What? Day 360? Completion is getting very real to me....
Tonight's group is partly "old-timers" (Laura, who's been here at least a couple of times and Marcy, who's been here a million times), one second-timer (Megan, who's back in town for the spring to do a limited run of Lips Together, Teeth Apart at the Roundabout!), and two newbies, Jeff (wonderful playwright - Visiting Mr. Green, anyone?) and his longtime partner, Gary (wonderful nurse - NYU School of Medicine, anyone?) whom I've been trying to schedule for some time. They made it just under the wire!
Compared to most of my dinner parties, this one was actually pretty laid back for me. There was one crazy phase where I had to abandon the soup course while I made gravy and cooked the spinach, but otherwise, it was definitely do-able.
I'm starting to learn which kinds of dishes work for entertaining and which are too labor-intensive to accommodate simultaneous socializing. (That sounded very academic, but I think you get what I mean.)
For instance, I made Winter Squash and Pear Soup, but I roasted the squash and pears the day before, saving myself some busywork on serving day. In fact, I could have made the soup completely in advance and reheated it, but I knew that I'd have a window while the lamb was cooking, so I waited. (I thought it might be nice to serve the soup with Spiced Pepitas on top, but it turned out to be a bust. They got soggy in there. But I should mention that I used my remaining White Beef Stock as the base for the soup, and it worked great.)
Also, I'm getting good at repurposing. I had leftover Roma tomatoes and white bean spread from Alysha's dinner, so I made some cute little canapes by slicing the tomatoes and topping them with the spread.
But on to the real items at hand:
Roast Leg of Lamb (p. 136)
Again, this is something I've never prepared before. It's a sort of imposing cut of meat, conjuring images of Renaissance fairs, if not Renaissance times. It makes you want to serve wine in goblets.
The first part of the prep involves trimming the extra fat and putting slits all over the meat and filling the slits with slivers of garlic and bits of rosemary and thyme. I wasn't entirely clear how deep or wide to cut - Martha says "1 inch slits." I ultimately settled on a squarish, 1x1 cut, which worked well, especially for the larger pieces of garlic. The meat was sort of elastic so I could really push that stuff in there.
For the record, my leg of lamb was pretty lean, so I didn't have too much extra fat to trim.
The vegetable preparation is pretty straightforward: onions, carrots, celery, and potatoes get roasted alongside the meat. Other than some peeling and slicing, there is very little labor involved here.
Really, this is a breeze until the lamb is cooked. Then there's a spurt of activity needed to make the gravy. (FYI, my vegetables were definitely done before the lamb, so I took them out early, but I left the potatoes in the whole time, because I like a well-cooked potato.)
Once the lamb is removed to a platter, the instruction is to pour the fat from the roasting pan. Meanwhile, there was no fat in my roasting pan. (I told you my leg was lean!) What there was was piles of herbs. I wasn't sure whether or not to remove them, but then I read ahead and saw that I'd be putting this through a strainer soon, so I left them in. Reduced some red wine, added mustard and brown stock, reduced that, then strained it into a saucepan.
My gravy base was so reduced at this point that when I started to add the beurre manie (flour and butter kneaded together), it thickened up like crazy! I frantically started looking around for some liquid I could add to thin the gravy. I was wilting spinach at the time, and I'd just used up the last of the brown stock to get that going.
Then, I spied the liquid I'd reserved from the soup before pureeing, which I hadn't needed to add back in - hallelujah! Thank god I never throw anything away! It worked great, and the gravy was done.
Slicing the lamb was challenging. I tried to follow Martha's directions, but I ended up sawing, not really able to get the thin, pretty slices she suggested.
As for the end product, it was very good, not quite great. There was a huge range of doneness with this meat. The first few slices were almost well done, the meat closer to the bone was very rare. It was all nicely tender, though.
I thought that the garlic and herb slit deposits would deliver a lot of flavor, which they did when you actually got some in your bite, but I wish their flavor were more present in the meat overall. Also, I thought I had salted the outside of the meat liberally, but you really can't salt a piece of meat like this enough. The gravy turned out well, though, and filled in any big flavor holes.
All told, I'm going to say that this was a relatively successful endeavor but probably not a cut of meat I'm going to revisit. And this is coming from a lamb lover.
What I want to know is, why is there no lamb shank recipe in the book? If anyone has a great lamb shank recipe, I want to hear about it. That's my all-time favorite lamb cut.
Jeff: A- (points off for awkward slicing)
Wheat Berries (p. 413)
I have a confession to make. I just threw this in there because it was on the list of things to finish. There was nothing about wheat berries that I thought would contribute an important element to this meal.
What's worse, I didn't even eat any. I tasted them to check on their doneness, but they didn't grace my plate at all.
I've sort of given up on these whole wheat grains. Unless I can repurpose them in a salad or something, I think I'm done.
But don't Gary (l) and Jeff (r) look cute flanking the wheat berries?
Jeff: A- (points off for apathy and dismissiveness)
Until we eat again....
The whole gang, from left to right: Marcy, Laura, Megan, Jeff and Gary.