What if I told you that you could make a delicious, fancy-sounding and impressive meal right in your very own kitchen and it wouldn’t be difficult at all? You’d jump at the chance, right? Of course you would. And what if I told you that said meal wouldn’t be another chicken recipe or simple pasta dish (no disrespect)? You’re intrigued. I can tell. Don’t be scared away by the title of this post. In part 2 of our dinner alternatives series, we’re making lamb. To make it more affordable while still maintaining the wow factor, we’re making leg of lamb steaks. The steaks are less expensive and easier to work with than the whole, bone-in leg. Even still, just say leg of lamb to your neighbor when he asks what’s for dinner, and suddenly your property value goes up. You know it sounds fancy. It also tastes amazing. I’ve learned that a lot of folks still think it’s too exotic to cook lamb at home. I know. I was surprised too! We’re here to put an end to that misguided belief.

I think part of the allure of lamb is that it’s not a traditional American kitchen staple. It was one of those meals from my childhood that I didn’t mention to my friends because it just proved that our family “ate weird things.” Of course that stigma didn’t apply when talking with my Italian friends. They “ate weird things” too. I certainly never admitted that most times we actually ate goat because my mom preferred it. I was sure that would have gotten me ostracized from the playground. It must have been right around the inception of the Food Network that the culinary conversation started to change. Suddenly people didn’t look at me sideways when I said things like lamb or Swiss chard (we’re making that too) or even calamari. All of a sudden everyone was well versed in unusual foods that used to label me “different.” “Sure, now squid is a delicacy and the price is doubled”, my dad used to complain. “Don’t tell anyone what we eat anymore,” he would add. “Tell them it’s lousy so the prices don’t go up.”

I remember that we never bought lamb or goat from the super market. If they even sold such meats when I was a kid (no pun intended), it wasn’t up to my parents’ standards. They would only buy lamb from a farm or a specialty butcher and it had to be milk fed. Now it’s as common as any other meat, but I still think it raises an eyebrow, in a good way when you casually mention making leg of lamb for your family. Back in the seventies, the shopping process was similar for certain vegetable too like broccoli rabe or Swiss chard. They were far easier to find in little Italian mom and pop shops than at the PathMark (who else remembers that store?). If blogging existed when I was a kid, I don’t think I would have written about this meal. I would have wanted to fit in. I always wanted to fit in and food always singled me out. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though. Now that it’s acceptable to talk about every and any kind of food (the more uncommon the better), I’m confident that there is nothing from my meal time repertoire that will scare you away. We’re making chicken hearts and livers next week. Kidding. That was months ago for Thanksgiving (wink).

Lately, Mike and I have been cooking a lot of the same old thing. Pasta anyone? Don’t get me wrong. I love pasta. If I had my way, I would eat it every single day. As it is, I come close to that. We needed this 3 part post just as much as our friend Katie who inspired it. I decided to make two things I love, that for some reason even I don’t make that often. This recipe for Leg of Lamb with Swiss Chard and Tomatoes is pretty simple to make and really brings a lot of flavor to your table. Lamb for the most part is a fattier cut of meat so I wouldn’t suggest making it as often as chicken. Adding it to your rotation on a limited basis however, makes it even more appealing and definitely something to look forward to. I chose leg for this recipe but you could easily substitute it with a shoulder steak which is equally delicious and generally costs a little less. It’s also less fatty. I’m still trying to decide which I like better. I feel a side-by-side comparison coming on soon. I’ll report back once it’s complete.

In the meantime, consider dazzling your family or friends or just yourself with this deceptively easy meal. Lamb is one of those things I used to make for myself fairly often well before Mike came along. When I would tell people what I made myself for dinner they would look at me as if I had just told them I won Top Chef. I would just revel in the compliments like it was no big deal. I suggest you do the same. You probably have the basics in your pantry, but here’s a short list of the items you might have to pick up on your way home from work. Check the recipe first just in case. This is for two but you can do the math to suit your needs. Just copy and paste this into an email or a text so it’s handy.

2 leg of lamb steaks, about 1 pound each
1 bunch of Swiss chard
1 small can whole peeled tomatoes

We made this in a cast iron skillet and it was out of this world, but a regular skillet will work just fine too. I got the cast iron skillet for Mike for Christmas so up until then we were using our old beat up medium size skillet for everything.  It makes sense to have the right tools to cook with, but your effort and determination will outshine fancy cookware every time. The key with meat is not to overcook it. Personally we prefer medium to medium rare. There are all sorts of tricks to determine when steak of any kind is done. The most popular is to press on it with your finger tip. There is a whole approach based around pressing your thumb to a different finger to determine which feel corresponds to rare, medium or well done when pressing against the cooked meat. I think they all feel the same and that it is too complicated for cooking a simple piece of meat. Basically, press on the meat. If it is firm, it’s well done. Ideally it should give a little for medium. My dad swore by this method and never ever ever overcooked meat. If your head is spinning. Relax. There is a foolproof way. Enter the meat thermometer. It’s low cost and easy to find. We bought one a couple years ago and have not looked back. We generally use it for roasts, but you could certainly use it for steak as your getting used to cook times. People will tell you that it will allow valuable juices to leak out of your meat. We say, go ahead and live on the edge. Just remember to only insert the thermometer halfway through the meat. You don’t want it to touch the pan which will render a higher than accurate temperature. Eventually you’ll get the timing down and you’ll be glad you only had to sacrifice a couple drops of juice to do it. Check out the recipe for step by step instructions.

Leafy greens are a great compliment to this dish. I picked Swiss chard for two reasons. I don’t make it nearly enough and my friend Vince asked about the recipe. That was enough for me. The trick to making leafy greens of this sort is to blanch them first. They come out tender and in the case of bitter greens the flavor becomes a bit milder. Today we made them with tomato just the way my dad liked them. He would put tomato on anything. If my mom made something in white, he would rummage through the fridge for left over tomato sauce. So this recipe is from mom but it’s dad approved. We’ll walk you through it here.

If you do your grocery shopping on the weekend, this is the perfect Monday night meal. If you’re more inclined to pick up what you need on the way home from work, this meal works any night of the week. It’s low fuss and cooks up fast. You’ll also be glad you got your serving of veggies on the plate. Give it a try and by all means, let us know in the comments how it turns out. Thanks for reading!