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This week 09-15-15

Wait till you taste this!

About 20 years ago I appointed myself the official judge at the Beast Feast a.k.a. the men's BBQ (I have since been fired.). All I did was get an official name tag and write "Official Head Judge" on it. This was both a great idea and a bad idea. The great part is that I always get plenty to eat. The bad part is some of the stuff I have to eat. Men and fire and meat. Here's how it usually works: a bunch of guys go hunting, they're out all day, smoking cigars, cold, usually wet. They get back to the camp so tired and so hungry that anything with salt on it will taste good. One guy has something he shot 7 years ago on the fire. Somebody asked "What did you marinate that in?" and the guy says in all truth and with a straight face "I don't know but it didn't smell bad." To which everybody nods and says "I bet it's good." In this situation they could have been eating roasted toad frog with salt on it and it would have been good. So at the Beast Feast they say "Hey Mack, come here and taste our roasted toad frog.. be sure to put some salt on it!... Is that great or what?" To them it still tastes good because they remember the first time they had it. It will always be good .. I always try to be near a garbage can and have a hand full of paper towels so I can pretend to blow my nose while I get this stuff out of my mouth. My last year to be an official judge was different. We didn't have a single really bad thing. I had 3 professional chefs judging with me. We had 4 teams with ribs that were great, better than any restaurant in town. One team had venison sausage sliced thin that could have been served at any hoity toity restaurant in the country. And the goose wrapped in bacon was so tender and juicy, it was like eating whipped butter. Chicken legs cooked on a small Weber like biting in to pie. Duck poppers, I could have eaten 50 of them and the lemon cake! Who knew! We almost made ourselves sick. I had to push the other judges away or we would have eaten the whole thing. We were stunned. One team had a pork tenderloin that was super juicy. I asked him how he knew when it was done. He said "we use a meat thermometer" .."really, what temp?" .. "135".. all of us judges looked at each other and started to clap. If you look at your McGee (Harold McGee - On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen - Amazon) you'll see that meat starts giving up it's juices at 150 degrees. The little cells that hold the juices start popping. So if you cook a pork shoulder for 8 hours at an internal temp of 190 it will look nice but taste like dust. It works the same on meatloaf, turkey, hamburgers, everything (((cooking tip for thanksgiving: I know it says to get that turkey to 185. Just do it quick. When you hit 140 crank that oven.. better yet stop at 145, check the temp in several places and take it out. If it's not brown enough turn the oven to 500 and brown it it, or blowtorch it all over.))) Everybody had their one special thing that they've been cooking for years.."you've got to try this Mack.. that's my mother's sauce". Then they stand there and smile, head tilted, watching me. I get another one and that smile turns in to a big grin. "try this one too" ... "wait till you taste this"... some days are better than others..

God's like that: He got so many things to show us, so many things he wants us to taste and touch and feel. So many life experiences, some sad, some happy, some desperate, some exciting, some sweet. Every day he's saying: "You've got to try this. What do think? Is that great or what!"

I'm working on Jennifer to have roasted toad frog for Wednesday night dinner. I'll let you know how it goes, we'll have plenty of salt.


Cooking 220 - 2 pans, 2 burners, 20 minutes:

Once you get around the orange shoes and the ponytail and the TV stardom, Mario Batali is one of the great American chefs. He's the real thing, not one of those food network pretenders. This soup is from Eataly in NYC, one of his restaurants.

Mixed Vegetable and Farro Soup

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 celery ribs, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, thinly sliced
1 cup farro or wheat berries
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 quarts water or stock
One 15-ounce can borlotti or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
2 large carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
Crusty Bread

In an iron skillet with a lid or large casserole with a lid, heat the oil. Add the celery, onion and leek and cook over moderately high heat, stirring a few times, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the farro and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until the grains are coated and shiny, 30 seconds. Add 1 quart of the water and the beans and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes. Add the carrots and the remaining 1 quart of water. Cover and cook over low heat until the carrots are tender, 30 minutes. Add the peas, cover and cook until tender, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, TASTE! TASTE! TASTE! reseason.. Remember Hot, Sour Salty, Sweet in balance. If you soup has that balance, it will be great.... (more sour=vinegar or lemon juice. More Sweet=honey, sugar. More hot=sliced peppers, tabasco.... do all of these a teaspoon at a time or less!! Don't ruin it, you can't take it out. The idea is not to make the soup sweet or sour or salty or hot, but to make it have a balance) top with the basil and serve with crusty bread.

Posted by Mack Oates at 8:55 AM