Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Backyard Libations and Merriment

A weekend with few obligations is a rarity in our life thus cherished.   It's the perfect time to enjoy family solitude or make last minute plans with neighbors or good friends.  Plus, impromptu gatherings are often the most pleasurable. There is little stress and no expectations so you can let down your hair and enjoy.

The extended hours of daylight make a backyard evening all the better.  The kids can frolic on the lawn while the adults enjoy cocktails and conversation on the patio.  Once the sun sets you put the little ones to sleep in pack n plays and pop in a movie for the big kids with the hope they fall asleep before they meltdown.  (Am I the only one that uses the occasional DVD as a babysitter?  I think not.)

Below are a few of my go-to recipes for an evening such as this:

Tomato Tart (I had something similar at a restaurant and love my version even better)
Caramelized onions - just chop up the onions, put about 1 tablespoon of olive oil per onion and a little butter in a pan.  Let it heat up.  add the onions.  cook for 5 or 10 mins then sprinkle with a little sugar and salt.  Cook on low for 30-40 mins until onions are soft, brown and the liquid has evaporated. Stir every few mins.
Cut puff pastry dough into small circles using a cookie cutter or a red wine glass for the right size.  If there is not enough time just lay the dough on a cookie sheet and continue.  
Cover uncooked dough with the caramelized onions
Then add fresh chopped basil on top of that
Put a slice of tomato on top.
Grate some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese over the tomato
Bake at 400 for 20-25 mins 
Then drizzle some homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette before serving.
To make the Balsamic Vinaigrette:
mix 3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1 table spoon of Dijon mustard and a clove of chopped garlic slowly add 1/2 -3/4 cup of olive oil (just taste as you make it to see if it has enough olive oil for you) add a little salt and pepper to taste

Flank Steak Panini (courtesy of Williams Sonoma)
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 flank steak, about 1 1/2 lb.
1-lb. loaf herbed focaccia
1/2 cup caramelized shallots
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 cup arugula
Olive oil for brushing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To make the marinade, in a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and olive oil. Transfer the marinade to a sealable plastic bag and add the flank steak. Remove the air from the bag and seal. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat an electric panini press to 400°F according to the manufacturer's instructions. 
Remove the steak from the bag and scrape off the excess marinade. Place the steak on the panini press, close the lid and cook for 5 to 6 minutes for medium-rare, or until done to your liking. Transfer the steak to a cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Cut the steak into slices 1/8 inch thick.
Cut the focaccia into quarters, then cut each piece in half horizontally. Lay the pieces, cut side up, on a work surface. Spread 2 Tbs. caramelized shallots on each of the bottom halves, then top with the steak, cheese and arugula. Brush the cut side of the remaining focaccia halves with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Cover each sandwich with one of the remaining halves, cut side down. Brush the tops of the sandwiches with olive oil.
Place 2 sandwiches on the panini press, close the lid and cook until the bread is crisp and the cheese is melted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the sandwiches to a cutting board. Repeat to cook the remaining sandwiches.
Cut each sandwich in half diagonally or into 4 triangular finger sandwiches. Serve with matchstick fries. Makes 4 large sandwiches or 16 finger sandwiches.

Crunchy Salad
1 head of red leaf lettuce

1 head of romaine
2-3 green onions chopped
1-2 cans chilled mandarin oranges
Melt a 1/2 stick of butter
1 package of ramen noodles, crumbled
1 cup chopped pecans
Cook on medium heat in saucepan till noodles are golden color.
1 cup light oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp teryiaki sauce

Chill some Prosecco and beer, decant the red wine and make sure you have plenty of ice for the rocks glasses...


“Too much work, and no vacation,
Deserves at least a small libation.
So hail! my friends, and raise your glasses;
Work's the curse of the drinking classes.”

~ Oscar Wilde

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