Opportunities always inspire great experiences. At the beginning of August, I capitalized on just such an opportunity and attended the Manitoba Youth Beef Round-up as a culinary judge for the beef cook-off event. Far from work, the job was taste-testing nine different steak meals prepared by teams of 5-7 members ranging in age from 5 to 25.
Needless to say, I was excited. I grew up attending the Simmental junior beef programs, both in Manitoba and across Canada, and I cherish all the friends and skills I gained from those programs.
Manitoba has further developed the concept to include all breeds of beef cattle and even more competitions. It’s like 4-H, but with tailored education focused on the purebred production sector. With quizzes, marketing competitions, public-speaking challenges, showmanship, grooming and, now, cook-offs; they all promote professionalism, team work and learning.
This was the fifth birthday for the Manitoba Round-up and I think it was a great success. In an industry that is still recovering from the devastating effects of BSE, 56 members attended with over 100 head of cattle, a great tribute to the remaining producers who toughed it out and are still able to feed their families.
As I prepared myself for judging, I was very nervous; I really didn’t know what to expect from young people’s cooking. As a team, they were given two steaks in the morning and allowed for the preparation throughout the day. The teams came up with themes like Olympics, Canada Pride, Midnight Snack, and Western Cook-Out. Each team decorated the table, prepared the food and even got dressed in matching gear.
As I sat down at the first table with fellow judge, Ray Armbruster, president of the Manitoba Cattle Producer’s Association. We were both surprised by the amount of effort the teams put forth. Personally, I had expected a lot of well-done steaks, but every piece of meat was cooked very well. Of course there was some disparity between effort in decorations and what was served alongside the main course. Some teams just cooked a steak and potato; while others went all out and served appetizers or bought ice cream cakes and decorated them.
The winners were determined by the amount of effort and originality, combined with execution. Ray and I sat down at a table fit for fine dining: cast iron skillets were used as plates, there were candles, flowers, polished cutlery, and this team leader had never cooked before … I was speechless. The steak was great, but the sautéed mushrooms and peppers, asparagus cooked to perfection, potatoes, condiments including freshly cooked bacon, and homemade iced tea to wash it all down was just amazing. If that wasn’t enough, they removed the napkins that had been shielding two small cast skillets, and hidden underneath was apple pie that then received a scoop of ice cream. It was just awesome.
This team leader also had brought a trailer load of cattle to look after, as well as being organized enough to execute this type of meal and table setting. It was unanimous, this team just out-showed the competition. When Ray and I made our comments on the microphone, we both remarked on our surprise to find such culinary talent and commitment in this arena. We were also very excited about the future these young producers have in our recovering beef industry, because it takes many more skills than just raising cattle to succeed in this business.
Still a point of soreness, the average age of cattle producers is over 50 years; so to encourage more youth to choose livestock production as a life passion is quite difficult given the current economic situation. Simply put, it’s a LOT of work for LITTLE pay with huge risk.
Some people may ask why bother then? Well, being rich isn’t always what’s in your bank account; it’s what’s in your heart. Watching the kids gave me hope, and in this industry hope is a fleeting thing. Weather and economy can take hope and smash it into the ground; but these juniors possess countless strengths. Walking the barns and seeing the livestock, happily chewing their cuds, clean shaven and shiny; it made me smile. The livestock industry will always survive because in the hearts of the children who grow up loving to work with their cows, they know their rewards are far greater than that of financial gain.
I tip my hat to the amazing committee members and volunteers who organized a fantastic show. And this week I am submitting a steak recipe that was inspired by the depth of flavour found in the winning entry. There were a lot of great pre-packaged marinades and spice rubs, so I thought I would offer a recipe that is more natural with no preservatives. Simple procedures that produce maximum flavour, while highlighting the powerful beefiness of a great steak — something everyone can smile about.
Three cheers for Manitoba junior beef members!
Blue Mushroom Duxelle
• 1 container of mushrooms, I used brown porcini for more flavour, button works, wild mushrooms would be awesome, clean and trim mushrooms. Mince fine, food processor works well.
• 1 small onion or 2 shallots, diced very fine
• 24 cloves of garlic minced fine
• 3 tbsp of cold butter
• 4 tbsp of white wine, I use white to keep the color pure
• 11/2 tbsp of fresh thyme leaves
• 1 tsp cracked pepper
• 1/2 tsp of kosher salt
• 2 tbsp of crumbled blue cheese, If you aren’t a fan of blue, feel free to use a cheese you love.
• 1/3 cup of whipping cream
Add 11/2 tbsp of butter to frying pan. Heat on medium; when butter starts to foam add the onions and sautée for about 2 minutes, add mushrooms and reduce heat to medium-low. Stir frequently and cook for about 6-8 minutes. Mushrooms will release moisture, so cook until the moisture has evaporated and then add the garlic and the wine. Season with salt and pepper, continuing to stir, scape up all the caramalized bits on the bottom of the pan and cook until the wine has evaporated. Remove from heat until you are ready to serve it. Then once the steaks are cooked, heat up the mushroom mixture on medium heat, add the thyme and cream, reduce the heat and swirl in the butter and cheese, stir until they are melted evenly. Generously spoon over your most favourite steaks. This mixture will add more flavour than most marinades, more decadence than any rub, and adding to its delicious diversity, use it as a formal stuffing or flavouring for cream cheese dips.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 18, 2012