Friday, February 6, 2009

The Meatfest Story

Meatfest 12 - Sunday May 24th 2009
- Evites will go out in April -

Up front, I'll clarify that this is about friends and an annual event, not just about "meat." So all you vegetarians can safely read on. It all began the summer we moved to Gilroy (the garlic capital of the world, they proudly proclaim) ... in the summer of 1998. We'd moved into the new house in August of '97, and by the following summer we'd managed to get the backyard to a somewhat habitable and fun spot. The hot tub was in, we had a nice big patio, a decent (big) barbeque and Big Chief smoker, and it was high time to have a little Memorial Day gathering. As I recall, I'd originally invited 10-12 people to partake in some tri-tips and chicken.

However, a perfect storm was brewing. I was playing drums for a couple bands at the time, and had "jammed" with several friends in addition to the bands, for years. So the little BBQ had to include band members, assorted musician friends, and of course their families. We'd provide some live entertainment along with the BBQ in the yard. So far so good.

The company I worked for at the time had just been acquired by another one, and we were in the process of combining and/or changing our telecom systems. All the old stuff was going away, and everything would conform to a single standard (my standard, as it happened). We had a meeting the day before the BBQ that included some of the company brass, several phone company reps, my friend Mike from Santa Fe, and myself.

I only wear suits to weddings and funerals, if I have anything to say about it. I was in my usual jeans and a t-shirt for this meeting, Mike was dressed similarly, and at the time had a ponytail half-way down his back and was undoubtedly in boots and sporting lots of turquoise. The rest of the room was in suits, poor guys. Michael is a major outdoorsman, and would rather be fishing or guiding an elk hunt than doing mundane telecom tasks. He's also the best telecom guy I've ever met.

Mike had just returned from a job in Seattle, and he had the opportunity to do a little salmon fishing while he was up there. So picture this room full of suits and executives, and Mike walks into the Executive Conference Room with an Igloo cooler. The first thing he pulled out was a whole salmon, which he'd caught and smoked the day before. I can hear him saying this like it was yesterday (to the afore-mentioned uppity group) ... "y'all like smoked salmon?" and he proceeded to unwrap the whole smoked salmon for the group. And it was totally killer. Fresh out of Puget Sound, smoked over mesquite and hickory, done to a "T."

He then pulled out a gorgeous WHOLE salmon and said "this one's for your BBQ tomorrow, along with some other stuff I brought from home." My little BBQ of tri-tips and chicken was about to take a quantum leap. Several more invitations went out, as this was taking on the appearance of an event that the bulk of my friends just didn't want to miss.

We ended up at about 35-40 people that first year. I cooked a big pot of chili (recipe below), tri-tips (marinated in my "Rubbit" dry rub, 2 hours on the smoker, then on the BBQ), several types of sausages and chicken. In addition to Mike's whole salmon, he'd also brought some venison and elk, which he shot on a recent hunting expedition in northern New Mexico. My guests all brought a side dish or dessert, and I'm confident that nobody went home hungry. We entertained the neighborhood with our live music, people were dancing in our driveway, everyone was welcome to venture into the yard and try the food, and it was an absolutely magical day.

Fast forward to the following year. I got a call from my friend Lisa sometime in early May, telling me that she and Danny were considering a surfing trip to Costa Rica over Memorial Day unless there was going to be a "Meatfest 2." I said (1) yes there will, and (2) I'll always give you credit for naming it Meatfest.

Meatfest has taken on a life of its own, over the years. This year will be Meatfest 12. We held it on the traditional Memorial Day weekend the first year in Bend, and quickly learned a very important lesson about Central Oregon weather ... it's about as predictable as a shark. It was almost June, and it was windy, chilly, and a little rainy. My friends John and Linda actually got snow the day before, while fly fishing in the nearby Cascade Lakes. After Mother's Day ... almost June ... snow on the ground. The next year, we'd plan it for Labor Day. Not a guarantee, but a better bet.

The food varies from year to year, hopefully improving on my end, and definitely bringing out the creative best cooking efforts in friends and family who eagerly look forward to the annual gathering. Some combination of my band or bands always plays, people dance into the wee hours, the food is amazing, and I'd like to think that friendships have been developed or improved through our little BBQ. I see many of my friends frequently, but for others it's only once or twice a year, Meatfest being one of them.

The biggest Meatfest was about 5 years ago, when we had over 75 people in our little yard in San Jose. I played with three bands at the time, and they all came and played. Guests came from Seattle (bless you, Deborah!), Sacramento, Monterey, and of course all over the Bay Area. About 10 of our friends even flew or drove to Bend for the two Meatfests we had up there. Quite a compliment on the one hand, and a good example of how much these people like getting together and seeing old friends, as well as meeting new ones. It's become an event that people look forward to, ask about months in advance, confirm that there's going to be another one this year / next year, the date, the location, and so on. It's kind of taken on a life of its own in as much as people simply count on it. There are very few constants in life that can be counted on, and amazingly Meatfest is one of them.

Larry's Chili
(keeping mind that I vary it every time I make it)
  • 1 lb each of dry red and pinto beans, soaked overnight in a pot of water, covered
  • 3 lbs of good quality ground beef (90% or better - the leaner the better)
  • 2 large sweet onions (Walla Walla or vidalia are the best)
  • An assortment of fresh chilis, chopped. Try: 2 Anaheims, 2 pasillas, 4-5 jalapenos, 4-5 serranos
  • An assortment of chili powders, combined in a bowl. Try: 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne, 2 tablespoons of New Mexico (or any pure chili powder), 1 tablespoon each of light and dark commercial chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of cumin powder
  • 3 #2 cans (large can) of petite diced tomatoes with their juice
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 bottles of beer for the chili, more for the cook if you're so inclined!
In a large stock pot, sweat the onions in a tablespoon of vegetable oil, covered, for about 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and fresh chilis, saute about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the two bottles of beer, bring to a boil.
Add the tomatoes, 4 cups of hot water, return to a boil.
Add half the chili powder mix, the cumin and oregano, stir, taste.
Reduce to medium and maintain a simmer.
Brown the ground beef in batches (don't overfill the skillet or the meat will "boil" which is not the idea).
Drain the meat and add to the pot.
Rinse the beans that have soaked overnight, add to the pot.
Return to a boil, lower to a simmer, cook for at least 2-3 hours.

Taste the chili frequently (like you should be doing with most things you cook ... I keep a shot glass full of plastic spoons near the stove), add more of the chili powder mix and cumin as needed/desired. Add water if it's too thick, stir in a small amount of cornmeal and water paste if it needs thickening.

Garnishes, including chopped white onions, shredded sharp cheddar, shopped jalapenos and serranos. I admit to being a little sick in the following regard, but I'll commonly put a drop of Dave's Insanity Sauce in my bowl. Discourage your guests from doing this, as they'll likely have seriously nasty comments for you if they're not prepared for the heat. Tell them it's just a table decoration. It's aptly named Insanity Sauce!

Meatfest 12 will be in the big yard in California this year, on May 24th ... on Sunday of the three day Memorial Day weekend. Gives me and everyone else a day to prepare, and a day to recover before returning to work and reality. I'm confident it will be another great day, hopefully with many of our long time friends and several new ones. And of course you can look forward to the inevitable write-up (here) directly after the party!

1 comment:

Timeless Gourmet said...

Sounds wonderful - I love the fresh beans!! I'll have to track down Dave's Insanity sauce.....I keep a little jar of Death Rain powder close by to spice my bowl of chili up , and I keep that away from guests too!