“Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” Julia Childs
The convergence of Spring, Easter, family and friends resulted in one really spectacular meal. This past weekend we celebrated Easter with tender grass-fed Colorado leg of lamb, cheesy potatoes dauphinoise, asparagus with lemony butter, puree of carrot – light as a feather and spiked with cream, and that quintessential dessert, strawberry tart, with sweet pastry cream that melts on the tongue , and heavenly strawberries spiked with orange liquor adding a surprisingly peppy note that balanced the richness of the cream.
It was finally time to taste that leg of lamb which had been roasting in rosemary and garlic with its heady aromas for over an hour. At the table we relished the sight of all the colorful dishes. I had been looking forward to this meal and the company of friends and family all week. Both elegant and colorful with flavors that pop ….. this meal is a memory maker!
Place 3 carrots in a pot. Cover with water and add 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Carrots should be tender to the point of a knife.
Line a bowl with cheese cloth.Place carrots in a food mill and strain on top of the cheesecloth.
Tie the corners of the cheesecloth. Push a stick through it and let it hang in a deep vessel to drain the pulp of excess moisture for 2 hours.Lift and press to extrude more liquid. Use the liquid for vegetable stock in soup. Place the pulp in a saucepan. Add heavy cream, butter, salt, and pepper to taste. Heat slowly on low heat and serve hot.
I tried to find a local butcher that had grass-fed lamb but that was like trying to whip cream with a toothpick. I ended up ordering the lamb on-line from an organic Colorado farmer. For the best looking presentation, I trimmed about an inch of flesh from the shank bone. The fell is a thin outer layer of fat that you find if you buy an untrimmed leg from a butcher. It’s very tough so it’s important to remove all of it. Trim the excess fat that lies beneath the fell as well, leaving enough to enrich the meat and gravy.
Leg of lamb stuffed with feta cheese, pine nuts, apricots and mint
The rich umami flavor of roasted lamb and mint with creamy, tangy feta cheese and the crunch of pine nuts. Delicious!
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut six 2-foot lengths of butcher's twine. In a small skillet sauté apricots and shallots in butter 1 minute or until lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl and mix well with feta cheese, pine nuts and mint; season to taste with salt and pepper.
To butterfly the lamb. Arrange the lamb on work surface, inside facing up. Cut through to the bone. Then around the bone on each side to open it up.
Place a sheet of plastic wrap over lamb and pound with a meat mallet to flatten meat slightly, if needed, until leg is a fairly even thickness. Remove plastic wrap and generously season inside and outside of lamb with salt and pepper.
Mound stuffing mixture lengthwise along one side of lamb; roll up lamb over stuffing, tucking in ends.
Space 5 pieces of twine under lamb roll and tie them firmly, starting at outside and working in. Tie roll lengthwise with remaining piece of twine. In a roasting pan set over 2 burners, heat oil over high heat. Add lamb roll and sear all over, about 6 minutes in all. Transfer lamb to a rack and set down in the roasting pan. Roast until brown and tender and an instant read thermometer reads 140 degrees F for medium rare, about 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes, basting occasionally. Remove from oven and let sit, covered loosely with foil, 10 minutes. To serve, discard strings, slice in 12 pieces and serve
Finely slice the potatoes using a mandoline and set aside in water until ready to use. Combine the cream, milk, nutmeg, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, remove from the heat and set aside. Strain the water off the potatoes and layer inside a small oven dish lined with parchment paper, sprinkling gruyere cheese between each layer and being sure to overlap each layer as you go. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour enough of the cream mixture over the potatoes to cover and bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until slightly golden on top and tender through the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Weigh down with butter, cheese or any other heavy square object and set aside in the fridge to press for up to 12 hours. Reheat the potato dauphinoise in the oven set to 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Divide into portions and serve immediately as a side dish.
The potatoes dauphinoise are classic. They need to “rest” for 12 hours while under a press, so they make a great “do ahead” party dish. In the unlikely event that there are leftover potatoes, heat up a stack for breakfast with a poached egg on top.
Check out the beautiful spring-like feel to this dish of asparagus. Line up cooked asparagus spears and drizzle with lemony butter (lemon zest and butter) for an unforgettable presentation. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Strawberry Tart with Pastry Cream
Scrumptious fresh strawberries make this a spring-time favorite.
Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a small bowl and place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Put the flour mixture in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the butter and shortening and pulse about 10 times, or until the butter is in the size of peas. Add the ice water and process until the dough comes together. Dump on a well-floured board and form into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Roll out the dough and fit into 4 (4 1/2-inch) tart pans with removable sides. Don't stretch the dough when placing it in the pans or it will shrink during baking. Cut off the excess by rolling the pin across the top of each pan. Line the tart shells with a piece of buttered aluminum foil, butter side down, and fill them with dried beans or rice. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the beans and foil, prick the bottom of the shells all over with a fork, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside to cool.
Before serving, fill the tart shells with the pastry cream. Arrange the berries decoratively on top of the cream. Melt the apricot jelly with 1 teaspoon of water and brush the top of the tarts. Sprinkle with pistachios, if using, and serve.
For the pastry cream
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium-high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick. Reduce to low speed, and add the cornstarch. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture. Pour the mixture into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens, 5 to 7 minutes. Don't be alarmed when the custard comes to a boil and appears to curdle; switch to a whisk and beat vigorously. Cook, whisking constantly, for another 2 minutes; the custard will come together and become very thick, like pudding. Stir in the vanilla, orange liquor, butter, and heavy cream. Pour the custard through a sieve into a bowl. Place plastic wrap directly on the custard and refrigerate until cold. Yield: 2 cups
“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.”
― Émile Zola, The Belly of Paris
I took a journey through my taste buds last night at Whole Foods Market’s new “Cheese Night”. It was all about the complexity of flavor in raw-milk cheeses and what makes them unique. Certified cheese professional, Lynn Battels and David Hall, up and coming certified cheese professional, explained what a “raw-milk” cheese is, how it’s made, and how to taste it, with four of our five senses.
Looking at a particular artisan cheese can tell you a lot about the type of milk that was used to make it. Goat milk cheese, for instance, is much whiter in appearance than cheeses made from other types of milk. Look at the rind and the fissures in the cheese.
Then there is the smell…. A mild aroma is sometimes described as floral, perfumy, fresh, sweet, grassy or nutty. A strong aroma is described as barnyardy, earthy, funky, musty, sour, ripe or stinky. Lynn explains, if you break up the cheese in the palm of you hand and roll it between your fingers, this will warm the cheese and expose more surface area, therefore releasing the cheese’s aromas. Then take a good whiff, exhaling through your nose and viola! There you have it.
Tasting the cheese is all about being in the moment. I close my eyes and focus solely on my breathing. (in from my mouth, exhaling through my nose) Then, rolling the cheese on the back of my tongue until it melts, ever so slowly, on my pallate while thinking about the mouth-feel. Often the difference between mediocre cheese and excellent cheese is in the finish. There are eternal truths to be recognized, just as there are eternal harmonies in a Beethoven sonata. Ultimately, a cheesemakers’ goal is to achieve balance among the five human taste areas: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. It is all about that universality and transcendence.
We started with an 8 month aged Manchego cheese from Spain. Made from raw sheeps milk, this cheese has a firm consistency and a buttery texture with a kind of sour note to it. It is made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the Manchega breed. Official Manchego cheese is to be aged between 60 days and two years. The designation Queso Manchego is protected under Spain’s Denominación de Origen (DO) regulatory classifaction system and has been granted Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status by the European Union. We tasted the Ruffino Orvieto Classico with it. This is an Italian white wine produced by Ruffino in the Tuscany region of Italy.
When I think about the great cheese makers of the world, I think immediately of French and Italian cheeses, however, there are some really good artisan cheese makers cropping up all over America. Grafton Village Farms out of Vermont is one of them. We tasted their Classic Reserve Cheddar, a raw cow milk cheese with a creamy texture and the classic cheddar flavor we all love. The designation of “Raw Milk” is reserved for cheeses made from milk that has not been heated to more than 100 F. At this temperature, the hundreds of varieties of bacteria continue to thrive and interact with the milk, giving a greater, deeper flavor within the cheese. In the United States, the FDA requires raw (unpasteurized) milk cheeses to be aged a minimum of 60 days.
We tried the “Le Gruyere Reserve”, a raw cow milk cheese from Switzerland. Considered to be the best “melting” cheese to use in fondues and for baking. This cheese has a creamy-nutty-mushroomy flavor with the pronounced salt crystals that I so desire. It’s complexity is next to none, however, it never overshadows the other ingredients it’s married with. They can only fit 156,000 wheels of cheese in the caves of Kaltbach in Lucerne. It’s never enough is it? My favorite sandwich has to be the Croque Monsier. Made with Gruyère, bechemel and ham on a croissant, this sandwich is gooey, creamy, cheesy and comforting all at the same time.
A delicious, crunchy, buttery sandwich made with ham and Gruyère cheese. This could be my favorite sandwich of all time!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Melt the butter over low heat in a small saucepan and add the flour all at once, stirring with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Slowly pour the hot milk into the butter–flour mixture and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened. Off the heat add the salt, pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere, and the Parmesan and set aside. Lightly brush half the toasted croissants with mustard, add a slice of ham to each, and sprinkle with half the remaining Gruyere. Top with the other half of croissant. Slather the tops with the cheese sauce, sprinkle with the remaining Gruyere, and bake the sandwiches for 5 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil for 3 to 5 minutes, or until the topping is bubbly and lightly browned. Serve hot.
I have to admit I am passionate about all types of cheese, from the humble ones to the exotic. Parmigiano Reggiano, known the world over as the “King of Cheeses”, is a raw cow milk cheese, some say, from heaven! The one we tasted was from Modena. There, it is an important part of the local traditional gastronomy and incorporated into antipastos, pastas, entrees and even desserts. It takes 148 gallons of milk just to make 1 wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano!
The Parmigiano Reggiano was paired with Gran Passione Rosso, a light red wine, almost like an Amarone. It is from the Chianti Classico region of Italy and revives the old tradition of including white grapes in the blend, resulting in a softer flavor.
When milk is pasteurized, the naturally occurring enzymes are destroyed. Raw milk keeps that important flavor foundation, resulting in cheeses that are more complex. I have to admit, I definately have a greater appreciation for cheese after this event, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll attempt to make my own artisan cheese!