I’ll admit it. Sometimes I am overly ambitious. I tend to get a little ahead of myself and set high goals. I think it’s because reaching those high goals is extremely satisfying. So, on this day I decided to do an entire lesson, sans dessert. The dessert course for this lesson is Pineapple sorbet. I will leave that for a summer day. Let’s Dive In!
A few months back I purchased an organic lamb from a local farmer named Mary. Yes, Mary had little lambs. Mine was a very small lamb and the leg would only be enough for two people so the timing for this lesson was perfect. After reading through the recipes they all sounded so good that I found myself saying “I can do this!” and away I went to the grocery store to gather ingredients. See? this is how I get myself in trouble.
I didn’t need to buy many ingredients because as usual these recipes are not about lots of ingredients, they are about using each ingredient properly and usually each ingredient has an application. This is what makes them so time consuming but what also makes them very delicious and deep in flavor.
The starter course is a smoked salmon crepe, which is a savory crepe. I have never had them this way before so I am excited to try them. Now that I am thinking about it, I do not recall ever making crepes period. I have had them before (of course), but no, I have never made them. OK. Well, how hard can it be? I’ve made plenty of pancakes before. Well, I’m about to find out.
As I gather my equipment needed for this recipe, I recall the pan. Yes! The pan! I remember my mother making crepes in it. In fact, I’m pretty sure my mom was introduced to crepes via Julia Child, and once she saw her make them, she began making them as well. As usual, when my mother did something like this, of course she would have to purchase a special pan. Hers was made out of copper. It is the perfect size and shape for crepes.
Anyway, I was fortunate enough to inherit her crepe pan. It was totally worth finding a place for in my small kitchen. When ever I use my mom’s cookware I instantly feel a connection with her. I reminisce and I am once again in her kitchen watching her cook.
The first step of the recipe is to take the smoked salmon and place in a shallow dish and cover it with milk. Then it needs to sit in the fridge for a few hours. The next step is to make the crepe batter. Simple enough. 1/4 C of flour, a pinch of salt, 2 eggs, 1 C of milk, and 3 TB of unsalted butter melted and slightly cooled. Once the flour and salt is sifted into a bowl, I am instructed to make a well in the center and break the eggs into the well. At the same time, I am to add 1/3rd of the milk and gradually mix the flour into the center of wet ingredients until smooth. Then I can finish adding the remainder of the milk and the melted butter. That is to be set aside for 30 minutes. Once, it has rested, I take some melted butter and grease the pan. I add just enough batter to coat the bottom of the pan, and I swirl it around as I am adding the batter to the pan. Once cooked on the first side to a golden brown, the crepe gets flipped to cook on the other side. The remaining batter gets cooked the same way. 6 or so crepes total. They can be stacked like pancakes until ready to be used. Well, that was easy enough. A little time consuming due to the resting period and preparing them one at a time, but not a hard recipe at all.
Now the salmon is removed from the milk and patted dry. It is cut into strips and equal portions are placed in the center of each crepe. The crepe is then rolled up and placed seam side down on a buttered, oven proof, pan.
Some Creme Fraiche is seasoned with salt and pepper and spooned over the crepes and then broiled until brown and bubbly. Voila! It is a very easy and elegant starter. Not to mention absolutely delicious. I think next time I will add some fresh snipped chives. I love that flavor of chives with the smoked salmon.
While preparing the starter course, I am also working on the main course and side dish. I have never roasted a leg of lamb this way, so I’m bound to learn something here. Preparation of the leg is simple enough. Take a 3 lb. (French cut – no hip or sirloin attached) leg of lamb and trim it of any unwanted “fell” and fat. The fell would be that thin parchment like skin covering the meat. Then I am instructed to make some slits in the meat and place slivers of garlic in them. Yes, I have done this before and I remember my mother doing this with her roasts as well. Then the entire leg gets rubbed with butter and oil and is seasoned with salt and pepper. It is placed in a roasting pan and put in a preheated 450 degree oven for 20 minutes, turning it once half way (at ten minutes).
After the 20 minutes a medium onion, and a medium carrot, both chopped course, are added, along with some sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf, and then the pan is placed back in the oven for another 20 minutes. Again, turning it once half way (at ten minutes)
Then the leg of lamb is removed from the roasting pan and placed on a serving platter. It is covered in foil, and set aside to rest. While it is resting, the fat is spooned off from the drippings. The pan of drippings is placed on the stove top at a medium high heat and I add 1 C of water to deglaze the pan. Then the “sauce” is simmered until it is reduced then it is strained into a sauce boat or dish for serving.
The leg of lamb is now garnished with watercress on the serving platter and the sauce is served along side.
This recipe, as simple as it is, has so much flavor. With the garlic and the aromatics that are roasted and then incorporated in the pan sauce, it was absolutely perfect. What a wonderful recipe. I can see using this method for so many other types of roasts, even chicken. Of course the timing will need to be adjusted. but that’s what instant read thermometers are for. 🙂
Well, you should see my kitchen at this point. There are pots and pans stacking up even though I am trying to clean up while I am preparing. It’s getting a little hectic as I am trying to time everything to finish together at this point. I think I should add that my kitchen has about 10 square feet to move, with two prep areas about 1 square foot each. Only one person fits in my kitchen. Sometimes I amaze myself at what I get done in there.
Well, I will have to say, it was actually the side dish that was the killer. At this point I ask myself why didn’t I opt for frozen corn, frozen peas, or even a salad? Nope. Not me. I’m making this. I’ve got my mind set to it and I’m following through. So, away we go…
The side course. A Swiss Chard Gratin. Seems easy enough. I am to layer chard, mushrooms, a bechamel, and some cheese, then bake. Once again, not about the ingredients or what it actually is, it’s about all the different techniques that get you from point A to point B.
My first step is to get some salted water boiling. I need to clean and prepare the chard. There is about 2 pounds or so. First, I separate the stems from the leaves. The stems get peeled with a peeler to remove any tough fibers. Then they are chopped into two inch lengths. The chopped stems are added to the boiling water and blanched until crisp-tender and then set aside. Then the leaves are blanched, drained and set aside. While that is being done I also have a skillet on the stove. I cook about a pound of sliced mushrooms in butter at a high heat until all the liquid is evaporated from them. They are seasoned and I add about a 1/4 C of creme fraiche and cook until thickened, then that is set aside too.
Now on to the bechamel sauce. Pretty basic – 2 TB of butter, 1/4 C of flour, 1 3/4 C of milk, pinch of fresh grated nutmeg, salt and pepper. Once the bechamel is prepared to the proper consistency, the pan is removed from the heat and an additional 1/2 C of creme fraiche is added to the bechamel.
Whew! Almost home! Now to prepare for the assembly.
I butter my gratin dish and my oven is preheated to 425 degrees. I squeeze the chard leaves (that I had blanched and set aside) of all the excess water. It is then roughly chopped and placed in a bowl. 1/3rd of the bechamel is added, it is tasted for seasonings and adjusted if needed. Now the chard stalks that I had blanched and were set aside are added to another bowl with half of the remaining bechamel. Again, tasted for seasoning and adjusted if needed.
To assemble, I spread half of the chopped chard leaves to the bottom of the buttered gratin dish. Then I spread the mushrooms evenly over the first layer of leaves, then I add the remaining half of the chopped chard leaves and evenly cover the mushrooms. Then the stalk mixture is spread evenly over the last layer of leaves. The remaining bechamel is spread over the stalk mixture. And finally, last but not least, I spread 1/4 C (ok, not gonna lie, I think it was more. I’m from Wisconsin) of grated Gruyere cheese over the whole thing and baked it until golden brown.
Oh my God. I am dead at this point. But, I am soon revived by serving a cocktail and the starter course to my husband and myself. I could have stopped there and it would have all been good. That salmon course was amazing. Winner!
Now on to the main course and side. As I sit happily with a grin on my face, sipping some red wine and enjoying these two courses, even the sight of the kitchen does not bother me. I did it! I cannot even tell you how good it felt to not only make these dishes, but in my opinion, they turned out perfectly. I could not be more proud, even if my mother was sitting across from me. I knew she was with me the whole time anyway. Not to mention the lessons I had learned. What a lesson indeed. I will remember this for a long time, and I will be using these techniques for a long time to come as well, and hopefully sharing with many people along the way.
I feel like I need to say this –