Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Night Dinner

A little bummed about the pedestrian showing at the Snowshoe yesterday, I decided to do some cooking today. Guess I needed to show myself that I could still cook.

With Sheila gone for the day on business, I decided to cook a rack of lamb that I've had in the freezer for a while. Sheila doesn't eat lamb, so this was a good opportunity.

Rubbed the rack of lamb with coarse ground mustard, then fresh chopped rosemary, fresh ground pepper and kosher salt. Pan seared, then 14 minutes at 450 in the oven. Nice medium rare.

Served over roasted garlic mashed potatoes, finished with a port wine demi. Great blend of flavors. Would have been in the top 5....

Back From The Snowshoe

There was no snow but it was pretty cold yesterday at the Snowshoe grilling challenge in Abington, Massachusetts. Just missed calls with 6th place in the sausage fatty and vegetable categories, and we came away empty handed for the event. We finished 9th overall out of 17 teams. But it was a lot of fun seeing people, and we had a really good time. It was around 35 degrees and windy, but the sun stayed out all day.

As always, we learned some stuff for next time. Needed a chicken wing category! More later....

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

There Must Be A Competition Coming Up

Had a dream last night that I forgot to cook or turn in chicken at a BBQ contest. Everything else was turned in at the wrong time, and we got a score of zero. That's how I know a competition is coming up. It takes over the mind.

We go to the Snoeshoe Grilling Challenge on Saturday. It will be an extremely competitive event. I can't wait to get there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Route 7 Grill, Great Barrington, MA

Last weekend, we started our trip to upstate New York with a little detour. Rather than taking the highways, we drove Route-44 from Hartford into Litchfield County, then up into Great Barrington, MA for dinner at Route-7 Grill, before continuing on to our stop near Binghamton, NY.
The place was easy enough to find, you guessed it, right on heavily traveled Route 7 in the quaint Berkshires town of Great Barrington. I had learned of the place last year, when the New England Barbeque Society held a road trip there. I was intrigued by the menu when I considered the trip, which struck me as a little more upscale than your regular BBQ joint. For some reason I couldn't go on the road trip.

My intrigue grew when I saw a review on which featured a picture of a dinosaur beef rib that looked really good. But from where we live in Norwich, CT, it is a hike, so I didn't have a chance to get up there until now.

You are greeted by a great hearth fireplace as you enter the restaurant.

This picture and the one at the top of the post were stolen from the Route 7 web site. There is also a neat bar area with a curved bar, and a large, open dining room. That's where we sat.

As I looked over the menu, I saw several things that were trying to talk me out of what I had planned to order here for weeks: the dinosaur beef rib. They offered a chef's BBQ tasting menu, what could possibly be better than that? They also had a few sampling platters that sounded great. They offer all the BBQ staples, spare and baby back ribs, brisket, pork, chicken.

An interesting note is that the owners have decided to use all locally grown products. Nice touch.

There are also all kinds of other things to eat in addition to BBQ, including locally raised steaks, meatloaf and pasta dishes.
We started with the house smoked chicken wings with BBQ sauce. Several apps caught my eye, including the scallops wrapped in bacon (one of my favorites) and the spiced shrimp. But the wings were great, nice smoke flavor, big, moist, flavorful. Good choice.
I stuck to my guns and got the beef rib. What arrived was one huge rib, with lots of meat and great marbling. It certainly lived up to my expectations. It came with sauce on it, which I probably do without next time. It's nothing against the sauce really, but more of a personal preference these days for me. Especially in a case like this, where the meat is so flavorful that it stands on its own. Had fries and onion strings as sides, both were great.

Sheila being pregnant, she has not really had a taste for BBQ lately. She ordered the Cobb salad with maple bacon vinaigrette, and liked it a lot. She says everything was super fresh, and she particularly liked the large pieces of cheddar cheese that came in the salad.

She also had a side of macaroni and cheese, which she described as some of the best she has ever had. And Sheila is a connoisseur of good mac and cheese.

We had such a fine meal that I was in a good enough mood to allow the waitress to talk me into a piece of house baked velvet chocolate cake that was really good. It was huge, and I was only able to finish half of it.

Overall, we had a great meal and an enjoyable stop at Route 7 Grill. This place was right up my alley. Great food and service, a good vibe in the place (not to mention clean bathrooms!). If I lived anywhere near Great Barrington we would eat here. A lot.

In fact, we are going to Albany, NY for my niece's 4th birthday party today, and I have already began lobbying to take a long cut home and visit again on the ride home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What A Bummer

Another competition goes by the wayside.

It was revealed this week what I had expected, that the BBQ contest Memorial Day weekend at Lime Rock park here in Connecticut has officially been cancelled. That followed news that the East Hartford contest would not be happening this year, and there will be no state championship in Maine and Rhode Island either.

That means that out of the six New England states, only Vermont and Massachusetts are certain to have qualifying contests for 2008. New Hampshire may have one too, but ongoing venue problems and a weak prize pool have made it possible that the June event in Merrimack may not be able to attract the minimum of 25 teams it needs to be a qualifier.

Fortunately, some outstanding events have developed in nearby New York. The I Love BBQ Festival in Lake Placid, the Hudson Valley Ribfest in New Paltz and the Battle of the BBQ Brethren were all huge successes in 2007 and are returning in 2008.

But what can we do to get Jack Daniel's qualifiers in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine? I wish I had the answers, but I don't. But it is a shame that those states have no qualifier, as I would love to see more New England teams have a chance to go to the Jack. Unfortunately, there will probably only be three or four New England teams heading to the 2008 Jack. That's a shame.

I personally pledge to do whatever I can to get an '09 qualifier in Connecticut. Even if it means holding a contest in a vacant lot.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

St. Patrick's Day

It's not BBQ but.....

With my wife's maiden name being Keenan, I again took a shot at St. Patrick's Day corned beef and cabbage. Not my best effort but not my worst either. Mixed 2 tablespoons honey with 2 tablespoons coarse ground mustard, roasted on a rack 2 and a half hours at 350. Boiled the potatoes and steamed the cabbage.
Brisket was only a little tougher than my competition brisket lately...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Danny's Little Taste Of Texas

Met up with BBQ reviewer extraordinaire Gary Goldblatt of Thursday night for a little BBQ at Danny's Little Taste of Texas in South Windsor, CT. Was a good time, and we had some pretty good Q for the most part.

The place was empty when we arrived at around 6:00 PM. It seems to me that they probably do a lot of takeout there, and are probably busier for lunch than for dinner. We took a booth in a more isolated area. The country music was pretty loud, and the decor featured all kinds of pictures, plates and other assorted trinkets with a Texas theme.

We started out with the smoked BBQ wings and a deep fried buffalo burger. The wings were ok, pretty dry but they tasted good. Half were sauced, the other half not.

I didn't like the deep fried burger at all. It was well done, and as a medium rare guy it just didn't taste right. I'm sure a lot of people would have really liked it, but it just wasn't my thing.

We got buffalo chili as the side order with the burger. I liked the chili's flavor, but it was loaded with large tomato pieces and beans, with very little meat. But don't get me wrong, it tasted good, and I ate most of it.

Sidebar: I'm sitting in a coffee shop called Phoenix Coffee in Canandigua, NY writing this. I came here because the place has a big Wi-Fi sign outside designed to lure people like me in. The owner of the place just came over and told me and a guy at the table next to us that in order to plug in our laptops, we have to pay a one-dollar "electric use fee." People never cease to amaze me. The place is also blaring some kind of religious chamber music. I know it is Palm Sunday but come on...

Back on topic: For the main courses, we ordered a special of a half rack of ribs and fries for $10, along with a combo of pulled brisket and pulled pork. The ribs were baby backs, and were clearly the best thing I had all night. They had a strong smoke flavor, were very tender and meaty. There was sauce, but just enough to compliment the rest of the flavors.

The beef and pork combo, the meat tasted ok. However, I honestly could not figure out which one was the beef and which one was the pork. Gary says the beef is the one in the cup, but I still believe they could have been interchanged and nobody would have noticed. But overall, they didn't taste bad. But I doubt the beef was brisket, was probably some other cut of beef, pulled.
Towards the end of the meal, owner Dan Ford came over and said hello. Nice guy, still hasn't lost his Texas accent, despite living in the middle of Yankeeland. Waiter must have tipped him off to the guys in the back booth taking pictures of the food.

Another sidebar: They just turned the chamber music off. Thank god (no pun intended).

Overall, the food was ok. They clearly make an effort to cook BBQ they way it is supposed to be done. They missed the mark in some places,and I personally feel the menu is way too big. I would scale it back a little and focus on their BBQ core. But I understand why they offer so much. They probably feel that in the CT suburbs, you have to appeal to the masses. They have been open for some time, so it is a formula that seems to be working.

I had a nice time with Gary talking about Q and competing. He is considering taking the leap into the competition scene, and I think he should do it. He has eaten enough Q to know the difference between good and bad. I think he will do well.

Friday, March 14, 2008

On The Road

It's 11:40 PM and I'm sitting in a hotel room in Oneonta, NY. I came along for the ride with Sheila, who has to do presentations for her job Saturday and Sunday. We hit Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington on the way up. I'll be writing about that tomorrow, along with a trip to a CT BBQ joint that I took with Gary Goldblatt of on Thursday.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Freeze Your Butt Off Competition, Maynard, MA

After a venue change, the Freeze Your Butt Off BBQ competition took place as scheduled this past weekend in Maynard, Massachusetts. It was supposed to be at Jiminy Peak Ski Area, but was moved a week before to the Maynard Rod and Gun Club.

I went into this event looking at it as a great place to try out the new Backwoods smoker in a contest setting. I knew the team list was tough, and the chances of winning were slim, but since this was not a KCBS sanctioned event it was the perfect place for a trial smoker run.

The stress level was high well before we even packed up and left for the event. The forecast called for anywhere between four inches and a foot of snow through the entire region. Based on this, I was unsure whether or not to bring the camper. However, almost all of our competition stuff was packed into the camper, and going up without it would have been a real mess.

The good news was that where I live in Norwich, CT, we mostly just got rain. While there was more snow up near the contest site, I was confident that I could bring the camper. I was right. The roads were fine all the way there, and we arrived without incident.

Once we were unpacked, the camper again proved its value. The furnace worked great, and the thing is so well insulated that it was extremely warm and comfortable all weekend. Sheila was not at this contest, as she was stuck going to Reno for the weekend on business. My brother Cristiaan and his girlfriend Kim rounded out the team for the weekend.

We arrived in Maynard at around 1:30 p.m., and most of the other teams were already there. We got a nice spot in the middle of the lot, with iQue on one side of us, I Smell Smoke on the other and Transformer BBQ right behind us. Great neighbors all around. A total of 13 teams competed in the contest.

The people's choice wings contest was cancelled because of the venue change, so we had a potluck dinner made by members of the assorted teams, along with some who were not competing and just came down to hang out. It was great to see so many people from the competition scene after months of inactivity. Saturday night was great, just a lot of people hanging out, enjoying adult beverages and having a good time.

Once the party was over, we all passed out. Unfortunately, a miscommunication between Cristiaan and myself caused neixther of us to check the smoker holding our pork and brisket for several hours. By the time I realized it at four a.m., the smoker temperature had dropped to 170. Not good. Fortunately, I was able to get the temperature back up quickly. The lesson here is to make sure that charcoal pan is packed full before going to bed, whether I think someone is going to be watching the pit or not.

Anyway, the snafu basicly meant that I didn't get very much sleep. I normally like to sleep from 1a.m. until around 5:45 a.m. on turn in day, which usually keeps me feeling good throughout the day Sunday. Instead, I felt like crap all day.

Overall though, the cooking went well. My chicken recipe is getting better and is coming together well. I've been grilling chicken instead of smoking it, and it has finally started to bear fruit. We got called for 4th place chicken.

Ribs, I knew were going to be a problem once I started cutting into the racks. We pulled the ugliest of the four racks I cooked off a little early to sample them. They were great, and the tenderness was right on. Unfortunately, we ate the best ribs I had cooked. The other three racks were a little tougher, and it showed in the scores. Ribs were 7th place, our worst score of the day.

Next was pork. I really haven't changed our pork recipe from last year. it has been doing pretty well, so I decided not to mess with it. Another fourth place finish.

By now you're probably saying "wait a minute, where are the pictures?" Well, after discussions with some of the other teams, I have decided not to post the BBQ turn in box pictures any more. I will post grilling and chef's choice pictures, but not BBQ. Sorry!

Anyway, brisket was next. This was a relatively new recipe I was trying, complete with a new injection. The flavor was great, but again I just have not been able to get the tenderness I have been looking for lately. Scored OK though, 5th place.

Finally, the last category was an "Iron Chef" type deal. However, despite the rules calling for teams receiving a "mystery meat" to cook, we received a jar of spaghetti sauce, a head of garlic and a package of spaghetti. Ugh.

Since there was no cash prize for this category, and only a trophy for first place, I decided not to go out to the store and spend money on a meat. I had prepared for the category based on the expectation of receiving a "mystery meat." I brought stocks and spices, not something to make pasta.

So I decided not to sauce several pieces of chicken we had cooked for the BBQ contest, then pull the chicken. We roasted the head of garlic, and sauteed the chicken with some of the tomato sauce and a little red wine. We boiled the spaghetti, placed a bed in the turn in box, topped it with the chicken concoction, then shredded a little cheese for garnish. Somehow took 4th place, go figure.

So, in the end, it was a pretty good weekend scoring wise. We finished 5th overall, and got three more medals for the collection and learned a lot about the Backwoods in competition. Am I happy that we finished 5th? Not really. But I see this as a building block for the future. Hopefully we will be able to get a few more contests in before Sheila has the baby in July.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Back From The FYBO

Got back last night from the Freeze Your Butt Off BBQ contest at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club in Maynard, Massachusetts. We did pretty well, getting calls for 4th place chicken, 4th place pork and 5th place brisket, finishing 5th overall with almost all the best teams in New England in attendance. Was a difficult contest, but overall I am pretty happy with the results.

Sorry I didn't get much written about this contest last week leading up to the event, but I'll get a full post up recapping the weekend in the next few days.