Naperville whose curry coconut peanut sauced shrimp edge past Bill Babiarz's Thai shrimp and fried ravioli.
Read what the judges (meet them on Page 5) had to say about the final Round 1 recipes, then turn to Page 4 to get better acquainted with our eight semifinalists.
Chef Suzy Singh: This home cook came into the culinary ring swinging! The use of salsify root in the pizza with mushrooms was a great touch. I wish the salad was somehow incorporated into the pizza so that the dish was more cohesive. I would eat this any day of the week. Great job.
Chef Spencer Wolff: A very rustic looking dish … very appealing as a flatbread/pizza. The salad is lacking height and could be more impressive if piled on the pizza. The addition of the pears with the salsify and mushroom would be dynamic.
Chef Jean-Louis Clerc: Great use of the salsify root. It would have been nice to have the salad atop of the pizza, and maybe not as much raw onion on the salad so as not to overpower the rest of the dish.
Mario O. Portanova: Nice use of ingredients to make a complete meal and a healthy approach to pizza. It lacked a little in appearance and appeal, but the recipe is easy to follow.
S.S.: Spicy Korean Chicken Tostadas -- oh my! The creativity in this dish is overwhelming! I love the use of pizza dough to create a tostada. Remember that sometimes fusion equals confusion and in this case there does not seem to be a perfect balance between Korean and Mexican fusion. I would have suggested doing a quick kimchee instead of a salsa to balance out the flavors. Overall great creativity and use of ingredients.
S.W.: I'm instantly craving this Latin/Asian blend of flavor. Would have liked a more pronounced use of the salsify to showcase its sweet earthiness.
JLC: Great twist on a classic dish. The introduction of a little lettuce or guacamole would have brought a little more zing to the dish, but visually it looks great.
M.O.P.: Great combination of flavors in the recipe. Creative use of ingredients and the color of ingredients make this dish very appealing. This is the type of dish you would see at a high end restaurant yet the recipe is easy to follow.
S.S.: Great job, contestant! I absolutely love the Thai influence on this dish. The recipe for the sauce was absolutely magical. I would suggest poaching the shrimp with the peanut curry sauce that was created. The shrimp may dry out under the broiler. The use of wasabi in the ravioli was pure genius!
S.W.: I love all of the flavors going on in this dish … both contestants were lucky to get these ingredients, but at the same time, they don't allow for too much creativity.
Mark Palicki: In this dish I like the fact that I could eat a little of everything in one bite and it would go well together. It looks like a complete dish. All of the flavors complement each other and it looks very Thai, substituting the ravioli for the rice that would be traditional. The only two things I would suggest is maybe a quick sauté on the ravioli to add some flavor, color and texture. I also don't think the grilled pineapple slice is necessary -- too much pineapple on the plate.
S.S.: The balance of sweet and spicy in this dish was fantastic. Great job in creating a marinade for the shrimp -- the infusion of flavor is palatable! There is a bit too much starch in this dish with both noodles as well as ravioli; I would take out the noodle element completely. Overall, great use of ingredients.
S.W.: Plate presentation is the key to this dish. The ingredients allow it to stand on its own, creating great flavors. I like the use of the Panko for a fried ravioli.
M.P.: The appearance is really great and each component looks delicious. The cheese ravioli was the difficult ingredient in this basket and I like how it was fried to add texture. My critiques would be that you have pasta twice on the plate, under the shrimp and the fried ravioli. There also seems to be three dishes on the plate: the shrimp with the peanut dipping sauce, the noodles and the fried ravioli. I would have liked to see one dish incorporating all the ingredients.