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Lamb chops are something that have always daunted me.  I save lamb for restaurants where a more experienced chef can masterfully prepare them for me without the stress and over thinking that would be occurring in my kitchen.  The pros can  handle red meat better than I can.  What I’m scared of the most is overcooking a good piece of meat.  Why spend the money and then “accidentally” cook a juicy steak or lamb chop to well-done.  (No offense to those who like their meat well-done.)

My husband has been asking me to make him rack of lamb for five years.  Five years!  I’ve tried to maneuver my way around the issue and make him roasted leg of lamb or lamb shank.  But something about the rack of lamb scared me.  Every year on his birthday, he requests rack of lamb and every year I get myself out of it.  Since this year we have celebrated five birthdays together, I just made the dive and we both went to the butcher and got the rack of lamb.  I needed the support, that’s why we both went.

Once we got home, I contemplated what I should do with the lamb, the over thinking had begun.  After all, I’ve eaten lamb many many times at restaurants, so I calmed myself down and went with my instincts.  Herbs became the main attraction followed by lemon and nuts.  I raided my pantry and came up with a herb, walnut, lemon, capers crusted lamb.  I let it marinate so the flavors would penetrate the meat.

I roasted it and it came out perfectly, medium rare bordering medium.  (I do love steaks at medium-rare, but for me, lamb needs to be cooked a tad bit more.)  While it was roasting I also prepared a shallot and dijon sauce, which was lovely with the lamb.  When we sliced through the rack, I finally got over my fear and could do it again and again.  The end result makes you want to step back in the kitchen and expand your culinary horizons.  For now I’ve tackled rack of lamb, let’s see what comes up next.

Rack of Lamb with a Walnut and Herb Crust

Serves 2 with leftovers

Ingredients

1 french rack of lamb, 8 chops in total

1 cup chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, chives) + extra for garnish

5 cloves of garlic

juice and zest of 2 lemons + plus extra for garnish

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and black pepper, to taste

for the sauce:

olive oil

2 shallots or 1 large shallot finely chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 cups chicken or beef stock

1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche

fresh chopped parsley

salt and black pepper, to taste

Method

To make the crust: in a food processor, combine the herbs with the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, capers, walnuts, flour, salt and pepper.  Pulse lightly until everything is crumbly yet a little sticky.

Salt and pepper the rack of lamb and then cover both sides with the crust and marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Before baking preheat the oven to 425 degrees and bake the lamb in an oven-safe pan or dish for 25 minutes.  If you like your meat cooked well-done, add another 7-10 minutes.

While the lamb is roasting, prepare the sauce.  In a saute pan, add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan on medium heat and once it comes to temperature, add in the shallots and cook until translucent and on the verge of turning light brown.  At this point, add in the Dijon mustard, chicken or beef stock, salt, black pepper and allow it to reduce.  Once reduced to your liking, add in the crème fraîche and parsley.  Once the lamb is cooked, let it rest outside the oven covered in aluminum foil for 15 minutes. Serve the lamb with the sauce and garnish with some fresh lemon and chopped herbs.

I also added some asparagus in the pan with the lamb, towards the end of cooking.  I served the lamb with a sunchoke mash as well.

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Shrimp scampi is something I can say I have mastered.  Well, for one it’s not something that requires anything special to master and secondly, everyone loves it.  I always have people asking me how I make it, and I sometimes feel embarrassed to say anyone can make this.  It’s so easy but gives the impression that you have actually put a good amount of effort into it.  When I lived with my parents, we would often make this for guests and they loved it.  I think it’s in the sauce; because of its richness.  You don’t even need the linguine I added to it.  The linguine is just an after thought.  Just serve it with some nice crusty warm bread for soaking up the sauce and you’ll be all set!

This dish also offers a lot of freshness.  I adore fresh herbs and always have my fridge stocked.  They just perk up any dish.  If I have people over I simply cannot not garnish my food with piles of herbs.  Even just cooking at home, I will not make something if I don’t have the herbs for it.  It’s just not the same.  I can say that I will judge you if you don’t use fresh herbs *snicker.*  Teasing aside, I think I have made my passion for herbs quite apparent.  Another freshness component to this dish is the lemon.  I use just half of a lemon for it’s juice and half for the zest and the zested half for a nice lemon slice garnish inspired by Ina Garten.  I always use caution when adding lemon juice or zest to something.  To me sometimes recipes call for too much and then all you taste is lemon.  I think I have mentioned it before, but too much lemon reminds me of Pinesol.

I add shallots and tomatoes as well to break away from the norm.  I like the roundness they give to the scampi.  As with most dishes, I add extra spice to mine but use as much as you like.

Shrimp Scampi

adapted from Ina Garten’s Linguine with Shrimp Scampi from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I remove the tails as well)

6-7 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots minced

1 tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling at the end)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 lemon (half for juice, half zested, and the zested half cut into rounds)

2-3 tablespoons of light cream

3/4 of a teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

1 teaspooon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, optional

2 tablespoons chopped chives (use more or less)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (use more or less)

parmigiano reggiano shavings, optional

1/2 box of linguine (I used whole wheat because that’s what I had on hand)

Method

Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, about 10 minutes (do not drain it from the water).  Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan on medium heat.  Add the olive oil and turn down the heat to medium low.  Put the butter in the pan and after 1 minute add 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili flakes and allow it to infuse the oil for about 30 seconds.  Add the shallots and allow them to sweat for about 2-3 minutes.  Next add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes, make sure it doesn’t burn.  At this point put it the chopped tomato.  Let it sweat for 1-2 minutes.  Turn up the heat to medium.  When the pan is ready add the shrimp and salt/black pepper and allow the shrimp to turn pink.  This will take about 5-7 minutes.  Do not overcook because they will get stringy.  Turn the heat to the lowest setting and add the juice of half a lemon.  Next, stir in the cream.  Add the pasta directly from the pasta water to the shrimp pan using tongs, so that a little of the starchy water goes into the scampi.  Top with the chives, parsley, lemon zest, lemon slices, 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes, pamigiano reggiano, and toss.   Drizzle the top with olive oil.