Saturday, May 3, 2008

Computers, Cell Phones and Sinking Boats. Let’s celebrate with Lamb over Blue Cheese and Almond Risotto

I was told by someone recently that my writing was bright and fun. If I’m not careful, I could ruin that image (if you count that as an image). I had an interesting week, to say the least. My Blackberry has been trying to die for a couple of weeks and it has finally succeeded. My laptop’s hard drive with 5 years worth of personal and professional data on it also went belly up. I lost my thumb drive with a couple of year’s worth of info on it AND, just as a capper, my boat sank. The irony of the boat sinking was that Lisa and I are moving into our house on Lake Tarpon where we really planned on using it more. We’ve been keeping the boat there in anticipation of just tooling out whenever we wanted. In fact, we’ve headed over there several times just in the past few weeks to ride around the lake. It’s really a breathtaking site with the Osprey fishing, Herons and other cranes exploring the Cat Tails near shore, Gators lurking in the shadows and the occasional Bald Eagle soaring above. I love sunset cruises.

Sunset Over Lake Tarpon

Already somewhat frustrated with the computer and cell phone thing, Lisa called me in Washington DC (where I was working this week) to deliver the boat news. Apparently the lawn folks had found it underwater and called her. She was practically in tears when we spoke and I feel horribly guilty when something happens and I’m traveling. I felt similarly bad when the hot water heater died. Unfortunately, there is little I can do from a thousand miles away.

Driving across the lake just a few days before her "Titanic"

There are a couple of bright spots in the story though. My neighbors (I will put my neighbors up against ANYONE else’s neighbors as the BEST neighbors on the planet… PERIOD!!!!) spent several hours getting the boat out of the water and back to my house via trailer. How cool is that. I have to cook for them soon. It’s my only gift. Secondly, it is also fairly well insured. Will I get away with zero cost for replacement? No, but it’s probably do-able. So, while I am a bit bummed over the whole thing, it’s best to stay positive. There is little else to do and things are not a total loss.

So, I spent the week in our nation’s capital. I have to admit, I’m an urbanite, for sure. The more concrete the better. The bustle and the energy of the city just mesmerize me. I like the idea of so many experiences being in walking distance. I could spend several writings just describing Eastern Market (still recovering from last year’s devastating fire) or the open air fish market on the waterfront (some of the best damned oysters I’ve tasted). While I appreciate the quiet, peaceful existence of the rural lifestyle, I can’t imagine being too far from city convenience.

I have family and business in Washington DC so I go there often. My mom and step-father live a few blocks from Union Station. The dining potential in DC is quite broad. There is a meal for every taste and budget. You can hob knob with the elite at the likes of Old Ebbitt Grill or Kinkead's or you can grab a burger made some 21 different ways at Lindy’s Red Lion (I ate there for the 1st time 23 years ago- still fantastic).

This week, I went to a wonderful little French restaurant that was new to me called Bistro Bis (pronounced “BEE”). Since it sits on Capitol Hill a short walk from the capitol building and adjacent offices, it is a bit pretentious. I had no idea in my University of Chicago Polo and shorts that I’d feel a bit underdressed until I got there. Still, I held my head up and disregarded the occasional stare as we were led to our table. The meal was a memorable Sausage Stuffed Quail that I could not pronounce in French. I therefore just pointed to the menu. That was quite delicious. For an appetizer I had Scallop Quenelles. They were sort of oval shaped as if fashoined with 2 large spoons. I found them a bit Omlette-esque in taste with Scallops being dominant. I enjoyed them. The sommelier kept returning to fill our wine glasses from the decanter. Earlier he had suggested that our wine selection be allowed to “breath”. I chuckle as I write because while I LOVE good food, cheap or expensive, French Fries to Fois Gras, things like “letting wine breath” are lost on my palette. It just sounds so… uh… fake. But hey, that’s just me, right? Still, the meal was fantastic, company was great and the wine was well ventilated (thank goodness).

I think the culinary highlight for me this week was an evening of collaberative cooking between my mother and I. She did a rack of lamb and I did a Risotto based on what I found in her kitchen. The key to Risotto is the constant stirring and slow addition of the liquid. The end result was heavenly, to say the least. The blue cheese in the Risotto was velvety and rich with that slight tang that can only be found in perfect blue cheese. Toasted almonds added a suprisingly pleasant crunch for me, but my mother picked them out. Step-dad loved them too. As far as the lamb goes, I would have seared it off first but my mother did not. She was right. The rub for the lamb would have been too damaged in the searing process I think. It was unbelievably delicious with just the right balance of doneness, tenderness and flavor. Perfecto!!

So on with the recipe:

Garlic and Mint Rubbed Lamb with Blue Cheese and Almond Risotto (serves 4)


2 Tbsp Butter divided
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup Risotto Rice (Arborio)
2-3 cups Chicken Broth divided
2 Shallots sliced thin
3 Garlic cloves chopped
2/3 cup Blue Cheese
½ cup Almonds
Salt and Pepper to taste

We’re going for a standard Risotto preparation here. Begin by melting 1 Tbsp butter in the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the rice and toss to coat. Allow rice to toast stirring frequently (almost constantly). I like to season with salt and pepper at this point. Once fragrant and slightly toasted, about 5-6 minutes, add shallots and garlic. Stir another couple of minutes and reduce heat if necessary to prevent any burning. Now begin adding broth. Start with 2 ladle fulls and stir constantly until all liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process of slowly adding liquid and stirring until rice is tender (about 20 minutes). Add the blue cheese and stir till melted. In a separate pan, melt the 2nd Tbsp of butter over medium heat and add the almonds. Stir almonds around to coat and toast for 4-5 minutes just until fragrant. Add almonds to Risotto. Check your seasoning and consistency. Feel free to add more liquid if it’s not creamy enough for you or if the rice is a little more al dente than you prefer. As long as you add just a little at a time, you should be fine.

Lamb (Based on observing my mother’s prep and thinking of how I’d do it myself)

After cooking, let it rest 10 minutes

2 racks of well trimmed Lamb Chops (I’m guessing 1 ½ - 2 lbs)
6 Garlic cloves very finely chopped
¼ cup chopped Mint
2-3 Tbsp Olive Oil
Juice of ½ Lemon
Salt and Pepper to taste

Salt and pepper the lamb. Combine the garlic, mint, lemon and olive oil in a bowl. Rub over the lamb and place on a lined baking sheet. Into a 425 degree oven for approximately 8-10 minutes. Turn over and cook another 8-10 minutes then check the temperature. We thought 130 degrees was perfect but we like rare. 145 degrees for medium if you prefer.

Once you remove the lamb from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes (at least) before slicing. The temperature will rise another few degrees in the process.

To plate (I always like plating if I can), place a good scoop of the risotto in the center and then arrange 3-4 individual chops around that. A healthy sprinkling of finely chopped green onion or parsley would be spectacular. We just didn’t have any.

I really hope someone tries this and gives me a little feedback because we really enjoyed it. The Risotto was purely concocted at last minute and the lamb was my mom’s favorite lamb prep.

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