Judging the 2011 National Beef-Cook-Off

If you’re a beef lover like me, tucking into 20 great beef dishes over two days, prepared by an excellent chef, may seem like a sublime, died-and-gone-to-heaven experience. And, okay, I’ll admit I enjoyed it.

But being a judge of a recipe contest is also serious business and carries considerable responsibility – especially when $25,000 is at stake for the National Beef Cook-Off’s grand prize winner.

As one of the judges, I spent last Thursday and Friday sequestered in the Ketchum Food Center in San Francisco tasting and evaluating the finalists’ recipes. There were five recipes each in four categories: 5:30 P.M. Dinner Crunch, Retro Recipes Revived, Fuel Up with Beef, and Stir-Crazy Solutions.

This is the 29th year of the National Beef Cook-Off so the organizers have the judging down to a science. After a review of the first category’s parameters, the first recipe was read out to the judges to clearly explain how the dish was constructed.

Then one serving of the dish, prepared by Chef Catherine Pantsios following the recipe exactly, was brought forth on a presentation plate to the judges’ table. Smaller tasting portions were distributed to each judge.

Now it was time to see, smell and taste! Each judge was handed a score sheet that matched the judging criteria in the official rules, allocating specific points for appearance; convenient preparation and cooking; taste; and healthfulness and nutritional balance. A copy of the recipe accompanied the score sheet for additional reference.

One by one, category by category, we evaluated the recipes, focusing our complete attention and consideration to give each recipe its due. And while we had minor differences of opinion, we found we were surprisingly close in our selections.

As a body of recipes, the wide range of beef cuts, cooking applications, seasonings, as well as the varied ingredients used – all demonstrated the remarkable versatility and convenience of beef.

Who won? You’ll have to wait until November 5, when the Grand Prize winner will be announced.

In the meantime, enjoy the winning recipe of the last Grand Prize Winner of this biennial culinary contest.

To get the recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.

Sonoma Steaks with Vegetables Bocconcini, 2009 Grand Prize Winner
2 boneless beef top loin (strip) steaks cut ¾ inch thick (about 8 ounces each)
1 container (9 to 16 ounces) herb-marinated small fresh mozzarella balls (bocconcini)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 medium zucchini, cut diagonally into ¼-inch thick slices
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into ¾-inch wide strips
1 cup small red grape tomatoes

  1. Drain bocconcini, reserving 1/3 cup marinade. Combine reserved marinade and vinegar in small bowl. Toss zucchini and bell pepper with 2 tablespoons marinade mixture in large bowl; cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Place beef steaks and remaining marinade mixture in food-safe plastic bag; turn steaks to coat. Close bag securely and marinate in refrigerator 15 minutes to 2 hours.
  2. Remove steaks from marinade; discard marinade. Remove vegetables from marinade; place in grill basket. Place steaks on one half of grid over medium, ash-covered coals; place grill basket on other half of grid. Grill steaks, covered, 7 to 10 minutes (over medium heat on preheated gas grill, times remain the same) for medium rare (145°F) to medium (160°F) doneness, turning occasionally. Remove steaks; keep warm. Grill vegetables 10 to 13 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes during last 2 minutes of grilling.
  3. Combine grilled vegetables and bocconcini in large bowl; toss gently to combine. Carve steaks into slices; season with salt, as desired. Serve with vegetable mixture.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 380 calories; 21 g fat (12 g saturated fat; 3 g monounsaturated fat); 106 mg cholesterol; 152 mg sodium; 8 g carbohydrate; 1.8 g fiber; 38 g protein; 8.0 mg niacin; 0.8 mg vitamin B6; 1.4 mcg vitamin B12; 2.4 mg iron; 29.0 mcg selenium; 4.9 mg zinc.

This recipe is an excellent source of protein, niacin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, selenium and zinc; and a good source of iron.

National Beef Cook-Off, 2009 Grand Prize Winner, recipe by Mary Hawkes, Arizona

Special Fork is a recipe website for your smartphone and PC that solves the daily dinnertime dilemma: what to cook now! Our bloggers blog Monday through Friday to give you cooking inspiration. Check out our recipe database for quick ideas that take no more than 30 minutes of prep time. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Posted: Jul 9th by Sandy_Hu