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Chipotle sauce provides the zing for rib-eye steak

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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.

• Veal stock is available in the freezer section of the market; if you can't find it, just use beef broth.

• You also can use New York or filet mignon cuts if you prefer.

Grilled rib-eye steaks with chipotle sauce

SAUCE:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 medium shallots, minced

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup veal or beef stock

1 to 1½ teaspoons chipotle chili-garlic puree (see below), to taste

2 to 3 tablespoons creme fraiche, to taste

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 1-pound boneless rib-eye steaks, about 1 inch thick

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Watercress or parsley sprigs for garnish

To make the sauce: In a medium-heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, until soft. Add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and boil for about 5 minutes, until reduced by half to a syrupy glaze.

Add the veal stock and chili puree, and reduce for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the sauce barely coats the back of a spoon. Add the cream and reduce for another few minutes, until the sauce coats the spoon again. Season with salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Prepare a grill or a grill pan for medium-high-heat grilling. Season the steaks lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the steaks for 4 to 5 minutes on each side, or until medium-rare. Or place in the grill pan and cook, turning once until medium-rare. Transfer the steaks to a carving board and let rest for 10 minutes.

While the steaks are resting, gently reheat the sauce.

Cut the steaks into ½-inch-thick slices. Spoon some sauce onto each serving plate and arrange the steak slices, slightly overlapping, on top. Garnish with watercress and serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Chipotle garlic puree

The sauce may be prepared up to 4 hours ahead, covered, and refrigerated. Reheat gently.

6 garlic cloves

1 can chipotle en adobo

In a food processor, process the garlic until it is minced. Add the chilies and process until totally pureed. Place in an air-tight container and refrigerate.

Makes about 1/4 cup.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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