Sunday, October 24, 2010

A new twist on an old favorite - sweetened-up French toast

French toast is a simple, classic breakfast favorite. It's pretty basic, too - eggs, milk, cinnamon & bread. But as basic as it may be, I still found myself one Sunday with a craving for French toast and a missing staple - no milk. I did, however, have some leftover sweetened condensed milk from a dessert I'd recently made, so I figured I'd give it a shot. We ended up liking it even better than the original version and it's become a new standard in our household! (In case you're not familiar with it - sweetened condensed milk can be kept in the cupboard unopened for months and once opened, stays good in the fridge at least twice as long as regular milk - so it's easier to keep on hand.)

The sweetened condensed milk takes away from the "egginess" that French toast can sometimes have. It also obviously adds some sweetness - but it's not over the top. I like to serve this topped with some berries and just a drizzle of maple syrup. Very easy, but very yummy!

French Toast (with sweetened condensed milk)
(Serves 4)

3 eggs
1/4 c. sweetened condensed milk
2 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
8 slices bread
1/2 c. blueberries
maple syrup

Whisk eggs, sweetened condensed milk, water, cinnamon and vanilla in large bowl.
Heat griddle or nonstick frying pan over medium heat.
Quickly dip 1 bread slice into egg mixture, coating both sides. Place on griddle/pan. Repeat with as many bread slices as will fit on your pan. Flip once bread is browned and cook another 2-3 minutes until both sides are evenly browned.
Repeat dipping and frying until all slices of bread are cooked.
Top with blueberries and serve with a side of maple syrup.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Another 40-second knead bread: Wheat Sourdough

I tried the 40-second knead method with a slightly tweaked recipe to up the wheat flour - and though I was nervous at first, it turned out great!

Seriously, this short kneading method rocks! I did find the initial dough ball had to sit a little longer to let the wheat flour aborb the moisture properly, but that's certainly no trouble! I love being able to just knead the dough for a few seconds in between other chores - and end up with an amazing loaf of bread in a few hours. I've left the starter for various periods of time - 2 hours, 4 hours, 12 hours - and it always comes out great. If you've ever been intimidated by bread kneading - you really should give this a try! The investment in a small kitchen scale, if you don't have one, will definitely be worth it.

Here's my wheatier-adaptation of the original found at the Sourdough Companion:

Wheat Sourdough Bread (40-second knead)

1 tsp. yeast
420 grams (g) warm water, divided (see method below)
350 g unbleached white flour
250 g wheat flour
10 g salt
1-2 tsp. olive oil
extra flour for dusting

In a small glass bowl, mix 1 tsp. yeast with 50 g water. Let sit 10 minutes. Stir in another 50 g of water and 100 g unbleached white flour. Cover and let sit at least 2 hours.

Pour starter into a large bowl. Add remaining 320 g of warm water and break up clumps with a spoon. Stir in remaining 250 g unbleached white flour, 250 g wheat flour and 10 g salt. Mix into a ragged ball. It may seem a little dry - but resist the urge to add water!). Cover and let sit 20 minutes (the extra time allows the moisture to penetrate the wheat germ better).

Spread about 1 tsp. olive oil on a large plastic/pyrex cutting board. Dump dough onto board. Knead for about 10 seconds. Return dough to a clean, oiled bowl and cover. Let sit 10 minutes.

Turn dough back out onto board (adding oil if needed to prevent sticking). Knead for another 10 seconds. Return to bowl, cover and let sit 10 minutes.

Turn the dough back out on to the board and knead for another 10 seconds. Return to bowl, cover and let sit for 30 minutes this time.

Turn the dough back out onto board and knead one last time for 10 seconds. Return to bowl, cover and let sit for 45 minutes or until dough is about doubled.

Turn dough out onto the board. Press it down gently on the dough to create a rectangle. Roll it up starting with the long side, so you end up with a long cylinder. Dust a tea towel (NOT a terry cloth towel) with a little flour and place dough in the middle, seam-side up. Wrap ends of towel over each to enclose dough. Let sit 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 410 degrees F. Carefully roll dough out onto greased baking sheet so the seam-side is on the bottom. Bake 30-40 minutes until bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Spinach & Feta-Stuffed Flank Steak

I'm back in the valley now - and back to my kitchen. After vacation, I was checking out the contents of the fridge/freezer and realized I still had another large grass-fed flank steak from Hearst Ranch to use up. Since the weather has turned markedly cooler, I decided to go with something roast-like - and so this recipe was born. It's a take off of a flank-steak roulade, but I didn't pound the steak as thin or use as much of it to actually be able to roll it into layers. It's still absolutely delicious, though!

Spinach & Feta-Stuffed Flank Steak
(Serves 3-4)
12 oz. flank steak (I took a 20 oz. one and cut it to use only about 2/3rds)
1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
8 oz. frozen chopped spinach, cooked and drained
2 Tbsp. garlic onion jam (this is really good stuff! but if you don't have it/don't want to buy it - you could substitute some minced garlic)

For the marinade:
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. red wine
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. dijon mustard
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. lemon juice

The night before, pound the flank steak out until it's about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Poke it with the knife to create slits in the meat. Mix the marinade ingredients together in a glass dish or plastic food bag, add steak and refrigerate overnight.
When ready to start cooking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Remove the steak from the marinade and lay it flat on a cutting board. Spread the garlic onion jam over the top evenly. Spread the spinach out on top evenly, then add the feta - again spreading out evenly into a single layer. From one of the short ends, roll the steak up so spinach/feta becomes stuffed inside. Use toothpicks or cooking twine to secure the meat, if needed.
Place in an oven-safe dish.
Bake at 350 for 40-60 minutes, depending on desired doneness. (I cooked ours for 40 minutes to a temperature of 145 degrees F and it came out rare/medium-rare, which turned out to be perfect for us.)
Let sit 5 minutes before slicing.

I served this with some roasted patio potatoes - delish!

Flank Steak

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Amazing views, incredible food - Mistral Restaurant, Coronado, California

I just recently got back from a trip to southern California, tagging along with Mr. ValleyWriter on a business trip. Of course, we did manage to sneak in some fun while we were out there eats. We spent a long weekend on Coronado, a small island just next to the city of San Diego. We spent time on the beach, popped back into the city to check out Balboa park - and of course had some good eats.

(The bell tower at Balboa park)

The best dining experience by far was at Mistral, a French restaurant located at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort. I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures, but I felt it was the type of restaurant where you set the camera aside and allow the rest of your senses to indulge. (Though you can check out the restaurant's Web site for some nice shots.)

The first treat for the senses was for the eyes. The views were absolutely amazing. Over 1/2 of the restaurant features tall glass windows that manage to encompass views the bay between San Diego and Coronado, part of the city skyline and the ocean. We set our dinner time for 6 pm, hoping to catch the sunset and although the night turned a bit cloudy, it was still very pretty. We got to watch the sun fade behind clouds and create that characteristic red-orange glow, followed by watching the lights twinkling on in the city. At the end of the night, we even caught a glimpse of fireworks! (I told Mr. VW that was all my doing... but I don't think he believed me.)

As good as the view was, even better was the food. I started with a caprese salad, made with heirloom tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella and tiny fried squash blossoms. Drizzled with a fruity olive oil and wonderfully balanced balsamic vinegar, it was divine. Mr. VW enjoyed a bowl of creamy pumpkin-orange soup with vanilla-poached prawns that was also a perfect way to perk up the appetite (and talk about some unexpected flavor combinations - they totally worked, though!).

For our main courses, I had an herb risotto with scallops, while Mr. VW had a bacon-wrapped lamb loin that came with squash stuffed with a vegetables confit. My dish was good - perfectly portioned and wonderfully creamy - but Mr. VW's dish stole the show. One look at his face after his first bite and I knew I had to suspend my usual disdain for lamb and give it a try. Oh my. It was melt-in-your mouth and had a wonderful flavor. The stuffed squash was no throw away side dish, either. It was bright and light, yet comforting at the same time.

Now when you've had an amazing meal like this, one could argue there's no need for dessert. I, however, would never argue that. So on to desserts we went! Mr. VW usually keeps things light for dessert and in keeping, he ordered the lemon verbena ice cream with rhubarb and strawberry consommé and the cutest little madeleines. It was creamy and slightly tart, but still sweet enough to be "the icing on the cake," so to speak. I went straight for the most decadent thing I could see on the menu, which was the bissou au chocolat. It was a rich chocolate cake with a praline crust, topped with a dark chocolate sorbet, drunken cherries and a perfectly placed flake of edible gold. It was a sight to behold - and to savor. The dark chocolate ice cream had just a hint of bitterness, which was actually perfect for cutting the richness of the chocolate cake.

Mistral Coronado was one of the best dining experiences I've ever had (so far, anyway) and I truly hope to have the opportunity to go back some day. If you ever find yourself in San Diego, I'd highly recommend taking a quick drive across the bridge to Coronado to check it out yourself!