You probably know that experience when there is a divorce somewhere in the family, and after years of wonderful experiences over holiday dinners, birthday and anniversary celebrations, those experiences disappear for a time? Somehow, things become awkward; there may be a remarriage and additional family members to develop a history with, and some threads to the family fabric may unravel a bit. I think this is what occurred for us and Kacey.
But, then there was an invitation to a celebration for her stepmother’s birthday and retirement, and there was Kacey, poolside, as beautiful and engaging as ever. We picked up right where we left off! Kacey is a lover of food and cooking, as we are, and so we planned a dinner at our home. She and my husband share family, with a rich history of stories, traditions, and Hungarian food traditions. So, this was an evening of the pleasure of cooking for Kacey and sharing our stories.
Here’s the menu:
- Celebratory Prosecco with mango nectar, a take-off on a Bellini, which is flavored with white peach nectar
- Cheeseboard (see today’s post, Cheesemonger’s Choice: Cheese, the Romantic beginning to Dinner
- Grilled Flank Steak, marinated in red wine and rosemary
- Greek lemon Potatoes
- Italian Bean Salad
- 3 Vanilla and Sea Salt Caramel Gelato, Summer Berries and Caramelized Bananas with Rum
When we have guests, we like to plan simple meals with uncomplicated techniques and some items that can be prepared ahead, so that we can relax and be engaged with our guests. We really like to create a relaxed atmosphere, where others feel relaxed and there is no stress in the kitchen. We knew we had done well, when Kacey, asked, “do you mind if I kick off my shoes?”
Grilled Flank Steak
Figure 1/4 to 1/2 pound per person. There is no waste with flank steak, and little shrinkage. It is a lean cut of meat, and it can be tough if not prepared and sliced correctly. But, it is tender and flavorful if marinated, grilled and sliced across the grain. The marinade is one that I know by heart from observing my dad working with inexpensive cuts of beef in order to serve five children!
- 2 cups full-bodied red wine (cook’s note: I do not enjoy Burgundy or Chianti to drink, but this is the time to use one of those!)
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 4 fat cloves of garlic
- a few big sprigs of rosemary
- a small bunch of parsley
Combine all ingredients in a 13 by 9 glass baking dish and submerge the flank steak. Poke some holes in the steak with a large fork. Marinate for 24 hours, turning the steak on occasion.
When it is time to grill, remove the meat from the marinade, pat it dry, and salt the steak on both sides generously. Set your gas grill to medium high direct heat ad grill for just 5 minutes on each side. The thinner portions of the steak will be barely pink while the larger, thicker portion will be perfectly medium rare. Allow the meat to rest on the carving board for 5 minutes, and then cut thin slices on the diagonal across the grain. The steak will be very tender and full of wine, garlic and herb flavor–nothing shy about the flavor of this steak.
Greek Lemon Potatoes
So I was aiming for some bold, sunny Mediterranean flavors for this dinner, somewhere between coastal Italy and Provence! There are numerous recipes for Greek Lemon Potatoes, and here is my rendition.
Serves 3 with leftovers
- 6 large waxy potatoes, either red skinned or Yukon Gold, scrubbed, skin on, cut into large wedges
- 1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/3 cup good fruity olive oil (Italy has wonderful olive oil, but so does southern France and Greece–expand your horizons!)
- 1 bunch of parsley
- several sprigs fresh oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 fat cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup beef broth
Combine all of the liquid ingredients and seasonings in a gallon zip lock bag, and place the potatoes in the bag. seal and marinate for 2 hours. The lemon juice prevents darkening of the potatoes. Remove the fresh herbs and pour everything into a large baking ceramic or glass baking dish. Roast at 425 degrees F or 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Halfway through, stir the potatoes about in the pan. By the end of cooking time, there will be very little liquid remaining in the pan, and the potatoes will have some browning. If your prefer more crispness, you can place the pan under the broiler for 3-5 minutes.
Place on a platter surrounding the sliced steak, or tumble into a large serving bowl.
Add grated zest of one lemon and some fresh oregano leaves. The fragrance is fresh, lemony, herbaceous, really appealing, and the potatoes absorb all the flavors of the marinade. .
Italian Bean Salad
This is one of those dishes with childhood memories. My dad made many variations of it during my childhood, made totally with creamy cannellini beans with garlic and rosemary, or from 3 or 4 kinds of beans, always with a savory olive oil, herb and garlic dressing, and always with spicy red onions, diced. If you can make it one day in advance of serving, the flavors intensify, and it just needs a fresh drizzle of olive oil prior to serving at room temperature.
This recipe serves 6
- 1 15 ounce can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 15 ounce can of red kidney or pink beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 16 ounce bag of frozen peas, cooked according to directions and drained
- 2 ribs of celery, cut in half lengthwise and then diced on the diagonal
- 1 medium red onion, diced
This is a potent, Caesar-like dressing. Beans are very bland and need potent of flavoring agents to avoid blandness.
In a blender, combine 4 anchovy filets, 3 cloves garlic, juice of one large lemon, 2/3 cup of olive oil, 2 yolks from hardboiled eggs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, 2 teaspoons dried thyme.
Toss all of the ingredients with the dressing, taste and adjust seasonings, and refrigerate in a covered bowl until abut 2 hours before serving. Allow the salad to come to room temperature, and before serving, toss with a bit o olive oil and lemon zest. This is a very colorful salad, with a variety of textures, from creamy to crunchy, and prominent flaovrs of lemony olive oil with background notes of garlic and anchovy.
Have you made Italian bean salad before? Let me know in the comments.
What’s for Dessert?
In keeping with my philosophy of keeping it simple, so long as I can offer something special, I served gelato from Paciugo, which makes fresh, authentic gelato daily. I have tasted the best gelato that Florence, Italy has to offer, and the gelato at Paciugo compares very favorably. Light, creamy, with dense, all-natural flavors. We served the 3 Vanilla, a light caramel-colored gelato with rich, complex vanilla flavor from Madagascar, Tahitian and French vanilla beans. We offered the Sea Salt and Caramel flavor, as well. Fresh raspberries and blackberries were available to tumble over the gelato, and I quickly caramelized some bananas with rum.
You really need bananas that are not very ripe in order to caramelize them so that they brown but do not overcook. Place 2 Tablespoons of butter into a 10 inch skillet and melt on medium high heat. place halved bananas into the skillet and cook for just a minute before adding 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar and 1/4 cup of rum. Cook for about 2 minutes, spooning the caramelizing rum and brown sugar over the bananas. Cool slightly and layer with the gelato. it is not a disaster if your bananas are quite ripe, but the texture will be softer.
The conversation continues through the night about family, music–the soundtracks of our lives, some singing included! We ended by planning our next dinner together, a perfect ending!