"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roasted Rack of Lamb - A Welcome Home Feast

What do you miss most when you are traveling on business? For me, I miss my family.  I miss my warm and comfortable bed.  I also miss cooking and having a home-cooked meal.  There is nothing better than coming home from a long business trip and being welcomed by a home-cooked meal.  That’s exactly how we welcomed my husband home yesterday.  He had been on a business trip to India for almost two weeks.  We missed him terribly!  The kids were counting the days when Daddy was returning home.  So, yesterday, I decided that I would make him something special for his homecoming dinner.  

What was on the menu?  Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella cheese – one of Patrick's favorites and an awesome summer appetizer; rack of lamb marinated with fresh herbs and garlic, seared in a cast iron skillet and then roasted to perfection in the oven; roasted mixed vegetables (multi-colored squash, bell peppers, sweet red onions, and garlic); fingerling potatoes with rosemary and extra virgin olive oil; fresh peaches first grilled to get a nice brown color, and then baked with a mixture of brown sugar, butter, cinnamon, almond extract, amaretto liquor, and orange juice.  For the wine, we enjoyed a wonderfully delicious blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah from Croad Vineyards in Paso Robles, CA.

If you would like to make any of these dishes for your next special welcome home dinner or special occasion, here is a summary of the recipes:


(Fresh Heirloom Tomatoes at the Local Market)
Heirloom tomatoes are one of my favorite summer vegetables (or fruits, as my daughter often corrects me).  It's so beautiful, decadent, and so versatile. Here is an easy to prepare recipe for a caprese salad.

Heirloom tomatoes (ripe, but firm so you can slice them easily; get different colors for fun)
Fresh basil (washed)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper (to taste)


(Patrick likes big chunks of Mozzarella Cheese)
After rinsing the tomatoes under cool water, slice them cross-wise to your desired thickness.  Chop some fresh basil.  Slice the mozzarella cheese (you can also buy pre-sliced cheese, especially at Trader Joe’s).  Arrange the tomatoes on a platter or plate.  Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper and some basil on the tomatoes (leaving a few sprinkles of basil for the top).  Sprinkle a little bit of balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes (just enough to get some flavor in the tomatoes).  Arrange the sliced cheese on top of the tomatoes. Sprinkle a little more basil, vinegar, and a pinch of salt and pepper each.  Finally, sprinkle some olive oil on top of the cheese and around the platter.  For optimum flavor, you can cover the platter with some saran wrap and place the platter in the Fridge for a couple of hours or until you are ready to eat it.  It’s a great make-ahead appetizer.  Enjoy!


1whole rack of lamb (about 8 ribs) – trimmed and frenched (have the butcher do this for you)
2 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh parsley
1 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon (roughly) of finely chopped fresh thyme
About 6 cloves of garlic (crushed well)
1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard
2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
About 1 Tablespoon of sea salt (or Kosher salt) – this depends on your salt tolerance level; the key is to make sure that the meat is perfectly seasoned before cooking
About 1 teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper


Pat the lamb dry with a paper towel if there is any excess moisture.  Season it with about ½ the salt and pepper.  Lay it in a baking sheet or dish.  Mix all the remaining ingredients (using only 1 Tablespoon of olive oil) in a small bowl.  Rub the herb and garlic mixture all around the rack of lamb.  Cover it with saran wrap.  Place it in the Fridge for up to 24 hours.  The longer you marinate it, the tastier it is.  But, if you don’t have 24 hours, a few hours will do just fine.

Take it out of the Fridge about 30 minutes before you are ready to cook it.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Heat a cast iron skillet (or non-stick skillet) on medium high heat.  Add the remaining Tablespoon of olive oil in the skillet.  Sear the lamb (with fat side down first) for about 7-8 minutes per side until you have a nice brown color – use a tong to turn it over.  Place the skillet with the lamb in the pre-heated oven and finish cooking it for about 20-30 minutes, depending on your desired doneness (medium-rare, medium, etc.).  Don’t overcook it.  You can always put individual slices in the oven to cook more (if it’s too rare), but if it’s overdone, you can’t go back.  When it’s finished cooking, take the skillet out of the oven, and let it sit for about 10 minutes before slicing.  This helps ensure all the yummy juices remain in the meat when you slice it to avoid ending up with dry meat (which is not good!).  When you are ready to slice, place the rack on a board or platter, and slice through each bone and serve.

Mixture of squash or zucchinis (washed and cut into quarters or large cubes)
1 whole sweet red onions (cut into large cubes)
2 large cloves of garlic (sliced lengthwise)
1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of Italian Seasonings or Rosemary or Thyme (whatever flavorful dry spices you have in your pantry)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Place the vegetables in a large baking sheet.  Put the vegetables in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes (or until soft, but not mushy).

NOTE: If you want to make the roasted fingerling potatoes, put them in the oven about 10 minutes before the vegetables.  All you need to do is wash the potatoes, mix them with about 1 Tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, and about 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary.  Place the potatoes in a baking sheet and put in the 375 degree oven.  Cook them for about 30 minutes (or until soft but still whole).


Fresh peaches make wonderful and healthy dessert.  Just take some nicely ripe, but firm, white peaches.  Cut them lengthwise in half.  Take the seeds, and the dark spots around the seeds, out with a small tea spoon.  Brown the flesh side in a non-stick skillet with a little bit of butter until you get some nice brown color.  Butter a glass or ceramic baking dish.  Place the grilled peaches – flesh sides up – in the baking dish.  Then sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon on the grilled sides.  Then, sprinkle some pure almond extracts (or vanilla extracts if you would rather have vanilla flavor).  DO NOT USE THE IMITATION EXTRACT – IT WILL RUIN YOUR DESSERT! For a little more sophisticated taste, sprinkle some Amaretto Liquor on the peaches and a little bit in the baking dish for moisture.  Squeeze the juice of ½ orange in the baking dish for added moisture and flavor.  Bake the peaches in a 350-degree oven for about 25-30 minutes (or until soft, but still intact).  Let cool completely.  Serve with fresh whipped cream (see below) or vanilla bean ice cream.

[FOR THE WHIPPED CREAM: Place 1 cup of heavy whipping cream in a medium bowl.  Add ¼ cup of granulated (white) sugar to the cream.  Add about ¼ teaspoon of pure almond extract (or vanilla extract, if you’d like).  Using a hand mixer, or whisk, whip the cream until firm and peaks are formed.  Chill in the Fridge until you are ready to serve.]

To accompany this wonderful meal – and to add that extra special touch to Patrick’s welcome home dinner – I decided to open up a bottle of wine that we had picked up from Croad Vineyards during our recent visit to the Paso Robles wine region.  Croad is a family winery that is owned by Martin Croad – from New Zealand.  http://www.croadvineyards.com/  We discovered Croad when we visited J Lohr Winery.  Ann – our Tasting Room host – had recommended Croad to us.  We drove to Croad that day.  When we got to the winery, the gate was closed.  I called the phone number listed in the wine tasting map, and a gentleman answered.  When I explained to him that we were referred to his winery by Ann at J Lohr, but we did not realize that it was closed that day.  The man said: “well, since you already drove here, and I am on the property doing some work, why don’t you come on up? I’ll open the gate for you.  Besides, there is another couple here right now who are in the same position as you.”  So, he opened the gate, and we drove up.  

(View from Croad Vineyards)
The view from the winery overlooking the valley was breathtaking.  Martin was hospitable, friendly, and extremely welcoming.  Their motto at the winery is: "Kia Ora," which means "Welcome" in the native New Zealand Maori language.  Martin told us a little bit about his background and New Zealand heritage, how he came the United States, how he started the winery, the highs and lows of owning a winery, and how he continues to take on various projects around the winery.  In fact, when we visited, he was working on building a bed and breakfast on the property.  That’s why he happened to be on site the day we drove to the winery.  We tried about 3 different wines, which he had opened that day specially for the other couple and us: the 1011 Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Zinfindel, and the 2008 Towhenua Pure.  We ended up purchasing a bottle of the 2008 Towhenua, which is a blend of 50% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, and 30% Syrah.  This is a full-bodied wine, with a deep ruby red color.  It has complex but well-balanced flavors of dark ripe fruits, such as black cherries, and plum with a hint of mocha. It received a silver medal from the SF Chronicle. I thought it was fitting to pair this wine with lamb – both of which have roots in New Zealand.

(Ten, the Kids, Patrick, and me, July 30, 2012)
Needless to say, Patrick was very grateful for this wonderful and welcoming meal.  But, I got another great compliment on this meal.  Our Au Pair, Ten, told me during dinner that she did not usually like to eat lamb because when she has had it before, it had a gamy smell and taste that she did not like.  But, she said, she did not get that smell and taste from my lamb.  She ate both of her pieces.  She said I should definitely make this dish again because she would eat it.  Thank you for the compliment, Ten!

I hope you try some of these dishes the next time you want to make something special for yourself or that special someone in your life.  These dishes also would work great for your next dinner party.  You will definitely impress your guests, especially with the lamb.

Until next time . . .

Cheers! ZinAdel

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