Sunday, August 14, 2011

a Welcome Home Dinner and my first time Cooking Lamb

Last night after a day of errands, cleaning and dinner prep, I waited for the sound of Jamie's motorcycle downstairs, indicating his return from 5 days in Sturgis.  I had a special dinner all planned for him...

If you can't tell, I was pretty happy to see him.  :)

My heart quickened a little when I heard the rev of the engine, and I looked down from our condo balcony to see his black and white jacket and the top of his helmet as he rounded the corner into the parking lot and disappeared behind the row of garages.  I ran downstairs to help him carry his things up, and because I didn't want to wait any longer for a hug.  There he was, dusty, sunburned, tired, and oh-so-rugged and manly.  :)

Here he is in Sturgis; below, he's on the left, with his cousin on the right.

He cleans up nicely, too.  :)  With his love of motorcycles, he asked me to paint this for him last summer, so I did this as a birthday present for him.  

(Note, this painting was not an original concept, but one he found online and asked me to paint for him.  Google "Life Needs More Green Lights" to see the picture he asked me to replicate.  I'm not an experienced artist - I only took one drawing class in college - but he bought me some paint for our first Christmas together, which I've experimented with a little, without really knowing what I'm doing, though.)

I'm so glad he's come home from a week of motorcycles, though!  Since he ate burgers and fries and pizza all week, I thought a meal with none of those things would be welcome when he got home, so here is the dinner menu I planned for last night.  For today's post, you get five recipes for the price of one! :)
  • Appetizer - Roasted Artichoke with Spicy Aioli
  • Main Course - Rack of Lamb with Sage and Red Wine Cherry Sauce, and Baby Red Potatoes with Herbs
  • Dessert - Nectarine Blueberry Crumble

It may sound a little bit involved, but it actually ended up being quite simple, only about an hour of active cooking time with very little prep work.  I had never made lamb before, so I looked online for a few tips on cooking temperature so that it didn't end up dry and tough.  I knew I wanted to marinate it simply, just with olive oil, fresh sage, salt and pepper; lamb has such a delicate flavor on its own, that I didn't want anything to overpower that.  The red wine cherry sauce I made to serve on the side with the lamb was good, and complemented it well, but to be honest it probably wasn't necessary; the perfectly pink lamb was wonderful just as it was.

Another thing that worked out well is that the potatoes and artichoke can adapt to various oven temperatures, so I just set the oven for what I needed to cook the lamb, and was able to cook everything at the same time and have it finish together, which is always nice when you're trying to complete several steps at once, and have everything still be hot by the time it reaches the table.

Mmmm, I'm glad there's a little of this nectarine blueberry crumble left - it was amazing!

Since there were a lot of components to this meal, I want to show you how easily this can all come together.  Here are the basic steps I followed for making this meal to help all the dishes finish at the same time, and below are the individual recipes:
  1. Noon: Seasoned and marinated the lamb - placed in zip-lock bag in the fridge.  Let marinate for 6 hours.
  2. 6:00 pm: Removed lamb from fridge to come to room temperature for two hours.  This allows the lamb to cook evenly.
  3. 7:30 pm:  Jamie got home. :)
  4. 8:00 pm:  Started Cooking!
  5. Set the pan of wine and cherries on the stove to simmer and reduce to a sauce while I cooked everything else.  This sauce requires very little attention.  (And it makes the kitchen smell great!)
  6. Preheated the oven to 400 F.  Prepare the potatoes and the artichoke.
  7. Minutes 1-20:  Roasted potatoes and artichoke in the oven for 20 minutes at 400.  Prepared lamb.  Prepared spicy aioli.
  8. Minutes 21-27:  Roasted lamb in the oven for 7 minutes at 400. (Continue to roast the potatoes and artichoke during this time.)
  9. Minutes 28-37:  Reduced the oven to 300 F.  Cooked the lamb for an additional 10 minutes or so, until it reached an internal temperature of 125 F (for medium rare). (Continue to roast the potatoes and artichoke during this time.)
  10. Removed lamb, potatoes and artichoke from the oven.  (Total cooking time for potatoes and artichoke: 37 minutes; total cooking time for lamb: 17 minutes)
  11. Covered lamb with foil to let it rest for 5-10 minutes.
  12. Raised oven to 350 F to bake the fruit crumble for 30 minutes while we ate dinner.
  13. Sliced lamb and served dinner!

(All of these recipes will make enough for 4 servings.)

Roasted Rack of Lamb with Sage
  • 1 rack of lamb (8 ribs), frenched (ask the butcher to do this for you if it's not already done)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
With a small sharp knife, score the fatty side of the lamb with shallow cuts, to allow the marinade to penetrate.  Season with salt and pepper on both sides.  Place in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag.  Add sage and olive oil.  Squeeze the air out of the bag and seal.  Squish the marinade around so that all of the lamb is covered.  Place in the refrigerator to marinate for 6 hours, or overnight.

Two hours before you plan to cook the lamb, remove it from the fridge to come to room temperature.  This will help it to cook evenly.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Cover a baking sheet with foil, season the lamb with a little more salt and pepper, and place the lamb, fatty side up, on the baking sheet.  Insert a meat thermometer into the center of the rack, making sure it's not resting against a bone.  Loosely cover the lamb with foil.

Roast for 7 minutes at 400.  Reduce the oven to 300 and continue to cook the lamb for an additional 10 minutes, or until the thermometer reads 125 F for medium rare.

Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing into chops.  Serve with the red wine cherry sauce.

Red Wine Cherry Sauce
  • 1 pound frozen black cherries
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to medium, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened and reduced to a slightly syrupy consistency, about 30 minutes.  Leave the cherries whole, or if desired, puree with an immersion blender.  
Serve warm on the side with the rack of lamb.

Baby Red Potatoes with Chives
  • 1 pound baby red potatoes, whole
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Leave the potatoes unpeeled, or for a decorative look, peel a strip around each one.  Place in a ziplock bag.  Add the olive oil and chives, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Seal the bag and shake until the potatoes are coated.  Place the potatoes on a foil lined baking sheet and roast until they can easily be pierced with a fork.  (If you are not reducing the oven temperature like I did to accommodate the lamb, you can roast the potatoes at 400 for just 20-30 minutes, or at 350 for 30-40 minutes.)

Roasted Artichoke with Spicy Aioli
  • 1 artichoke
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • salt and pepper
Spicy Aioli:
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1-2 teaspoons horseradish
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cut the stem off the bottom of the artichoke so it will sit flat.  Cut the top 1/3 of the leaves off.  Drizzle the top with the olive oil, so that it runs down inside and in between the artichoke leaves.  Season with salt and pepper and 1/2 teaspoon of the minced garlic.  Wrap tightly in foil.  Place on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes.  Serve with the aioli.

To make the spicy aioli, whisk together the mayonnaise, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, horseradish, lemon juice, salt and pepper until well combined.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Nectarine Blueberry Crumble

Fruit Filling:
  • 3 ripe nectarines, pitted and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (a pinch or two of each)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried lemon peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Crumble Topping:
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Combine the nectarines, blueberries, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, lemon peel and vanilla in a bowl.  Divide between 4 ramekins.
To make the crumble topping, place the brown sugar, flour and butter in a bowl.  Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until you have large, coarse crumbs.  Add the sliced almonds and toss to combine.  Top the fruit with the crumble topping.

Bake for 30 minutes, until topping is golden brown and fruit is bubbling.  Serve warm with ice cream.