Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How to get a diamond five easy steps

I have some fabulous recipes to share with you today, but I also have a family story that accompanies one of the recipes that is too good not to share.  My aunt and uncle came for dinner this past Saturday night and we enjoyed laughter, good food and wine together outside on the patio.  The sound of water surrounded us, and the gardens were as vivid and intensely colored as an Impressionist Era painter's palette.  We began with cocktails and some simple appetizers.  Then we moved inside for dinner.  As good as the side dishes were however (Spaghetti with Sauteed Fresh Herbs and Garlic and Sauteed Spinach with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes), they could never outshine what we had for the main entree.

I have to give a lot of credit to a woman I know who also loves to cook, cooks competitively, and cooks quite well.  You'll find her recipe for marinated stuffed ribeyes below.  I relayed the marinade recipe in its entirety; the recipe for the boursin stuffing is my own rendition, based on her suggestions.  The results are outstanding.  Tender beef, grilled over smoky coals with thick strips of bacon.  Drooling yet?  But wait!  There's more!  Inside the ribeye is creamy, garlicky, shrimpy goodness and a rich sauce that is better than any compound butter I've ever put in my mouth.  These steaks are decadently rich and I can guarantee you that you will hurt yourself to finish your portion.

To drink with dinner, I served Santero Bessi Rosso (Italy), a carbonated red wine for those of us who preferred something light, sweet and refreshingly perfect for hotter weather.  I also poured Feudo di San Nicola Negroamaro 2009 (Italy), a red wine full of bright cherries and round, rich fruit and with enough tannins to support and complement the rich meat.  Intensely dark ruby red in the glass, it is full-bodied and has intense presence and good structure.

Dessert was a homemade lemon meringue pie that my aunt made.  It was entirely delicious and the crust was tender and flaky.  I have to tell you that in my family, this pie is legendary.  It has made son-in-laws happy and pleasantly amnesic of their mother-in-law's three-month-long visits, it has impressed boyfriends, graced buffet tables at church suppers, has been offered after Sunday dinners and most importantly, has been instrumental in putting a diamond ring on an adoring wife's finger.  Aww, ain't love grand?  I'll tell you the story behind that ring below.  But first, the recipes from dinner:

Grown-up Lemonade

   Guard your drink closely around kids--it's really pretty and looks like lemonade, but kapow! 

cracked or crushed ice
4 oz. limoncello, divided
1 bottle vinho verde
1 bottle Sicilian lemon Italian soda (such as Central Market Organics brand)
blackberries for garnish
mint leaves for garnish

Fill four glasses about halfway with ice.  Divide limoncello evenly among glasses.  Pour vinho verde in each glass, about halfway.  Top with lemon soda.  Garnish with blackberries and mint leaves.  Makes four drinks.

Spaghetti with Sauteed Fresh Herbs and Garlic

1 lb. spaghetti, cooked according to pkg. directions and kept warm
4 Tbs. EVOO
2 green onions, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
4 sprigs flat leaf parsley, including stems, chopped
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper
additional EVOO for drizzling
additional chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish

1.  In large saute pan, heat EVOO over medium heat.
2.  Add green onions and garlic, sauteing briefly for about 1 minute, being careful not to burn the garlic and reducing heat if necessary.
3.  Add sage and parsley, stir and saute for about 1 minute.
4.  Season herb oil to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.
5.  Toss warm spaghetti in herb oil to coat strands; correct for salt.
6.  Turn spaghetti onto warm platter or serving bowl, drizzle with additional EVOO and sprinkle with chopped parsley.  Serves 4 to 6 as a side dish.

Sauteed Spinach with Garlic-Roasted Tomatoes

3/4 cup small cherry tomatoes (or halve larger cherry or grape tomatoes)
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 Tbs. EVOO
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs. EVOO
3/4 lb. fresh baby spinach leaves

1.  First, roast the tomatoes:  place them on a small baking tray or a piece of sturdy foil.  
2.  Add smashed garlic; drizzle with EVOO and generously season with salt and pepper.
3.  Roast at 375 degrees for about 10 to 15 minutes until caramelized.  Set aside (tomatoes can be roasted up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated until ready to use).
4.  Heat remaining EVOO in large skillet over medium heat.  
5.  Add roasted tomatoes and garlic, along with any juices.
6.  Add spinach leaves, stirring frequently until just wilted.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4.

Stuffed Ribeye Steaks with Shrimp, Piquillo Pepper and Garlic Boursin

The marinade on these steaks is fantastic.  And just when you think it couldn't get any better, you cut into perfectly grilled beef to find a rich, creamy and flavorful center.  Pinch me!

2 large boneless ribeye steaks, cut 1½ to 2 inches thick (steaks will weigh approx. 1 lb. each)

1/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons dried basil
1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
1 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon dried minced garlic (optional)

Boursin Filling:

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 green onion, green part only, thinly sliced
1 ½ roasted piquillo peppers, in small dice (alternatively, 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded, finely minced and/or 2 Tbs. finely chopped red bell pepper)
1 lg. clove garlic, finely minced
6 to 8 medium uncooked shrimp, peeled, tailed and deveined, finely chopped
generous amount of salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 pieces good-quality thick-cut bacon

1. Place the soy sauce, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, basil, parsley, and pepper in a blender. Add hot pepper sauce and garlic, if desired. Blend on high speed for 30 seconds until thoroughly mixed and somewhat emulsified.

2. Pour marinade over meat. Cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.  The longer the better.  I like to use a plastic storage bag and squeeze out the excess air so the marinade surrounds the meat on all sides. 

3. Meanwhile make the boursin filling by combining the cream cheese, butter, green onion, piquillo or jalapeno pepper, garlic, shrimp, salt and pepper.  Blend well and refrigerate until ready to use.

4. Remove steak from marinade and allow to drain in a colander.  Using a very sharp knife with a good point, insert knife on the side of the steak with more connective tissue, cutting a pocket carefully, leaving opposite side, top and bottom of steak intact.  Take care not to tear the intact sides.  Pocket should be big enough to get two fingers inside.  Move the knife around to create a pocket.  Be sure to keep knife level and even.  Check pocket cavity by running fingers into steak and making sure there is enough room for filling.  Repeat for remaining steak.

5. Turn steak on side with the opening facing up and fill steak with boursin stuffing using a spoon or your fingers.  Divide stuffing evenly between the two steaks.  They will appear to be overstuffed, but that is exactly what they should be.
6. Seal openings with toothpicks, then wrap two pieces of bacon around the entire steak, placing bacon end to end to cover sides and secure with toothpicks.

7. Cook steak on a preheated grill on very low indirect flame to desired doneness.  Turn carefully and gently with a large metal spatula and tongs so that meat does not tear and filling does not ooze out.  I also used lump hardwood charcoal for extra depth of flavor when grilling and cooked the steaks for about 7 or 8 minutes per side.  I then turned off the flame and then left the steaks on the grill, covered, to finish cooking.  Serves 4 (with 2 people sharing 1 steak each).

Diamond Ring Lemon Meringue Pie

This recipe is straight out of the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.  The lemon custard is intensely sweet, so reduce the sugar up to 1/4 cup if you like.  It is worth the extra effort to make a scratch crust and to take the time to make meringue.  The results are outstanding every time and it blows store-bought pie out of the water because of its intensely lemony flavor.  A true American classic.

And here's the story behind the pie:  My uncle by marriage is a very patient, gracious man.  Before my grandparents moved to Texas permanently, they would travel every year for a visit to my aunt and uncle.  This was no ordinary visit from ordinary in-laws.  This was a three-month-long visit.  With an epicurean father-in-law who would bring olives and stinky cheese and loose, green tea, and God love him, his own espresso pot.  Oh, and did I mention The Book of Calvin would also be in residence for three months with daily readings commencing at 6 a.m.?  How many son-in-laws can you think of that would welcome that???  But my uncle loved my grandmother, and he loved my grandmother's lemon meringue pie.  In fact, he loved it so much that she would make him a pie on the first and last days of their visit.

My aunt is beloved by all of us, but she would be the first to tell you that although she excels at many things, making lemon meringue pie was formerly not one of them.  And following my grandmother's act is something that has been hard for all of us to do.  But my uncle knew that my aunt wanted a 1-carat marquis-cut diamond ring.  How badly did she want that ring?  Apparently she wanted it badly enough to take on The Diamond Ring Lemon Meringue Pie Challenge.  My uncle told her (in front of other family witnesses, I might add), "Baby, you make me five perfect lemon meringue pies just like your mother, without fail and from scratch, and I'll get you your diamond."

Well.  You want to light a match under the women in my family?  Give them a stiff challenge.  My aunt worked hard--five years, in fact--to match her husband's challenge.  One of the reasons that challenge was so stiff was that if she failed to make a perfect pie, she would have to start all over with Pie Number One.  But on the Christmas just prior to their 15th wedding anniversary, my uncle presented my aunt with her diamond ring.  And to this day, she's still making great lemon meringue pies.  Practice, as they say, makes perfect.