Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Shepherd's Pie

It's all about the money, money, not really. It's all about the comfort food this Polar Vortex season. I can't get enough hot chocolate, grilled cheese and big ass chocolate chunk cookies. Luckily, I've lost weight, more like muscle mass, during my foot recovery with very little appetite, so the richness of these meals must be keeping me alive. I still have no desire to drink which I'm thrilled about and the foot recovery is going better than expected. I have a goal to walk a mile by the end of March.  

I've never made shepherd's pie. When I lived in Ireland, the family I was staying with made shepherd's pie at least once a month. Noleen had a little dry spice packet, like taco mix, that made the perfect flavor gravy. I have no idea what was in it but I could smell the seasoning in my mind.

I pulled out a few cook books to glean ideas, but basically came up short. I didn't want a red wine, beef cube Shepherd's Pie like Martha's Favorite Comfort Food cookbook suggests. The Bouquet garni gave me some spice profiles however that I leaned on. Rosemary, Thyme and Bay Leaves. You can basically season this any way you like. Just trust your sense memory. I can't believe I was able to do this from memory but I kid you not it was perfect.

Start with 4-5 Yukon Gold potatoes. I used 7 because we had them in the house and what am I going to do with two smallish potatoes that already had eyes beginning to form? I can hear my mom saying, "You could bake them."

Cut them evenly and cover with cold water making sure there is a least an inch of water over the potatoes in the pot. Boil for 25 minutes. If you do this first, the meal is done in truly 35 minutes.

Martha's Shepherd's Pie

One recipe said cook the onions in butter. Yes ma'am.

In retrospect I should have chopped the onions finer and cooked them, in butter, longer to brown. The sauce would have darkened even more. Use half an onion and three cloves of garlic. Brown first, then add about a pound of fresh ground beef. This was the best part of living in Ireland. We went to an actual butcher to get the meat. Not a grocery store. E went to Whole Foods and got this meat fresh from the butcher. He's awesome.

Strain as much fat as you can when the meat is thoroughly browned.

Add about a teaspoon of flour to thicken, scraping off the brown bits on the bottom of your Dutch Oven. Add about a 1/2 cup of beef stock in waves to make an actual gravy. You need fat, flour and stock for any gravy basically. It magically thickens and I never measure. You just eyeball it. If you are Gluten Free use corn starch instead of flour and boom you have yourself a GF Shepherd's Pie. If you don't use corn, then I would try upping the amount of dry spices to thicken. could add more beef stock and cook it down for a long time to thicken. So many options.

The seasoning is really a matter of preference. Here is how my flavor profile broke down:

5-7 good grinds of black pepper while the meat was browning. 
1 tsp of Kosher salt. I could have used more. Taste is as you cook. 
Dried Rosemary was key. Used 2 Tbs. 
1 tsp Turmeric, this is a great anti-inflammatory and I'm trying to use it as I would salt on my savory meals. 
3 Bay leaves
1/2 tsp of dried mustard (no idea why other than my mother uses it in her cheese grits and I feel like dried mustard makes everything better.)
1 tsp chili powder
4 dashes of hot sauce
I could have used Worcestershire Sauce or even Bragg's Liquid Aminos add 1 tsp if you choose.
I added 2 small carrots at the end. You could add peas, green pepper, even stewed tomatoes if you like and want more vegetables. Celery could even be nice.

I used our deepest pie dish and buttered it. Probably not necessary with all of the fat in the beef and the potatoes.

Once your potatoes are boiled get your food mill ready. If you do not have a food mill, do yourself a favor and get ye to Amazon and pick this one up! It's the best gadget and makes perfect mashed potatoes, sauces, soups, baby food and oh so much more.

Put a little butter in the sauce pan below. The OXO food mill is money because it has these little thwimpigy legs that rest on the pot. Thwimpidge is code in my family for any thing or thing-a-ma-bob that doesn't have a name. Daddy made it up, or some professor used it in college. It is the best word ever. That and kattywhompous. Kattywhompous is actually a word and is what my foot was before the surgery. Just all sorts of messed up, off center or askew. 

Heat up a half cup of milk and grind the food mill until the potatoes look like this.

Keep the heat on very low and add 2 tablespoons of butter, salt and pepper to taste and pour the milk in intervals and mix gently.

Remove the Bay leaves and add the meat mixture to the pie dish. 

Pretty obvious but spoon on the potatoes and spread to cover evenly.

You absolutely have to put a cookie sheet under this pie dish as a catch. The meat mixture will bubble up and spill into your oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake in the middle rack for 45 minutes to an hour. Your house will smell amazing!

I'm thankful for so many things tonight. Our warm house. My memory. A husband who does the shopping. Improved healing. Being gentle with myself. My uncle's continued good health. A friend's father's tumor shrinking as well through the power of prayer. Memories of Ireland, eating Shepherd's pie with my friend Noleen. Handwritten letters telling me that this blog keeps us connected. Thankful for all of you!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Barefoot Contessa Chocolate Chunk Cookies

After missing the Christmas cookie season I got a wild hair and whipped up Ina's Chocolate Chunk cookies. I usually just use the Toll House recipe on the back of the bag. They were sold out of the regular sized morsels so I grabbed the chocolate chunks. Who knew? I'd been reading the Barefoot Contessa Parties cookbook and saw this recipe and just happened to already have the chunky chunks in my pantry. Score on so many fronts.  

Ina's recipes are flawless in my opinion. I've never ever had an issue. If I add extra cheese to the spinach gratin, it turns out greasy. Trust me and TRUST our dear and beloved Ina. The girl has tested her recipes. 

I used a huge ass ice cream scoop vs the danty 1 3/4 inch one she suggests. I knew they looked huge but put them in the oven anyway.

I checked them at about 4 minutes and knew they were all wrong. I salvaged the second sheet but the first one was a goner. Some mistakes turn out to be blessings in disguise. I cut the melty cookies in half, pulled out a fresh sheet of parchment paper, and started over, making smaller melted mounds. It had a swirly, marbled effect on these little babies. No harm. No foul.

You only cook these cookies for 15 minutes at 350. Do as she says, exactly. This was the "perfect" batch.

Down to cooking them on the sheet for a few extra minutes outside of the oven and then moving them to the cooling racks. 

The bottoms of the cookies were just perfection. Can you hear my enthusiasm Ina? I love you! Thank you for the tireless hours you spend on these recipes. 

I have been craving sugar like MAD crazy after my surgery. The medicine has curbed my appetite and by the end of the day I'm starving and pound a coca-cola. I never drink Coke's anymore and have had one a day for the last two weeks. I haven't had caffeine or wine/beer/alcohol but lots of hot chocolate and sugary stuff. When I don't have it, I get headaches. I realized this week, "Holy f-bomb, I'm addicted to sugar, and bad." So I hopped on the Twitter highway and reconnected with Sarah Stanley, a fantastic health coach and inspiration to get back on track. I happened to jump on her #wellnesschat this past Thursday night at 8:00 pm eastern and even won something! More on that soon. E took the cookies to work. Another blessing in disguise.


Mitt Romney Slow Jammed the news with Jimmy Fallon on Friday night on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. It is one of my favorite Late Night sketches. Brian Williams has been on many times and President Obama as well. Mitt was hilarious, poked fun of himself and opened up to promote a documentary about his two races to the White House that was aired for the first time last week at Sundance. You can stream it on Netflix. Whatever side of the aisle you sit on, Mom, I highly suggest watching the film. It takes a look at the grueling process of running for office. How anyone can survive it all is beyond me. The most touching parts are hearing Mitt speak of his father as a self made man, about the support of his wife and hearing his sons speak candidly on why they wanted their father to win. It's wonderful. 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Snow, Man

Earlier this week we had a gorgeous snowfall and chilly Polar Vortex temps in the teens. We had low digits, but nothing like my memories of going to Ripon College in the early 90s. It is number 18 of the coldest colleges in Huff Post. My foot is finally starting to feel better and I just had to get out of the house while it was still snowing. I could actually wear both LLBean boots so that was a huge bonus. No more open toed orthotic shoe. 

I went to check the front porch and this is what I found. This snow was so fine it blew in through our screens.

In my opinion, there is no more beautiful sound than that of a tennis ball can opening and the crunch of your feet on freshly fallen "dry" snow. This was perfect powder.

This snow didn't hang on the limbs like our last snow. Bone crushing (yes that is how my foot actually felt when the weather got to 7 degrees) cold. I'm such a whiner but I figure I want to remember how this feels so I take care of myself and my cartilage.

The Kenworthy's gave us this St. Francis bird bath and it makes our little garden complete. I'm glad I didn't cut the lavender back. 

E. really did peg me with a snowball. 

We stopped by to get Nancy and Kristian for a turn around the hood. It was the furthest I had walked in over a month.

I was pissed that the snow ball that hit me had been packed firmly...but I can't stay mad at this handsome beast of a man.

Use a flash in a snow storm. It was magical. Our neighbors just had a huge pine tree cut down at the end of this lane. It makes such a huge difference in the light coming home now.

Each house and yard in Stone Hill is so different. I love the uniqueness of them all.

The kids all had toddy's to keep them warm. I had my camera and big rimmed hat. I'm still on the dry wagon. 46 days and counting. E was overzealous with the snowballs. 

Even our four legged friends braved the snow to walk around the hood.

This alley has such a Dickensonian feel to it. No filter. Just naturally gray without a tread in sight.

No one does this in the Mid-west. 


We keep spying on The Mill and like seeing lights on inside.

Thanks for the lovely walk N&K. E, thanks for the bruise.