An intimate dinner to heat up the evening

Tribune Media Service

Tribune Media Service

Each year, my husband and I had commemorate our first date and that special moment. We have dined in the finest restaurants in Los Angeles, flown up to San Francisco to see Bette Midler live, partied in Las Vegas and even spent a low-key night going to a movie and deli. We find, however, that nothing has made us as happy as staying home and cooking up a great meal for just the two of us - or at most us and a few friends.

In the past, when preparing special stay-at-home meals, I have planned complicated menus that relied on sauces made days ahead. In more recent years, I have of course become a "Seriously Simple" cook, which means streamlining the complicated dishes of the past. I've enjoyed great results and, most importantly, found time to relax and celebrate. It is nice to have the time to reflect on what we've accomplished in the past year and contemplate what the future holds. A great dinner marks the moment in a unique way.

Grilled rib-eye with chiptole sauce is the centerpiece of this menu. Relying on store-bought canned chipotles and frozen veal stock or canned beef broth saves time without losing the integrity of the dish. Steak au poivre, that classic French dish that is covered in cracked black peppercorns, is reinvented here with a chipotle cream reduction. A chipotle puree infuses a traditional wine sauce with a smoky flavor, and a swirl of creme fraiche adds extra body. This is great for entertaining because the sauce can be made ahead of time. If you are thinking of having a small group, halve the steak amount. There is never too much sauce, so keep the same measurements. (Besides, this dish makes fantastic leftovers.)

Begin with glasses of sparkling wine and an appetizer of sliced smoked salmon on blinis or toasts garnished with a touch of creme fraiche and a sprinkling of fresh chives. Serve the steaks with simple roasted baby potatoes and some sauteed fresh spinach. For dessert serve a favorite chocolate pie or go for a fruit finish with a pear or apple tart from your favorite bakery. Don't forget a full-bodied wine, such as a California syrah or zinfandel. I couldn't think of a better way to celebrate.

Help Is on the Way:

• Chipotle chilies are smoked, dried jalapenos. Chipotles are available canned in a sauce of garlic, tomatoes and vinegar, and labeled "chipotles en adobo." Moderately hot, they have a distinctive smoky flavor.

• Keep the puree in the refrigerator. Add it to dressings, sauces or anything you want to have an undertone of smoky heat.

• Veal stock is available in the freezer section of the market; if you can't find it, just use beef broth.

• You can also use New York or filet mignon cuts if you prefer.


Grilled Rib-eye Steaks with Chipotle Sauce

Sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 medium shallots, minced

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup veal or beef stock

1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons Chipotle Chile-Garlic Puree (see below), to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons creme fraiche, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 one-pound boneless rib-eye steaks, about 1-inch thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Watercress or parsley sprigs for garnish


In a medium heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and boil for about 5 minutes, until reduced by half to a syrupy glaze. Add the veal stock and chile puree, and reduce for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the sauce barely coats the back of a spoon. Add the cream and reduce for another few minutes, until the sauce coats the spoon again. Season with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Prepare a grill or a grill pan for medium-high-heat grilling. Season the steaks lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the steaks for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until medium-rare. Or place in the grill pan and cook, turning once until medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the steaks are resting, gently reheat the sauce.

Cut the steaks into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Spoon some sauce onto each serving plate and arrange the steak slices, slightly overlapping, on top. Garnish with watercress and serve immediately.

Advance Preparation: The sauce may be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat gently.


Serves 6 to 8.


Chipotle Garlic Puree

6 garlic cloves

1 can chipotle en adobo


In a food processor, process the garlic until minced. Add the chilies and process until totally pureed. Place in an air-tight container and refrigerate. Makes about 1/4 cup

Advance Preparation: This may be prepared ahead and stored in the refrigerator for 1 month.


Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Chipotle Sauce

There is nothing like a good steak. This recipe kicks it up a notch and introduces some fun spicy flavor to your traditional grilled steak. You must be careful not to make the sauce too spicy or any wine will be completely overpowered. Traditionally, you would probably pick a nice Cabernet Sauvignon to pair with your rib-eye, but considering that you are going to be spicing things up, I suggest a blend that is predominantly zinfandel/cabernet. This varietal combination will pair much better with this dish. Duckhorn's Paraduxx would be a great choice. It is 68 percent cabernet sauvignon, 24 percent zinfandel, 7 percent merlot and 1 percent cabernet franc. This beautifully balanced wine is aged for 16 months in both French and American oak, which helps to bring out the aromas of black cherry, dark chocolate and raspberry with hints of pepper, cinnamon, and clove on the nose. On the palate you will find an abundance of chocolate-covered black cherry and dark fruit flavors with accents of dried sage and tobacco leaf. This is not an inexpensive wine choice at around $40 a bottle, but you will agree that it is well worth the price after your first sip.

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