Thursday, November 18, 2010

What sounds good this weekend?

Some of the more unique events around this weekend include darting turkeys, pecans and a Jewish food festival.

The Annual Dart the Turkey & Dessert Baking Contest in Clearfield City, Utah takes place Friday evening where darting begins at 6:30 p.m. This is quite a variation on the turkey shoots I've attended here on the East Coast. I've seen both guns and bows used but never darts!

Apparently the dart shoots include classes of competitors as young as 6 years of age! Targets can be purchased for 25 cents each and winners of each age category win a free turkey.

I'm guessing the companion dessert competition draws just as much (if not more) interest! Now in it's 21st year, this part of the competition will accept entries from 6:45 to 7 p.m. with judging beginning at 7:15. Categories include Best Pie, Best Cake, Best Dish, Best Cookie, Best Candy, Best Student and a new category this year - "Best Cooking Light Recipe." That last one is, oh so important, when competing in a dessert category!!

Do you think my KCBS BBQ judge credentials will get me a seat at the judging table here?

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Then there's the Pecan Fest in Chetopa, Kansas. among the events here are all day musical entertainmant, a 5K run, a talent show, arts & crafts show, quilt display, car show and inflatable games (?) !! For us Foodies, the day begins with a Pancake and Sausage Breakfast at the Masonic Lodge and features an All-You-Can-Eat Smorgasboard Luncheon for just $6. (Desserts will be sold separately.) They warn attendees to "come on time! We'll seve until the food is gone!" Tickets for this go on sale at 10:30 a.m.

Of course, there is a Pecan Cooking Competition. The single Adult category includes cakes, pies, cookies, candies and assorted entries. The Children's category is actually split into the four categories of cakes, pies, cookies and assorted entries. Age Divisions include adults, 8 and under, 9-12 and 13-16. There will be ribbons for winners of each of the individual categories and special awards for "Best in Show" and "Most Unusual Use of Pecans."

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Rounding out the weekend's menu is the Nosh Fest in Cooper City, Florida. A "nosh" is a taste. So come nosh on traditional Jewish style foods such as corned beef and pastrami, lox and bagels, falafel and Israeli salads, matzo ball soup, potato pancakes (latkes), noodle kugel and more. There will be a cooking competition, cooking demos and music throughout the day.

So, go out and have tasty weekend, y'all!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Let's go "Gourmet" in Vegas this week!

The World Gourmet Summit is happening now in Las Vegas.

This sounds like something I can really get into. I mean, it contains the word "GOURMET" in its name and takes place in Las Vegas!! Do I need more incentive?!?

Well, my husband has demanded more info before making a commitment. Never let it be said he leaps before looking. Okay, to be real, I don't believe he has any intentions of signing us up for this one but "Las Vegas" did catch his attention! He does like Vegas. I always say I have a better shot of going anywhere if I can bribe him with a nearby casino.

So, what is the World Gourmet Summit?

According to the press release it's "a food and wine extravaganza including culinary demonstrations and wine -pairing classes, gourmet dinners, and a Grand Gourmet Safari, with over 80 wineries presenting in excess of 150 wines and internationally renowned Master Chefs presenting their favorite specialties." It goes on to bill the event as an opportunity to "rub shoulders with fellow devotees from around the world." Ooooh, great food and wine and a good shoulder rub, what's not to like? It's happening today through the 20th.

The events list includes such activities as a Culinary Master Class & Wine Pairing Seminar, a Master Chef's Dinner, Panel discussions of Food & Beverage topics, a "Chateau Musar" Tasting Session, The Las Vegas Grand Gourmet Safari, and the Food & Beverage Hall of Fame Gala. Each day ends with a Get Together at the "Fire Pit" of the Signature at MGM Grand for socializing. I'm particularly interested in that Safari!!

The main goal of this event is to raise scholarship funds for hospitatlity students. Attended predominantly by members of the Food & Beverage Forum, all events are open to the public. There are auctions featuring items such as stays in luxury hotels around the world, dinners in some of the best restaurants in the industry, fine wines and more. While there is an online auction associated with the event featuring the most coveted lots, there are also a number of live auctions conducted on site. Since 1996, a total of $550,000 has been distributed to students at a number of colleges and universities around the country.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fall Festivals Are Still Happening ...

One of my favorite entertainers will be heard in Basile, LA Friday night when Chubby Carrier takes the stage for some of his zydeco party sounds. One has to bear in mind, "a Chubby party just don't quit!" Chubby will get things rolling at the LA Swine Festival on Friday night and the party will roll on through Sunday (11/5-11/7).

In addition to all the standard festival fare of music, games, car show, etc, there will be a Queen's Boudin Eating Contest, the Queen's Greasy Pig Chase, a Hog Calling contest and, of course, a Pork Cook-Off. The Cook-Off will feature the four categories of Pot, Pit, Cajun and Cracklins. Cook teams can enter one or more categories. A secondary competition will be held among the cook teams for the Chug-A-Lug Champs. Additional awards will be given to the cook-off team who chug-a-lugs the most beer purchased at the beer booth. (Tally will be kept at the beer booth.)

Hmmm, this could provide just the inspiration I need to put together a cook-off team. Think it's too late?

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Feel more like a nut ?

Then head on out to the 13th Annual Pistachio Festival on 11/6 in Newberry Springs, CA where you'll find Food - Fun - Live Music - and ...PISTACHIOS!

Or ...

You could head on down to the 7th Annual South Carolina Pecan Festival in Florence, South Carolina on 11/6. There you'll be able to check out the Pecan Cook-Off, trot along in the Run Like A Nut half marathon or simply sit back and enjoy the entertainment of more than 30 performers on this event's 7 stages!

If that's not your cup of tea, so to speak, check out

the Society Hill Catfish Festival just down the road in Darlington County, SC, also on 11/6. Some folks come for the music, some for the crafts and games and even more just to get together with old friends, but ALL end up eating some of the delicious catfish served under the big tent at St. David's Academy. The catfish stew is so popular that the organizers start selling it by the quarts and gallons the night before this free, one-day festival!

Whatever you choose to do, get out there and enjoy this Fall weather as the outdoor festiva
l season is quickly coming to a close for many of us in the cooler part of the country.

Go out and get yourself some good festival food while you can!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Carving

Happy Halloween, Y'all!!!!

I'm off to get the pumpkins ready to greet our Trick or Treaters this weekend, so I thought you might enjoy this take on carving pumpkins.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Not as many festival choices this weekend!

Much of the country is beginning to move out of the outdoor festival mode as we reach mid-October but there are still a few great events happening out there in the fresh brisk air. Won't be long till I'll be directing you into armories and church halls and such for food events. That is, if we can make our way around the snow and slush!!! (It's not far off, you know.)

There are, as usual, numerous wine events in just about every state and much of the Northern half of the country is celebrating the apple harvest with various apple festivals. There's a new orb in town, though, and it's taking over the spotlight. Yes, folks, I'm talking about the Great Pumpkin!!

Yesterday marked the opening of the Circleville Pumpkin Show in Circleville, Ohio, the oldest and largest festival in Ohio. This little town of 12,000 residents is invaded by over 400,000 visitors over the duration of this 4 day festival (10/20-10/23). That crowd is hungry, too, eating over 100,000 pumpkin donuts and buying 23,000 pumpkin pies among all the other festival eats!! They come to watch the parades - 7 different parades, each with a different theme. They come to compete in contests like the Prettiest Pumpkin, Pumpkin Pie Eating, Hog Calling and Egg Tossing. There's lots of stage entertainment, live music, the usual festival booths and rides and Gus, "The Squash Carver," will demonstrate at the Great Pumpkin Carving!

This year's biggest pumpkin weighs in at 1,622 lbs !!!! I wonder how many pies that'll make?

An added bonus: The festival's website has pumpkin recipes, too!

October 23 marks National Bulk Foods Day throughout the country. Now, I admit, when I first saw this on the calendar I thought it was a brilliant marketing ploy by those big warehouse stores like Sam's and Costco. My mind immediately went to defining "bulk" as meaning huge packages. I was wrong. They're not involved in this one at all. In this instance, we're talking about foods purchased unpackaged from bulk containers like barrels and such. Promoted by the Bulk Is Green Council, an organization dedicated to helping consumers, food makers and grocers learn about the many environmental and economic benefits of bulk foods, people around the country are encouraged to celebrate by buying everything from spices to almonds to rice in bulk at their nearest grocery store or co-op. Bulk foods provide the 30% to 60% savings to the consumer by eliminating the added costs of packaging and promotion. Packaged goods require signigicantly more transportation to make their way to the shelves of our local stores. The manufacturing of packaging kills trees, dumps contaminated water into our streams, uses tremendous amounts of energy and shoots tons of CO2 into our air. Packaging is a burden to our landfills.

While I can't claim I buy a lot of my foods this way (It's simply not easily available to us in our community.), we do buy some things like powdered milk, nuts and such from barrels at an Amish market we frequent. We also buy and use mostly fresh veggies and fruit over prepackaged ones. I tend to freeze my own veggies in season for later use.

So, even if it's just for that one day, why not try to buy some "un"packaged foods. After all, who really needs more plastic wrappers for the trash man?

Hope you manage to find some good eats this weekend wherever you are!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Accidental Rib Judging

Yesterday turned out to be a fantastic Fall day, though a bit on the windy side. The temps were in the low 60s and the sun was extremely bright. We found ourselves drawn to a festival on the banks of the Susquehanna River and it was absolutely beautiful! We stopped in at Smokin' On The River in Port Deposit, Maryland just to hear a little music and maybe grab a bite to eat on our way to our evening destination.

This was not an official KCBS BBQ competition so we weren't involved in the judging of this Tail Gate Cook-Off. As it turned out, we were recognized and drafted into judging anyway. (The cooks had been promised KCBS judges and KCBS judging standards.) There were 17 talented cook teams that had fought the cool wind all day to produce some high quality ribs and there was an extreme shortage of judges. Turns out we only had 5 certified KCBS judges and one "celebrity judge", the St. Pauli Beer Girl ! (The guys voted her in. Big Surprise!)

It wasn't in our plans but took only about an hour to sample and score these eats and we were glad to do it. Oh, and The Big Guy was thrilled to pose with the St. Pauli Girl, too!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Last BBQ Competition for the season - for us, anyway.

Saturday's judging was the last of the year for us. We'll just have to savor the memories, smells and tastes for a few months. The new season will begin in April which sounds like a really long time away. So much can happen in between.
This last event for awhile was, thankfully, a great one. The Mt. Airy Smoke'n BBQ (in Mt. Airy, MD) was a fantastic KCBS competition combined with a terrific community Fall festival that included music, entertainment, a car show, spaghetti and wing eating contests and even a yo-yo demonstration and lessons by a representative of the Duncan Yo-Yo Company! This was the first spaghetti eating competition I ever witnessed. they could use their hands but no utensils. I only thought spaghetti could be messy before this!

The weather was ideal (I even got a little sunburn! Last of the year I guess.) and a good time was had by all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roadkill Festival - For Real Folks!!!

Okay, I promised you a Roadkill Festival ...

Roll on in to Marlinton, West Virginia on September 25th to check out the 25th Annual Harvest Festival & 20th Annual West Virginia Roadkill Cook-Off. This is one of the region's most exciting and fun events and has been covered by a number of RV shows over the past few years. The Fine Living Channel did a piece on this event in January. (So, how do YOU define "fine" living?!?)

Yep, you can even sample some of these exotic and unusual dishes that range from squirrel to bear, and everything in between. The big winner in 2009 was a team called Two Crooks and A Cook. their winning presentation was "South-of-the-Border Mishap" armadillo, roadrunner and hitchhiker tacos. The Coal Hollow Brothers took 2nd with "Frogut's Jumpin Jambalaya" made with frog meat, sausage and chicken. (Sounds like a true bayou recipe to me.) The Ridge Runners walked away with 3rd featuring their "specialite de la maison" -Smeared Hog with Groundhog Gravy, served with Bear Butt Appetizers. (The latter were made from real bear meat but I'm not sure if the part designation was accurate.)

Oh yeah, there are the normal festival activities there, too - things like horseshoes, fine art demos and show, music and stage entertainment, sports tournaments, a dog show, a baby pageant, 5 K run, parade, etc. There's even a Miss Roadkill crowned. (Now, there's a title a girl can boast about for years!!)

Looking for something a little more run-of-the-mill ? If you insist. Over in Elkin, North Carolina, also on the 25th, is the 14th Annual Yadkin Valley Pumpkin Festival will be looking for the largest pumpkins in the 5th Annual Pumpkin Weigh-Off. Growers from all over the East Coast will be there to enter their oversized edible gourds. Last year, Ricky Holder won with the North Carolina Record Pumpkin at 1,258 lbs. Hungry? Then try your skills at the Pumpkin Pie Eating Contest.

Okay, now there is absolutely NO excuse for y'all to sit home this weekend. Get out there and try something new to eat!!! (I think I saw a dead possum about a block down the road. Maybe a little sauce...)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What's to eat this weekend in the festival world?

What comes to mind when you hear the words KFC Chicken?

I immediately picture Colonel Sanders. The Colonel opened his first fried chicken restaurant in London, Kentucky in the 1940s and the 21st Annual World Chicken Festival celebrates that heritage each year. This year's event, starting on 9/23 and flowing through 9/26, is expected to draw over 250,000 spectators.

One of the activities here that caught my attention are the World's Largest Stainless Steel Skillet that can cook 600 chickens at one time!! (Since 1992, that skillet has cooked over 120,000 fried chicken dinners at the festivals!)

Measuring 10'6" in diameter and 8" deep, the skillet has an 8' handle and weighs 700 lbs. It holds 300 gallons of cooking oil. Just to bread the 7,000 pieces of chicken that will be cooked there at this year's event will take 375 lbs of flour, 75 lbs of salt, 30 lbs of pepper and 30 lbs of paprika. They won't tell us anymore about the "secret ingredients" that give that chicken it's fantastic flavor, though.

Once you've eaten your fill of chicken, you can meander over to the Colonel Sanders Look-A-Like Contest or check out the Crowing, Strutting and Clucking Competitions.

Or, you could hang around for the Redneck Games! This year's games include: watermelon seed spitting, spam eating, toilet lid horseshoes, a redneck joke competition (with audience participation), armpit serenade (judged by song recognition), bobbing for pig's feet (done blindfolded), burping contest (judged on length of burp and song content) and corn shucking. You just don't see these things everyday!!

How about something a little more tame? Then check out the Irmo Okra Strut Festival in Irmo, South Carolina on September 24th and 25th. The main guest of honor here is, of course, okra! Featuring Okra Eating Contests on both Friday and Saturday, this festival features all the traditional food fare along with their famous "fried okra", deliciously seasoned and served up by the Lake Murray-Irmo Women's club. (Check out the festival website for a great recipe for this.) There is a "Guess the Pods" contest and other okra related competitions. The festival parade featuring over 100 units, is the State's largest festival parade!!

Finally, go west young friend! Head for The Whole Enchilada Fiesta in Las Cruces, New Mexico, held September 24th- 26th. There, you will find the World's Largest Enchilada (It holds the Guiness title!)

You can watch them construct this giant behemoth at 11 a.m. on the 26th. They'll use 750 lbs. of stone ground corn to make the massa dough to make the giant tortilla. Once pressed, the tortilla will be carried by 14 men to the cooking vat filed with 175 gallons of vegetable oil. (Did I mention they heat that oil to 550 degrees?!?) Once cooked, those men will carry the tortilla to a custom made serving plate where the enchilada will be filled with chile sauce, onions, and more. It takes approximately 2 1/2 hours from start to finish in the making of the World's LARGEST Enchilada! Spectators will then be given the opportunity to enjoy free samples of the whole enchilada.

Drats!!! I've run out of space, tonight.

Tune in tomorrow for the most interesting event of the weekend - a Roadkill Festival!! (Seriously, folks. I kid you not.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Never Forget

9 - 11


It's been nine years since we lost our
sense of safety and security in our homeland

Life as we knew it, will never be the same.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This week's more unique food fests ..

Do you like kolaches? Do you know what a kolac is? They're extremely popular pastries bought to America many moons ago by folks of Czech and Slovak background. They're easy to find in Texas and in Western Pennsylvania where there are large Czech populations. Want to try some? Then get yourself to Caldwell, Texas on the 11th for the Kolache Festival.

More into Popcorn ?
Then you're in luck, there are multiple popcorn festivals happening this weekend. Among other activities and entertainment, you can view popcorn sculptures and taste food specialties made with popcorn at the Beavercreek Popcorn Festival in Beavercreek, Ohio or you can visit the Wyandot Popcorn Museum at the Marion Popcorn Festival in Marion, Ohio (the Popcorn Capital of Ohio). There, you can enter the Popcorn Recipe Contest where the finished product must be edible and must contain popcorn and attend the Orville Redenbacher Popcorn Parade on Saturday Speaking of Orville, his native Valparaiso, Indiana boasts the First and Oldest Popcorn Parade, celebrating its 32nd year this weekend at the Valparaiso Popcorn Festival.

Okay, we all know we cannot live by dessert and snack foods alone.

So, let's head over to the Ayden Collard Festival in Ayden, NC (9/10-9/12) for some greens. Along with some top notch entertainment all three days and the other standard festival activities, you can enter your little ones in the Collard Patch Kids Contest. Do they smile sweetly, say the cutest things, or just look adorable? Well, you get the idea. There's a Collard Cooking Contest on Saturday and you must have your collards with you and ready to be judged on stage at 1 p.m. Prefer eating to cooking? Then sign up for the 36th Annual Collard Eating Contest. There are two categories - male and female. "The only rule is you must eat each pound of collards completely and you can add anything to it while eating them. Eat as much as you can for the 30 minute time period, keep them down long enough to get your prize, and you just may be crowned the Collard Eating Champion!"

Ever thought you might like to cook like the pioneers?

Then you need to get out to Eagle Creek, Oregon for the Dutch Oven Cookoff on the 11th. Old time music and dutch oven cooking combine for the perfect day to visit the Philip Foster Farm. Bring your instrument and join a jam session, or sign up to compete in the cook off. There are 3 categories to "The Pioneer Challenge" - Main Dish, Bread and Dessert. Compete in one or in all three. Or, just come to watch and taste.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Follow the smoke !!

**This is a rare post that has also run on my other blog this past week. I don't usually do that, but it was appropriate to both. (Sorry!)

After 3 weeks away from home we relaxed for a day and a half and then were up early Saturday morning to travel to the heart of Amish country for one of the most prestigious BBQ competitions in the East - the New Holland Summerfest in New Holland, PA.

It was an absolutely beautiful day for such an event. (Last year, we had a monsoon!) You could see and smell the smoke a block away and as we approached the park, every tent appeared to be busy getting ready for the first turn in of the day.

A KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society - the largest BBQ sanctioning group) sanctioned event, this contest features the four required categories of chicken, ribs, pork shoulder/butt and brisket as well as two ancillary categories - chef's choice and, new this year, chili. Quite a few teams also participate in the whole hog competition. Those last three categories are optional.

This shot, to the left, shows a team (Pork & Dean's from Phoenix, MD) preparing their whole hog entry.

**It should be noted that BBQ is the only truly American food legacy. People come here from other countries hoping to try real American BBQ!!

Due to space limitations, this event is limited to 72 competition teams. There is a long waiting list to get in and teams know time is of the essence when their application for this one arrives. The field is pretty much full within a week or so of the applications going out. This year, teams came from as far away as Ontario and North Carolina, with the majority hailing from Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware. These tend to be 72 of the very best in the region.

Likewise, it is quite popular with the judges. A contest this size needs 72 Certified Barbecue Judges (CBJs) as well as 12 Table Captains (usually also Certified Judges). This year, there was a judges waiting list of about 125 names. We also get our forms returned within a day or two of receipt. For years this competition has been able to boast that ALL judges are "certified."

Certified Judges actually attend a class to learn how to rate truly good BBQ. There is more involved than simply saying it "tastes good." (Although, taste IS important to the scoring!) Judges are taught to recognize the correct texture for properly cooked meats, appropriate uses of seasonings and marinades so that they lend flavor but still allow a meat's personality to shine through, and how a serving should look to appeal to our visual senses. Tenderness is also scored separately.

Cook teams have a lot invested in this venture. They provide their own meats and supplies, have thousands of dollars invested in smokers and other cooking equipment, travel long distances and spend at least 36 hours on site preparing their entries (ALL cooking MUST be done on site.) While you see star competitors on TV who have won thousands of dollars in competition, most cooks are extremely happy to receive even the smallest monetary reward for their efforts. They MUST enjoy the activity as they sure aren't in it to make a profit!!

Judges are also in it for the love of BBQ. We are not paid. Most of us travel long distances at our own expense - some stay in hotels. We spend 4-6 hours on site in the process of judging. We have judged contests in 100 degree heat on more than one occasion and also have practically frozen to death at cold windy sites. Most judging is done in tents not buildings so weather does factor into our comfort. (If you watched BBQ Pitmasters last season and saw the Dover competition, you saw the coldest and rainiest event we've ever personally judges!)

In return, we get to taste some of the best smoked food in the country!! We've made great friends with other judges and cooks and their teams. (Just for the record - All judging for KCBS is blind judging so friendship with the cooks is not a hand up to any of them.) We've attended some events with fantastic entertainment where we stayed all evening just to enjoy the music. We've gotten to know some fantastic folks working hard to put on quality events in their communities. The Big Guy and I have been happy to sit and talk with new organizers and give some advice as to what they need to do to pull off a great event. We've taken new judges under our wings and guided them a bit through their first experiences. Since we are quickly identified by our judging shirts and name tags as we stroll through an event we are always approached by spectators who ask questions about the judging process and BBQ in general. In effect, we are ambassadors for BBQ. ALL of the judges we know have done these same things. We want folks to enjoy and promote BBQ. It's as American as apple pie and Chevrolet!
A very full and happy judge!!

Each judge tastes and scores only six samples in any category but even at that rate, we are served approximately 2 lbs of meat at any one competition (This does not include whole hog categories. It takes a special appetite to judge Whole Hog. I have never done so.) Obviously, we cannot eat all of that in one sitting. Most of us take 2 or 3 bites of a sample and move on to the next. That is usually enough to reach a score. This means we each have lots of leftovers to take home. (I've become a whiz at creativity with left-overs!)
We are not scheduled to judge again for a few weeks but, who knows, something unexpected often comes up!

** For more info about KCBS contests, both competing and judging, check out the KCBS website at

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"You like tomato and I like tomahto Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto..."

However, you pronounce it - "They're heeeere!" The tomato harvest around these parts is at its peak.
Which brings us to the next question in our lives: How many ways can you come up with to serve, prepare, share and preserve tomatoes?

We did not plant our own this year as we knew we would not be home to tend a garden for much of the season. That's not a problem, though. Everyone else we know did. Now is the time of the season when you open your door in the morning only to find someone snuck up through the night and left a basket of gorgeous red/orange orbs on the doorstep. You come home from the store and find a plastic store bag dangling from the doorknob with, you guessed it, a few tomatoes! You can't leave a friends' home without a care package of tomatoes being jammed into your hands. I just LOVE this season!!

When we arrived in Nebraska to stay with family on this last trip, we found they'd definitely overplanted. Tomatoes of all sizes were ready and invading every counter space in the kitchen. A pot of salsa cooked nightly. Meals were planned around tomatoes. If you weren't careful, you received sliced tomatoes on top of your corn flakes in the morning!! Throughout the weeks, the freezer filled with both salsa and sauce for future use. We ate them sliced, fried, baked, grill-roasted and every other way you can think of. (I DO love a good tomato sandwich. Good thing!)

I'm thinking about finding the perfect tomato bread recipe to work with today. (I'm sure that would be a good way to freeze some of this stuff, too!)

Seriously, we do enjoy this part of the year with all the fresh veggies and fruits available to us. I think The Big Guy could live on fresh corn on the cob alone. Except, he would miss the tomatoes, zucchini, melons, beans, peaches, apples, etc.

We've got a friend who actually seemed sympathetic the day we told him we'd eaten corn, sliced tomatoes and melon for dinner. (He's a steak man, himself, and I think he thought we'd fallen on hard times.) Personally, we thought it was delicious meal that night!

Don't get me wrong, we DO eat MEAT. Check out tomorrow's post and you'll understand.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

I'm baaack!! (I think.)

So sorry, folks. It seems forever since I've posted here. Summer is a tough time as there are so many events and activities pulling on us from all angles. To complicate that schedule, we had a need to visit family for several weeks to help with a medical situation. Unfortunately, that household does not have internet access and the time simply wasn't available to go search out access elsewhere.

While I love the blogs and the writing process in general, family comes first. You do what you need to do. Things have leveled off now and we're back in the old homestead with my trusty little electronic friend. I can now get back to all of you - my cyber friends. Thanks for being patient and waiting for me.

I've already planned out this week's postings so I hope you take time each day to stop in and visit. I'm always glad you came by.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Sorry gang, I'm traveling without internet access until 8/26. See you all then!!

In the meantime, go out and try something new, find an interesting diner or just make a new recipe.

Eat well, my friends!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What's on the calendar this weekend?

In my search for interesting food events happening this week, I found plenty of blueberry festivals and watermelon gatherings around the country, a potato festival in South Dakota complete with the standard mashed potato wrestling matches, a hot dog festival in Indiana and lots of wine festivals everywhere. Then I found the two I thought were most interesting and definitely at opposite ends of the food spectrum - a hearth-baked bread event and a hot sauce gathering!!

The air around Skowhegan, Maine must be smelling sooooo good this weekend. The Kneeding Conference gets things started on July 29th and 30th, aiming to revive the practice of locally crafted bread from seed to loaf. Farmers, novice and professional bakers and earth oven enthusiasts are gathering to explore the art and science of growing and milling grains and baking artisan breads.

Then, from 9-3 on Saturday, the public is invited to the Artisan Bread Fair to discover, taste and buy all kinds of artisan breads and related baked goods and foods. The 31st happens to be the Eve of Lamas Day which is quite significant to the event. Lamas Day is the ancient mystical feast day, halfway between the Summer Solstice and the Autumnal Equinox, when we celebrate the season's first grain harvest and revel in the miracle of real bread from Earth to hearth. (Okay, so I'm giving a wide berth to the term "we".) Anyway, sounds like a good excuse to east some fresh-baked, savory bread to me!

Enough of that old-fashioned homey feeling, let's jump into the fire!

Saturday and Sunday (7/31-8/1) present us with the Weekend of Fire 2010 in Fairfield, Ohio (just north of Cincinnati). Billed as the "Largest Fiery Foods Show in the Midwest," this event features 75 booths of hot sauces, bbq sauces, salsas, marinades, mustards, jerkys, peppers and more, as well as no less than 7 eating contests (complete with trophies) and a cooking class, to boot!So, you think you have an asbestos coated belly? Then check these challenges out:

Bugsicle Eating Contest - 10 minutes to get to the bug inside a Hot Lix Insect Sucker (No, you don't need to eat the bug!); Hot Horseradish Eating Contest - Contestants will be given an equal amount of horseradish spread on 10 slices of bratwurst - first one done, wins!; Peanut Butter and Jelly Eating Contest - Of course, this isn't the normal PB&J - it's HOT peanut butter and HOT jelly!! Hot Ice Cream Eating Contest (both days) - Can you get brain freeze before your belly bursts into flame from the flavoring? Hot Cracker Eating Contest featuring Texas Fire Crackers - Can you yell "fire extinguisher, please?" Hot Lix will sponsor yet another contest with the Hot Lolly Contest - definitely not for children! Finally, the famous Defcon "Death Match" Hot Wing Eating Contest - Need we say more?

Not into competition heat? Why not try the Jungle Jim's Cooking School class that will teach you to make your own hot sauce and 6 other dishes using various hot seasonings. Yes, you will get to eat such dishes as Spicy Grilled Shittakes, Soul Slaw, Shrimp & Tasso with Five Pepper Jelly and more. Beer will be served and the class fee includes admission to the show.

Whatever you choose to do this weekend, enjoy!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

You can write with my ketchup.

So, which flavor Cheetos do you like most? The light yellow ones, bright orange or the dark, rusty red ones?
I know. Those are colors, not flavors. Ah, but the flavor determines the color. Oh, one more question, do you sort your Cheetos by size and shape?

Jason Baalman does.

I bet you just eat yours, too. Don't you? Jason creates works of art - very elaborate works of art. Some are noteworthy enough to receive TV coverage!

Once he sorts them out, he rolls up his sleeves and gets creative. He "paints" with his Cheetos. He's also been known to use chocolate, lipstick, pennies, ketchup and even ribs, among other "mediums." He recently used 1500 little toy soldiers to create a piece to raise funds for the U.S.O. Up close, it looked like a battlefield but from a distance, one could see a very elaborate portrait of a soldier!

I first heard about Jason on Rachael Ray's show this morning. He presented her with a very detailed portrait of herself, done all in Cheetos! Maybe you've caught his work before. He also did a portrait of Conan O'Brien which has received considerable air time.I was really impressed so I Googled him. He's been a busy guy. He works mostly on commissioned work and sells almost solely on the Internet. Strange thing is, he doesn't show his work in galleries or at shows as a general rule. He has, in fact, only done two true showings. He is well represented online, though. I found his personal site on You Tube to be the most informative but a listing also came up simply labeled Jason Baalman Images. This one fascinated me. Take some time and check him out. You'll never look at snack food the same again!

Jason taught Rachael how to use pantry items to create "paintings." He explained that mixing things like, say ketchup, with a little mustard, can change the shade of the colors and showed how using such tools as knives, forks, chop sticks, etc. can give your work texture and patterns.

I decided to give it a shot. After all, I AM a painter.

I took a foam plate to use as my canvas and poured a little ketchup and a dab of spicy brown mustard for contrast. I just used paint brushes and a toothpick to "draw" my design.

Let's just say, it must take practice - lots of practice. Maybe I should invest in better, thicker ketchup, too.


Why not play with your ketchup?

Incidentally, for some really interesting stuff try checking out the Cheetos website.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Celebrating the 4th !!!!

Almost every community in America has some sort of 4th of July celebration. Most of us tend to be traditional and do the same thing, with the same folks, each year. I know our family does and when we miss (for whatever reason) even one of the three days of our annual celebrations, we definitely feel at a loss.
BUT . . .

Just in case you're looking for something a little different or unique to do this weekend, maybe one of these food-oriented events will catch your fancy.

Have you ever tried running a race with a greased watermelon in your arms ? Think you can? Well grab a partner and get on down to the Grand Bay Watermelon Festival in Grand Bay, Alabama on the 3rd.

Getting back to the race, it involves one person on the team running from the starting line to the turning point with the greased melon in their arms. At that point, they hand the melon over to their teammate who runs it back to the starting/finishing line. Team to do this first wins. Oh, and if either of you drop the melon, your team is disqualified.
Looking for something less strenuous? You can buy three seeds for a dollar and try to beat the Guinness record for watermelon seed spitting. That record currently stands at 68' 9 1/8" and was set in Luling, Texas. (Bet you've always wondered about that.) Of course, there's a watermelon eating contest involved, too. You can also decorate your clothes with watermelons or create a watermelon recipe for prize opportunities.

There's also shopping, music and lots of food available as well as other run-of-the-mill festival activities. Best of all, you can cool off with free watermelon slices all day!!

I've witnessed both blue crab and tortoise races here in Maryland, but clam races are a new concept for me! There are also clam shucking competitions, cooking contests - both amateur and professional restaurants, clam bag races (like potato sacks but the bags feature pictures of clams), a clam hunt and harvest for the kids, contest, "Guess the Clam Count"Chuck a Mullett competition on the beach and a Clam Lease (greased) Pole challenge at the Clamerica Celebration in Cedar Key, Florida on July 4th.

For the Cultured Clam Cooking Contest, open to everyone, contestants simply need to bring their finished dish and a copy of the recipe to the entry table at the given time. Prizes will go to 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Honorable Mentions.

Do you think you make the absolute best cherry pie? Then make it up, be sure to provide a copy of the recipe or at least a list of the ingredients and bring it down to the Holiday Old Fashioned Picnic on the 6th, just one of the food events at the 84th National Cherry Festival in Traverse City, Michigan taking place from the 3rd through the 10th. One entry per person and there is a $5 entry fee involved.

In addition to an air show by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels on the 4th and concerts by a number of nationally known acts like Los Lonely Boys, Tommy Castro and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, there's the 5th Annual Cherries D'Vine event, a ticketed culinary showcase of regional fruits - cherries and grapes. There will be an array of salads, entrees and desserts like Chocolate Cherry Mudslide Cookies and Cherry Cobbler (made from Michigan cherries.)
The Cherry Connector - "Bringing Together Festival, Family and Fruit", will take place twice each day from the 5th through the 9th. You can use the Cherry Connector Shuttle or your own transportation to take a 3-hr tour of a 100 acre research farm associated with the Michigan State University. You'll visit a productive orchard, see exhibits and sample the newest cherry products and technology. there will be all sorts of "cherry fun" for the kids like a petting zoo, hands-on experiments and cherry coloring contests. There will be several; semi-finals of a Hot Dog Eating Contest featuring Johnsonville sausages and leading up to the finals on the 9th.

Other events will include a Cherry Pit Spitting contest (daily), an Adult Cherry Pie Eating contest and a CHERRYOPOLY Tournament. An Ice Cream Social, beer tent and wine tastings each day will lead up to the Cherries Grand Buffet (another ticketed event) showcasing recipes prepared by the culinary and cooking professionals at the Grand Traverse Pie Company and featuring a stage and musical show. There will be all the standard festival events and entertainment available, also.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Most Intriging Festivals This Weekend...

I'm a day late in posting but here are this week's finds among the many food oriented festivals.

Jello wrestling is so passe! But, have you tried wallowing around in mashed potatoes? You can give it a shot (or a dive, belly flop, what have you) at Tater Daze in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota tomorrow. For the 46th year, this is the day the residents there pay homage to the potato, a crop that truly flourishes in their flat, sandy soil. This "sporting event " is actually one of three sanctioned by the MPWF - Mashed Potato Wrestling Federation. (I kid you not.) Too sloppy for you? Then try your skill at Potato Launching using a sling shot to compete for distance and accuracy.

Just looking to be more creative? Try taking part in the "Dress the Spud" Contest where you must creatively dress your potato (Please be appropriate. No nudity, etc.) There's also a "Hot Potato" Cooking Contest where you can try your hand at recipes featuring regular or sweet potatoes as the main ingredient in dishes in any of three categories - main dishes, sides or dessert/bread.

Children's activities take place in the Potato Patch where they can do the Tater Mash Dance or participate in a Potato Sack Race. Anybody can have their picture taken with Spud McTater.

With the economy being what it is, sponsors feared they would need to do away with the fireworks display Saturday night until they came up with this creative financing method. For $5 you can "Buy a Spud". Your money buys a potato with your name on it that will be displayed at City Hall and at the Festival. What a way to help keep the fireworks bursting in air!!!

Prefer Moon Pie and an RC Cola?

Then find your way to Bell Buckle, Tennessee for the 16th Annual RC and Moon Pie Festival. An RC King and Moon Pie Queen with the RC Prince and Moon Pie Princess will reign over a parade. The Royal Family will be a family from Middle Tennessee who lost everything in the May 1st flood. For this weekend, they'll live the royal life with free lodging and dining.

Activities like a Moon Pie Toss, Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest and and Hog Calling Competition should convince you you're in the South. That is, if the moon pie and RC in your hands hasn't told you that already!

The truly unique event of this festival is the Synchronized Wading Extravaganza featuring costumed characters like Moon Pie, RC, Goo Goo Cluster and Coke performing in a comical choreographed show performed in a kiddie pool!

The final event of the day will be the cutting and serving of the World's Largest Moon Pie, measuring 56" in diameter.

You say "Tomato", I say "Tomahto" - Let's just head for the Slocomb Tomato Festival in Slocomb, Alabama, instead. Slocomb is considered the Tomato Capital of the World and this event celebrates the importance of the tomato to this community. There are plenty of fried green tomatoes, a tomato eating contest and an All-You-Can-Eat Tomato Buffet featuring nothing but tomatoes! Oh yeah, there's also a parade, live music, a recipe contest and a Ms. Tomato Pageant.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Remember Graham Kerr?

I climbed aboard the WABAC machine (Okay, if you're too young to remember Mister Peabody and Sherman from Rocky & Bullwinkle fame, that won't make sense.) and traveled back a few decades to revisit shows like Cooking with Julia, Two Fat Ladies and, yes, The Galloping Gourmet.

You can find all of these on the new Cooking Channel which you can find on your cable network where you used to have Fine Living Network. (If your system is like ours, the menu station will still note it as "Fine Living.") I was simply channel surfing when I saw Graham Kerr pouring wine into his dish and rhapsodizing about the "lovely beverage." Yes, folks, Paula Deen is not the first TV cook to jam butter into every dish, although Graham seemed to clarify all his butter before adding it to the dish.
I was still in school during The Galloping Gourmet's heyday but I recall my sister and her friends, all young housewives and mothers, adoring the program and its charming star. He lit up their mornings. They took careful notes and laughed t his corny jokes. They eagerly awaited his next fancy dish and dreamed of being the lone audience member brought up to taste the meal at the end of the show.

Well, I watched that show on Friday and, as they say, "in the bright light of day" (or time), the shine has tarnished on the star! The jokes were CORNY, to say the least. His "charm" was so sickening sweet, you might need insulin if you watched on a daily basis. The foods were complicated and somewhat expensive to copy and, yes, you'd need a cardiologist on standby. We've become a more sophisticated audience and demand more of our TV chefs. We want fast, simple and economical meals. While you're at it, please cut some calories and fat, too. That's something else. He did the meat or main item on the show but not a "meal." We've come to expect the main item and sides, too, on our cooking shows. We now want the "whole deal." Are we spoiled, or what?

By the way, Gals, that charmer is now 76 years old and, get this, is now cooking low fat, even vegetarian!!

Monday, May 31, 2010

BBQ Pitmasters - 2nd Season

Just what we need, another cooking competition TV series!!

The powers that be at TLC have begun to tweak BBQ Pitmasters, their hit series from last season. They averaged almost a million viewers per episode of the short series and had double-digit increases in the difficult demographic of male viewers. So, what do you do with success? You make changes. A typical cookers row at a KCBS contest, just before turn-in.

Apparently we don’t have enough game-show style cooking competition series yet. They’re revamping this one into a competition much like the old Outdoor Living Network did. Enough of that format, already!!

For whatever reason, a change in hosts was apparently necessary. These things happen in the TV world. They’ve hired Kevin Roberts, “The Food Dude“. You may remember Kevin from his attempt to become the Next Food Network Star. You may even have seen him on The Today Show this morning. (He was the one squirting French’s mustard down his throat like Reddi Whip!) Kevin is good for a laugh. He’s fresh, enthusiastic and entertaining. I can’t fault them on this change.

They say they plan to put an emphasis on the “all-star judging” process this season. Perhaps they should have stuck to the reality/documentary style format and followed certified judges who regularly judge the events on the competitive BBQ cooking circuits, doing both KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society) and MIM (Memphis In May) competitions.

While “all star judges” may sound fancy, there is many a highly trained restaurant chef that knows absolutely nothing about barbecue. This was proven in last season’s accounts of Paul’s attempts at competitive cooking. Paul is a classically trained chef who runs his own very acclaimed restaurants but found he had no training applicable to the competitions, consistently coming in last until he studied at the hands of Johnny Trigg. Johnny Trigg has been an all-star cook in the competitive BBQ world and is extremely well respected in that arena. Amazingly, Paul was at least called after Johnny’s tutoring.
A gaggle of Certified Judges awaiting judging time.

“Certified” judges are trained as to what constitutes excellent smoked meats. Many judge on an almost weekly basis throughout the competition season and have trained their taste buds to identify what is award winning smoked meat. I am a Certified Judge for KCBS. I know these people well and many have been judging for years. It’s not just a hobby for them, it is their passion.

The other aspect the show’s producers feel can be shown in the new format is the preparation of a variety of foods, not just the standard competitive categories. Had they chosen their contests carefully, they could have shown the many ancillary (or “extra”) cooking categories included in many KCBS contests. We have judged many contests that feature seafood categories (both general and specific seafoods), steaks, poultry (goose, duck, turkey), side dishes, other meats (goat, lamb, other beef cuts), creative burgers, shish kabobs, and more.

They could have covered some of the back-yard competitions featured in many of the events where the average Joe or Deb can compete in a particular category using their own back yard style grill. Many also feature Kids Que competitions for kids under 12. I believe folks would watch something they felt they had an actual chance of participating in not just superstars in a specific field.
Memphis In May competitions include on-site judging which was lightly touched on this past season. At these events, competitors go all out decorating their sites. This was not shown but could make an interesting segment. Or they might touch on what it costs to actually compete, Not just costs associated with those driving the huge rigs but talk to the majority who are making do with less formal setups. We know cooks who compete with a few Webers and a folding table under an E-Z Up and we know another who designed and built their own spectacular rig from scratch at a cost of about $40,000.
They say some of last years cooks will be featured “in some form” in the new format. Myron and Lee Ann were specifically mentioned. If they aren’t cooking, I consider this an extreme waste of talent. I have judged many contests where Lee Ann and Tuffy have been cooking and a few Myron has participated in, too. (Yes, we judged at that miserable rainy and cold contest in Dover featured last season.) Although all judging at a KCBS event is blind judging, the odds are, I have tasted some things cooked by each of them along the way.

Please folks, just give us back the Pitmaster series we came to enjoy this past season. Follow a few different cooks. Cover other competitions. Feature other aspects of the contests.

Stop messing with success!!