Monday, June 6, 2011

Good friends, good food

My good friend and soul-sister, TXMama, loves to cook and like me, isn't afraid to eat.  We've cooked many a meal together, put on many unforgettable parties and most of all, have shared many fabulous meals together--both out and in.  Over the weekend, we got together to cook and eat.  Appetizers were simple and low-maintenance (excellent dry salami and a sharp, buttery cheddar cheese) and cocktail hour was a refreshing, relaxing waterside experience.  We moved inside out of the heat to a memorable dinner and great wine--thanks again to one of my wine guys at Spec's.

Dinner had been smelling fabulous for some time (it had gone in the oven at about 3:30 p.m.), and the aromas promised great things.  We had a lovely spinach salad studded with fresh orange segments, strawberry slices and red onion, dressed in a piquant dressing.  The brisket was tender and deeply flavored thanks to aromatic vegetables and plenty of red wine in the braising liquid.  I had substituted rutabaga and carrot in the brisket recipe for parsnips, which were unavailable.  And the couscous?  Extremely simple to make and full of lemon, parsley and garlic.  Magical with the Montepulciano!!  I later had a second helping of the couscous in a small dish, paired only with the wine.  TXMama's husband, Richyson, commented, "You're eating that couscous like it's ice cream!"  To me, it was better than ice cream.

Here are the recipes:

Blueberry Basil Frozen Daiquiris

These daiquiris are tart and complex.  I've convinced myself that the antioxidant property of the blueberries more than compensates for the sugar and alcohol content in these drinks!

1 cup basil syrup (recipe follows)
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
12 large basil leaves
1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
1 cup white rum
blueberries, thinly sliced limes and basil sprigs for garnish

To make basil syrup:  Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water in small saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then remove from heat.  Add 3 to 4 stems of basil leaves and let steep until cooled.  Refrigerate until ready to use.  Strain before using.  Makes about 1 cup.

In a large blender container, combine basil syrup, blueberries, basil leaves, lime juice and rum.  Add enough ice to come to top of blender container.  Blend until an icy/slushie consistency is achieved.  Pour into stemless red wine glasses and garnish with blueberries, lime slices and basil sprigs.  Makes four drinks.

TXMama's Sweet or Savory Spinach Salad

We had the sweet version of this salad, which harmonized beautifully with the main course.  Both versions are excellent.

Make the dressing:
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Heinz white vinegar
Put egg in small saucepan and lightly beat.  Add sugar and vinegar and mix well.  Heat over medium heat until boiling.  Reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes or until lightly thickened.  Allow to cool and then refrigerate.  

Assemble the salad:

Sweet salad is best with cold dressing.  Combine baby spinach, thinly sliced red onion, supremed fresh orange or mandarin oranges and sliced or quartered fresh strawberries.

For a savory salad, serve with dressing that is hot, room temperature or cold.  Combine baby spinach, sliced fresh button mushrooms, red onion thinly sliced into half rings, roughly crumbled bacon and hard cooked eggs either served as wedges on side or top salad with large diced egg.
Be careful not to over dress salad.  Add a little dressing at a time, mix very well and taste; add more if necessary, toss well and retaste.  Makes 4 generous servings.


Several weeks ago, while slogging away on the treadmill at my local gym, I watched Food Network's Alex Guarnaschelli make this fabulous brisket and couscous.  This ain't your typical brisket--you might be shocked at the lack of barbeque sauce and smoke--and it sure ain't your typical couscous because it is graced with gremolata, which is bright and lemony, a perfect foil for the rich brisket.  With the recommended wine (see below for full review), it was a knockout dinner.  Recipes are embedded below:

For dessert we savored strong Community Coffee and Blackberries with Muscovado Cream Sauce.  I've posted this dessert recipe before, but because it is so simple, here it is again:  For each serving, place 1/2 cup washed, chilled blackberries in a small dessert dish or shallow goblet.  Combine 1 cup sour cream with 2 Tbs. muscovado sugar and blend well.  Pour muscovado cream over berries and garnish with mint leaves.

About the wine we drank with dinner:  My wine guy has a fabulous palate.  I can describe what I am planning to cook to him and he can translate that into a literal gustatory experience, matching wines with foods flawlessly.  He recommended a Montepulciano, Cantina Zaccagnini 2008 (Italy).  Full of plum and black fruit, this dry red is soft, and slightly peppery with a hint of leather and vanilla.  This is the best of country peasant wines, earthy, full-bodied and big enough to support earthy, country-style Italian dishes such as game, veal, sausages, lamb and intense red sauces such as Puttanesca.

May your taste buds dance!

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