Sunday, October 31, 2010

On the Occasion of Little Oblio's First Birthday

My daydreams waffle between vocations as a baker, a freight train locomotive engineer, and a professional surf/food writer for Condé Nast. All three have distinctive and alluring charms for me. What's more fundamental than reviving yeast with flour & water and producing the staff of life? Who's never harkened to the lonely train whistle's call on some vast plain, two parallel lines seeming always to converge on some movable horizon? And could anyone ever turn down a job getting paid to surf and eat? Certainly not me! But bread making resonates with my soul as the noblest of callings. So naturally, an old Italian bread dish inspired a menu for an intimate dinner of far-flung loved ones.
You all know Matty O'Food, loyal sidekick, and dependable resource for the pages of You Gonna Finish That? Some time ago, he married a terrific girl, my friend, the "soul of a baker, mouth of a trucker" Dirty Oven blogger. They observed their son's (Little Oblio) first year on this planet with a Halloween weekend celebration. The Dirty Oven came up with a colorful and fun party menu. She recruited the Lone Ranger and me to author something for the grown-ups invited to hang around after the birthday party. Brainstorming one night, we thought a Mediterranean theme would showcase our talents and east coast sensibilities. Panzanella just leapt to mind. After that, it wasn't a stretch to include lamb and couscous. And that's just what we did.
(Incidentally, I coined Little Oblio's name after his birth photos showed a very slight point to his head from the 15-hour laborpalooza he put his poor mother through. The original Oblio was the protagonist in Harry Nilsson's The Point, the 1971 fable about the only round-headed person in the Land of Point, and one of Matty's and my favorite albums. Well, as our Oblio's point began to recede, it was only natural he take up the moniker of our hero.)
A Mediterranean Dinner For Ten
Mustard Encrusted Rack of Lamb
Panzanella Salad
Mediterranean Israeli Couscous
Mustard Encrusted Lamb - by the Lone Ranger
For the marinade
  • 3 racks of lamb with 10 chops per rack, roughly 4 lbs
  • ¼ cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp fresh rosemary, roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the crust
  • ½ loaf French baguette
  • 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 Tbsp Dijon mustard
Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and marinate, refrigerated, for two hours or more.
Cube the baguette and pulse pieces in a food processor to a coarse texture. Toss with rosemary & olive oil, and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Lightly brown in a 350°F oven, tossing occasionally.
Bring lamb to room temperature, and remove from marinade, shaking off excess. In a large sauté pan, sear the lamb in a little olive oil over high heat until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Wrap the Frenched rib bones with pieces of aluminum foil, and roast for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 400° oven. After 15 minutes, generously coat lamb with Dijon mustard and roll in herbed bread crumbs. Continue to roast another 5-10 minutes, until an internal temperature of 125° is reached. Remove lamb from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut individual chops and serve immediately.
Panzanella Salad - Barefoot Contessa Parties!© 2001
For the salad
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ French baguette loaves, cut into 1" cubes (6 cups)
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 large, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 hothouse cucumber, seeded and sliced ½" thick
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1" cubes
  • ½ red onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp capers, drained
For the vinaigrette
  • 1 tsp finely minced garlic
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp Champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for 10 minutes, or until nice browned. If necessary, cook in batches, adding more oil as needed. Whisk all vinaigrette ingredients together. In a large salad bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red & yellow peppers, red onion, basil and capers. Add the croutons and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Allow salad to sit for an hour or more for the flavors to blend.
For a second side, I doctored up a package of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend by tossing it with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, then allowing it to cool to room temperature before folding in chopped almonds, quartered oil-cured black olives and sliced scallions. It got a hefty shake of salt or two as well before serving. Très Meditteraneo, non?
New Yorkers, Philadelphians, Chicagoans, southern and northern Californians sat down to a simple, lovely buffet. Toasts were offered to Little Oblio's parents, to the birthday boy himself, the chefs, even the other guests, just for showing up! It was a night that will be remembered for birthdays to come. Matty O'Food and the Dirty Oven: proven, successful breeders, and hosts extraordinaire!
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

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