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.

Southern Smothered Potatoes and Onions

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Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to begin today’s post by saying a few things that I love about the South (for my international friends, that’s the Southern USA).

First and foremost, Atlanta is in the South. Atlanta is one of my all time favorite places to go in the entire country. It’s a city full of energy, soul and entertainment. There’s nothing you can do, find or try in Atlanta (except for build a snowman, I’m pretty sure that won’t work.) Every time I visit Atlanta, I always realize how dull and unspectacular my own hometown is and I’m always sad when I have to come back up North to boring old Michigan. If I had a choice of where to live, Atlanta would be at the top of my list for sure.

Although some of us have migrated north, both of my parent’s families are from the South. So I’m a Northern girl with Southern roots. Maybe that’s why I always get sad when I leave Georgia…

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Three words, guys:

The.Waffle. House. We don’t have them in Michigan. This is simply unacceptable to me. Once you pass  over the old Mason Dixon Line, I swear there’s a Waffle House every two miles on the highway. They’re literally everywhere. True story: I didn’t used to like waffles very much. As a little kid, I had eaten more than my fair share of the cardboard-like, tasteless Eggo ‘waffles’ drowned in syrup to make them somewhat edible. I don’t know exactly why I did, maybe it was just apart of the 90’s Kid Rites of Passage. Anyway, it was traumatizing enough to put me off of waffles for years in lieu of My One True Love (pancakes). The one year, I was visiting my Aunt who lives near Atlanta, and she suggested that we go out for breakfast to a Waffle House so that we could try one of their “special recipe” waffles. I was skeptical. It was ‘just’ a waffle, right? How ‘special’ could it be, right?

That was what I thought then. Now? Well, now, I’m pretty convinced that the Waffle House “special recipe” for their waffles is injected with some kind of drugs. That’s the only way I can explain waffles being that friggin delicious and leave me always wanting more.

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Additional pluses for the South in my book: Disney World, Miami Beach, no snow storms that cause city-wide power outages over the holidays (see this post), amazing scenery, older AND younger men calling me “Ma’am” or “Darlin”, women calling me “Honey”.

Then there’s the accents. Random fact: if I spend a certain amount of time in the South, I will begin to pick up a Southern accent of my own. I  know it sounds weird, but I mean it. Before long, I’ll be dropping my ‘g’s and developing a drawl/twang and the whole she-bang. Again, that could just be my Southern roots calling me ‘home’.

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Then of course, there’s the food. Southern Cuisine has to be my favorite regional food to both eat and cook. There’s a reason why it’s called Soul Food, guys: you can literally taste the heart, soul and love that goes into it.

And in case you all didn’t know, in the South heart, soul and love usually translates into the 3 B’s: Bacon, Butter and Booze- not necessarily in that order. Personally, I don’t really consume much of these 3 ingredients on their own. I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol, I don’t like the taste of it, and it gives me a stomach ache- but will I still marinate a pork roast in whiskey? Oh yeah. Usually I try to sub out butter for healthier options when trying to sautee or flavor a dish, but there are some instances where nothing but butter will do, like when making pound cake and pie crust. Then I’m the Butter Queen.

Please don’t slaughter me when I say this: but I can really live without eating bacon on it’s own. Don’t get wrong: the smell is fantastic, but I can do without actually eating the finished product, regardless of whether it’s chewy or crisp. On the other hand; to me, bacon grease (the liquid stuff that gets leftover in the pan or skillet) may as well be the Nectar of the Gods. It’s everything. Everything that matters when cooking.

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One of the oldest, most priceless cooking tips that I learned from my true blue, Deep South, Mississippi born and bred grandma was this: save.your.grease.

Bacon grease. Chicken grease. Fish grease. After you’re finished cooking the proteins, don’t just throw it out. That’s bad. Strain it through a fine sieve to get out the bits, then pour it into mason jars and give them their own label. I’m serious. I know, it may sound weird (and maybe even a little nasty), but  trust and believe: you will thank me for this later. I watched my grandma do this for years without fully understanding why it was so valuable- then I started cooking for myself, and found out that she was a genius.

Drained grease (especially pork grease) does something for food that no ordinary, ground seasoning can even come close to. It’s…it’s almost like pure magic, guys. This dish completely proves my point. It originally started as a dish that we made up in my house for when my church was doing a fast that was kinda similar to the month of Catholic Lent, except we did ours during the month of January and the beginning of February. Usually, we just did things like give up eating solid meat, bread or sweets- nothing too serious, it’s more of the idea that counts in these cases. Anyway, my mom and my grandma made this dish quite a few times during the fast, as it’s a meal that’s delicious and satisfying enough to where you don’t even miss the meat at all.

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Now, I’ll be honest with you all: I was very light handed when it came to putting together this recipe because it’s just one of those things that I put together and season to personal taste. I’m very liberal when it comes to my seasonings, but I can admit that not everyone is like me, and as such, may have a completely different palate. So when it came to seasoning, what I did was give you all the ingredients that I put in the dish, then let you decide how much of it you want to add. As far as Garlic and Onion powder are concerned my advice would be to not be shy: it’s hard to add too much of those, so I usually add a liberal coating over the potatoes and onions, stir, then add another liberal coating and stir again. With salt and pepper, you’ll need to be more careful, as it’s much easier to over salt or over pepper a dish. Butter Buds are basically dried, powdered Butter flakes that make potatoes basically irresistible. It’s also a healthier alternative to using straight butter. They can be found in the spice aisle of grocery stores, and really are worth the buy if you can find them in your area.

 After they’re done cooking, the potatoes become tender on the inside and crisp on the outside, forming that delectable crust that reminds me of hash browns. The nearly caramelized onions should be limp and they really provide the perfect, slightly sweet complement to the saltiness of the potato. And to top it all off, there is a slight aftertaste of bacon thanks to the potatoes and onions being cooked in the liquid bacon grease.

You guys, this food is the South on a plate. It really speaks to my heritage and style of cooking, and just tastes phenomenal.

I decided to bring this to the Fiesta Friday party this week, hosted this week by Elaine@Foodbod and Julianna@Foodie On Board. Hope you guys like this little taste of the South 🙂

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Southern Smothered Potatoes & Onions

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup liquid bacon grease
  • 4 lbs russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • Onion Powder to taste
  • Garlic powder to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • Butter Buds, to taste

 Directions

1. Heat a cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium high heat.

2. Drizzle about 2 tbsp of the bacon grease into the pan, swirl about to evenly cover the surface.

3. Add enough potatoes and onions to pan to fill up. (You will have to do this in multiple batches).Sprinkle a generous coating of the onion powder, garlic powder, and butter buds over the potatoes and onions. Stir to evenly coat, then add a little bit more if necessary.

4. Add the salt and pepper to the potatoes and onions (be a little less generous with these, I typically do about 1 tsp of each per batch).

5. Cover the pan and allow to cook until potatoes are brown, tender and slightly crisp at the edges, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking at the bottom of the skillet.

6. Repeat steps 2-6 in batches with the remaining potatoes and onions and serve.

 

Sesame Glazed Sweet Potatoes

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I’ve mentioned to you guys before that when I find a new habit or trend, or something  in general that I like, I will wear it out TO DEATH until I’m either sick of it, or until I find a new something to wear out to death.

Me and my twin sister Jas are really alike in that (among other things: our DNA  also happens to be exactly the same.) Take movies for instance; when we were growing up, we went through a phase where when we found a movie we liked, we watched it every chance we got. I find a new favorite song and it gets put on constant repeat on my iPod . I find a new interesting tv show and will faithfully watch it ever week, or if its old, I will have entire marathons of it on Netflix until I get through it all.

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So far as good goes, I’m on a root vegetable kick right now.  For a long time, I’ve just always wanted to eat a side of root vegetables with my dinner. Mostly it’s been a mix between rutabagas and sweet potatoes. I can decide which I like more honestly. Although it may not seem like it, rutabagas too have a unmistakable sweetness to them that’s so clearly highlighted when they’re roasted. If you guys don’t believe me, then you should try this recipe for Herb Roasted Rutabaga that I posted a few weeks ago- if you’re not typically a fan of them, I promise you: I’m going to make you a ‘believer’ with 2 rutabagas, and a handful of dried herbs. Because I’m a miracle worker….okay not really, but I am a pretty good cook 😉

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 I’m experimenting with different recipes to mix things up so that I don’t get too bored. After all, variety’s the spice of life. Right now, this is my new sweet potato recipe that I’m really fond of.  Trust me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.

I never would have thought initially to apply Asian style flavors to sweet potatoes. But let me tell you guys, it REALLY works. The saltiness of the soy sauce is perfect with the sweetness of the honey as well as the natural sweetness of the potatoes. The sesame seeds give it a subtle earthy and almost nutty aftertaste. I served them with a chicken stir-fry that I made my family for dinner ( the recipe and pics are very soon to follow).

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Random/Embarrassing Fact: About a year ago, I was on another carrot/sweet potato kick and I ate so many of them that I LITERALLY started turning orange. Seriously. I’m not joking. I went into my doctor for a general check up and she literally gasped and asked what happened to me. I didn’t notice until I stood under a fluorescent light in her office and held out my hands: my palms were the color of a carrot. My skin is naturally kind of yellow, so…suffice to say it just wasn’t a good look. I had no idea that consuming too much Vitamin A (which is dominant  in carrots and sweet potatoes) can do that. Now I do. So as delicious as these sweet potatoes are, I do try to be a little more careful to not make them take up the most space on my plate.

I try. I may not always succeed. Try this recipe and you’ll definitely understand why.

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Sesame Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Recipe Courtesy of Cookstr.com

CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE VERSION

Ingredients

  •  5 orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (yams), peeled
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  •  Salt & freshly ground black pepper
  •  2 tbsp sesame seeds
  •  1 tbsp honey
  •  1 tbsp soy sauce

 Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).

2. Cut the potatoes into large chunks and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and season with salt and pepper.

3. Roast the potatoes for 30 minutes, turning halfway through, until almost tender.

4. Mix together the sesame seeds, honey, and soy sauce. Pour  over the sweet potatoes, and toss.

5. Roast 20 minutes more, or until well glazed and tender.

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