Monday, January 19, 2015

Shepherd's Pie - The perfect makeahead dish

Casseroles are always terrific makeahead dishes which is why they became insanely popular in the 1950s. One of my favorite casseroles (from way before the 1950s) is the Shepherd's Pie from Ireland. It's basically a rich meat filling covered by mashed potatoes, then baked to crisp the top. Who wouldn't love it???

If it's made with lamb, it's called "Shepherd's pie". If it's made with beef, it's called "cottage pie". You can use either, but since I live in the US where most people prefer beef but few have ever heard of "Cottage Pie", I listed both meats and titled this as "Shepherd's Pie". This recipe works well using either. This version is quick to make because it uses ground meat. For a comfort food that's so rich tasting, it's surprisingly low-fat. Since it's easy to makeahead and reheats so nicely, it's terrific if you want something that's easy to take to work for lunch.

Some people are adamantly against instant mashed potatoes, but I think they work better for this dish because they stick together better making for a much more stable topping. I also find that their slightly chewy texture compliments the casserole better. (It has a similar effect when making homemade gnocchi too, though I would never make instant potatoes as a side dish.)

The problem I find with shepherd's pie in most restaurants is that it's incredibly bland. That's a shame, because you can alter the flavor to do anything you like.
In this recipe, I've provided the ratios you need to come out with a great shepherd's pie, but then listed alternates for different ideas you can use to change the taste to match what works best for you.

I make this in a 10" oven-safe skillet that I can pop into the oven to brown. It would also be terrific in a cast iron skillet, or you can assemble it in a large 9" deep dish pie plate as well.

Potato Topping Ingredients:
  • 3 cups boiling hot water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups unflavored instant potato flakes
  • 1/2 cup Kraft parmesan cheese (the powdered kind from the jar)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (if making this dish a day ahead, use 3/4 of a cup)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • green stems of 8 scallions, diced (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp paprika for sprinkling on top (optional)
Potato Topping Instructions:
  1. Add the salt to the boiling water and mix well.
  2. Add potato flakes and stir just until mixed (do not overstir or they'll become rubbery)
  3. Stir in the parmesan cheese, whole milk, butter and let sit for about 5 minutes for the potatos to fully absorb the liquid and cool slightly.
  4. Stir in the egg.
  5. If using the scallions, stir them in.
  6. Cover and set aside to rest while making the filling.
Filling Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced into small pieces
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp regular table salt (will be added in 1/2 tsp increments during different steps)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 cups of liquid (divided) plus seasonings.
  • Here's where the flavor options really come in. Here's a few flavor combinations I really like, or come up with your own:

    For a traditional Irish taste:
    • 1 cup dark beer (like Guinness)
    • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
    • 1 cup beef broth

    For a French taste similar to boeuf bourguignon:
    • 1 cup dry red wine (like Pinot Noir)
    • 1 tsp herbs de provence (or 1/2 tsp dried thyme)
    • 1 cup beef broth

    For an Italian taste similar to bolognese:
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine
    • 1/2 cup whole milk
    • 1 cup tomato sauce

  • 1 1/2 lbs lowfat (90/10) ground beef or lamb (it's important that the beef is low fat because it will not be drained)
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • 1/4 cup frozen peas (optional)
Filling Instructions:
  1. Sweat the onions over low heat in the butter with the black pepper and 1/2 tsp salt for about 5 minutes or until translucent.
  2. Add the garlic, carrots, mushrooms (if using), Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, remaining 1/2 tsp salt, the first cup of your liquid plus seasonings, and the meat then simmer over low heat until the meat is cooked and almost all of the liquid has evaporated. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes. (The goal here is to simmer the meat low and slow as you would a pot roast, not brown the meat as if making tacos.)
  3. Once most of the liquid has evaporated, sprinkle with the 2 tbsp flower over and stir in until well mixed and slightly browned. The remaining liquid will thicken a bit, almost like gravy.
  4. Stir the corn starch into the remaining cup of liquid then pour them into the skillet and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes until the sauce thickens a bit.
  5. Add the frozen peas if using.
  6. Remove from the heat.
Final Steps:
  1. Put the filling in whatever you plan to serve it in. (I leave it in the skillet since mine's oven-safe.)
  2. Scoop the potato topping into a 1 gallon freezer bag.
  3. Cut a 1" hole in the corner of the bag and pipe onto the filling as if you were icing a cake. (Since the filling is like gravy and the potatoes are heavy, this is the easiest way to do it.)
  4. Smooth the top of the potatoes, then drag a fork across the top to create little ridges that will get delicious and crispy brown in the oven.
  5. Broil until it begins to brown slightly.
If you're making this ahead, I would go ahead and complete all the way to the end. It reheats very well in the microwave (on individual plates) or in the oven at 350F for 30 minutes.

What do you like in your shepherd's pie?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Carrot Cake

Stack as many layers as you want!
"Moist" is rarely a pleasant word, but when it's describing carrot cake that's another story. Carrot cake is one of my favorites, but the ingredient ratios in this recipe produce the perfect balance of texture, moistness and flavor. This is my friend's recipe and she was kind enough to share it with us. It's so delicious that I'm only allowed to make it when lots of people coming over or I'd literally eat the entire cake by myself.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Cheap homemade sushi rolls

Every time my friends and I go out for sushi, we easily drop $20 to $30 each. Why? We love sushi. But how much would you save making it at home? Well, the rice and other ingredients are so cheap they don't even count. But how much was the fish? Here's the breakdown:
  • $12.03 sushi-grade tuna (.71 lbs @ $16.95 USD a pound)
  • $4.13 sushi-grade salmon (.52 lbs @ $7.95 USD a pound)
 So... how far did $16 worth of fish get us? See for yourself.

The first night, we made all these rolls and the 5 of us ate until it hurt to breathe:
There was still enough fish leftover for tonight so we made more rolls:
Two of us polished this whole thing off!
Why oh why aren't you making your own sushi rolls? If you're anything like me, you just didn't realize how easy it is to do.

Perfect Sushi Rice

Recently, some close friends took a sushi class. Though I love sushi, after several failed attempts at making it myself I passed on the class. Boy, was that a mistake! They told me it's all about the rice, but it wasn't until I had an amazing tuna bowl at one of their favorite restaurants that I realized how true that is.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Crispy Buttered Peach Fruit Cobbler

Get in my belly!
My sister-in-law found this recipe in one of her Amish cookbooks. They didn't list the proportions of ingredients, but she's a great cook and figured it out pretty quickly. This is my favorite cobbler because of the delicious crispy top that stays crispy for a few days. It's terrific with vanilla ice cream and also makes wonderful leftovers with morning coffee!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Steak au Poivre: Bring a defibrillator and let's party!

The way to a man's heart is with a steak smothered in cream sauce
(and a defibrillator!)
You'd be surprised by the amazing dishes you can make once you get the sauté down. This is a rich, decadent dish that's perfect for a date night when you want to impress someone. The best part is that they don't have to know how ridiculously easy it is.

Since this meat entree is so decadent, it pairs really well with steamed veggies and french bread. It should also be followed by a very light dessert. Unless, of course, you're on the Atkins diet, in which case you should wolf down this entire delicious meal by yourself.