Category Archives: for when it’s cold

Shepherd’s Pie

Today was the last day of the semester, and for that I was grateful.  As I’ve mentioned before, this semester has been particularly trying, and I am just thankful to have made it to the end!  I have the next two weeks off on holiday, during which I plan to rest, relax, and do a fair bit of cooking.  I started this evening with our dinner–we’d been eating out all week long as the end of the semester usually is so busy that I don’t have much time to cook, so we resort to going out.  This week we also had a few social engagements that involved dinner, so eating at home happened very rarely this week at dinnertime.

Sometimes you just want a meal that soothes and comforts.  And sometimes you just want something that is easy and quick to fix that doesn’t require a terrible lot of work.  This dinner is both.  We’d been out earlier in the week to one of our neighborhood favorite joints, the Allen Wickers.  It’s a great pub/restaurant that we frequent, and the food there is quite good and includes a few British pub favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie.  Their version is ground beef with mixed vegetables, topped with mashed potatoes and a bit of cheese.  There isn’t a gravy or sauce, so while it is good, there isn’t anything that really holds it together.  I decided I’d make a remixed version of their recipe for dinner tonight, with a few modifications to accommodate for SB’s onion allergy.

Comfort food at its best: shepherd's pie. Easy to make, full of vegetables, and sure to be a repeat guest at your dinner table.

Now I’d made shepherd’s pie before, but it had never turned out anywhere near as good as this one did.  As SB said while he ate, “This is off the chain.”

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 1 pound ground sirloin
  • 1 package steamable frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 package Alexia Yukon Gold Mashed Potatoes (about 3 cups)*
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • salt to taste

*you can always make your own mashed potatoes; I used these because they were in my freezer and cut the prep and cook time significantly.  Additionally, this particular brand of steamable mashed potatoes is really good and tastes homemade–SB couldn’t tell the difference!

In a Dutch oven, brown the ground sirloin.  While the meat is cooking, steam cook the mixed vegetables according to package directions (about 5 minutes).  Drain the fat from the meat and add in the garlic.  Carefully open the package of cooked mixed vegetables, and add them to the pan, stirring them in with the meat to combine.  While you are cooking the vegetables with the meat, cook the mashed potatoes according to package directions (about 10 minutes).  Add the dried spices to the meat-vegetable mixture and cook for about 5-6 minutes to allow the spices to flavor the mixture.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

After this has cooked, sprinkle the flour evenly over the mixture to lightly coat it and stir to distribute the flour.  Stir in the milk so that a gravy is created, and turn the heat off of the meat and vegetables.  After the mashed potatoes have finished cooking, carefully remove them from the package using a rubber spatula and spread them over the surface of the meat and vegetables so that you create a mashed potato “crust.”  Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.  Allow the pie to set for about 5 minutes before serving.

This recipe made 4 large servings, but would make 8 small servings if eaten with other vegetables or side items.  We elected to eat it as a solo dish.


Beef Stew with Dried Thyme Dumplings

I’d like to apologize in advance for the huge gap in time between my last post and this one.  This school year has been particularly challenging–larger classes, fewer resources, needier students, and the specter of more cuts to come makes for a very stressful and busy work life.  It hasn’t stopped me from cooking, but it has put a sort of damper on my ability to create new things to cook.  Needless to say, we have eaten a lot of the same thing week after week.

This weekend, my local butcher, Hirsch’s Meats, had stew meat on sale, so I decided to use a Groupon for there that I’d bought a while back since it was due to expire.   I considered making chile verde, but really wanted something comfort food-y packed with veggies too.

Enter beef stew.  Many beef stew recipes have the usual beef dredged in flour, then browned in a bit of fat, stewed in stock until tender, and then have carrots, onions and potatoes added for a stick-to-your-ribs meal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except the onions would aggravate SB’s allergies, so I set about making a stew that omitted the onions and ramped up the flavor in other ways.

A really easy beef stew with tons of veggies, lean stew beef, and lots of flavor! This is a really hearty meal, and is low in fat.

The recipe I made is going to be dinner for us for the next 3 days (including tonight).  Hooray leftovers!    It’s a really easy recipe, and for the most part, is one you can set on the stove to cook and walk away from.  Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 2 pounds lean stew meat (ideally, all the fat is trimmed from it, as mine was)
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 2 tablespoons beef base (I use Better Than Bouillon)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons granulated garlic
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper, finely ground
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 bag frozen cut green beans
  • 1 bag frozen cut carrots
  • 3 large red potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2″ cubes
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 6 cups water

For the dumplings:

  • 2 1/2 cups Heart Smart Bisquick
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme

In a large stockpot (8 quarts is best; I have a 6 quart one and everything barely fit), heat the oil and then add the stew meat.  Cook the meat over medium-high heat until it is browned on all sides.  Once the meat is browned, add the beef stock, beef base, 3 cups of water, the Worcestershire sauce and the dried spices.  Stir the spices in and mix them in well and turn the heat down to medium.  Allow the meat to cook in the broth for 90 minutes.  Once the 90 minutes has passed, add the vegetables plus 2 more cups of water, stirring everything thoroughly so that it blends together well.  Allow this to cook for about 35-40 minutes, stirring periodically, or until the potatoes and carrots are cooked all the way through.  In a small mixing bowl, stir the 1 teaspoon of dried thyme into the dry Bisquick mix.  Whisk the milk into the seasoned Bisquick with a fork until you have a sticky batter.  Use a teaspoon to drop blobs of batter into the hot soup.  You may have to push the dumplings down to fit all of them in the pot.  I found that because my pot was small, I had to do this, plus I had to ladle some of the soup over the dumplings as they cooked.  Place the lid on the pot so that the dumplings steam cook, being careful to watch so that the pot does not boil over.  The dumplings will help thicken the stew, so adding a flour slurry (as is sometimes found in many stews) is unnecessary.

Serve once the dumplings are cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.  This recipe will make quite a lot of really tasty stew–I dished it up into bowls that held about 2 cups’ worth per serving.  We had seconds, and have plenty for the next two days’ worth of dinner.

Easy Potato Soup

Earlier this week, I managed to pick up some sort of stomach bug which made eating anything with any real spice unpalatable.  In fact, my dinner Tuesday night was a sleeve of saltine crackers and a couple of cans of Sprite Zero.  Delicious AND nutritious, I say!

Last night, I decided to test the waters with eating something that had a bit more flavor than plain saltines.  When SB and I first met way back when, we’d gone to his folks’ house, and on that particular day, his mother was making a potato soup for his dad, who’d been out hunting all day.  I remember sitting in their living room, smelling the soup and thinking, “Damn, I really want some, but we just ate.”  I haven’t forgotten that, and it’s been nearly 8 years ago since that day.  So the other day when I was feeling wormy, I had SB ask his mama just how she made that soup that smelled oh-so-good.  And from the information he relayed to me, it was quite simple:  potatoes, broth, onions, salt, pepper and cheese, if you wanted.  I changed the recipe up a bit, but it’s still quite good and could be eaten at any time of year, really.

So yeah, it's 100 degrees out, and what did I fix for dinner last night? Potato soup that did NOT require me to stand over a hot stove for long!

This recipe could easily be made vegetarian or vegan with the use of veggie broth and the exclusion of the bacon.  Here’s how I made mine.  You will need:

  • 4 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chunked
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 3 slices uncooked bacon, cut into 1″ pieces
  • black pepper
  • cheddar cheese, shredded (optional)

In a Dutch oven, heat the oil and cook the carrots and celery until they are slightly soft.  You don’t want them to give too much; you want to cook them until you can smell the sweetness of the carrot, about 10 minutes.  Add the broth, bacon and potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, stir in the black pepper and cook for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring periodically.  Using a potato masher, smash the potatoes slightly to break them up.  You do not want mashed potato consistency, but rather a chunky soupy consistency.

Serve hot, with a salad if you like.  You may garnish the soup with shredded cheddar cheese, or you can stir it into the entire pot at the end of the cooking process if you want your soup to be more cheesy.  I sprinkled a couple of tablespoons on my bowl and stirred them in, which is why the bowl above appears a bit orangey.

This recipe made 6 1 3/4 cup servings.  Since we ate ours as a meal by itself, you could reduce the serving size and serve it alongside a salad or sandwich.


Feij-what? you’re probably wondering.

I got the latest issue of Cooking Light in my mailbox this week and Friday night finally had a chance to read it.  In this issue, there was a collection of recipes for the slow cooker and among them was one that stuck out at me:  Brazilian Feijoada.

Traditional Brazilian feijoada (pronounced fay-ZWAH-dah) is a meaty stew cooked with a variety of pork and beef products and is usually served over rice with orange wedges.  It is a dish that usually cooks all day long and is usually cooked in stages with varying techniques:  stewing, braising, roasting.  Because the cooking process for this dish is so involved, it is usually not something the average home cook makes often and is usually reserved for special occasions.   The Cooking Light version of this recipe made it seem like making it was no big feat, so I decided to give it a try, with a few modifications.  The original recipe called for both pork shoulder (a bit fatty, I thought) and onion, both of which I left out.  In place of the shoulder, I used a pork tenderloin that cut down the fat content but did not change the flavor.  Leaving out the onions of course changes the flavor, but I think next time I make this (and I do plan on making it again), I will use a bouquet garni and just take it out prior to serving.  I also used canned, rinsed black beans in place of the dried beans the original recipe calls for in order to save time.

This is a heavy dish, so we ate it with a bit of steamed rice, lime wedges and whole wheat tortillas.  You really don’t need anything else!

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 5 slices bacon
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 4 very meaty beef short ribs, trimmed of their fat (about 2-2 1/2 pounds)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cans black beans, drained of their liquid and rinsed
  • Special equipment:  a 6 quart slow cooker

Cook the bacon until crisp in a large skillet.  While the bacon cooks, cut your tenderloin into 1″ chunks.  Remove the bacon from the skillet, and saute the tenderloin in the pan drippings along with the garlic until brown on all sides, about 6-7 minutes.

Once the tenderloin chunks have browned, remove them to the slow cooker.  Brown your short ribs on all sides in the remaining drippings.  Once the ribs are brown, place them into the slow cooker with the broth, beans, bacon, water, and ham hock.  Sprinkle the salt and pepper over everything, give it a good stir to mix everything and cook on low for 8 hours.

When the dish is completely cooked, remove the ham hock and bones from the short ribs.  Shred the rib meat with a couple of forks and serve over steamed rice.

This dish makes 8 1 1/4  cup servings.  It should be noted that this dish is not meant to be spicy, hence the absence of anything that might add fire to the flavor.  It is rather heavy, so it is best served as a standalone dish with rice or a salad.

This recipe was modified from its original form, found in the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light here.

Bourbon-braised Short Ribs with Savory Cheddar-Thyme Polenta

If you aren’t fully aware (or living in a cave), the majority of the country is buried under some form of frozen precipitation, our part of Texas included.  Needless to say, with a couple of inches of solid ice on the ground, neither I or Sweet Baboo had to go off to school today.  I was supposed to be off work today anyhow, as I had scheduled a doctor’s appointment, but the weather closed her office down too.   I’d decided over the weekend that since I was going to be home today anyhow, that I’d make the short ribs I bought a couple of weeks ago that were sitting in the freezer.  Since we were iced in today and travel was going to be damned near impossible, it was a good opportunity to get some cooking done that I don’t normally get to do during the week when school is in session.

Enter the bourbon-braised short ribs:

These bourbon braised short ribs made for a perfect cold weather dinner. The bourbon adds a nice flavor to the pot liquor that warms you to your toes.

I’d been wanting to make short ribs for quite some time, especially since I saw this recipe over at Pioneer Woman’s blog.  However, I didn’t have any red wine in the house, nor did I have shallots (not that it matters; can’t use them anyway).  So I did a bit of research to get a general idea of how braised short ribs should be made, and came up with my own version.  And the verdict:  they were absolutely luscious, rich and oh so good!  I served my ribs atop a bed of cheddar-thyme polenta, which was an excellent accompaniment.  Mashed potatoes would also be good here.

Here’s how I did it.  You will need:

  • 6 meaty beef short ribs (the meatier, the better); about 2 pounds
  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup good bourbon (I used Knob Creek)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups diced celery
  • 1 cup diced carrots, plus 2 cups whole baby-cut carrots
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme (chopped), plus 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons coarse grind black pepper (or use freshly ground)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic

Before you begin cooking, set the short ribs out on the countertop to allow them to come to room temperature.  This helps them to cook more evenly when you are browning them.

Once your ribs have come to room temperature, pat them dry with a paper towel to remove any excess moisture.  This aids in the browning process (thanks Julia Child!).  Sprinkle them with the salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil.  Once it is hot, carefully add the ribs to the pot, but do not crowd them.  You want to brown them on the meaty sides of the ribs, about 2 or 3 minutes or so on each side, until they have a lovely brown color.  If your ribs do not fit, then perform this step in batches so that the meat does not crowd the pan.  Remove the ribs from the pan to a bowl for the time being.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Once you have browned the meat, deglaze the pot with the cup of bourbon.  If you have a gas stove, be careful at this step!  You will be met with a cloud of bourbony goodness.  Stir the browned bits on the bottom of the pot, and then add the garlic, chopped thyme, celery and carrots to the pot.  Give them a quick saute, about 3 minutes or so, enough to coat the veggies with the little sauce you’ve just made.

Add the ribs back to the pot, standing them up in the vegetables.  Pour the beef broth over the contents of the pot.  Toss the sprigs of thyme on top and carefully stir in the granulated garlic.  Cover the pot tightly with the lid, and place in the oven for 3 to 3 1/2 hours.

The greatest thing about this is that you put it in the oven, and walk away.

As for the polenta, that was easy to make too.  You need:

  • 1 cup polenta (or cornmeal)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

In a large saucepan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil.  Add the salt, and slowly pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream, whisking it in.  Once all the polenta has been added and incorporated into the water, turn the heat down to low.  Allow this to cook over low heat, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes.  When the polenta is cooked, stir in the butter until it melts, and then stir in the cheeses and thyme until evenly distributed and melted through.

The short ribs recipe makes enough for 3 people to have two short ribs apiece, plus veggies.  The polenta recipe makes about 6 cups, so there may be leftovers.