Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hi. I'm So Glad It's Sunday.

I am sorely in need of a day of rest. I will not be getting out of my jammies. The glorious madness of non-stop parties is over, leaving me a happy little puddle of weariness.

But enough about me. Let's talk about the Carnevale feast, shall we?

Ah, Carnevale! One of the most favorite of all our feasts, the time when no regard is given to calories, carbs, grams of fat or any of that other nonesense. Time to eat large, drink plenty and generally indulge; it's one last fling with the table before the fast of Lent begins.

The party began with a little apertif of wamed olives with orange zest (pretty much my signature apertif snacky thing) and champagne or sparkly juice. Beads were donned.

The first course was a little wedge of paté with cornichon and crackers. I did not make the paté myself because Trader Joe's has a very good country style one but one of these days I'll get around to making my own in the proper little paté terrine that Nicole gave me long ago. (I also used to make cornichon from itty bitty French cucumbers that I grew myself. Note to self: find some seed again this year because that was just plain fun).

We have the same salad each year for Carnevale, a very simple toss of chopped celery and shaved Parmesan in a lemon juice/olive oil dressing. It is a surprising combination of refreshing crunchiness. Ancient Romans would secure celery leaves around their heads as a preventative to hang-overs.

Then came the main course, which is always lamb, but this year involved the discovery of something called ras el-hanout, which is Moroccan for "superfantastic and gorgeously aromatic powder of heaven". There wasn't time this week to go to the souk in the Public Market, which would no doubt have had many variations on the theme so I had to make my own. Never having used the stuff before nor having any idea what it is supposed to taste like, some research was involved. Ras el-hanout is like curry powder in that there are common ingredients to all the recipes but personal twists are given the concoction from region to region, cook to cook. Some of the recipes read like something you'd find in the notebook of a white witch and there wasn't time to search the city for many things unpronouncable. I finally struck on an accessible combination of cinnamon sticks, cloves, fenugreek and the seeds of mustard, coriander, cumin and fennel. One of the common ingredients to the mix, however, is rose petals. The co-op only had rosebuds for craft use and I didn't know if my Valentine roses were free of pesticides or whatever so I threw a pinch or so of rosehips into the mix.
All these lovely things were slowly warmed in a heavy pan until little seeds started popping and incense-like fragrance began wafting through the house. Then everything was whizzed through the spice grinder until reduced to a sneeze-inducing powder.
Instead of leg o', this year we did racks o' lamb. The Spouse rubbed the racks with the gorgeous ras el-hanout, then seared the lamb and tossed it in the oven to roast. Then the roasting pan was deglazed with shiraz and honey was added to the wine. I had mixed a few tablespoons of rosewater to the honey, to help make up for the absence of roses in the spice rub. The sauce cooked down to a silky little pot of yum. I have a bit of a thing for a good sauce and this one goes onto my list of "Top 10 Most Delicious Sauces Ever Eaten".

The lamb, which I can really only refer to now as My Favorite Lamb Dish of All Time, was accompanied by the following:

Bleu Cheese Potatoes Delmonico (involving quantities of butter and cream plus some emmantaler that was lying around because you can't have too much cheesey goodness).

Artichoke Heart Gratin, which was stupid simple. The original recipe called for cooking the artichokes in Italian dressing but I figured that was just fussy so used marinated artichokes to begin with. These were cooked by themselves for about 10 minutes, then mozzerella cheese was sprinkled over it all and baked some more, then the dish was sprinkled with french-fried onions and warmed for 1 more minute. It was, um, really yummy.

Green beans tossed with toasted hazelnuts (that ReeRee whacked into little bits for me) and lemon zest, olive oil, salt and pepper completed the plate.

Between dinner and dessert we have a pre-Lenten conversation wherein everyone shares his or her intentions for the coming fast. We draw names for our secret prayer buddy, who we will keep in our prayers during Lent. (In Holy Week we send out what The Child calls "love letters", revealing ourselves). After the sharing and a sung Our Father and a little Sanctus in Latin, it's time to get back to the table.

This year we had 2 desserts. The Neighbor, who came very very late because she was singing in a concert, procured for us a King Cake, baked fresh yesterday morning by a gentleman who is originally from New Orleans. It was very good, with lots of crunchy sugar on the top but as yummy as it was last night, it was even more spectacular this morning with coffee. King Cake, which actually has it's roots in Epiphany, has a little surprise baked into it and the person who gets the prize has the honor of procurring next year's cake. That would be Jerry.
But important as observing tradition is, one also needs something rich and decadent for dessert. This year I made tiramisu, from blog buddy Dariush's recipe. Hello. Let's just call it what it really is, shall we? Coronary in a Trifle Bowl. But what a way to go.
Layers of ladyfingers soaked in coffee and marsala (because I was too lazy to get amaretto) between which lurked cups and cups of luscious filling (marscapone cheese combined with a whipped egg yolk/sugar thing combined with thick cream). And for a little extra Carnevale glam, I also sprinkled grated chocolate between the filling and ladyfingers. Just before serving it got a nice sprinking of unsweeted cocoa. (I doubled the recipe, Dariush. It turned out really well. Thanks again). It was the best tiramisu I've ever and flavorful but with a good balance between all the elements, which is usually where tiramisu fails, imho.

And then there was the post-prandial indulgence of Scotch or a last glass of wine. The Neighbor arrived just as everyone else was preparing to take their sated selves away so she got to give out hugs and then The Spouse and I sat with her while she ate the plate of food we'd kept warm for her. And then we took our tired selves to bed and I didn't even care that there were still dishes to do. Someone will get around to them eventually.

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Anonymous stacy opined...

HOLY COW! that lamb looked so good, even my Lebanese man was drooling at the sight.
what a feast lorraine! i am in simple awe. i hope when i have a real house someday, i can "borrow" some of these dishes to entertain with.
ever thought of a cookbook?
happy mardi gras to you. i'm glad to know there are some out there that take this Lenten journey seriously and are embarking on it much like i try to do every year.

thanks again for sharing your feast in pictures with me!!!

February 18, 2007 4:29 PM  
Blogger barista brat opined...

i am SO hungry now that i've read this entry!

your evening sounded (and looked) like so much decadent fun. and just the picture of the tiramisu added five pounds to my butt.

February 18, 2007 4:32 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

I think about cookbooks all the time, Stacy. Oh. That's not what you meant.

I'll send you the lamb and the man will love it.

Have a blessed last-time-as-a-single-gal-Lent.

Brat: Yeah, I gained about 3 pounds just making the bloody thing.

February 18, 2007 6:47 PM  
Blogger jLow opined...

WOW! I have this crazy urge to belch and take a nap after reading that post.

It looked like incredible fun and fellowship.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, you are THE doyenne of all thing domestic (especially the fantabulously wonderful hostessing part)!

February 19, 2007 6:46 AM  
Blogger Renee opined...

We're in charge of baking hte king's cake for tomorrow evening. Did he share his recipe?

Otherwise, I have to blindly pick one off the Internet....

February 19, 2007 7:35 AM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

"Doyenne"? Me likey. Sounds very fancy.

He didn't, Renee, but it had a danishy/briochy sort of thing going on, so it was more a sweet yeast bread than actual cake. Good luck with your search!

February 19, 2007 8:28 AM  
Blogger Dariush Alavi opined...

Now I know I'm psychic. All day long I've had a voice in my head saying, 'Don't visit Lorraine's blog today on an empty stomach.'

What a feast! The lamb sounds superb. And you're more than welcome for the recipe. I'm glad it turned out so well.

Roll on Ash Wednesday...

February 19, 2007 10:22 AM  
Blogger Seattle Coffee Girl opined...

LT, it was an unforgettable feast. And DH can't stop talking about how delicious everything is. (He will come over to our team eventually, if only for the food...I can just sense it!)

Dariush, that tiramisu recipe was killer. I asked Lorraine while we were eating it if it was your recipe. And when she said yes, I just sighed and continued to stuff my face. That is the nectar of the gods. (Nice job, LT!)

For me, the lamb was such a succulent delight that I think it almost made up for the fact that I could not drink any 21-year old Scotch. That lamb is seared on my tastebuds, that sauce makes me melt.

Buffy will surely be a gourmand if I continue to eat meals such as this one. LOVELY indeed!

February 19, 2007 2:09 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

D, I'll send you the lamb was amazing. It has the power to turn your wife! And thanks again for the tiramisu recipe...just heaven.

SCG: So glad you had a good time. Buffy will be very well fed indeed, between you and Auntie...

February 19, 2007 2:22 PM  
Blogger Sling opined...

I like the pic of everyone seated about the table.You can feel the warmth and hospitality lorraine. :)
Oh yeah,...Nice tiaras.

Now for the bad news...DUDE!..yer evil word verification thingy is like 123(7)letters long!..some of us like to drink and comment ya know! ;)

February 19, 2007 7:44 PM  
Blogger Lorraine opined...

Well, you know how we are about the headgear around here, Sling. And hello? like I'm in charge of the word verification?

February 19, 2007 9:45 PM  
Blogger rosemary opined...

Ok...good food,celebration, cat gets a taste...but don't you think that thing in the bead person hurts? He/she is accessorized nicely however.

February 19, 2007 9:58 PM  

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