Pesto Panko Crusted Rack of Lamb

Mom is joining me for today’s Easter dinner and for the last week I was on the fence about what I’d fix. Mom is easy as she loves everything I cook – and tells me I should be on Chopped (home chef edition), with my inevitable win launching my own Food Network show but I digress.

A few days ago I saw rack of lamb and the decision was made.  Mom and I both love lamb chops and I’ve made those many times. I’ve cooked rack of lamb only once and grilled it. It was delicious though my friend Terry had to start my grill as the one time prior that I’d lit it, I blew the lid back and lost all my arm hair. Spence was always my grill master and though Mom would (and could) light my grill I had decided to go a different way.

After scanning cookbooks and Pinterest for ideas I quickly realized that I hadn’t picked up fresh herbs – never a problem from May-October when my herb garden provides more than I need. What’s a girl to do? It was noon, my homemade croutons were done and cooling, our favorite Rhubarb Custard pie is in its final 20 minutes of cook time, sweet potatoes poked and ready for baking, my dijon vinaigrette prepared.  I’m still in my jammies and not enough time to shower and run out for fresh herbs before mom arrives. Though dried herbs might work, I knew I could do better.

Then it hit me – make a crust using pesto with its lovely green color and fresh herb flavors mixed with Panko breadcrumbs, both of which were in my gourmet pantry! Brilliant kitchen hack if I don’t say so.

Pesto Panko Crusted Rack of Lamb – serves 2-4

  • 1 rack of lamb
  • 1 c Panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 T pesto
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Several hours before dinner mix together the breadcrumbs and pesto. Score the fat side of the rack, salt and pepper to taste.  Wrap the bones in foil to prevent burning. Cover all sides of the rack with the breadcrumb mixture using more on the fat side which will be face up when cooking.  Pat it down to make the crust. Refrigerate for several hours.

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Two hours before you’d like to serve dinner, remove the rack from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for 45-60 minutes. Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper and place the rack into the pan.  Drizzle a little olive oil over the rack.

Cook time will depend on how rare you like your chops – check at 15-18 minutes for rare to medium rare (my preference) by inserting a meat thermometer look for the internal temp of 120 degrees. Remove from oven and tent, the temperature will increase to 125-130 degrees; allow it to rest for 10 minutes.

Remove the foil. To preserve the crust for serving and presentation, I cut them 2 bones per chop. I served these with a nice bottle of red wine, spinach salad with homemade croutons and Dijon vinaigrette, the aforementioned baked sweet potatoes with butter and fresh grated nutmeg – and of course the pie.

 

 

 

Scallops Chambord – in time for New Year’s Eve

Though I featured this post one year ago, it remains one of my signature recipes and one that we are having again tonight while ringing in 2016. It’s a tradition but also, it’s an amazing and delicious dish and so here it is once again! I hope you’ll try it!

Happy New Year!

Spence and I have spent 24 New Year’s Eves together.  At some point I came across this recipe that sounded decadent, festive and delicious.  The first few New Year’s Eves I made this as an appetizer/first course, then onto lobster tails and maybe even fondue as the night progressed.  Too much food, too rich and the star here was the Scallops Chambord. Fast forward, our holiday routine now firmly established, Scallops Chambord is the whole meal! This year I prepped 4 skewers but decided to prepare two of them first, then about an hour later, two more.  This was brilliant as we savored them over the evening with a fire blazing, Prosecco and later a special bottle of Champagne. I use most cookbooks as a “guide” so this represents my version which is better than the original in my humble opinion (patting myself on the back now).

Scallops Chambord

  • 20-24 sea scallops
  • 5-6 slices of bacon (not thick cut)

Rinse the scallops and rest on paper towels, blot the top.  Stretch the 5-6 pieces of bacon, just pulling gently to lengthen.  Cut each slice in half.  Prepare a broiler pan and four skewers.  Wrap the bacon around each scallop so that there is a complete wrap with a little overlap.  Thread onto skewers, keeping space in between them.  Set aside.

Chambord Sauce

  • 1 c seedless black raspberry preserves
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1/4 c Chambord liqueur

 

In a small saucepan, add the preserves, honey and Chambord liqueur.  Stir together on a very low heat to melt the preserves and honey together and incorporate the Chambord.  You’ll want it to reduce sufficiently to coat a spoon. I usually make the sauce earlier in the day to assure the consistency is right.

Set oven to broil.  Place the broiler pan with skewers in on an upper rack.  Set your timer for 10 minutes but watch the scallops during the process – your oven may be hotter than mine. Remove, flip the skewers and return to the broiler for 3-5 minutes – again, you want the bacon cooked but not burned.

While the scallops are broiling, ladle your sauce onto the plate as shown above.  When the scallops emerge from the oven, remove them and set onto the plate.  At this point, I pour Spence and I a glass of Prosecco which we enjoy with our plated Scallops Chambord.

 

Chef’s Note:  If you can’t find black raspberry preserves, a perfectly good substitute is seedless red raspberry preserves.  

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Lemon Angel Food Dessert

Are you looking for a new summer dessert recipe that’s sure to be a hit when entertaining? I’ve got one that I predict will become a favorite for your family and friends.

First let me say, I LOVE PINTEREST. If you’ve ever looked at my Pinterest profile (@spencesgirlblog) you’ll see that I spend a great deal of time there, at least 80% of my boards are recipes. I subscribe to numerous foodie magazines and own so many cookbooks that when I redid my kitchen a few years ago, I designed it to showcase my collection.

That said, I still keep a recipe box of those great recipes that are from family and friends – old school, right? And this summer, I’ve been craving some retro-type desserts and my recipe box yielded some treasures. This dessert is easy, light and refreshing with similarities to tiramisu’s or trifles. I made it recently for a big family dinner and got rave reviews.

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My Recipe Box

Lemon Angel Food Dessert    serves 12-16

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I love my juicer and microplane….

For the custard:

  • 6 egg yolks – lightly beaten
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • juice from 4 lemons
  • 1 t lemon zest
  • 1 T unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 c ice water

In a saucepan, blend the eggs yolks, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest.  Cook over medium heat – stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Add the gelatin to the ice water, stir together and set aside. Once the custard starts to thicken, remove from heat and add the gelatin/water mix.  Stir well and set aside to cool.

In a separate bowl:

  • 6 egg whites
  • 3/4 c sugar

Beat the egg whites until thick, begin adding the sugar a bit at a time.

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It will look like this……

In a 9×13 pan, break up a store-bought Angel Food Cake.

Easy right?
Easy right?
Just break it up by hand...
Just break it up by hand…

Fold the lemon custard together gently with the egg white mixture. Pour over the top of the cake, “blanketing” the top.  Refrigerate for several hours and serve chilled.  While this is good for several days, it rarely lasts that long and just a personal note, it’s great for breakfast!

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The drop on Sgroppino. Venetian lemon gelato and prosecco cocktail.

Seriously, what’s not to love about this? Re-blogging from ice-cream-magazine.com a brilliant fellow blogger…..

ice cream magazine

Sgroppino al Limone © www.ice-cream-magazine.com  Sgroppino al Limone © www.ice-cream-magazine.com

Splicing optimism with an imaginative streak, this week one received a plethora of photos from a chum who is holidaying, (make that basking and bragging something wholesale) in Tuscany. She’ll get more than a stuffed focaccia up her Calzone when she gets back here! ‘Sienna tomorrow’ she lovingly taunts and then includes a picture of a cold bottle of 2006 Cristal (hardly a local tipple) with her snaps of Pisa and Lucca. “Oh and then Florence on Saturday, any thing you want”?  I replied “Gelato please?”  She, and her family, are treasured friends as you may, by now, have concluded?

There is, however, method in my madness. Such adhock occurrences inspire the Tea Boy, who in his wisdom, and genius self, said. “Maybe we could go there later in the year or take a villa?”  Well, (sharp intake of breath) would you Adam and Eve it? “That’s a great idea dear!”

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Simple Entertaining Charcuterie

Spence and I recently had a dear friend staying with us who, among her other great qualities, is a fellow foodie.  I pulled out all the stops (and more than a few bottles of vino).

On our final night, I decided to go with a lighter charcuterie “buffet” style meal and hope sharing it might inspire you on these hot summer evenings.

Pictured: Shrimp Ceviche, Prosciutto, Cappicola, Calabrese Salami, Rosemary & Sea Salt Marcona Almonds, Dijon Mustard, Aged White Cheddar, Fontina, Manchego, Brie, Pickled Okra, Cornichons, Herbed Boursin, Fresh Pineapple, Multigrain & Flatbread Crackers, Strawberries and fresh Italian bread
Pictured: Shrimp Ceviche, Prosciutto, Cappicola, Calabrese Salami, Rosemary & Sea Salt Marcona Almonds, Dijon Mustard, Aged White Cheddar, Fontina, Manchego, Brie, Pickled Okra, Cornichons, Herbed Boursin, Pineapple, Multigrain & Flatbread Crackers, Strawberries & Italian bread

For my Ceviche recipe, click here:

https://www.spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2015/04/22/2015/ceviche

Braciola with Pasta – a recipe for entertaining

Many years ago I found this recipe in a food magazine though I’m not sure which one. I was intrigued and instead of pulling the recipe and adding it to the hundreds of recipes I stick into a “to-be-tried” pile, I immediately prepared it. It was superb and soon became my “go-to” recipe for entertaining my foodie friends. And when they asked me what the dish was called, I told them “Braciola” pronouncing it “brackee-ola”.

Then everything changed (keep in mind this was years before the Food Network). I was entertaining Basil, the cousin of Spence’s best friend. I told him I was preparing “brackee-ola”. Basil stood next to me, watching the preparation of the stuffing, the rolling of the steak. He said it looked remarkably like a dish his Italian aunt had made for years.

“What was it called?” I inquired.

“Brah-jool” was the way he pronounced it.

The wheels in my head were clicking…..”how is it spelled?” I asked with trepidation.

He wasn’t sure. I showed him the recipe. “That’s it” he exclaimed.

Fast forward, I know the pronunciation and the Food Network is now a part of my life meaning that I hear Giada and Rachael talk about Braciola (or the more common spelling Braciole) on a regular basis. Isn’t that the way it goes? Now that I’ve cleared that up, here’s the recipe:

Braciola with Pasta      8 servings

  • 1/2 c italian breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 c chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/3 c grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • 3 T capers
  • 2 T toasted pine nuts
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed (with garlic press)
  • flank steak, ask the butcher for the thickest one & have it butterflied
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 1/2 c marinara sauce
  • 1/2 c dry red wine
  • 8 ounces cooked pasta (16 oz uncooked) like fusilli

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl, set aside.

Ingredients for the stuffing
Ingredients for the stuffing

Unwrap the steak and unfold it (like a book) on the butcher paper. Use a meat mallet and flatten it to a uniform thickness. Cut 3-4 pieces of kitchen twine and slide under the steak as shown:

Have your butcher
Have your butcher “butterfly” a flank steak

Spread the bread crumb mixture over the steak, leaving a bit of the edge uncovered. Roll up “jelly-roll” style, tie with twine. Refrigerate for at least a few hours, it’s even better if refrigerated overnight.

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Spread your stuffing onto the steak, just shy of the edges.
Roll up, pressing the steak into a tight roll. Tie up with the twine.
Roll up, pressing the steak into a tight roll. Tie up with the twine.
Tied up, it looks like this. Now fold the butcher paper around it, wrapped up and refrigerate, at least a few hours, I prefer overnight......set it out at least an hour prior to cooking.
Tied up, it looks like this. Now wrap the butcher paper around it and refrigerate.

Set the meat out at least one hour before cooking. In a large Dutch Oven, coat the bottom of the pan with the olive oil and set to a medium high heat. Place the meat in, turning to brown well on all four sides. Remove from pan. Add marinara and wine to pan, deglazing and bringing the sauce to a boil, add the steak and reduce heat to simmer.  Simmer for 1 hour, turning the steak in the sauce a few times.

Remove the meat and allow to rest a few minutes, remove the twine. Put the sauce into a serving bowl.

After cooking, remove from sauce onto a cutting board. Rest for 5 minutes, cut and remove twine before slicing.
This is what it looks like just out of the sauce.

Slice and plate, I added more flat leaf parsley to garnish.

Sliced and ready for serving on a platter, garnished with flat leaf parsley.
Sliced and ready for serving on a platter, garnished with flat leaf parsley.

Serve the pasta, topped with a slice of the Braciola, then top with sauce. Open a bottle of red wine and enjoy!

Ceviche

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Two of my passions are travel and food.  I’m always intrigued by the cuisine of the country or region I’m visiting and love to discover those spots that the locals frequent.

Spence discovered Costa Rica twenty years ago. Retired, he decided to escape Michigan, spending winters there instead. Still working, I’d take two weeks of vacation to visit him.  That first year, he’d gotten the lay of the land and sought out a local haunt and a dish we’d never heard of….ceviche. Knowing me as well as he does, he didn’t need to run it by me – I love all food.  Knowing him as well as I do, I trusted I was in for a treat.

From the house he’d rented in a little barrio near Quepos, we walked a mile into town.  Inside a small, congested bus station, we wound our way through the locals and vendor stands until Spence motioned me towards the tiny Ceviche stand where we deftly snagged two of the five stools.

“Dos Ceviche con Camarones, por favor” Spence expertly articulated to the woman behind the counter. I perused the short menu on the wall, still unaware what ceviche was but with my limited Spanish, knew shrimp were involved while other varieties featured fish, calamari or octopus.

As we waited, the husband handed us tiny napkins, forks and a couple of 8 packs of saltine crackers, setting a bottle of hot sauce between us.  The ceviche arrived, in an oval, pyrex-type vessel, vibrant and appealing.  Served very cold, it was not only refreshing but incredibly delicious – the tang of citrus, the crunch of the veggies, the sweetness of the tender shrimp.  I was over the moon.  Spence simply smiled, having anticipated my enthusiastic reaction.

In the years that followed, we made many trips to this area and specifically to that bus station.  Having sampled ceviche in countless places, all with more ambiance (and higher prices), I can say without question, none were better than what we found at the bus station.

After much research, here is my recipe which tastes as close to my memory of that Ceviche.

CEVICHE 

serves 8-12        Weight Watchers Smart Points  1 point per 1 cup serving

  • 1 lb fresh, uncooked shrimp
  • 1 c lime juice
  • 1 c medium red onion – finely diced
  • 2 c medium tomatoes-diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper – seeded and finely diced
  • 1/2 c green bell pepper -diced
  • 2-3 T chopped cilantro (more or less to taste)
  • 3 T fresh orange juice
  • 1 t salt

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Peel and clean the shrimp, removing the tails. Chop the raw shrimp into small pieces. Add the finely minced jalapeño, remove the seeds and ribs if you wish to keep the heat in check.

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Add the green pepper and red onion next.

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Juice your limes and pour over these ingredients.

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Now add the tomatoes, orange juice, cilantro and salt. Stir and refrigerate for four hours (stirring periodically to insure that the citrus “cooks” the shrimp evenly.

Ready to
Ready to “cook”
Ready to serve, notice the shrimp are now white and opaque.
Ready to serve, notice the shrimp are now white and opaque.

Serve and enjoy!

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Chef’s Notes:  You can substitute the shrimp with grouper or sea bass, just cut it into uniform small pieces.  Substitute a sweet white onion for the red.  I’ve seen recipes that add cucumber and/or celery diced as well as avocado and if fresh tomatoes are in season, you could add more. While I’ve served this as an appetizer to guests, Spence and I find it a refreshing, chilled entree on a hot night. 

 

Olive Tapenade (for Bruschetta)

This is one of my favorite go-to recipes for appetizers. I had this years ago in a restaurant and it was so tasty I wrote down everything I could identify and have made it ever since.  I’ve even had numerous guests who at first said “oh I don’t care for olives” but trusting enough in my culinary skills to try it and viola! Everyone loves it – not a crumb left at the end of the party.  And this is actually better if you make it ahead – 24 hours minimum or even better a few days.  I serve this atop little slices of baguette, first drizzling a bit of extra virgin olive oil on the slices, giving them a few minutes in a 350 degree oven, then adding a spoon of the tapenade on each slice, then back for 5-10 minutes. I’m making this today for a party on Saturday so thought I’d share it with my followers.

Olive Tapenade 

Weight Watchers Smart Points 1 (serving size 1/2 tablespoon)

  • 1 5.75 oz jar green olives with pimento
  • 1 6 oz can black olives (any size)
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1 T oregano
  • 1 t coarse black pepper
  • 1/3 c extra virgin olive oil

Finely chop both kinds of olives and garlic cloves.  I use a hand-chopper (Pampered Chef) to achieve a very fine texture.  Stir olives and garlic together.  Add oregano and black pepper to olive mix, stir to blend.  Add the olive oil and give a final stir.  Place in a covered container to refrigerate for 24 hours or longer.

Note from Spence’s Girl:  If you have more tapenade than bread, this is excellent tossed into a pasta sauce or used as the olive salad component of a muffalletta sandwich!