Tonight's meal was one of those examples of a situation that could have been tragic and turns out to be magic.
My dinner guest tonight was my longtime friend and colleague (and ex-cousin) Colleen. We met over 20 years ago as fellow understudies in Into the Woods. She walked into the dressing room on her first day and said, "Which one of you is Jeff Blumenkrantz?" "That would be me." "Hi, I'm Colleen Fitzpatrick, and we're cousins." Uhhh, I don't think so! I was pretty sure that there were no Fitzpatricks in my family.
Turns out Colleen's ex-husband was my father's first cousin's wife's cousin. (So what did that make us? Second cousins, once removed, by marriage x 2?) But now that she's no longer married, we're just good friends.
Colleen is very savvy, about art, about music, about theatre, food, wine, you name it. And she's picky about what she eats. So I felt a little bit on the line....
Roast Rack of Lamb (p. 142)
One of the potential disasters tonight was that I was working with frozen meat from Costco. Now, I happen to think Costco products are generally very high-quality, but working with frozen meat from anywhere is a crap shoot, and I've never dealt with rack of lamb.
The recipe is very clear and straightforward. Brown the fat side of the lamb, then spread it with yogurt, pack on the green crust, and roast.
One thing I'd never encountered is the concept of fresh bread crumbs, i.e. not from dried bread but from moist, fresh bread. The bread crumbs, along with parsley, mint, garlic, lemon zest, and S+P, make up the crust. At first I just broke the bread apart, but then I realized it would benefit from being run through the food processor, so I threw it in there after having made the mint mixture, which was smart because it sort of cleaned out the food processor for me.
This is a dish that requires very little work in the moment, i.e. a good call for entertaining. If you make the crust ahead of time, then you can brown the meat, serve and eat a salad while it's resting, then slap the yogurt and crust on, and pop it in the oven.
The presentation is very dramatic and impressive, and you barely have to do anything!
After 18 minutes of roasting, the meat was cooked beautifully (thankfully, Colleen likes her meat very rare, like I do). And the meat itself was wonderful, in taste and texture. Colleen was shocked to hear that it had been frozen. At first, the abundance of mint in the crust caught me off guard, but once I got used to it, I really enjoyed it. The yogurt is a nice taste touch, as well as an interesting visual one.
This is a winner! Easy and delicious! And it earned a thumbs-up from savvy Colleen!
Garlic and Rosemary Potato Puree (p. 309)
I made a rustic version of this earlier, and I couldn't imagine improving on it, so I went into this with a little bit of an attitude. Rosemary-infused cream? Peeled and food-milled potatoes? Please...
It's actually not that much more difficult. Just extra dirty dishes and accessories.
Putting the potatoes through the food mill (finest plate) was a surprise. I wasn't expecting the angel hair effect, but that's exactly what the potato looked like after passing through the mill: angel hair, but super-fine. Once stirred and combined with the butter and cream, the texture was very refined. The garlic had been boiled with the potatoes, so the taste was more subdued, and the rosemary was a subtle, almost indistinguishable background flavor. Delicious.
My only complaint about using the food mill is that by the time the potato has passed through, the heat is reduced dramatically. To serve these hot, it would have meant reheating them pretty aggressively, which I didn't do. We ate them lukewarm, which was fine, though I'm curious if there's a way to get the same result without losing all that heat.
Another thumbs up from Colleen!
Given a choice between this version and the more rustic version, I think I'd go rustic. I like using the skins, I like a little bit of chunk and color. But if I were serving something very delicate, like fish, this more refined version would be the way to go.
For the record, I also served a salad with Martha's Shallot Vinaigrette, which Colleen loved. The vegetable was steamed green beans, and dessert was a homemade Fresh Mint Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream (not Martha). A great meal all around, and great company and conversation. It's nights like this that epitomize what I love about this project.
Until we eat again....
Colleen could never pass for a Blumenkrantz, right? :-)