Saturday, September 4, 2010

Best in the West Rib Cook-Off 2010

2010, another year, another rib glut! For years, we have made it a point to attend this annual festival devoted to pork ribs. I have to say this year, it was bigger and busier than I have seen, ever.

Around Victorian Square, there have been many changes this past year in terms of buildings being demolished and turned into parking lots. The city bus system opened a new station as well, so there were just general improvements for access to the cook-off.

We arrived mid-afternoon and walked to see what was available, end to end. It was a long, slow walk because the amount of people was incredible. We checked out the vendors. A whole area was set up in front of the theaters, row upon row of tents of vendors, more than I have ever seen there before.

They even had a tiny carnival set up for kids with a midway where you could win a hermit crab. They thought of everything this year.

We returned to the Nugget to relax in the hotel room before dinner time. We had procured two tickets to the Rib Village. In past years, we did things the hard way.  You take a ton of money, stand in long lines, get a sampler, find a place to stand and wolf down the sampler.  Repeat until you are ill. Make note of which brand you want to actually buy a whole rack from to take home to eat the next day. And with two kids getting jostled in the monster stroller, this has become a huge mission.

Anymore, we get the Rib Village tickets. It's totally worth having a place to sit, a buffet of all you can eat ribs, and someone to bring your drinks.  TOTALLY WORTH IT, especially with our moody, cranky kids. (P.S. They stayed home with Grandpa Johnnie and Grandma Ruthie so this was sort of a date night for us this time.) 

About 6:30, we left the room, ready for ribs. Rib Village was busy, but the food line was short. Justin and I each loaded our plates with a variety of ribs and sauces.

My favorite this year was BJ's of Sparks. We go to the the restaurant regularly, but the ribs there simply do not compare to their cook-off ribs.

My second favorite was Aussom Aussie. They have a fantastic raspberry BBQ sauce. My third favorite was Johnson's. I don't remember where they were from. I tried many others and neglected to eat them all. I decided if they weren't great, I wasn't going to bother eating the ho-hum ones.

I'm not going to predict any winners because I've noticed with ribs that each batch is a little different. The ones the judges eat aren't necessarily identical to the ribs served in Rib Village. It is just the nature of ribs that the sauce may cook into each batch a little differently, the smokiness changes, some pigs are more tender than others. 

We were fortunate to be able to enjoy the live concert of the evening, performed by the Gin Blossoms. They had a few technical issues, but overall I enjoyed the performance.

It was also nice to see lead singer Robin Wilson high-fiving the kids in the audience. The family-friendly performance was definitely enjoyed by all ages.

Ah, my dear rib-slinging friends, I will see you all next year.  And for a few of you local companies, I will see much sooner than that. Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rice Pudding

Rice pudding is one of my favorite comfort foods. It's funny to think that most of the people I have met weren't familiar with it. The best comparison is that it's like tapioca pudding. It's custard with rice.

I have fond childhood memories of coming home from school to find the same rectangular covered glass dish in the fridge filled with this heavenly treat. It was almost torture to have to wait until dessert to eat it. I think knowing it was there made whatever we had for dinner disappear faster.

Once I left home for college, this became a special-occasion treat for me. I didn't get to make it very often. It's time consuming and requires constant attention. If I went home to visit Mom and Dad and found some in the fridge, well, it was history.

At some point, I was shopping for grocieries and noticed Kozy Shack rice pudding in a tub by the refrigerated Jell-o. I was curious. So I have to say, Kozy Shack is a reasonable substitute when I don't have the time to make a batch. And on the flipside, if you are looking to clone Kozy Shack's recipe, my rice pudding recipe is about as good as you can get. Of course, the type of rice used will effect the overall consistency.

For this batch, I used a medium grain rice called Silver Pearl from Hinode. It was good. The rice was nice and plump, tender grains that really melted in your mouth. If you want rice with a little more body, you could use a long-grain rice, but those varieties don't act the same. They are slightly firmer and hold their shape more than shorter varieties. Short and medium varieties seem to blend into the custard without dissolving. I don't know a real technical term for that. Just make a batch and see what I mean.

Just a note, if you are acquainted with Thai food, this if similar. It was certainly no stretch for me to enjoy Sticky Rice with Mango after loving Mom's rice pudding my whole life.

4 cups milk (1 quart)
3/4 cup uncooked regular rice, medium or short grain
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 egg yolks, from extra large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half and half

1. Combine milk, rice, salt, and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Cover and cook over low to medium heat, stirring frequently.

2. Bring to a simmer and cook about 20-30 minutes or until rice is tender and the milk is pretty much absorbed. The time will depend on the rice you're using. This batch with the Silver Pearl rice absorbed the milk, but it was still very creamy because the rice sort of released its starch into the milk as it cooked, thickening the milk. (Note, not all the milk will get absorbed. It's not like when you make steamed rice with water.)

3. Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Whisk together.

4. Gradually stir in a small portion of the hot rice into the egg mixture. I mean a spoonful at a time and whisk like crazy. This is called tempering. Do this so the yolks won't cook and curdle in the hot pan. Keep adding a little more hot rice at a time until about half of the rice mixture is mixed into the egg mixture. If you feel the bowl, it should be slightly warmer than body temperature.

5.Add egg mixture to the pan with the remaining rice and mix well.

6. Cook over low heat stirring occasionally until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

7. Serve warm or cold. Garnish with a sprinkle of cinnamon or dried fruit for some color. Keep refrigerated.

Note: Watch simmering rice because it easily could boil over or scorch. If you like a little more rice, you can use 1 cup of rice. The recipe uses 3/4 cup rice so there is a bit more custard in each bite that way.