Friday, May 27, 2011

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Mint Gremolata

Most weekends this spring, I've been butterflying legs of lamb, marinating them in a mixture of garlic, lemon and herbs, and grilling them for the week's dinners and lunches. Laird is happy with the arrangement because the lamb is tasty and he doesn't have to do any of the work. I'm happy because it's all very easy and, well, Laird's happy.

Did you read between the lines in the paragraph above?

That's right. I do the grilling in our family, not my husband.

He used to. When we were dating, he'd invite me over for grilled Cajun salmon or rib eye with mashed potatoes and vegetables. But as soon as he slipped a wedding ring on my finger, BAM!, he forgot how to grill (and cook, mostly). But I'm (mostly) not complaining. Before we were married I wasn't accustomed to cooking dinner every night, and never cooked on the grill. (I was scared to even light it. It's a gas grill, and igniting gas makes me nervous.) Besides, I considered grilling to be a decidedly male pursuit.

But I conquered my fear of gas explosions and quickly found my footing. And something surprising happened: I've grown as a cook. By stepping outside my comfort zone -- the stove top and oven -- I've expanded my repertoire of seasonings, techniques and cuts of meat.

Last weekend I even kept my cool -- and kept on grilling -- when The Headless Hound emerged from the bushes behind the grill with a mouse in her jaws. And although you won't find me shrieking or jumping onto a table when confronted with a rodent (I grew up on a mountain farm, after all), I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't shaken up by having to deal with a dog parading around not-quite-dead vermin.

Oh dear. This talk of mice is going to put you off, isn't it.


The point is, a year ago I never dreamed I'd butterfly and grill a leg of lamb. But that's exactly what I've been doing -- and loving -- these days. You should, too.

Or you could get your significant other to do it.

Either way, it's perfect for Memorial Day and every day.

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb with Mint Gremolata
Makes about 8 1/2-lb. servings

This flavorful lamb is tender enough to be reheated for quick lunches and dinners throughout the week. Be sure to reserve some gremolata for serving; it also makes a fantastic dressing for vegetables and grains.

1 4-1/2 lb. boneless leg of lamb, butterflied (Your butcher or meat department should be able to do this for you. Obviously my idea of "butterfly" is to "cut into chunks.")
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon sea or kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
Cloves from two heads of garlic, peeled (use less if desired)
Zest and juice of two lemons (Tip: zest the lemons before juicing.)
1 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

1. Rinse the lamb and pat it dry. Trim excess fat to about 1/4 inch and score it (as pictured, above). Place the lamb in a large bowl or shallow dish and set aside.

2. Make the gremolata: place the olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, lemon, parsley and mint in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until a loose paste forms (the mixture will be like runny pesto). Reserve about 1/4 cup of the mixture for serving.

3. Pour the gremolata over the lamb, turning and rubbing the lamb pieces to coat. At this point, you can cover the lamb and let it marinate in the refrigerator for up to two days, or marinate it at room temperature for up to two hours. Either way, the lamb should be at or near room temperature when you grill it.

4. When you're ready to cook the lamb, heat your grill to medium. Remove the lamb from the marinade, scraping off excess marinade (it burns easily). Place the lamb on the grill, cover and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until nicely charred (the marinade will smoke and flame a bit as it cooks). Leave the lamb alone; moving and turning meat on the grill tends to make it stick, inhibits grill marks, and toughens it. Turn the lamb over and cook for about 10 minutes on the other side, or until nicely charred and a meat thermometer inserted into the center of the thickest part registers 145 degrees F for medium-rare. (The temperature will rise to 160 as it rests.)

5. Remove the lamb from the grill and set it on a plate or platter to rest for about 10 minutes. I like to place grilled meat on a wire rack set over a baking sheet (see photo, below) and rest it in a warm (150 to 200 degree F) oven. I like to maintain my hard-earned char and grill marks, and find that putting meat on a plate and tenting it with foil can result in it steaming and becoming soggy on the underside where it rests in its juices. Any juices that collect on the baking sheet can be drizzled over the meat when served.

6. Slice lamb across the grain and serve with reserved gremolata. It's also great with tzatziki. (Trader Joe's is divine if you're not up to making your own.)

For weekday lunches, Laird reheats the lamb slices and wraps them in warmed flatbread with sliced red onion, tzatziki and crumbled feta. Yum.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Showing Up

I'm glad my last post resonated with you. Isn't it validating and motivating to know that others struggle, too, and that ruts and disappointments don't have to equal defeat? Thank you so much for the encouragement. I need it. We all do.

For further inspiration, check out these recent posts by Megan Gordon (A Sweet Spoonful) and Penny De Los Santos (Appetite), who seem to know exactly what I (we) need to hear these days.

Visions of Greatness Or Something Like It  - Megan perfectly articulates the trick of balancing the monotony of commercial baking with the reward of connecting with people through hand crafted food -- something I struggled with when I was baking professionally. She shares some great insight from Ari Weinzweig's book, A Lapsed Anarchist's Approach To Building A Great Business (which I promptly ordered), putting it thusly: "Crafting a Vision of Greatness... differs greatly from a mission statement in that it's more specific and is really a full-scale picture of what things will look like when you've arrived at where you're going and things are working well... [It's] a statement of optimism in the future and you've got to have this... It also allows you to create your reality instead of just reacting to problems... Regardless of what business you're in or what personal goal you're pursuing at the moment, it takes a lot longer to make something great than most people think. So many of us put such high expectations on ourselves for things to fall into place in a short period of time... Some of it has to do with our fast-paced culture and increasingly short-attention spans, but some of it also has to do with limited knowledge on the importance of staying power in most creative pursuits. There's something to be said about just showing up."

What If You Are Good Enough - Penny argues that no matter how many times our pursuits are rejected, we are good enough. "Whatever it is you want to do, you can do it.  Whatever it is you want to be, you can be it. So go do it.

So I've been showing up. I've cooked, styled and photographed a few recipes in the past two days. A sneak peek is below; the images are straight from my camera and need a bit of processing, but I like them.

Grilled Butterflied Leg of Lamb, Lemon Mint Pesto, Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Broccolini, Lemon Mint Pesto, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Feta

I'm going to keep showing up. Promise me you will, too, okay?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Fight Your Way Through

It's no secret I've been in a blog slump lately. Whenever I think about writing and photographing a new post, I'm discouraged by thoughts such as, That's a vain thing to blog, That's not an original enough idea or recipe, and You don't have the talent or expertise to style and photograph that. Another factor is time; I'm challenged to find and devote the hours required to conceive, cook, style, light, photograph and process (let alone write) a story. Plus sometimes blogging seems so... self-involved. Which is odd considering how much I enjoy and learn from other blogs.

When I really think about it, something else is behind my slump, something for which I didn't have words until I came across a quote today from my beloved Ira Glass, Tweeted by Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen, via Terilyn Fisher's Fish Food blog. (Huh? Also, what was I just saying about others' blogs? Exactly.)

So, without further ado, I re-blog these encouraging words from my favorite hipster nerd crush, courtesy of some people who aren't in a slump like me.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
- Ira Glass

Ira's words are spot on and I am taking them to heart. It's only through practice that we -- that I -- will achieve growth and maybe, eventually, mastery.

Oh, and if you look to your right, at the list of blogs I follow, you'll get a glimpse of my killer taste and why my work disappoints me to the point of paralysis. But I'm gonna fight my way through... yes, I am.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Video Tutorial: Homemade Bread

If you've ever been intimidated by the thought of making bread at home (yeast! the horror!), I put together this little video to demonstrate how easy it is.* Special thanks to Gemma, The Headless Hound and my husband (who really is that impatient when food is concerned) for their help. Enjoy!

*Okay, this video is by the amazing William Wegman and originally aired on Sesame Street. Thank you, Jake, for reminding me of this and all of Wegman's hilarious -- and instructional -- videos (the Hardly Boys is a long time favorite). We wish we could get Gemma and The Headless Hound to help out in the kitchen, especially in the mornings when we are in need of tea and toast. Gemma is more suited to, say, a tutorial about posing for chalk body outlines, don't you think?