Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shepherd's Pie

Sometimes, when the wind is blowing at record breaking speeds, darkness is setting in before you leave work, and a long winter lies ahead, you just want to eat something comforting. Furthermore, you want to eat it soonish, and with very little effort involved. Boy, do I have the recipe for you! In October of 2007, this Easy Shepherd's Pie recipe caught my attention, and it was just exactly what I found myself wanting to eat this week.

I got Real Simple magazine for a couple of years, until their suggestions started to feel familiar and the recipes I had flagged in them were piling up. I decided, at that point, not to resubscribe. But I certainly flip back through the old issues, and I recently found that you can find recipes very easily on their website - in this case, I knew what I was looking for, I just wasn't sure which old issue I would find it in. You can do searches by keywords or ingredients or cuisines or all variety of other options.

Here it is - the shamelessly modernized and Americanized version of what I imagine to be a centuries old tradition... probably involving meat scraps and whatever else was lying around! This version requires mostly things I have on hand, and a few things I can purchase with ease if I must. It takes 10 minutes to cook the beef and preheat the oven, 10 minutes to bake. Read beyond the recipe for my tips related to speeding up the mashed potato element of this recipe.

Easy Shepherd's Pie
Real Simple, October 2007

Heat the oven to 400.
Brown 1 lb ground beef.
Stir in 1/3 cup ketchup and 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce.
Add 8 oz of mixed frozen vegetables (carrots, peas, corn, green beans - whatever - thawed).
Cook one minute.
Put in a baking dish.
Mix 1 lb of mashed potatoes with 1/4 cup cheddar (cheese is optional).
Spread potatoes on top of beef and vegetables.
Bake 10 minutes.

In my case, I realized on Tuesday that I wanted to eat Shepherd's Pie, but I was unwilling to leave the house for ingredients. I looked up the recipe, moved a variety of frozen vegetables into the refrigerator to get a start on thawing, and I made a huge batch of mashed potatoes for dinner (with chicken and carrots, because I had those on hand, but that's a story for another time). If I'd had ground beef in the freezer, I would have shifted that over to thawing mode, as well. But I didn't, so I started a grocery list, instead.

Tonight after work I stopped for ground beef, came home, threw the recipe together, and I'm eating it now, while I write this post!

Here's my note about mashed potatoes. Real Simple suggests that you buy a 1 lb bin of pre-made mashed potatoes from the grocery store. I did that once, just out of curiosity, and they were actually quite good, and did eliminate the need to make mashed potatoes. However, if the goal is to make this recipe quickly, I solved that problem this time by making the potatoes in advance, so the shepherd's pie took less than 30 minutes to make. Also, mashed potatoes are incredibly easy. Here's roughly how Rachel Ray suggests doing it, in her Get Togethers cookbook:

Mashed Potatoes
Peel and cut into chunks, 1 pound of potatoes (2 large potatoes).
Place them in a pot, covered with water. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and lightly salt. Leave uncovered and simmer at a rolling boil until tender, 8-10 minutes.
Drain the potatoes, and return them to the hot pan. Mash them with half-and-half, butter, cream, milk, roasted garlic, Boursin cheese, or whatever else you like.

I used a generous splash of half-and-half, a few tablespoons of butter, salt and freshly ground pepper. I had cooked three or four large handfuls of tiny potatoes, which I did not peel, as I know they were grown organically and their peel is therefore very good for me, and not at all chemical-ridden as some peel may very well be (mine are from our well stocked CSA box potato supply!).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Homemade Sesame Chicken - even better than the 'real' stuff

I got home last night to find my most favorite fat fish, Cooper (the pooper, originally known as Cooper the Silver Fox Fish) had died while I was gone over the weekend. Welcome home, right? And I've got this assignment for a class that is just making me crazy. REALLY crazy. All in all, I was feeling a bit out of sorts today and was craving some good old Chinese take out. But I hate paying for food I can make myself, so I went to town (aka the internet) looking to find a sesame chicken recipe that I might have all of the ingredients for. I had gone grocery shopping just prior to deciding sesame chicken was what I was craving and luckily had gotten some chicken (with chicken noodle soup in mind), so I was good to go. Cook up some rice with this sucker and you've got yourself a homemade batch of deliciousness! 

Sesame Chicken Serves 3-4 (the recipe originally said 6 but I don't believe it)

Based on a recipe by Doreen P on

For the chicken

Ingredients: 2 T flour, 2 T cornstarch, 1/4 t baking soda, 1/4 t baking powder, 2 T soy sauce, 1 T dark cooking liquor such as sherry or port, 2 T water, 1 t sesame oil (or vegetable, or a mix), about 1 lb of chicken breast meat, cubed.

Directions: Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Mix together the liquid ingredients in a small pyrex and pour into the dry ingredients, stirring until smooth. Add the chicken and stir until well coated. Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

For the sauce:

I will say...the sauce is quite good, but the recipe makes a LOT of it, like 2 cups of it...for 2 chicken breasts.  I'm hesitant to just cut the recipe in half because sauces so often need a minimum amount of a certain ingredient to really come together. So. I'm putting the whole recipe but you've been warned - it's a lot of sauce! So if you're interested in serving more people, just increase the batter for the chicken and the amount of chicken.

Ingredients: 1 cup chicken broth, 2 T white vinegar, 2 T soy sauce, 2 T sesame oil, 1 cup white sugar, 1 t chili paste, 2 cloves pressed garlic, 1/4 cup corn starch, 1/2 cup water.

Directions:  Combine the stock, vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil and stir together in a saucepan over medium high heat (if you are using  "better than bullion" {my personal favorite} or bullion cubes, heat water in the saucepan first, add the bullion and then once that has dissolved, stir in the remaining ingredients. I prefer to mix everything before hand in a separate dish so that the first few ingredients don't cook off while I measure the remaining ingredients).  Add the sugar and stir well, until dissolved, and then toss in the garlic and chili paste. Turn the heat to medium and stir well. Once everything is really mixed together, allow it to come to a boil, turning the heat up or down as needed, I kept having to remove the sauce from the heat it was boiling so much. Dissolve the cornstarch in half a cup of water and pour into the saucepan. Mix WELL. Allow the sauce to simmer and continue stirring, making sure to scrape the edges often. Careful that the sauce doesn't get too hot and pop and burn you. Turn off heat and let the sauce sit while you cook the chicken, stir it every once in a while though, just for kicks.

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan and deep fry the chicken for 3-4 minutes, or bake the chicken on a pan (until done...I'm not sure for how long, I went the frying route). When the chicken is done, let it cool on a paper towel lined plate.  When you're ready to serve the meal, toss the chicken pieces on a nice pile of rice, make sure the sauce is warm and pour it over the chicken. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds and serve! 


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mom used to make these cookies from a recipe she once got from a friend. When I was in college, my sister made some and sent them to me, and then when she was in college, I made some and sent them to her. For reasons we still don't understand, the ones I sent her took more than a month to navigate through the postal service and into her campus mail box. From what I have heard, she wanted to eat them so badly that she was pulling the chocolate chips out and nibbling on those. Her roommate had to forcibly remove the box from her hands and dispose of the contents.

The good news is that now that neither of us lives in dorm rooms, we can easily make these cookies any time we like. They are quick and easy and delicious. Everyone I've fed them to has loved them. Better yet - they don't have any butter or milk, so even my lactose-free friends can enjoy them! The pumpkin makes them moist, and they travel well (which is why we got in the habit of mailing them to each other in the past!).

Bake them! Eat them! Share them with your friends!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

Mix together:
1 cup cooked pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 egg

Combine, in a separate bowl:
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt

Combine, in a tiny bowl:
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp milk

Mix those three bowls together.

Stir in:
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Spoon onto cookie trays, and bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Red Rice

I once mailed $10 or so to the folks at Better Homes and Gardens, and they have been sending me their magazine for more than two years as a consequence. I know from the ominous letters and postcards that I've been receiving from them lately that the October issue was my last, and that's okay. I've enjoyed their magazine, and gotten some great recipes from them, but as a single person who lives in an apartment, I can't do much with their hosta replanting schemes or their children's birthday party decorating ideas. Better Homes and Gardens tends to be a casserole and cookies kind of recipe source, but recently, they've started running a column by chef Scott Peacock that gets to the bottom of "American Home Cooking" with traditional recipes for more complicated fare than usually gets tackled here. The "Shrimp-and-Sausage Red Rice" recipe in this column of the September issue was quite possibly life changing and most certainly repertoire changing. In fact, if this recipe was the only thing I ever got from the experience (though it wasn't - I have a few other standard favorites that I discovered in this magazine), the two years were totally worth it.

If I ate this meal at a restaurant, I would bring all my friends back over and over again to share the experience. Instead, I plan to cook it a lot in the future and share it with my friends that way! I cooked the entire recipe, which serves 6. I ate it for two dinners and two lunches, and froze the rest of it. I can't wait to thaw it out and eat the rest. It is absolutely phenomenal.

Shrimp-and-Sausage Red Rice
(don't ask me why it's hyphenated, I'm just writing what I see)
Better Homes and Gardens, September 2010

3 Tbsp bacon drippings
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green sweet pepper
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (Careful! Don't get burned!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 14.5 oz can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed
1 rounded Tbsp tomato paste
2 cups chicken stock or water (I used chicken stock)
1 Tbsp butter
1 cup long grain rice
8 oz andouille or cooked, smoked chorizo sausage, sliced in 1/2 inch rounds
1 cup sliced fresh okra (this recipe made me appreciate okra - be sure to use it!)
1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp (I used frozen cooked shrimp, thawed and drained)

In a large skillet heat bacon drippings. Add onion; cook over medium-low heat without stirring for 5 minutes. Add the sweet pepper, jalapeno, garlic, thyme, and crushed red pepper. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook over low heat for 8 to 10 minutes or until onion and pepper are soft but not browned.

Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir in stock; bring to a simmer. Cover and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Taste carefully for seasoning (broth should be highly seasoned to flavor the rice).

In a heavy, wide-bottom nonreactive pot or heavy 12-inch skillet heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add rice; cook, stirring constantly, for 1-2 minutes until rice becomes translucent. Carefully stir in the hot tomato mixture. Cover quickly and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the sausage and okra, mixing in gently with two forks. Return cover and cook 10 minutes longer over very low heat, just until most of the liqued is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Sprinkle shrimp lightly with salt and pepper. Stir the shrimp into the rice mixture. Cover and cook 3 minutes longer, just until shrimp is opaque. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My favorite appetizer: Deviled Eggs

Some think deviled eggs are boring, or too 50's, or whatever, but guess what? I love them, and they disappear quickly when I serve them, so I've got to believe that they're still a favorite. Perhaps some people don't have a great recipe, or get annoyed at having over or under cooked eggs, cracked whites, or a bland  yolk filling, and have given up on them. Well, if that's the case, here's my recipe - the steps for cooking the eggs are fool proof and the outcome is delicious, so I hope you'll try making these for your next get together (especially if I'll be in attendance). Happy cooking!

Deviled Eggs  from Cook's Illustrated - New Best Recipes with a bit of editing on the filling. :)

Ingredients: 12 eggs, whole-grain mustard, dry mustard powder, mayonnaise, salt and pepper, paprika.

To Cook the Eggs: Use a small (clean) nail or thumbtack to poke a small hole in the top of each egg. This relieves the pressure and makes sure the egg doesn't crack while cooking.  Carefully place the eggs in a saucepan so that they only take one layer (so a pot with a large base), and add water so that it is about an inch above the top of the eggs. Bring to a boil over high heat, remove the pan from heat, cover and let sit for 10 minutes. While the eggs sit in the hot water, fill a medium/large bowl with about a quart or so of cold water and a tray of ice cubes. When the 10 minutes is up, use a slotted spoon to carefully move the eggs from the hot water to the cold water and let sit for 5 minutes. This cools the eggs so you can handle them and it makes it easier to remove the shells.

To Prep the Eggs: One at a time, remove an egg from the water and gently roll it on a counter or cutting board, covering the entire shell in small cracks. This should crack the hard shell but leave the lining of the shell intact, making it easy to pull the shell off.  After you have removed all of the shells, cut each egg in half lengthwise (from the top to the bottom, rather than through the middle).  Remove the yolks and put them in a medium sized bowl. Discard the two worst halves of egg white (you'll likely have a cracked one or one with a very thin wall). If you don't have any that are bad, well done, but still get rid of two (one eggs worth).

For the Filling: Add half a teaspoon 1/2 t of whole grain/brown mustard, 1/4 t dry mustard powder, 3 T mayo and salt and pepper to the yolks. Cook's Illustrated suggests you also add 1- 1 1/2 t of cider vinegar, but that's up to you. Use a fork to mash and mix the ingredients. Taste and add mustard, mayo salt and/or pepper to get it to the texture and taste of your liking. Make sure you don't add too much mustard or mayo, as you want it to be a firm paste, not too soft.

To Assemble: Fill a sturdy ziplock bag with the filling and cut off the corner, or if you own a pastry bag, fill it up! Squeeze the filling through the corner and into each egg half, filling them so the filling is a bit taller than the whole itself.  Once you have used up all the filling, sprinkle each egg with a bit of paprika, put a garnish in the middle of the plate if you wish (I like a sprig of mint or basil), and serve!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Back from a long break, and full of zucchini!

Whew. It's been a LONG time since I posted. Sarah's been cooking up a storm and really keeping Ballerina Breath together. Thank goodness! I spent 6 weeks traveling and upon my return jumped into graduate school, so life has been a bit hectic. I'm cooking a fair amount again, but just haven't gotten around to putting up any posts, so here goes my concerted effort to post regularly again! I spent 2 weeks in Costa Rica at a sea turtle conservation project and hopefully I will put up a nice long post about that wonderful experience, until then, here's to hoping your garden is overflowing with zucchini and you're looking for new recipes!

After my two weeks in Costa Rica I returned home to Maine for a few weeks. My Dad's friend has zucchini taking over her garden so she has become quite inventive and I was lucky enough to taste her delightful discoveries. Upon returning to Seattle, I learned that my friend also had a garden that was being taken over by zucchini, so I took two 15" zucchinis off her hands. That's right, you heard me. They were HUGE.  The two recipes I wanted to try to remake were a cold zucchini salad and a warm, creamy zucchini soup.  They both are nice in that there's just a hint of obvious zucchini flavor, so if you're feeling overwhelmed by zucchini, this is a nice subtle use of the vegetable.

Cold Zucchini Salad

For the Dressing: 
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions: Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk well. Rinse the zucchini (2-3 small or 1-2 standard) and use a mandolin or vegetable peeler (or sharp knife and patience) to slice/shave it into thin strips. Chop 1/2 cup of fresh basil and add to the zucchini strips.  Lightly toast 1/4 cup of pine nuts or pumpkin seeds in a skillet on the stove and add to the zucchini. Pour the dressing over the salad and sprinkle shaved Parmesan or Romano cheese to taste. 

Serve with a side dish of Parmesan for people to add as they wish, and enjoy!

Warm, Creamy Zucchini Soup Serves 4-5 as an appetizer, 2-3 as an entrĂ©e.

This soup is SUPER easy, delicious and quite healthy for you (yeah there's cream, but not much!). I hope you like it as much as I do!

Ingredients: 8 cups of cubed zucchini, with seeds removed, 4 cups chicken broth, 1/3 cup of cream, dash of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, 1/4 cup shaved or grated Parmesan.

Directions: Add the zucchini and chicken broth to a stock pot and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until zucchini is nice and soft. If you like, add a bay leaf to the broth while it simmers. Pour out one cup of liquid and reserve to add as you wish later. If you used a bay leaf, remove it. Use an immersion blender to puree the zucchini to the texture of your liking (I like it really smooth), let it cool just a bit, and add the cream, nutmeg, salt, pepper and cheese. Stir well and taste.  Add some of the reserved liquid if it is too thick, or more nutmeg, salt or pepper to your liking. Serve warm, with a dollop of plain yogurt on top. Enjoy!

Thanks Sarah R, for such delicious meals and your wonderful recipes!