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.