This Saturday is the Blues, Brews and BBQ, hosted by the Hinesville Area Arts Council. And I am so ready to “pig” out as one of the judges this year.
I’ve never judged a food competition before. So I’ve spent the past two weeks perfecting my skills. I’ve slowed down my eating (unfortunately that didn’t equate to eating less or losing weight). This allowed me to savor each bite, and try to pick up subtle nuances in texture and taste. I also spent time making sure I plated my food well because the first impression of food happens when the dish is set before you. It can taste great but if it looks like poop, then there’s that preconceived notion that it will taste like it too.
I didn’t eat any barbecue during this learning and research phase. I’m saving that for Saturday. Instead I scored my own dinners on a scale of 1-5. One being THAT WAS AWFUL and five being I’m going make this the same way every chance I can — BECAUSE IT WAS THAT DARN GOOD.
I picked three categories for my test. I made pepperoni pizza three different ways. I did the same for a pasta dish and three versions of chicken soup. Then I sat down and judged each one.
For example on pizza week I made three mini pepperoni pizzas. Two were made with two different brands of store bought pizza crust, the third was made with homemade dough for the crust. All three had the same pepperonis but had different sauces, spices and mozzarella cheeses.
I got pretty good at being able to taste the subtle differences in the sauces of each pizza. I even tested the stretch- ability of the cheese and gave scores on that. And I learned that I suck at making homemade pizza dough. Yeah that poor pizza didn’t score a five.
During the chicken soup test. I was able to pick up the different spices used in each. I found out that I like the appearance of the soup that had hand-shredded chicken over the soups in which each piece was uniformly cut. I judged the overall color and texture of each broth. I managed to pick up which was the soup with ginger or which had a heavier hand in pepper or salt.
The last test was on a pasta dish I had never made before. The premise was a pasta dish with meat and a cheddar cheese sauce.
All three dishes were made with the same cheddar cheese sauce and wide egg noodles. What varied in the recipes were the way the meat was used and the spices and toppings.
In one dish I browned the ground beef and mixed it in with the sauce. For the next two dishes I made and cooked the meatballs (actually I made them to look like baby burger patties) to mix in with the cheese sauce but varied the toppings.
OMG, it was the best test ever! And now I have a new recipe that I love and know which way I prefer it. Being that all three had the same sauce and noodles it came down to the use of the meat and the taste and textures from the toppings.
The cheese sauce overpowered the meat in the first dish. It was hard to get the full flavor of the meat. In the two with the meatballs it came down to which one had the best overall taste of the meat and the compliments of the toppings. Both were topped with extra shredded cheese but the winner was also topped with crushed cooked bacon. The other subtle nuance of the winning dish is that those meatballs had tiny chopped sweet onions in them. It was a bacon cheese burger on a bed of pasta.
It was a brilliant experiment and one that will make me an expert for Saturday’s BBQ contest. You see a rib is a rib is a rib. But when those ribs are placed before me, I’ll be looking for the subtle things. How much smoke ring does it have? What spices can I pick out and did they help or hurt the flavor? Are you hitting me with North Carolina styled sauce or is it zesty and tangy with a hint of bourbon? (Yes you should hit me with that please).
So bring it on competitors my taste buds are now trained to perfection (although my belly is full from eating so much).