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.

Cream of Chicken Soup with Crispy Chicken Skin

You know that can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup that’s been sitting in your pantry?

In a pinch for casseroles, there’s nothing more handy than the premade stuff we’ve all been eating since childhood, whether we knew it or not. But eating it out of the can on its own can be a disappointing experience.

So why not make it at home?

Think of it like a creamy soup – but glorified chicken goodness. If you’re really going for a decadent soup, especially one where the chicken-ness is center stage, homemade chicken stock is the must of musts.

Here’s my secret to great chicken stock – go easy on yourself, and allow room to be versatile with substitutes. It’s more important to have homemade chicken stock on hand, than to go for the store-bought stuff just because you were missing an ingredient necessary to satisfy a recipe requirement. No onions? Use the scallions in your fridge. No fresh parsley? Use dried parsley.

When I cook chicken stock, my proportions of vegetables and herbs that go with the chicken are different every single time, with the exception of equal proportions carrots, celery, along with a bulb of fresh garlic and a small handful of black peppercorns.

In my experience, you typically need to have those flavor profiles to get that homey “chicken stock” taste – but the other flavor enhancers are entirely up to you. Parsnips, fresh herbs, onions – whatever it is.

And when it comes to the type of chicken used to produce the stock, we all know a whole, fresh chicken is the gold standard. In my case, it’s a matter of using up a frozen chicken carcass and some unwanted giblets, maybe a couple of bone-in frozen chicken thighs. It’s all chicken, and it’s all full of flavor (in some cases, maybe more so), so why waste it?

This soup is really as simple as pulling together a roux like you would for any gratin or cheese sauce, adding some homemade chicken stock, and throwing in some chicken-complimentary veggies like carrots and celery.

The pièce de résistance in this recipe, though, is the crispy chicken skin. Which frankly is so good I’d recommend eating it on its own, or serving it as a party appetizer. It’s up there with bacon in my book.

And I’m pretty sure if it hasn’t taken off already as the new trendy culinary “thing,” it’s on its way up.

To prepare the chicken skins, if you have the time, allow them to dry out in the fridge overnight seeped in a layer of salt – this is all in an attempt to dehydrate the skin as much as possible. It’ll make for an assuredly crispy bite.

But if you don’t have the time, or forget, which I’ve been known to do in make-ahead recipe steps like this one, you can always just throw them immediately in the oven.

My mind started to wander to all sorts of types of cream-of soup possibilities – cream of mushroom and tomato are classics – but then I thought of cream of beef, poblano pepper, pumpkin, olive oil. I’m likely to do some experimenting. Stay posted. 😊

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

F o r  t h e  C h i c k e n  S k i n s

  • Skin from two chicken breasts
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed
  • Olive oil, as needed

F o r  t h e  S o u p

  • 4 to 6 tablespoons flour
  • 1 liter homemade chicken stock, recipe below
  • 6 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 stalks celery, cut thin
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt, plus additional as needed
  • 1 teaspoon pepper, plus additional as needed
  • Crusty baguette, for dipping

F o r  t h e  C h i c k e n  S t o c k

  • Approximately 3 pounds chicken pieces
  • 3 carrots, cut into large pieces
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into large pieces
  • 1 garlic bulb, cut in half crosswise
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 bunch fresh herbs, tied with kitchen twine
  • Enough water to barely cover the chicken and other ingredients

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Salt the chicken skin heavily and cover with a damp paper towel, leaving in the fridge overnight.
  2. Boil the chicken stock ingredients for 6 hours, until the vegetables are falling apart and the chicken meat is dry. Strain the chicken stock through a colander into a large bowl. Store the stock in quart containers.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350*. Put the chicken skins on parchment paper on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place a heavy casserole dish on top of the chicken skins to flatten so they bake evenly. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.
  4. Melt the butter in a pot, and add the celery, sautéing for 4 or so minutes on medium heat until the vegetables soften. Add the flour, and whisk until the flour and the butter form a thick paste. Add the milk, and whisk until incorporated. Still on medium heat, add the chicken stock, stirring until the soup begins to thicken. Taste for seasonings, adjusting as necessary. The soup is done when it reaches a clam chowder consistency.
  5. Plate the hot soup, topping with crispy chicken skin, serving with crusty French baguette for dipping, if desired.

 

 

Stovetop Mustard Macaroni & Cheese

I put mustard in dishes that should not have mustard in them.  Mustard powder is great, but the real-deal condiment adds a great zing to just about everything, in my experience.

Taco meat? Add mustard. Tuna salad sandwiches? Let’s add some mustard. Hummus? Mustard. Clam chowder? Why not – where’s the mustard.

Did anyone else eat cheese and mustard sandwiches growing up? I never really missed the ham or turkey.  I was after that sharp cheddar cheese and French’s Yellow Mustard combo, with so much mustard it would ooze out the edges and seep through the holes in the bread if you pressed down on the sandwich.

The addition of yellow mustard and Dijon mustard to your typical tabletop mac and cheese did not disappoint – and it gave me validation to continue with my bizarre food experiments. I had been adding mustard powder to most of my stovetop macs, but the condiment adds a “what did you put in this?” mystery flavor that’s difficult to put your finger on.

Stovetop mac, if you haven’t made it before, can and should be a staple food in your household. Yes, even if you are kid-less. Admit that you want it – it’s OK, we all do.

Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is perfect in every way an iconic American staple food can be perfect. But you’re getting so much extra oomph mixing whatever yummy cheese you have on-hand in your fridge to your favorite short pasta, adding some milk or cream, and seasoning the gooey mixture to your heart’s content. Just make sure you’re adding some of the processed stuff – Kraft American Cheese Singles or Velveeta – I will arrest you if you don’t.

Mike Myers, featured in a 1992 blockbuster as the doofus Wayne in Wayne’s World, had his priorities straight when he asked:

“Pardon me sir – do you have any Grey Poupon?”

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2 to 4, depending on appetites.

  • 1 box short pasta
  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, of your choosing
  • 10 Kraft American Cheese Singles
  • 3 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted
  • 3 tablespoons yellow mustard, of your choosing
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, of your choosing
  • 3 / 4 cup half & half
  • 1 cup reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Boil a pot of water, cooking the pasta al dente according to package instructions. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid before straining.
  2. In the same pot, add the butter, half & half, both mustards, salt and pepper. Immediately return the pasta to the pot.
  3. With the pot on low heat, add the cheeses and stir until the cheese and butter melts completely. Begin to stir in the cooking liquid in small pours until the mixture reaches desired consistency. The pasta will dry out over time, so if you’re going for seconds you may want to add more of the cooking liquid to “re-creamify” it.
  4. Serve hot.

 

 

 

 

Hagrid’s Hungryman Stew with Pumpkin-Potato Mash

The story behind this recipe can be found in Hankerings’ post, You’re a Wizard, Harry!

I hope you enjoy. 🙂

I N G R E D I E N T S

F o r  t h e  P u m p k i n – P o t a t o  M a s h

Serves 2 to 4.

  • 4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cut into quarters
  • 1 28 oz. can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1 / 2 stick butter, salted or unsalted, melted
  • 1 / 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put the quartered potatoes in a large pot of boiling water. Cook until tender and drain.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the potatoes and the rest of the ingredients. With a hand mixer, combine the ingredients on high speed until few potato chunks remain. Taste for seasonings, adjusting as necessary.
  3. Set aside until stew is ready or eat on its own.

I N G R E D I E N T S

F o r  t h e  S t e w

  • 2 lbs. boneless stew meat of your choosing, cut into large cubes (red meat is preferred, we used beef ribeye)
  • 3 lbs. hearty vegetables of your choosing, cut into large bite-sized pieces (we used small Vidalia onions, quartered Spanish onion, sliced carrots, whole white button mushrooms and fresh spinach leaves)
  • Approximately 1 liter beef stock (enough beef stock to cover halfway up meat and vegetables)
  • Approximately 10 stems thyme, 5 stems sage, 3 stems rosemary tied into a bouquet garnier (tied together with kitchen twine for easy removal)
  • 1 head garlic, skins removed and cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Shredded parm reg, if desired
  • Minced rosemary, if desired

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put all the ingredients in a crockpot, stirring so everything has a chance to combine. Put the slow cooker on high, cover with the lid, and cook for 4 to 5 hours, until the meat is falling apart.
  2. Serve ladlefuls of the stew over the pumpkin-potato mash, sprinkling with parm reg and minced rosemary, if desired.

You’re A Wizard, Harry! – Butterbeer Pancakes & Hagrid’s Hungryman Stew with Pumpkin-Potato Mash

Fall’s right around the corner folks. We’re almost there.

The thought prompted an idea for a Harry Potter movie binge watch this past weekend – with Harry Potter-themed food and all.

Honestly, though, this was all just a poorly veiled excuse to not leave the apartment.

I give us a B, because we were conked out by The Half-Blood Prince. But we did much better than I thought – and when I wasn’t watching, I was cooking. It was a very magical day.

I love the fairy-tale food you see in movies and shows – doesn’t butterbeer sound like it should exist? J.K. Rowling is a genius. Side note – if you look closely, I think the stage drink is actually orange juice.

If I were to guess the flavor profile of butterbeer, I’d think it would be butterscotch-y.  I used butter flavoring – but there’s also some cream element from the foamy topping you see in the movies. And I’d think it would have spices in there like vanilla, honey, nutmeg and cinnamon.

I don’t know what the hell is in butter flavoring, and I don’t want to find out. But I think it’s an underused additive – super, super savory, and reminiscent of breakfast foods. We should all use it more often.

The night before we packed it in, I gave always-hungry Matt his run of the produce section and butcher counter to pick out the foods he’d like in a meaty, vegetable-y stew – believing that as long as I added enough beef stock, tomato paste, garlic and herbs, we’d probably be in OK shape.

The day of, I threw the meats and vegetables in a crockpot to go low and slow. I served it over a pumpkin-potato mash, and it was super rustic and awesome-tasting. He went heavy on the mushrooms, which is never a bad idea. And it’s named in honor of my favorite oaf Hagrid, the cutest man-giant alive today.

I hope you HP fans enjoy. 😊

F o r  t h e  B u t t e r b e e r  P a n c a k e s

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2.

F o r  t h e  P a n c a k e s

  • Prepared pancake mix of your choosing (other ingredients per package directions)
  • 1 tablespoon butter flavoring
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 / 2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter, salted or unsalted

F o r  t h e  W h i p p e d  C r e a m

  • 1 / 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 / 2 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 / 2 teaspoon cinnamon

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Mix the ingredients (per package instructions), adding the additional ingredients spices the end. Combine vigorously with a whisk. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes so the batter has a chance to thicken.
  2. To make the whipped cream, put the heavy cream in the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, and run on high speed for 5 or so minutes, until the cream is whipped. Stir in the remaining spices and let sit in fridge while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  3. Heat a griddle and add the butter. Once the butter is foaming, pour a ladle-full of pancake batter into the hot pan. Once bubbles appear in the center of the pancake, flip it to the other side to finish cooking. Repeat until all batter is gone.
  4. To serve the pancakes, add a dollop of the whipped cream on top of stacks of four pancakes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with maple syrup, if desired.

F o r  H a g r i d ‘ s  H u n g r y m a n  S t e w  w i t h  P u m p k i n – P o t a t o  M a s h

Serves 2 to 4.

F o r  t h e  P u m p k i n – P o t a t o  M a s h

I N G R E D I E N T S

  • 4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled & cut into quarters
  • 1 28 oz. can unsweetened pumpkin puree
  • 1 / 2 stick butter, salted or unsalted, melted
  • 1 / 2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 / 2 cup sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put the quartered potatoes in a large pot of boiling water. Cook until tender and drain.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the potatoes and the rest of the ingredients. With a hand mixer, combine the ingredients on high speed until few potato chunks remain. Taste for seasonings, adjusting as necessary.
  3. Set aside until stew is ready or eat on its own.

F o r  t h e  S t e w

I N G R E D I E N T S

  • 2 lbs. boneless stew meat of your choosing, cut into large cubes (red meat is preferred, we used beef ribeye)
  • 3 lbs. hearty vegetables of your choosing, cut into large bite-sized pieces (we used small Vidalia onions, quartered Spanish onion, sliced carrots, whole white button mushrooms and fresh spinach leaves)
  • Approximately 1 liter beef stock (enough beef stock to cover halfway up meat and vegetables)
  • Approximately 10 stems thyme, 5 stems sage, 3 stems rosemary tied into a bouquet garnier (tied together with kitchen twine for easy removal)
  • 1 head garlic, skins removed and cut in half
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • Shredded parm reg, if desired
  • Minced rosemary, if desired

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Put all the ingredients in a crockpot, stirring so everything has a chance to combine. Put the slow cooker on high, cover with the lid, and cook for 4 to 5 hours, until the meat is falling apart.
  2. Serve ladlefuls of the stew over the pumpkin-potato mash, sprinkling with parm reg and minced rosemary, if desired.