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Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Memorable Dinner

I first did this dish for a gourmet dinner, but the most memorable time I served it was the Sunday before my son, Brian, joined the Army. Carey, daughter number two, made it home for spring break from law school; and our oldest, Kim, and her husband, Todd, made the drive in from nearby Poetry. It was a bittersweet evening. Our President and his Cabinet were telling the Butcher of Baghdad that they were going to send our sons and daughters over to root him out, and I was sitting across the table from quite possibly one of them.

Actually, I agreed Saddam needed to go and cheered when he did, but on a visceral level I resented the fact that a man who avoided the war I went to (as did his Democrat predecessor) found it so easy to ask our kids to do what he and his key advisors hadn’t.

Today, Carey is a full-fledged lawyer, practicing law in Pittsburgh, where the family’s roots were planted two generations before mine. Kim and Todd have moved in from the “country” and are the stewards of our two grandchildren—Riley, age 2, and Ian, age 6 months. And Brian Jr. is back from Iraq with two purple hearts, a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation medal—both with the “V” device. He was and is a medic with the 1st Calvary Division. He and most—but not all—of his buddies made it through a hellacious year as did those of us who watched and waited.

It was a long year. We all aged, Brian more than the rest of us.

He supports the war, as he must. The rest of us do as well, if only to honor his sacrifice, even as we hope that history will harshly judge those who used the horror of 9/11, flimsy intelligence and Christian righteousness to drag us into a crusade to revenge a failed assassination attempt and re-elect a Republican.

But the dinner to mark the start of my son’s journey to maturity and PTSD, was Prime Rib, one of the best ways to harden your arteries that God put on earth.

The celebratory meal was a family affair. I made the Prime Rib, Brian made his salad dressing; Maureen got the cake from Central Market (one of the seven wonders of the culinary world); and the other three pulled KP afterwards. The dinner took most of the evening and the jokes and stories flowed freely.

Here's what you'll need.

A four-rib standing rib roast (about 8 pounds)
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white peppercorns
2 tablespoons green peppercorns
2 tablespoons juniper berries
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1½ teaspoon salt
2/3 cup dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1½ tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon water

First:. Preheat the oven to 250°F. Heat the olive oil in the roasting pan on top of the stove until nearly smoking. Pat the beef dry and brown on all sides, about three to five minutes on a side. Remove to a cutting board.

Second: With a sharp carving knife almost completely separate the rib bones from the meat, leaving them barely attached at the bottom and exposing the back side of the meat.

Third: Crush the peppercorns, juniper berries and fresh thyme in a pestle or, better yet, grind them in a coffee grinder. Combine with the flour, butter, Dijon mustard, brown sugar and salt to make a paste.

Fourth: Spread the meat with the paste, making sure the bone-side meat is well covered as well. Tie the rib bones back to the meat and return to the roasting pan, rib sides down.

Fifth: Slip the roast into the oven and let it slowly cook until it reaches an internal temperature of 110°F, approximately 30 minutes per pound.

Sixth: Increase the oven temperature to 500°F and continue cooking until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 135°F, about 30 more minutes.

Seventh: Remove from the oven and let stand for 20 minutes on a cutting board, loosely covered with aluminum foil. The temperature will rise to 140°F.

Eighth: Skim most of the fat from the drippings in the pan. Deglaze the pan with the wine, simmering the wine to reduce it by half. Transfer the liquid to a saucepan or a saucier. Add beef broth and simmer for five minutes.

Ninth: Dissolve the cornstarch in the Worcestershire sauce and water and add to wine/beef broth mixture, whisking to combine. Boil for a minute or two more until thickened. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm on the stove.

And finally: Remove the string from roast. Cut off the rib bones, and carve the meat into ½ inch slabs. Arrange on a warm serving platter. Cut rack into individual ribs and arrange them on the platter for those of us who like to gnaw on the bones (the closer the bone etc.). Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

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