Shepherd-ish Pie (Cottage Pie)

Oh, I love cold weather foods! Don't get me wrong--I can't get enough of the awesome summer fruits and vegetables, or the grilling. But I'm a baker at heart, so I love being able to turn on the oven and make something really cozy and comforting.

Shepherd's pie is one of those exotic-seeming recipes that no one makes, but is actually super easy to throw together, kind of. I make it with beef (which makes it a "cottage pie), because it's easier and cheaper, but "real" Shepherd's Pie is made with lamb. Or you can make "Shepherdess Pie," which is made with beans and vegetables.

I remember discovering shepherd's pie; I was hanging out at this English bar on Greenville Avenue a lot. My friend Smelly and I used to go there on Wednesdays to have a few beers (me) or a few Pimm's Cups (Smelly) and have pub food. I normally ordered bangers and mash, but Smelly has an English uncle who made shepherd's pie for her growing up, so she would order that sometimes. Then we would play loads of Tom Jones songs on the jukebox and flirt with the bartenders. (Just kidding, honey! I never did. It was Smelly.)

Anyhoo. To the cooking part. If you have leftover mashed potatoes, use those. You could probably even make this with instant mashers if you're in a real time crunch.

And don't feel like you HAVE to use what's here. I've made them with corn, without peas, with celery, without mushrooms... use what you like. Also, substitute other potatoes if you want. And leave the skins on the potatoes, or peel them. Do what you like!

1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/3 cup milk, or as needed
1/4 cup butter, or as needed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil or butter
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
1 cup sliced mushrooms
Leaves from 4 sprigs fresh thyme (or 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme)
1 pound ground beef
2/3 cup frozen green peas
1 cup chicken or beef stock
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to 375°F.

Place the potatoes in a saucepot. Add water to cover and a generous pinch of salt. Heat to boiling, then reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer until fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and return to the saucepot. Whisk in the milk and butter and mash until smooth (or use an electric mixer).

Meanwhile, in a skillet, heat the oil then add the onion, garlic, carrots, and thyme. Saute until fragrant then add the mushrooms, and and saute until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the beef is browned. Add the peas and cook until heated through. Add the stock, then sprinkle with flour and stir until the liquid has thickened, about 6 minutes.

Spoon the meat mixture into a baking dish and spread into an even layer. Spoon the potatoes over the meat, spreading it into the edges. Use the back of a spoon to make swirls, or use the tines of a fork to make a crosshatch pattern.

Bake until the the potatoes are golden and browned in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.


tortilla soup

Last week we were both feeling a little under the weather here at chez Krakberry. Not sick, officially, but not 100%. As everybody knows, the best way to get immediate relief from a potential cold is a big pot of chicken soup. But I wasn't in the mood for regular soup; I needed something with a little more oomph. Checking my fridge I noticed a giant package of corn tortillas, then realized I had several chiles I needed to use... tortilla soup it is!

1 quart chicken stock
1 (3-pound) chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 lemon, cut in half
1 jalapeno
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon creole seasoning
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
3 cloves garlic
2 serranos
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 yellow squash, halved and cut into 1/2-inch slices

shredded queso quesadilla or monterey jack
fried tortilla strips

In a large pot, combine the chicken, chicken stock, half the onion, the lemon, and the jalapeno. Add water to cover and 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and let simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken and refrigerate it until it cool enough to handle. Pull the meat from the bones and return the bones to the stock pot. Continue to simmer.

In a second pot, heat a little oil just until hot. Add the remaining onion, the garlic, the serranos, and the spices; saute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the squash, and 6 cups chicken
stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the chicken meat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is very tender and the flavors have blended, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the tortillas into strips. Heat a couple of inches of oil until hot and, working in batches, fry the strips until golden and crunchy.

Check for seasoning and ladle the soup into bowls. Let your peeps choose their own garnishes.


Fresh Gingerbread with Lemon Icing

    • Sweets like this gingerbread held no appeal for me as a child. In my opinion, if there wasn't chocolate, or at the very least, caramel, involved in a sweet, it was a waste of my time. Now, as a grownup (heh), I have expanded my tastes. This gingerbread is so good I don't really make it that often because I can't stop eating it. And it's beautiful too, with the snowy white icing contrasting against the dark cake. But I promise it will not be around to look at for very long. (Recipe based on one by Nigella in How to Be a Domestic Goddess.)

    • Gingerbread
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water

Lemon Icing
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 tablespoon warm water (if needed)

Preheat the oven to 325°F.

Measure the flour into a mixing bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and ginger. Heat over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted. Turn off the heat and add the milk, eggs, and baking soda mixture.

Add the liquid ingredients to the flour, stirring until completely mixed (the batter is thin), Pour it into the pan and bake for 45-55 minutes until risen and firm. Be careful not to overbake; it's better a little stickier. Let it cool completely before icing.

In a medium bowl, whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar. If needed, add the water gradually. It should be thick-ish. Pour over the gingerbread and spread to an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula. Let the icing set up before cutting the gingerbread.