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A couple of weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Michigan State University courtesy of the Kentucky Beef Council and Meijer. There were a lot of fun experiences, like learning how beef is graded and visiting the College of Food Science and Nutrition at MSU with a group of fellow bloggers, Michigan State employees, and representatives from Meijer, the Kentucky and Michigan Beef Councils and the Cattleman's Association. The sessions were titled #BlogMeetsBeef, and I feel so much more confident about how to purchase and prepare beef after these events! My favorite portion of #BlogMeetsBeef was the cooking competition. The participants were divided into three groups, given a $100 gift card to Meijer, and asked to prepare, plate, and photograph a balanced meal, including a wine pairing.
I was paired with two registered dietitians -- Kati Mora, a practicing dietitian focusing on eating disorders, and Tina Miller, a dietitian on on the Meijer health communications team. I laughed that, from the beginning, it was a bit of a funny fit since my cooking tends to veer into bacon-and-grits territory, while the two dietitians on my team started thinking vegetable servings and a healthy dose of quinoa! We actually all worked really well together!
The rules for our competition were that the main protein for our meal had to be the actual beef that our team had cut the day before. Working with the Meijer beef team in the MSU Food Science butcher-training room, we broke down a full beef sirloin into a sirloin cap, sirloin steaks, and petite sirloins. We chose to use the sirloin cap as the portion for our meal. This is a great, tender cut that I'd never worked with before!
The requirements of our competition were that we should use (preferably) 8 ingredients or less, that we should use Meijer branded products wherever possible, and that it should be a balanced meal. We chose to sear our sirloin cap in a grill pan and serve it with a quinoa salad, feta cheese, and a cherry- Pinot Noir reduction. We served the meat over a bed of arugula; the sweetness of the cherries, saltiness of the feta, and peppery bite of arugula are one of my favorite combinations, so I was excited about our team's menu!
To add some fresh flavor, we added lemon juice to both the cherry reduction and the quinoa salad; we garnished the plates with parsley.
Scallions and bell peppers added color and crunch to the quinoa salad. I have to say that it was great to cook with dietitians. In preparing a similar meal at home, I wouldn't think to consider a cup of bell peppers. I'd serve the quinoa/ bell pepper mixture as a starch and then add in a veggie. It was a good reminder about portioning and nutrition!!
In working with the beef folks, we were given many reminders that, for safe consumption, a meat thermometer is a better indicator of doneness than internal color!
Our final product turned out pretty lovely! We plated it using some of the guidelines provided to us by Michael Ollier, Senior Corporate Chef for Certified Angus Beef. Our team actually won the cooking competition! I was pretty excited that our ideas came together so well!
Thanks so much to Meijer and the Kentucky Beef Council for this experience! I can't wait to tell you about the second time that week that I played Iron Chef -- the second time was at the Kentucky State Fair!!
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Bourbon balls are one of my very favorite Kentucky traditions. They remind me of holidays with my family; my great-aunt Marie always made bourbon balls using the exact same recipe that I use to this day. I always think of bourbon balls as a Christmas treat, or something to savor at the end of a bourbon distillery tour. I only recently learned that a lot of people make bourbon balls as a Derby treat as well. This morning, I picked up a bourbon ball donut from Thorntons' new #ThorntonsBourbonKitchen line, and it was fabulous!
If you're in the mood for a bourbon ball, my recipe is below, or you can just pick up one of those donuts at Thortons for 99 cents. It's the same flavor with a lot less effort! And let me know -- do y'all think of bourbon balls as a Derby time treat?
- 1 to 2 cups good bourbon whiskey
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/2 to 1 cup whole pecan halves (optional)
- 1 two-pound bag of powdered sugar
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 2 bags Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips
- paraffin wax
- Place 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped pecans in shallow bowl. Pour bourbon over nuts, immersing completely. Cover and let soak 12 hours to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place pecan halves in shallow pan and toast lightly for about ten minutes.
- Cream butter in stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Combine bourbon-pecan mixture with powdered sugar to form a stiff ball. Refrigerate to let stiffen slightly.
- Roll dough into small balls.
- In double-boiler (or a sauce pan placed over a cooker full of boiling water), add a third to a half a bag of semisweet chocolate chips and a small shaving of paraffin wax (no more than 1/4 cup). Heat until just smooth. Dip dough balls into the chocolate mixture. The key is to coat them quickly and make small, frequent batches of melted chocolate.
- Place bourbon balls on wax paper to cool. Top each with a toasted pecan half, if desired. Results are better if you leave them to cool at room temperature rather than in the refrigerator.
Yields between six and seven dozen bourbon balls.