The Almond Board of California (ABC) has awarded Jennifer Wayland, executive sous chef and pastry chef at Roxiticus Country Club in Mendham, N.J., a football season finale prize package valued up to $10,000 for her winning entry in the Almond Board's Ultimate Snack-Off Recipe Contest. In a competition that challenged North American foodservice professionals to create almond-centric snack food ideas designed to satisfy a man's "game day" appetite, Wayland defeated competitors with her recipe for Grilled Skirt Steak Maytag Blue Cheese Sliders with Smoked Almond Romesco and Smoked Almond Butter (recipe below).

"Small bites are popular and sliders are perfect for snacking," said Wayland of the rationale behind her entry, according to a press release. "Smoked almonds add a rich, bold taste to the steak and the Romesco sauce is like 'fantasy ketchup,' boosting flavor and adding depth. The components of this recipe are great on their own, and they come together beautifully to showcase many of almonds' culinary capabilities." The chef suggests that men dining out at a restaurant or sports bar would enjoy pairing her flavorful snack dish with their favorite lager.

While Wayland's sliders took the grand prize, hearty flavors and crunchy proteins were a hallmark of many other entries in the Ultimate Snack-Off Recipe Contest. Recipes were judged based on five criteria: creativity, suitability for the male demographic, distinctiveness of almond usage, ease of preparation and taste. The three runners-up in the competition were:

Grilled Skirt Steak and Maytag Blue Cheese Sliders with Smoked Almond Romesco and Smoked Almond Butter
Jennifer Wayland, executive sous chef and pastry chef, Roxiticus Country Club, Mendham, N.J.

Yield: 18-21 sliders

1 (1-lb.) skirt steak (or flank steak)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1/4 c. almond oil
2 T. lime juice
2 T. dry sherry
1 T. turbinado sugar (such as Sugar in the Raw)
1/2 shallot, diced
Smoked Almond Romesco, recipe below
Smoked Almond Butter, recipe below
1 egg white
1 t. water
1/2 c. sliced almonds, lightly toasted
18-21 mini brioche rolls (1 1/2-2 oz. each), or small dinner rolls
8-9 oz. piece Maytag Blue Cheese (or other blue cheese), crumbled

Method (1) Preheat oven to 350˚F. Preheat indoor or outdoor grill. (2) Season both sides of steak with salt and pepper. Place the steak in a shallow nonreactive dish. Stir together almond oil, lime juice, sherry, sugar and shallot together in a small bowl, and pour over steak; cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes. While steak is marinating, prepare the Smoked Almond Romesco and the Smoked Almond Butter. (3) Place the mini brioche (or small rolls, if using) on a large baking sheet. Whisk together the egg white and water in a small bowl, and brush on the tops. Sprinkle with sliced almonds, pressing to adhere; set aside. (4) Remove steak from marinade, and discard the marinade. Grill steak over high heat for about 3-4 minutes a side for medium-rare. Remove from heat, and rest 3-5 minutes. (5) Place mini brioche in oven, and bake for 2-3 minutes, or until warmed. To assemble sliders, slice brioche in half with serrated knife, and spread approximately 1 t. of Smoked Almond Butter on the bottom half of each brioche. Slice steak thin against the grain, and arrange evenly on the bottom halves of the brioche. Top the steak with crumbled blue cheese and then about 2 t. of Smoked Almond Romesco. Cover with brioche tops, and serve 3 sliders on each plate.

Smoked Almond Romesco
1 T. chopped dried ancho chilies
1/2 c. water
1 (8-oz.) jar roasted red peppers, drained
1 c. roasted tomatoes, drained
1/2 c. smoked almonds
2" piece day-old baguette
2 cloves garlic
Zest of 2 limes
2 t. smoked paprika
2 T. red wine vinegar
1 T. dry sherry
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil, as needed

Method (1) Place chilies in a small bowl; cover with hot water, and let stand 10-15 minutes or until softened. Drain. (2) Combine all the ingredients in a blender, and process on medium-high speed until a thick sauce forms. If the sauce is too thick, thin with extra virgin olive oil (the sauce should not be runny). (3) Transfer to a small bowl; reserve for service.

Smoked Almond Butter
1 c. smoked almonds
Almond oil, as needed

Method (1) Place smoked almonds in blender, and process on high speed until the almonds form a paste. If the butter is not smooth enough add almond oil until desired consistency is reached (butter should not be runny). (2) Transfer to a small bowl; reserve for service.