Friday, September 30, 2011

Grilled Chili-Lime Steak with Chimichurri & Roasted Fall Veggies

I remember a few months ago when we were still exploring our new town, we passed a store and I remarked "What do you think they sell there?" The name of the store was Smart & Final. Was it a closeout store - your final chance to buy an item? Was it an auction place - all sales were final?

Of course, then that lead to a bigger discussion of how, when you move to a new place, you really have no idea what stores are just by their names. Many times they're named after original owners and not very intuitive. You really have to go in and check it out to figure it out - or ask a local who knows. After that tangent, I pretty much forgot about Smart & Final.... until I got an email asking me if I'd be interested in checking out an area grocery store chain called Smart & Final. Ah ha! A grocery store! How could I have missed that? Well, not to worry, I was about to get my chance to check it out as I shopped the store to create a beef recipe.

Turns out, Smart & Final is kind a warehouse club/restaurant depot hybrid. It offers larger packages of food for a better price - as well as restaurant/catering goods like chafing dishes, sterno and paper goods. Their Extra stores, like the one I visited, combine the warehouse/restaurant items along with typical household sized offerings of produce, meat, dairy and frozen foods. It's really quite a varied collection of things. What I was most pleased with was that I was able to find everything I needed for the recipe I decided to make all under one roof. That rarely happens. I usually find myself heading to at least 1 other store for some elusive item - the right herb or spice or something. But not this time. And everything was well-priced to boot.

You can check out a photo diary of my experience here.
And, of course, here's the recipe I was inspired to create:

Grilled Chili-Lime Steaks with Chimichurri and Roasted Fall Veggies

2 Cattleman’s Finest Beef Loin New York Steaks*
2 Tbsp. lime juice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 large garlic cloves
1/2 c. fresh parsley
1/3 c. fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 large Russet potatoes*, peeled
1 sweet potato, peeled
2 cups Brussels sprouts
1 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper

Mix lime juice, cayenne pepper, ¼ tsp. salt and 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a freezer bag. Add steaks and mix to coat. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours.
When ready to cook, preheat grill to 400°F. Preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut russet and sweet potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Cut Brussels sprouts in half. Add to a bowl and toss with  2 Tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake 25 minutes, turning half-way through.
To make chimichurri sauce, combine remaining ½ c. olive oil, garlic, parsley, cilantro, lemon juice and red wine vinegar in a blender. Puree until smooth. Add salt to taste.
Place steaks on preheated grill. Grill for 5 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and let rest 5 minutes.
To serve, top steaks with chimichurri sauce and veggies with grated Parmesan cheese.

*Live out West like me? Then visit your local Smart & Final store next week to get these items on sale for a great deal!

Note: This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding

Ever since I saw Giada rave about panetonne on one of her shows, I've wanted to try it. (Say what you will about TV-star chefs, I just love Giada. She's too cute!) So, when I had the opportunity to try some out for free, I jumped at it. Bauducco was generous enough to send me 2 of these Italian specialty cakes - a chocolate chip and a raisin:

Seeing as I was in a chocolate kind of mood last night, I decided to try that one first. When I opened it up and cut into it, I quickly learned this "cake" is much more bread-like, as you can see:

While it is moist, it's not quite as moist as cake - and it has a larger crumb. As I took a bite, a surprising orange flavor came through. Looking closer, I could see little bits of dried fruit in the cake, along with those delicious chocolate morsels. It really is a very unique flavor - a little bit along the lines of a friendship bread, but more refined. On its own, it would be a great snack along with a cup of coffee or tea.

But I wasn't looking for an accompaniment to coffee or tea. No, I wanted some straight up delicious dessert. So, I decided to use the cake for a bread pudding. When I make bread pudding, I often use leftover hamburger or hot dog rolls that are taking up space in the freezer. Their soft texture is perfect for bread pudding - and this panetonne is very similar, so I thought it would work well. 

To go along with the chocolate and orange flavors already in the cake, I added some cherries and a touch of rum. Topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream, the results were delicious, in my opinion. 

Mr. ValleyWriter says he thinks the raisin panetonne would make a more "traditional" bread pudding (which he prefers) so we may have to give that a try next. But for me, chocolate takes bread pudding to the next level - a definite must try!

Chocolate Cherry Bread Pudding
(serves 4)

1/3 c. fresh cherries, chopped
2 Tbsp. rum
1 1/3 c. milk
1/4 c. sugar
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
2 1/2 c. cubed chocolate chip panetonne
2 Tbsp. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 4 custard cups and place in a larger casserole dish.
Combine cherries and rum in a small bowl. Set aside.
In a saucepan over medium heat, combine milk and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved. 
In a separate bowl, whisk egg and egg yolk. Slowly whisk in hot milk/sugar mixture. Add the cubed panettone to the liquid and let sit 10 minutes.
Stir in rum-soaked cherries and pour evenly into prepared custard cups. Sprinkle 1/4 of the chocolate chips evenly over the top of each one.
Place casserole dish containing custard cups in the preheated oven. Create a water bath by carefully adding warm water to the bottom of the casserole dish until it comes about 1/2 way up the sides of the custard cups. 
Bake pudding at 350°F for 35 minutes or until set in the center. Remove from water bath and let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Disclosure: I received the Bauducco panettone free as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, but the opinions expressed above are my own. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not Your Mamma's Fish & Chips

On the continuing quest to find new and interesting ways to prepare fish, I decided to try a coconut encrusted tilapia - along the lines of coconut shrimp. I served it with a spicy sweet chili dipping sauce and sweet potato oven fries. While it wasn't my original intention to create a modern "island" version of fish & chips - that's exactly what we ended up with!

Now, I must admit that normally I'm averse to frying, given that it's not the healthiest way to go. But I knew that would be the best way to truly get these crispy. And as it turns out, the coconut covering really didn't soak up a lot of the oil, so the fish wasn't greasy and didn't really feel like "fried food." If you're still really opposed to frying though, these could be baked at 350°F for about 15 minutes with a flip half-way through.

Coconut Tilapia with Sweet Potato Oven Fries
(Serves 2)

2 tilapia fillets
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 egg, beaten
3/4 c. sweetened coconut flakes, finely chopped
2 tsp. cajun seasoning
1/2 c. canola oil
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 sweet potatoes, cut into french fry strips
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. paprika
sweet chili sauce for dipping (usually found with the asian foods in the grocery store)

Preheat oven to 425°F. In a large bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. olive oil, cut sweet potatoes, cumin and paprika. Toss to coat sweet potatoes evenly. Bake in oven for 15-20 minutes until evenly browned, turning every 5 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat 1/2 c. canola oil over medium heat to 350° F.
On a plate, mix chopped coconut and cajun seasoning.
Coat tilapia filets in cornstarch, then dip in beaten egg. Roll in spiced coconut mixture until both sides of each fillet are evenly coated.
Carefully place fish into heated oil. Let cook 4-5 minutes until coconut is golden brown. Flip and cook another 3-5 minutes on the other side. Carefully remove from oil with tongs or a spatula and place on paper towels to drain off any excess oil.
Serve with sweet potatoe fries & sweet chili dipping sauce.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ghirardelli Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte

As part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I was lucky enough to receive a generous sample package from Ghirardelli Chocolates. Often sample packages are just that - small samples. But Ghirardelli means business, hooking me up with 3 full size bars and 2 bags of the individual chocolate squares:
When I opened the package, I was totally psyched! I love chocolate - especially rich, dark chocolate like Ghirardelli's Intense Dark line. Of course, Mr. ValleyWriter and I had to do some sampling - diving into the Sea Salt Soiree (I love how the salt really brings out the flavor of the chocolate and the almonds give just a little bit of texture, almost like a crispy chocolate bar) and the 86% Cacao (very intense - Mr. VW was a big fan, but it was a little too dark and not quite creamy enough for me).

I pulled aside the 72% Cacoa bars right away, though, knowing I had a special treat in mind to create with those. I've had the 72% Cacoa before, so I knew it was just the right blend of bitterness and creaminess for this amazing flourless chocolate torte:

It's dense, creamy, fudgy and oh-so-heavenly - without being so sweet you feel like you're eating chocolate frosting. I made a mini one (in a 4" souffle dish) because it's just the two of us - and really, all you need is a little slice to feel satisfied.
(served here with a little strawberry syrup)

The recipe below can also be scaled up to make a full-size 10" torte that's sure to wow at your next gathering (just triple the ingredients). Also, it's my understanding that the Ghirardelli chocolate bars aren't gluten-free, but their baking chips are, so if you used the 60% bittersweet chips in this recipe, it would make a terrific gluten-free dessert. Enjoy!

Ghirardelli Flourless Dark Chocolate Torte
(Serves 6)

3 Tbsp. water
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 c. granulated sugar
6 oz. Ghirardelli 72% Cacao chocolate bars, chopped into pieces
1/3 c. unsalted butter, cut into 5-6 chunks + extra butter for greasing
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease 4" cake pan or souffle dish liberally with butter. Cut a 4" circle out of parchment paper and put it in the bottom of the pan.
In a small saucepan, heat water, salt and sugar over medium heat. Stir constantly until dissolved. Remove from heat.
In a double boiler, melt chocolate. Add butter 1 chunk at a time, whisking after each addition until fully melted into chocolate.
Beat eggs into chocolate-butter mixture 1 at a time.
Beat water-sugar mixture into chocolate.
Pour into greased pan.
Place the small pan inside a larger baking dish. Fill the larger dish with hot water until the water comes about 1/2 way up the sides of the smaller pan with the torte batter. This creates a water bath that will help your torte cook evenly.
Bake at 300°F for 35-40 minutes until torte is set (it should not jiggle when you give it a bit of a shake). Remove from oven and carefully pull out of the water bath. Cool completely before inverting onto serving dish. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Disclaimer: I received the Ghirardelli chocolates free as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, but the opinions expressed above are my own.

Also posted to Sweets for a Saturday #35

Friday, September 9, 2011

VW's Rules for Beating Blackouts

As some of you may have heard, we had a huge blackout here in the San Diego area yesterday. It stretched from the Mexican border north to Orange County and east to Arizona. It was HUGE - 5 million people without power. Thankfully, we were back up in about 12 hours, so it wasn't too bad in the end.

But, when it first went out, we had no idea how long it would be. So, I put my usual "the power is out" plan into action and started thinking about what I would do if it went more than 24 hours. Growing up in rural New Hampshire, I've dealt with a lot of power outages. Some last 3-4 days (or more). So, this is old hat for me. I actually had a lot of fun last night sitting outside with my hubby, candles going, drinking wine and looking at the stars. So, I thought I'd share my general rules/strategies for dealing with power outages.

The first 24 hours:
-Gather all your candles, lighters and flashlights and keep them in a central location. Carefully use candles when possible (and safe) to save flashlight battery power. Don't forget to take advantage of any solar lights you may have outside your home. They make great backup flashlights!
-In summertime, keep windows and shades closed until it's cooler outside than inside. Then open everything up to cool the house down.
-Keep the fridge and freezer closed as much as possible. Try to save opening them for when you have several things to get out. For example, last night, I made a list of all the ingredients I needed for dinner and pulled them all out at once. We drank water (and, let's be honest, here - wine!) we had in the closet to avoid opening the fridge.

-Eat the most perishable items you have (milk, eggs, yogurt, etc.) first, if possible. After the first 4-5 hours, move them to the freezer. The freezer should keep things cold for 24-48 hours (though you should probably eat your ice cream ASAP. Not such a bad deal!)
-Use hand sanitizer in place of washing your hands when they're not very dirty. (If you have city water, it may still work during a power outage - but sewer systems may leak. I suggest not using the water unless you really have to. And if you have a well - your pump won't work anyway!)

24 hours and beyond:
-Start cooking/eating. Focus on using up as many of your perishables as you can first (after that, you can move on to your nonperishable items - canned goods, dry goods, etc.) While your microwave and electric stoves won't work, you can still use gas. This includes outdoor BBQs, which you can use your regular pots and pans on in a pinch, if needed.
-Continue to open the freezer as little as possible. While things won't stay frozen, they will stay safely cool longer than things in the fridge. Cook and eat meats as they defrost.
-For washing up, boil water on the BBQ or gas stove. Let it cool until it's comfortable to touch. Use a washcloth and the water to "freshen up" without a shower. You can also wash dishes this way.
-Do as much "fun" stuff during daylight hours as you can - read, play board games, go for walks, etc.
-Make nighttime special - not boring. Pretend you're camping. Look at the stars, tell family stories, etc.

What are your tips for coping with a power outage or blackout?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A surprise visit from the Fairy Hobmother - you could be next!

If you read a lot of cooking blogs, you've probably heard of the Fairy Hobmother by now. She hails from Appliances Online and goes around granting kitchen wishes to lucky blog commenters. (Hob, by the way, is the term for a stove top in England. So, the Fairy Hobmother is really quite a fitting name for a granter of kitchen wishes!)

I recently left a comment on Kahakai Kitchen's recent post and low and behold, this morning I found the Fairy Hobmother had visited me too! She left a nice gift certificate to Amazon, which I think I may use to buy some bread forms. (Though at 100° F today in sunny southern California, I'm rethinking the desire to bake!)

If you'd like a visit of your own from the Fairy Hobmother, leave a comment on this post. If you're lucky, she might just grant you your very own kitchen wish!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Vanilla Bean Popovers - Sunday Morning Breakfast

In our household, most mornings breakfast consists of little more than a bowl of cold cereal or a cup of yogurt. But on the weekends - Sunday especially - we make an effort to make a nice breakfast for ourselves. Since moving to sunny California, we've been able to enjoy it out on the patio, too - which is an extra bonus!

This morning's breakfast was simple, yet elegant - and delicious. I made some light and airy vanilla bean popovers (served with homemade orange marmalade) and a nice fruit salad. If you've never had them before, popovers are a wonderful treat - crunchy on the outside, soft and tender on the inside:

Right out of the oven, they look especially impressive:
Best of all, they're actually very simple to make - using ingredients you probably always have on hand - eggs, milk, flour & salt. I like the addition of the vanilla bean for a little extra dimension, but it's not entirely necessary. 

Vanilla Bean Popovers 
(Makes 6)

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 vanilla bean

Let eggs and milk sit out on the counter for about 45 minutes - 1 hour to come to room temperature.
Spray popover pan (or muffin tin) generously with oil spray. Place in cold oven.
Turn oven and preheat to 450° F. 
While oven and pan are heating up, beat eggs on medium speed until frothy. Beat in milk, flour and salt on low speed just until combined.
Split vanilla bean down the center, lengthwise. Use your knife to scrape the seeds out. Place them in the batter and mix again on low speed for 15-30 seconds to distribute seeds evenly.
Carefully remove hot popover pan from oven. Fill each cup about 1/2 way full with batter. 
Return to fully heated oven. Bake at 450° F for 20 minutes (do not open the oven during this time - not even for a peek!!). Reduce heat to 350° F and cook for another 20 minutes until popovers are fully browned. 
Remove from oven and pierce with a knife to allow steam to escape (this keeps the popovers from getting soggy). 
Serve warm with butter or your favorite jam.