Truffled Shepherd’s Pies

Shepherd’s pie – another one of those quintessential comfort food dishes.

Comfort food is an overused term in the food world. But you won’t hear me complaining. Comfort food has always been around. It’s just that we have a nice little click bait-friendly term for it nowadays. It’s all-encompassing – but I usually see two common threads: comfort food is hot, and it’s carb-packed.

What is the definition of comfort food anyway?

It’s defined as, “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically any with a high sugar or other carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

Point being – it’s about memories, and less so about the food itself.

I’ve only had Shepherd’s Pie one other time in my life. But the specifics are hazy.

It was somewhere in New York, at one of those British pubs. Probably on a side street off of 5th Avenue. And I probably ordered a Guinness with it – those were my Guinness days. It’s a major food gap in my cooking repertoire at home, so this dish was a long time coming.

Pie

My other major food gap? Duck leg confit. Wow, was I missing out.

D’Artagnan produces package-sealed duck confit that you can pull out of the freezer and put straight under a broiler. I bought them on a whim. And I almost cried while eating it – I’m not being hyperbolic, I was so elated by the revelation of duck fat that I almost cried. It was perfect. Duck fat is like chicken fat, but gamier. I didn’t know duck, stewed in duck fat, could taste so good.

This shepherd’s pie, while not as much a revelation as duck confit, is still that blow-your-mind level comfort food. No fond childhood memories required – it’s just plain good.

Making some of these foods at home, at the right place and time, are reminiscent of childhood home cooking. Browning the ground beef, the smell of boiled potatoes, and sauteeing mirepoix all brought back smells, tastes and sights that trigger those fuzzy memories.

But, we need to make room for the new comfort foods in our lives. For me that’s absolutely and unequivocally, duck confit. Even if it’s package sealed sometimes.

Happy comfort food cooking! 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Makes 4 small casseroles.

  • 2 lbs. red bliss potatoes, cut into large cubes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 / 3 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 tablespoons black truffle butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 lb. ground beef (20% fat)
  • 2 carrots, small diced
  • 2 celery stalks, small diced
  • 1 large white onion, small diced
  • 1 / 2 lb. mushrooms, small diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons thyme, minced
  • 1 splash red wine vinegar
  • 1 beef bouillon cube
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, sautéing for 3 to 4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic, and sauté for an additional 2 minutes or so. Add the ground beef and brown the meat. Once the meat is browned and broken up, add the carrots, celery, mushrooms, 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper. Sautee for 10 minutes or so, until all the vegetables are tender.
  3. In the meantime, heat a large pot of boiling, salted water. Add the potatoes and boil for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes are fork tender. Strain. Add the potatoes back to the pot, adding the butter, truffle butter, heavy cream and 1 tablespoon of salt. Beat with a hand mixture until the potato mixture is thickened. Allow the potatoes to cool for 10 minutes. Then crack the egg into the potato mixture, stirring until incorporated. Put the potato mixture in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  4. To the meat mixture, add the water, bouillon cube, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, bay leaf and thyme. Sprinkle the flour over the top of the mixture. Allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the gravy is thickened. Remove from the heat, allow to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes, and put the mixture in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes.
  5. In 4 6 by 4 inch casserole dishes, or gratin dishes, layer the meat mixture, then the potato mixture. With a fork, create small peaks with the potato mixture. This will help parts of the pie brown in the oven. Place the pies on a sheet pan in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes or so, until the peaks on the potato have browned.
  6. Serve hot.

Pork Chops with Horseradish Cream Sauce

There’s a restaurant called The Pig, self-dubbed the Nose to Tail restaurant, here in D.C. – and all their menu items feature – you guessed it – pork products.

Garden salad? House-made bacon bits.

Burger? That’s going to be ground pork. Yum. Pork chop? That’s wrapped in bacon for some double pig action.

Order a Bloody Mary? You’re getting a strip of bacon in that.

These are just examples, and the only one I can attest to being true is the bacon Bloody Mary, but you get the point.

I don’t buy or cook pork chops regularly. I actually totally forgot about pork chops.

But during a routine trip to the butcher counter to leer at the meats, my eyes settled on a very thick, bone-in slab of pork. It was love at first sight at the butcher counter.

I love strong, woody herbs and garlic with pork, but I wanted some to add an unexpected, punchy element. Enter horseradish.

Pork chops want to be crunchy and seared so juices lock in, just like steak – so achieving that is priority number one.

The sauce starts with the juices from the pan the chop is broiled in, so you’re losing zero percent of that flavor that seeps out from the meat while roasting.

From start to finish, you’re really only turning on the oven and smashing a couple garlic cloves to pull this dish together. And you’re getting a restaurant presentation with little to no effort. That’s a loveable, go-to recipe in my book.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 2 thick, bone in pork chops
  • Approximately 20 stems thyme
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 6 tablespoons grated horseradish
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed
  • 1 / 3 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Pat dry the pork chops. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper on both sides.
  3. Heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a cast iron skillet, large enough to hold both pork chops. Add the garlic cloves and the stems of thyme.
  4. When the oil is very hot, almost smoking, put the pork chops in the skillet so they are settled amongst the herbs and garlic cloves. Allow to sear on one side for 4 to 5 minutes on medium-high heat. Flip the pork chops, sear for 2 minutes, and place the skillet in the oven.
  5. Bake the pork chops for 25 to 30 minutes, depending on thickness, until the pork chops are cooked through. The meat thermometer should reach *160.
  6. Remove the pork chops and thyme stems from the pan, leaving the garlic. Add the cream, butter, horseradish a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper to the pan. Scrape up the brown bits from the pan while the sauce reduces for 5 minutes or so.
  7. Pour the sauce over the pork chops, and serve hot.

Apple Cider Roast Chicken

Ina Garten is famous for her roast chickens, especially the ones she makes each Friday for Jeffrey when he comes home for the weekend. I love that about her. When you see how she prepares the chicken, it’s incredibly simple. I have rarely seen her use anything beyond salt, pepper, olive oil, a bulb of garlic cut in half and stuffed inside the cavity, with some potatoes or lemons in the pan. With that many roast chickens under her belt, I have to assume she knows something we don’t.

Her Roast Engagement Chicken for example is perfectly simple – and completely encapsulates her style of cooking.

There’s really not too much work that goes into roasting a chicken – it’s something you can do without reading a recipe. Ruth Reichl recently posted a tweet illustrating exactly how simple roast chicken can and should be:

Just roasted a fresh Kinderhook Farm chicken.  Did nothing – put it into a hot oven. Best chicken I’ve ever tasted.

While this roast chicken calls for a slew of ingredients, it’s really up to you which spices to include. I went for a series of warm, autumn spice flavors. The apple cider works here the same way applesauce goes so well with pork.

I love allspice, cloves and star anise. Some folks don’t like the licorice flavor of star anise – so I’d encourage them to leave it out.

If you do like this combination of flavors – know that if you fill a shallow pan with simmering water and add a splash of vanilla, along with a handful of these spices, your kitchen is going to smell like autumn bliss for hours. I do this every so often and it puts me in a cozy cold weather mood.

There’s wiggle room with the vegetables as well – parsnips, sweet potatoes or other autumn root vegetables would be delicious. Just make sure you keep a savory element, allium vegetables like garlic and onions help offset the sweetness of the cider, cinnamon and vanilla.

Happy roasting, friends! 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

  • 1 4 to 5 lb. fresh chicken, giblets removed
  • 1 stick room temperature butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2 – 3 inch pieces
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, cut into 2 – 3 inch pieces
  • 1 small white onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 cup pearl onions, peeled and parboiled
  • 2 cups apple cider, plus 4 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon allspice (not ground)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 1 tablespoon pepper, plus additional as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature, about 1 hour. Pat the skin dry, including the cavity, with a paper towel.
  3. After an hour, sprinkle the cavity liberally with salt and pepper, and put the quartered onions inside. Truss the chicken legs with kitchen twine.
  4. Combine the butter, 4 tablespoons apple cider, apple cider vinegar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Gently loosen the top layer of the skin above each of the breasts with your fingers, and evenly distribute 1 / 3 of the butter mixture under each half of the chicken. Place one cinnamon stick under each half as well. Then rub the remaining 1 / 3 of the butter mixture over the rest of the chicken.
  5. Stud the top of the chicken with the cloves, and dot with star anise down the spine of the chicken. Sprinkle the chicken evenly with approximately 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  6. Toss the carrots, pearl onions, and potatoes with enough olive oil to moisten and a large pinch of salt and a larch pinch of pepper.
  7. Place the vegetables in the bottom of the pan. Pour the 2 cups of cider into the pan with the vegetables. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables.
  8. Cook the chicken for 20 minutes per pound – periodically removing the chicken from the oven and basting it with the cider juices from the bottom of the pan, approximately 2 to 3 times while cooking.
  9. To test the doneness of the chicken, cut the groove between the leg and the breast, and if the liquids run clear, the chicken is done. Or, wait until the chicken breast reads *165 on a kitchen thermometer.
  10. To serve the chicken, remove the star anise cinnamon sticks, and carve using Julia Child’s technique (carving starts at about 26:00). If you want a thicker sauce for serving, remove the pan juices to a saucepan, and simmer until it thickens to desired consistency.
  11. Plate the vegetables, juices and all, with the chicken presented on top.