Down Under: It's Over the Top

"Sounds frightfully British," said a friend before we set off for New Zealand. Once there, however, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the "other" land down under boasted its own cuisine based on the abundance of locally available produce, meats and seafood.

After driving for hours through rolling green farmland dotted with sheep and alongside seacoasts that rival Hawaii's, it was no surprise that each evening's meal was a tribute to the riches of this land.

Some of our favorite dishes included kumara, a New Zealand sweet potato considered by some to be the most succulent in the world. The soup in this menu was inspired by kumara but uses our locally grown sweet potatoes. Roasting the potatoes, squash and onion before pureeing them releases their natural sugars and adds a wonderful sweetness to the soup. Fresh herbs further enhance the rustic flavor.

Lamb seems synonymous with New Zealand, and the accompanying velvety brown sauce provides a perfect backdrop for the grilled lamb chops and the fresh vegetables sauteed in a little olive oil. Dessert pays tribute to the country's domestic dairy products and strawberries, with the added twist of balsamic vinegar and caramelized pine nuts.

Menu

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup

Grilled Lamb Chops with Demi-Glace Sauce

Sauteed Green Beans and Red Bell Peppers

Balsamic Strawberries on Vanilla Ice Cream

Staples

Olive oil

Red wine vinegar

Balsamic vinegar

Red wine

2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans chicken broth

2 yellow onions

1 bunch green onions

2 carrots

Sugar

Bay leaf

Nutmeg

Peppercorns

Salt, pepper

Shopping List

2 pounds sweet potatoes

1 small butternut squash

2 stalks celery

1 pound green beans

1 red bell pepper

1 basket strawberries

1 bunch thyme

1 bunch sage

1 bunch mint leaves

1 pint half and half

8 to 12 lamb rib chops

1 cup demi-glace

1 (10-ounce) jar red currant jelly

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 pint vanilla ice cream

Game Plan

Morning of dinner: Make soup to step just before adding half and half, then refrigerate.

1 hour before dinner: Prepare demi-glace sauce. Clean green beans, red bell peppers and strawberries.

15 minutes before dinner: Reheat soup, adding half and half. Saute green beans and red bell peppers with olive oil in hot skillet and keep warm. Cook lamb chops. Combine strawberries with vinegar and sugar.

ROASTED SWEET POTATO SOUP

This smooth, rich soup can be made ahead of time--add the half and half when you reheat the soup in a saucepan but do not boil. Chopped green onions sprinkled over the top add a bit of texture.

2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 yellow onion, peeled, quartered

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

2 (14-1/2 ounce) cans chicken broth

Pinch nutmeg

Salt

White pepper

1 cup half and half

1 bunch green onions, chopped

Mix sweet potatoes, butternut squash, onion, thyme and sage in large bowl. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Spoon mixture onto baking sheet, spreading vegetables in single layer. Place baking sheet in oven and roast at 425 degrees until vegetables are caramelized, about 25 minutes, stirring twice.

Remove baking sheet from oven and process vegetables in food processor or blender until pureed. Slowly add chicken broth and process until smooth. Season with nutmeg and salt and white pepper to taste. When ready to serve, place in saucepan, stir in half and half and reheat but do not boil. Serve garnished with green onions.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Each of 6 servings contains about:

425 calories; 1083 mg sodium; 24 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 63 grams carbohydrates; 13 grams protein; 2.70 grams fiber.

GRILLED LAMB CHOPS WITH DEMI-GLACE SAUCE

Demi-glace, the concentrated liquid made by simmering veal bones for hours, is the base of this lamb sauce. You can make your own demi-glace or purchase it in many gourmet food shops. If it is unavailable in your area, demi-glace is sold by mail. See America's Best below on this page. To go with the lamb, saute colorful fresh vegetables, perhaps green beans and red bell peppers, in a little olive oil.

Oil

1 onion, cut into small dice

2 carrots, cut into small dice

2 stalks celery, cut into small dice

1 bay leaf

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup red wine

1 teaspoon crushed peppercorns

1 cup demi-glace

8 to 12 lamb rib chops

2 tablespoons red currant jelly

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over medium-high head and add onion, carrots and celery. Saute until soft. Add bay leaf, thyme, vinegar and wine, and simmer until reduced by half. Add peppercorns and demi-glace, then simmer 30 minutes. Strain sauce through fine mesh strainer and reserve.

Brush both sides of lamb rib chops lightly with oil and place on hot grill. When meat is cooked halfway and 1 side is brown, use tongs to turn chops over. Cook second side to desired doneness.

Meanwhile, bring sauce to a simmer and stir in currant jelly. Using small ladle, pour sauce onto each plate. Arrange optional sauteed vegetables on plate and place 2 to 3 lamb chops alongside. Garnish with sprigs of fresh thyme.

Makes 4 servings

Each serving contains about:

593 calories; 211 mg sodium; 105 mg cholesterol; 49 grams fat; 10 grams carbohydrates; 24 grams protein; 0.65 grams fiber.

BALSAMIC STRAWBERRIES ON VANILLA ICE CREAM

1 basket strawberries, washed and halved

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

5 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup pine nuts

2 cups vanilla ice cream

Fresh mint leaves

Mix strawberries, balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl. Set aside.

Combine remaining sugar and pine nuts in small skillet and stir over low heat until pine nuts are golden. (This happens quickly, so be careful not to burn the nuts). Remove pine nuts from skillet.

Scoop 1/2 cup vanilla ice cream into each of 4 bowls, top with strawberries and pine nuts and garnish with mint leaves.

Makes 4 servings

Each serving contains about:

272 calories; 59 mg sodium; 30 mg cholesterol; 13 grams fat; 39 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.51 gram fiber.

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