Shepherd's Pie

Brian has had to do a bit of traveling lately. So there have been lots of simple veggie meals along with lots of peas being consumed (Since Brian despises peas so much I take advantage when he is gone!). Also, now that the days of rain are fewer I have been trying to get back into my urban hikes. I power walk across Belltown, through downtown, and wrap around in Pioneer Square before heading back home. Depending of the day it results in four miles, give or take, with lots of hills and stairs being concurred depending on my mood. All that walking works up an appetite. With my hungry tummy, Brian home for a while, and St. Patty’s Day upon us, I thought an appropriate meal was deserved. I decided the perfect meal for such an occasion was a Shepherd’s Pie. A hearty one; with a layer of lamb, covered by a layer of veggies, and topped with mashed potatoes.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

Each layer of the Shepherd's Pie before it went into the oven.

The first time I ever had Shepherd’s Pie, believe it or not, was when I was away at college. It was sometimes offered as entree option for dinner. Growing up in an Italian American home this was something I never heard of or saw before. I gave it a try one night while being bored with my other options, and to my surprise is was quite tasty. I can remember being home at the holidays and at a family gathering and telling my aunts I tried it and thought it was good. My Aunt Mary Beth told me it was one of her favorites! (My Aunt Mary Beth is married to my father’s brother, and comes from a very large and fun loving Irish family.) She said she made it often as it was her father’s favorite dish. We bonded as my aunt told me the different ways to make Shepherd’s Pie.

Fast forward to about a year or so ago. I realized that I never really made a Shepherd’s Pie on my own. So I emailed my Aunt Mary Beth asking if she could tell me how she likes it best, and if she could share any tips. She wrote me back right away explaining how simple it was. She (and her dad she explained) liked it best with lots of Worcestershire Sauce to coat the lamb. She also said you can use any variety of veggies, but her favorite is a layer of corn between the lamb and potatoes. I have played around with a version of this that Brian has become fond of. I too use lots of Worcestershire Sauce, and mix corn in with other veggies. So, for St. Patty’s Day this year we feasted on a homemade Shepherd’s Pie! Of course I made a veggie one for myself that was lovely, but Brian’s lamb version made him giddy like a child. As he ate it he said, “This dish make me feel so special…I need to savor it all!” If you ask me, he made my Aunt Mary Beth proud, and without question it looked far better than that cafeteria version I first tasted!

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Shepherd’s Pie (Feeds 4 - 6)

**Note: this is a dish that can easily be prepped a head of time / a day or two in advance and holds nicely in the refrigerator for two days, and bake when ready to eat. 

1 lb lamb stew meat, cut into 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup butter

1 cup onion, chopped small

1/2 cup Worcestershire Sauce

1 cup corn kernels, canned or frozen

1 cup broccoli florets, fresh or frozen

1 - 1 1/2 lb yukon gold potatoes

1/4 cup of milk

3/4 cup of shredded Irish cheddar cheese

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, place a large frying pan, or salute pan over medium heat. Melt your butter, and once melted add you onion. Let it simmer, stirring ti occasionally until it is softened; about 5 minutes. Add your lamb and let it sear on all sides, stirring it every so often.

Meanwhile, place your potatoes in a large pot. Cover the potatoes with salted water by at least 2 inches. Place it over high heat and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes until easily pierced with a knife. Drain the potatoes and let them cool a bit.

Next, add your Worcestershire Sauce over your lamb and stir well. Season it with a bit of fresh black pepper and let it simmer together, stirring it occasionally. It should simmer about 20 - 30 minutes  before removing it from the heat. Place the lamb with it’s onions and liquid in the bottom of a 9 inch pie plate and set aside.

Then. place the potatoes in a bowl and add the butter and mash to your liking…with a masher, ricer, food mill, or electric mixer. Once potatoes are mashed add in the milk and 1/2 a cup of the cheese. stir it all together and season it to your liking with sea salt and fresh black pepper. Over the lamb scatter the corn and broccoli evenly. Top your veggies with the mashed potatoes. gently spread it over the top to cover the whole pie plate, without pressing the mashed potatoes down into the layers. sprinkle the top of it all with the remainder of your cheese. (**Note: If reserving this for another day wrap the plate tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator before the following step.) 

Finally, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover your Pie plate with foil and place on a baking sheet. When oven is heated place the plate int eh oven for about 20 minutes (35 if plate was refrigerated first) and then uncover foil. leave in the oven for another 15 - 20 minutes. You want to see the liquid around the lamb bubbling up and around the dish and the cheese should be melted and starting to brown across the top. Remove from oven and let it sit about 10 minutes before serving.

Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips

There is something about soup that I cannot resist. Even in the summer, I wait for days that are a bit on the cooler side for a warm soup. Or, I make a chilled one! Either way, I hugely enjoy them no matter the temperature. Corn Lime Soup

On a cooler summer evenings in Seattle a soup that is on the lighter side while being packed with flavor; that is what you want. Corn soup with cumin, lime, roasted bell peppers, and tortillas? Something like that is perfection. I first tried this recipe because it was one of Chef Sarah Moulton’s. Over time I have made it my own with little tweaks here and there. One thing I did learn from her though was that you can extract huge flavor if you place the corn cobs right into the soup as it simmers. Yes, very true and like a revolution to me in soup making way back when.

Carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs.

So the other day I saw fresh corn at the market, and the temperature only in the 70’s I knew I had to make this soup. I trimmed all the kernels from the ears, chopped veggies, roasted peppers, and made a salt / lime / cumin mix for the tortillas. While the soup simmered with the cobs in it, I fried up the tortillas. As I pureed and strained a bit of the soup, I also peeled the roasted bell peppers. As the soup was finishing, I stirred in the remainder of the corn kernels I reserved along with some fresh lime juice, roasted bell peppers, and minced jalapeno. It was all coming together, all the flavors were layered and waiting to be tasted. I ladled the soup into the bowls, we topped them with the seasoned tortillas and more fresh lime. It was light, warm, rich with corn, and an underlining spiciness. Perfection! Soup in the summer is fitting, especially if it is a corn one like this.

The Corn Lime Soup topped with the Cumin Lime Tortilla Strips.

Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips (Serves 6)

*Note: I like this soup as is; but there are times I have garnished it with fresh cilantro and diced avocado as well.

10 ears of corn

3 cups chicken or veggie stock

2 tsp ground cumin, divided

2 onions (medium in size), chopped small

4 celery stalks, chopped small

1 tbsp butter

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 red or orange bell pepper

2 limes - 1 juiced and zested, the other sliced

Chive, chopped for garnish

6-8 corn tortilla cut into strips

vegetable oil for frying

First, take all the corn cobs and carefully cut the corn kernels from the cob. Reserve the cobs and about 1 - 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels. Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Melt your butter in the pot and add your onion, celery, and 1 tsp of the cumin. Stir it all together and let it simmer and sizzle until the onion becomes translucent. About 5 minutes.

Next, add all but the reserved corn and the broth. Along with this add as many of the cobs that will fit into the pot with out ti over flowing. Let it all come to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast your bell pepper in the boiler or on your burner (whatever you are comfortable with). Roast it until the skin is all blistery and charred and set aside to cool. Also, in a bowl stir together about 1 tsp of salt along with your lime zest and the other 1 tsp of ground cumin; and set it aside.By now, your soup should have simmered for the 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and discard them. With an immersion blender puree the soup. Strain about a 1/3 of it. Pressing on the solids to release all the liquid. Place the liquid back into the pot and discard the solids. Add your reserved corn to the soup, along with the jalapeño; and keep the soup over a very low flame to be sure it stays warm. Peel your bell pepper and roughly chop it into small pieces. State your soup and season as needed with you salt and pepper too at this point.

Then, in a pot pour in your vegetable oil. Heat it over medium heat and slowly add your tortilla strips. Fry them until golden and drain them on a paper towel lined plate. While still hot sprinkle with your salt / cumin / lime mixture and set aside.

Finally, stir in the chopped roasted bell pepper to the soup along with the lime juice you have reserved. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top it with the tortilla strips, chopped chives, and a lime slice along the side. Enjoy while warm.

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

The Seattle streets have been busy, the sun has been shining, the days are long, and the warm weather is here. This past weekend was the 40th Anniversary of the Pride Parade. We are fortunate that it goes right by our apartment. We watched from our window a bit, and then headed down to the street to watch it all go by. It was so colorful and exciting. The parade was huge this year being it was a big anniversary and we got some sun as we stood there contently entertained as it passed us by. Brian put on sunblock, but still ended up with a light burn. I guess that is the price you pay for living in predominantly cloud covered city. When the sun does come out to shine, it leaves its mark. Just one of the many groups marching and preforming in the parade.

All this sunshine and warmer weather makes it harder deciding what to cook. I mean it is quite common not to get air conditioning throughout the city, even harder in our building knowing it was built in 1914. Not that I am complaining, this is nothing in comparison to the 115 degree heat (or higher) we experienced in Phoenix. Although, it does make me consider what to make for dinner by how long it will have to “cook” and how warm it will make our apartment. I walked down to Pikes Place Market and weaved and darted between the tourists to get to a fish counter I like. I picked up some salmon for curing (it should be ready in a few days) and some scallops for Brian. I figured we could grill the scallops outside and whip up an easy Black Bean and Corn Salad. The salad takes no time to whip up and is supper cool and refreshing to eat. This salad is great to make even a day ahead of time as I think it improves as it sits and the flavors develop a bit as they marinate together.

Now let me be completely honest; I am not showing a picture of the scallops with the salad for a simple reason. I went down to our court yard where the grill is and I lit it waiting for it to get about 400 – 500 degrees. I scraped it down and cleaned it well before placing my scallops on. Have you ever had to share a cooking space like a grill with others? It isn’t always “pretty” as others tend to forget to clean up after themselves. After I prepared the grill I placed the scallops on. As the scallops sizzled and began to “drip” it ignited a huge flame over the whole grill. It seems there were too many drippings at the bottom of the grill that the previous users did not clean out or burn off. I was standing there staring into the huge raging flame that engulfed the few scallops I had cooking for Brian. Rest assures the scallops were fine as I was darting my hand and tongs in and out of the massive flame with hopes I didn’t burn myself. In a bit of time and panic we got the flame under control. I had this vision that the scallops would be shriveled bits only after the fire department was called. As it turns out they were just “blackened” a bit from all the carbon. Brian insisted they still tasted great- they just didn’t look all that pretty. But the salad was bright in flavor, bright in color, pretty to look at, and delicious to eat. We made them as lettuce wraps, but this is just as great to eat on its own. It is the perfect summer food. No real cooking involved (or danger of a grill) and cool it eat!

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Easy Black Bean and Corn Salad (serves 6)

1 can (15 oz) of Black Beans, drained and rinsed well

1 can (15 oz) of corn, drained and rinsed well

1 medium green bell pepper, chopped small

½ small onion, chopped finely

1 clove of garlic, chopped finely

1 cup of feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup of olive oil

3-4 tbsp of red wine vinegar

¼ tsp of cayenne pepper (to taste really, using your judgment)

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Lettuce leaves, like romaine or butter; cleaned and patted dry

Sour cream, optional

First; in a large mixing bowl place your black beans, corn, bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Toss it together well. Over the top of it sprinkle your olive oil, red wine vinegar, a bit of your cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper. And toss again.

Next; sprinkle in your feta and toss again. (I like to leave the feta till almost last. You want it to marinate together, but with all the tossing the more it can break down too finely.) Cover it and place in the refrigerator about an hour or overnight.

Finally; when ready to serve, toss again and taste. Adjust the seasoning if needed. You might want to add more cayenne pepper…you have to wait and see as the flavor might “bloom” as it sits. Also adjust the sea salt and black pepper. Serve next to the lettuce leaves and sour cream so guests can assemble as they like.