Hey, Maryland! Take the Buy Local Challenge: July 21-29, 2018 (recipes here!) #BuyLocalCookout #BuyLocalChallenge

I was very excited to attend Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s Buy Local Cookout, kicking off Buy Local Week here in the Old Line State. For the first time in forever, the annual event had the perfect weather, so pleasant to walk around Government House’s grounds, sampling the delicacies.

The cookout ushered in a very important initiative in our state: for all of us to pledge to eat at least one locally grown or raised product this week. This year’s cookbook is free to download, and all of the other years’ winning recipes are also downloadable on the web site.

A calypso band kept things summery and fun. Before the obligatory introductions and brief speeches, a dignitary announced that next year’s Governor’s cookout was already being planned. People chuckled at that, as Hogan is facing re-election this fall. He’s the 2d most popular governor in the USA (sometimes ranked #1), so . . . still, I was standing next to Hogan and he turned to the side, wryly saying quietly, “non political (event)”. Easier said than done, right? Food and fishing have a lot of political issues baked in, as they say in the capital.

Each station had previously won a recipe contest, using Maryland chefs, farm produce, meat producers, seafood, wines, beers and spirits. Some weren’t actual restaurants, but rather, they were culinary students or farmer families who had a few cooking tricks up their sleeves! The kids were as hard working as the adults — great hope for our future.

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There were various beauty queens, like local Watermelon Queen, but I hate to take pics of folks while they’re eating.

There was a cornucopia of taste delights! Even with my hearty appetite, I couldn’t try everything . . . but I sure tried.

Maryland’s seafood from the Chesapeake Bay, as well as peaches and tomatoes, have been world famous all over the world for over 350 years. It’s how the colony paid its bills!

I like that this cookout had a mix of classic Southern fare, along with modern, worldly treatments of the best we have to offer.

Eastern Shore Ham and Cheese Sweet Potato Biscuits were prepared by the Talbot County Public Schools Culinary Arts Program. The biscuits were tender and the ham wasn’t overly salty — we just don’t do that here! We let the meat’s flavors stand out. There were also vegetarian biscuits.

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I love Miss Shirley’s! They’re in my neighborhood and though I have a terrible driving phobia, I’m super glad I taught myself to drive there. I also loved the Miss Shirley’s Yellow Tomato Gazpacho! With the finest sweet jumbo lump crabmeat — the gold standard — and sweet corn relish, Chef Brigitte Bledsoe turns the ingredients into an elegant, light and refreshing dish. It’s perfect for summer!

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I heard a couple of chefs debating between what they called “real food” and “fancy food”. They were basically comparing traditional foodstuffs and intricate presentation. I know they both had to appreciate Slow-Roasted Pork Belly on Cornbread Crostini. The cornbread had classic flavors, as well as the pork and the peach compote. But the combination and composition — along with the addition of Black and Blue goat cheese from super famous Firefly Farms — made it as chic as can be.

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It’s true, oysters are terrific raw, right out of the boat. But there are preparations that elevate them! Jailbreak Brewing Company, The Choptank Oyster Company, Gorman Farms and MikeGro Greens teamed up for Smoke on the Water, a lightly smoky oyster with little flavor hits like watermelon, tarragon and red onion. Very interesting savory notes!

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The Governor’s very talented wife, Yumi Hogan, always likes to present a dish, incorporating gastronomic ideas from her native Korea. Yumi Cooks! Kimchi Burger was a burger-burger, but with kimchi added to the ground beef for moistness. It’s not super pickle-y.

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So, there’s a big deal going on in the Chesapeake Bay with invasive species fish: blue catfish/channel catfish came here from East Asia and have no natural predators. So, we’re the only hope for the bay! Happily, Corn Crisp Blue Catfish with Lime Cilantro Corn Relish and Maryland YumYum Sauce was luscious! This is an environmental project I can really get behind. The fish was beautifully cooked and the cornmeal crust was crunchy. The fish’s dark beige flesh was tender and moist. It had a mild, but savory/unami flavor.

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The folks at Myth and Moonshine Tavern, Albright Farms, Chile Comapeno and City-Hydro Microgreens partnered for Maryland’s Best Burger. It featured Mountain Pepper Salsa and fresh herb aioli. And yeah . . . it is that good. It kinda makes you wish it were featured on Uber Eats! It’s flavorful, without “trying too hard”. The different components are quite complimentary.

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Wanna hear about another great meat? Poblano Pork, from JesseJay’s Latin Inspired Kitchen, MeatCrafters and Moctec Mexican Products, made such a tender, tasty dish! It had a subtle smokiness with authentic mole and goes well with different toppings and freshly made corn tortillas.

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I like trying different foods, out of the ordinary. Slow-Roasted Goat Tacos with Sweet Corn Succotash — made with meat from Southern Maryland — was created by Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission and Southern Maryland Meats. It was very accessible: if you like lamb, you’d love goat!  I have always enjoyed traveling to Southern Maryland, the oldest, most historic part of the state. The beloved late Comptroller, Louie Goldstein, was from there. He always told everyone, “God bless y’all real good!”

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A dessert that would be just as good in the fall as now was Blade’s Orchard’s Fruit Brioche Bread Pudding with Lyon’s Rum Sweet Cream Custard. Brioche is naturally more buttery than regular bread, so this dessert is an indulgent take on the Colonial-era fave. The custard was light, yet packed with intensity.

Another dessert was rich and indulgent, yet summery: Ricotta Peach Cheesecake Bars. A small morsel is satisfying and creamy!

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