Last weekend we had a wonderful interactive dinner with Brilliant Daughter and her newlywed friends Jen and Jason Ko. Jen recently began working for a food-related website that is in beta testing and she and Jason loooooove food: eating, cooking, writing and reading about it. So instead of just serving something to them, I thought it would be fun to include them in the process. And, to be honest, it takes the load off me a bit! On the menu:
Rack of Lamb
Alexandria requested the rack of lamb. I made it earlier this year and it was one of the best things I had ever made and deceptively simple. I had looked up recipes and modified them to suit my taste. Problem is, I didn’t write anything down. Stupid, stupid, stupid. In trying to recreate it, I searched all my cookbooks, several sites on the web, and no luck, whatsoever. So I guessed. As for the risotto, I just wanted something other than potatoes and risotto keeps you in the kitchen stirring, which would work for purposes, and it included a vegetable, which was a bonus. And because I had an abundance of apples, I decided to use the tarte tatine recipe from my book, The World Is a Kitchen.
I started by setting the table, printing out the recipes and setting up food stations in the kitchen with all the ingredients and tools we would need. I prepped the salad fixins and left them in the fridge. Then Butcher Son came home on his break and frenched out 3 racks of lamb for me (see photo at right). Although the lamb said it was already frenched, in a proper butcher shop, extra steps are taken to prepare it in this style, which removes additional fat and membranes on and around the bones (see the “before” and “after” photo, along with the final product below).
Once everyone arrived and we had a proper chat, we headed to the kitchen to start with the first step of the apple tart. Jen peeled, Jason cut, I made the caramel, Alex watched. Once done, it went off to the oven, coming out thirty-five minutes later begging for its puff pastry crust. But patience is a virtue, and the apples would have to wait, as we had risotto and lamb to prepare.
For the lamb, I bought one rack for every two people. Earlier in the day I had made a Meyer lemon salt, with zest and coarse sea salt and stirred it every so often to infuse the lemon flavor into the salt. I rubbed this on both sides of the lamb and browned the racks in olive oil for about 3-4 minutes a side. Then we smeared them with orange marmalade. (Last time we used homemade lemon marmalade, but I am all out and my lemons are not quite ready yet.) Then they were popped into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes (for rare). Meanwhile Jason began the risotto, recipe below:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cups Arborio rice
¾ cup dry white wine
About 5 1/2 cups chicken broth
8 ounces shelled fresh peas (about 1 lb. in shell), or 1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Begin by heating the broth over medium heat in a large saucepan. Heat olive oil in large pot over medium-high heat and add shallots when hot. Stir until limp, about 5 minutes. Add rice and stir until opaque, about 3 minutes. Add wine and stir until absorbed, about 2-4 minutes. Add one ladleful of broth at a time to the risotto, stirring after each addition. Once absorbed, add the next ladleful, and continue until rice is done, about 25-20 minutes total. If using frozen peas, add these with the last ladleful of broth. If using fresh peas, add half-way through the process. When done, stir in the cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.
To be honest, we added a bit more cheese than it called for, emptying out the last of the bag. It tasted fine, but really stuck together with the melted cheese. I think it best to limit the cheese to the one cup and put additional cheese on the table.
We finished preparing the apple tart, by topping it with prepared puff pastry (we bought the frozen kind at Trader Joes) and popped it in the oven once the lamb came out. The complete recipe is as follows:
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
6 apples, such as Golden Delicious or Gravenstein, peeled, cored and quartered
1 pound puff pastry
Crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, optional
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Melt half the butter in a 9-inch frying pan, preferably cast-iron, set over high heat. When the butter is melted, use a wooden spoon to stir in the sugar; continue stirring until the mixture takes on a golden color, like light caramel. Remove from the heat and let cool for 1 to 2 minutes. Arrange the apple slices in concentric circles, working from the inside of the pan outward. If any apple slices are left over, scatter them over the first layer. Cut the remaining butter into small cubes and scatter the cubes over the apples. Bake for 35 minutes, remove from the oven, and let cool. Cut a circle of puff pastry that is one-inch wider than the frying pan and about 1/4-inch thick. Fit it over the cooled apples, tucking the edges inside the rim of the pan. Bake for 35 minutes more, or until the pastry is flaky and golden brown. To serve, put a large flat serving plate on top of the pan and carefully invert everything, so that the tart drops from the pan onto the plate. If any apples stick to the pan, carefully remove them and tuck them into their proper places.
The lamb came out of the oven nicely browned and a bit shiny and smelling divine. It was all we could do not to pick at bits of it while it rested. Perfectly done, it cut easily into individual chops for serving. The risotto was poured into the large tureen and topped with pea shoots and it was off to the table with a salad to dig in. But of course not before standing on a chair and taking a final picture of the joint effort, which was devoured in no time, with very little conversation, leading me to believe that it was enjoyed by all.