It has been a brutally cold winter here in Ojo Caliente. We’ve dealt with burst pipes; a cold, cold dining room; frozen pipes in one of the bedrooms. The days have seemed especially short even though I know they are as short or as long as any other winter. Right? It’s just been so damn cold and I’ve felt so cooped up. Ironically, Easter is early this year, March 31st. Can it possible feel like spring by March 31st.
I decided I had to do something. So, a dinner it is!
And I decided I couldn’t wait until Easter to have leg of lamb. Whole Foods in Santa Fe now carries organic New Mexico lamb. New Mexico has great lamb. I’m not a big red meat eater and I never really liked New Zealand lamb. As with wine and cheese, butter and milk, the terroir of pasture fed meat makes a big difference in its flavors. New Mexico lamb has a sweetness and richness that I never found in New Zealand lamb. Our sheep are a very characteristic sheep of the region, the light boned, longhaired Navajo-Churros, said to have arrived here with the forces of Francisco Vasques de Coronado in the 1500s. People from here who had moved away are moving back to raise sheep or “run a band” as it’s called. People like Antonio Manzanares and his wife, Molly came back from other places and other jobs to start Shepherds Lamb. They are producers of certified organic lamb and among the only ranchers in the United States who still graze sheep on wild land, moving from low country to mountains and back to pasture according to the season. They also sell wools and yarns. They have a great website at http://www.organiclamb.com/.
So, to dinner: A dinner to get a few of us out of the winter doldrums. I served a beautiful blue cheese, Valdeon, with a warm baguette. The wine was a 2010 Rethore Davy Le Pavillon. It is a combination of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes from the Loire Valley. This citrusy medium bodied white held up well with the Valdeon, a hearty, creamy blue cheese. I also served an English cheddar with carmelized onions for those not a fan of blue. Grapes and strawberries rounded out the first course.
At the table, I served the salad course. I still like the salad before the entrée although its popularity THERE as opposed to after the entrée has been debated and one could find themselves in restaurants with an after dinner salad course and back to a pre-dinner one within a few months. Some say it’s very European to serve it after dinner but that is not always true either…..Oh well. Mine was first and it was a light spring mix salad with a lemon vinaigrette. I wanted it to pave the way for the rich lamb to follow.
The lamb was medium rare with a honey mustard herb rub. The rub kept the juices in but gave the outside a little crust. A burgundy wine reduction, wild and brown rice mixture, sauteed green beans with sesame seeds and red peppers and warm bread completed the course. Jacobo suggested a wonderful Cote de Rhone from Trader Joes, a medium bodied wine with high vibrant flavor intensity. It was perfect, not overwhelming, a nice complement to the lamb – and at less than $10.00 a bottle you can’t beat it!
A rich main course followed by a lighter dessert: pears poached in mead with vanilla bean ice cream and served with a Spanish cava. Although photos were a little monochromatic (sorry, Jacobo) the dish was rich without being heavy, a gentle landing to a wonderful meal.
Pears Poached in Mead
As many pears as you’ll need to serve your guests plus one just in case. They should be ripe but not soft. Peel them carefully and cut them in half, leaving the stem on if you’re going to serve them in halves. You can slice them like I did or give each guest 2 pear halves (adds architectural interest to the plate).
Pore a bottle of mead into a heavy pot large enough to lay all the pears in one layer. Scrape out a vanilla bean and add the insides to the pot and a cinnamon stick. Bring mixture to boil, taste and sweeten with honey to taste*. Place pears carefully in hot syrup and let poach until a knife goes in with no resistance.
Place poached pears on plate and drizzle with a little of the syrup, add a scoop of ice cream and a lemon twist.
*Some meads are sweeter than others so you’ll have to adjust. You want the syrup to add to the sweetness of the pears not contrast with any dryness from the wine. Chaucer mead is almost perfectly sweet while Falcon Mead is too dry. http://www.falconmead.com/
Now I’ve got to think about Easter…..
My deepest thanks to my friend and talented photographer, Jacobo de la Serna. Also a talented painter and ceramist,you can take a look at his wonderful art at: www.delasernafinearts.com/ or if you’re in Santa Fe go by his new studio/salon at 808 Canyon Road in the El Farol complex.