Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Two legs of lamb for Xmas

Well the holidays have certainly been a food extravaganza.

Thanksgiving was a flurry of activity filled with friends, family, fiance, and food. Poppa Kang's Thanksgiving Turkey is always to die for. I've attempted his recipe once with satisfying results but nowhere near as wonderful or beautiful as his bird consistently turns out year after year.

Christmas this year was food-glorious. Forget the gifts, just feed me! The night I got home, my mother fed us ox-tail stew. When I was 15, I lived in Paris for a year with my dad and whenever I came home to visit, this was the dish she always had waiting for me. Her ox-tail stew always conjures up feelings of homecoming, motherly love, and comfort.

Christmas eve was spent at the Kang residence. My mom made up a gigantic batch of spring rolls -- about 70-something of these delicious rolls filled with napa cabbage, black mushrooms, shreds of pork. They are rolled in paper thin skins (very different than the thick cardboard skin of eggrolls) fried in vegetable oil and then served with Marukan seasoned rice vinegar and a delicious chilled Chardonnay. These spring rolls are 1) an exclusive Liu (my mother's side) family recipe that I have never seen made anywhere else other than my own home and 2) are a once-a-year deal -- usually on Chinese New Year, but now that my sister lives in Michigan we ceased this opportunity of her home visit to make them. My sister and I have also vowed to learn this recipe so that the legend lives on.

Christmas was at my future in-laws' house and my Christmas gift to them was to make Xmas dinner. The menu was butternut squash soup, mixed greens salad (with walnuts of course!), two roasted legs of lamb (with the bone) in fennel butter, whipped cauliflower, mint and pea rice (made by Andrew), and sauteed zucchini (a last minute addition).

The butternut squash soup is quite easy. I hate cutting up squash so I typically splurge for the precut, packaged kind. I was cooking for 10 people so I picked up two packages. First I heat some olive oil, throw in a half a large onion (minced), and then a few cloves of garlic. After that is cooked well, I add the squash and let it cook for a few minutes. Then add water until it covers the squash. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and let simmer. When the squash is soft enough that a wooden spoon can easily split a chunk, I turn off the heat and let it cool a little. Then I puree the whole mess. Return to the pot and heat at low. Add water until it is at a proper consistency -- not too thin but not so thick that it is like baby food. Stir, stir, stir, and while stirring, add in heavy cream to the liking. I like to make the soup the night before and let it sit in the fridge -- the tastes are released overnight and it saves time. When ready to serve, reheat and be sure to stir. Serve into bowls and add a swirl of cream and a sprig of fresh thyme for a garnish.

The lamb legs were made from a recipe I found on Epicurious (enter "lamb and fennel") with a few adjustments and I changed some of the quantities of spices according to personal taste. I bought two legs of New Zealand lamb from Whole Foods -- free range and happy little guys, I guess. They were rather fatty and needed some trimming. I did this the morning of Christmas (mostly b/c nobody else was awake yet). Then I marinated the lamb legs in a concoction of red wine, minced garlic, salt, crushed pepper, lime juice, olive oil, and soy sauce. I let the legs marinate for at least 5 hours, though had I not been so full and lazy the night before I would have started this process then.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Before roasting, the roasting pan should be placed on two burners and the leg is browned on all sides. This is a pretty difficult task and the only reason I do it is because the recipe instructs me to. I'm not experienced in roasts so I'm not entirely sure why I do this and I so rarely buy a leg of lamb for myself that I don't want to try it without doing this step. Anyway, a sturdy set of tongs helps this happen.

Then the leg is smothered in the fennel butter -- a concoction of butter, a generous amount of ground fennel (must be ground to release the oils -- putting it through a grinder or food processor will not do the job), ground pepper, ground dried rosemary, minced garlic, dijon mustard, and a little bit of soy sauce (not too much since it is already in the marinade). All of this is whipped up into a butter and you can use a half or more to cover the leg.

Roast the leg for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees and roast for another 40 minutes or so (you want the meat rare and my main complaint about my Christmas roasts were that they weren't rare enough). When the roast is done, take out the legs, remove from pan to platter and tent in foil for at least 20 minutes. This is a good time to serve the soup and salad.

The drippings can be used to make a gravy with the remainder of the fennel butter although I admit, I am terrible at gravies and they always separate and wind up being too oily/fatty for me. My cousin-in-law (??) gave me some tips about what I can do in the future so I'll try that out. Bridget Jones's mother also mentions sieving so I'll try that in the future as well.

Dinner was quite successful and I was happy to serve my future in-laws. I am pretty sure that my love language is serving and cooking so this was my best way of expressing my gratitude and happiness to them. We all had a good time with my fiance, his parents, his brother, cousins, aunt and uncle, and neighbor. His cousin and her husband also brought their 8 month old baby who is just now beginning to taste non-baby food and he really seemed to enjoy the cauliflower and squash soup.

Last holiday is New Year's Eve and then it is DIET TIME, especially because my wedding is in June and boy do we have an amazing menu for that day. Until next time, happy cooking and happy eating. xoxo

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