; Supermarket Serenade: September 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes (and How I Lost The National Beef Cook Off)

A few days have passed since the 2009 National Beef Cook Off in Sonoma, California. I was very fortunate enough to have been selected to participate. A few days have gone by...and I think I may be finally finished with beating myself up over my dish. Well, almost.

The theme this year was "Sonoma Style" - meaning healthful beef dishes paired with fresh ingredients typical of Sonoma, CA. The categories were Living Well with Grilled Beef, Lean Beef in Nutrient Rich One Dish Meals, and Teens Cooking With Beef. You can see all the finalists here.

My dish was Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes. It is a grilled pizza with a whole grain crust topped with grilled, sliced N.Y. Strip Steak, grilled plums, Point Reyes Blue Cheese, a drizzle of honey and topped with coarsely chopped pistachio nuts. I have eaten this pizza more times than I care to share (my family has eaten this pizza more times than they care to remember) and truthfully every time I made the pizza it came out just right; the plums had beautiful grill marks, the steak was a fabulous shade of pink, the crust tender-crisp. So why when it counted did I crumble like a dried out shortcake biscuit??

It was all going very well. I was confident. It was my third time at the National Beef Cook off. I knew the drill. I was even cooking on the very same grill I have at home. There was no excuse. My crust grilled better than I had anticipated given that it was not the same brand I had been practicing with. The plums? Not a problem, grilled up fine. I put my steak on the grill and watched the grill smoke up while arranging the plums and honey on the crust. I flipped the steaks, closed the grill and watched it smoke up and heard the grill flare. I panicked. It was too smoky. My meat would be overcooked. "These people have good palates..." I thought to myself, "they don't want to be eating overcooked meat." Then I made the fatal mistake. I took the steaks off the grill to rest knowing full well my carefully set timer had not gone off. I had practiced. I knew exactly how long those steaks had to grill. But I panicked.

The steaks were rested for about 5 minutes (they continue cooking, right??) I carved. They sliced well, smooth, probably more an indication of a good cut as opposed to good cooking. The cook off timer announced I had 5 minutes remaining. I looked at the meat as I nervously continued to cut. I knew it was undercooked, but I had to slice it and arrange it on the pizza then grill again to melt the cheese-surely it would brown up then. I fanned the steak, crumbled the cheese and added the nuts. I slid the pizzas back onto the grill. The cook off timer announced that I had 1 minute remaining. I peeked in...still raw. I had no more time. I transferred the (mooing) pizzas to my elegant white serving platter.

The emcee for the afternoon, chef Richard Chamberlain of Addison Steakhouse, one of Dallas' top restaurants, came over to see my entry. Our eyes met. I saw his horror. I hope he saw mine-I hope he knew that I knew my steak wasn't cooked. He kindly commented on the beauty of the rustic crust, the delicious smell of the plums. But guess what? It was not a dough or plum cook off. As I watched with horrified regret and visions of judges spitting pizza into their napkins, my entry went to the judges. My husband and my assigned cattlewoman hostess, Lisa, tried to reassure me. But I knew. I only hope for the judges' sakes my dish was quietly disqualified so they did not have to eat my raw entry. I am so sorry judges.

I hope you will try making my recipe-it actually is tasty when properly cooked.

I really don't mind losing. The other entries looked delicious and I could very well have not won with a perfectly cooked entry. But it would be so much easier to lose if I felt that I sent to the judges the best possible Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes that I could have.

(My compliments to the professional food stylists at the Cook Off-you made it almost look edible)

Grilled Steak and Plum Pizzettes

1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus additional to brush the grill
2 boneless beef loin strip steaks (about 1 1/4 pounds)
2 red plums, each cut into 12 slices
2 tablespoons Wildflower Honey
1 cup crumbled Pt. Reyes blue cheese
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped pistachio nuts
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon pepper

1. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and flatten each into a 6-8 inch disc; brush both sides of each disc lightly with the olive oil and grill on a medium-hot grill just until grill marks appear, about 2 minutes per side and then set aside. Grill steaks 9-11 minutes over medium-hot grill (turning occasionally), remove to cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

2. Lightly (and carefully) grill plums on both sides on a well oiled grill then fan 6 slices over each grilled crust; drizzle the plums with the honey. Carve the steaks into 1/4 inch thick slices and fan over and/or between the plums, season with the salt and the pepper, evenly dividing.

3. Crumble the blue cheese over the sliced steak and sprinkle with the pistachio nuts, evenly dividing. Return pizzettes to the grill, close the cover and cook until the cheese is melted about 2 minutes.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grilled Guajillo Chicken

Guajillo. Don't you just love saying it? Gwah-Hee-yo.

I have never actually worked with dried peppers before. I've worked with dried mushrooms (which I love), but I have always been rather intimidated by dried peppers. But on a recent trip to the supermarket I threw caution to the wind and decided to buy a package of guajillo peppers and a package of ancho peppers.

First up are the guajillos. Easier to use than I had thought, they are an inexpensive way to provide some great flavor to your dishes. They are a mild pepper rating about 2 or 3 on the hot scale-with 10 being super hot, so if super hot is what you're looking for these are not the peppers you want. But if you're looking for a nice smoky flavor, a hint of spice, and some nice color, these peppers deliver on all counts.

The peppers have a leathery skin and need a bit of soaking to reconstitute. Be sure to wash before using and trim the stems before placing in boiling water to reconstitute.

I had an abundance of thin sliced chicken cutlets in my freezer and decided to make use of them, so I thawed and marinated them in a guajillo based marinade then grilled them. Paired with yellow rice and sauteed peppers they made a quick tasty dinner. I also shredded one and added cheese and green onion placed between two whole wheat tortillas for a tasty quesadilla for one of my picky eaters...yummy.

Guajillo Grilled Chicken

4 dried guajillo peppers, washed
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
6 boneless, skinless thin sliced chicken cutlets

Place the guajillo peppers in a small bowl and cover with the boiling water. Cover the bowl and let peppers sit for 15-20 minutes, until tender.

Transfer the peppers and 1/4 cup of the water to a food processor (reserve the remaining water). Add the oil, tomato paste, honey, vinegar, cumin and salt; process until smooth. Place the paste and the remaining water into a zipper top plastic bag along with the chicken; shake well to combine. Let the chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat a grill to medium high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and place on the hot grill, discard marinade. Grill chicken 2-3 minutes per side.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lunchboxes Filled with Love

I know the Staples commercial with the Dad dancing gleefully down the aisle of a Staple’s store tossing back to school supplies into a shopping cart would lead one to believe that most parents cannot wait for their kids to go back to school, but you know what? I’m not all that gleeful about it.

I really miss my kids when they go back. And now as they are getting older they are often seldom home because of assorted activities, friend gatherings and now my oldest has a job. So truthfully I really kind of like summer when they are around just a little bit more. But like it or not it is time to send them back to school. Two of my kids have already started and one starts next week.

When I was a kid my mother made bologna and American cheese sandwiches on soft white bread on Sunday nights. Helping her, I would usually slice the bologna into quarters so it could be arranged on the bread in a square (I hated cold cut overhang-is that obsessive compulsive?) She tucked the sandwiches in plastic bags and tossed them in the freezer and each morning, assembly line style, we would grab our sandwich, an apple and a small package of pretzels (sometimes we got cookies) then toss it all in a brown paper bag (I tossed it in my Brady Bunch Lunchbox in the early years).
I don’t quite have the assembly line system my mom had and truthfully my kids do not always like to take their lunch…and certainly only my youngest has a lunchbox (albeit a Vera Bradley one which really looks more like a purse). But lunch usually is not too much different than what I got: a sandwich-but now it is turkey and American cheese on wheat, an apple, pretzels and the occasional treat. Today I have made two treats which I will likely slip into plastic bags and freeze for lunches. Whether I toss these treats into a lunchbox or simply serve them up after school, hopefully my kids will get the message that in school or out of school I love them.

Maple Almond Cinnamon Chip Banana Bars

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, light, firmly packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 medium bananas, peeled and mashed
1 egg
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup Cinnamon chips

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed 15 ½ x10 ½ inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour baking powder and salt. In another large mixing bowl beat together the butter and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the maple syrup, bananas and the egg, beating until combined. Add the flour mixture a little bit at a time, beating after each addition until combined. Stir in the almonds and cinnamon chips.

Spread the batter evenly over the prepared pan, don’t worry if it’s not perfect just spread it as evenly as possible.
Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool completely before frosting or cutting into squares. Store bars in a covered container.
Note: bars are very thin...if you would prefer slightly thicker bars, bake them in a 13x9 inch pan.

Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting (optional)

1(8 ounce) package of reduced fat cream cheese
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup

Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and beat until smooth.

Crispy Peanut Butter Lunchbox Bars

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup marshmallow topping
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups puffed rice cereal
4 ounces dark chocolate

Lightly spray an 8x8 square dish with cooking spray.

In a large saucepan melt the butter, marshmallow topping and butter, stirring to combine.

Stir in the puffed rice cereal. Press the mixture into the prepared dish. Let cool completely before cutting into squares.

Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl placed over a pot of simmering water. Using a knife, drizzle the chocolate over the squares. Let the chocolate firm before eating (unless you really can't wait).