Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Roast Lamb w/ Mango-Mint Sauce, Moroccan Millet & Rum Pineapple w/ Baby Almonds

Spring is a fabulous time to slow down a little before the summer hustle. It is the time when we come out of doors with welcome arms. Everyone seems happier, more active and generally more excited to be alive. With this in mind, it is also a great time to celebrate. Be it any occasion: holiday, birthday, the weather itself, friends or engagements, now is the time to invite your loved ones into your home.

It was the combination of a traveling actor friend in town and two recent engagements of marriage that my friends would dine with me tonight. Their task was simple: a few bottles of wine. My task was to prepare an ideal spring feast. I believe we all accomplished our set duties.

While mulling over menu options I was torn between chicken, pork or lamb. Chicken seemed too average and easy, pork was, you know, the other white meat. Lamb seemed exotic. But while many people take great fear of lamb, I figured my friends were the adventurous types and I would forge ahead.

Sure enough when we sat to the table my friend DR voiced his concern: “You know Stacey, I’ve never eaten good lamb. I’m kind of afraid. It’s all been slightly… barnyardy?”

“That’s okay,” I reassured him, “I’ve never cooked lamb before, so we’re kind of even.” With that, he finished off his glass of wine. DR’s fiancé then voiced her concerns, “I’ve eaten lamb in kibe (Middle Eastern lamb balls with other spices) and on kebabs, but any roasted lamb I’ve ever had has been terrible.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re in for an adventure.” I returned.

No sooner was the lamb brought to the table that forks were rearing to stab at it. Across the board the meal was a success. DR and his fiancé were reassured the merits of good lamb, and I was reassured that I can cook lamb. The spices were a great compliment to the sauce, and with the millet side, everything was the colorful festive spring feast I sought.

DR mentioned his barnyardy objection to lamb. I would have to agree that lamb, like any meat is easily spoiled if a few rules are not met: freshness and cooking time. Freshness is key. If kept in the refrigerator (or meat department of your grocery store) too long the meat will begin to spoil (obviously). In the refrigerator, it will pick up the odors of food around it. Make sure to check dates and grade of meat to ensure freshness. Overcooked meat is depressing. This is easily done if a good meat thermometer is not utilized, or placed incorrectly. It is important to know what cut of meat you have, how it’s best to prepare that cut, and the ideal temperature for the outcome you desire.

With that, a fabulous spring meal, perfect for the upcoming holidays…

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 30 minutes. Inactive time= 5 hours to 2 days. Cook Time= depends on size of meat; about 40 minutes.
* 6 pound leg of lamb, ask your butcher to crack the bone and butterfly the cut**
* 3 Tbl fresh rosemary, chopped
* 3 Tbl fresh mint, chopped
* 3 Tbl fresh sage, chopped
* 2 head of garlic, 1 crushed, 1 whole
* 20 pearl onions, 10 crushed, 10 whole
* 1 Tbl ground cumin
* 1 Tbl ground cardamom
* ½ Tbl ground cinnamon
* salt/ pepper
* 4 Tbl olive oil

1) Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. Mix the first 3 ingredients, 1 head of garlic and the ten crushed pearl onions with fresh ground pepper. Rub 2 Tbl olive oil over the lamb and rub the herb mixture over the leg of lamb; between the cuts, top and bottom. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate 5 hours up to 2 days.
2) Preheat the oven to 300F. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator, brushing off about half the rub. Sprinkle with cumin, cardamom, and cinnamon. Amply salt and pepper both sides and between the cuts. Tie securely with twin to hold the meat together.
3) On the stovetop in a large skillet on high heat, warm 2 Tbl olive oil. Sear the leg on all sides. Apply a fresh sprig of mint and rosemary under the twine. Chop the top off the second head of garlic, just to expose the tips and place it on the skillet. Add the onions around the lamb.
4) Place on rack, fatty side up. Insert a meat thermometer deeply, almost to the bone.
5) The meat is done when the thermometer reads 125 for medium-rare.
6) Remove from oven and allow meat to rest on cutting board for 15 minutes before slicing.

** To butterfly meat is to slice it so the meat looks like a book with the bone as the book spine.

* 1 fresh mango, peeled and pit discarded
* 1 cup fresh mint
* 1 tsp Serrano pepper seeds
* 1 Tbl lemon juice
* pinch of salt

1) Use a hand-held or electric blender to purée all ingredients until evenly blended. Serve at room temperature to slightly chilled.

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Cook Time= 25 minutes
* 3 cups dried millet
* 6 cups water
* 1 bunch spinach, washed well
* ½ cup dried cranberries or apricots
* ½ cup roasted pine nuts
* salt/ pepper to taste

1) Cook the millet according to package instructions. While it is cooking, sauté the spinach. Once done, leave on heat. Add spinach, cook about three minutes to reheat spinach; stirring to ensure the millet does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
2) Add dried fruit, nuts and salt/ pepper. Stir and place in serving bowl.

Makes: 6 servings. Active Time= 10 minutes. Inactive Time= 1 hour.
* 1 fresh ripe pineapple
* 2 Tbl butter
* 1 cup dark rum
* 2 Tbl brown sugar
* ½ cup baby almonds **

1) Slice top and bottom off pineapple; slice off skin. Cut into quarters. Remove center rind. Cut each quarter into 4 pieces lengthwise. Place pineapple slices in shallow dish and cover with rum and brown sugar. Refrigerate 1 hour.
2) On a skillet on medium heat, warm the butter. Sauté pineapple slices until lightly browned.
3) While pineapple is browning, in a small skillet on medium heat pour the sugar-rum mixture. Let it warm while the pineapple cooks. Serve pineapple slices with ice cream, coated in rum-sugar syrup with baby almonds sprinkled on top.

** Baby almonds are found usually around late March. They are immature almonds, still in their fuzzy pods, plucked before the almond has the opportunity to harden into the nut we love to eat. To use, peel off the fuzzy outer shell. The inner snow-white nut is the non-ripe almond you want to use in this dish. They are crunchy and contain a clear jell inside (that eventually hardens to white with maturity)

*** Remember to save your bones for soup!!! ***

Head on over to Sweetnick's for today's ARF round up!

Over at Kalyn’s Kitchen, check out some WHB action. Today’s herb? Mint.

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