Shepherd’s Pie

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When people find out that I love to cook, try my food, or find out that I have a food blog I get several pretty regular, frequent reactions:

“Oh, you’re a REALLY good cook: have you ever thought about going to culinary school?”

“Wow, you should open up a restaurant and/or catering company!”

“You should totally go on ‘Chopped’ ‘Next Food Network Star’ or ‘Master Chef’!” (Popular food tv shows)

I always politely laugh off these remarks and questions in the real world. However, since this happens to be my blog and here I’m not obligated to laugh or even be all that polite about it, I can just give the straight up honest answers that go off in my head when this happens. Because I know you guys can take it.

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Do I ever think about going to culinary school?

Never.  Not once. It’s a notion that has not, nor ever will be a possibility in my life. For one, culinary school tuition is not cheap. I already signed my life away in five years worth of student loans for my B.A. degree- I’m still trying to get it back now in the small loan re-payments I make now every month. Signing off on more loans to go to culinary school? Ain’t nobody got time for that. Second, culinary school is not something I would ever want to pursue because for me, shaping the act of cooking around the very regimen and structure of school would completely take all the fun out of it for me. When I cook for myself and my family, I like having the freedom to not only add or take away from a recipe as I see fit, but also to mess it up. In culinary school you learn so-called rules of making this and that, having to add this many ingredients, and these exact seasoning with very little wiggle room for freedom and personal interpretation of a dish. And if you do make a mistake and blow a dish, you could fail a mid-term or a final. Where’s the fun in that?

I’ll pass, thank you.

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Would I ever open a restaurant?

Heh. Honey, you couldn’t pay me enough to do that. Long, endless hours of thank-less work. An almost guaranteed loss in profit in the first 1-2 years. Disgruntled, rude customers. The stress of continuity in putting out good food. Just a few reasons for me to steer clear of the restaurant business like it’s the Plague. I would want to have a life outside of my restaurant- most restaurant owners don’t. I want to be able to see my family on a regular basis- most restaurant owners don’t. I don’t do so well with failure- statistically speaking, most restaurants go belly up. There are virtually no pros to balance out those cons, at least not for me. A restauranteur, I am most definitely not.

Do I want to go on tv shows like ‘Chopped’ or ‘Master Chef’?

H-E-double hockey sticks, NO! No. No. No. And, uh no. I don’t do very well cooking under pressure,much less the added pressure of cooking on national television. Although it would certainly be nice if I did get to win one of those contests,the emotional repercussions if I didn’t wouldn’t be pretty. I’m a really sore loser, folks. Plus, if I had to cook for celebrity chefs (several of whom I really like and revere) and they didn’t end up liking my food, I would seriously give up cooking for the rest of my life, no joke. Why put myself through all that?

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Okay, moving on.

It’s fall, and that means you have to have a shepherd’s pie. Seriously: you HAVE to. I keep mine pretty simple; it’s a real meat and potatoes kind of dish-literally. If you’re not in the mood to make mashed potatoes from scratch, then please feel free to use the potato flakes you can microwave- I’ve done that in the past and the dish still comes out perfectly fine. We also don’t add cheese to ours, but I know that most people do, so I added it in the recipe. My only regret is that I didn’t make some brown gravy for these pictures, because that’s how I serve it to my family. This is pure comfort food, folks. No frills, no fancy stuff. But it sure is good for what ails you on chilly winter nights.

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 Shepherd’s Pie

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 4.5 lbs. ground beef
  • 12 medium russet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 12 oz. frozen, mixed vegetables, thawed and drained
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
  • 1 15.25 oz. can of tomato sauce (like for Hunts Meatloaf sauce)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium beef broth
  • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp. garlic powder, divided
  • 2 tbsp. onion powder, divided
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. basil leaves
  • 1/2tsp. Ground thyme
  • 1 tsp. garlic salt, divided
  • 1 tsp. pepper, divided
  • Cheese (optional)

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. Set a large pot of boiling water over the stove. Cook potatoes, fully submerged in water for about 15 minutes, or until they are fork tender and drain.

3. Mash potatoes using a potato masher (or a mixer fitted with paddle attachment). Don’t worry about making them completely smooth– lumps aren’t a bad thing here. Add the heavy cream, butter, 1 tbsp. garlic and onion powder, and 1/2 tsp garlic  salt and pepper. Taste and adjust for seasoning if need be.

4.Brown beef over stovetop, then add mixed vegetables beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, remaining garlic and onion powder, sugar, basil leaves, Ground thyme and garlic salt and pepper. Bring to a medium high heat and allow to cook for a further 10 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid is absorbed (it’s okay if there’s a little bit left). Taste and adjust for seasoning if needed.

5. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish (or any casserole dish) with cooking spray. Spoon meat filling into bottom of dish, then spread mashed potatoes over the top. Make sure potatoes completely cover the meat to prevent any juices from bubbling up and spilling over.

6. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until potatoes begin to barely brown across the top. Remove dish from oven and turn on broiler.

8. Spray the potato layer with Butter-flavored cooking spray, or dollop with unsalted butter. You may also add cheese here if you like. Place dish back into oven, directly beneath the broiler and allow to cook a further 1-2 minutes, until potatoes are golden and browned.

My Grandma’s Collard Greens

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Happy Fiesta Friday #31, all! I’m super glad to be headed to today’s party hosted by Angie@TheNoviceGardener. I wanted to save this recipe for a Fiesta Friday because it’s not only one of the best things I’ve ever made, but also because it is very, VERY special to me and my family heritage. A few weeks back, I made a full-blown Southern Meal for my family with Triple Dipped Fried Chicken and Hushpuppies on the side- but as delicious as both the chicken and hushpuppies were, they just wouldn’t have been complete as a meal without this dish.My Grandma’s parents were farmers in Jefferson Davis County, Mississippi. I was too young to be able too be there in their hey-day and see the farm as it was when they weren’t older and infirm, but I’ve heard plenty of stories from my Grandma, Mom and Aunts.

Even though they all lived in Michigan, every summer my Grandpa would take my Grandma and their three daughters down to Mississippi for the summer to visit my Great-Grandparents on their farm. My mom didn’t really like it, for a number of reasons:

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First, she was a self-described “city girl”. My great-grandparents’ farm was literally a on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Because it was the summertime in the Deep South in the mid 70’s, there was (of course) no air conditioning, and the majority of the windows were left open at all hours of the day and night in order to allow the breeze to cool down the house. My mom (having just read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote) was convinced that a serial killer was going to break into the house and murder everyone and tells me that she used to walk around the house, checking and re-checking doors and windows for intruders.

Second, my mom couldn’t get into the whole ‘ farm experience’. My great-grandpa’s enormous hunting dogs on the porch frightened her by running up to the car and surrounding it every time they drove up to the house. Apparently the chickens were demon possessed and chased her around everywhere. Plus, a lot of the food that got served on the table at my great-grandparents’ house came from the farm itself- including the meat. My mom had a hard time eating the chicken that she saw get shot, decapitated, plucked, and butchered just a few hours ago.

One thing she consistently talks about, are the big ‘Meetins’ that they all used to attend. For those who aren’t Southern or aren’t familiar with the Baptist tradition, the big ‘Meetins’ (you have to say it just like that, no ‘g’s allowed) consisted of large gatherings of the local Churches where they would all hold one, long service that LITERALLY lasted all day long, then conclude with a pot-luck style feast composed of all the dishes that each of the women would make before hand and bring to share.

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At any true Southern church meetin, you’re guaranteed to find a pot of greens. They’re almost like a symbol of the South itself. When you eat them, you can practically taste all the history and soul that they come from with every bite.

My Grandma’s greens are the thing of legend. Collard Greens, Mustard Greens, Turnip Greens, and (my personal favorite) Cabbage Greens. She does them all, and she does them all perfectly. I’ve said it before on the blog, and I’m gonna say it again: her greens would be on the menu of foods I would have to eat if I was on Death Row and given a last meal to eat. Give me a big bowl of greens and two hunks of her cornbread, and I don’t even need meat. They’re really that good.

The greens that she makes for the family come straight out of her backyard garden, but I’ve also made this recipe with greens that I’ve bought at grocery stores and farmer’s markets- however, if you know someone who grows greens or can get to a farmer’s market, then I do strongly recommend that you get them that way. The quality of homegrown greens is so much better than the ones you get in the stores.

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My grandma usually uses whole ham hocks to flavor her greens, but because I know that not everyone can get their hands on those (and because depending on where you live, they can get pretty pricey), I adapted this recipe so that it’s do-able for just about anywhere using regular bacon (note: you CAN also use turkey bacon, or even smoked turkey instead of the pork). This recipe is also one where you’re going to have to use your personal taste-testing skills to judge how much or how little seasoning you add. I judge what to add or not add by tasting the liquid given off by the greens after they’ve been cooking half-way through or so (we call that stuff the Pot Likker in the South, and it’s friggin awesome). When they’re done, i do have to emphasize that cornbread with greens is a must- one hunk for dipping in the pot likker, and another hunk for crumbling over the greens themselves.Oh, and if you have access to some zesty, jarred Southern Cha Cha (some people call it Chow Chow), then you need to sprinkle some of that on top too. It’ll send your bowl of greens and cornbread over the edge and into the galaxies of awesomeness.

 I’ve got this down to a science, can’t you tell?

Try this dish, guys. I don’t care if you have so-called ‘picky eaters’ in your house- I was one of those people growing up too. And I STILL couldn’t get enough of these greens.

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My Grandma’s Collard Greens

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  • 6 bunches of collard greens, washed, stems removed, and sliced into about 1/2 inch thick strips
  • 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  • 16 oz. thick cut bacon
  • Onion powder
  • Sugar
  • Salt and black pepper
  • About 1 1/2—2 cups low sodium chicken broth

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Arrange bacon on a cookie sheet and bake for about 10-12 minutes. (The bacon is not supposed to be crispy– it’s okay if it’s still a little floppy or limp.)

2. Remove bacon from tray and roughly chop into lardons, or large chunks. Set aside.

3. Drain the remaining drippings and grease from the sheet pan into a bowl and set aside.

4. Place the greens in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the chicken broth, onion and bacon and mix together. Season the greens with onion powder, sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Cover and allow to cook until greens are tender and wilted, about 35-45minutres, depending on how tender or firm you like them. Make sure the liquid doesn’t get absorbed, or they’ll scorch!

6. Taste the juice the greens are cooking in and adjust for seasoning.

Baratheon Smothered Pork Chops and Apple Gravy

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Game of Thrones Series Week 4

Okay, guys. Before we get to the food, I simply must debrief about what I think is one of the best Game of Thrones episodes that we’ve seen in all of the seasons thus far. Seriously, by the end my heart was pulse was a little faster than usual and I was more than a little miffed when the credits came on and I realized I would have to wait until next week to see the next episode. Fortunately, that happens to be today, so all is right with the world again:

  • I really don’t like Stannis Baratheon. To me he’s an opportunist that’s willing to use any means or follow any cause so long as it will make him win- for now it’s that crazy Melisandre’s “Lord of Light” cult, but if that ever stopped working for him, I’m pretty sure he would cut and run from that too. Even though his loss in the battle at King’s Landing meant Joffrey’s victory, I was still glad that he was left with barely any army and no money. It was fun to watch him get chewed and spit out by the Iron bankers. As usual, Sir Davos had to come to his rescue. Honestly, I’m pretty sure Stannis wouldn’t even still be a king if it weren’t for Sir Davos.
  • I’ve pretty much despised Theon ever since he went rogue in Season 2 and turned his back on the the Starks for the Greyjoys (who didn’t even care about him anyway.) So it kinda goes without saying that I don’t particularly pity him for how terrible he’s been treated by Ramsay Snow. It’s a shame that Yara ended up abandoning him, and that he’s kinda lost his mind and…another rather important part of his body, but what can you say? What goes around comes around, and around, and around. We’ll see how if ‘pretending’ to be Theon will actually help him towards getting back a hold on his true self- I’m thinking that that plan may backfire on Ramsay…

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  • Daenerys is starting to realize that being a queen isn’t exactly as effortless and glamorous as she probably imagined it to be. #1, she has to sit in a hard chair and spend the entire day listening to HUNDREDS of petitions from commoners who are really just there to either complain, or ask l her for money. #2 Her policies aren’t being as wholly accepted and welcomed as she had thought they would be. Just because she’s a ‘Mother of Dragons’ doesn’t mean that everyone is going to like her in her kingdoms. And #3, Speaking of dragons , ss advantageous as her dragons are for her to take over cities and destroy armies, they are proving to be a major problem in keeping them under control in the general public. I don’t know man: I have a bad feeling about those dragons- like they’re going to be like a dangerous wildfire that Daenerys won’t be able to control when it really will count.
  • I definitely don’t think that the producers of the show handled the now infamous ‘scene’ between Jamie and Cersei correctly (I’m just gonna leave it at that), but his friendship with Brienne and loyalty to Tyrion make it very difficult for me to completely despise Jamie. I also don’t think that would be fair to Nikolaj Coster Waldau’s performance of him either. Regardless of the terrible things that he’s done, Jamie’s not a one-dimensional person and I don’t feel as though he should be viewed through the lens of one particular action or crime that he did. Having said that, I thought that the deal he made with Tywin in exchange for sparing Tyrion’s life signified a very important change for his character; being in the King’s Guard has always been Jamie’s way of staying close to Cersei, and not being forced to betray the love that he has for her by marrying and having children with another woman. The fact that he’s willing to now not only leave the King’s Guard, but also King’s Landing to marry and bear children to carry on the Lannister name signify to me that Jamie has in a sense, given up on Cersei and the ‘love’ that he’s had for her all these years. I think he’s realized that her love for him was either not as strong for him as his was for her, or just never existed in the first place. His ultimate conclusion it seems is that Tyrion’s the sibling worth making sacrifices for, not Cersei.

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  •  What can I say about the trial itself? Can we just give Peter Dinklage the awards now-and I do mean ALL OF THE AWARDS. Good Lord, his performance was just outstanding. I literally was on the edge of my seat for the entire scene, the build-up to the climax was just marvelous. I could feel the sheer devastation that Tyrion felt when Shae appeared and testified against him. It almost made me wish that I was a crier so that I could cry for him, I felt so sorry for how cruel she was to do that. I think the pain of that scene was so powerful not just because it was Shae that delivered the crucial blow to Tyrion’s hopes of mercy in the trial, but also because she gave the false testimony because of hermistaken belief that he had cast her aside simply because he was tired of her when in reality he only made her leave because he wanted to save her life. I’ve always believed from the very first season that Tyrion is the heart and soul of GoT- the show just wouldn’t be the same without him, and last week’s episode certainly reinforced that belief. I can’t begin to guess what will happen now in Tyrion’s trial by combat. We can only wait and see, can’t we?

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So this recipe was begun originally as an intention to follow one of the recipes from my new Game of Thrones cookbook that I told you guys about in my last post. I got as far as sauteeing the apples before changing my mind and just doing things my own way, putting a ‘Jess Twist’ on this dish. The seasoning rub on the pork chops are inspired by the cookbook, while the cooking methods and apple gravy are my own contributions. When it was finished and I was looking for the GoT inspiration in the dish, I immediately thought of Robert Baratheon. Why? Because this is just a real ‘man’s man dish’, that’s why. Spice rubbed thick, tender meat that’s swimming in a thick, hearty apple gravy-it’s just the type of meal you would expect a ‘man’s man’ type of king like Robert to come and feast on after a hunt, joust, or whatever. I went off the script, and it just really paid off.

For those of you just now joining the GoT series, I’ll post the series existing recipes below for you to check out. Until next week, guys!

Game of Thrones Series

Week 1: Pigeon {Chicken} Pies

Week 2: Winterfell Brown Bread

Week 3: Southron Spinach & Plum Salad

Week 4: Baratheon Smothered Pork Chops & Apple Gravy

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Baratheon Smothered Pork Chops & Apple Gravy

Recipe Loosely Adapted from The Unofficial Game of Thrones Cookbook

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  •  10-12 boneless pork chops, about 4- 5 oz each
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tart apple, peeled, cored and chopped into slices
  • 1 cup white wine, divided
  • 2 tsp ground cloves
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 6 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 2 tsp hot paprika
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp orange zest
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp rubbed sage
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard

 Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Cook the fennel seeds and apple slices in 1/2 cup of the wine in a heavy cast iron, or regular non-stick skillet, covered, for about 20 minutes. Be sure to keep  wet by adding liquid as needed. When apple is soft, add the butter and stir until melted. Remove the apples and fennel seeds from the heat and set aside.

3. In a medium size bowl, combine the cloves, cumin, hot & sweet paprika, coriander, zest, salt, pepper, cardamom and sage. Rub the mixture on the pork chops on both sides.

4. Heat about 1 tbsp vegetable oil in the skillet and turn the  heat up to medium high. Cook steak for about 3 minutes on either side. (It does NOT have to be cooked all the way through). Remove pork to a plate and cover with aluminum foil, leaving the drippings in the skillet.

5. Lower heat to medium-low and combine other 1/2 cup of white wine,, chicken broth, flour, heavy cream and Dijon mustard in skillet. Stir and allow to  cook until flour has completely dissolved and liquid is thickened to desired consistency. Stir apples and fennel seeds into gravy.

6. Spray two casserole dishes with cooking spray. Place pork chops into casserole dishes and pour the apple gravy over them, stirring to combine. Cover dishes with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes in preheated oven.

7. Remove aluminum foil and check the seasoning of the gravy, adjusting if need be. Use a fork to test the doneness of pork chops. If it slides in and out of the meat smoothly, they are done.

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Honey Garlic Pot Roast

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There are some things that never get old. No matter how often they happen, you never get tired of them. You’re always happy to see them coming, sad to see them gone, and waiting for the next time that they happen again.

Weekends. Football season. Christmas. Reruns of The Golden Girls. Cheap Honey Crisp Apples (the result of which was a wonderful Apple Cider Cinnamon Bread). I can never get enough of any of it.

Another thing that never gets old:

Pot Roast.

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Pot roast is one of those things that just about everyone can relate to in some way. We’ve all had it. We all love it. It’s everything we love about home, comfort food, and good memories. It’s wonderful on Sundays. It’s wonderful during the week after a long day after work. It’s wonderful hot. It’s wonderful cold. See where I’m going with this? It’s just everything wonderful.

I haven’t made a pot roast in a really long time. Why? I don’t know. It’s one of those unexplainable questions of the universe that we’re just not supposed to make sense of, I guess. All I knew going to the grocery store this week was that I was buying a chuck roast, and I was making a pot roast out of it. I have some recipes for some ‘unique’ pot roasts that I have yet to test out, but this time around I wanted to stay pretty traditional with my approach. Nothing fancy. No fireworks. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that have the best results.

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Pull it off on the fork, so I know it’s real.

My grandma was subscribed to this mailing database called Great American Recipes where she would receive several recipe cards in the mail for a while. Since she doesn’t like to do as much cooking as she used to, she would just give the cards to me. As a result, I’ve got quite a collection of recipe cards from GAR now- they even sent a cute little binder to put it in.

This recipe was in one of the mailing packs that they sent. It seemed like a pretty straightforward pot roast recipe, and I liked the idea of rubbing honey over the meat before searing it off. So I tried it. Well, the smell alone was enough for me to decide that this was a good life choice. And the taste was enough to make me want to slap myself silly for letting such a long time pass since I’ve last made pot roast.

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Long story short, this pot roast rocks.  Don’t be an idiot like me and take a prolonged hiatus from pot roast roast…ing. Do the right thing. Make this.

By the way, if you don’t love pot roast, then I just don’t know what you’re doing with your life.

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FEED(ME) BACK: What’s one dish you like to cook that never gets old?

Honey Garlic Pot Roast

Recipe courtesy of Great American Recipes

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

*2 tbsp vegetable oil

*2 1/2 lb boneless beef chuck roast

*2 tbsp honey

*4 cloves garlic, minced

*3 cups beef broth

*1lb. baby red potatoes, (1-1 1/2 inches in diameter) scrubbed

*1 cup of baby carrots

*2 envelopes (1 1/4 oz each) beef gravy mix

*1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with roasted garlic, drained

Directions

1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Rub the roast with the honey. Firmly press the garlic onto the roast. Cook the roast until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes.

2. Pour the broth over the roast. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Turn the roast over and add the potatoes and carrots. Cover roast and simmer until the roast and vegetables are tender, 45-55 minutes longer.

3. Transfer the roast and vegetables to a large deep platter, using  a slotted spoon. Discard all but 2 1/2 cups liquid from the pot. Whisk in the gravy mix and increase heat. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.

4. Pour half of the sauce over the roast and vegetables to serve. Pass the remaining sauce with the sauce.