Over at PB.com, as regular readers know, we intersperse cutting-edge legal analysis that not infrequently is cited in judicial opinions and right-of-center punditry that has been called a "strong, respected, and demonstrably conservative voice" (although, I must admit, has also been called things I don't care to repeat), with wine tasting notes, recipes, and general culinary commentary. Being a 57% feminist and, if I may so, a pretty good cook, for most of our 21 years of marriage my share of household chores has included the grocery shopping and cooking.

On the menu tonight was rack of lamb and potato-onion gratin (modified from a recent Bon Appetit issue), with generic veggies and, of couse, a good red wine.

Crusted Rack of Lamb

  • 1 1-¼ lb 8 bone rack of lamb
  • ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • pepper

French the rack, making sure to remove all the fat and connective tissue. Yes, it's painful given what you paid for the rack, but you really don't want fat or gristle in the finished product. Besides, your dogs will love the trimmings. (If you lack dogs but grind your own meat, freeze the trimmings and save for the next time you make meatloaf. If you neither have dogs nor grind your own meat, please accept my sincere condolences.) Season the rack with salt and pepper (both sides, please).

Combine the bread crumbs, cheese, garlic, onion powder, and the dried and fresh herbs in your Cuisinart mini-prep processor and pulse until the herbs have been well-chopped and the texture is something like that of dry couscous. Set aside.

Heat your Calphalon 12-inch non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add enough olive oil to coat the pan very lightly (use a "pure" or "virgin" olive oil, not extra virgin olive oil, which has too low a smoke point). Sear the rack of lamb on both sides; about 4 minutes per side, until you get good carmelization. Transfer the lamb to a roasting pan with a rack. Allow to cool briefly. Coat the meat on both sides with the mustard, press the bread-cheese-herb mix into the mustard on both sides. Spritz with a spray olive oil.

Roast in a 425-degree oven for 25 minutes. When done, allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving.

Potato-Onion Gratin

  • 2 lbs red skinned boiling potatoes, peeled and sliced thin
  • 2 Maui sweet onions
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 springs (about 4 inch) fresh rosemary
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped very fine
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped and chopped fine
  • 2 tsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup low sodium organic chicken stock
  • olive oil
  • butter
  • salt
  • pepper

Heat your Calphalon 12-inch non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Add onions and thyme and rosemary sprigs. Season with salt and pepper. Saute for 7 minutes or until onions have softened and are just starting to turn golden. Do NOT let the onions turn brown! Add garlic and chopped herbs. Saute 3 more minutes, but do NOT let the garlic or onions turn brown! Remove from heat. Remove and discard the thyme and rosemary sprigs. Let cool briefly.

Spritz your Pyrex 8 inch square baking pan with an olive oil spray. Layer 1/3 of the potato slices on the bottom. Season with salt and pepper. Add half the onion mix. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan cheese. Top with 1/3 of the potato slices. Season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining half of the onion mix. Sprinkle with the remaining half of the Parmesan cheese. Top with the remaining 1/3 of the potato slices. Pour the half and half over. Pour the chicken stock over until the liquid comes up almost to the top of the potatoes (you may need more or less of the stock called for in the recipe). Cover the pan with foil.

Put the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for another 30 minutes (add 10 minutes if you like your potatoes extra mushy, subtract 10 if you like them extra crunchy). Remove from the oven and allow to rest 10 minutes.

Finishing Touches

My cooking philosophy is to limit the hard work to no more than 2 dishes. Everything else gets short cuts. Tonight, I heated up Kato's Green Peppercorn sauce, which has a lot of mustard in it, as a sauce for the lamb. As a veggie side, I microwaved a package of Eat Smart's broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot medley.

I plated by napping the lower half of our 10 inch square plates with the sauce and topping with 2 double rib cut chops per plate. A healthy portion of the potatoes went in the upper right corner, with the veggies in the upper left corner.

Yum.

To drink, I served a 1999 Chateau Montelena Calistoga Cuvee, a Cabernet Sauvignon-based red wine from the Napa Valley. Unlike Chateau Montelena's justly famed Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the Calistoga Cuvee generally is not a wine for the cellar, but I usually set aside a couple of bottles to see how they do (following famed California wine critic Bob Thompson's view that California Cabernet is usually at its prime at age 8). Tonight's bottle had thrown a lot of sediment, including a considerable amount of tartaric crystals, so it required decanting. The bouquet was somewhat muted, but on the palate it offered an impressive mix of flavors suggesting black cherries, tobacco, cedar, and oriental spices. I have one bottle left in my cellar, which I'll probably allow to age until 2010 or so to see if it develops some more.

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