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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Judging the National Beef Cook-Off 2009

Beef Cook-Off
Last week I was one of the judges at the National Beef Cook-Off. It's one of the top culinary contests in the United States, held once every two years with $70,000 in prize money. It was interesting to see what contestants included in their recipes. Trendy ingredients and "superfoods" like walnuts and pomegranates made it into multiple recipes. There were familiar flavors like balsamic vinegar, chipotle and blue cheese, and more exotic ingredients like pistachios and quinoa.

I tasted 15 dishes culled from about 2,000 entries. In each category there was a clear winner and a very delicious dish that anyone could make at home. Should you be interested in entering a cooking competition, the most common mistakes that contestants made were:

* Under seasoning the food, some dishes really needed salt

* Not paying attention to texture, some dishes were very mushy

* Not having a satisfying balance of flavors--too rich or too little acid

* Not cooking the beef for the right amount of time

* Using too many ingredients in one dish creating muddled flavors

Sonoma Steaks with Vegetable Bocconcini
In the end, simplicity won with a dish in the Live Well with Fast & Convenient Grilled Beef category. Sonoma Steaks with Vegetable Bocconcini combines Summer vegetables--zucchini, bell peppers and grape tomatoes with grilled steak and mozzarella. It would be great for a pot luck or barbecue dinner. It has very few ingredients but uses some innovative techniques including doctoring the herb marinade from the bocconcini mozzarella balls and microwaving the mozzarella balls to take the chill off and soften them just slightly.

Most of my favorite dishes came from the teen category. I enjoyed the Rustic Beef Caldo which I will cook longer than the recipe indicates, and the Southeast Asian Steak Salad. I also want to try the Sicilian Beef Short Ribs but I would replace the grape juice with a dry red wine.

I was honored to be included with the other judges, Betsy Wray, editor in chief (pictured), Cooking Pleasures magazine; Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackie Plant, food and nutrition director, Woman's Day magazine; and Niesha Lofing, food and family writer, The Sacramento Bee. Past judges of the contest include Julia Child and James Beard.

To learn more about how long to marinate beef and the best cooking methods for each cut, visit Beef It's What's for DInner

Michael Bauer's blog post

"Beef ambassador's" videos