Tonight's special guest is my little sister, Anna Lise. OK, she's not my actual little sister. But in 1993, when I was performing in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond) in Minneapolis, the kids in the children's choir "adopted" members of the cast as their older brothers and sisters, and I got Anne Lise and Katie as my little sisters. Years later, I'm still in touch with both of them (!), and recently Anna Lise moved to NYC to pursue a performing career. (She's really talented!) Tonight was a much needed catch-up date for us to share about what's been going on. And for her to watch me cook for two hours.
How to French a Rack of Lamb (p. 116)
How to French a rack of lamb? That's easy. You take it out for a nice dinner, sweet talk it, then lean in and slip it the tongue.
Sorry. Couldn't resist.
If you didn't already know, Frenching a rack of lamb is the process of taking it from a big, fatty slab of meat to a nicely butchered rack with exposed bone handles. The last time I made Rack of Lamb, I bought it pre-Frenched, hence I couldn't take this lesson.
I actually had to go to a special butcher to find an UN-Frenched rack. And when I asked for an UN-Frenched rack, the butcher still went to trim it. (See picture.) I screamed, "No, stop, I have to do that myself!!" "Why?" "I'm taking a lesson from a book. Don't ask."
We got into a long conversation about the chine bone, which is a bone that, left on, would have prevented me from slicing each chop apart. So he offered to "release" the chine bone (he had to do this with a saw) without removing it, and that sounded like a good compromise.
Doing the actual trimming, similar to the tenderloin from a few days ago, is pretty self-evident. You are peeling off thick layers of fat (and meat) to get to the chops below. There was a point when I was peeling when I thought, I could remove all the fat from the top here, but then I looked at the picture in the book, and it seemed as if there was a thin layer of fat left intact on top, so I trimmed it down but left a little. I think this bit of fat probably makes a big difference in the cooking department, and it ended up being just the right amount.
Getting the bones clean is definitely the most time-consuming part of this process. If you have even the slightest tendency toward OCD, you will probably spend at least a half hour on the bones. I gave it my best shot, but I couldn't take the time to clean them perfectly.
In terms of the economy of doing one's own butchering, I don't think there is necessarily a great payoff here. The rack would have cost the same butchered or unbutchered. And the only thing I got out of doing it myself, other than the satisfaction of having carved "The David" from a slab of lamb, was a lamb-burger's-worth of ground meat from the trimmings. (Since I was grinding meat for the tortellini, it was easy to grind the lamb meat at the same time.)
The rack cooked up brilliantly, following this recipe. Like the beef tenderloin, this is a cut of meat that seems failsafe, as long as you have a handy dandy thermometer. 130° is the magic number. It yielded gorgeous, rare meat, with a perfect herb crust. Genius.
Jeff: A- (could have gone a little farther with trimming the bones)
Tortellini (p. 370)
I've been a little challenged with my pasta.... The last time I made it, Barbara showed me a few tips, so when I made up this batch of dough, I didn't try to incorporate as much of the flour in the original pile as I usually do, which resulted in a much wetter dough ball. It meant dusting with flour a lot during the rolling process, but I think the pasta was a lot better!
As for the shaping of the tortellini, it was quite painstaking and time-consuming. I kept poor Anna Lise sitting there for more than an hour, watching me fill these little mothers. Martha suggests using a round cookie cutter to cut out circles for this shape, but my cookie cutter wasn't cooperating, cutting incomplete circles, which got old fast.
I ended up switching gears and using the same shaping technique used for tortelloni, which involves a square-cut shape, filled and folded over into a triangle (vs. a half moon) and then bringing the edges together. It leaves a little "hat" on the top of the piece, but it was going so much faster that I opted for it instead. Of course, my tortellini were cut from squares much smaller than the ones used for the tortelloni squares, so they were ultimately sized appropriately.
And even though it took me forever to make all of these, they were pretty cute.
Jeff: A- (I took two points off for switching from circles to squares, but I gave myself one point back for being resourceful and getting the job done)
Tortellini en Brodo (p. 374)
This tortellini is filled with a really nice meat mixture, all home-ground. First, there's pork shoulder and chicken breast, ground and browned, and then there's prosciutto and mortadella, also ground and added to the other meats. I wonder if I over-cooked the meats, as my meat mixture was very dry and crumbly. And there's no egg in this recipe to hold the filling together.
Once the meat was cooled, I added some ground parmigiano-reggiano, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and I have to say, the flavor was pretty fab.
So after all that work, making pasta dough, rolling it out, grinding four meats, cooking the filling, and cutting and filling the shapes, can you believe that I blew this dish in the last few stages??
I over-reduced the broth, so it was outrageously salty and too flavory, and I didn't cook the tortellini long enough, so the pasta was too al dente and the filling was dry. We added some hot water to our broth, which successfully brought it back to the land of edible, but the tortellini was a lost cause. It tasted fine, but it should have been amazing after all that work, and it was definitely my fault that it wasn't.
Luckily, I have a bagful of frozen leftover tortellini, so I'm going to try this again and get it right.
Jeff: C (undercooked pasta and overcooked broth)
Blackberry Sorbet (p. 485)
Can you believe I'm still making sorbets? And this isn't even the last one!!
I made the mistake of serving this sorbet with leftover raspberry sorbet, which is so amazing that it dwarfs any other flavor with its greatness.
That said, the blackberry sorbet is totally fine. Nice texture, just a little on the sweet side. It requires more syrup than the other flavors, and the sugar definitely overpowers the sorbet. But it's a pretty color, and next time I'm going to serve it alone.