Category Archives: lamb

Moussaka Please

Somehow high sky, crickets (this summer we also have an abnormal amount of cicadas in Quebec) and crisp August nights remind me of my Mediterranean travels and always put me in the mood to make a good, hearty Moussaka. It has been a year since I made it last time and promised the guy named Alex to post it, so here I am re-creating the Greek version of it, only a year after. Sorry for the delay, Alex, time is a rubber band in the Greek terms and I hope you will still enjoy making it.
There are zillions of different recipes/ingredients of Moussaka (this dish is not just Greek, but an Eastern Mediterranean staple): with or without meat, potatoes, eggplants, zucchinis, béchamel or yogurt sauce, etc. Ultimately, it’s a combination of: layer/layers of the correctly spiced and cooked meat sauce (lamb or beef); layer/layers of either eggplants, or potatoes, or both (sometimes zucchinis are there too); cheese and béchamel, or yogurt sauce topping. There’s been a debate in blogs and forums as to the sauce. Apparently, it is a shame in orthodox Greek tradition to replace classic sauce béchamel with yogurt/eggs/cheese mix. But I’ve seen dozens of great recipes in favor of yogurt mix, especially when it comes to gluten free recipes. Anyways, since ’’tous les gouts sont permis’’ (all tastes are allowed) in North America (otherwise Rachel Ray would not be a celebrity chef), I will let you decide whichever you prefer and will give you both, béchamel and gluten free versions. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
My version is a tribute to Naxos Island, a famous Greek land of potatoes (and many other good things), so, obviously, this Moussaka has potatoes in it. 
Contrary to our ‘’you slow you blow’’ mentality, Greek people know that ‘’anything goes’’ and are never in a hurry. Their cuisine reflects this and is simple in its core: you just have to have a FRESH INGREDIENT to it, be it a cucumber, yogurt or a ground meat. And, of course, spices and herbs like oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, etc. And a good splash of wine in everything you cook.
My family knows already that making moussaka heralds series of all kind of Greek meze in our kitchen. This time, having had my own share of what is called ‘’I hate reboots’’ period, I was happy to indulge myself in making a whole bunch of the Greek treats like wine wrapped sardines, rice & meat balls, eggplant spread, fish fillet in tahini sauce, almond cookies, all kind of salads, etc. Some of which I will certainly post next. 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas
So lets’s further on to our Greek moussaka, and then bring it out and eat it outside having a panoramic view of the sea and the waves lapping pebbles at our feet (in our minds). Or just bring it in and watch the immortal ‘’Zorba the Greek’’ while having it and let the time stand still. Cheers! 
Photo credit Greece: Philippe Theonas

Ingredients & Instructions:

Vegetables & Cheese:
2 large globe eggplants (or 4 Japanese or white eggplants), sliced
3-4 potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
olive oil
1 cup Kefalotiri or Myzithra cheese, grated (Parmesan or similar sharp cheese is often used in North America as a replacement)

I. Vegetables & Layers:

Slice the eggplants, salt them sparingly and let sit for about 15 minutes. Drain from liquid, pat dry and dispose on the baking sheet in one layer. Brush with olive oil and grill/broil lined in one layer for about 4-5 minutes on each side until golden brown.
Peel and slice the potatoes (1/4 inch thick) and either boil them for 4 minutes and drain, or fry/broil them in oil for 5-8 minutes until golden, but still slightly undercooked. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Layer a casserole with potatoes, overlapping slightly (use half). Sprinkle with cheese. Top the potatoes with eggplant slices. Sprinkle with cheese. Layer a casserole with potatoes (use half). Cover with meat sauce (SEE BELOW). Repeat the layers or until the ingredients last. Sprinkle each layer with cheese. Ladle the sauce béchamel (SEE BELOW) to cover the final layer and sprinkle with cheese on top.
Bake for 45-50 minutes or until the top is nicely browned. Let cool for at least 15 minutes for the juices and flavors to set up.

II. Meat Sauce:

1 lb ground lamb or beef (if you want to turn it into Beef Moussaka)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup tomatoes, peeled and chopped
½ cup red or white wine (or organic apple cider vinegar mixed with water half & half)
1 bay leaf
salt to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pan and brown the ground meat. Add onions, garlic, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes and black pepper. Mix well, add salt and cook for 7-10 minutes. Add wine, mix and bring the sauce to simmer for about 30 minutes or until liquid is almost evaporated. Set aside.

III. Sauce béchamel:

1 stick unsalted butter (or ½ cup or 114 grams or 4 oz)
4 cups milk
3 egg yolks
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground
white pepper to taste 
salt to taste
Warm up the milk without letting it simmer. Remove from heat. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour over a gentle heat using a whisk until it turns slightly yellow and starts to bubble. Remove from heat and add milk little by little whisking gently, return to low heat until mixed well and sauce slightly boils and thickens. Add nutmeg and white pepper and mix well. Put the egg yolks in a separate bowl and whisk well. Slowly add sauce béchamel to the egg yolks, whisking all the time until the mixture is well mixed and bring back to the very low heat without letting boil. 

Note: For Gluten Free Yogurt Sauce equivalent: beat 3 eggs with a tablespoon of cornstarch (dissolved in a bit of cold water to prevent lumps). Add two cups of natural yogurt, ½ cup of shredded cheese, salt, white pepper, pinch of nutmeg and whisk well. Some recipes add 1 tablespoon of rice flour to the mix, but I find it optional.

Knockout Lamb Loin Chops

You will notice that the image of these mouth-watering lamb chops is a bit out of focus. Don’t be surprised, please. I was salivating like Pavlov dog and couldn’t hold camera well towards the end of grilling – the look, smell and taste were to die for, which is why I called them ”knockout lamb chops”. (I suspect, I violated Rule No. 1050 for food photographers: ”Never take food pictures on an empty stomach, especially when grilling lamb chops. Have plenty of bread before you start cooking them, or you will have a tremor.”) Anyways, I believe the image will still carry the message of how good they were. We inaugurated spring with our first BBQ this way, and what can be better than grilled spring lamb for this occasion? But, first, the story.
Last week we took a road trip South to Philipsburg, a small town bordering with the US state of Vermont, where you can watch the birds’ migration over the Champlain lake at this time of the year.
Well, we didn’t see much birds in Philipsburg, but it was nice to have some fresh air of a countryside, see the nature reviving, pass by the farms and visit some specialty stores.
I saw a smoke coming from the fields of one of the farms and started thinking about those packs of lamb chops nesting in my fridge for the last few days. The idea of grilling them asap grew fast and shortly became an obsession for the evening.
We caught some images of the migrating birds on our way back, much closer to our house. Although the scenery was breathtaking, the lamb chops won and we hurried home to prepare the feast.
Whether for a quality that never fails, availability or a very strong trademark identity, New Zealand lamb is usually my first choice. (Thank You, Kiwi Farmers & Exporters!) Always fresh, perfectly marbled cuts of lamb are heavenly and make a quick, tasty and festive dinner in minutes. You can grill them, broil, or pan-fry, the result will be awesome.
A simple marinade of rosemary & thyme (crushed in mortar), garlic, Dijon mustard and olive oil will make a trick which works best when you just keep your chops rubbed in it for about 30 minutes at the room temperature.  When grilling, one of the celebrity chef’s tips is to turn the chops also the fat side down (after flipping the chops on both sides) to melt the fat out and get that amazing crispiness. You can also score the fat before marinating the chops.
It’s always fun to end the day next to the grill sharing the impressions and sipping some good wine. Speaking of which, grilled lamb loin chops are perfect with fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Merlot. We shared them with green beans and the bottle of Californian Liberty School. Ahh, I wish every day could be like that.
8 lamb loin chops 3/4 inch thick
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dry rosemary crushed in mortar
1 teaspoon dry thyme crushed in mortar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
In a bowl, combine olive oil, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, crushed dry rosemary and thyme, salt, cayenne and black pepper. Whisk well. Rub the chops with this marinade, cover and keep for 30 minutes at room temperature or refrigerate for 1 to 6 hours.
Heat the grill until almost smoking, add chops and sear for about 2-3 minutes. Flip the chops over and cook for another 3 minutes for medium-rare and 3-4 minutes for medium.
Place lamb chops on broiler pan and broil 4 inches from heat for about 5 to 7 minutes per side or to desired doneness.
Pan fry them in skillet on high to medium heat for 5 minutes on each side and 3 minutes on the fat side.
Adapted from: the mix of  New Zealand Lamb Recipes and Giada De Laurentis Grilled Lamb Chops.

New Year’s Eve Feast: Rosemary & Garlic Roast Leg of Lamb

The roast leg of lamb makes a delectable main perfect for holiday feast. It may sound like a daring task, but the truth is, it is surprisingly simple to prepare. The humble ingredients, such as garlic, rosemary and lemon zest add a very delicate flavour to this tender roast and the result will make your guests raving.
Last summer we took a stroll down the picturesque city of Chambly when an incredible smell (and then the picture) of a grilled lamb has allured us into trying this dish at the local Fourquet Fourchette restaurant. No doubt that grilling brings out the best in lamb, which is why, I have been planning to do the grilled leg of lamb at home ever since.
Except, of course, winter storm leaves me with the roasting option only. Anyways, what can be better than a gorgeous roast leg of lamb on a New Year’s Eve in the weather like this? Prime rib you will say, but I am already doing lamb and I am having a good time.
Here we are doing our lamb in two simple steps: rubbing with rosemary/garlic/lemon paste and then roasting it till perfection. The most important thing is to NOT overcook it, so check the thermometer for desired doneness.
The oven temperature is designed to first sear the leg at 400F and then roast it slowly at 325F without burning. Keep some water in the roasting pan to prevent the drippings from burning and smoking up your kitchen. It will also help to collect quality juices to be used for the sauce. It is also imperative to allow the cooked leg to stand before carving to make it juicy and tender, so please don’t rush with the carving.
The choice of roasted veggies to serve with the leg of lamb is unlimited and, bien sûr, a bottle of a robust SaintÉmilion, peppery Merlot or red Rioja is a very welcome addition to this main. Champagne was only an apéritif in this case, but you might as well enjoy it throught the meal.

1 leg of lamb, bone in (6 to 8 pounds)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
8 cloves garlic
1/3 cup fresh rosemary leaves
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 cup water for the roasting pan
few extra garlic cloves and rosemary springs for the slits and pan
Season meat with salt and pepper. Combine olive oil, white wine, 6 cloves of garlic, rosemary leaves and lemon zest in a food processor and mix to create a paste. Rub the leg of lamb with this paste using your hands, place in a plastic bag and keep in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the leg from the refrigerator, place it on a rack in a shallow pan. Slice 12 to 14 slits in a grill pattern using a sharp paring knife and insert 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and fresh rosemary leaves into them. Add some water and springs of rosemary to the pan. Roast at 400 degrees F for the first 30 minutes. Then reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F and keep roasting for about one hour longer until the meat thermometer registers 130-135F (for rare) or 145-150F (for medium). Make sure that the meat thermometer does not touch the bone. Add some water to the pan if necessary during cooking. Allow to stand for about 10-15 minutes before carving. Serve with the pan juices and your choice of roasted veggies.