We're taking a little side trip, leaving Nick and the Outer Banks for a little bit to visit Sweden. (I hear it's cold there this time of year.) Last summer I read Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire; The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), and was very intrigued both by the story and by some of the interesting fare that was cooked in those books. If you haven't read this series, I highly recommend it; just a warning, though--it's quite intense with plenty of sex and violence, but lots of suspense and excitement too. I even watched the Swedish-language films and loved them. I almost didn't notice they were subtitled. (If you saw Sherlock Holmes 2, you might remember a petite and pretty, yet tough kick-ass gypsy girl who joined Watson and Holmes on their latest adventure. The actress who played her, Noomi Rapace, was the tattooed girl Lisbeth in the Swedish films. She ROCKS. I haven't seen the recently released English version of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo starring Daniel Craig; when I finally watch it on DVD I hope I'm not disappointed because that Lisbeth isn't Noomi.)
I don't think I'm going to bore you with too many plot details, except for a brief Who's Who: Lisbeth Salander is a troubled young woman, covered in tattoos and piercings; a loner who doesn't relate to people very well. She has a brilliant mind, a photographic memory, and she's a skilled hacker who can gain access to anyone's computer or cell phone with a few clicks and a phone call to a reclusive hacker friend. And she isn't afraid of anything. (The two main characters on the TV show Person of Interest kind of remind me of her in a way; the introverted tech whiz who builds a machine that watches everyone all the time, and with his seemingly invincible Jack Bauer-type partner, solving crimes by hacking into people's computers and cell phones, spying on unsuspecting citizens, and beating up bad guys with martial-arts punches and kicks. My favorite thing Lisbeth does? Subduing a very large villain who, as it happens, doesn't feel pain, by pinning his feet to a floor with a nail gun. Brilliant.) Anyhow, Lisbeth is fighting a troubled past, and has spent much of her life in a mental institution--not because she's mentally ill, but because a band of slimeballs are conspiring to ruin her life; and now she's living on a kind of probation and must have a guardian assigned by the state to manage her money and such. Even though she can get by just fine on her own, in spite of her quirks.
The other main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is an investigative reporter for a major Swedish magazine, Millennium. He's recently published an expose' of a prominent businessman in which he revealed some shocking scandal and corruption within the company, and now he's been accused of slander by said businessman. He will eventually serve jail time, but meanwhile he's been hired by another prominent businessman, Henrik Vanger, to find out who murdered his beloved niece Harriet, who went missing in the 1960's. Mr. Vanger and several members of his family live on the fictional island of Hedeby, and Blomkvist moves into a little rustic cabin near the Vanger mansion. He hires Lisbeth to assist him with his investigation, and she moves into the cabin with him.
(I do want to pause here and vent a little bit about Blomkvist. He's one of the good guys, a likeable and even honorable character; kind, trustworthy, on the side of justice, and the fair treatment of all. The thing that just makes me want to shake him silly is his casual attitude about sex. He isn't married, and his lover is his longtime friend and co-worker, Erika Berger, who IS married. Erika's husband knows about her affair with Blomkvist, and get this: he doesn't care. Erika often calls him up and says, "Oh, hi, darling, I'm staying with Mikael tonight. I'll see you tomorrow." and he'll say, "That's great, sweetheart! Have fun, and tell him I said hello." Sheesh. Mikael sleeps with several other women throughout the trilogy as well, including Lisbeth. He deserves a few dope-slaps for that kind of behavior.)
Okay, so now for the food part: One night in the cabin on Hedeby, Mikael makes a dinner for himself and Lisbeth of lamb cutlets, with potatoes and cream sauce. Then fast-forward to the third book in the series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, and we find Mikael cooking lamb once again; this time for his new girlfriend, Monika--and it's lamb chops in red wine sauce.
So what did I decide to cook? Lamb chops in pomegranate-red wine sauce, and baby potatoes with cream sauce. And I nearly had another Cooking Nick's Books anxiety attack.
It was the day after New Year's, and I stood in the butcher shop eyeing the lamb chops, trying to talk myself into buying them. Or maybe I was trying to talk myself out of buying them. They were nearly as expensive per pound as the beef tenderloin I had just cooked a week before. I thought, I must be completely insane. Here it is, the day after New Year's, I've just spent the last week entertaining people. I should be spending the last evening before everyone was heading back to school just relaxing and ordering out, and I'm seriously thinking of cooking lamb chops tonight?? The last time I tried cooking lamb chops, before we had kids and before I learned to cook, they were awful. I didn't know what I was doing and I overcooked them and they tasted like crap. I finally reasoned that if I only cooked just enough for everyone to have a small portion, then at least I wouldn't have wasted all that much money and time.
I chose five good-sized chops, and found a recipe from my favorite magazine, Fine Cooking:
LAMB CHOPS WITH POMEGRANATE RED WINE SAUCE
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup minced shallot (about 1 large)
1/2 cup pomegranate juice (such as Pom brand)
1/4 cup full-bodied dry red wine
1/4 cup homemade or low-salt chicken broth
1-1/2 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1/2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
*My butcher didn't have rib chops; they had a thicker bone-in chop instead, and I only bought five.
Liberally season the lamb chops with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan over medium-high heat until very hot. Sear the chops in two batches, until well browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side for medium rare, 3 minutes per side for medium. Keep the chops warm on a platter covered with foil. Pour off and discard all but about 1 or 2 Tbs. fat from the pan.
**Since my chops were thicker than rib chops, I browned them on all sides, and after making the sauce I returned them to the pan and cooked them in the liquid on low heat for about five additional minutes, maybe less.
"I don't know about these..." I kept saying. I remembered my long-ago lamb disaster and just knew these would be equally awful. When I served the chops, and Joe and the boys prepared to take their first bite, I literally had knots in my stomach. But guess what? They were delicious. I could have ordered them at a four-star restaurant, they were that good. (HAPPY DANCE!!!)
For the potatoes, I decided to look online and found a recipe on a site called The Orgasmic Chef. Of course, with a name like that I HAD to try it. (I'll have what she's having.)
BABY POTATOES WITH CREAMY GARLIC SAUCE
10 baby (chat) potatoes
2 tbs butter
2 cloves garlic minced (you can use less if you don’t like garlic)
3/4 cup cream
2 tbs fresh parsley chopped (or 1 tbs dried parsley)
salt and pepper
1. Wash and cut potatoes in bite sized pieces
2. Boil over low heat until just done
3. In a saucepan melt butter and add the garlic and over low heat cook the garlic for 2 or 3 minutes
4. Add cream and reduce til thick enough to coat the potatoes. About 10 minutes.
5. Drain potatoes and add to cream sauce
6. Add parsley, salt and pepper
(Source: The Orgasmic Chef)
Now, I will admit, I cheated just a little bit: I still had quite a bit of gorgonzola sauce left over from Christmas dinner, so I warmed that up in the microwave, added a bit of parsley, and stirred it into the potatoes. They were delicious.
There is more wonderful-sounding food in the Millennium trilogy, and I hope to have more adventures from that series soon. Meanwhile, I think I will revisit Nicholas Sparks' At First Sight with a T-bone steak and maybe some macaroni and cheese; and I will be revealing the ending, so brace yourself!