Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dining Al Fresco

Last night we had company, and since it had been so nice and warm, and the winds had abated, we chanced having dinner outside by the pool. Well, all went well, and we weren't blown away with the usual 7 p.m. winds. Springtime usually means wind, and this year has been no exception.

For starters we had my adaptation of the South Beach Diet gazpacho. It's easy to fix, we usually have most of the ingredients on hand, and it can be changed according to what's in the pantry and fridge. It can be made way ahead and actually improves with some aging. Here's the recipe with noted changes.

2 ½ cups tomato or vegetable juice
1 cup peeled, seeded, finely chopped fresh tomatoes,
(or drain 14 ½ can diced tomatoes)
½ cup finely chopped celery
½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
½ cup finely chopped green onion
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce to taste, optional
Jalapeno to taste, optional

Combine all ingredients in blender. Blend well. Chill. Serve with a grinding of freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of extra virgin Spanish olive oil.
Changes: Substituted 1 cup of the tomato juice with Tabasco brand bloody mary mix. Used 1 seeded serrano chile.
We served the entree and sides buffet style from the kitchen counter. Grilled chicken breast halves with bones attached, Martha Stewart's version of macaroni and cheese, and grilled vegetables. The chicken was brined for about an hour in a standard brine of 1 quart water, a cup of kosher salt and 1/2 cup sugar. The grilled vegetables consisted of eggplant, zucchini, Roma tomatoes, scallions, and red and green bell peppers.
Here's the recipe for the mac and cheese. I've made this lots of times and there's always leftovers which freeze well for a good desperation dinner.
Macaroni and Cheese

Serves 12

You can easily divide this recipe in half: Use a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish.

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for dish
6 slices good white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
5 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Optoinal from another recipe in Fine Cooking:
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
9 black peppercorns

2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
4 1/2 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese (about 18 ounces)
2 cups grated Gruyère cheese (about 8 ounces) or 1 1/4 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese (about 5 ounces)
1 pound elbow macaroni

1. Heat oven to 375°. Rub 3-quart casserole dish with halved garlic clove. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into bowl with bread, and toss. Set breadcrumbs aside.

2. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, whisking, 1 minute.

3. While whisking, slowly pour in hot milk. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

4. Remove pan from heat. Strain out optional ingredients. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 3 cups cheddar cheese, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyère or 1 cup Pecorino Romano; set cheese sauce aside.

5. Fill a large saucepan with water; bring to a boil. Add macaroni; cook 2 to 3 minutes less than manufacturer's directions, until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone. (Different brands of macaroni cook at different rates; be sure to read the instructions.) Transfer macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce

6. Pour mixture into prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup Gruyère or 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and breadcrumbs over top. Bake until browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes; serve hot.
For dessert, Eddie made his puff pastry shells filled with raspberry jam and sweetened whipped cream. Yummy!

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