Mary’s had a little lamb.

Lemon-Pepper Lamb Chops

While I thought my days of ovine infanticide were behind me, I found myself standing in front of an almost completely barren meat counter at my Hannaford last night, save for an abundance of “Manager’s Special” lamb chop 4-packs. After gazing covetously at the bounty while absent-mindedly stroking my rapidly-increasing belly for several minutes, I submitted to temptation, shamefully buried the thickest cuts I could find under some paper towel rolls, and the Peña’s proceeded to heartily enjoy the tastiest of Easter metaphors.

To my chagrin, my spice cupboard has hit an embarrassingly low supply, and I’m fresh out of parsley, sage, rosemary and, you guessed it, thyme. So I shook a little lemon-pepper powder on each side of the chops, rubbed on some olive oil, and tossed them under the broiler for 5 minutes, then flipped them over and gave them another 7. Not wanting to detract from the headliner, I plated the chops with baked potatoes and a Fresh Express BLT Cesar Salad, a product that widely surpasses bagged salad expectations. Unfortunately, I was unable to contain myself long enough to take any pictures.

Mr. Peña and I spent dinner (all 6 minutes of it), in lama-like communion with our plates, and for at least 10 minutes afterward, I felt almost alive for the first time since I undertook my latest chromosomal oeuvre. There’s no way to convey the delicate gaminess of the wrongest of meats, the slight rose-petal quality of the ruddy medium-rare flesh, the enthusiasm of the fat as it bows cheerfully for your knife. If you’re as evil as I am underneath it all, go ahead and make it a yearly transgression. Whatever your religion, atonement will be worth it.

It’s snowing in October, so I’m harvesting the shepherd early.

Lambykin’s Shepherd Pie

When I die, bake me into this.

1 lb ground angus and 1 lb ground lamb, or 2 lbs ground shepherd
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large package white button mushrooms, sliced
2 packets McCormick Brown Gravy mix
2 C water
salt and pepper
olive oil

4 large Russet potatoes
1/2 C grated cheddar
1/2 stick butter, cut into small chunks
1 C milk
1/4 C finely chopped parsley

Set the oven to 350. Stab the potatoes all over with a fork and rub them with olive oil before putting them on the middle rack.

Heat the oil in your pan (2 or 3 generous tbsp) over high. I’d specify that you use an enamel-lined cast iron, and that your olive oil be Berio, and that you heat the oil until it quivers but doesn’t quite smoke, but I’m not an arrogant asshole. Cook the onions until they begin to soften, then add the mushrooms. Continue cooking until the ensuing water released from the mushrooms evaporates. This will take a little while, as opposed to a while, defined later. Once the “vegetables” are soft and browned, transfer them to a bowl and set the bowl somewhere on the stove to keep it warm.

Add more oil to the pan and brown the meat, all the way. “The oven will finish it off” have been someone’s last words. Once the meat is completely cooked, toss the onions and mushrooms back in and combine gently. Get the 2 C water ready and have them in arm’s reach. Sprinkle the gravy mix over the meat mixture with one hand and stir with the other to distribute evenly. Immediately drop the empty packets, grab the water, and start stirring in, pouring slowly enough to maintain the pan’s heat. Once the gravy is bubbling nicely, turn the heat down to medium, add salt and pepper (however much you think is a good idea) and cook until it looks as thick as it’s going to get, about 10 minutes. Pour the mixture into any shaped casserole dish, size dependent on how thick you want to go (I prefer a deep glass pie plate).

The potatoes are going to be a while. Fortunately, you read the recipe in its entirety before beginning and either started the potatoes about 45 minutes earlier, or planned a good use of the next hour.

Once the potatoes yield little resistance when poked with a fork, take them out but leave the oven set to 350. Put the milk in a small saucepan and heat over low. Cut each potato in half lengthwise and, holding a half in a folded cloth or paper towel, scoop out the potato and run it through a ricer into a large mixing bowl. When all eight haves have been riced, add the butter, and bury the chunks in the hot potatoes to quicken melting. After about 30 seconds, add the cheese and stir to combine. With either a hand-held or preferably a stand mixer, beat the potatoes on medium speed and slowly add the hot milk. Increase the speed to high and whip until fluffy.

Drop the potatoes in dollops evenly over the now set meat mixture. Brush the dollops together to form a blanket over the casserole, spreading all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika for an Ice Storm affect, and bake until the potatoes are piping (the meat will heat up faster), about half an hour.

A few notes: if you use butter instead of oil to cook the meat and vegetables, elastic pants merit consideration; if you can’t bring yourself to use lamb or shepherd, a 50/50 combination of beef and pork works almost as well. I only have one of these left in me before I reach my guilt threshold.

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