Cooking dinner during the week is the challenge that I, as well as countless others, face on a regular basis. It is this challenge that often pushes us toward the convenient, the processed, the take-out menu. I don't consider any of those things to be bad things. However, when it is all you rely on, then you're not doing yourself any favors. Everything has a time and a place. I'm a firm believer in moderation. When I have the opportunity to not have to face that challenge, I relish it. That's why I love Sunday dinners.
A Sunday dinner does not mean that I'm going to go to extremes and spend the day creating a multi-course tasting menu for the family. It means that I can enjoy the process more. I enjoy prepping ingredients. There's a satisfaction in turning a pile of ingredients into delicious, cohesive, satisfying meal. I can braise a tough piece of meat and give it the time it needs to relent and become tender. I can roast meats and vegetables long enough to cook and develop that irresistible coat of caramelization that makes us want to take a bite while it's too hot. And you can enjoy your meal with your family as an event and not just as routine or necessity.
This past week, we received a taste of spring but had it yanked from underneath us, rudely, on Saturday with a blast of cold, wet snow. I wanted to make something comforting but not wintery. I was ready for spring. I wanted to make a roast. I was going to do beef but changed my mind at the store and went with leg of lamb. Lamb and spring, right? Exactly!
The menu seems simple - lamb, mashed potatoes, asparagus, but it's really delicious. If you cook each ingredient well and season them well, that's all you need. You don't need to empty out the spice cabinet or cover everything with cheese to make it taste great. (My apologies to cheese. I am a huge fan. But, again, moderation.) Even though it was a Sunday, I still don't want to make things more complicated than necessary. So, I made a quick, flavorful paste/marinade for the lamb and applied it an hour before cooking. My mashed potatoes were just plain mashed potatoes. But I used yukon gold potatoes, real cream, and real butter. I roasted my asparagus in a hot oven with olive oil, salt and pepper. That's it. That's all that's needed. It's the best way to enjoy the flavor of asparagus. I made a pan gravy from the drippings and the vegetables that cooked alongside the lamb, fortified with red wine and a bit of chicken stock.
It turned out great and the kids did a great job with it. Not so much with the asparagus, but the meat was a big hit. And the kids did forego the reduction sauce in favor of ketchup and barbeque sauce but hey, you gotta pick your battles! I consider it a win when they eat meat that's not in nugget or hot dog form.
Do you do Sunday dinner? Leave a comment and let me know what you had for dinner. Thanks for reading!
ROASTED LEG of LAMB, MASHED POTATOES, ROASTED ASPARAGUS
Ingredients: boneless leg of lamb, 4 garlic cloves, 1 shallot, zest of 1 lemon, dried thyme, dried oregano, extra virgin olive oil, 2 carrots, 1 rib of celery, 1 large onion, flour, 1 cup red wine, 1 cup of chicken stock / 4 yukon gold potatoes, 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/2 cup of milk, 2 TB unsalted butter / 1 bunch of asparagus
For the lamb:
- Slice your garlic and shallots and use a mortar and pestle to smash them into a paste, along with a big pinch of salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano. Add a couple of TBs of olive oil to bring it to a nice loose consistency.
- Open your leg of lamb up and spread some of the paste inside. Tie up your lamb and apply the rest of the paste on the outside of the lamb.
- Cover the lamb with plastic wrap or put in a ziplock bag and leave out of the refrigerator for 1 hour to marinate. If you have to let it go longer, throw it in the fridge.
- Preheat your oven to 400°.
- Cut your carrots, celery and onion into large chunks.
- Place the lamb in a stove-top safe roasting pan, skillet, etc., and season it liberally with salt and pepper.
- Surround the lamb with the chunks of vegetables. Drizzle a little oil on the veg and season with salt & pepper as well.
- Throw it all into the oven and roast til you get an internal temperature of 130°. That gets you lamb that's got blush of pink in the center. If you like it more rare, then pull it at 120°-125°. It should take somewhere between 1 and 1-1/2 hours to cook.
- After you take the meat out of the oven, let it rest! This is very important. For 10-15 minutes. It'll be plenty hot. In fact, it will continue to cook and get hotter inside. You can make the sauce in the mean time.
- If you have a lot of fat in the pain, drain some off. You want some in there though.
- Place your pan over a burner. Sprinkle 2 TB of flour over the vegetables and stir over medium heat for about a minute until the flour has incorporated with the fat to create a little roux.
- Add the red wine and stir until it's smooth. Scrape the bottom of the pan with your spoon to get off all the bits stuck to the pan. You want to let it go for a few minutes to cook off the alcohol.
- Add the chicken stock and let it continue to simmer for a few minutes. Season the sauce with salt & pepper to taste. If there are any juices that have accumulated from the resting lamb, add it to the sauce.
- Slice the lamb and serve with the strained sauce.
For the mashed potatoes:
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch chunks.
- Place the potatoes in a pot and add cold water just to cover.
- Add a very large pinch of salt.
- Bring to a boil, and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through.
- Drain the potatoes, and return to pot.
- Add cream, milk, butter and mash together to whatever consistency you like.
- Season with salt & pepper to taste.
For the asparagus:
- When you take the lamb out of the oven, crank it up to 450°. You can even crank it up the last few minutes of cooking the lamb.
- Trim the bottom of the asparagus of the tough woody ends.
- If you are using really thick asparagus, you may want to peel some of the outer layer.
- Lay the asparagus on a sheet tray. (I use a foil-lined sheet pan for easy clean-up).
- Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
- Throw it it the oven and cook until just tender and vibrant green. The tips will get a little crispy. The cooking time varies with the size of the asparagus. But you should be able to cook it while the lamb is resting and you are making your sauce.
For the lamb sauce, you can leave the flour out for more of a jus-type sauce. You can whisk in a little cold butter at the end to add some body and richness to that kind of sauce. It's equally delicious.