Thursday, April 10, 2008

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

My hero, Rose Levy Beranbaum, was in Minneapolis this week to make a DVD for General Mills in conjunction with her new cake book. When she told me she'd be in town, I asked her if she could squeeze in dinner with us, and she accepted. As you can imagine, I was thrilled--it would be like having Julia Child in your own home.
But then I was struck with dread. What if I invited the best baker in the world and one of the best cooks for dinner, and I made something inedible? I sat myself in the middle of all my cookbooks and looked for worthy recipes. I got a lot of suggestions, few of them helpful:
--Why don't you do a Minnesota church supper? You know, tuna hot dish with potato chips on top and Jello salad?
--Couldn't you just order pizza?
--How about hiring someone to cook and pretending you made it yourself?
--Maybe you could come down with leprosy.
As I said, not particularly helpful.

I finally decided on rack of lamb. Jim and I went to Sam's Wine Shop, where the friendly wine seller, who may or may not have been Sam, recommended a 2004 Rosso di Montalcino. He also recommended The Wedge, a Minneapolis co-op, for the lamb. When I called The Wedge to order the lamb, the nice man from the meat department told me that their lamb was so tasty because it was raised by Doug and Connie, who not only raise the lambs, but also grow everything the lambs eat. Doug is also a champion sheep shearer, which probably has nothing to do with quality of the lamb, but added to the idyllic nature of their lamb-raising enterprise, at least until I remembered what actually happens to the poor gamboling lambs at the end.
When I picked up the package of lamb on Wednesday morning, I was disconcerted to see the price tag: $77.20. I was so disconcerted that I almost ran a red light on the way home from The Wedge. The idea of shattered glass on my $77 lamb sobered me up, however.
I decided on rosemary focaccia as an appetizer. I've made it so many times now that I had no fear.

I've already recounted my first mishap with this bread, after which I fired off an email to Rose demanding that she remove the recipe from the next edition of The Bread Bible because it was impossible to do it successfully. I've done an about face, and now believe that if you follow the instructions very carefully, it is impossible to do it wrong.
I also made some Syracusan baked olives from Paula Wolfert's The World of Food.

These were very nice, although, to be honest, they tasted a lot like marinated olives that I might have bought somewhere, rather than olives that required soaking, mincing, pounding, basting, and baking.

Just as I put the appetizers on the coffee table, our dinner guests arrived.

Rose's assistant, Woody, Rose, and our daughter Sarah.

Rose praised the focaccia, which is sort of like having Shakespeare tell you that you've written quite a nice little sonnet.
Woody not only drove, but he also brought dessert: a wonderful lemon almond cake from Rose's new cake book that will be out next year. From our sneak preview, I can tell you that this cake alone would make the book worth buying.

Our guests also included Rose's cousin Peter, and his wife Anne. They live in the Minneapolis area and don't get a chance to see Rose very often, so it seemed natural to invite them as well.

Jim has a habit of taking candid shots when people are laughing, eating, or telling stories. This means I have a lot of photos of mouths open and eyes closed. He was also so busy pouring wine and taking pictures of people with odd expressions on their faces that he didn't get around to taking a picture of the salad course: watercress with roasted beets, walnuts, and goat cheese with blackberry vinaigrette, adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and buttermilk mashed potatoes, which Judy Rodgers, author of that cookbook, swears are the best mashed potatoes ever, but which I thought were not as good as plain mashed potatoes with butter and cream.
With the salad course, I served the spaccatini (little Italian cleft rolls that I made last weekend). Rose said she looked at my blog at General Mills and thought, when she saw the picture of my making the little cleft with the wooden spoon handle, that she had mistakenly been directed to a pornographic blog. I couldn't figure out what she was talking about until I went back to the last posting, stared, and laughed out loud. I'm not going to repeat the picture here.
The rack of lamb was stuffed with onions, swiss chard, golden raisins soaked in sweet vermouth, and pine nuts, then tied and slathered with Dijon mustard, rosemary and thyme. Jim and Sarah stuffed and tied, while I called out directions--my favorite role.
Then it went into the oven, with its sweet little bones looking like the swords at a military wedding.

What is it like having a famous person in your house? Or, as my reader and friend Melinda would say, what's it like having The Queen for dinner? It's like any other dinner party where you're lucky enough to have warm, friendly, smart, and entertaining guests. Midway through dinner, I realized I'd completely forgotten about being nervous. I'm not sure if The Queen would be good at making people feel at ease, but Rose definitely was.


Doughadear said...

How absolutely wonderful to have had Rose for dinner! Surely a bread baker's dream. Everything you served looked so good and that cake! Certainly Rose's next book is something to look forward to. I have to tell you when I read about Rose thinking she had stumbled upon a pornagraphic site, I was a little confused so I mentally recalled your Spaccatini photos and then suddenly I began laughing so hard I couldn't continue reading until I composed myself.

jini said...

porn indeed, and it took the queen to recognize it. what fun! it looks like a lovely time marie, and i'm so glad you were enjoying it as much as your guests. fretting before equals being able to dance through the event when it happens i guess. good for you.
the menu sounds wonderful and everything looks delicious. congratulations!!

Anonymous said...

I, along with Melinda I'm sure, have been waiting impatiently to read of this event! It all looks and sounds very tasty and professional, I do envy your cooking skills. You sound as though you enjoyed the evening , now you can relax!! Jeannette

Melinda said...

Mmmm, dinner sounded delicious! The lamb looked perfect! Good choices, although I am sure Rose would like Minnesota church supper. (They serve the same supper in Oregon funny in the Jello to make it right fancy!)
I love the idea of you calling out instructions to your galley slaves.
Fancy the Queen spotting the porno likeness! I didn't see it myself...being pure of spirit and all.
Thank you for sharing your private audience with the Queen. I just knew she would be nice! Your friend and avid reader wishes she could have been there too. XX

Kim Ode said...

Well, how cool is that? I'm impressed and envious - but mostly because that lamb looked amazing. And nice to realize that the people we put on pedestals are "real" as well.

breadbasketcase said...

It was indeed wonderful! You're quicker than I am about the pornographic spaccatini--I actually had to stare at the picture before I got it.

I'd probably still be fretting if Rose, and everyone else, hadn't been so nice! (We talk about Minnesota nice, but obviously there's New York Nice as well).

I'm so relaxed now I fell asleep at 8:00 last night!

And I thought the Lutheran church suppers were unique to Minnesota--did you have snickers salad there? (Snickers bars, apples, and Cool Whip) You definitely would have had a good time--I also wish you could have been here.

Well, it was pretty cool. And I heartily recommend Doug and Connie's lamb.

Marty said...

So how did the rolls do after freezing? I made these some time ago and yours look much better than mine. Time to try again.

Marty said...

I forgot to say, thank you for sharing your evening with us.

Chai18 said...

well it looks like dinner was a success congrats

Anonymous said...

How lovely! Smiles, smiles, smiles from NC!

breadbasketcase said...

The rolls were still good, although not quite as good as they were right after I made them. I was going to heat them up, but I forgot.

Thank you!

Thanks for the smiles!

evil cake lady said...

BBC, what a wonderful experience and a great post--thanks for sharing with us!!

Anonymous said...

Did Rose recruit you for her next cake book? I'm sure she would love for you to do the same thing with it that you've done with the Bread Bible. Any hints as to when that book will be available? I'm still drooling over that cake, imagining what it must have tasted like.

The Girl said...

just agreeing with what has already been said. cool post!

breadbasketcase said...

It was a wonderful experience, and it felt very normal (even though I fretted about it a lot)

You know, I have felt the need for a new project, and that lemon-almond cake is just the kind of cake I love to bake.

Thanks. Good luck on your baguette making, by the way.

Anonymous said...

See Please Here

Rose said...

oh dear! i'm in the midst of two weeks so far day and night night and day copy editing for the new book but couldn't resist taking a peak at the site and all these comments and now just must add a few of my own--the rest will be on my blog AFTER copy editing!
first--i can't imagine having felt more at home. if ever i've had a kindred spirit marie is it. this could have been my family. she was even wearing my fav. taryn rose shoes!
i don't remember my rosemary focaccia being so perfect and found myself wishing i could watch her bake! ok moratorium on exclamation points.
the lamb was among the best i've ever tasted.
in short, i had the inclination to move right in. we probably stayed much too late but there was so much to talk about it was hard to go.
oh--one more thing. in defense of my impure mind: the reason i saw the bread the way i did on the site was that it was shown to me as just one frame--i wasn't privy to the whole posting--and the person who showed it to me asked with slight astonishment: "is THIS her site?!" normally i'm pretty innocent and not looking for trouble--at least for a new yorker! (one last !)
p.s. great idea about the next book project. you can bet marie will be the first to get an advance copy of the book.

breadbasketcase said...

You definitely did not stay too late! I don't want to get onto an exclamation mark-filled, mutual-admiration society thing, but it's hard to imagine a better, more interesting dinner guest.
I've been thinking lately that I need a new project. I think the cake project sounds like just the thing.

Jenn said...

Marie - this comment is a bit late but just want to say that I soo enjoyed this post. I enjoyed all the other ones too! I know I'm the 100th person who say that Jim is a great photographer. I wish I had his skills (or come even close).

breadbasketcase said...

Thanks for commenting on this post--it gave me a chance to go back and re-live the evening.
It's easier to take pictures of food when you're not cooking it as well, but Jim does like to be complimented on his photography.