March came in as a lamb this year after a long row of week-end snowstorms in February. I guess Two Rivers Wildlife Park’s Groundhog is still hiding under ground, a little ashamed with his prediction of an early Spring this year! So how many more weeks of winter storms can we expect this winter? I’ve never experienced such a roller coaster of extreme winter in my years on the island. It doesn’t really lift my spirit when I call Denmark and my family and friends tell me that the winter aconite and crocuses have mostly come and gone. I tell them, that there’s tulips on my table!
Speaking of lamb, there are many different dishes from around the world to consider for Easter this year. You’ll find the texture, lightness and quality of the meat differs, depending on the country, its pastures and the time of the year. In between all the pork and beef dishes it is nice to savour lamb at this time of the year.
Greeks like their lamb marinated in a mixture of olive oil, black peppercorns, garlic and lemon juice. The French have a wonderful leg of lamb smothered in Dijon mustard, garlic and rosemary, then placed on a bed of sliced potatoes and roasted slowly in the oven.
The most famous and desired dish is the rack of lamb, either served as a crown or as a “six-pack-rack”, often crusted with a blend of Dijon mustard and walnuts. It is also the most expensive cut of the lamb since you get both the sirloin and the tenderloin. However there isn’t a lot of meat on these racks. I often describe it to my friends as “Much Ado About Nothing.” My apologies to Shakespeare.
If you are a lamb connoisseur, Cape Breton produces an exquisite product with deep rich flavours in the meat. When it comes to lamb, foreign isn’t necessarily better! On my travels I have sampled lamb dishes in many countries including Iceland, Portugal, Spain and Denmark. They all taste different, again depending on the quality of the pasture and the time of the year. Because good lamb depends on good soil and grazing, I have always been leery of lamb that is harvested from regions that use pesticides.
I’ll never forget when they shot the film “The Widow of Saint Pierre” at the Fortress of Louisbourg. The French lead actress, Juliette Binoche, stayed at the Cranberry Cove Inn in Louisbourg, and as her private chef during her stay, she asked me to serve only organic and local produce. This was back in 1998 and it was during February and March. I did my best. Her favourite dishes included my free-range country chicken from Margaree, stuffed with fresh herbs (from the windowsill) and of course the Cape Breton leg of lamb. Believe it or not, I even found some early sprouting rhubarb that year, which was mild (they had to import snow for the winter scenes) and protected under a cold frame and prepared a lovely compote.
The dessert I served for Juliette became an instant hit and was served almost every week-end for friends and the film’s director. It was my Danish celebration cake which is served for birthdays in Denmark.
I’m determined that March will go out as a lamb this year and I’ll enjoy the aromas from the oven, regardless of what is happening outside.
Lamb Portuguese Style
12 lamb chops (3 per serving)
1 lb. green beans
4 slices of goat cheese
1 cup couscous
one and a half cup boiling water
1 tsp. cumin seeds
half a tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. curry paste (mild)
1 clove garlic
1 tbs. olive oil
fresh baby spinach
half a cup chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed and cut in halves.
This is a very easy meal to prepare. Lamb chops take about 5 minutes to cook, therefore I suggest you start with the vegetables. In a pot (large enough to hold the beans and the cauliflower) place the rinsed and trimmed beans in the bottom and add just enough water to cover the beans. On top of the beans place your cauliflower, broken into small florets. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Leave beans in the hot water and remove the cauliflower and place in a colander to drip dry. Take another pot and heat up olive oil and curry paste. Now toss and turn the cauliflower until covered with the curry/oil. Turn the burner off and let the cauliflower sit in the covered pot to keep warm.
To prepare the couscous, first rinse it in cold water a couple of times, drain and mix in the cummin seeds, cinnamon and cardamom. Poor the boiling water over and let it sit for 5 minutes under lid. Do not cook!
Brush the lamb chops with a mix of olive oil and crushed garlic. The frying pan should be very hot before you cook your lamb chops. Give them 2 minutes on each side. Remove from frying pan, cover with tinfoil to keep warm. Take the chanterelle mushrooms and quickly saute them in the pan, until juices are absorbed.
When ready to serve use the baby spinach ( rinsed and dried) as a bed on the plate. Place the lamb chops on the sides and decorate with a slice of goat cheese and fresh mint on top. Arrange the beans, cauliflower and chanterelle mushrooms on the plate.Just before serving the couscous give it a stir to loosen it.
Danish Celebration Cake
1 sponge cake, cut in three layers (you can buy this at your local supermarket)
1 cup fresh/frozen raspberries
half a cup raspberry jam
half a litre whipping cream
2 whole eggs
2 tbs. sugar
1 tbs. corn starch
three quarter cup milk
1 vanilla bean
First you make the custard. Take a pot and add the milk and the seeds from the vanilla bean.
To get the seeds out from the been, flatten it on a cutting board with a sharp peeling knife then cut the bean flat in two halves. Scrape the seeds out from the beans, one side at a time and add them to the milk. Let it simmer. This will separate the seeds and give flavour to the milk.
In a heavy bottomed pot whisk eggs, sugar and corn starch. Add the milk and over medium heat, while constantly whisking to avoid custard sticking to the bottom, let it come to a boil for 2 minutes while thickening. Remove pot and stir now and then while cooling off. You can sprinkle a little sugar on top to avoid the surface getting hard. When complete cold mix in 1 cup of whipped cream and keep the custard in the fridge.
Mix fresh berries with jam.
To cut sponge cake I find it is easier when it is half frozen. Take a nice serving dish and place the bottom piece of the sponge cake in the centre. Spread the custard generously on top. Place the middle piece of the sponge cake and press gently down to make sure the custard is out to the edge of the cake. Spread the berry/jam on the sponge cake and place the top piece on, again press gently to make spread reach the edges. As a top decoration cut a pattern in a piece of paper, place it on top of the cake and sprinkle icing sugar over. Remove your pattern and decorate with leftover berries.
Cake must be stored in the fridge because of the egg custard. I find that this cake tastes better if it is prepared at least 6 hours before serving. If you want you can serve whipped cream on the side.