No dinner party of mine is complete without at least one culinary disaster. I was still reeling from my 36 hour flight back to Paris peppered with 4 stops, rain delays, circling over Wisconsin, a refueling stop in Rockford Illinois, 2 missed connections, lost luggage, stolen items, no water and cranky flight attendants and still recovering from my Diner des Femmes Phenomenales the weekend before but I was leaving for the US for the holidays so it was this weekend or never so I broke out the whisks and got cooking.

Disaster #1: I made the butternut squash-pumpkin soup the night before, finishing it around 1am. The fridge was packed within a inch of its life so I put the soup in zip lock bags and set them flat in the freezer which was empty save for a big bottle of Absolut, a bag of Peet’s Coffee and some ice cubes, and headed off to bed. The next morning I woke up, took my time, pleased of my progress the night before. Checked email, made a few calls, then meandered into the kitchen. I opened the freezer and grabbed for the bags of soup. I nearly pulled the fridge over. The bags had frozen solid to the bottom and side of the freezer and to the bottle of Absolut. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAK!

I spent the next two hours boiling pots of water and ladling it over the bags desperatly trying to melt them from the freezers creul grip. I had gallons of water all over my floor, all my bath towels soaked through. When I initially grabbed the bags, I ripped one so I had to balance a bowl underneath the bag to catch the melting soup while ladling boiling water and trying to coax the bags off the vodka bottle if for nothing else than at that point I needed a cocktail like no one’s business.

Disaster #2: I am very leery of cooking meat. Fish for me is a piece of cake, pun intended, after months on a lobster boat, but meat is even more intimidating for me than pastry so what did I decide to make. Well meat of course. A beautiful rack of lamb lovingly butchered by my handsome, blue-eyed butcher Serge topped with those cute little lamb hats. I should just trust my instincts, not to mention what I learned in cooking school(!!), but I decided to – for once – follow a recipe exactly, well almost exactly.

I used the Stonewall Kitchen Favorites recipe for rack of lamb with a walnut-rosemary crust which said to refrigerate the meat until ready to put in the oven. Now I know better, really I do, but would I listen to myself. Oh good Lord no. I knew it was always optimal to let meat come to room temperature first and I pontificate on this point endlessly with anyone who will listen. Doctors make the worst patients, as the saying goes… so what did I do? I ignored the bells going off in my head and put the meat in the oven, straight from the fridge and cooked it for 35 minutes per the recipes instructions. After 35 minutes The thermometer read 140F so for a moment I thought I’d overcooked it. When I pulled out the lamb, the crust was a beautiful golden brown with the most delicious aromas tickling my nose.

Like a proud parent, I paraded my rack, of lamb that is, around my guests then retreated to the kitchen to serve. When I cut into the rack, and separated the chops I wanted to cry. It was basically raw on the inside. Needless to say dinner was a bit late, I was sweating and cursing, and my blood pressure was off the charts. My friend James, who had flown down from Copenhagen for the dinner, ran and grabbed my glass of wine off the table and instructed me to drink it immediately. I gladly obliged. Knowing my guests were hungry and it was getting late, I turned my 4-course dinner into a 5-course dinner and served the Brussels sprouts and mashed, truffled potatoes first followed a half and hour later by the lamb chops. Amen and pass the Bordeaux.

Buon Natale! Joyeux Noel!
Le vendredi 9 Decembre 2006
chez Laura

Duval-Leroy Champagne Rose

Pate a l’Armignac sur un Toast avec Noisettes Grillees et une reduction de Porto – Pate with Armignac on Croutons topped with Chopped Roasted Hazelnuts, Drizzled with a Port Reduction and a pinch of Fleur de Sel

Saumon Fume sur une Baguette avec Creme Fraiche au Citron – Smoked Salmon on Toasted Baguette topped with Lemon Creme Fraiche

Chateau de la Dauphine, St Emilion 2001

Potage de Potiron a l’Huile de Truffe avec Amaretti Ecrase, Brunoise de Foie Gras – Pumpkin Butternut Squash Soup topped with Crushed Amaretti, Tiny Dice of Foie Gras and a drizzle of Truffle Oil

Cote d’Agneau Roti avec la Croute de Noisettes et Romarin – Rack of Lamb with a Hazelnut Rosemary Crust
Sauce de Champignons et Bordeaux – Red Wine Mushroom Sauce

Choux de Bruxelles Rotis avec Pancetta et Balsamique – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta and Balsamic Glaze

Pomme de Terre Puree a l’Huile de Truffe – Mashed Potatoes with Truffle Oil

Assiette de Fromages – Cheese Plate

Decadence de Chocolat aux Framboises et Cognac – Flourless Chocolate Cake with Cognac and Raspberries

Et les recettes…..

Rack of Lamb with Hazelnut-Rosemary-Thyme- Garlic-Parsley Crust 🙂

a rack of lamb for 10 (approx 2 chops per person)
1 cup finely chopped roast hazelnuts
4 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
4 tablespoons finely chopped thyme
4 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup bread crumbs – I used a Poilane whole wheat walnut bread that I cubed, toasted then ground.
salt & pepper
olive oil to moisten

1. In a glass bowl, combine the nuts, herbs, garlic, zest, bread crumbs, salt and pepper.

2. Add olive oil to moisten

3. Press this mixture, a small handful at a time, onto the lamb. This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated. IF YOU DO THIS AHEAD, take the lamb out an hour before you begin cooking it and let it come to room temperature. Also, here I threw about a cup of red wine in the roasting pan.

4. Roast lamb in a 400F oven for approximately 30 minutes. The internal temperature should read 130F.

5. Let me meat rest 10 minutes before cutting.

Red Wine Mushroom Sauce

4 handfuls of small mushrooms – I used Champignons de Paris, small brown mushrooms but any will do.
1-1/2 bottles of Bordeaux (cabernet Sauvignon)
5 shallots, finely chopped
2 sprigs rosemary and 4 sprigs thyme, tied in a bundle
4 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons beurre manie to thinken the sauce if necessary (combine 1 T flour with 1 T soft butter)
drippings from the lamb
1-2 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup cream (optional)

1. Clean and slice mushrooms

2. Saute in olive oil until caramelized. Set aside.

3. Add shallots to the pan (adding a little more olive oil if necessary) and saute.

4. Deglaze with 1 bottle of wine. Add herb bundle and reduce to about 1/2 cup.

5. Add beef broth and reduce to about half.

6. Take out the lamb and pour off the juice and drippings into the mushroom sauce. Add a tablespoon or two of breadcrumb crust if you’d like.

7. Depending on the desired consistency, whisk in beurre manie and cook for a few minutes to eliminate the raw flour taste. Add wine as necessary. Taste and adjust seasoning.

8. When you have the consistency and taste you want, just before serving, whisk in butter which adds a sheen and velvety-ness to the sauce.

9. Add the cream here if you’d like. I did and wished I hadn’t but live and learn…..

Bonne Cuisinez, Joyeux Noel, Buon Natale!

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
Theodore Seuss Guisel

And the Grinch
with his Grinch-feet
ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling
“how could it be so?”

It came without ribbons!
It came without tags!
It came without packages,
boxes or bags.
And he puzzled 3 hours
’til his puzzler was sore

Then the Grinch
thought of something
he hadn’t before
Maybe Christmas, he thought,
doesn’t come from a store
Maybe Christmas perhaps
means a little bit more…

Buon Natale! Joyeux Noel! A Christmas Menu 15 December,2010Cucina Testa Rossa

  • James

    It was a faboo dinner, and, as always, Laura went the “extra mile” – her dinners are always a dream. I just wish I lived in Paris to experience more of them!

    Happy Holidays!

    /James in Copenhagen

  • Karine

    As one of the guest we of course didn’t even realise there were some disasters. The being the scene stories never negatively influenced the dinner. As always one of the best dinner party with great “compagnie”.

    A bientot,

  • Anonymous

    Oh my word. It sounds like you went through every home entertainer’s worst nightmare, but sailed though with flying colors. Nice save!

    – Chubbypanda

  • cucina testa rossa

    thanks chubbypanda, but i think my friends were just being very nice 🙂 sorry about your chowhound hoopla. their loss…

  • Anonymous


    Thanks for your kind words about my tiff with Chowhound. Goodness, word travels fast in our corner of the blogosphere.

    – Chubbypanda


Cucina Testa Rossa

After a decade in Silicon Valley, Laura traded her keyboard for a cutting board and moved to New York City to immerse herself in food and wine studies and restaurant operations. She graduated from the French Culinary Institute where she studied under Master Chefs Jacques PĂ©pin, AndrĂ© Soltner, Alain Sailhac, and Master Sommelier Andrea Immer. While in New York, Laura cooked with some of the world’s most highly acclaimed chefs including Mario Lohninger (Danube), Morimoto, Mark Franz & Emily Luchetti (Farallon), Michael Romano (Union Square CafĂ©), Mario Batali, Marcella Hazan, Jonathan Cartwright (White Barn Inn), Martin Heierling (Bellagio), Dave Pasternack (Esca), Richard Reddington (Redd, Auberge du Soleil), and the legendary Alice Waters (Chez Panisse).

After working as the Back Kitchen Chef of Jacques PĂ©pin’s PBS cooking show, “Fast Food, My Way”, Laura moved to France to cook her way around the country. She cooked at the Cannes Film Festival, then to the northwest corner of France, to Britanny, to cook on a lobster boat, then east to Paris to the world famous Pierre HermĂ© Patisserie where she made thousands of his macarons every day! Laura cooked for the fabulous Olivia de Havilland and interned at 3 Michelin Star Le Cinq under Chef Philippe Legendre and Pastry Chef Fabrice Lecleir. Laura was the executive chef and cooking instructor at the DaVinci Code chateau outside of Paris where she was on set during the filming of the movie.

In Fall 2007, Laura worked on Jacques Pepin’s most recent PBS television series as prop and food stylist. “More Fast Food, My Way” should air in the Spring of 2008. “My Keyboard for a Cutting Board ~ Adventures in a French kitchen v1.0”, Laura’s first book highlights her first three months cooking in France, was published in Summer 2006. ConvivialitĂ© is her second book and will hopefully be published in the fall.

Laura now splits her time between Paris and the San Francisco Bay Area doing private chefing, teaching cooking classes and leading market tours when in Paris. Bon Appetit!

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