I've been amazingly lazy for the past week and a half, ever since popping the cork from a bottle of champagne on Christmas morning. I've read half a dozen books, cooked some great meals, stayed up late and slept even later, and spent lots of time with the Smith men. We've watched three seasons of The West Wing on DVD, and we finally joined Netflix and received our first 3 movies on January 2. I've even done a little laundry and a few chores, but the big ones I planned to do during December are now on my January list.
New Year's Eve was cozy and quiet, just the way we like it. Ray tells everyone that New Year's Eve -- like Valentine's Day -- is for amateurs. Restaurants are crowded and overpriced, waits are long, and the service is often lackluster at best. The drinks are overpriced, the bars and streets are filled with people who've had far too much to drink, and the bathrooms lack the charm and amenities of home sweet home.
On New Year's Eve, home is definitely where we want to be, enjoying each other's company. We share the kitchen to make an extra-special dinner accompanied by a good bottle of wine, and we reflect on the year just passed and the one to come. We talk about goals and wishes and dreams, and how proud we are of our children and the choices they've made. Then we snuggle up on the sofa to watch a movie, until it's time to toast the New Year.
This year's NYE supper was easy and elegant: herb-crusted roasted rack of lamb, new red potatoes braised in chicken stock and butter, then browned with garlic and garnished with fresh dill, and sliced carrots baked in a light and creamy sauce featuring horseradish and cheddar cheese. Both of these veggie dishes are melt-in-your-mouth delicious, and super-easy to cook.
Rack of lamb is quick, which is why we chose it over our traditional prime rib this year. We like to buy our lamb at either Costco or Trader Joes, and TJ's got our nod this time because they're closer to home ... and also because they carry a wonderful flash-frozen pre-seasoned New Zealand rack of lamb that's better than the fresh American lamb available locally. (Which seems odd, since we live in Bakersfield with a large lamb-raising Basque community). We cooked two racks, as follows. We defrosted them at room temp, patted on a few extra fresh herbs (we had lots of fresh dill on hand), placed the two racks on a baking rack in a 9" x 13" pan, and popped them in to a 400 degree oven. After 15 minutes, we reduced the temp to 325, and baked them another 15 to 25 minutes, until they were medium rare. After they came out of the oven, we let them sit for a few minutes to reabsorb their juices, then we sliced them into individual chops for serving.
We started the potatoes before putting the lamb in the oven. I had originally planned to quarter these and roast them with fresh rosemary, garlic, and olive oil, but I caught a few minutes of the Rachael Ray show while I was decorating the Christmas tree, and she shared an awesome recipe for potatoes cooked "Jacques Pepin style." We made a couple changes to her basic recipe, and they turned out to be the most delicious pototaoes we've ever made. We used middle-sized red potoatoes, and here's how we did it:
Rinse potatoes and place in a single layer in a large heavy skillet. We cut one or two of them in half and placed them cut side down. Add enough chicken stock (we use Trader Joe's boxed stock) to cover the bottom half of the potatoes, and toss in a couple tablespoons of real butter. Bring to a boil, then cover tightly and simmer until the potatoes are almost done (10 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of your potatoes). Remove the lid and gently smoosh each potato with the bottom of a glass ... you want to crack and flatten the potatoes slightly, not smash them. Increase the heat a little bit and boil off any remaining chicken stock: the butter you originally put in the pan will now be on the bottom. Continue cooking the uncovered potatoes until the bottoms are a bit crispy. then turn them over and continue cooking till the other side crisps up. We tossed in an extra tablespoon of butter, 2 or 3 sminced garlic cloves, and a couple tablespoons of chopped fresh dill when we turned the potatoes, making sure that most of the garlic and dill was on TOP of the potatoes, to season and soften without burning. Season with a pinch of sea salt, freshly ground pepper, and more fresh dill to serve. These were so yummy that I ate two of them before tasting the lamb, and I had the leftovers for breakfast on New Year's Day.
This carrot casserole is quick and easy, and can be made ahead of time and reheated, if desired. I've been serving these zesty cheesy carrots with roasted meats for the past 22 years, and everyone loves them and asks for the recipe.
Slice 5 or 6 large carrots (1 to 1.5 pounds) into circles, place in a saucepan and about an inch of water. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Carrots should pierce easily with a fork, but still be firm. Drain carrots, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. While the carrots are cooking, mix the following iingredients in a bowl: 1/2 cup lowfat mayo or plain yogurt, 1 small diced onion, 1/2 to 1 cup finely grated cheddar cheese, and 1 to 2 tablespoons prepared (not creamed) horseradish. Mix well and add salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the cooked carrots, added some of the carrot liquid if the sauce seems too thick. If I need more sauce, I just spoon in a bit more of everything. Add a few chives, green onions, or parsley for color, if desired. Pour everything into a lightly oiled baking dish, then sprinkle lightly with Italian bread crumbs. Bake uncovered for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and brown. I usually stick these in with whatever else is in the oven, as the exact temperature isn't important. I like the carrots to still have a little firmness, so sometimes I finish these under the broiler. Let cool a few minutes before serving, as these are very hot due to the cheesy sauce.
Happy New Year, y'all!