Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Interactive Dinner

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
Pea Risotto
Tarte Tatin

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.


malena said...

Your tarte tatin looks amazing. I like your blog and mission and the way you write about having traveled through food and raising your kids on curries. (I was also raised on curries and am currently a new, breastfeeding mom, eating tons of curry and other spicy foods and indirectly beginning the process of raising another generation to be an adventuresome eater). I'm also a writer who sometimes writes about food, and I'm going to be teaching a course in food writing through Stanford Continuing Studies' online writers' workshop this spring quarter. I'm trying to get some prominent food bloggers to mention it in hopes of attracting great students who love food, reading and writing about it. If there is any chance you could link to the course description, that would be amazing. Thanks for your time and your writing.

Malena Watrous

My name is Malena Watrous and I am a writer in SF and a fan of your website and writing. I'm teaching a food writing course this coming quarter through Stanford's online program (for adults, not undergrads), and I was hoping to get some great food writing/bloggers to mention it on their sites, for potentially interested students. I'm pasting the information below in case you could mention or link to it. If not, don't worry about it and good luck with your writing and soon to arrive baby. (Or already arrived?) I had my first three months ago and am still adjusting but also enjoying his company.


Malena Watrous (malenawatrous@yahoo.com)

I am excited to be teaching an online food writing course through Stanford's Continuiing Studies program. The course lasts 10 weeks from 1/14-3/23, and is limited to 17 students. Registration starts on 12/3. I am posting the description and my bio below. Please contact me if you have any questions about the class. For more information and to view the continuing studies catalogue, go to:


Food Writing: The Literary Gourmet

If you love to eat, cook and read about great food, and you'd like to learn more about the many different forms of food writing, then this is the course for you. In this course, you will read a wide variety of food writing by some the most successful practitioners at work today, including former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, food blogger and bestselling author Julie Powell, chef Anthony Bourdain, science and food writer Michael Pollan, and Vogue contributor Jeffrey Steingarten. Using their work as models, you will learn how to write restaurant reviews, how to test and develop written recipes, and how to write travel stories focused on food. You will also each write one personal essay and one magazine article in which food—either dining out or dining in—takes center stage. We will discuss practical aspects of the business as well, such as how to submit your short pieces to publications and how to write book proposals. This is an online writing workshop, so be prepared to respond to other students' writing in an editorial capacity, and to receive great feedback on your own.

Created in close partnership with the Stanford Creative Writing Program, this online course will be useful for students looking to improve their craft. Because this course can be taken anywhere, anytime, it is designed to be attractive to those students who live far from campus, or who lead busy lives and can benefit from the flexibility of the online format.

Malena Watrous
Former Stegner Fellow
Malena Watrous is a fiction and nonfiction writer based in San Francisco. She has taught creative writing at the University of San Francisco, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Iowa. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and was a Truman Capote fellow. Her fiction has been published in such literary journals as Story Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and The Massachussetts Review, and her nonfiction has appeared on Salon.com, and in The Believer, Real Simple, Organic Style, and other magazines.

eatingplum said...

Mmmm...thanks for having us over!! I'm going to have to make that tarte tatin again. That was the best.

Dazy said...

I'm making this for dinner tonight. I think I'll try to shoot it, but I don't think it will be as pretty as your picture! All the food keeps me pushing into the dining.

Mrs. B said...

Dazy: I hope that it turns just as scrumptious. And I understand about shooting the food before eating. I'd probably have 3 times as many posts if I would either (1) remember to take pictures, or (2) could wait to eat long enough to take them!