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Simple, Delicious, and Economical

October 6, 2017

Judging food competitions is a fascinating experience. It is always a challenge to compare several different dishes against each other, all with different strengths and weaknesses, to see which one comes out ahead.

The exercise forces the evaluator to think about what precisely is most important when determining the dish with the best taste. Is it the one that’s most properly seasoned? Or maybe the one with the deep and satisfying aroma? Or perhaps the one with the most intensity of flavor?

One of the great things about the Yelp job is that I’m able to get members of the Yelp Elite Squad onto these judging panels, and they can have this experience for themselves. Which is good, because I can’t make judge everything.

This weekend is both Troy’s Chowderfest and Schenectady’s Wing Walk. I’ve judged both of these in the past, and they are both fun events in their own way. However, this weekend I’m going to be somewhere near Canandaigua, touring beef and veal farms, and talking with farmers.

At least I was able to serve as a judge in last night’s Harvest Evening Celebration in support of The Food Pantries for the Capital District. And I’m happy to report that my three favorite dishes all won awards. Today, I’d like to do two things. Tell you a bit about each of those three dishes, and give one general piece of advice for those who didn’t win.

Salt.

Salt is important. Two of the dishes that didn’t place were profoundly under salted. And one of the dishes that did well could have done even better if the seasoning had been a bit more aggressive.

My personal favorite was from The Point. It was a roasted carrot and apple bisque. What I did not get to do was to check out their table to get a snapshot of the recipe. But the main food pantry ingredient in this recipe was carrots, although apples are also a food pantry staple.

What I loved about this dish was the intensity of flavor. It was rich, hearty, and satisfying. The coarse puree was studded with crisp bits of what seemed like kale chips, and there was an apple chip on top. Beyond being delicious, it was attractive to the eye.

Granted, the soup was just a hair on the sweet side, and it could have been improved with something to help balance the sweetness from the roasted carrots and apples. But after the judging, if I could have just one more bite of one of the foods we had just sampled, this soup would be my choice. And that makes it tops for me.

The rest of the judges liked it enough that Jennifer Hewes from The Point won best use of food pantry ingredients.

One dish made me wince a little when it was brought over to the judges table. We were told it was turkey meatloaf with canned corn, potatoes, and gravy. And on the plate was a slab of grey meat.

What I was expecting was something dry and tasteless. What I got was the exact opposite. Kizzy Williams of Ally B’s Cozy Kitchen knows how to weave straw into gold. Because this mixture of ground turkey, eggs, onion, flour, and powdered bouillon is effectively steamed in the oven, making for a deliciously tender and moist loaf.

The recipe and technique are in the picture that hopefully is to the right.

It’s simple food, but it’s deeply seasoned, and sticks to the ribs. And every ingredient in this dish came from the food pantry. So it’s no wonder why Kizzy took home the people’s choice award. But the judges also gave her the nod for the best simple recipe.

The final category the judges awarded was best taste.

The Herbed Cassoulet from Field Notes took the prize. Cassoulet may have been a bit of a stretch. I would have loved to see seasoned breadcrumbs on top of this dish. After all, bread is another food pantry staple. However the crispiness from well fried bacon pieces, in addition to the smokiness that comes from cooking in reserved bacon fat, helped a lot. Of course chefs Kyle Macpherson and Joan Porambo also added plenty of aromatics in the form of garlic, thyme, red pepper flakes, black pepper, and bay leaf.

Ultimately, their preparation took canned red kidney beans—a food pantry staple—and elevated them into something delicious. Plus they did that while keeping the red beans as the main component of the dish.

There was another submission that most of the other judges found quite delicious. But the food pantry item was barely even noticeable. My hunch is that these vegetable and cheese wraps from chef Lou of Athos were the runner up in the taste category, just based on the chatter around the judges table.

We don’t eat that much meat at dinner in the Fussy household, but I am eager to take some of these ideas (like the recipe for Field Notes’ bean dish which should be appearing on the right of your screen) and see if I can’t transform them into something simple, delicious, and economical that the whole family will enjoy.

Congratulations to all those who participated, and I’m looking forward to next year.

As a side note, Kyle and Joan brought apple cider donuts from Lansing Farm. Amazingly, with all the cider donuts I’ve had to date, last night was my first time trying one from this place. Yeah. It was really good. And now I think we may need to have another round, or maybe even two, before the grand finals versus Cider Belly. I think I might need a tour consultant. Maybe Ker T. could be persuaded to do a little pro bono work.

That’s all for now. Have a great weekend. Hope it involves chowder or wings. And stay tuned to the FLB twitter feed this weekend for tales from #BEefTogether and other hashtag adventures.

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