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.

Hen of the Woods Pasta Alfredo

I’ve kept my eye out for Hen of the Woods mushrooms ever since I saw a recipe on Lucky Peach that chicken fried the mushroom cap southern-style, and threw it in between two sesame buns.

I did some searching online, and Forager Chef, a stunning blog I immediately bookmarked to my browser, published a very similar recipe to the one I remember.

I love the concept of chicken frying. Chicken fried steak? With gravy? F$#&ing outstanding.

I had never come across the mushroom until I went to the FRESHFARM farmer’s market in Dupont Circle the other day. The mushrooms there were a sight to behold.

There’s a strain I learned about called Lion’s Mane mushrooms that appeared, assuredly, to be a ball of fur. The texture was coral-like. I couldn’t believe it was edible. And couldn’t imagine being the first person to take a bite, demonstrating for us all that they are in fact, edible.

Having just fried a portabella mushroom to create the vegetarian Molten ‘Shroom Burger, I wanted to find another recipe that would throw the mushroom onto center stage. And I decided on a mushroom and garlic-infused alfredo sauce. Needlessly heavy on the cream, butter and parm reg, as always.

The turnout couldn’t have been more on point – and since garlic and mushrooms love each other so much, I figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and held back from veering too far from that standard flavor combination, with the exception of ground nutmeg.

You’ll want to make a full pound of this, for indulging in later. Speaking from recent experience, this first bite is addictive in the worst and best way possible.

I N G R E D I E N T S

I suppose this serves 4, but it could serve 1. It depends on how much self-restraint you have.

  • 1 pound Hen of the Woods mushrooms, torn or sliced into 1 to 2 inch pieces, stems included
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 / 2 stick butter, salted or unsalted
  • 2 tablespoons truffle butter
  • 1 pound angel hair pasta, or another long pasta of your choosing
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup reserved cooking liquid from the pasta
  • 1 cup parm reg, plus additional for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper, plus additional for garnish

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking liquid before draining.
  2. In the meantime, in a large sauté pan, melt the truffle butter. When foaming, add the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and pinch of pepper, and sauté for 4 to 5 minutes until the mushrooms begin to brown and release their fluid. Add the garlic, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and transfer a few mushroom slices to a separate bowl for garnish later.
  3. Once the pasta is drained, add it immediately to the pan with the mushrooms, followed by the remaining ingredients – butter, heavy cream, salt, pepper, nutmeg and all but some of the parm reg.
  4. The pasta will thicken quickly once it starts to soak up the cream and butter. Use the reserved pasta cooking liquid to thin out the sauce.
  5. Once the cheese is melted and the mixture is uniform throughout, plate the pasta, topping with extra parm reg, slices of the mushroom, and a sprinkling of crushed black peppercorns, if desired.

 

 

 

Truffled Oyster Mushroom Sauté

Sautéed mushrooms are one of the fastest-to-prepare, most elegant side dishes out there. Throwing some truffle butter into the mix doesn’t hurt either.

But the best part – just add some autumnal herbs – sage, thyme – and your house will smell heavenly for hours. No air freshener required.

Luckily, most grocery stores and farmer’s markets carry a variety of mushrooms to experiment with. And they’re affordable too, unless you’re cooking with morels. I vaguely recall spending $23 on a 4 ounce package.

You can always go for white button mushrooms, if you’re in the presence of some picky eaters. But my most recent mushroom purchase led me to oyster mushrooms. I love the stacked appearance of the caps, and the folds are defined. Sautéed, they taste meaty. I like to the keep the stems on for added bite and substance, almost cooking them to an al dente consistency.

Whole Foods carried the traditional brown oyster mushrooms as well as some beautiful pink ones. It made for a gorgeous presentation in this recipe.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Serious Eats has an in-depth look at the most common varieties of culinary mushrooms – any type is good for sautéeing, but a mixture adds a lot of texture. And I had completely forgotten about Enokitate mushrooms – one of the most gorgeous fungi I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

So while sautéed mushrooms may never top a side of French fries, they come pretty damn close. And they’re healthy-ish, if that’s something you care about.

I guess you could French fry mushrooms though – that sounds pretty good too. 😉

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 2 as an appetizer.

  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms, chopped in thick slices
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, minced
  • 1 tablespoon sage, minced
  • 2 tablespoons truffle butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Heat the olive oil and truffle butter in a sauté pan on medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes until the garlic begins to soften.
  2. Add the thyme, sage, salt and pepper, and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes until the mushrooms are browned but not caramelized.
  3. Remove from the heat.
  4. Serve immediately.

Rack of Lamb with Black Truffle & Morel Pan Sauce

Sometimes my mind wanders to scenarios like, “What if I could I buy truffles by the dozen?”

When I really think about it, I don’t want to live in a world with a caviar aisle. I live for the rare occasions when I get to splurge on a French cheese aged for decades in a cave sold by monks or a bank-breaking filet of perfectly marbled wagyu beef.

Hope exists for those of us who don’t have a $1,500 line item in our budget for truffles each month.

If and when you’re ready, authentic truffles can be found in butters sold online, but be wary about the vendor you choose.

D’Artagnan products, which I aspire to stock my fridge with, are great quality – they sell white and black truffle butters and oils that are surprisingly affordable. They also sell beautiful fresh chickens. When I place an order, I’ll splurge and buy several tubs of truffle butter to freeze and have on hand for special occasions.

This presentation calls for a packed audience, an encore, and a standing ovation with dozens of thrown rose bouquets. Make this at a dinner party, holiday, or on a special anniversary.

A tried-and-true side dish for any roasted meat is the versatile potato, and whipped potatoes always serve as an elegant accompaniment to any meat-heavy main course.

For a piquant twist, try the mash component of my Jägermeister & Guinness-Poached Blood Bangers and Mash, being sure to whip the potatoes vigorously so they develop that airy consistency. The added Dijon mustard twang works perfectly with the hefty flavors here.

You won’t be breaking the bank with this, but your guests won’t know that. They’ll be too busy experiencing truffle nirvana to even speculate.

I N G R E D I E N T S

Serves 4 – 6, depending on appetites. I have eaten an  entire rack of lamb before, so in my case this may serve 1.

  • 1 rack of lamb, frenched
  • 2 tablespoons rosemary, minced
  • 2 oz. dried morel mushrooms
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1 / 3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 / 2 small shallot, minced
  • 3 oz. black truffle butter
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 / 2 black truffle, shaved for garnish, for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Salt, as needed
  • Pepper, as needed

O p t i o n a l

For a perfect side, serve with the mash from Hankerings’ Jägermeister & Guinness-Poached Blood Bangers and Mash.

D I R E C T I O N S

  1. Preheat the oven to *450.
  2. Place the dried morels in warm water for 15 minutes to reconstitute the mushrooms Remove from the bowl with a slotted spoon, reserving 1 /4 cup of the liquid for the pan sauce. Cut the stems off, slice the mushrooms in thick rounds, and set aside.
  3. Ensure the fatty membranes are fully removed from the lamb chop bones – if needed trim off of some of the sinew so all that remains are the chops and bones with a cap of fat.
  4. Rub the whole rack of lamb with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, minced rosemary, and salt & pepper, ensuring the seasonings are covering all sides.
  5. In a cast iron skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil until near-smoking. Pan sear the lamb rack fat side down first for 3 to 4 minutes. Ensure your vent fan is turned on or a window is open – your kitchen will get smoky.
  6. Sear the rack on the other side for another 3 to 4 minutes, so that the underside of the chops have a chance to brown.
  7. Place the lamb in the oven, cooking for 15 minutes for rare and 18 minutes for medium-rare.
  8. Remove the lamb from the oven, and cover with foil while you prepare the pan sauce.
  9. In the same cast iron skillet, add the truffle butter, morels and shallot. Sautee for 3 to 4 minutes until the shallot becomes translucent. Next, add the cornstarch, heavy cream and 1 / 4 cup of the reserved liquid used to reconstitute the mushrooms. Continue to cook on medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes, until the sauce is reduced by about half and thickened from the cornstarch. It should be glossy.
  10. Cut the lamb rack into chops, pouring a generous amount of sauce over the plated chops & serve family-style at the table. With a shaving utensil, shave black truffle over the chops, if desired.