One Potato, Two
Dinner at Eight
August 17, 2005

One of the first things I did after making our summer move to San Diego was throw a dinner party. Not impressed? But see, this was a big deal for me because it's nigh impossible to do in a San Francisco apartment that doesn't even have a dining room, much less enough counter space to allow me not to freak out over serving multiple courses.

It all came together one late afternoon when, after a day of coastal hiking in Torrey Pines, I decided we needed to have people over that night. Given my past of getting seriously frantic in the kitchen when I cook for guests, Mathra was understandably worried. I had also set myself a fairly ambitious agenda in preparing rack of lamb with a mint-basil pesto, roasted rosemary potato salad, and Faux Fava Bean Puree. It was ambitious in the fact that I never had the opportunity (or the space, did I mention THE SPACE?!) to make a full rack of lamb -- one of the cardinal rules of cooking is never prepare a brand new, yet-untried dish when you have guests coming over. Furthermore, it was already pretty late in the day when the plan was made, and we still had most of the grocery shopping to do. I sent Mathra off to the store and started roasting the potatoes. Since these were going to be served at room temperature, there were no worries over timing the potatoes perfectly with everything else.

Next, I turned my attention to the Faux Fava Bean Purée. It's faux because it's made with frozen (shelled) edamame and not actual fava beans. Having missed the Fava bean season -- which, I swear, lasts only week -- I had to do something to staunch my craving for the lemony-garlicky purée. Following the bag's instructions, I cooked the frozen edamame and set them to cool completely. When they were ready, I poured them into the food processor and pulsed in ten second spurts until they were almost at the right consistency. Meaning, some parts were smooth but there were still larger chunks of edamame. Next, I added four minced cloves garlic, three large pinches of kosher salt, two large pinches of freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 cup freshly grated Fiore Sardo (a nice, salty sheep's cheese from Sardinia) the juice from two lemons, and four tablespoons of really young extra-virgin olive oil. I pulsed some more and tasted. I think edamame is a bit denser and ultimately drier than Fava beans because the bright flavors and velvety smooth consistency wasn't weren't quite there. I continued to add more cheese, salt, and olive oil in smallish, controlled doses until I got the flavor and consistency I wanted. Just before serving with thick slices of sourdough bread, I added a few more splashes of olive oil for effect.


Mathra came back from the store with three beautiful, frenched racks of New Zealand lamb, my fresh mint, and a few other necessities. Now, by "frenched" I mean that the meat between the ribs of the rack are removed by the butcher to ensure either a clean handle for finger food or a nice resting place for those festive little frilly hats some people like to stick on. Basically, it's all about being professional and attractive looking. As I let the lamb come to room temperature to ensure even browning, I quickly made the mint-basil pesto and let it sit to meld flavors until needed.

I decided not to even start cooking the lamb until our guests arrived. Far too many of my meat dishes have been ruined when I tried to estimate arrival of my diners, and as this HUGE kitchen has a sort of pass-through to the dining room, I could both cook and socialize. This is a new thing for me. Usually, I'm so sweaty and panty in my San Francisco kitchen that our guests are actually scared to poke their heads in to day hello lest I start beaning them with Brussels sprouts.

I browned the lamb racks in some olive oil before finishing them in a 400° oven to perfect pinkness. There was a small bit of drama when a flick of hot oil popped out and splashed on my bare skin. Being the chef, I nonchalantly ignored my sizzling ankle flesh and thought affectionately of the new scar I had just made.

Keckler had a little lamb

After resting the racks for five mintes, I served the separated rib chops topped with the mint-basil pesto. I was told by our British guest that he always hated mint sauce. Until now. Speaking as a reformed picky eater, it's always the highest compliment when you can get someone to like a food they previously gagged and retched over.

After the success of that dinner party -- over which Mathra is still agog since he didn't need to soothe my kitchen nerves with the administration of emergency champagne at any point in the evening -- I started thinking about how easy and fabulous it would be to make Thanksgiving Dinner down here. Sadly, we've got all this space, but we just don't have enough serving dishes or place settings. Plus, we've got less than two weeks and I'm concentrating on cleaning out the fridge and not letting anything go to waste. Some lucky friends are going to have some food presents forced upon them and I don't think they want turkey and spicy cranberry relish.

Ah, well, maybe next summer.

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