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.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls

I have learned thus far in life that things are not always just one way. There are so many variations to just about everything in life. If you are like me, there is an enjoyment in learning every aspect and why. I use this approach almost always in food. I love to find out all the details, reasons, and varied possibilities that apply to any component or ingredient. This philosophy keeps your mind open and what it will sometimes do to your taste buds is priceless. Vegetarian Egg Rolls with lettuce, soy sauce, and sweet chili sauce.

Growing up in New Jersey it was common to order Chinese take out. There was, and possible still is, a Chinese take-out just about every couple of miles. The kind of shop that has a kitchen, a counter, possibly a couple of tables, but that is about it. You phone in or walk in, place your order, and off you go with hot freshly prepared Chinese food packed neatly in foil or little cardboard containers. My sister and I often ate it for lunch with our mom or on a busy night when my dad was traveling. It was a fun little thing that “us girls” did. Each time our meals always came with pork fried rice and an egg roll. We loved to eat that pork fried rice with whatever main dish we combined it with - Cashew Chicken, General Tso, Sweet & Sour Pork, Egg Foo Young…the list can go on, don't tempt me.

Veggies all shredded and ready for cooking.

But the special part of the meal was the egg roll. I can always remember my sister and I loving to munch away and nibble on this wonderfully crispy fried and chewy deliciousness. These egg rolls I am speaking of were, and still are, large in size; possibly just shy from the size of a can of soda. They were always filled with shredded cabbage, other veggies, some mushroom, and ground pork.  We would always get the little plastic packets of duck sauce (which I have learned is just thin apricot preserve) to dip our egg roll into as we chewed away and grinned. My father knew we enjoyed egg rolls so much and he mentioned it to a co-worker he had who was from China. She made some of her own egg rolls for us as a treat. We were shocked to see that the egg rolls she made were tiny, enough for for just a few bites, and had a much different flavor. (It  was years latter that I came to know that flavor at Chinese Five Spice.) My mom and dad then explained to us that things can always be different depending of where they come from; different areas are known for different spices, vegetables, and so on.

Ginger, green onion, and garlic....all ready.

As I grew up, traveled, and moved away, I always found it comforting to get some Chinese food and dine. I always compared it to the food my sister, mother and I dined on. I sometimes would ask the staff at the restaurant where they were from and take notice to the difference in the flavors from other places. It was my friend and lawyer Michael who taught me that his family (from Vietnam and Thailand but originated from China) always ate smaller egg rolls wrapped in lettuce leaves. I followed his lead and came to quite a liking of this. Your hand does not touch the fried exterior and the lettuce created a nice refreshing contrast in flavor. I had a co-worker named Ping here in Seattle who was from China. She often made us Chinese food for our family meals and taught me that just using garlic and keeping the veggies somewhat crunchy and fresh leads to more flavor then any sauce could ever do justice too. She also taught me how to “wrap” an egg roll. Mind you Ping was not even 5 foot tall, and her tiny hands and fingers whizzed away wrapping up those little egg rolls that always looked perfect. It was always amazing to watch her, and she was so fast at doing it.

Assembly line. Wrappers and water, filled, and rolled / wrapped. Staying organized is key.

Over the years I have tried to get a handle on making them myself. I have experimented trying best to match the flavors I enjoyed in my childhood and combined it with what I have learned from my travels and friends. The end result is quite tasty, and Brian and I enjoy them every now and again. The egg rolls we enjoy now are vegetarian, are less than half the size to what I and Brian grew up with, mildly spiced, and we eat them with lettuce along with soy sauce and sweet chili sauce to accompany them. Although I am still not as quick or fast like Ping when I make them, they are fun and delicious. Give it a try and I think you will be amazed by how simple they are and how you just made egg rolls yourself. Trying all those different egg rolls over the years has definitely paid off.

Enjoying the little egg rolls with lettuce and sweet chili dipping sauce.

Vegetarian Egg Rolls (Makes about 30)

Note: You can use egg roll wrappers for this, but they are usually quite large. I like to use the Wong Ton wrappers due to their smaller size. Doubling up on the wrappers helps prevent tearing and the filling oozing when cooking. You can purchase either wrappers at an asian market or at a larger supper market. There is a difference in texture between rice wrappers or spring roll wrappers, you do not want them for this recipe. 

4 cups of shredded cabbage

1 cup shredded carrot

1 cup shredded celery

1 1/2 cup of small chopped shiitake mushrooms

1 bunch green onions, trimmed and chopped finely

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp freshly grated ginger

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1/4 cup soy sauce, plus more

2-3 cups peanut oil

1 - 2 packages of Wong Tong Wrappers *(see note)

1 head green leaf lettuce- washed,and cut into even hand held pieces

2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Sweet Chili sauce for dipping

First, place a large sauté pan (about 10 - 12 inches) over medium heat a heat through. Add the peanut oil and once it is heated though add your cabbage, celery, carrot and mushrooms. keep stirring it until it wilts and most of the moisture that releases from the veggie is cooked out. (You might need to add a bit more of oil if you feel the pan is getting too dry and the veggies are sticking.)

Next; add the ginger, green onion, and garlic over your veggies and stir well. Let is all sizzle together and sprinkle it all with a bit of sea salt and black pepper. Add in the 1/4 cup of soy sauce and stir well and heat through. At this point taste it and see if you feel the seasoning is where you like it and adjust as needed. Place the mixture aside to cool before making your egg rolls.

Then, get all your components together to make your egg rolls. I like to do this all on a cutting board, but a counter or a table works just as well. Place a frying pan filled with about 2 cups of peanut oil over medium heat. Have your wrappers lined up with your veggie filling nearby, along with a small bowl of water. Line up two wrappers at a time, staggering them, scoop a small amount of veggies along the center of the wrappers. Wipe the edges of the wrapper with you finger dipped in the water to moisten the edges. Fold the bottom corner up and over the filling, fold the edges over to cover the bottom, and roll the rest of the egg roll up to seal the top half over it. The moistened edges will help see it together.

Meanwhile, after you seal a few egg rolls your oil should be heated through. Gently lay the egg rolls into the oil, a few at a time, and let them fry until nicely golden rotating to be sure it is evenly cooked on all sides. Once the egg rolls are evenly cooked remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Repeat the process, be sure not to wrap all your egg rolls too early or they might dry out or stick together. I prefer to get into a rhythm and do a few at a time.

Finally, once your egg rolls are done you can platter them up with the lettuce along side. Sprinkle the egg rolls with the toasted sesame seeds. Serve with both soy sauce and sweet chili sauce for dipping.

Kumquat and Rosemary Chicken (with wine braised vegetables)

When you work in a restaurant life can sometimes be difficult. Maybe I should retract that sentence? I do love what I do. I could not imagine myself in any other line of work really. There are times however that attack you in this business. Times like Valentine’s Day for example; all you end up doing is thinking about the upcoming holiday — What do I have to prep? What do I need to order? How am I going to get it all done? What if I didn’t order enough chocolate? What if the fruit is not ripe in time? All other things in life get put to the way side…sleep, relaxation. hobbies, friends, family, and just about anything personal. Then; before you know it the big day comes and goes. You survived! (On very little sleep!) You look back at it and laugh in due time making it all worth it in the end. That is where I have been. No time for fun, just work and more work. There was an evening where it got to be too much and Brian took me out. I had a slice of pizza and a pint of hard cider.  I ate and drank and vented a lot. Came home afterward to fall fast asleep, I really needed that decompression that evening. I owed Brian big time for dealing with my stress during what most couples perceive as a great holiday.

Kumquat and Rosemary Marinade

It all got me to thinking about Brian and our relationship. I must admit that sometimes I feel a bit guilty about what I prepare for us to eat daily. You see, I made a conscious decision to become a vegetarian. I wanted and felt the change was necessary in my life. My husband was fully supportive but on the other hand did not feel the need to make the change for himself. It makes me feel bad that he primarily eats a plant based diet due to me. He insists he does not mind, and says he feels he is better for my influence. Somehow, I will always feel bad that he is eating another vegetarian meal when I cook for us.

Chicken pieces marinating and developing lots of flavor.

I have stated on here before I do not mind cooking meat, I just make sure it is consciously done. That and the fact that I studied all types of food in culinary school, I do know what I am doing when faced with a piece of raw protein. If I do not dabble with it once in a while I worry I will lose my knack. That is why I challenged myself, that and I really felt that Brian deserved it. I wanted to make a seasonal chicken dish. I was able to pick up fresh kumquats and rosemary at the market and used them to marinate and bake the chicken. The end result was a bright and flavorful chicken that was just as juicy as it was tangy. It all baked over some wine braised veggies and served over some cracked bulger wheat. A meal worthy for all the non-meat meals he is faced with regularly. Not to mention a meal worth dealing with my agony of restaurant holiday stress. Maybe a good chicken dish can comfort any meat eater, I will stick with my veggies though.

Baked Kumquat Rosemary Chicken with the wine braised vegetables - freshly out of the oven.

Kumquat Rosemary Chicken with Wine Braised Veggies (feeds 4)

**If you cannot find kumquats feel free to use oranges, tangerines, or lemons. If you are not familiar with kumquats, they are really small fruits in the citrus family. All is edible on them - skin and all. The flavor is somewhat like a sweeter lemon or a tart orange.

1 1/2 cup chopped kumquats

2 tbsp rosemary sprigs

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp sea salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

5 - 6 chicken pieces (thighs and breasts)

1 yellow onion; trimmed, halved and cut into strips

3 carrots; peeled, trimmed, and chopped into 1 inch pieces

4 stalks of celery,trimmed and chopped into 1 inch pieces

1 cup of dry white wine

Sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First; in a large bowl mix together your kumquats, 1/4 cup of olive oil, rosemary, 2 tbsp of sisal, and 1 tsp of black pepper. place your chicken pieces in the bowl and toss all together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 - 4 hours.

Next, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. In a large baking dish (about 9 by 13 inch with a rim at least 2 - 3 inches tall) place your onion, carrot, and celery. Pour the wine over it all and sprinkle with a bit of sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Remove the marinating chicken from the refrigerator. Place the chicken along with the kumquats and rosemary evenly over the veggies.

Then, place the whole dish in the oven and bake together for about an hour. You will see that the chicken will start to render into the veggies and wine. The chicken will begin to turn golden and brown evenly. (You can check the chicken for it’s “doneness” if you are concerned.)

Finally, once the chicken is browned and the veggies are tender you can remove the dish from the oven. Let it settle and rest about 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm and with the veggies and the juices from the overall dish.