March 31, 2010

    Shepherd's Pie

    I have to admit, while I generally roll my eyes at those who get all moony and star-struck by most celebrities, I am totally a Gordon Ramsay fangirl. There, I said it. The man is culinary genius, and while his recipes generally have long, drawn out, pretentious sounding names, they are actually much simpler to actually accomplish.

    Seeing as my grandmother is originally from Scotland, we grew up with a lot of traditional food from the United Kingdom. Most of it stars very fondly in my memories of growing up, and shepherd's pie stands as the number one dish. The problem with Americanized shepherd's pie? It lacks flavor, the mince is usually greasy and soggy, and overall the dish is exceedingly bland.

    Sound familiar? Then try this recipe - you won't be disappointed. Need more motivation? Go here and watch Ramsay himself prepare it in less than five minutes (edited, of course). Tell me that man couldn't make a grilled cheese look sexy?

    Serves 4

    Ingredients (amounts changed to rough Imperial equivalents where needed)

    2 tbsp olive oil
    Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
    1lb (plus a smidge...actually 1.1lbs) minced lean lamb
    1 large onion, finely grated
    1 large carrot, finely grated
    2 cloves garlic
    1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (Lea and Perrins please!)
    1 tbsp tomato puree (paste)
    Handful of thyme sprigs, leaves picked
    1 sprig of rosemary, needles chopped
    1 cup red wine (I used a $9 cabernet sauvignon which worked quite well. Use a good drinking wine. If you are dead set against wine, you could sub for beef stock, but I would not recommend it)
    1 1/4 cups chicken stock
    1 1/4 lbs Desiree potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks (Desiree are nearly impossible to find here, use a waxy potato. To be honest, I used russet and still had a lovely mash at the end)
    50g (roughly 2 ounces) butter
    2 egg yolks
    Parmesan, for grating
    Olive oil
    Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

    1. Preheat the oven to 180˚C/gas 4 (350 degrees F).

    2. Heat the oil in a large pan until hot. Season the mince (lamb) and fry in the oil over moderate to high heat for 2-3 minutes. Stir the onions and carrot into the mince then grate the garlic in as well. Add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato puree and herbs and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the red wine and reduce until almost completely evaporated. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce has thickened

    3. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain then return to the hot pan over low heat to dry out briefly. Pass them through a potato ricer then beat in the egg yolks, followed by about 2 tbsp grated Parmesan. Check for seasoning

    4. Spoon the mince into the bottom of a large ovenproof dish. Using a large spoon, layer the mashed potato generously on top of the mince, starting from the outside and working your way into the middle. Grate some extra Parmesan over and season. Fluff up the mash potato with a fork to make rough peaks. Bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes, until bubbling and golden brown

    Notes from the Kitchen:

    I went ahead and used the traditional lamb here. It wasn't as expensive as I thought it would be at Whole Foods since you need so little. However, the end result gave me a wonderful flavor from the mince that I thought almost overpowered the lamb. While not traditional, I would have no problems for substituting the lamb for a very lean ground beef to make this a little more budget friendly, making sure to drain any excess grease at the initial frying stage before adding the vegetables.

    I did not have one crock of the right size to make this pie, so I ended up with four individual shepherd's pies which worked perfectly. Lesson here? Use what you have!

    This is one of those times were I was too eager to eat dinner and neglected to take a photo. Seriously, go watch Gordon make this pie. It's making me want to make some more for dinner...

    March 30, 2010

    Special Spaghetti Cake

    I love comfort food, and I think it's why I'm drawn to so many of Jamie Oliver's recipies. They are comfort food with a touch of class, and generally I don't have to be very spendy with my ingredients. My suggestions? The two things do not skimp on the cost of should be cheese and herbs. Herbs can be cheap, of course, if you grow your own - but if you don't, I'm a huge fan of the living plants you keep in the fridge for a few days. I've even had great sucess in transplanting these into soil to keep growing if I don't need all the herb at once! Once you cook with fresh herbs and full flavored cheeses, you will never be able to go back.

    This simple pasta dish blew me away with it's abundance of flavor. It looked fabulous on Jamie Oliver's website, and I had to give it a try. I have to be honest, the idea of an oven baked spaghetti pie sounded a bit off, but trust me, follow the recipe - it's well worth it! You'll notice in my photo that my pan was not quite large enough. The pan you see there is a 10" pan - when he calls for an 11" pan, heed that warning! I made it with my smaller pan, but it was overflowing and mounded up high on top.

    Adapted from Jamie Oliver's website.

    600 ml (approx 2.5 cups) double cream*
    4 large eggs
    sea salt and freshly ground pepper
    100 g (approx 1/4 lb) mature cheddar cheese, grated **
    100 g (approx 1/4 lb) "smelly cheese" (Brie, Stilton, or goats cheese), cubed ***
    2 large handfuls of baby spinach, roughly chopped
    1 fresh red chili, deseeded and chopped (I had a small serrano left over from last year's farmer's market - it worked well, seeds and all)
    1/2 of a small jar of sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped (I found the more the merrier with the tomatoes, so don't skimp!)
    1 box of just cooked spaghetti (I use whole wheat pasta only - and out of those my favorite is Hodgson Mills - but standard is fine as well)
    Knob of butter
    Few fresh sage sprigs, leaves picked off stems.
    1/2 - 1 lb chicken thighs, boneless/skinless, cubed ****

    Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). In a large bowl beat the double cream and eggs with a good pinch of salt and pepper. Add the grated Cheddar, most of the smelly cheese, the spinach, chilli, sun-dried tomatoes and the cooked spaghetti. Gently stir to mix well.

    Melt the butter in an ovenproof frying pan, around 11inches in diameter, and swirl it around so the base of the pan is nicely coated. Slowly pour in the spaghetti mixture and shake the pan to even the mixture out. Bake in the hot oven for 30 minutes until it starts to crisp on top. At this point, take it out of the oven and use the back of a spoon to make small indents into the top of the bake. Toss the sage leaves in a little olive oil then press one into each dip with a small cube of the remaining cheese on top.

    Return to the oven and cook for 10 more minutes until crisp. Remove and leave to rest for a few minutes. Serve in wedges with a fresh green salad on the side.

    Notes from the Kitchen:

    *double cream is not available in the US except if you have a really great relationship with a local dairy. Heavy whipping cream is a decent substitute in this recipe from my own trials, read the carton and get the kind with the highest fat content possible.

    ** I used a nice smoked cheddar by Tillamook. It was economical and we love the remnants on crackers!

    *** I used an imported Stilton I found at Reasors' (local grocer) for a great price. While generally not a fan of blue cheeses myself, the Stilton really carried the dish here.

    **** The chicken is not in the original recipe. I added it as I had some chicken that needed to be used from a previous recipe. If you decide to use some as well, cook the chicken seperately before starting, and then add right before the spaghetti is added to the pan. I just pan fried quickly with some salt and pepper in a little canola oil.

    A Few Notes for Readers

    I love food, and while I love photography - it's no longer my main passion. My kitchen is small, and poorly lit thanks to switching to all CFL bulbs that cast a strange yellowish tinge to my photos now. As a consequence, my posts here may not have the most glamorous photos - in fact, I'll guarantee they won't be. Most will be taken with my trusty Blackberry - not the world's best camera. The point to that is this - great food doesn't require a massive setup in equipment, time or even energy. I have a family to feed, so oftentimes photos are the last of my worries. I like to get my meals on the table while they are still hot and we can enjoy the complexity of the dish - not to let it get cold while I set up and snap that perfect photo for my blog.

    In the same stream, I will say I do not post recipes on this forum without either the author's permission, or unless it's something they've posted on their own site for free use due to intellectual property rights. I do always back link to the original authors and notate any changes that I've made personally to the original dish. I may give an accounting and a photograph of other dishes, but I will not post the recipe in it's entirety - so if you see something you love but I've not provided details, please look into getting the cookbook at your local library to give it a shot. That's how I get most of my cookbooks, and when I find one I absolutely adore, I order it directly from Amazon or another retailer.