Shepherd’s Pie

I read somewhere that every unemployed person should have a blog.  I don’t know if intent behind it was to use up the extra time inherent to those of us not in the workplace, or, because, without time taken up in the office, the unemployed are expected to have thrilling adventures instead.

I wish it was the latter, but at the best of times, this blog does serve as distraction.  That really, is what I’m lacking.  Four years in a theater department; working directly on four shows in nine months, and supporting the rest; working on the leadership boards of two organizations; staying on top of classes, homework, and a part-time job…I have, quite literally, forgotten how to not be busy.  Faced with free time that spans more than a few tv shows (in my case, days or weeks of no real goal or occupational responsibilities), I’m at a loss.  I’ve found myself swinging from lethargy to frustration, floating in bouts of enthusiasm and shattering self-doubt.  My sleep schedule is entirely haywire, my muscles are stiff and protesting from sitting (ironically) in front of a computer or the television.    I’m munching needlessly through out the day, and overcaffienating at the strangest hours.  All is entirely lost when my mother (and sole roommate) works for several days in a row, and we, literally, sleep whenever the other is awake.

I need human contact (cuddling does wonders), I need face-to-face interaction, and I need to be busy.  The most detrimental times are when, quite literally, I’m left alone with just my thoughts.  I can’t be in my head for so long.  Being busy (and loving what I was doing) was my strongest tactic to move forward.  Those little voices of self-doubt and self-hate and panic that torture me through the end of high school have finally been mostly quieted after four years of happy, productive college life.  But too long without proper distractions and they start to wake up again.  Those are the worst days.

I just have to remind myself: keep busy.  Do little chores, stretch, draw, cook.  So often, it comes back to cooking.  A wonderful distraction, with a (usually) delicious result.  And the added calories, and added cost of ingredients…  I’m still working out that balance.  But over the weekend, I found a dish that is perfectly on point.

Its finally cooling off here, though maybe I’m still biased after Vegas.  I was freezing the first day back.  But finally, between the earthquakes and hurricanes, the humidity is dropping along with the temperature.  Fall is in the air, and I couldn’t be more excited.  Fall is full of my favorite things: apples, sweaters, crisp air, the first fires lit in the fireplaces, boots, squash, just to name a few.  So maybe I jumped the gun a little, making a shepherd’s pie before the first frost…  But really, can you blame me?  I’d just like to point out, if it is this delicious now, how wonderful will this dish be on a snowy night?

Shepherd’s Pie with gluten-free French Bread

 Shepherd’s Pie  (adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s Recipe

For the Topping:

  • – 1-1.5 lb potatoes
  • -2 Tbsp heavy cream
  • -3 Tbsp butter
  • -3 Tbsp cream cheese
  • -2 egg yolks
  • -1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese + more for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • -1-1.5 lb ground beef or ground lamb
  • -Olive oil (about 2 Tbsp/enough to coat the pan)
  • -1 large carrot, finely chopped
  • -1 large yellow or white onion, finely diced (or even minced, if you have the patience)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -1 Tbsp fresh thyme (or 2 tsp dried)
  • -4 garlic cloves, minced (I love garlic, you can use less, to your taste)
  • -2-3 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • -3-4 Tbsp Ketchup
  • -1/4 c red wine (I used a cabernet we had lying around)
  • -1/2 c chicken or beef broth/stock

Peel and roughly chop your potatoes.  Toss into a pot, cover with water, add salt.  Cook for 15 minutes more after the water begins to boil, or until a fork slides easily into a piece of potato.  Drain the potatoes and mash with the heavy cream, butter, cream cheese, egg yolks, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Mash and stir until the mixture is smooth.  Cover and keep warm until the filling is complete.

While the potatoes are boiling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet  over medium heat, and add your meat.  Stir constantly for several minutes, to break up the meat as it browns.  Drain the meat, if necessary, and add your chopped carrots and onions.  Cook for five to ten minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften.  Add in minced garlic, rosemary, and thyme, and stir for about a minute, until the garlic is fragrant.  Be careful not to let the garlic burn.  Add Worcestershire sauce and ketchup, mix thoroughly.  Stir in red wine.  Allow the wine to cook down for about 5 minutes, until the liquid has noticeably lessened.  Add in stock or broth and cook for 3 minutes more, until the liquid just begins to decrease.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Meanwhile, spoon the meat mixture into a deep, well-greased casserole dish.  Make sure all the liquid in the pan is poured over the meat as well.  Spread the mashed potatoes over the meat mixture, until all of the meat layer is covered.  Sprinkle more parmesan cheese over the top of the potatoes.  Bake the shepherd’s pie for 18-20 minutes, until the top of the potato is browned and the cheese is melted and browning.  Remove from the oven and allow the pie to rest for a few minutes before spooning into individual portions.  Serve with toasted bread (gluten-free or otherwise) to soak up any extra gravy from the bowl.

Finding Sanity in the Kitchen (Link Love)

Or, really, cooking, mostly, but I love alliteration.  In between the vacations, the panic attacks, the job applications, and the last remnants of jet lag, I have still been searching out recipes and firing up my oven.  Actually, when my brother left for his first year at college, and I flew across the country, I heard more complaints about my mother running out of leftovers back at home, rather than our absence.

Right before my flight out, I was ransacking the refrigerator shelves for something to eat (good choice–airport choices for real, gluten-free food were absolutely atrocious), and, accidentally discovered magic.  I had made a caprese-type salad for our last potluck between shows (good choice, as the naturally gluten-free foods–caprese salad, deviled eggs, veggie trays–seemed to repel the students. Initially, I had been worried that the three gluten-free among us would be struggling to make an actual meal from the table loaded with cookies and pre-made sandwiches). The salad–cherry tomatoes, cubed mozzarella, torn basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper–leftovers had been marinating double for a day in the fridge.

I had put on the last of my beloved quinoa pasta onto boil (must find more!) and settled down to chop some fresh vegetables to run through it for an easy, light lunch.  I was about three slices in when I remember the tomato salad in the tupperware.  It made my life easier, but I hadn’t imagined how fantastic it would taste.  I still chopped a little bit of red onion, and some black olives.  When the pasta was cooked, I added the new veggies, the leftover veggies, and some goat cheese from the farmer’s market…It was heaven.  Really just amazing! Between the cold vegetables and the hot pasta and balsamic vinegar (my newest and lasting obsession), all the textures and temperatures and tastes melded to a tangy, refreshing, delightful dish.  It was the best send-off I could have imagined.

Vegas meant no cooking, and, truth be told, as we neared the end of the week, I really missed it.  Its become a time to recharge, to focus in on vegetables, flours, and fruit.  Its an easy way to let go of the greater concerns in my life and have a break (and it usually results in something delicious).  Needless to say, I was back in front of the stove.  My aunt was in town right after I return to the east coast, to move my cousin into school, and my mother was asking for enchiladas.  And by enchiladas, I do mean this recipe straight from the back of the container of Philedelphia’s new Santa Fe blend Cooking Creme.  I also tried my hand at Pan de Bono from Nicole at GF on a Shoestring.

Attention world:  this bread is amazing.  And easy.   I need to find some super-cheap queso fresco (not that my local store’s is really all that expensive) because I could (and would) make these rolls every day.

(Photo, unfortunately, is not mine.  Image from google.  Mine were eaten too quickly for photos)

Naturally gluten-free, the cheese in this bread makes it dense and almost buttery.  Or at least it tricked my tastebuds into guessing butter as I tried to place the rich flavor.  My mother compared these, appropriately, to popovers.  While I’ve had limited success in creating gf imitations, I haven’t been able to match that fluffy, chewy, buttery-eggy quality that gluten-filled popovers have.  Pan de Bono comes pretty close, in a denser, heartier way.  Its super simple!  The  dough was easy to handle, and the whole recipe came together in a matter of minutes.  Everyone should try these rolls.  They have Recipe Box Status.

In and amongst these particular triumphs was some flat (but still tasty) french bread, and a lot of quinoa.  And a life-changing shepherd’s pie that will get its own post in the next few days.  Keep an eye out!