Because I know that everyone is just sitting on the edge of their desk chair waiting to hear how my dinner went, I thought I should let you know it was a huge success. I used the "Tom Valenti's Lamb Shanks" recipe from Epicurious for the main dish. Cooked the things for at least 4 hours - and I had to be careful when serving them that they didn't fall apart on the way from roasting pan to plate. But here's the thing. I think there was way too much liquid for this to be considered a proper braise. The shanks - delicious and tender as they were - were literally stewed in the red wine/broth mixture. If I made it again, I'd halve the amount of braising liquid. I ended up removing the shanks from the pan, straining out all the solids, then putting the liquid into a saucepan to reduce.
But never mind - our friends devoured the meal. It was the perfect thing for a cold winter night. I started with a mishmash of antipasto items with crusty bread, then served the shanks with risotto Milanese (v.g.!) and rapini with garlic and olive oil. Followed by a mixed green salad, then, of course, the Pear Tart with homemade vanilla ice cream. One friend went home with the recipe for the pear tart - no surprise.
Who says you shouldn't experiment on friends?