Moldovan Borscht (Chicken and Vegetable Soup)

I am quickly reminded when I say things like, “I learned how to make this soup from a Moldovan woman while I was visiting my father in Kabul, Afghanistan,” what an interesting life I’ve had—privileged, not in a monetary sense, but full of diversity, culture, and once in a lifetime experiences (some good and some bad). My goal is to write more about those experiences, starting with this recipe.

So, as I’ve just illuminated, I learned this recipe from a Moldovan woman in Kabul, Afghanistan several years ago. She made this soup while I peeked over her shoulder and took mental notes. Hers was a bit more rustic than mine (If you buy a chicken from a local market in Kabul, it will have its feet still attached, and if you grew up in a small village in Moldova, those feet will go into your soup pot). Regardless of my lack of chicken feet, I feel I really nailed the flavors and recreated the soup I remember eating. The dill and beets are key and my favorite part of this soup. There is no butter in the recipe, but the combination of rich vegetables and the irreplaceable flavor you get from cooking the chicken skin-on and bone-in both result in such a satisfying, buttery depth of flavor in the finished soup. IMG_8973I love any recipe that starts with a whole chicken; something about the process of breaking down a whole chicken makes me feel so capable, like I can do anything. Silly, I’m sure, but you should try it sometime. If jointing a whole chicken intimidates you, feel free to buy one already jointed, or ask your friendly butcher to do it for you.

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In case you’re confused, this is not the widely-known bright pink, creamy borscht. Moldovan borscht is commonly a brothier soup, with variations on the meats and sometimes the vegetables. Clearly, I am not Moldovan, but in defense of my credibility, I did learn this recipe from a woman born and raised in Moldova, and hers was a brothy, hearty chicken soup full of root vegetables and packed with flavor like this one. I’ve also done quite a bit of research into Moldovan Borscht and her version and mine are pretty much spot-on. This is rustic, peasant food—restorative and good for you on every level. The wine is my touch. I don’t think she added any, but the French in me has a hard time not adding wine to soups and stews. It is entirely optional, but it adds a nice acidity.

Regardless of its origins and history, it is delicious, healthy, and comforting—hearty enough for a cold winter night, but light enough for warmer months, too. It’ll cure what ails ya.

PS: The leftovers are fantastic and taste even better a day or two later.

Moldovan Borscht

  • Servings: 8-10
  • Time: 3hrs
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into parts (breast, thighs, legs, wings)
  • 1 medium head of green cabbage, sliced
  • 2 large beets, peeled and cubed (or 4 small beets)
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced or grated
  • 4 waxy potatoes, such as red bliss or yukon gold, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tomatoes, diced or 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill (feel free to use fresh if you have it)
  • 2 dry bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons veg oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 8 cups water

To prepare:

Heat oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot, cast iron if you have it. Salt and pepper chicken and place skin side down in a single layer. Allow skin to get very crispy and brown; don’t rush this step. Once all chicken has been browned, remove to a dish and pour any excess fat from the pot. Add chicken back to pot along with onions, carrots, tomatoes, garlic, beets, dill, bay leaves, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 tablespoon pepper, wine, and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, uncovered for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until chicken is completely cooked through. Note: You won’t get any meat from the wings, but it is important to simmer them as they are packed with flavor and will result in a richer broth.

Remove chicken to a clean dish and set aside to cool slightly. Add cabbage and potatoes to pot and continue simmering for one more hour until tender. Taste broth at this point and add more salt and pepper to taste.

When chicken is cool enough to touch, remove and discard skin, and pull meat from bones in large pieces. Discard bones and wings. I prefer to leave the chicken in larger chunks, but shred or chop as you prefer.

Once vegetables are tender, skim any excess fat from broth and add shredded chicken back to pot. Heat through and serve with a garnish of fresh chopped parsley and dill and crusty bread with butter.

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Cauliflower Rice with Portobello Mushroom Stir Fry

I feel like I have to preface this recipe. I am not a vegetarian. I do not follow a paleo or low carb diet. I eat what I feel like eating and cook what I want (you’re not the boss of me!). I am not trying to convert you to a new fad diet. I just happened to make a really amazing stir fry that falls into a bunch of trending diet categories.

Ok, preface over: This is a recipe that really surprised me. I created it for a BeFunky.com guest blog post, and I was so pleased with the results. I love mushrooms—I knew it was going to be good, but I just didn’t expect it to be SO good.

This stir fry hits all the right notes: salty, spicy, really savory with a tiny hint of sweet from the honey. The portobellos are really beefy and satisfying, even for a carnivore like me and the ginger, garlic, chilis, and soy give it the unmistakeable flavor and balance of a classic Asian dish. It is just so packed with flavor.

And, hello, cauliflower rice. Where have you been all my life? It’s such a funny thing. I did NOT expect to love it so much. I’ve been reading all of these cauliflower recipes, from cauliflower pizza crusts to cauliflower “mashed potatoes,” and as much as I do love cauliflower, I have to admit that some of the recipes made me roll my eyes. But I finally gave this a try to keep within the paleo/vegetarian/low carb theme and I take back my eye rolling. It is surprisingly delicate and satisfying and serves exactly the same purpose as rice: soaking up all the yummy stir fry juices!

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I drove a plate over to my mushroom loving friend and her daughters (ages 7 and 6) begged to have it for dinner that night! She texted me a picture of them holding their clean bowls! A vegetarian, gluten-free, paleo, low fat/low carb recipe that kids beg to eat? I’m still patting myself on the back. Oh, and I’m pretty sure the stir fry would be vegan-friendly, too, if the honey was swapped for something else… just a thought.

I am including the recipe for the cauliflower rice below, and you can check out my BeFunky post and stir fry recipe here: 5 Pinterest Tips for Food Bloggers Featuring Paleo Stir Fry Recipe! 

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Cauliflower Rice

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 10mins
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or coconut oil (whatever oil you prefer)
  • pinch of salt and pepper
Cut cauliflower into florets, removing any large pieces of stem. Either grate the cauliflower on the large holes of a box grater, or pulse florets in food processor until you have fine, rice sized pieces. You will need to work in two or three batches to ensure you don’t over process the cauliflower. You want it fine, but don’t take it to the point where it becomes wet.
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet and add the cauliflower. (**The stir-fry I served this with is so flavorful I don’t even bother with seasoning the rice in this recipe, but if you are serving it as a plain side dish add a sprinkle of salt and pepper**)
Cook over medium-low heat stirring occasionally for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let steam off the heat for 5-10 minutes.

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Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili Verde

I get a lot of slow cooker recipe requests, so here is a new one to add to the list!

I had a hard time calling this just “white” chicken chili, because I used my favorite “verde” (green) enchilada sauce ingredients. The “white” in white chicken chili, to me, simply denotes the fact that there are no tomatoes or red chiles, and obviously chicken is whiter than beef. But I use thighs in this which are dark meat. Anyway, technicalities aside, this is so delicious and easy! Thighs can slow cook forever, so this is great to get prepped the night before, stash in the fridge overnight, and pop in the slow cooker before a long, busy day. You can even streamline it if you want and skip the browning of the thighs, but I really think this adds so much flavor and color. This is not a spicy dish either, as I replaced the typical jalapeños with just one large poblano in order to make it family friendly as well as slow cooker friendly. If you want to kick it up, add a jalapeño or two to the veggie mixture.IMG_8810

Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili Verde

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 6-8hours
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
Ingredients:

  • 1.5-2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (usually one regular-sized pack)
  • 1 lb tomatillos (6-7), husk removed
  • 1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and quartered
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 large poblano pepper
  • 3 16-ounce cans white cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 16-ounce can hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • salt and pepper
  • vegetable oil
  • fresh cilantro—one cup for recipe, plus more for serving
  • lime wedges and tortilla chips or strips for serving

To Prepare:

Preheat broiler to high.

Place tomatillos, onion, garlic, poblano in a large, oven proof skillet (I prefer cast iron), drizzle with vegetable oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and place under broiler until the vegetables are blistered and very dark in spots. Alternatively, you can do this on the stove top over very high heat.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly, carefully peel the skin from the poblano—don’t get too fussy; it’s ok if you don’t get every speck of skin off—and remove and discard the seeds and stem along with the skin. Place the charred vegetables in a blender with a cup of fresh cilantro, one can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans, and one cup of your chicken stock. Blend until smooth and add to slow cooker.

Generously salt and pepper chicken thighs, and in the same pan you charred your vegetables, brown chicken thighs very well on both sides. Transfer thighs to slow cooker. While the pan is still hot, carefully remove excess fat from pan, pour in some chicken stock, and scrape to remove any brown bits of goodness. Add this liquid to slow cooker.

Add cumin, coriander, remaining two cans of beans, one can of hominy, and remaining chicken stock to slow cooker. Give it a stir and turn to low for 6-8 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, taste for salt and add more if desired—this will depend heavily on the saltiness of your chicken stock.

The chicken will be so tender and buttery, you can just shred it gently with tongs or a spoon. I like it a little chunky, but shred it however you prefer.

Serve with lime wedges, sour cream, fresh cilantro leaves, tortilla chips, and hot sauce. Enjoy!

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Southeast Asian Chicken Wings

I love Asian flavors. As I’m sure you are all aware, my father has been my biggest culinary influence, but what you might not know is that he cooked a lot of Asian food when I was a kid. I remember a well-thumbed cookbook he had with a blue cover that was full of stir fry recipes and other Asian delicacies. My favorite then and now is without a doubt his fried rice. It’s the best, it’s never quite the same, and it’s one of those recipes I’ve mentioned before that I make when I’m really missing him—my comfort food.

Serendipitously, my father’s lifetime love of all things Asian culminated in his second marriage to a Chinese woman a few years ago. They had a beautiful wedding in Mauritius. Now, when he isn’t gallivanting in far away lands, I get to not only enjoy his incredible cooking—Asian-inspired or otherwise—but I get to enjoy my stepmother’s as well: platters of incredible, from-scratch, handmade dumplings, steamed or pan-fried depending on the filling, stir-fries, really interesting salads filled with exotic ingredients.

These dumplings are one of those things that cause my usual capacity for food to grow exponentially. My son, too. He can eat more than I can, and that’s really saying something. You’ve heard of a dessert stomach? Well, my son and I have dumpling stomachs. My daughter loves them, too, though not quite as enthusiastically as Aidan and I.

She tried to teach us how to make them once, it was quite entertaining; by the time we had each sloppily made one, she had a perfect row of about 10.

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My stepmother’s dumplings

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She usually pan-fries the beef filled dumplings and steams the pork or seafood filled dumplings. They are all so delicious.

Anyway, I think my most craved style of cooking is Asian, whether Thai, Chinese, or Japanese (sushi!), I just love the flavors so much. I always have ginger, garlic, onions or scallions, a multitude of sauces hanging out in my pantry or fridge—soy, hoisin, oyster sauce, fish sauce, thai curry pastes. I always have rice and noodles in my pantry. So when the whim strikes, I can whip up something to satisfy my cravings pretty quickly. These wings were the result of one such craving. I had lemongrass that I bought thinking I would make a Thai style coconut soup, but this is how it met its fate. These wings are beautiful and almost too easy to believe, but most importantly, they are delicious little flavor bombs.

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Stunningly gorgeous lemongrass

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lemongrass, cinnamon, star anise, five spice powder

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wings ready for the oven

Make them. They’ll disappear.

**This recipe could easily be doubled or even divided to make a single serving. Just make sure you use a baking dish that allows the wings to lay in a single layer**

Southeast Asian Chicken Wings

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Time: 60-90min
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 pounds chicken wings, tips removed and wing cut into two pieces
  • one inch chunk of fresh ginger, roughly sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and gently cracked
  • 1/2 of a fresno chili pepper or other hot chili, sliced, seeds removed if desired
  • 1-2 stalks of fresh lemongrass, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 3-4 whole star anise pods
  • 2 whole cinnamon sticks
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup Asian fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry or other dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

for serving:

  • Handful of fresh cilantro
  • the other half of the chili pepper finely diced
  • 2-3 green onions thinly sliced

To prepare:

Preheat oven to 375.

Place all ingredients in a baking dish so that wings lay in a single layer. Toss to evenly coat and distribute ingredients.

Place in preheated oven, bake for an hour, flipping about every 15 minutes. When most of the liquid has evaporated and begins to look thick and syrupy turn broiler on to crisp the tops. Keep an eye on them, the sugar and soy can burn very quickly. This should only take about 2 minutes max. Remove when they look glossy and have gotten brown and crispy in spots.

Move to serving platter, strain and pour over any juices left in baking dish. Generously sprinkle with green onions, cilantro, and fresh chili pepper. Enjoy!

Ps: I updated my “about” page. Check it out. “About Ani”

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Quick Asian Noodle Soup

I cannot claim that this is Pho or Ramen (real Ramen, not the flavor packet kind we are all familiar with). The defining characteristic of both of those noodle soups is the time and tradition that goes into their broths, it would be an oxymoron to call anything “Quick Pho,” so the food traditionalist in me simply cannot call it that! However, the flavors I’ve added to this broth are my favorite Pho flavors and I made this to satisfy a noodle craving, and it worked. So, call it whatever you want, but I promise you’ll call it delicious.

I used noodles I happened to have in my pantry from my last spellbinding trip down the international food aisle at Wegmans, but you could make this with any noodle you prefer. Rice noodles would be more Pho-like, I am wild about mung bean or cellophane noodles (sometimes called glass noodles) which would also be very good here, but you could even use spaghetti. Just cook your noodle of choice separately according to package instructions.

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Quick Asian Noodle Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • one package Japanese wheat noodles (I used Hakubaku Organic Ramen 9.5 ounce package) (or whichever noodles you prefer)
  • two quarts chicken or beef stock (or a combination)
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 one-inch piece of ginger, cut into large chunks, and another 1/2 inch piece peeled and very finely julienned for serving
  • 4 green onions, dark green parts reserved for stock, light green parts finely sliced on the diagonal for serving
  • 4 ounces Shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and reserved for stock, caps thinly sliced
  • one red fresno chili pepper, seeds removed and very finely sliced (optional)
  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 whole star anise
  • small bunch of basil leaves, Thai basil if you can find it, leaves removed and thinly sliced for serving, stalks reserved for broth
  • small bunch of cilantro, leaves removed for serving, stalks reserved for broth
  • 1 cup mung bean sprouts for serving, 1/4 cup per serving

To prepare:

In saucepan, combine stock, fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, dark green parts of green onions, shiitake stems, star anise pods, basil and cilantro stalks. Bring to boil, and reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, strain stock and discard the simmered ingredients. Return stock to pan and add sliced shiitake mushroom caps. Simmer this gently while you cook the noodles.

Place a separate pot of water on to boil for the noodles, and cook according to package instructions.

Strain noodles and divide evenly between 4 bowls. Ladle stock over noodles and garnish each bowl with cooked shiitakes, bean sprouts, basil and cilantro leaves, pepper slices, ginger slices, and green onions. A squeeze of lime would be nice too!

Enjoy!

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Dad’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Made this tonight. It was perfect. I updated my blog with a new theme and have added printer-friendly recipes! This is an older post, but I’ve updated the photos and added a printable recipe. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

cook on a whim

It might seem odd to associate gumbo with snow, but a few years ago, before a huge snowstorm blew through, I decided if I was going to be snowed in, I was going to make gumbo—just because. So, I ran to the store with the rest of Northern Virginia, and came home with the necessary loot. The next day I made it, and my house smelled like my Dad’s. Nothing else smells like gumbo; nothing else tastes like gumbo. It is warm, steeped in tradition, and so satisfying—just the kind of food you want when it’s icy cold outside.

So, naturally, a few days ago when the biggest snow storm since that one in 2010 was forecast, I went to the store with milk, bread, and gumbo supplies on my list. I made it last night for some dear friends—girl time and gumbo. Heart-warming and belly-warming. Just perfect.

I highly…

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Shepherd’s Pie

This is a recipe I have made countless times since I started my blog. I’m not sure why I’ve never written about it, but I think my reasons are that 1.) It is very personal, and 2.) It is never quite the same each time. I just make it from memory and vary certain ingredients depending on my mood or my pantry/fridge. It is personal because my dad made Shepherd’s Pie a lot when I was a kid, and it’s one of those recipes I make when I’m really missing him (he spends most of his time in far-away lands). It’s reliable, inexpensive, I love making it, the leftovers are the best, and it is a real crowd-pleaser—everyone in my family loves it; if my sister finds out I’ve made it and haven’t invited her over, she gets very cross with me.

My dad often made it with beef, but sometimes with venison or lamb. Lamb is obviously traditional—shepherd’s = those who herd sheep; lamb = baby sheep. I have made it with lamb, and love it, I’ve even used ground bison just for fun, but I usually use ground beef. You can use whatever ground meat you want, even turkey or chicken if that’s your thing. I sometimes put a layer of frozen peas between the meat and potato layer, or serve peas on the side. My dad almost always served his with our home-canned green beans—we canned a zillion mason jars of them each summer, and ate them all winter. Somehow I never grew tired of them.

Here is my most recent version; I made it to take to my grandparents’ house for dinner and, after dinner, my grandfather implored me to share it with you all. You can thank him later.

**Printable recipe is at bottom of post**

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Shepherd’s Pie

Serves 6-8 usually with leftovers

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, finely minced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely minced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup wine—red, white, or marsala
  • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (if I’m out of tomato paste I just omit it. No big deal)
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about 1 cup frozen peas (optional)

For the potatoes:

  • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs (about 6) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup milk (you might not need the whole cup)
  • 3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the topping (optional):

  • 1 cup of grated, really sharp white cheddar

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Potatoes:

First, get your potatoes going. Add your peeled, chopped potatoes, whole peeled garlic cloves, and bay leaves to a large pot of generously salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until very, very tender. (you can get the meat mixture cooking while you’re waiting).

Once potatoes are tender, drain in a colander, remove bay leaves but leave the garlic, add potatoes back to pot and add butter and cream cheese. Let sit until the butter and cream cheese soften a bit.

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Then, with a hand mixer or potato masher, mix or mash until all potatoes are mashed. Then, add milk in stages while mashing until you reach the desired consistency. You want a nice soft mash, but not so soupy you won’t be able to scoop it out later. 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk should be plenty. Taste potatoes for salt, and add salt and pepper to taste. Usually a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper are sufficient, but taste your food! It should taste the way you want it to taste!

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Meat Filling:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook ground beef until most of the pink is gone, about 10 minutes. Then, add carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, and season with a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook this mixture for about 10 minutes. If your beef is really fatty, scoop out excess fat. This is optional, and really depends on your meat choice.

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Next, add tomato paste and stir to combine. Then sprinkle flour over meat mixture and stir until you don’t see white anymore. Add wine and stock and cook for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom. The mixture will thicken. It should be a thick, gravy-like consistency.

Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with non-stick spray. Transfer meat to baking dish and spread into an even layer. If using peas, add them now. Just an even layer on top will do.

Next, add potatoes. I place large spoonfuls all around the top of the meat mixture, then I use a rubber spatula to spread it out, almost like frosting a cake, making sure to seal the edges. Sometimes I make too many potatoes. If you have this “problem” just put them in a dish and refrigerate them for another time. Having too many mashed potatoes is never a problem in my book.

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Now, if you really want to take it over the top, and if you have an uncontrollable passion for melted, bubbly cheese like I do, add a layer of cheese to the top. My dad did not do this.

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Place casserole dish on a rimmed sheet tray in case it bubbles over, and place in preheated oven until cheese bubbles and browns a bit. Should take about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on it. Take it out when it looks like this:

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Enjoy!IMG_8053

I hope you love it, and I hope you have leftovers. I really think I love the leftovers the most.

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Shepherd's Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, finely minced
  • 2 stalks celery, finely minced
  • 1 large carrot, finely diced
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely minced
  • 1/4 cup wine—red, white, or marsala
  • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, leaves removed and finely chopped (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste (if I’m out of tomato paste I just omit it. No big deal)
  • 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • about 1 cup frozen peas (optional)

For the potatoes:

  • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs (about 6) yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 to 1 cup milk (you might not need the whole cup)
  • 3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the topping (optional):

  • 1 cup of grated, really sharp white cheddar

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Potatoes:

First, get your potatoes going. Add your peeled, chopped potatoes, whole peeled garlic cloves, and bay leaves to a large pot of generously salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for about 30 minutes until very, very tender. (you can get the meat mixture cooking while you’re waiting).

Once potatoes are tender, drain in a colander, remove bay leaves but leave the garlic, add potatoes back to pot and add butter and cream cheese. Let sit until the butter and cream cheese soften a bit.

Then, with a hand mixer or potato masher, mix or mash until all potatoes are mashed. Then, add milk in stages while mashing until you reach the desired consistency. You want a nice soft mash, but not so soupy you won’t be able to scoop it out later. 1/2 to 3/4 cup milk should be plenty. Taste potatoes for salt, and add salt and pepper to taste. Usually a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper are sufficient, but taste your food! It should taste the way you want it to taste!

Meat Filling:

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook ground beef until most of the pink is gone, about 10 minutes. Then, add carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, and season with a big pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Cook this mixture for about 10 minutes. If your beef is really fatty, scoop out excess fat. This is optional, and really depends on your meat choice.

Next, add tomato paste and stir to combine. Then sprinkle flour over meat mixture and stir until you don’t see white anymore. Add wine and stock and cook for about 15-20 minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom. The mixture will thicken. It should be a thick, gravy-like consistency.

Assembly:

Spray a 2 quart casserole dish with non-stick spray. Transfer meat to baking dish and spread into an even layer. If using peas, add them now. Just an even layer on top will do.

Next, add potatoes. I place large spoonfuls all around the top of the meat mixture, then I use a rubber spatula to spread it out, almost like frosting a cake, making sure to seal the edges. Sometimes I make too many potatoes. If you have this “problem” just put them in a dish and refrigerate them for another time. Having too many mashed potatoes is never a problem in my book.

Now, if you really want to take it over the top, and if you have an uncontrollable passion for melted, bubbly cheese like I do, add a layer of cheese to the top. My dad did not do this.

Place casserole dish on a rimmed sheet tray in case it bubbles over, and place in preheated oven until cheese bubbles and browns a bit. Should take about 30 minutes, but keep an eye on it. Take it out when it looks brown and bubbly.

Enjoy!