Now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling, it’s time to tackle a couple of other backlogged recipes, and after the previous seafood recipe, I thought something a little meatier would be perfect! Continuing on with the theme of casual entertaining over the past month, the weekend before we hosted Brandon and Ugne, my mom came to visit for a girl’s weekend. We had a fabulous time as it was “just us chickens” (since Kyle was out to sea), and we were able to enjoy all of the girly fun that the lads usually roll their eyes at. She drove down Friday afternoon, relaxed in our apartment until I got out of work, and it wasn’t long before we had a spread of cheeses and wine out while I cooked. It had been a while since I had really cooked for her, and it was a beyond enjoyable evening. We also came to the very wise decision that from here on out, all of our girl’s weekends would be kicked off with champagne- brilliant!
I had wanted to do something special for her, and remembered from years ago that she loved petite lamb chops (commonly referred to as “lamb lollipops” on many menus) and knew it would be the perfect meal. I did a simple preparation, searing them in a hot, heavy pan with olive oil and a little butter (calorie count was not an issue, thank you!), and finished the sauce with garlic while the lamb rested. I served the chops over a mushroom and spinach orzo “risotto”. We enjoyed a perfect meal, amazing company, and plenty of reminiscing to boot- which I’m sure was helped along by the wine!
It was so great to be able to have my mom here for a weekend, and show her around our new town. The weather was better than it had been in months, and we drove all over town, oogling the mansions and taking in as much fresh salt air as we could handle. The weekend was topped off by what I would rate as a near-perfect brunch at Café Zelda’s (http://www.cafezelda.com) before she headed back to Maine. There’s nothing like cooking for family and making new memories to make a new place really feel like home…
Petite Lamb Chops in Garlic Sherry Butter with Mushroom & Spinach Orzo “Risotto”
This menu easily feeds two as a good sized main course, with plenty of orzo leftover for lunch the next day (a personal favorite of mine!), or double the lamb instructions and have a perfect meal for four.
For the Orzo:
- 1 cup orzo pasta (dry measurement), prepared as instructed on packaging
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 6-7 crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 9oz. fresh baby spinach
- 2 tablspns dry white wine (optional)
- ½ to ¾ cup half & half
- ½ cup of fresh grated parmesan
- 2 tblspns fresh grated lemon zest
- Olive oil
- Sea salt & fresh black pepper
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Introduce shallots and sweat in oil, about 2 minutes while stirring. Add in mushrooms and stir to coat (you may need to add a bit more olive oil, your call) and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Stir in cooked orzo and continue cooking over medium to medium-low heat until orzo is heated through (like standard risotto, be sure to keep the orzo moving so it doesn’t clump up or stick to the bottom of the pot). Add in wine (if using) and half & half and stir well. Add in fresh spinach and continue to stir until spinach begins to wilt and incorporate into dish. Stir in fresh parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. At this point, the dish can be covered and left in a warm oven while you prepare the lamb. Just before plating and serving, remove orzo from the oven and stir in lemon zest. Depending on how long the orzo has been in the oven, you may want to stir in a bit more half & half so that the consistency is light.
For the Lamb:
-6 petite lamb chops with bone in (3 per person, depending on their size)
-Sea salt & cracked pepper
-2 tblspns good quality salted butter (I’m a fan of Kate’s of Maine)
-2-3 tblspns olive oil
-3 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
-2-3 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
*And now for the great meat preparation debate: The is a long, drawn out, ongoing battle within the food community in regards to allowing meats to come up/close to room temperature before cooking. The argument for is that it produces a more tender final meat, with a better probability of searing juices in. The argument against is, of course, possible bacteria and contamination with a side of food borne illness. I will let you be the judge of how to approach, but will say that I prefer to live on the edge and let my meat come up to temp before firing. I know, I’m a dangerous woman. In addition, my cooking times are for a rare, to med-rare final product. These chops are very small, and cook very quickly. For me, a barely med-rare lamb is the best showcase of its natural flavor. Please adjust cooking times to your desired level of doneness/the thickness of the chops you are working with.
Pat meat dry with a kitchen towel to ensure seasoning will adhere and surface will brown beautifully. Liberally season the upright facing side of the chop. In a large cast iron skillet, heat butter and oil over high heat until very hot. Place chops seasoning side down in the pan, and don’t move around (a note of caution: you are introducing the lamb to a VERY HOT pan, and as such, splatter is more than likely inevitable. Please, be careful!). If they are fussed about in the pan, you won’t get the gorgeously browned final product. Season the now exposed side of the chop with salt and pepper. After about a minute and a half, turn the chops, making sure to follow the same order as when you put them in the pan for a uniform cooking on all chops. After another minute and a half, remove chops from pan and let rest on a cutting board under a little tin foil. Turn off heat under pan, and add in minced garlic, stirring frequently to avoid burning (if you’re working on an electric stovetop, you can pretty much remove the pan from the burner, there will be enough residual heat to cook the garlic in the pan), and add in sherry vinegar. Cook another minute or two more, until slightly reduced.
On a warm plate, place a serving of the risotto, and arrange the lamb chops on top, with exposed bone facing up. Spoon the garlic pan sauce over the chop and garnish with chopped Italian flat leaf parsley. Best enjoyed with great conversation, classic old soul music, and an ample supply of your favorite libations.