Lately, I've been busy trying to make the most of the waning days of summer. I spent September 11-13 as part of the "Saints and Sinners Barbecue Team" competing in the Bar-B-Q Pit Competition at the Norwalk Oyster Festival (an event that had remarkably few oysters in evidence). This was the first time out for the team, which consisted of several members of the First Congregational Church of Norwalk, several people associated with the Norwalk Children's Foundation, and several other friends. Overall, we did very well, coming in 6th or 7th place in most events, out of a field of nearly 30 competitors, many of whom are either restauranteurs and caterers or "professional" barbecue contest competitors. Our team took third prize for booth decoration and tied for third place in the "Iron Chef" competition.
My three big accomplishments in the competition were the Iron Chef competition, where we prepared tequila-lime marinated skirt steak with a vidalia-chili finishing glaze, grilled asparagus with olive oil and sea salt, and fire-roasted garlic mashed potatoes. My mesclun-stuffed swordfish with ginger-lime-soy marinade turned out quite well and took sixth place in the seafood competition, and the hot wings came in sixth in the "People's Choice" competition. All in all, the team did very well and we're planning on a second appearance at next year's oyster festival and are even thinking about entering some other competitions, too!
Last week, I traveled to Sharon, CT, to attend the General Association of the Connecticut Conference of the United Church of Christ. (Say that five times real fast...) General Association is the longest running clergy gathering in the United States and dates to the bad-old-days when Connecticut was a theocracy run by the Congregationalist churches. Originally, the General Association would pass all sorts of resolutions and make decisions regarding the government of Connecticut, including electing the governor. These days, it is is a continuing education and fellowship event for UCC clergy. This year, we celebrated the 300th anniversary of the General Association and had the Rev. John Thomas, who is concluding his second term as General Minister and President of the UCC, as our guest speaker. Over the two days we had together, John shared many remembrances from his ten years as GMP and discussed the evolving role of pastors in our society.
This past Saturday, Ian and I, along with our friend Eric Anderson, spent the day at the Pipes in the Valley festival in Hartford. It was a gorgeous day and we got to hear several fantastic musical groups. The day started with a massed pipe band that marched across the Founders' Bridge and then there were continuous performances on two stages for the rest of the day. We were all quite impressed with The Wicked Tinkers, whose high-energy music incorporated didgeridoo, an electronic repeater box and a bronze age horn along with the traditional pipes and drums. The evening finished up with a two-hour concert by Gaelic Storm.
Two amusing tidbits from Saturday: We saw what has to be the world's smallest tugboat, which only appeared to be about 12' long, zipping about on the Connecticut River, just behind the stage. Second, I've been wanting to have a kilt for some time and, because Norwalk hosts the Round Hill Highland Games each year, I'd been thinking that I now have an actual excuse to own one. I tried one on at one of the vendor's tents and Ian decided that he wants one, too, so now we're sort of seriously in the market for kilts. That may well become its own post, later.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
In these waning days of summer, I've been grilling a lot. Part of it is because I'm going to be competing next weekend in the Norwalk Oyster Festival's Bar-B-Q Pit competition and partially because, well, it is pushing the end of summer and I figure that there's a lot of food out there that deserves to get grilled before the snow starts to fly.
In peparation for the the Barbecue competition, I've been practicing up on wings and seafood. Of course, since I'm using those recipes in competition next week, I can't divulge them here at this time because, who knows, there might be spies from the other teams scanning the internet to find out what their competition is up to. Of course, it is really flattering to believe that the professional contestants in the competition would be so worried about me that they'd be reading my blog, so I'll just take idea and go with it.
On Friday night, however, I was grilling something just for the family, so I feel I can safely share that information with you, but don't go telling the competition or I shall have to become very cross. On Friday, I made a (Shhhh.) cedar-planked salmon.
Earlier in the summer, when I was a Costco to pick up some ribs, I happened to see a package of cedar planks and I remembered reading in a cookbook about the Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest who flame-cooked salmon on cedar planks and how the wood added a smoky-spicy taste to the fish. Since I was only spending plastic money instead of real money, I tossed a package of the planks into my cart, figuring that I'd get around to trying them out eventually.
"Eventually" arrived on Friday when Kimberly came home from the grocery with a nice looking side of salmon (Wild caught, Atlantic salmon, of course...) I started looking for a recipe and found several fairly nasty looking ones that involved a whole lot of mayonaise. I found some that were very similar to the maple-soy salmon I made a while back, but I wanted something that was simpler than that and that would let the flavor of the cedar be a major part of the final product. Eventually, I gave up and decided to punt, coming up with my own recipe based on very little other than a desire for simplicity.
I started by soaking one of the cedar planks in water for a couple hours. You'll see in this picture that this is a high-end, gourmet cedar plank because it has a picture of a fish branded on the wood. Of course, a plain (untreated!!) cedar shingle or a cedar board from the lumber yard would have worked just as well. It just wouldn't have had that "I paid plenty of good money for this board" feel.
After soaking the board and getting the grill going with the coals banked to one side, it was time to prepare the salmon. A quick rinse and pat-dry, a half-hearted check for pin bones (who ever actually finds pin bones in their salmon and who really cares if there's one in the piece of fish, anyway?) and I was ready to season the fish. A bit of kosher salt, a generous grinding of black pepper and a (as it turned out slightly too big) smear of brown sugar, and the fish was ready to walk the plank. As you'll see in the picture on the right, I'm getting a substantial kickback from Morton's Salt and Domino Sugar for my creativity...
I had found plenty of different sorts of instructions for using the planks, so I went with the idea that seemed to make the most use of the cedar for flavor. First, I placed the plank good-side-down on the grill for a couple minutes until it started to smoke, thus releasing its smokey-cedary goodness. After flipping it over, I brushed on a bit of olive oil and scooted the salmon onto the board, which I placed on the cool side of the grill. With the grill cover back on, it was twelve minutes (Or maybe 13. You know how exact a science grilling can be...) of cook time before I checked the salmon and turned the plank around so that the other side was closer to the fire. Things were progressing nicely and the brown sugar was beginning to caramelize, running over the board, a process that I had counted on to give the fish an even coating of the brown sugar). After another 12 minutes (or 13) I declared the fish to be done and brought it in and served it with the broiled, sliced potatoes from the "Emma's Favorite Cod and Potatoes" recipe in Mark Bittmann's The Minimalist Cooks at Home, and steamed brussels sprouts. Yum!