Thursday, August 21, 2008

New Paltz, Take Three

For the third straight year, Q Haven cooked the Hudson Valley Ribfest in Highland, New York. It's really New Paltz, a college town which is minutes from the contest site.

The last two years, we have not done really well at this contest. In 2006, we were shut out, and did not get a single call in either the New England Barbeque Society grilling contest or Kansas City Barbeque Society BBQ contest. In 2007, we did well in the grilling contest, taking 2nd place in fish and sausage, but were again shut out in BBQ. Badly. Horrible scores across the board.

Would the third time be the charm?
The goal was to leave no later than one p.m. Friday for the site. This was a drive I dread, as Friday traffic in Danbury, then in New York state, is usually terrible. Finally got on the road more like two, and the traffic was surprisingly light. Arrived at the contest site at around 6:30. I was towing the toy hauler, while Sheila and Max followed in the Jetta.

Yes, Max made the trip for his first BBQ competition. At five weeks, we figured we had waited long enough haha. Seriously, having the camper and several willing volunteers to help watch him, we felt we could bring him. Here's Max in his portable camper crib.

We got our site assignment, and it was not in the location where I had hoped to be. However, we were sited next to our friends Mike and Kris from Lakeside Smokers, so it was OK.

Fortunately, the thunderstorms expected Friday rolled past before I got there. The weather the rest of the weekend was great.

Anyway, on to the cooking.

Saturday was the NEBS grilling contest, and it was business as usual for Q Haven at New Paltz, as we got shut out. However, our scores were not too bad. 33 teams competed in grilling.

The first category was pork chop. I did a Frenched chop, seared in a cast iron skillet, then finished on the grill with a dijon sauce. I had a presentation idea, but the chops ended up being too big. I just did what I could to get them all in the box and turned it in. Seventh place.

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Next was sausage. I did the exact same sausage fattie recipe that took second place at New Paltz last year. The recipe is now retired for competition purposes, so I will post the recipe in a future post. It took 19th place.

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Next was steak. I did a NY Strip, and Cristiaan made a red wine reduction that we lightly splashed on there. This was close, just needed a little more flavor and it could have hit. 12th place.

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Last was fish. I always keep it simple with fish, and this time I did swordfish, grilled with a little salt, pepper and Old Bay, then finished with a coating of an olive oil, lemon juice and fresh oregano. For some reason, the judges did not score this well for appearance. A little better appearance score and this definitely gets a call. Instead, it was 7th place.
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Is that a 6 in appearance? Three judges thought so. Perfectly cooked, look at those nice, subtle grill marks! Oh, forget it....

Maybe it was an attack on the "boring" all parsley presentation. Feel free to post a comment if you have any thoughts.

So we finished 9th overall for the contest. While we didn't get any calls, it was a far better showing than our last grilling attempt, when we came in second to last at Oyster Bay.

After grilling, Cristiaan and I hit the pool. There's a huge, Olympic sized pool on the grounds of the Ulster County Fairgrounds. A great way to unwind after a long day of cooking.

Saturday afternoon and evening, I learned a lesson. I always enjoy cooking for people, and I invited several family members to come Saturday afternoon. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but having to entertain and cook for all those people is clearly a distraction. I get distracted by the normal goings on at a contest to begin with, and adding that much pressure just makes it worse. I have decided to focus on the contest cooking at contests, and save the cooking for family for home.
Saturday night, I needlessly stayed up too late. Did not get a lot of sleep. Dam dip was served late, and I try not to miss it!
Dam Dip is a massive cast iron skillet of Mexican goodness served late night by Sully of Lunchmeat. It is always awesome after an evening of adult beverages.

Sunday went smoothly cooking for the BBQ contest, which featured 53 teams. Most of the big names in BBQ in the Northeast that have been doing well were there, including iQue, Lunchmeat, Lakeside Smokers, Transformer BBQ and BBQ Oh yeah, I Smell Smoke!!! was there too :-)

I was concerned that the chicken would not be finished on time because I didn't get the grill hot enough, but it ended up being done just enough. Chicken was 10th place.

Next were ribs. It was my second time cooking spares, and they came out really well. Tenderness was right where I wanted it to be, took 3rd place. Here is Cristiaan modeling one of them.

Pork...tried a couple of new things, missed the mark. My old pork recipe will return for Westport. This one took 23rd place.

Last was brisket. We hardly followed up on taking 1st place in brisket at Harpoon. Even though I cooked it for 16 hours, I never got these briskets up to the right temperature, and the meat was not nearly as tender as I would have liked. I knew it, and the judges confirmed it. 40th place. Ouch.

Sheila handled the apple category. She made crepes. What she made for the filling had great flavor, but the crepes themselves did not have any flavor at all, and it hurt the dish overall. 41st place.

So in the end, we were 11th overall. Not the worst showing but not where I would have liked to be. I have identified some mistakes and areas for improvement, and hopefully it will show at Westport next month.

iQue won the event, taking first place pork and brisket in the process. However, so many different teams got calls to the stage, and others took big steps forward. Our friends from Wine and Swine finished 8th overall, and Sexy Gino's took first place chicken and 9th overall. Both are Connecticut teams too, and it is good so see some other teams from the state doing well on the circuit.

After it was all over, we took our time breaking down, really cleaning everything and packing well. After breakdown was complete, Cristiaan, Mike Boisvert of Lakeside Smokers, and Sean McCabe of Group W Bench all went over and took a final dip in the pool. After a long weekend of extremely hard work it felt so great.

I was the last BBQ team to leave the contest site. BBQ contests are too short. While I got to hang around and visit with a lot of people, there is never enough time to see everyone. I miss being there already, and cannot wait for the next one.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Max Attends His First BBQ Contest

Max attended his first BBQ contest this past weekend in New Paltz, and was clearly the rock star of the weekend. Everyone, especially the girls, enjoyed meeting our little guy!

Thanks to Kris of Lakeside Smokers, who watched Max during the grilling contest Saturday and muchof the weekend. It was greatly appreciated!

Back From New Paltz

Got home early this morning from the Hudson Valley Ribfest in Highland, NY. We had a great time, took 3rd place in ribs among 53 teams, and learned a few lessons along the way. A recap of the event is coming soon.

Oh, and that picture is of a beef short rib I cooked for Saturday snacks. They came out pretty good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Off To New Paltz

Well, it is early Friday morning, and early this afternoon we will hit the road for New Paltz and the Hudson Valley Ribfest. I really can't wait to get there. In fact, getting there, or to any BBQ contest is the worst part for me.

The reason? Towing the toy hauler/camper to get there.

I really do not enjoy towing at all, at least with my current tow vehicle. It is a 2004 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer, and it has a strong V8 engine. The vehicle is rated to tow 7100 pounds, and the camper is 3,500 pounds empty. I add around a thousand pounds of gear to it, so I am still well below the rated weight, but the SUV still has to work really hard. I'm worried that one day the tranny will just drop right out of the bottom of the thing.

If it happens, I hope it is on the way home, not on the way there.

Once we arrive, having the camper is the greatest thing at a competition. Between the bed, toilet and shower, along with air conditioning, it brings a layer of comfort that I feel gives us an edge. It will also allow us to bring our baby Max this weekend.

After our strong showing at Harpoon, I feel pretty good going into this contest. There are a lot of great teams cooking this one, and a lot of teams, period, with at least 53 paid entries. We are doing both the grilling Saturday and BBQ contest Sunday. Last year at New Paltz, we did very well in the grilling contest, but tanked the BBQ contest. Hopefully this year we can have a successful two days.

In the meantime, we got Sheila a Blackberry last week. Maybe if I can figure out how the thing works I will post something from the contest.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

To Grill Or Not To Grill

As is usually the case, this weekend's contest at New Paltz, NY will be both a BBQ contest and a grilling contest. While grilling can be fun, it adds additional layers of planning and expense with small prize pools that sometimes make me think they are not worth cooking.

But I keep coming back.

I've done pretty well in grilling contests in the past, but it is safe to say I am in a bit of a grilling slump. The last two grilling contests I cooked I didn't do very well. In fact, we would have come in dead last at the last one in Oyster Bay, NY if one of the teams had not missed a turn in time.

But I am grilling at New Paltz. What I am grilling at this moment remains up in the air.

The categories are fish, sausage, pork chop and beef steak. These are nearly the same categories as last year's event at New Paltz, where we took 2nd place in both fish and sausage and finished fourth overall. If I had not tanked the steak entry we would have had a shot at grand or reserve. So while I always like to change things up from event to event, I am inclined to keep things pretty similar to last year.

If I had only written everything down....

I can guarantee that the steak entry will be completely changed. Last year, I turned in a single strip steak with some kind of Gorgonzola cream sauce i whipped up. That is not happening again. The rest are starting to come together in my head, I'll finalize in the next couple of days.