Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Rustling up some Prime Beef

We’re coming up on the time when this town gets taken over by parades and ferris wheels and other such autumnal markers. I’m always excited when the temperature begins to drop, and shortly thereafter the calliope comes down Broadway. It means that the Prime Beef Festival has arrived.

Still, I’m not all that goofy any more about the rides. When I was young and slightly more reckless, I could have spent all week racing between the Tilt-a-Whirl and the Scrambler and the Roundup. Not any more. There are just too many ways for things to go wrong, there, for a person of my age and size. I’m not even all that crazy for the games. After all, I lack both skill and luck. I attend the pageant, the chicken chases, the greased pig chases, and such, but I’m mostly there because somebody I know (or somebody close to somebody I know) is competing. I don’t really get all that excited by watching a bunch of kids running around a field trying to grab the legs of hens. We’re not in this business for a pullet surprise.

No, I’m not a fan of the loud and boisterous activities. But I love the fair. There’s a solid reason I attend the festival each year. I’m there for the eats. Funnel cakes, hot dogs, lemon shake-ups, stale over-salted popcorn, funnel cakes, pizza-by-the-slice, Indian tacos, church-made hamburgers, funnel cakes, fresh cold cider, slushies, alcohol-free margaritas in big plastic cups, and, did I mention funnel cakes?

But the most exciting development in the gustatory experiences at our Prime Beef Festival must be the cook-off. For the past two years, the community has presented its best beef hustlers in a new and public light. From grilled steak to spaghetti marinara to curry to tacos to stuffed roasts, and every other possibility in between, our people have shone above the stove, at the annual Prime Beef Cook-off. A dozen of the best are set against each other in three discrete categories -- One-Dish (or Main Dish), Grilled, and 30-Minute Meal -- in order to make your mouth water for that Bit Of Beef brought from Thrushwood Farms just for the occasion. Not that I need much help salivating over a good cut of meat, but the cooks have, for the past two years, been so brilliant that I was amazed the judges could set their forks down, let alone make a decision as to which single plate was best. The funny thing is, the cooks have been people we all know -- not graduates of le Cordon Bleu or the Culinary Institute of America, but our neighbors and friends, who all have a creative bent which manifests itself almost magically in the kitchen.

And, against the toughest competition, last year, my friend Marsha Frary won the top honor!* She brought home a trophy and actual money, along with accolades. I was so proud of her (and so hungry for more of her to-die-for steak tacos)!

Now, for YOUR good news: If you have a beef recipe you think deserves fame (or that your family and friends beg you to fix on a regular basis), they’re still accepting applications, until the 21st of August. Granted, that’s only a few days away from now, but that should be enough time for you to go through your notes and rustle up something dangerously savory. All you need to do is contact any member of the cook-off committee. Further good news, Marsha is on the committee, so she won’t be competing against you. Call her for entry information, at (309) 734-2432, call Paul Schuytema at (309) 536-0854, or call Linda Lee Blaine at (309) 734-1068. You can also enter via the Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce (MACC), 90 Public Square, Monmouth, Ill. 61462, or online at http://www.primebeeffestival.com/cookoff.shtml. The initial entry fee is five dollars, but since the beef and the heat source for cooking it are both provided for you, it seems to me that a lowly fin is a bargain price. And, as they sometimes say, “what price fame?”

So, drop everything, head to the kitchen, and get your ingredients squared away. This is your opportunity to show me -- and the rest of the county -- how really good you are with a skillet or a saucepan. It’s also a good excuse to get out and have a little fun.


*Marsha e-mailed me to remind me that it was Pam Sage who won TOP top honor... best all-around. Marsha won best in category, main dish. But my friend is still top category to me. And, personally, I thought she also earned "most popular". Dang, it was a fun day!

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