Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cheers to a Happy New Year

My oh my how this year has flown by. (The picture above was taken exactly one year ago on New Years Eve) I'm actually tearing up a little as I write this because 2008 has brought so many blessings to my life. I am very very thankful for my dear friends and family and I thank God for watching over me. There have been some rough spots, but I've never felt alone. I believe that 2009 contains wonderful things for Jim and I, and I am eager to continue traveling down this road with him.

To my family and my friends: Cheers to YOU for being extraordinary individuals!

Here is how to make an extraordinary Margarita!

Start with 1 1/2 cups GOOD tequila.

Add 1/2 cup Grand Marnier.

Add 4 oz beer. (secret ingredient)

One can of frozen Limeade.

1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice (or juice from an actual lemon)
1 Tablespoon Lime Juice (or juice from an actual lime)
Not Pictured - 1 Tablespoon of sugar (or to taste)

Blend together! Add ice to the blender to serve frozen. Or pour over ice to serve on the rocks. This is a really good and tart margarita!

I hope everyone has a fun and safe New Years Eve. Jim and I plan to have dinner at a friends house where they are serving prime rib and truffle mashed potatoes (YUM!) followed by a 90's Dance Party at another friends house. Party like it's 1999!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shepherd’s Pie Pub Crawl

You know it's going to be a good night when all four of your girlfriends each walk to the table with a pitcher of beer. This picture was taken in 07 when a group of friends met up after work at the Draft House, a local neighborhood pub.

This recipe for pub grub really appealed to me because it consisted of all the foods I know Jim loves. Shepherd's Pie is essentially a casserole, lined with cooked meat and vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes, and baked. How perfect! Shepherd's Pie is an English dish, traditionally made with lamb but Americans typically make this with beef.

A comforting pub favorite, Shepherd’s Pie gets updated by Michael Chiarello, and I go along for the ride, a very rewarding one! A pint of Guinness and a dart board and we’ve got ourselves a party! My red head Jim is Irish and my dad’s mother is Irish so I couldn’t believe that neither of us had never experienced Shepherd’s Pie before. This was a real treat, learning to cook something from our ancestors just made me feel like I was connecting with family I’ve never met. It also stretches my culinary experience in a whole new direction.

So here is what we need for Shepherd’s Pie:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound minced British lamb (I couldn’t find this so I used a combo of ground turkey and beef)
1 pound minced beef
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped very small
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms (I left this out)
1 level tablespoon tomato puree
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 level tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup red wine
1 1/2 cups fresh beef stock
Freshly ground black pepper

For the crust:
2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup scallions, cleaned and chopped (I left this out only because I didn’t have any on hand)
1 cup mature Cheddar, coarsely grated

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a Dutch oven or deep saute pan. Brown the lamb and beef. I used half beef, half ground turkey.

Remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon.

To that same dutch oven I add just a tad bit of olive oil.
Chop up two onions and throw those in the dutch oven.

Chop up the carrots and throw those in the dutch oven when the onions start to brown.

Fresh thyme. This is one of those secret ingredients that really makes the dish in my opinion.

So the onions went in, they started to turn brown, then I threw in the carrots and cooked for about five minutes. Garlic isn't in the recipe, but you can see here in my picture I added two cloves of minced garlic.

If you were going to add mushrooms, add them here. I'm skipping because we aren't big fans of the mushroom in my kitchen. Moving on...add the tomato puree (paste, sauce, whatever you have), add chopped fresh thyme, parsley and cinnamon.
Cinnamon seemed like an odd seasoning for this dish. I must say you could taste a hint of it in the final dish but I'm not certain if it added or took away. Not sure if I would do it again.
Stir and saute for two minutes.

Next, stir in the flour, which will soak up the juices.

Stir in the wine. I'm pouring a Bridlewood Syrah this evening.

The wine really loosened up the brown bits on the bottom of the dutch oven. Those are bits of magic right there! Yum!

Next we pour in the beef stock.

Now is when we do a taste test and add salt and pepper if needed.

I actually added about a teaspoon of garlic salt and a teaspoon of black pepper.

Return the cooked ground meat to the pan

and bring the mixture to a boil.

Cover, turn down the heat to low and simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the meat is finishing up on the stove, lets do the topping. Peel the potatoes with a vegetable peeler and cut into large even-sized pieces. We want even-sized pieces so they cook evenly and finish at the same time.
Now this is important (according to Ina)! Cover potatoes with COLD water, add salt and then put on stove. We start with cold water (doesn't have to have ice cubes in it or anything) so that the potatoes don't get gummy. Bring the water to a boil and cook potatoes until they are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

When you can easily pierce the potato with a fork, drain the water out.

Turn off the burner. And hen I drape the pot with a kitchen towel for about five minutes. Why? Because Ina does this when she cooks potatoes - she says the steam will finish cooking them. Okay! I would do whatever Ina says.

Next we make mashed potatoes. I'm using milk, butter, salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder.

Add butter and milk, and mash with a potato masher. Add splashes of milk and seasonings along the way, taste as you go.

Here is a little of the meat mixture, cooked completely. I scooped myself some in a shallow bowl.

Then I topped it with some of those homemade mashed potatoes.

Then sprinkled some cheddar cheese on top for good measure. See, I couldn't wait to prepare the casserole and bake it... I wanted a serving NOW. It was great! I can't say enough about the flavor of the meat and vegetables. The wine and beef broth brought so much flavor.

I divided the meat and potatoes into two 8x8 casserole dishes. One for me and Jim and one to share with friends. Scoop the meat mixture in the bottom, just give it a nice even layer and then top with your mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese. Bake the pie in a 400 degree oven until the top is crusty and golden, about 25 minutes.
We both really loved this meal. In the future I would go through the trouble of making the meat mixture as instructed, but possibly use instant mashed potatoes for the topping.

I recommend having friends over for darts, serve Shepherd's Pie and drink Guinness!
Mmmm.... Here is my little bowl that I prepared for myself.

This is a good picture of some cheesy potatoes and seasoned ground meat and veggies. I bet this freezes really well too. Lately I've been making two small casseroles instead of one large pan since I'm just feeding two people. When I get a larger freezer I can start freezing one meal for an easy homemade meal on a night I don't want to or don't have time to cook.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Winter Squash Soup

The famous film maker Francis Ford Coppola makes some very delish wines. His Rubicon Estates in California produces some of his very best stuff and this 04 Cask Cab is no different. This wine is a classic, grand style American cabernet and loaded with cherry and raisin scents.

Easy to drink wine for a weeknight meal. YUM-O!

When November was behind me and it was time to redecorate my kitchen table from Fall to Winter I reused my kitchen table centerpiece to create a familiar dinner starter. These golden vegetables made a really lovely winter squash soup and I found the perfect recipe for it in Bon Appetit from December 1996. Geez, in 96 I was a junior in high school working at Papa Johns Pizza and dancing on my high school drill team. I’m pretty sure at the time I would not have been able to pick out a butternut squash in a vegetable line up.

I don’t remember what these cost me back in October/November but just today I was in my local grocery store and they had butternut squash on sale for $99 a lb, not bad. I just love soup, and like to eat it year around but there is just something about the one cold month we experience in Texas that makes me want to slurp up soup all 30 of those chilly days. It warms you from the inside out!

So here we go, a super easy and nutritious soup which made a great first course for several of my home cooked dinners and was a filling lunch for me when paired with a grilled chicken sandwich.

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appétit, December 1996. The ingredients are:
1/2 stick butter
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
38 ounces chicken broth
1 butternut squash
1 acorn squash
1 carnival squash
1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoons dry sage
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons sugar
I start by roasting my squash. First slice in half and clean out the seeds and guts – discard. If you wanted to toast the squash seeds you could do it like you would pumpkin seeds, I haven't tried it but read that this could be done.

Next, place the squash on a baking sheet face down with a quarter of an inch of water. Bake in 350 oven for 45 minutes.

Once flesh is soft, scoop out into a bowl – discard skins.
Melt butter in large pot over medium heat.

Add onion and sauté for five minutes.

Add garlic and sauté for another five minutes.

When the onion is translucent and the garlic is smelling so good your mouth is watering, take a sip of your wine and lets add the rest of the ingredients.

First add chicken broth.

Add all the cooked and softened squash.

Ground thyme.

Dry sage.

Ground cumin.

Ground ginger.

Ground cinnamon.

Bring this to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let it simmer about 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes the squash is very tender.

Working in batches, puree soup in blender. Now that I received a KitchenAid immersion blender from Jim (for Christmas, woo hoo!) I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of transferring the hot soup.

However you can do it, purree the soup until smooth.

Return to the same pot on your stovetop.

Stir in cream and sugar; bring to simmer. Give it a taste test and season with salt, pepper and if you need it...more cinnamon and ginger.

When you get the flavor just right, ladle into bowls and serve warm.

This can be made ahead and chilled in the fridge for a week. It kept really well for me and tasted great reheated.