- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My husband and I had our first date on New Year’s Eve. Each year since, we have commemorated 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 celebrating at a deli with corned-beef sandwiches at midnight.

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 stay-at-home New Year’s meals, I have planned complicated menus that have 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 have enjoyed great results and, most important, 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 chipotle sauce is the centerpiece of this menu. Relying on store-bought canned chipotles and frozen veal stock or canned beef broth saves time without sacrificing 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 end the year.

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.

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