Texas-Style Cottage Pie with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and A.1. Compound Butter

Flavors are bolder in Texas.
Considering the extent of my bacon advocacy, most people are surprised to find out that I used to be a vegetarian. That was not a choice based on any kind of moral imperative. Instead, it was the best way that my 14-year-old self think of to annoy my mother. Now you would think that vegetarianism would have gotten old after a couple of weeks, but I was stubborn teenager and persisted in my gastronomic rebellion for twelve long and meatless years.

I didn’t just annoy my mother, I baffled my relatives who had never heard of Tofurkys until they were forced to procure them. My friends would collectively roll their eyeballs heavenward each time that I complained about the lack of vegetarian options on a restaurant menu. I irritated significant others to no end because it frankly sucks to not share food that you are really enjoying.

So it stands to reason that on the night before my undergraduate commencement ceremony, I would have my vegetarian graduation celebration at a barbecue restaurant.

Yes, you read that correctly.

What prompted such a paradoxical decision? You see, one of the last classes that I took at my alma mater was a cultural anthropology course on food — which ended up being a prescient choice since many of the books on that syllabus found their way into the bibliography of my dissertation. I had an amazing professor who had a number of terrific guest speakers come to talk to the class, one of first of which was Chris Schlesinger who was still at the East Coast Grill (he has since sold it to the former head chef, now chef/co-owner Jason Heard).

Until that class, I had never really thought that much about food apart from how much I liked to eat it. It never occurred to me that you could craft an approach to food that could be just as thoughtful, complicated, and elegant as any in literature, or that taste — both sensory and esthetic — could be a marker of identity, a beginning of a journey, or an end to one.

In any case, Schlesinger’s passion, dedication, and approach to big, bold American flavors made quite the impression. I also remember how he wasn’t adverse to vegetables being on a barbecue menu, which is how my friends and my family ended up at his restaurant graduation eve.

I don’t remember exactly what I ate that night (probably macaroni and cheese), but I do remember that the food was good and my dad was happy that he wasn’t forced to eat another avocado burrito in a New Age-y bookstore that smelled like patchouli, incense, and beans.

This recipe is adapted from Schlesinger’s How to Cook Meat, published the same year that I graduated. I bought the book to remember that night despite not cooking nor eating meat at the time. Who would have known how useful it would turn out to be a few years later when I was no longer a vegetarian and really did want to know how to cook meat!

I must admit that the first time that I made this dish, I wasn’t impressed; I found it too sweet and the flavors a little too weird. However, after years of vegetarianism, I probably just had no idea what I was doing. Now things are different (or back to “normal,” depending how you think about it). I find the combination of flavors to be complex, rich, and deeply satisfying on cold nights like the ones that we have been having here on the East Coast.

I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years, making it a little less sweet (tomato paste substituted for ketchup; blackstrap for plain old molasses), and deepening the flavors a little more (roasting instead of boiling the sweet potatoes). The recipe easily doubles as the one given below is the proportions of the original halved.

Like any recipe that you have made your own, its evolution is indicative of where you come from and where you are going. In essence, that is the wonderful thing about recipes in general: they all tell a story and this is one of mine.

Ingredients:

For the compound butter:

1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature

1 tablespoon of A.1. Steak Sauce

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

Flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the cottage pie:

2 large sweet potatoes

1/2-2/3 of a cup of half-and-half

1 tablespoon of butter

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and diced small

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced

1/2 a tablespoon of ground cumin

1/2 a tablespoon of ground coriander

A scant pinch of ground cinnamon

1 pound of ground beef

1 tablespoon of tomato paste

1 tablespoon of blackstrap molasses

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.

2. To make the A.1. compound butter, combine the room temperature butter, the steak sauce, and the chopped parsley in a small bowl. Season the butter with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Spoon the butter onto a piece of parchment or waxed paper, roll it into a cylinder, and refrigerate it until firm.

3. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place them directly on the wire racks of your oven and roast them until they can be easily pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes.

4. While the sweet potatoes are roasting, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Sauté the onions and diced bell pepper until the onions begin to turn golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic, the minced jalapeño, and the spices. Let them sizzle them for about 1 minute before adding the ground beef. Cook the ground beef until it is browned, crumbly, and no longer pink. Pour off any excess fat in the pan before stirring in the tomato paste and the blackstrap molasses. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the sweet potatoes are cooked through, remove them from the oven and let them rest. Lower the temperature of the oven to 350°.

6. When the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and discard the skins. Mash them with a tablespoon of butter and 2/3 of a cup of half-and-half. As the mixture should be on the loose side, add more half-and-half if needed. Season with salt and pepper.

7. Spread an even layer of the ground beef mixture over the bottom of a casserole or baking dish. Gently top the ground beef mixture with the mashed sweet potatoes. Bake until the filling is bubbly, about 40 minutes.

8. Remove the casserole dish from the oven and let it rest for about 5-10 minutes. To serve, you can either dot the top of the casserole with the compound butter before dividing it into portions, or you can top each individual serving with a slice of the compound butter.

The Daring Kitchen December Cooks’ Challenge: Pâté Chinois

Looks good, eh?
As some of you know, I have been participating in The Daring Kitchen’s Challenges for about a year now. For those of you unfamiliar with the name, The Daring Kitchen is an online community of cooks and bakers who commit to making one dish — the month’s challenge — and posting their results on their blogs on the same day.

I took a hiatus from the Daring Cooks (there is a corresponding Daring Bakers group) during and following my dissertation. In the interim, I missed out on some pretty great challenges. I especially regretted missing the Brazilian Feijoada and the Paella challenges. In addition, there were many more that passed me by as I just watched and salivated on the sidelines. This month, after a period of decompression and relaxation, I finally felt ready to jump back in and cook something new.

So imagine my reaction when I pulled up December’s challenge PDF for a mysteriously named dish called Pâté chinois and saw that . . .

Pâté chinois is essentially shepherd’s pie with a layer of canned creamed corn in-between the meat and the mashed potatoes.

That’s it.

And its traditional accompaniment is ketchup.

Yes. That’s it.

As Pâté chinois generally calls for ground beef, it is perhaps more accurate to say that it is a variation of cottage pie not shepherd’s pie. However, the more pressing question is why is it called Pâté chinois considering there is not much in it that can be either construed as pâté (ground meat alone does not a pâté make) or Chinese.

According to Wikipedia, the origins of Pâté chinois are rooted in the assumption that the name refers to Chinese cooks who came to Canada to serve the workers who built the North American railroad system in the late 19th century. These cooks were instructed by their railway bosses to prepare and serve something that was not only inexpensive, but that the railway workers would recognize and therefore eat As wood ear fungus and black chicken soup was probably out of the question, the Chinese cooks put together a version of cottage pie using canned creamed corn in place of the more expensive gravy.

Of course, this is all anecdotal. Alternatively, the name Pâté chinois might also refer to a variation of hachis Parmentier, which is basically cottage pie too. This is a dish that French-speaking families in Maine would refer to as Pâté chinois in reference to the towns where they ate it: China and South China, Maine.

I also read somewhere that Pâté chinois could also be an allusion to the dish’s preparation. When I read about the possible connection to Chinese immigrants, this was actually my first thought. Much like how chop suey is inauthentically Chinese and refers instead to the chopped items in the dish, I imagined that Pâté chinois got its name from the chopped meat and corn kernels that could be commonly found in Chinese stir-fry.

Regardless of when, where, and how Pâte chinois came to be, it is one of those quintessential Québecois comfort foods that everyone is familiar with, yet it is unknown to outsiders as it is hardly ever served outside of the home.

If you understand French (or even if you don’t), this is an truly awesome Youtube clip about Pâté chinois in Québec. It is narrated by a man with the dang coolest Québecois accent ever.

Given that I have made cottage pie numerous times (and even blogged about it here), I thought this challenge would be a easy one.

Wrong! Can you believe it, dear Readers? My first attempt at Pâté chinois was a dismal failure!

First of all, my fancy schmancy neighborhood supermarket does not carry canned creamed corn. Oh the class warfare! Consequently, I was forced to improvise with frozen corn and fresh heavy cream. Although my homemade version of creamed corn looked and tasted superior, it completely separated while cooking. To my horror, my cottage pie had morphed into a cream of potato soup with little bits of hamburger floating in it.

In my defense, it tasted amazing, but anything that is more than 50% heavy cream is almost always guaranteed to taste amazing.

Back to the drawing board! Still no creamed corn in a can. This time, instead of blending the corn with heavy cream, I put some corn kernels with a little bit of milk in the food processor. Once puréed, I folded in more corn kernels for better texture. The result was a mass of corn about the same consistency of my mashed potatoes.

The final result yielded three distinct and yummy layers. Pâté chinois is still a fairly bland dish, which explains the predominant use of ketchup to kick it up a notch. However, since I find ketchup generally too sweet for my tastes, I substituted a healthy squeeze of Sriracha. Can’t go wrong with that 🙂

Many thanks to this month’s host, Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook!, for the challenge. I had a so much fun learning about Canadian comfort food. Your challenge was also a great reminder that it doesn’t matter how many times you make something, there is always something more to learn!

Blog-checking lines:

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!

Ingredients:

4 Yukon Gold potatoes (5 if they are small), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons of butter

Milk

Salt and pepper

1 pound of frozen corn kernels, thawed and divided in half

Milk or heavy cream

One medium onion, finely chopped

1 pound of lean ground beef

1 teaspoon of paprika

1 pinch of cayenne pepper

Worcestershire sauce

1 cup of shredded Gruyère or Comté cheese

Sriracha or ketchup

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Generously add salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. You will know that they are ready to mash when you can crush a potato piece easily against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes. In the same pan, mash them with the butter. Add the milk a 1/4 cup at a time until you get the right consistency. You don’t want the potatoes to be dry, but you don’t want them to be soupy either. Aim for a texture that is loose enough to spoon out, but not so loose that the potatoes add a lot of excess water to your dish. Adjust the seasoning.

3. While the potatoes are cooking, purée half of the corn kernels in a food processor with about a quarter cup of milk. Add more milk if the mixture looks too dry, but not so much that you end up with a corn slurry. The texture of the puréed corn should match that of the mashed potatoes. Turn the puréed corn out into a large bowl and fold in the remaining whole kernels. Adjust the seasoning.

4. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until they are translucent and begin to brown. Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking up bigger chunks of ground beef with your wooden spoon as it cooks. Continue to cook the beef until there is no longer any visible pink. Sprinkle it with the paprika, cayenne pepper, Worcestershire sauce to taste. Cook everything until the sauce has thickened, about another two to three minutes.

5. In an oven-proof dish, spread the ground beef out in an even layer on the bottom. Carefully spread the corn mixture on top of the beef. Gently spoon the potatoes on top of the corn. Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the top and bake until bubbly, about 20-30 minutes.

6. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before serving with Sriracha or ketchup.

Individual Beef and Green Herb Pies with Yeasted Whole Wheat Crust


This recipe finds its origins in another recipe from Deborah Madison. As some of you know, when I was a vegetarian, I cooked my way through her Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I learned so much from that book: how to prep, how to cook vegetables (trickier, I think, than meat), how to not be afraid of trying things I had never eaten before (cardoons? sorrel anyone?), and how to improvise (the most important lesson of all).

In 2001, the Times released a collection of recipes gathered from its most popular chef contributors, including Madison. The Chefs of the Times is a great cookbook to have, not just because the dishes are all terrific, but because each one is prefaced by a short introduction in which the chefs talk about how they got to the final versions of the recipes found in the book, from inspiration to execution.

It was here that I found Madison’s interpretation of the traditional Tuscan torta d’erbe. A torta d’erbe is, in essence, a very rustic dish normally comprising of whatever greens or vegetables you have one hand, bound together with beaten eggs, ricotta, and/or parmesan, and baked in a pastry crust.

Madison does a different take on the traditional pastry by cutting the amount of fat in the dough, and using yeast to lighten it and make it flaky. In the published recipe, she had you make a covered pie in a tart tin. However, when I started making it, I would just divide the dough in two and make a great big free-form tart.

Now I go one step further and made individual hand pies. I also use just olive oil for the crust (instead of butter, or a mixture of butter and olive oil), and do a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour.

These hand pies are the year’s real first stab at something a little healthier to eat. They are full of good things that are good for you.

To turn the recipe back into a vegetarian one, simply omit the ground beef, and double the amount of ricotta. In either case, if you would like to make the pies a little richer, you can add about 3 ounces of grated parmesan, or crumbled feta cheese to the filling.

Ingredients:

1 package of active dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)

1/2 teaspoon of sugar

1 cup of warm whole milk

Salt

3 eggs

8 tablespoons of olive oil

1 cup of all-purpose flour

2 cups of whole wheat flour

1 medium onion, chopped

1 pound of very lean ground beef

1 cup of fresh parsley, chopped

1/2 cup of fresh dill, chopped

1/2 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped

2 bunches (about 6 cups) of spinach, roughly chopped

1 bunch of trimmed chard (about 3 cups), roughly chopped

1/2 a cup of whole-milk ricotta

The zest of one lemon

Freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare:

1. In a small bowl, combine the yeast with the warm milk and the sugar.

2. In a large bowl, mix the 2 flours together with a hefty pinch of salt. Make a well in the center of the flour for the olive oil and just one of the eggs. Using your hands, combine the flour with the oil and the egg until the mixture is nice and crumbly. Add the yeast-milk mixture all at once, and knead the dough together by hand until it is relatively smooth. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm, dark place for about an hour.

3. In the meantime, sauté the onion in a large skillet with a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat until it is no longer opaque. Once the onion begins to turn golden, crumble the ground beef into the skillet. Cook the meat until it is no longer pink. When the ground beef begins to brown, add the herbs to it. Continue to cook everything until most of the water has evaporated. The herbs should be softened, but still bright. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat mixture to large bowl, leaving behind as much liquid as possible. If there seems to be a lot of liquid, drain the beef mixture as best as you can. Adjust the seasoning.

4. To the same skillet, add the spinach. Cook it over medium heat until it wilts. Remove it to a colander. Repeat the process with the chard. When the spinach and the chard are cool enough to handle, use your hands to press as much liquid as possible out of the leaves to remove the moisture.

5. Combine the meat and herb mixture, the wilted greens, the lemon zest, the ricotta and one egg. Adjust the seasoning, and divide the mixture into 8 equal parts.

6. Preheat the oven to 375°.

7. When the dough is ready, divide it into 8 equal parts. Roll each part into a ball. Flatten out each ball of dough with your hands before rolling it out into a round about to an 1/8th of an inch thick, and about 6 to 7 inches in diameter. You can do this on a lightly floured surface if needed, but because of the olive oil, the dough shouldn’t be very sticky. Mound a portion of filling in the center of the dough. Fold the dough over the filling, making a half-moon shape. Lightly press the air out of the filling as you seal the pie around its edges. Trim the pie so that there is about a half-inch border all the way around. Use the tines of a fork to make impressions around the pie. Cut three even slits into the top. Repeat these steps for the remaining 7 pies.

8. Evenly position the hand pies on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You may need more than one baking sheet. Beat the last remaining egg. Using a pastry brush, gently brush each pie with the beaten egg. Bake the pies for about 35 minutes.

Serve hot, room temperature, or cold.

Avgolemeno Soup with Mini-Meatballs


After a few weeks of holiday food, I feel ready for a detox. I want light food, but since the weather remains kind of chilly, I want that “something light” to still be warm and nourishing.

This avgolemeno soup with mini-meatballs fits the bill perfectly. The broth is bright and punchy from the lemon. The texture is silky smooth from the egg yolks and the blended rice. The toothsome meatballs are delightfully dill-scented. And the soup is also a cinch to make — which feels refreshing after all those complex holiday recipes.

This recipe is adapted from one by Grace Parisi that appeared in Food and Wine.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup of long grain white rice

3 cups of water

Salt

1 pound of very lean ground beef

Freshly ground pepper

1/3 cup of white onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of fresh parsley, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped

All-purpose flour

5 cups of chicken broth

2 large egg yolks

1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice

Special equipment:

A hand-held immersion blender

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, cover the rice with 3 cups of water. Season with salt. Bring everything up to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer the rice until it is tender — about 15 minutes.

2. In the meanwhile, use your hands to combine the ground beef with the onion, the parsley, and the dill. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Form the mixture into 1-inch meatballs.

3. When the rice is done, drain the grains in a colander. Return the Dutch oven to the stove top. Heat the chicken broth in it over medium-high heat. When the broth starts to simmer, lower the heat to medium-low. Add the lemon juice to the chicken broth.

4. In a separate bowl, temper the egg yolks by whisking them together with a ladleful of hot broth. Whisk the tempered yolks into the rest of the chicken broth. Using a hand-held immersion blender, blend about half of the drained rice into the broth until the soup is smooth and frothy. Adjust the seasoning.

5. Raise the heat so that the soup comes back up to a simmer. Carefully skim off any foam that rises to the surface.

6. Dust the meatballs with flour. Knock off any excess flour before adding them to the soup. Simmer the meatballs until they are cooked through, about 8 minutes or so. You may need to continue to skim the surface while the meatballs cook. When the meatballs are done, add the remaining rice to the soup. Adjust the seasoning again.

Serve with sprigs of dill.

Keema Beef Curry


It is officially cold.

Really cold today. Not as cold as yesterday night (which was the coldest day of the season so far), but still very nose-nippy outside.

It is also officially dark at 4:30pm.

When the weather takes a sharp turn like this, I often start to crave something spicy and bright. This recipe is from the current issue of Food and Wine, and suits my tastes and my mood perfectly. The spices are so warming; they make me dream of locales where the sun shines all the time. The coconut milk makes the curry smooth and creamy, and the spritz of lemon juice makes the whole dish sparkle.

Another great thing about this recipe? It’s something new and delicious to make with ground beef that isn’t hamburger, meatloaf, or meatballs!

Adapted by Grace Parisi from the amazing Julie Sahni, this recipe strangely seems to have not been uploaded to the magazine’s website yet. I have basically kept the recipe as published. However, I have reduced the amount a liquid a bit so it isn’t so watery (you might choose to reduce it even more). Even though Parisi’s recipe doesn’t call for lemons, a hit of acid just seems like such a natural addition to make the flavors pop.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon of canola oil

1 pound of lean ground beef

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of ginger, finely grated

2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 1/2 tablespoons of Madras curry powder

Salt and pepper

1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 cup of chicken stock

1 14-ounce can of unsweetened coconut milk

1 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups of frozen baby peas

Fresh cilantro

Lemon wedges

How to prepare:

1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Add the ground beef. As it cooks, use the edge of your wooden spoon to break up any lumps. Continue to brown the meat until there is no longer any pink, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the onion, the ginger, the garlic, and the curry powder. Season everything with salt and pepper. Continue to cook the meat mixture until the onions begin to soften and become translucent, about 3 minutes.

3. Add the potato, the stock, the coconut milk, and the diced tomatoes and their juices. Stir everything to combine. Bring the everything to a boil, and then turn the heat down to a simmer. Cook the curry until the sauce has thickened, and the potatoes are tender.

4. Using the back of your wooden spoon, lightly crush some of the potatoes against the side of the casserole. Adjust the seasoning. Add the peas, and continue to simmer the curry until they are heated through. Adjust the seasoning for a final time.

Top the beef keema with cilantro and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Serve with either basmati rice or naan.

High Point Farms takes Best Burger at Cook Out NYC on Governor’s Island

Photos courtesy of the Reverend at burgerconquest.com.

Happy cows make delicious burgers! Congratulations to High Point Farms for taking the Best Burger award at last weekend’s Burger Cook-Off on Governor’s Island! Go CSA!

Read about the event here.

And see more pictures of the event here!

Taco Salad

Taco salad is easy to mock. Is it a salad? Isn’t it just a giant fried flour tortilla bowl full of calories? When Budweiser can sell beer by exploiting taco salad’s paradoxical nature in a very funny commercial, you know it probably isn’t that good for you.

But why can’t it be? Why not swap out the edible bowl for a just a few high-quality tortilla chips, and use really good, super lean grass-fed beef. Why not replace the iceberg lettuce (John Waters always calls iceberg lettuce the polyester of greens) with bright, crunchy, vitamin-packed Romaine? Why not throw in some organic cherry tomatoes? Just a sprinkling of good shredded cheese, the hormone-free stuff?

And forget the heavy Ranch dressing or giant scoop of sour cream. If your core ingredients are good, just a spritz of lime juice should do the trick.

Ingredients:

1 pound of very lean ground beef

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 white onion, chopped

2-3 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon of paprika

1/4 teaspoon of chili powder

Salt and pepper

1 head of Romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch ribbons

1 cup of shredded cheese

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, diced

Tortilla chips

Lime wedges

How to prepare:

1. Heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Sauté them together until the onion is slightly softened, approximately 2-3 minutes. Add the beef and the spices. Cook until the meat is no longer pink. Adjust the seasoning. Turn off the heat and begin assembling the salad.

2. Make a bed of about a cup of lettuce in the bottoms of 4 good-sized individual salad bowls. Drain the beef if there seems to be a lot of oil or liquid in the bottom of the pan. Top each bed of lettuce with a scoop of ground beef, followed with the cheese, and then the diced tomatoes. Squeeze a lime wedge or two over the top. Serve with chips on the side.

Cottage Pie (also known as Shepherd’s Pie with Beef)


I like mashed potatoes on top of just about anything.

This dish is one of those great things that you can play around with, improvising with whatever you have around the house. Parsnips? Sure, throw them in. How about a turnip? Sounds good. Lamb? Change “cottage” to “shepherd” and you’re good to go. Beef? Beef is better than okay! Tomato paste? Some fresh chopped tomato. I say add whatever makes you feel warm and happy.

Just imagine whatever you would like to eat in your cottage if you had one (you might).

Ingredients:

3 medium Russet potatoes, cut into large dice

1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt

2 tablespoons of butter

1/2 to 1 cup of milk

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large carrots or 3 medium carrots, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

1 pound of grass-fed, lean ground beef

1 1/2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of flour

1 cup of veal or beef stock (you could also use milk or chicken stock)

1/2 cup of frozen green peas

Salt and pepper to taste

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 375°.

2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Add the salt. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are tender. You will know that they are ready when you can crush a potato piece easily against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes. In the same pan, mash the potatoes with the butter. Add the milk a 1/4 cup at a time until you get the right consistency. You don’t want the potatoes to be dry, but you don’t want them soupy either. Aim for a texture that is loose enough to spoon on top of your beef filling, but not so loose that the potatoes add a lot of excess water to your pie.

3. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots. You want to cook the onions until they are translucent and are just beginning to brown. At that point, add the minced garlic to the carrots and onion. Cook the garlic for about a minute until it is fragrant but not burning. Add the ground beef to the pan. Breaking up bigger chunks of ground beef with your wooden spoon, cook the beef until there is no longer any visible pink. Sprinkle the beef with the Worcestershire sauce and the rosemary. Cook everything for another minute or two. Sprinkle the beef with flour. Stir again and cook for a few more minutes to brown the flour. Add the stock to the pan and stir to combine everything. The sauce should begin to thicken. When the sauce has gotten to the point that you think it is ready (the mixture should be held together by a nice, thick sauce) , distribute the peas over the top of the beef and continue to cook everything together for about another minute before turning off the heat.

4. Spread the meat mixture over the bottom of a casserole dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top of the meat. You can even use a fork to rough up the surface if you like. Bake the casserole uncovered in the oven for 25 minutes. The potatoes will have just started to brown. Wait at least 15 minutes before serving.

Hamburger, Grape Tomato, and Red Onion Pizza


I got this idea from Martha Stewart and it has become one of my favorite things to make with ground beef from our CSA. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s delicious. On the table in less than 20 minutes too.

Now that’s what I call good fast food!

Ingredients:

Pizza dough, about 1 pound of dough will make two 12-inch pizzas, or one really big pizza

Marinara sauce

Low-moisture mozzarella cheese or sliced provolone

1/2 pound of grass-fed, very lean ground beef

12-14 grape tomatoes, halved

1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced into rings

Maldon salt

Special equipment:

A large baking sheet

Parchment paper

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 450°.

2. You can easily make your own pizza dough, but I rarely ever do it anymore since I can buy reasonably good, organic frozen dough at the market. In a hurry, I have also been known to run down to the nearest slice joint and buy their dough. Most pizzerias will sell it to you, you just have to ask.

I know. Gasp! I don’t make it from scratch? No. On special occasions, maybe. But if I’m tired and hungry, no. And that’s okay!

Once your dough ball is made, defrosted, or acquired, you need to stretch it out. Start by flattening your dough ball into a disk. By flouring both sides, you avoid having to flour your countertop. Any hard surface will do to stretch out the dough as long as it is flat, clean, and dry. Using your fingertips, start pushing down on the dough, roughly making the border that will become your crust. Now begin using the palm of your hand to pull the dough away from you and away from its center while turning it. At this point, you can try tossing it up in the air. But every time I try doing that, I end up looking like a fool with dough on the floor. Instead, you can position your knuckles under the dough and start stretching it out off of your flat surface. This super helpful video will give you a better idea what to do (contrary to the video, you don’t actually need a marble or stainless steel surface. And just flour is okay if you have no semolina lying around).

2. Now that your dough is nice and stretched out, position it on your parchment paper- lined baking sheet. Egads! No pizza stone? No tiles or bricks wrapped in aluminum foil lining your oven to achieve optimal heat?

No. When I can afford a real, wood-burning Neapolitan oven outside my villa then I will do things like they do in the old country.

3. Spread your marinara sauce around your stretched out dough. I buy this too. I really like the sauces from Sauces n’ Love. They’re wonderful. The pizza sauce is good. Very good.

4. Top the pizza with either the mozzarella or the provolone. I like the flavor of the provolone better with the ground beef, but I love the melty creaminess of mozzarella. Try one, or the other, or both. Maybe at the same time.

5. Scatter the onion rings, halved tomatoes, and RAW ground beef over the pizza.

6. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, longer if you want a more browned crust. I kind of prioritize though: absent the hardware and capability to get a really excellent crust, I aim for just really excellently cooked beef. Shower your finished pie with Maldon salt, slice, and serve.

Homemade Hamburger Helper, Cheeseburger Macaroni


Feeding my brothers and myself must have been a challenge for my mother. Raised in Hong Kong, she grew up with a keen taste for fried dace and chicken feet — something that she failed to pass on to her Americanized kids. Consequently, she found convenience foods to be, well, really convenient!

One of those was Hamburger Helper. You remember it: the prepackaged sodium-bomb, like macaroni and powdered cheese mix but with meat that you had to add. When I started cooking for myself, it was foods like this that I rebelled against, forsaking as well store-bought salad dressings and mayonnaise in favor of making them from scratch like a good little French bonne femme.

Over time, I’ve found that hard feelings against certain foods does soften, and when contemplating what to do with a lone pound of CSA ground beef, I decided to recreate that fresh-from-the-box flavor without the box.

This recipe is a variation on one that appeared on Eating Well’s site called “Hamburger Buddy.” Clearly, that recipe was designed to surreptitiously feed fussy children vegetables by processing their suggested daily servings into indistinguishable purée.

While this might fool kids, it did not fool my boyfriend (“What is this? CARROTS?!).

I actually didn’t mind the carrots, but as adults feeding adults, I don’t think that you need to be so sneaky. Upon reflection, the dish would probably taste closer to the “real” thing if the carrots were omitted. It is quite tasty nevertheless. Betty Crocker be damned!

Ingredients:

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

2 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces (optional, see post above)

10 ounces of white mushrooms, sliced

1 large onion, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 pound of very lean ground beef

2 teaspoons of dried thyme

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of water

2 cups of chicken stock

8 ounces of elbow macaroni

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

8 ounces of sour cream

1 cup of shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or chives

How to prepare:

1. Fit a food processor with the steel blade attachment. With the motor running, drop in the garlic cloves through the feed tube and process until minced. Add the carrots to the minced garlic and process until finely chopped. Add the onion and pulse until it is roughly chopped.

2. Cook the beef in a large straight-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until it is no longer pink. This should take about 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the mushrooms, chopped vegetables, and thyme. Stirring often, cook until the vegetables begin to soften and the mushrooms release their juices, about 5 to 7 minutes.

3. Stir in the water, chicken stock, macaroni and Worcestershire sauce. Bring everything to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Stir in the sour cream and the shredded cheese. Adjust seasoning. Simmer, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened, about 2 minutes. Toss in the parsley or chives right before serving, stirring in order to distribute the fresh herbs evenly throughout the pasta.