Last weekend I attended the casting call in Austin, Texas for season six of the “Next Food Network Star.” This is the sixth time I have applied for the show but the first time I have ever attended a casting call. I had high hopes that this casting call would teach me something about the application process. I was hoping I would learn what the casting people are looking for. I was hoping they could at least tell me whether or not I should keep applying for the show. But all I learned was that if they liked you, you would get a call back the next day.

I didn’t get a call back but I was the only one who submitted an audition video on the spot. Perhaps they liked me and since they already had my audition video, there was no need to call me back.

I won’t know the outcome until November when the finalists are chosen. There is nothing more I can do now except to keep moving ahead and try other avenues.

No matter what happens, I had a great time in Austin. I stayed at the Hyatt with a room overlooking Lake Austin. I felt at peace as I watched the skullers go by. When I broke my foot last year, I rekindled a love for rowing.

I also visited the original 80,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market. It was my literal heaven on Earth. This is where I bought my evening meal and kombucha fix. My other meals were eaten either at the hotel or adjacent restaurants.

Here are some recipes based on my Austin dining experience at Zax. I hope you too will enjoy the spicy soup paired with the sweet salad. Mmm-mm, so delicious!

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, slow cooked

2 yellow onion, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 jalapeños, seeds removed, minced

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup white wine

28 ounce can fire roasted crushed tomatoes, Muir Glen

15 ounce can black beans, drained

16 ounce bag yellow corn

32 ounces chicken broth

1/2 lime, juiced (to garnish)

1 bunch cilantro (to garnish)

1-2 ripe avocados (to garnish)

For best results, cook chicken in a slow-cooker/crockpot for up to eight hours on low heat. I used the mango barbecue sauce from last week’s recipe to immerse my chicken as it cooked. You can also immerse your chicken in tomato sauce, chicken broth or water with herbs such as oregano, basil and thyme. Or slow cook the chicken on the stove top while chopping vegetables. Shred chicken as it cooks.

In a separate deep sauté pan or stock pot, sauté onions in a little broth or olive oil until the onions are soft and fragrant. Add the garlic and jalapeño blend with cumin, chili powder and Worcestershire sauce. Stir in white wine, tomatoes, black beans and corn. Allow flavors to meld. Add shredded chicken and chicken broth to reach desired consistency. While soup is simmering on medium-low, prepare tortilla strips.

Tortilla Strips

12 corn tortillas

High heat canola or avocado oil

1/2 lime, juiced

2 tbs. chili powder

1 tsp. sea salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush some oil on two baking trays. Place six tortillas on each tray. Sprinkle with oil, lime juice, chili powder and salt. Bake for 8-10 minutes until tortillas are slightly crisp. Cut into strips to sprinkle on Chicken Tortilla Soup. Otherwise it’s really just a tomato based chicken soup. Top each bowl of soup with tortilla strips, avocado pieces, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.

Candied Pecans

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 tsp. sea salt

1 tbs. vanilla

1/2 cup pecans

Combine first four ingredients in a small sauce pot. Bring to a rolling boil. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and blend. Add pecans and stir to coat thoroughly. Pour onto baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Allow to cool. Add to salad, cereal, yogurt or fresh fruit.

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