Fancy Dinner for Fancy Friends- Part 1: The Prep and Meez

Work has been a bear lately so my blogging has been way down as of late.  Luckily things are a bit slower this Memorial Day Weekend, so I thought I would get an entry ready.  As I write this entry I am baking one of my favorite dishes, potato gratin.  A good buddy of Beatriz and I just had a grueling three-week trial so to celebrate its merciful conclusion, I decided to have him over for dinner.

Our buddy, Will, is an attorney who lives in South Beach.  Unfortunately for him, this weekend is Urban Beach Weekend, and anyone who is from Miami knows, that if you’re not ready for a three day… umm… party, it’s best to spend as little time in the SOBE area as possible.  That’s all I’ll say of it here, but feel free to google it.

Since it’s a celebration, Beatriz and I are pulling out all the stops.  The menu consists of:

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Balsamic Onion Jam
Turkish Shepherd Salad (cucumber, tomato, and parsley)
Potato Gratin
Roasted baby carrot and zucchini
Mascarpone, raspberry, Amaretti parfait

It’s a very ambitious menu, but I’ve done a majority of the prep already, and basically, all that will be need to be done is roasting the lamb, which I will wait until our guest arrives.  Yesterday I prepped the lamb.  To marinade, I rubbed the two racks of lamb with a little olive oil, pepper, garlic, fresh thyme, and fresh rosemary.  I will salt the lamb right before putting it in a very high oven (450 or 475) until rare-medium rare.  I might place it under the broiler if it needs some color.  I could sear and roast, but that’s just messy and smoky and I rather not bother.   I prepared the onion jam yesterday.  You can find the recipe here.

The Shepherd’s salad is already assembled.  Simply rough chop some cucumber, tomato, and parsley and place in a serving bowl.  I also added very thinly sliced red onion to mine.  Separately, I have a dressing prepared that consists of olive oil, red wine vinegar, oregano, 1 minced shallot, and salt and pepper.  I will dress the salad right before serving.

The parfait is also ready to go in the fridge.  Here’s a valuable tip, when I’m making a big meal one of things that I understand is that every part of the meal cannot be elaborate or complex.  I usually have in mind one or two elaborate dishes and then try to fill the meal out with really tasty, yet easy dishes.  The Shepherd’s salad is a good example.  The parfait is also a great example.  It’s summer here already (90 degrees today in Miami) and I don’t want to spend all afternoon baking something or cooking up some elaborate dessert.  So I made the parfait. 

The parfait has 4 components.  A mascarpone cream, crumbled amaretti cookies, chopped bittersweet chocolate (I prefer Scharfenberger 70%), and a macerated raspberry sauce.  For the mascarpone cream I simple added a small tub (6-8oz) of mascarpone in a mixing bowl with, 2 shots of amaretto, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3-4 tbs of half and half and 3 tbs of powdered sugar.  I mixed that with a hand mixer until soft peaks formed.  For the raspberry sauce, I placed 3/4 pint of raspberries with 3 tbs of granulated sugar, a little vanilla (half a cap full), and some more amaretto.  I mashed up the berries with a spoon.  To assemble the parfait I added a bit of the mascarpone mixture on the bottom of a rocks glass, added the crushed amaretti cookies, then a layer of raspberry sauce, chocolate, amaretti, mascarpone, and chocolate.  I covered each glass (had just enough for the 3 of us) with saran wrap and placed in the fridge.  To garnish I will add some fresh berries and maybe a sprig of mint.  Presto.

Not that any one dish is very elaborate for this particular meal, but I guess the most elaborate is the potato gratin.  I use gruyere in my gratin, along with garlic, fresh thyme, salt and pepper, potatoes, and half and half.  Beatriz, my lovely assistant, helped me prepare it.  Since there are only three of us for dinner, I’m making my gratin in a 9″ stainless steel skillet.  I greased the skillet with butter and added a little chopped garlic, some thyme leaves, and salt and pepper, to establish a good flavor base.  I also added a little half and half (I think I used about 3/4 of a pint total) to coat the bottom. I then added my first layer of thinly sliced potato.  I then seasoned with a bit salt and pepper and thyme.  I added a handful of grated gruyere and a little half and half.  Next I added another layer of potato, herb, cheese, salt and pepper, half and half, and gruyere.  Then I repeated one more time, so I had 3 layers.  I placed the skillet on top of a foil covered baking sheet (just in case of spillage), and placed in a preheated 350 degree oven. It’s going to take about an hour to an hour and half.  After about 35 minutes it has a really lovely golden top and it’s smelling really really wonderful in my apartment.

For the baby vegetables, I’ll just put some olive oil, salt, and pepper on them and roast them with the lamb.  Easy peezy.

Pictures of the food and possible the three of us drinking too much wine forthcoming!


PS I’m reading Kitchen Confidential, and MEEZ is short for mise en place.  If you’re taking time to read this blog, I’m sure you already knew that.


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