Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ribs for a friend's party

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Merrimack, The Rock-n-Ribfest

Had a great time at the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest last week in Merrimack, New Hampshire. The contest went off exactly as I thought it would, very large crowds, tough competition from great teams, and a lot of fun, and my good friends Mike and Kris Boisvert won their first grand championship. But for me, there was no shortage of chaos.

The drive up and set up were largely uneventful, although as usual it took me forever to get out of the house and I left two hours later than planned. But I got to the site well before the four p.m. cutoff, as they would not let any teams drive in or out once the gates open to the public. Mike from Lakeside Smokers was able to save a spot for us next to them, which was great.

Friday night brought what I hope will become a regular thing, "Friday Night Movie Night." Brendan of Transformer BBQ brought his projector, and the night's screening on the side of Mike's RV was "Best in Show," which was extremely funny.

We also had a great potluck dinner Friday, which was highlighted by Mighty Swine Dining BBQ's paella.

Saturday was the grilling contest, which was supposed to be very easy for me. The plan was for four of my family members to each cook one category, and I was going to hang out with Max. However, my Mom forgot a key ingredient to her dish, so I had to run off to the supermarket, which entailed a mile walk to the car and a mile walk back. Usually it is me sending someone to the store to get something that I forgot, so I guess this was a taste of my own medicine.

Then when I got back, I ended up starting charcoal, doing dishes and other stuff for the event. It's what I love doing, but was not according to the plan.

The first category was shrimp, handled by my sister Jenny. Not sure of the exact recipe, but it was an Asian style grilled shrimp. I thought it was really good and the box looked great, but the shrimp was a little overcooked, 24th place.

Next was the ribeye steak. My brother Cristiaan handled this category, grilling the ribeyes with some kind of alcohol reduction. It was good, but missed by a little bit and came in 12th.

Next was the sausage category. With this being an open garnish contest, my Mom cooked her sausage bread, which is loved at family functions. It was really good, but we just kind of ran out of time. It would have been much better if we were able to cook it for around 5 minutes longer, then rest for 10 minutes before slicing. My hopes for this to do well rose when the contest reps said they were bummed that they didn't get to try it when it came through the tent. However, it finished somewhere in the 20's (score sheets are in the camper).

The last category was Sheila's, chicken wings. The good part of her having this category is that she cooked wings numerous times in the weeks leading up to the contest. That made me happy.

She settled on a grilled Buffalo wing in the end. They came out really good, and got a nearly perfect appearance score (all 9's and one 8), but just missed a call by coming in 6th.

Saturday afternoon and evening was prepping for the BBQ contest Sunday, and more hanging out. Between our site and Lakeside Smokers next door, there were a lot of people around. Things turned messy when my barefooted brother stepped on a BBQ tool that I use to mess with hot charcoal was stuck in the ground next to one of the cookers. He badly cut his toe, but decided that it was not bad enough to warrant a trip to the hospital, against the advice of a paramedic at the scene.

The prep and overnight cooking progressed fine. Even though I hadn't cooked a KCBS contest in nine months, I felt the timing of everything went great.

But clearly something was wrong.

Throughout Sunday morning, I just felt like something wasn't right. My optimism came back a little while cooking the chicken. The process I have been developing is really starting to work, and the cook went really well. It just missed the mark, taking 6th place, our best finish of the day.

The ribs were just uneven. I cooked four racks, and only two of them were any good. The box didn't look that great, and I just was not blown away by the way the ribs turned out. Neither were the judges, the ribs were 25th.
The pork, well this was my disaster. I am not going into detail, but I ruined the pork and could not save it. 32nd place, right where it belonged.

The brisket was probably the only place I am a little bit disappointed. I cooked two briskets, one was a little overdone, but the other was better. Tenderness was right on, but it was a little dry. Came in 14th, not awful but it confirmed that we would be shut out of the awards completely for the weekend.

So in the end, we were 16th overall. Having Lakeside Smokers win their first grand championship and what appears to be an auto qualifier for the Jack, really made up for it. I could not be more proud of Mike. He has worked so hard, practiced, learned, practiced some more and now has achieved a grand championship, winning a contest that was cooked by pretty much all of the best teams in the region. Hey Mike, congrats again!
Also, Max was on hand all weekend. He really was great, but came down with an ear infection. Not sure whether being at the contest had anything to do with it, as he has had them before, but it couldn't have helped.

The weather held out for most of the weekend, but Sunday afternoon it got messy. There was some moderate rain, our breakdown took forever, and the awning on the camper broke. Then, when I finally got everything ready to go, I discovered that one of the doors to the truck was ajar, and the battery was dead. Two jump starts later, I was finally on my way home.

I'm just going to chalk it up as a bad weekend, cooking wise. But it was great in so many other ways. Now, a week from today, Max, Sheila and I will be heading up to Lake Placid for the I Love BBQ Festival. It's a great event, and I hope to improve on the weak finish in New Hampshire for sure. Can't really do a whole lot worse.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back From Merrimack

Got back from Merrimack Sunday night. A bittersweet contest for me, as my good friends Mike and Kris Boisvert of Lakeside Smokers won their first grand championship, but I did really poorly in the BBQ contest. I'm so happy for them, it was truly a great moment. Congrats Mike, I told you it would happen!
I'll post a complete recap soon, but for now I'm just trying to block it all out :-) The weather held out most of the weekend, but there was no shortage of chaos and at times a complete comedy of errors.
Here are a bunch of pictures frfom the weekend, which really was a great time. Click for pics.
And if someone can tell me why I cannot separate paragraphs when posting on here with Vista, that would be great.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Movie night

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Julie of Transformer

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Off to New Hampshire

Everything is packed an in a little while I'm off to compete in the New Hampshire Rock-n-Ribfest in Merrimack, New Hampshire. I'm excited to get out there and compete after so long.
Saturday will be a blast, as several members of my family are cooking the grilling contest. I detail this more in a previous post. Sheila will assuming the role of pit boss, as she will be the one charged with holding it all together.

The weather doesn't look all that great for the weekend, but I really don't care. It cannot be any worse than 2006, when it poured all day Friday and Saturday and turned the competition area into a muddy disaster area. Pictures below from that mess....

Unlike 2006, we have the camper now, so if it really gets bad we at least have somewhere to ride it out in comfort.

We will also have Max with us, I can't wait to see how he reacts to being at a contest now, I think he will love it!

I'll also be trying to send updates and/or pictures from my Blackberry during the weekend.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Lake Placid

Q Haven will be cooking at Lake Placid this 4th of July weekend after all.

When we were figuring out our schedule for this season, Lake Placid was a big question mark. This contest has both big pros and big cons. The biggest pro is the event itself, which is great. We went to Lake Placid in 2006 and 2007, and just had great times both years. It issuch a unique little town and the people there just embrace the BBQ teams and the event.

Another pro is Dmitry Feld, the attentive, highly caffinated organizer of the contest. The guy always has a million things going on and always seems to have it all under control.

The biggest con is the location. While it is in a beautiful town, it is far away and hard to get to. Towing the camper through the mountains is not my idea of fun. But more than that, we really were thinking ofdoing just one contest a month this year, and we had already penciled in New Hampshire and Harpoon. So I reluctantly crossed this one off the list.

But my brother Cristiaan gets credit for administering the nudge that got us thinking seriously about going. He mentioned a strongdesireto goback this year, and Sheila and I started talking about it. As we talked, the memories of those two contests started flowing back, the calendar came out and we started figuring out how to make it happen.

It's not going to be easy but we are going to make it happen. I have a feeling that once we get there, it will be worth it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's Getting Close

A week from tomorrow, I will be heading to Merrimack, New Hampshire for the Rock-n-Ribfest. It has been a looong time since our last KCBS contest, which was Westport in September. Wow, that's almost 9 months ago. Sheila could have cranked out another kid in that time.

So with all that time off, I really will have no excuse for not being ready. That is combined with the fact that I started working from home almost two weeks ago. rather than going out into downtown Hartford and getting panhandled on my lunch break, I can go down and organize my spices, cooking utensils and other competition stuff.

Later I will be heading over to the trailer and start getting things ready. Tomorrow I'll head over to my brisket guy, and Ill be set.

The good news is that I have pretty much all of the rubs and sauces I will need for this contest. I personally will not be cooking the grilling contest at all, so I don't even need to worry about that.

I'm really looking forward to 2009. I plan on having a cleaner, leaner operation this year, with the plan being to cut down on trailer weight, along with set up and break down time.

While it helps to prepare in advance, the most important thing is executing on game day. We've had some success at this contest in the past, hopefully the good karma will continue.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

NASCAR Tailgate Party

Catered my first tailgate party Sunday, which was for a bus trip to Dover, Delaware for the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race. Cooking an event like this is very difficult logistically, as everything needs to be packed in the lower compartment of the bus.

The planning and preparation has been going on for weeks. The menu was relatively straightforward. Pulled pork, burgers, hot dogs, sausage and peppers were the main food, with sides of cole slaw and potato salad. Sheila made her salsa and chips as well, and I also served cookies, soda and water.

While there was a lot of prep work to be done, the thing I was most worried about was getting the setup done. It would not have been a problem, but I had no help. My brother had agreed to come and help me months ago, but apparently lacks a calendar and a pen, because about a month ago he scheduled a BBQ at his house for the same day. Said he couldn't move the date, so I knew I was going solo. Most people I know would rather be waterboarded than go to a NASCAR race, so I knew it would be me going it alone.

Fortunately, my friend Brendan Burek of Transformer BBQ came down Saturday and helped with the prep, which was awesome. As it was, I didn't get everything finished and packed into the SUV until around 10 PM, so I probably would have been up all night without his help. He pretty much made the sausage and peppers, which everyone loved.

Sheila helped a great deal Saturday too, and the salsa got numerous compliments too.

The good news was that the weather was perfect, and we got a great bus parking spot with plenty of room to set up, and for the 46 guests to enjoy themselves.

So as soon as the bus parked I swung into action. The bus driver helped me get the pop up tent up, so by the time everyone got off the bus I had much of the setup done.

I had cooked the pork butts Saturday, and they were holding hot in the Cambro with the Italian sausage. Backing up, as I was unloading the SUV into the bus at around 4:30 AM, the packed Cambro slid out of the truck and landed door side on the ground. I was worried that I had ruined the food, but it ended up being fine, with barely a drop leaking from any of the pans. Love that Cambro.

Anyway, I heated up the pork and sausage, fired up the gas grill to start the burgers and hot dogs, and basically was going berserk getting everything done. I knew people wanted to get inside, which I I never really have been able to understand. We were there at around 10:30 AM, and the race didn't start until after 2 PM. But that's how NASCAR fans are.

Fortunately Sheila's salsa and chips gave people something to snack on while I got everything ready. When the buffet opened things went pretty smooth for the most part. Regardless, people were understanding and saw how hard I was working to get everything done. Many offered to help, but I didn't want to have paying customers having to work.

The food itself was a success. People just raved about the pork and sausage, with some less adventureous types sticking to the burgers and dogs. I got through about 2/3 of the people before I ran out of cooked burgers, so a few had to wait for the second batch to finish.

So by 11:30, everyone had eaten and most of them headed into the track. It was so great to decompress. When it was all said and done, I had one pan each of pork and sausage left. I put them back on the stove and got them really hot, then put them back in the Cambro. When the race was over, I rushed back and put out the leftover pork and sausage, rolls, slaw, chips and salsa and cookies. Everything was devoured except the salsa and slaw, which I brought way too much of anyway.

So in the end, everyone seemed to enjoy the trip. The whole day just went extremely well, with virtually no traffic the whole way down, a great race (neither Busch brother won), food afterwards, and really no problems.

Ok, those who know me are aware that at every BBQ contest, I forget something. Small, random things. So I really tried to be prepared this time, because Mike from Lakeside Smokers would not be there to lend me whatever I forgot. And of course, I forgot stuff. Here's the short list: apron, salt and pepper, and knives.

I learned a bunch of things too. I'm doing another race tailgate party in September for a bus trip up to the NASCAR race in Loudon, New Hampshire. For more information click HERE.