Monday, May 30, 2011

Three to tango

Last Friday night, we had a dinner guest.  Although I really like cooking for my husband, I really like cooking for people who are guests in our home.  I'd had my eye on a recipe for Argentinian grilled chicken with chimichurri sauce that I found on CHOW, a website that sends me almost daily posts with a lot of great recipes and ideas.  I also wanted grilled warm tomato salad, a recipe from an old Eating Well magazine that I have since misplaced, so I would have to reconstruct it from memory.  And I was still on a paella kick, still on a residual high from the saffron, garlic and pimentos from last Sunday night's virtual trip to Spain.  So I wanted another paella this time, but one a bit lighter and full of artichoke hearts.  By the way, if anyone knows the half-life of paella and whether or not it is actually lipid-soluble (and I suspect that it is), please write me.

I had the wine figured out--an Argentinian white recommended to pair with the chicken and plenty of back-up sauvignon blancs well-chilled--but also wanted a pre-dinner cocktail that was icy and refreshing in the humidity of late May in central Texas.  I had a lot of mint syrup in my freezer from last summer's mint crop. Having missed my annual excuse to have multiple mint juleps this year (e.g., the Kentucky Derby), I was hoping that I could create a drink that was at least 5 light years away from a mojito, but not as old-school as a mint julep.  Was there such a thing as a mint daiquiri?

Apparently, there is, and with a few modifications of a basic recipe I found online, I made a pitcher of very sophisticated slushies that packed quite a wallop.  These are not your Daddy's Daiquiris.  Here's the recipe:

Frozen Mint Daiquiris

8 oz. white rum
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
8 oz. mint syrup, chilled (recipe follows)  OR 24 mint leaves muddled with 1/4 cup sugar
4 cups ice
lime wedges
fresh mint leaves

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until mostly smooth.  Pour into highball glasses and garnish with lime wedges and mint leaves.  Makes 4 drinks.

To make mint syrup:  Boil 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water in small saucepan for 1 minute.  Remove from heat; add 4 large sprigs of mint and steep.  Chill and remove mint before using, or freeze until later use.

Argentinian Grilled Chicken with Chimichurri Sauce

There is a special technique for preparing the chicken for the Argentinian Grilled Chicken.  It is worth the extra effort because it produces a very moist grilled chicken.  Find the Chimichurri Sauce recipe here.  Leftover chimichurri sauce keeps for about a week in the refrigerator and is delicious also on grilled beef.

Warm Grilled Tomato Salad

6 large tomatoes, cored and cut into 6 to 8 wedges
Kosher salt for sprinkling
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. EVOO
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. fresh basil leaves, slivered finely

  1. Place tomato wedges on a baking tray and sprinkle generously with salt.
  2. Prepare grill and heat to medium-hot.
  3. Mix together in a medium-sized bowl the Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar and EVOO.  Stir in jalapeno; set aside.
  4. Grill tomato wedges until liquid begins to bubble and the skin on the bottom begins to char a bit.
  5. Transfer grilled tomatoes directly to the dressing mixture in bowl and toss well.
  6. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
  7. Sprinkle slivered basil leaves over the top.
  8. Serve warm or at room temperature.  Serves 6.

Artichoke Paella

     This paella can be made totally vegetarian if you wish by using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.  I've adapted the original recipe by Trish Sebben-Krupka so that I can use frozen artichoke hearts when fresh baby artichokes are not available.  Sauteing the artichoke hearts in a little garlic and olive oil before adding them to the final dish makes a lot of difference in the finished product.

6 1/2 cups rich chicken stock
1/2 tsp. saffron threads
2 Tbs. EVOO 
2 9 oz. pkgs. or 1 18 oz. bag frozen quartered artichoke hearts, thawed 
1 large clove garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup EVOO 3 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 Tbs. smoked Spanish paprika
1 bay leaf
2 Tbs. salt-cured capers, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
3 cups Valencia or arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
juice of one lemon
2 cups tiny green peas (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
4 roasted piquillo peppers, sliced thinly (you can use jarred peppers)

1.  Pour chicken stock into large saucepan and heat to a simmer.
2.  Crumble saffron threads into hot stock; reduce heat and cover until needed.
3.  In a paella pan or large saute pan, heat 2 Tbs. EVOO over medium-high heat.
4.  Add artichoke hearts and saute until heated through.
5.  Add 1 clove of minced garlic and saute, stirring well.
6.  Season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
7.  Transfer artichoke hearts to a small bowl for later use.
8.  Heat 1/4 cup EVOO in the same pan over medium-high heat.
9.  Add onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes.
10.  Season onions well with salt and freshly ground pepper.
11.  Add remaining garlic, oregano, paprika, bay leaf, capers and olives and cook another 3 minutes or so, stirring often.
12.  Add rice and stir constantly, cooking until grains are evenly coated with oil, about 3 more minutes.  
13.  Add the wine and the lemon juice, stirring to deglaze the pan.
14.  Spread the rice evenly over the bottom of the pan and then add the hot chicken stock all at once.
15. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook without stirring for about 5 minutes.
16. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, again without stirring, for an additional 20 minutes.
17. Remove lid and add sauted artichokes, distributing evenly.
18. Sprinkle peas over all.
19. Cover and continue to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
20. Remove from heat, uncover, sprinkle with parsley and decorate with piquillo pepper strips.  May be eaten warm or at room temperature.  Serves 8 generously.

What wines to serve with this meal?  We drank two Chilean sauvignon blancs, both very crisp and light and full of citrus/grapefruit aromas.  Both under $10 a bottle, I would recommend Lapostolle Casa Sauvignon Blanc 2010 and Gryphus Sauvignon Blanc 2010.  I also had a bottle of Weinert Carrascal Blanco 2007 (Argentina), which was originally recommended to pair with the grilled chicken due to its "assertive buttery and caramel-y flavors."  However, the wine had oxidized in the bottle before opening and we didn't get to taste its true characteristics.  A review of this wine complained that it was too sweet and too fruity, however, so perhaps the Fates of Bacchus guided us that night.

May your tastebuds tango!

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