Sunday, November 20, 2005

Reliving the Memories...Sort Of

Cooper and I went to Portugal for our honeymoon. Ten days of traveling, eating, and drinking a lot of very cheap, very bad red wine (after the first three days, I learned that "house red" and Portugal don't mix. And, actually, there are some perfectly decent, very cheap Portuguese reds. I'm still scarred, though.)

We were on the coast (between Oporto and Lisbon), so we ate a ton of seafood. Portugal is also known for their grilling, though, so we were never deprived of the red type of meat. Overall, we experienced a surprising variety of flavors and ingredients, especially considering that we only saw a small portion of an already small country.

When we returned home, I went through a bit of Portugal withdrawal and did my best to find the things I loved most about the country, so I could keep enjoying them here at home. I bought vinho verde, the lightly sparkling wine. I spent hours online trying to learn about some of the saints' festivals we attended, so we could carry on the traditions here. And I started cooking everything in Port.

So, naturally, when my mother-in-law saw an ad for a cooking instruction/lunch focused on the food of Portugal, she signed us right up. The class was at a house in Ruxton, not far at all from where she and I live. On the day of, we drove over together, along with one of her sisters-in-law and her daughter-in-law (look at all the bonding!), very excited both for the instruction and the food.

Unfortunately, the instruction itself didn't exactly live up to our expectations. Basically, we stood with about six other women and watched the "teacher" cook for us. On the positive side, the instructor did have a beautiful house, and an amazing kitchen, so we spent about an hour admiring our surroundings. And waiting, hungrily, for lunch.

And lunch...well, lunch disappointed a bit, too. For one thing, it wasn't exactly authentic Portuguese food. Instead, it was a bunch of foods that seemed mildly Portuguese. Or French. Continental, anyway. The main course was lamb chops in a Port and cream sauce...and it was horrendously overcooked.

The day did have it's bright spots, though. The conversation was enjoyable, and I got to drink two glasses of wine with lunch (California, not exactly the Duoro Valley). Always a good day when I can drink with lunch. Plus, we were all given a copy of the recipes, so we could try them at home.

While I've never made any of the side dishes, I have made the lamb on several occasions - it's super easy and much better when it hasn't been cooked to death. The other night, I was in the mood for something unhealthy, so I picked up a few lamb chops and some heavy cream and went for it.

Here's the recipe...just don't overcook!

12 loin lamb chops, each about 1 1/4 inches thick (2 chops per person/I get mine from Trader Joe's, they're very good)
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup dry Port
3 tbs dijon mustard
1 cup heavy cream

Sprinkle the lamb chops with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil and add the chops and cook, turning once, until well seared and cooked to desired done-ness, about 10 minutes for rare and 14 minutes for medium rare (I always undercook...unfortunately...and am worthless when it comes to guessing how done lamb is. But I'm getting there.)

Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

Transfer the cooked chops to a platter and remove the pan from the heat. Add the port and deglaze the pan, stirring to dislodge any browned bits - you really want them in there. Return the pan to medium heat and simmer the Port for a minute to burn off the alcohol.

Whisk in the mustard and cream and simmer until thickened, about five minutes. The sauce will take on a sweet and mustardy aroma and will be thick and a pretty pink. Dusty rose, really. Kind of a weird color for sauce, but don't worry. Just add some salt and pepper.

Return the chops to the pan and swirl them in the sauce till they're coated:

lamb in sauce
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

And then you're done! As Barefood would say, "How easy is that?" It really is. Plate the chops, spooning the sauce over top.

I served the lamb with sauteed haricots verts and (lumpy) horseradish mashed potatoes:

lamb on plate
Originally uploaded by Kit Pollard.

I think the spiciness of the horseradish complements the mustard - together they make sure the cream and Port sauce don't get too heavy or overwhelmingly sweet.

I just made this last week, but for some reason I already can't remember what we drank with it. It's not Portuguese, but I think it would work well with a Pinot Noir, though...not a super fruity one, but something that's sort of light and delicate. To bring out the flavor of the lamb.

Bom Appetit!

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