Sunday, September 5, 2010

Endless Summer – One Last Hurrah

There is a moment every September when I look up and realize that summer is officially over. That’s precisely the moment that I find myself scrambling to hold on to my favorite time of year before the balmy evenings give way to crisp and eventually chilly nights that force me inside for the winter. Don’t get me wrong, I love a hearty, comforting meal inside by the fire, but what I really love is standing over the fire, grilling dinner for myself and friends.

Some sand from the hardware store and a bit of creativity turn my table into a night at the beach.

It’s my need for the proverbial “endless summer” and the realization that I didn’t make it to the beach even once this year that inspired this last hurrah. I figured that if I couldn’t find the time to make it to the beach, I’d bring the beach to my own backyard with a decidedly summery menu and a beach-inspired table design.

Grilled Asian Skirt Steak

This recipe plays on my love of cinnamon paired with red meat. It adds a subtle background note that mingles nicely with the ginger, garlic and sherry in the marinade. I like to marinate this steak as long as possible, but I’ve also made it when it’s only had an hour in the marinade and it was delicious. So, foresight recommended, but not required.

Serves 4

1 six-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
4 teaspoons dark-brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 cinnamon sticks
½ cup good dry sherry
6 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 small skirt steaks (about 1 pound each)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped, for garnish

In a medium bowl combine the sliced ginger, garlic, brown sugar, ground cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, dry sherry and soy sauce. Whisk in the olive oil and pour marinade over the flank steak in a heavy gallon sized Ziplock bag, which in my opinion is the easiest and best way to marinate meat. Marinate for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, or even better for several hours in the refrigerator. The longer the meat swims in the marinade the more flavorful it will be.

Preheat the grill to high.

Remove the flank steak from the marinade and brush off any slices of garlic and ginger, as they’ll just burn and char on the grill. Place the meat on a layer of several paper towels and blot off as much of the liquid as possible. This is an important step because if the meat is too wet it won’t sear, it will steam which is the surest way I know of to end up with gray steak! Season both sides generously with salt and pepper.

Grill the steak without moving it around or poking it so it has a chance to sear and get those beautiful grill marks, about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Transfer steak to a cutting board and allow it to rest loosely tented under aluminum foil for at least 5 minutes before slicing into thin strips and scattering with a shower of chopped cilantro for garnish.

Herb Marinated Grilled Shrimp

Patience may be a virtue, but not when it comes to my dinner. I tend to favor bold flavors I can get on the table quickly. These shrimp never disappoint.

Serves 4

2 cups of fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, etc.
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
12 jumbo shrimp, about 1½ pounds

Combine chopped herbs, garlic and olive oil in a medium bowl or gallon size Ziplock bag, which in my opinion is the easiest and best way to marinate anything. Season with salt and pepper and add shrimp. Shake the bag to evenly coat shrimp. Place in the refrigerator and marinate for 45 minutes to an hour.

Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Remove shrimp from marinade and shake off the excess oil. Grill the shrimp, turning once, just until they curl in on themselves and turn an opaque pink color and are firm to the touch. Serve immediately.

Note: This recipe can also be done in a 400 degree oven. Depending on the size of the shrimp, 10 to 12 minutes should be about all they need.

Mango Salsa

The fresh flavors of this salsa pair beautifully with both the shrimp and the skirt steak.

Serves 4

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups diced red onion
2 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded, and small diced
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 teaspoons fresh mint leaves, chopped

Saute the olive oil, onions, and ginger in a large saute pan over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the mangos, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the orange juice, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and jalapeno; cook for 10 more minutes, until orange juice is reduced, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

(Recipe adapted from Ina Garten.)