Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Easter Dinner

Blech. Yeah I know ages since I posted anything. Long story short, work is kicking my ass and both the cooking and posting have slowed to a crawl these days. I'm looking to pick up a bit more again in about a month so please stay patient!

You guys, I am such a bonehead! In the whirl of getting ready to head to the suburbs to Mom's to cook easter dinner, I remembered my dutch oven... I remembered my scalloped tart pan... I remembered my ovenproof gratin dish... and forgot my CAMERA. Can you believe it? Of course I couldn't just not cook easter dinner due to lack of camera, but I feel pretty terrible about leaving you guys with no pix.

Anyway, the plan for dinner was gigot a la sept heurs, that is, seven-hour leg of lamb. I love lamb for easter, and never got it as a kid, because my mom always hated lamb. (Anyone sensing a pattern here of me making up for things I wanted as a kid but never got? Oh my life was soooo hard...) Usually we get a ham, but since we had a non-pork-eater joining us for dinner, mom agreed to let me cook the lamb... and the whole rest of the dinner, too. This was my first holiday meal flying solo, you guys! After much deliberation on the appropriate sides and dessert, I decided on the following:

1. Gigot a la sept heurs, from the Les Halles Cookbook
2. Gratin Dauphinois, from the Les Halles Cookbook (I know this is a repeat but the fam didn't want mashed, and I couldn't help but think how wonderful this dish would be with leg of lamb as I wiped the puddles of drool off my cookbook)
3. Nantes carrot stew, from Ad Hoc at Home
4. Asparagus coins, from Ad Hoc at Home
5. The most extraordinary lemon tart, from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours

Pretty ambitious, wouldn't you say? Well, let's see how it goes...

Prep for the meal got started the week before (I know, I know, I'm crazy) when I started with the lemon cream for the tart. The lemon cream (based on a Pierre Herme, recipe, by the way) is different from the usual lemon cream used in tarts, and different from the lemon tart I made a few weeks back, in that the butter is added in a blender after the rest of the cream is put together. This keeps the butter from melting into a curd-like structure, but emulsifies the butter to make a very fluffy, light cream. I've had trouble emulsifying before (see my aoli fail) but this lemon cream came together perfectly. I'm definitely going to try another aoli or mayonnaise endeavor using my hot new blender, instead of my old-ass food processor, to see if it will work better. The lemon cream recipe is around the internet, but I do recommend getting the Dorie Greenspan book, as it has a lot of great recipes and is a wonderful baking resource.

With the lemon cream freezing away nicely, I undertook two parts of the asparagus recipe from Ad Hoc at Home: chive oil and parsley water. The cookbook explains that asparagus flavor generally leaches out into the water in which the asparagus is cooked, so for the Ad Hoc recipe, it is cooked with parsley water to retain its flavor, and to add the herbal parsley flavor as well. I won't go into too much detail on these (more detail to be had when I make basil oil or parsley oil from the Les Halles Cookbook in the not-too-distant fugure), but suffice to say they were super easy and took next to no time at all.

On Saturday, after a fun morning negotiating a DC metro system that was OVERRUN with tourists going to the cherry blossoms, I chucked my cooking supplies (sans camera) into a suitcase and headed to the suburbs for Easter with my mother, grandmother, and sister.

I woke up at the crack of dawn on Easter Sunday morning to get the lamb in the oven. Mom had gotten a lovely big leg of lamb from the local Whole Foods, and I set to work trimming it of fat and silverskin before putting it into the dutch oven. Only when I attempted to do so... of course... my dutch oven was too small to fit a full lamb leg with its bone in. I knew it would be, of course, but I only had the one dutch oven, with no time to buy a new one, so what's a girl to do? After some hilarious, and aborted attempts to trim the bone with a handsaw, I ended up seaming the leg, carving off the meat, and stuffing the meat into the dutch oven with some herbs, white wine, and a ton of garlic shoved into the lamb folds. With that in the dutch oven, and the lid on, I mixed some flour and water together to form a seal where the oven lid meets the pot. This mucking around with floury goop got some arch comments from my mother and grandmother, but I soldiered on, and shoved the entire mess (perched on a baking sheet) into a 300 degree oven.

Following this, I made Dorie Greenspan's sweet tart crust, a process not unlike the tart crust I made for a plum tart earlier in this project. The main difference is that it was meant to be pressed into the tart pan, rather than rolled out, so in a way it was an intentional Frankencrust. This went into a freezer for the rest of the day until it was ready to be baked.

That was all of the big prep to be done for the day, so I spent most of the rest of the afternoon relaxing with my family, eating copious amounts of licorice, and making pysanky (Easter eggs dyed and then painted with wax, then dyed again for colorful pictures).

When it was almost time for dinner, I first made the potatoes gratin (featured from my holiday recap post), and then made carrot stew. I sauteed the carrots in a knob of butter until they began to release their juices, then added some sweet white wine (in place of sherry), and then some carrot juice, curry powder and coriander. After a few minutes, I removed the carrots, and cooked the liquid down to a glaze, which became intensely sweet and fragrant. This got the nice addition of a knob of butter whisked in, and then I put the carrots back into the pan over low heat to keep warm.

Next, I made the asparagus coins by slicing asparagus into thin rounds, and sauteing it in the chive oil. When the coins were barely cooked, I added the parsley water and simmered the mess until the coins were done.

By this time, it was time to take the lamb out of the oven, which I did with a little trepidation. The entire house was by this time smelling of delicious, savory lamb, garlic and herbs, and everyone who came in the house commented on the wonderful aromas. I had Husband J haul the dutch oven on its baking sheet out of the oven--the amount of meat plus the heavy enamel-iron pot made for an incredibly weighty. Then, I tried peeling the now browned flour and water slurry off of the dutch oven... but it was stuck on tight. Husband J to the rescue again, he grabbed mom's heaviest kitchen implements and used them as a hammer and chisel to chip the mix off. This was pretty arduous, but eventually it all came off, and we lifted the lid. The meat had broken down and looked like tender bits of brisket, and we spooned it out of the pot and onto a serving platter.

All in all, dinner was a huge hit. The meat could have been a bit more tender--I think it was a little overdone, since we had to cut the bone out, but it was very tasty with all that garlic and herb flavor. We included some organic mint jelly at my grandmother's insistence, and it tasted wonderful with the lamb. Of the sides, the potatoes gratin was the biggest hit (obviously, I mean who doesn't love potatoes gratin?), but the carrot stew and asparagus coins were devoured just as quickly.

The lemon tart was... well, all right. After baking the crust I cooled it, then spread it with the thawed lemon cream. It tasted nice, though the cream melted on the still warm crust and glorped all over the place. Add to this that over dessert, my sister insisted that we watch her new favorite movie The Cove, so by the time I had finished, all I could think about was dolphin massacres, and that doesn't go so well with lemon tart. Next time at least I'd put the tart into the fridge to solidify the cream, and definitely wouldn't watch animal slaughter movies while eating it.

But, aside from that dessert debacle, the meal went wonderfully, and received great acclaim from the family, so I was happy about that! My first holiday meal, a success.

Lessons learned: Don't forget your freaking camera. Get a bigger dutch oven to cook big old legs of lamb. Don't watch dolphin slaughters with your dessert.

Next Week: Roti de Porc au Lait

1 comment:

  1. I didn't even thing to remind you to bring the camera! I'm glad it turned out yummy - I'll have to get that recipe from you sometime. And as much as I love your grandma, I'm still shaking my head over the mint jelly...