• Roasted Rack Of Lamb

    Roasted Rack of Lamb.

    Years ago, and we do mean years ago (ugh), we enjoyed some of our first “fine dining” in San Francisco and New York. The food was divine and we really felt transported to an entirely new world. Great fun with lifelong friends, and some of our most memorable experiences. We were also lucky enough to have a few friends who happened to be professional chefs, and they often gave us a little guidance on what a good fine dining experience “should” be. Our friend Chad, once said of a French-inspired fine dining experience, “if you don’t get world-class game, veal or lamb as the main dish you’ve been cheated”. And while we generally agree, the last Michelin 3-star we dined at served goat as the main course.The goat was very, very good, but also a sign that, perhaps, times have changed (or to get 3 stars these days you must be “unique”).

    Regardless, lamb often seems like a special, restaurant-only dish. But many lamb dishes are very easy to make at home, and the results are truly delicious. The easiest cuts to cook at home are lamb tenderloins and rack of lamb. (Lamb tenderloins are simply the loin cut from the rack of lamb- very expensive, hard to butcher and hard to find, but incredibly tender and flavorful. Get them if you can and sear in a hot pan for just a few minutes, slice and serve. Heaven.) But rack of lamb is widely available, attractive, flavorful and a simple dish to make. And the rack is not as “gamey” as other cuts of lamb. So not only is it tasty, but the rack is a good introduction to lamb for those who may be a bit scared by lamb’s reputation for strong flavors.

    As a bit of a downside, rack of lamb is often pricey, but it’s a special occasion / sunday dinner kind of dish, so we think it’s worth the cost. Also, most lamb in the states used to be imported from New Zealand, but these days many markets feature American grass-fed lamb that is just as good, often better, than imported lamb. We certainly need to give a plug to our friends the Poncias at Stemple Creek Ranch, their humanely raised, grass-fed lamb and beef are world-class. And domestic lamb is less expensive than imported. Good stuff, and something any locavore can get behind and enjoy.

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  • Weekly Cocktail #35: The Diamondback

    The Diamondback. The drink is well-named.

    When you read a lot of cocktail blogs (and we do) you get a sense of the drinks the writer may prefer. Some like classics, some prefer new creations, some like herbs and infusions and some go tiki. We tend to gravitate to citrus-based, tiki and “sparklers”, cocktails with champagne as the base. But we do have a special place in our hearts for what we call the “alchemy” cocktails, drinks that combine numerous, seemingly mismatched ingredients, but blend into unique and enjoyable flavors. The Last Word (gin, lime, maraschino and Chartreuse) and the Corpse Reviver #2 (gin, Lillet, Cointreau, lemon, absinthe) are some of our favorite “alchemy” cocktails. (You could even argue that the Martini is one of the original alchemy drinks.) And this week’s cocktail, the Diamondback, features its own special form of alchemy.

    The Diamondback is a simple combination of bonded rye whiskey, Laird’s bonded applejack and Green Chartreuse. All the booze is above 100 proof and there is nothing but the water from the ice to tame it. To say the Diamondback is a strong drink would be an understatement, it’s a bit of a punch to the mouth. But the flavors are true alchemy. The spicy rye mixes with the tangy applejack and the Chartreuse provides sweetness and herbal notes. In the end, you get a very strong, but warming and deeply flavored, sip. We like the Diamondback, but one is enough (and with 3 oz. of straight booze, don’t plan on driving) and it seems best to us as a fall and winter cocktail. But since its been raining and chilly, the Diamondback has been a treat at the very end of the day.

    The cocktail supposedly is named after the (now defunct) Diamondback Lounge of the Lord Baltimore Hotel in Baltimore Maryland. The recipe is first documented in Ted Saucier’s 1950’s cocktail book “Bottoms Up“. Saucier was the publicist for the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York and seemed to know his way around a bar. “Bottoms Up” not only has the recipe for the Diamondback, but also one of the first published recipes for the Last Word. It appears that Saucier also enjoyed “alchemy” cocktails. We are all for it.

    As for making the Diamondback, there are a few variations. We went with the “classic” version of 1 and 1/2 oz. rye and 3/4 oz. applejack and Chartreuse. We use Rittenhouse 100 proof for the rye. You don’t really have that much choice with the Applejack (Laird’s) and there is only one Green Chartreuse. Some people prefer a little less Chartreuse, as it is very sweet, and drop it to 1/2 oz. Other versions of the recipe suggest using Yellow Chartreuse. We tried that version, and while good, the softer, honeyed flavor  of the Yellow Chartreuse really makes for a different drink. We’re surprised someone hasn’t made up another “snake” name for this version of the Diamondback, but as long as it is dangerous, and perhaps venomous, the name should stick.

    The Diamondback:


    • 1 and 1/2 oz. rye whiskey (Rittenhouse 100-proof)
    • 3/4 oz. Laird’s Bonded applejack
    • 3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse


    1. Place all the ingredients in a mixing glass and stir until well-chilled. Strain into a cocktail glass or coupé. Or strain into an old-fashioned glass with a large ice-cube.
  • Weekly Cocktail #34: The Sawyer

    The Sawyer.

    With the Giants in the World Series and us trying to pick up the kids, get them to the game (doing homework in the car the whole way) and then drive back, it has been a tough week for cocktails around the farm. Not that we mind (Go Giants!). We do get to sneak in a beer now and then (thankfully they have decent beer and pretzels at the ballpark). But we still got to play a bit with cocktails and our focus drifted to using more bitters.

    We have been enjoying bitters in sparkling cocktails like the Seelbach and Rochelle-Normande, and started to look for more “bitters-heavy” cocktails to try. And if playing with bitters, then one of the better sources for recipes is Brad Thomas Parson’s cocktail book “Bitters, A Spirited History of a Classic Cure-All“. The book has lot’s of history and data on bitters and dozens of classic and new recipes to try. We “sampled” most of the classics, with the Pegu Club being our favorite, so we drifted toward the more modern cocktails.

    And it didn’t take long for us to find the Sawyer. The Sawyer combines gin, sugar and lime with a full blast of over 25 dashes of bitters. It’s basically a gimlet with an almost radioactive amount of bitters. But we like gin and lime, so we are always happy to see riffs on the theme. In this case, the Sawyer has 14 dashes of Angostura, 7 of Peychaud’s and 7 of orange bitters (Regan’s #6 and/or Fee’s West Indian). And not only does the drink taste great with layers of spice, cherry, anise and orange, over a core of juniper and lime, but this recipe pretty much represents the “core” bitters you should have in a bar at home (we have more, but we’re geeky that way). And bitters usually cost anywhere from $5 -$15 bucks and last forever, so they are a worthwhile purchase. So here is a bit of info on the bitters:

    • Angostura: The #1 bitters you need in your bar. Many classic and tiki drinks use it and many recipes sub Angostura if you don’t have more exotic bitters handy. Angostura is dark, bitter and spicy with cinnamon and tamarind flavor. It adds a detectable “zing” to most drinks and a bit of a tannic finish.
    • Orange Bitters: After Angostura, orange bitters are the most common, particularly in classic cocktails. Regan’s #6 has deep, spicy orange peel flavors while Fee’s West Indian bitters have brighter, fresher citrus notes.
    • Peychaud’s: Is the bitters of New Orléans and the key to a good Sazerac and many other classic, whiskey-based cocktails. Peychaud’s has pronounced cherry and anise flavor.

    The other cool thing about the Sawyer is that is comes from Momofuku Ssam Bar in NYC, one of our favorite places. In typical fashion, Don Lee the bartender created it and named it after the daughter of Wylie Dufresne, another famous NYC Chef. Got all that? This is all sort of “inside baseball”, but the Sawyer is a very tasty drink and features layered, spicy flavors and aromas while still managing to be light and refreshing. A very pleasant surprise, and a good excuse to go get some bitters.

    The Sawyer:

    (From Brad Thomas Parsons and Don Lee)


    • 2 oz. dry gin
    • 1/2 fresh lime juice
    • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
    • 14 dashes Angostura bitters
    • 7 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
    • 7 dashes orange bitters (split of Regan’s #6 and Fees West Indian Orange bitters, if you can)


    1. Combine all the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake thoroughly and strain into a chilled old-fashioned glass, cocktail glass or coupé.
  • Potatoes a la Boulangere: The Best Potatoes You Will (Almost) Never Eat

    Potatoes à la Boulangere.

    Let’s start by saying these are some of the best potatoes and onions you will ever eat. Sweet and salty, with a touch of herbs, and a soft texture with a little crunch on top. And a very pretty dish, too. Every bite is a delight. So you, or our family, may ask, “why don’t we make this more often?” And then you remember all the work you just put into making this dish, and you know exactly why this is for special occasions (or masochists). Such is the challenge of Potatoes à la Boulangere, really good, but a pain in the posterior real effort.

    Potatoes à la Boulangere is a simple combination of potatoes, onion, butter, thyme, chicken stock, salt and pepper. Layered and cooked together for at least an hour in the oven, the ingredients meld into a truly lovely dish. So what’s the problem? Well, there are two ways to make this dish. The “easy” way, which is good. Or, the “hard” way, which is truly great. If you go the “easy” way, you simply slice and layer the raw onions and potatoes, add some seasoning and herbs, cover with the stock and cook, and it will be tasty. But if you want the dish to truly sing, it is best to caramelize the onions and slightly brown the potatoes before you layer the ingredients and cook in the oven. The extra flavors from the caramelized onion and the browned potatoes add whole new sweet and savory dimensions to the dish. It also adds an hour of work and some dishes. We often choose the “hard” way, but won’t hold it against anyone for choosing the “easy” method.

    Happily, this is not a hard dish to make. It may take time, but the steps are very clear. And if you have a food processor or mandolin, the process is that much easier. Thinly slice two large onions and caramelize them over medium heat with a few tablespoons of butter. Stir often and wait, and wait, until the onions are soft and deep golden brown, about thirty minutes. Meanwhile peel and slice five pounds of potatoes and then caramelize them with butter, in batches, for about five minutes per batch. This will take another twenty to thirty minutes. Then check for seasoning and layer the potatoes, onions, and herbs in a heavy pot or baking dish. Add the chicken stock and cook for about an hour, or until the potatoes absorb all the liquid. And then, finally, you’re done.

    But what you get is good enough to make you forget all your labor. These potatoes work with almost any roast beef, pork or chicken dish, and will usually outshine them.  You can serve these potatoes immediately and they will taste great, but the potatoes may fall apart. If you let them cool for ten to fifteen minutes, the potatoes will set and you can serve the potatoes in wedges that show off all the pretty layers. And since you just spent two hours making the potatoes, what is an extra fifteen minutes to show them off in all of their glory? (And you can enjoy a well-deserved cocktail).

    Potatoes à la Boulangere:

    Notes Before You Start:

    • We use Yukon Gold potatoes for this dish, but some recipes suggest waxy “new” potatoes like Red Bliss. Either will work, but baking potatoes like Russets will fall apart.

    What You Get: Incredibly rich, sweet potatoes and onions with both soft and crunchy texture.

    What You Need. No special equipment is required, but there is a lot of slicing. A food processor or mandolin will be a big help.

    How Long? Over two hours if you do it the “hard” way, with about forty-five minutes of active time. This is a special occasion dish, but the results are worth it. Great for big holiday meals where you can plan ahead and/or get free labor from family. Continue reading