Browsing Tag

meat

book review, recipe

In the Midst of Winter + Chilean Cazuela Stew

Isabel Allende’s most recent novel In the Midst of Winter really just begs to be read at this time of year. Though it was published in October last year, I wasn’t able to get a copy from the library until December, which seemed like perfect timing to me. I started it just as an early snowstorm hit Michigan…and I was catching a plane to south Florida. As I sat in the warmth of a rare perfect weather weekend, reading Allende’s vivid descriptions of bitter cold, blustery wind and mounds of snow, I was grateful to have escaped – if just for a little bit.

Like the only other Allende book I’ve read, The House of the Spirits, this novel features strong Latin American women and shines a spotlight on the unique issues they face. Lucia is a university lecturer from Chili, currently living in the bottom floor apartment of Richard, a standoffish professor at the same university. As a snowstorm overtakes Brooklyn, Richard gets in a fender bender, setting off a chain of events no one saw coming. When the other driver, Evelyn, later shows up on his doorstep and refuses to leave, he enlists Lucia’s help.

Evelyn, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, is working as a nanny and is terrified to return to her employers with a damaged car. After hearing her out, Lucia is determined to help the girl and a reluctant Richard is brought along for the ride. Winter couldn’t be more timely with its portrayal of immigrants – both legal and illegal – as it highlights their heartbreaking stories with compassion and humanity.

When Richard goes to Lucia to request her help, she is desperately trying to stay warm in her underheated apartment. She describes a delicious, comforting Chilean stew called cazuela – full of beef, corn, potatoes and pumpkin – that she often makes to warm up. She brings it upstairs to Richard’s.

As I looked for a cazuela recipe like Lucia’s, I kept coming across ones that included chicken. While cazuela may be made with any kind of meat really, beef is used in the traditional Chilean recipe. To get exactly what I was looking for, I combined two different recipes, one from Que Rica Vida and one from Taste of Home. In the end, I included beef, corn and potatoes, like Lucia, and substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin since I already had that on-hand.

I was unable to find a small 1-pound beef brisket at my grocery store because apparently they only offer them in slabs greater than 10 pounds (at least when I was shopping). I opted for corned beef brisket instead, because they were available much closer to the weight that I needed, but I would still recommend trying to find a small cut of brisket or other non-corned beef to use. While still alright, the corned beef ended up being a bit tough and may have affected the flavor a bit.

Anyway, I cut my roughly 1-pound brisket into 6 chunks, as the recipe directed, and set it aside. Then, I cut up my onion, butternut squash, potatoes and carrots into similarly large chunks, as evenly as I could manage.

To the oil already heated in my Dutch oven, I added the meat and cooked it for about 2-3 minutes on each side, about 10 minutes total. Then, I added the onions, oregano, cumin and salt and pepper, mixing and allowing to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

To the pot, I added the rest of my prepared veggies – carrots, potatoes and squash – and covered everything with a combination of vegetable broth and boiling water, about 6 cups total. I let it come to a boil and then simmered it, uncovered, for about 15 minutes before adding the frozen ears of corn.

When the stew was almost finished, I added a handful of frozen green beans and let it continue to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.

To serve, I put a bit of already cooked rice (about ⅓ – ½ cup) in the bottom of a bowl. I plucked out a piece of beef, corn, potato and squash, along with some carrots, onions and green beans and placed them on top of the rice, covering everything with a few generous ladlefuls of broth.

This warm, vegetable-filled soup certainly made for a comforting winter dinner and I’d be interested in trying it again sometime.  

Chilean Cazuela with Beef

  • Servings: 6
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Ingredients

  • 1 lb. beef brisket
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, cut into quarters
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4-6 pieces of fresh or frozen corn on the cob (2 inches each)
  • 3 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled (or medium potatoes cut in half)
  • 6 small pieces of butternut squash
  • 1 handful of frozen green beans
  • Salt and pepper
  • Hot cooked rice (about 3 cups)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut the meat into six portions. Preheat the vegetable oil in a large pot. Cook the meat for approximately 3 minutes on each side.
  2. Add the onion, cumin and oregano. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. When ready, place the potatoes, carrots and butternut squash in the pot. Completely cover the contents with the vegetable broth and boiling water, approximately 6 cups. Bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until meat is cook and vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn after approximately 15 minutes. Add frozen green beans within last 5 minutes.
  5. Sample and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve stew over rice in a shallow soup bowl, ensuring that each person receives one piece of meat, one potato, one piece of butternut squash and a portion of corn. Serve with hot pepper sauce, salt, pepper and cilantro or parsley as desired.

Adapted from: Que Rica Vida and Taste of Home

Recipe Notes: Chilean cazuela is a very flexible homemade stew – you can use lamb, chicken or pork in the recipe, but the classic version is made with beef. Butternut squash can be swapped for pumpkin, if desired.


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book review, recipe

A Homemade Life + Turkey Meatballs

Though I read this last book about a month ago, I thought it would make the perfect post to kickoff the new year. If you love food as much as you love books, like I do, Molly Wizenberg’s food memoir – which I gushed about during the Thanksgiving Readathon – is an absolute treasure. A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table is full of so many mouth-watering recipes that I had an extremely hard time deciding what to make for this post.

I became familiar with Molly through a funny food podcast called Spilled Milk, which she co-hosts with fellow foodie Matthew Amster-Burton. Little did I know, she also writes a well-loved blog, Orangette, which she started in a moment of self-discovery because “whatever [she] did, it had to involve food and writing.” We’re somewhat kindred spirits in that way. Not to give away any spoilers, but one of my favorite parts of the book was discovering that Molly actually met her husband through her blog. (I met mine well before creating my blog, but I’m lucky that he has always been extremely supportive of my efforts.) Since the book is mostly food, coupled with lovely personal stories of course, let’s get right to meat of it.

I snuck Molly’s father’s French toast recipe into a blog post late last year, partially because I didn’t think one recipe did this collection justice and partially because I’m indecisive. But, as I combed back through the pages, the perfect recipe for this post jumped out at me. I decided to choose the Mediterranean-style turkey meatballs from her friend Doron because they were one of the first recipes Molly wrote about on her new blog in 2005.

The ingredient list is a bit intimidating – I didn’t have pine nuts or golden raisins on-hand – but because it’s meatballs, the grocery shopping is really the hardest part.

To start, I made the yogurt dipping sauce because in the book she recommends leaving it at room temperature while you do the rest so the flavors can develop (here, the blog version of the recipe varies). I combined all of the ingredients – plain yogurt (I used Greek, full fat), lemon juice, minced garlic, ground cumin and salt – in a small bowl with a whisk. I set it aside while I made the meatballs.

To make the meatballs, I combined the majority of the ingredients in a large bowl – minced yellow onion, fresh cilantro leaves, pine nuts, golden raisins, bread crumbs, an egg and salt, cumin and freshly ground black pepper.

To that, I added the pound of ground turkey and used my hands to gently incorporate all of the ingredients, taking care not to overwork the meat.

Then, I rolled the meatballs, doing my best to keep them somewhat uniform in size – about 1½ inches round.

I heated a couple Tablespoons of oil in my skillet and added about half of the meatballs to begin cooking. Now, obviously it’s important to make sure poultry is cooked through and I’ll admit that the cooking part of the process gave me a touch of anxiety because it felt like it was taking forever. (Molly offered no rough time estimate in her recipe or notes.) That being said, I cooked each batch for approximately 20 minutes, checking for doneness as I went.

They turned out to be really delicious – no surprise there – and the yogurt sauce was the perfect complement.

The only thing left to do is to try more of Molly’s recipes, and see if I can work them into other future blog posts 😉 Have you read A Homemade Life? Do you have a favorite recipe I should try? Let me know in the comments!

Doron’s Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts, Cilantro and Golden Raisins

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • ½ cup (1 small) yellow onion, minced
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • ½ cup chopped pine nuts
  • ½ cup golden raisins (halved or coarsely chopped if large)
  • ½ cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ⅛ tsp ground cumin
  • ⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. ground turkey, chicken or lamb (see notes)
  • about 4 TBS olive oil
  • yogurt sauce, for serving (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Mix all ingredients combine onion through black pepper in a large bowl.
  2. Add the ground meat, and using your hands, break it up into small chunks. Then massage and gently knead the meat to incorporate the ingredients. Mix until combined, but do not overmix; meat gets tough easily.
  3. With damp hands, gently pinch of hunks of the mixture and roll into 1½-inch balls. Set aside on a large plate.
  4. Warm 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add about half the meatballs, taking care not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch.
  5. Transfer the finished meatballs to a plate lined with a paper towel. If the skillet looks dry, add the remaining 2 Tablespoons oil. Cook the remaining meatballs.
  6. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169; an earlier version can also be found on Molly’s blog Orangette

Notes: Particularly if using chicken or turkey, make sure the meatballs are fully cooked before serving. You can cut one or two of them in half, if you like, to make sure they’re cooked through. Each batch of mine (using ground turkey) cooked for approximately 20 minutes.


Lemon and Cumin Yogurt Sauce

  • Servings: about 4
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Ingredients

  • 1 cup plain yogurt (not low fat or nonfat)
  • 3 TBS lemon juice (or the juice from 1 lemon)
  • 1 medium clove garlic, minced
  • ¼ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk to combine. Set aside at room temperature to let the flavors develop while you make the meatballs.

From: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, pages 168-169

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book review, recipe

The Other Einstein + Serbian Hamburgers

As the saying goes, beside every great man, there is a great woman. In many cases, those relationships are public and well-documented, as in the case of the Roosevelts. In the case of Albert Einstein, however, the life and accomplishments of his first wife Mileva are not widely known. A physicist and likely genius in her own right, her contributions to Albert’s theories has been debated in the physics world for decades. Marie Benedict’s novel The Other Einstein explores the life of this extraordinary woman a bit further.

Like the author before she dove into research, I hadn’t heard of this “other” Einstein before and I was intrigued when I learned about this novel last fall. The novel follows Mileva (or “Mitza”) from her time as the only female physics student at a Zurich university, where she meets Albert Einstein. Though she and Albert share dreams of living a bohemian life together of intellect and discovery, he doesn’t stand by her when his vision of success seems clearer without her.

As a feminist, the part of the novel I found the most particularly compelling was the meeting between Mitza and Madame Curie, where the differences between their husbands and situations could not be more clear. It is amazing how much can be accomplished by women when their husbands are not only supportive but treat them as true equals.

Mitza and her family were of Serbian descent and many new-to-me foods were mentioned through the novel. The one I bookmarked to make for today’s post was the pljeskavica, which when I looked it up later, was revealed to be a large hamburger. I found a few recipes, and though I borrowed from a few of them for inspiration, the one I most closely followed was from The Spruce.

First, I combined all of my ingredients to make the patties. I opted to use 1 pound each of ground beef and ground pork, but you can use a combination of beef, pork and lamb if you’d like (see recipe notes). To the meat, I added minced garlic, finely chopped onions, salt and paprika. I let the mixture sit in the refrigerator for a while before forming the patties.

I used a salad plate lined with parchment paper as my guide for sizing, using the paper to prevent the patties sticking to the plate or each other.

I grilled the burgers outside, approximately 7 minutes per side.

While they grilled, I prepared the pita bread by cutting it open partway to reveal the pocket. I also sliced some fresh tomato and lightly grilled some onions, being careful to not let them lose too much of their shape. Other serving suggestions include green onions, pickles and Kajmak cheese.

I slotted each cooked hamburger into a pita pocket and topped with my veggies and a dollop of quick homemade Kajmak.

Serbian Hamburger (Pljeskavica)

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef chuck
  • ½ pound lean ground pork
  • ½ pound lean ground lamb
  • 2 cloves finely chopped garlic
  • ½ cup finely chopped onions
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, mix together ground beef, ground pork, ground lamb, garlic, onions, salt and sweet or hot paprika until thoroughly combined. Do not overmix because this will toughen the meat.
  2. Refrigerate meat mixture for several hours for the flavors to meld and for the mixture to firm.
  3. Heat a grill, indoor grill, broiler or skillet. Using slightly dampened hands, divide meat mixture into 6 portions. Form into thin patties, 9 inches by 1/2 inch or about the size of a small dinner plate.
  4. Cook pljeskavice about 7 minutes per side.
  5. Serve with green onions or chopped raw onion, tomatoes, ajvar, lepinje or pogacha bread and Serbian potato salad or cole slaw on the side. Some Serbs place the patty on a large bun like an American hamburger.

From: The Spruce

Note: Other recipes I read used the same amount of meat to make 4 patties, and so I ended up making just 4. This also kept the patties approximately as large as recommended – I used salad plates as my guide and did the best I could to get them that size.

If you can’t find ground lamb or don’t want to use it, I used a mixture of ground beef and ground pork, 1 pound each. The other recipes I found used only beef and pork as well.

Lastly, other recipes recommended using pita bread in place of lepinje, which is what I did. Though it made it slightly hard to photograph, I think it worked better than a traditional American bun would’ve given the size of the burger. The pita helped hold in all the toppings and didn’t fill us up too much with bread – the burger filled us up enough!


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book review, recipe

The Kitchen House + Cracklin’ Bread

As you may know from my latest life update, Scott and I recently moved into our first house. The following Monday, I ventured out to find the local library and become a member. I also found out about an upcoming semi-annual used book sale hosted by the Friends of the Library – it was just a few weeks away, and I was so excited I hadn’t missed it! I ended up buying 13 books that day and The Kitchen House was one of them.

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I’d read about half of the books I bought and took a gamble on the other half. Not sure of where to start, I posted the haul on my online book club’s page and was overwhelmed with suggestions to start with Kathleen Grissom’s novel; so I did. It’s not exactly the expected tale of Southern plantation life, and I loved it all the more for that.

After her parents die on the journey from Ireland to the States, newly-orphaned Lavinia is taken in by the master of a tobacco plantation and placed under the care of Belle, a slave in the kitchen house. Though she lives and works with them, the difference between Lavinia and her adopted family becomes more and more clear as she grows up. She is given opportunities that are intended to improve her life, including whisking her off the plantation and providing her with an education.  

Eventually, the bond Lavinia shares with her adopted family puts them all in a precarious situation and tough choices must be made. I found myself rooting for Lavinia, Belle and every one of their family members.

Early on, Belle makes cracklin’ bread, cornbread with “crunchy bits of pork fat” mixed in. Lavinia and Fanny ate the cracklin’ “with zeal” and, from that point on, all I could think about was making my own cracklin’ bread. I couldn’t get my hands on any cracklin’, nor was I exactly sure of how to go about finding the pork bits to make it, so I unfortunately had to substitute with bacon crumbles. Don’t worry, the recipe I found from Southern Living said it’s okay, but maybe it’s just trying to make northerners like me feel better.

It was very easy to make, and I started by rendering down my bacon. Once it cooled a bit, I chopped it into small crumbly bits. I preheated the oven to 425 and melted the butter in my skillet.

In a bowl, I used a whisk to mix the cornmeal, baking powder and salt (making my own self-rising cornmeal) with the flour.

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In a separate bowl, I mixed together the buttermilk and eggs before adding to the well in the middle of my dry ingredients. I added the crumbled bacon as well and stirred until just wet. I poured the whole mixture into the hot skillet.

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After baking for about 25 minutes, the cracklin’ bread was a beautiful golden brown.

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Grannie’s Cracklin’ Bread

  • Servings: 8-10
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Ingredients

  • ¼ cup butter or margarine
  • 2 cups self-rising cornmeal*
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2½ cups buttermilk
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup cracklings**

Directions

  1. Place butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), and heat in a 425° oven for 4 minutes.
  2. Combine cornmeal and flour in a large bowl; make a well in center of mixture.
  3. Stir together buttermilk, eggs, and cracklings; add to dry ingredients, stirring just until moistened. Pour over melted butter in hot skillet.
  4. Bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

From: Southern Living, by way of MyRecipes.com

*If you don’t have self-rising cornmeal, you can make your own by adding 1 TBS of baking powder and 1 tsp of salt to 2 cups of regular cornmeal.

**1 cup cooked, crumbled bacon (12 to 15 slices) may be substituted for cracklings.


Here is the rest of my book haul. What should I dive into next?

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book review, of interest, recipe

American Gods + Beef Pasties

I read American Gods hoping to create some personal excitement for the new series on Starz (which premiered on April 30), but I finished it feeling less than enthused. I’ve had a bit of a mixed reaction to Neil Gaiman – ultimately thinking that my first selection The Ocean at the End of the Lane was just okay, but enjoying both Coraline and Neverwhere.

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Gaiman’s novel is interesting enough at the outset. It follows Shadow as he is released from prison after serving three years. On his way home, he meets a mysterious man called Wednesday, an old god, actually. Wednesday enlists Shadow to help him recruit other old gods, traveling back and forth across the United States attempting to convince them to join the fight against the new gods.

Shadow’s story, when we were following it, kept my attention. It was the detours Gaiman took at the end of each chapter that I found distracting, as the story peeked in at the goings-on of various other gods we usually hadn’t met yet (and sometimes never saw again). The plot took a lot of twists and turns, and had I been fully invested, I would’ve been at the edge of my seat so I can see why people really enjoy it.

When he wasn’t with Wednesday, Shadow took refuge in a small town called Lakeside, Wisconsin. It was there that I found my recipe for American Gods – Mabel’s famous pasties. Pasties are baked pastries filled with meat and vegetables, said to have originated in Cornwall, England. They are also quite popular in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and while I have had them in England, I’ve never had them close to home – until now.

Scott’s mom had actually made them before and shared her recipe with me. (Thank you!) I made my own dough, which she said would be easy with a food processor – and it was.

My food processor didn’t seem to be able to handle such a large amount of ingredients, however, so I ended up splitting the dough into two batches. I also needed slightly more liquid to get it to come together, so use your best judgment, but make sure not to overdo the liquid because you don’t want the dough to become sticky.  

I formed the dough into two smaller disks and stored them in the refrigerator in plastic wrap to chill. I allowed mine to chill overnight but a couple of hours should be sufficient.

While the dough chilled (or in my case, before I took it out to roll it), I prepared the vegetables for the filling. First, I diced the carrots, doing my best to keep them relatively small so they would soften well while baking.

Having never even eaten rutabaga (to my knowledge), I certainly had never made it, so I was a little unsure how to tackle it at first. Ultimately, I just hacked off a chunk of it, peeled off the skin and then cut the piece into smaller pieces that would fit in my food processor spout. I used my grating attachment to grate it quickly.

Then, I peeled and diced my potatoes, trying to keep their size in line with the size of my carrots. About 2 medium potatoes yielded the 1½ cups I needed. After so much prepped I decided to just use minced dried onion out of my cupboard. Fresh onion might impart a bit more moisture into the meat, but it turned out well with the dried version, so use whatever works best for you.

I combined all of my filling ingredients – about a pound of ground beef, the carrots, potatoes, rutabaga and minced onion. I also added salt and some freshly ground black pepper. Lastly, I melted the butter and poured that over the filling, making sure to mix it in well.

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As I took my dough out to roll and shape, I turned on my oven to 350 degrees F to preheat. I rolled out the dough and used 8” saucers as a guide for my circles, yielding 4 large pastry circles. I filled half of each circle with as much filling as I could, making sure it could still be closed and sealed.  

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Note: I had a bit of filling leftover as well as a bit of pastry, so I probably could’ve made each one a bit bigger.

Finally, I cut 3 slits into each pasty and brushed them with an egg wash before putting them in the oven on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. After about an hour, they came out a lovely golden brown.

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Thinking it seemed similar to meatloaf (and after some online research), I decided to eat mine with some ketchup – which seems to be a popular choice – as well as a little spicy brown mustard. Scott enjoyed his with sour cream (another online hit). Serve with whatever condiments you enjoy, but make sure you allow them to cool before digging in! 

Beef Pasties

  • Servings: 4
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Ingredients

    For the Dough:
  • 1 cup Crisco or lard
  • 3½ cups flour
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • ½ TBS vinegar
  • ½ cup ice water
  • For the Filling:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 cup grated (or finely diced) rutabaga
  • 1 ½ cup diced potatoes
  • 1 or 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced or 1 TBS dried minced onion
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 stick butter or margarine, melted
  • egg wash: 1 egg and 1 TBS water

Directions

  1. To make the dough, put the dry ingredients – shortening/lard, flour, salt and baking powder – into the food processor. With it on low, drizzle in the liquid ingredients – 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of white vinegar and ½ cup of ice water.
  2. Once dough is well combined, form into a disk (or two smaller disks) in plastic wrap and allow to chill for a few hours, or overnight. When ready to create the pasties, roll out the dough and cut into circles with a small saucer (8” or 10” diameter).
  3. Combine the filling ingredients, adding the melted butter last.
  4. Add filling to one half of each pastry circle. Fold over and crimp the edges.
  5. Brush with an egg wash and make 2-3 slits or use a fork on the top to allow the steam escape while baking.
  6. Bake on parchment paper-lined baking sheets at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes before turning down to 325 degrees F for 45 minutes, OR just bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees F.


From: The Kitchen of Scott’s Mom, Karen

You could also make more smaller pasties, by cutting smaller circles of dough and using less filling. This may affect baking time. Mine were quite giant, but worked well as a main course (or full meal)!


book review, recipe

Small Great Things + Bite-Size Appetizer Trio

When I sat down with Jodi Picoult’s latest novel Small Great Things, I admit I hadn’t read a description. One of my clients had recommended it to me last last year, so I requested it from the library and sort of forgot about it. It came in a couple of weeks ago and I dove right in without expectation.

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Right off the bat, this quote hit me. It felt so on-the-nose about the world we’re currently living in; I knew the right book had found me again.

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The narrative began, and I was immediately engrossed. I was also often uncomfortable. Three points of view bring this story to life – a black nurse, a white supremacist man, and a white lawyer who “doesn’t see color.” It isn’t shy about race or racism. The topic is the crux of the novel, the reason the story is being told. (Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end.)

Ruth Jefferson doesn’t realize when she walks into the hospital room of proud new parents that she’s walking into a room of white supremacists. Despite her 20 years of experience, she is prohibited from having contact with them or their baby because of the color of her skin. The next day, when another nurse has no choice but to leave Ruth alone with the baby, he goes into cardiac arrest. She is forced to choose between obeying orders and her duty as a nurse, and ultimately, she is blamed for the baby’s death.

During the course of Ruth’s trial, each character examines their lives, their beliefs and the world around them. It’s intense and it will make you examine yourself and our world as well. Like any story told about race – real or imagined – it made me think, and I still can’t stop recommending this book to everyone I encounter.

To go along with Small Great Things, I opted to make a trio of bite-size appetizers. I wanted to make a “well-balanced” variety, so I opted for meatballs, spinach artichoke dip bites, and mini crab-stuffed mushrooms. All of them were easy and could, for the most part, be prepped ahead of time. Of course, they were delicious too.

I started with making the filling for the spinach artichoke dip bites. I combined my spinach (make sure it’s thawed and thoroughly drained), chopped artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese.

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Then, I added the softened cream cheese and half of the shredded cheese, ground some black pepper over the bowl and mixed it all together. I set the filling aside while I cut the crescent roll dough into squares. I sprayed the mini muffin tin with cooking spray and popped one square in each opening, before filling it with the spinach artichoke mixture. I didn’t stress out about it too much – just made sure each one was amply filled and had a good sprinkle of shredded cheese on top.

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These should bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-17 minutes. After they’re finished, allow them to cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Then, I moved on to the mushrooms. First, I cleaned my little army of mini bella mushrooms. (These are my favorite kind of mushroom because they have great flavor, but feel free to use white button mushrooms if you prefer.)

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The original recipe recommended that you toss the mushrooms in melted butter until they’re well-coated. I did that, but I took out of my recipe below. They were a little too moist, in my opinion. If you’d like to lightly brush the tops only with olive oil (or melted butter) that is probably sufficient.

I lined them all up on a foil-covered sheet pan while I made the filling. To make the the crab stuffing, take a medium bowl and combine the lump crab meat, cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce and green onions.

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Then, I stuffed each mushroom with as much filling as would fit. It’s okay to be generous here – I had them all a little over-filled because the filling cooks down as it bakes. Top each mushroom with the parmesan cheese.

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The mushrooms should bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. After they are heated through and the cheese is melted, turn on the broiler for between 2-5 minutes, watching closely so they don’t burn. The goal is to get the tops to be a nice lightly golden brown.

While everything else was baking, I began on the meatballs. I combined all of the ingredients for the sauce – peach preserves, finely diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a high-sided skillet.

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It turned it up to medium so that it could come up to a simmer and allowed it to cook at that temperature for about 5 minutes. Then, I added the meatballs and covered the pan.

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The meatballs cooked for another 25 minutes. I stirred them a few times, making sure they were well-coated and cooking evenly. Serve warm.

Spinach Artichoke Dip Bites

  • Servings: 24 pieces
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Ingredients

  • 1 9-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 6-oz jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 2 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • pepper to taste (freshly ground)
  • 1 can seamless crescent roll dough

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. In a bowl, combine spinach, artichoke hearts, garlic, garlic powder, salt and parmesan cheese. Blend in cream cheese and half of your shredded cheese. Add freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  3. Using a rolling pin, lay out dough on a cutting board and lightly stretch to 8×12. (It should already be close to this straight out of the package.) Cut down into 2-inch squares, so you have 24 squares total.
  4. Lightly grease a mini muffin tin and place a square in each slot, gently pushing down to create an indent. (You do not need to mold it to the cup.) In most cases, the dough should naturally fall into the cups.
  5. Scoop about 1 Tablespoon of your spinach mixture on top of each square and gently push in. (Bites will mold to the tin while baking.) If there is any remaining mixture, add to cups that look less full than others.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Monterey Jack cheese over the tops of each bite.
  7. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before removing from the muffin tin.

Adapted from: Lil’ Luna

Don’t worry about making sure your squares are perfectly uniform. I had a whole variety of some that looked more rectangle-y, some that were small and some that were larger. They all tasted delicious.


Mini Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

  • Servings: 80-100 mushrooms
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Ingredients

  • 80-100 mini Bella mushrooms (5-6 containers)
  • 8 ounces lump crab meat, drained
  • 8 ounces whipped cream cheese
  • 12 ounces (1½ cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 bunches chopped green onions
  • 1 TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • 4-6 TBS shredded parmesan cheese
  • olive oil or melted butter, as desired

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash mushrooms and remove the stems. If desired, lightly brush the tops only with olive oil or melted butter. Set aside.
  3. Mix remaining all ingredients except the parmesan cheese.
  4. Stuff mushrooms with the crab-cheese mixture. Top with the parmesan cheese.
  5. Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Broil for 2-5 minutes, watching to ensure they don’t burn. Mushrooms should be slightly golden brown on top.

Adapted from: Crazy Jamie

Bonus Recipe: If you have any of the filling leftover (as I did when I made these following the original recipe), it makes great crab quesadillas. Just warm tortilla(s) in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat. Add filling to one half of the quesadilla and fold over. Once the bottom is lightly golden, flip. Wait for that side to become lightly browned as well and ensure the filling is heated through. Serve with hot sauce, salsa, guacamole, or whatever toppings you prefer!


Chipotle Peach Meatballs

  • Servings: 60 meatballs
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Ingredients

  • 18 oz peach preserves
  • 3-4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely diced
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ½ TBS Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 32 oz, or about 60 frozen cocktail meatballs (see notes)

Directions

  1. Add peach preserves, diced chipotle peppers, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper into a medium to large high-sided skillet. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  2. Cooking in two batches, add half (about 30) of the meatballs and cover. Let simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally for an additional 25 minutes, or until meatballs are thawed.
  3. Using tongs so the majority of the sauce stays in the skillet, transfer the meatballs to your serving container and keep warm. Repeat step 2.
  4. Add second batch of meatballs and sauce to serving bowl. Serve warm.

Adapted from: The Culinary Compass

If you have multiple meatball options in your grocery store, opt for Homestyle as they’ll have less seasoning than Italian (which were the two options at mine).

If you prefer your meatballs saucier, you can use 18 oz (approximately 32) meatballs instead and cook in one batch only.


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book review, recipe

Dark Matter + Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

Usually when I finish a novel that I really enjoyed and think Scott would like it, I recommend he read it too. He tends to be more of a non-fiction reader, so I choose pretty carefully. Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter is one of those rare novels that Scott read first and then recommended to me.

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I love science fiction that grabs you from the start and has you rooting for something bigger (and usually stranger) than you ever imagined. This novel certainly fits the bill, and it’s one that everyone can relate to because, at its heart, it’s all about going home. After Jason Dessen is abducted, he finds himself in a situation he never would’ve imagined – one that calls into question all of the choices he has ever made.  

Since it’s a book that’s all about the plot, it’s hard to say too much without giving it away, so I won’t. It starts out simple but quickly gets complicated, pulling Jason into a twisty universe that will have you anxious to get to the end. If you loved The Martian (and I absolutely did!), you’ll love this.

Throughout Dark Matter, Jason is a bit untethered, guided only by his desperation to reunite with his family. His wife, Daniela, makes him a traditional Spanish dish once or twice a year that serves as a reminder of everything he’s missing. I didn’t have much to go on outside of “a bean stew made with an assortment of native legumes and meats. Chorizo, pancetta, black sausage.” So, I did some googling and found this recipe for a Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo.

With some minor tweaks (but still no black/blood sausage, thank you very much), Scott and I were ready to enjoy some of Daniela’s stew. First, I heated some olive oil in a medium pot and add the chopped pancetta, cooking until just crisp. Then I added the onion and minced garlic, cooking for a few more minutes until lightly browned.

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I stirred in the spices before adding the browned andouille chunks, white beans with their liquid and chicken broth. The whole stew got a few generous stirs and then I let it come up to a simmer.

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Once it simmered for about 25 minutes, I added the browned (slightly crispy) chorizo and cooked the stew for another 5 minutes or so. I didn’t need any additional salt and pepper, but check here and season as needed. I served it as The Dessens prefer it, with grated cheddar, chopped cilantro and a generous dollop of sour cream. A nice glass of Spanish red wine completed the meal.

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Hearty Spanish Bean Stew with Chorizo

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Print


Adapted From: Whole Foods

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pound pancetta, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika, preferably Spanish
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1½ andouille sausage links, cut into chunks and then browned
  • 3 16-oz cans white beans, with their liquid
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4-5 oz. ground chorizo, cooked through until browned
  • Grated sharp cheddar, sour cream, cilantro (optional)

Directions

  1. Heat oil and pancetta in a medium pot over medium heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta is just crisp. Add garlic and onions and cook until lightly browned.
  2. Stir in paprika, thyme, salt and pepper, then add andouille, beans/liquid and chicken broth. Simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes more.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and serve with desired toppings. Grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro recommended.

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book review, recipe

The Underground Railroad + Carolina-Style Pulled Pork

One of my book clubs unanimously selected The Underground Railroad for our latest meeting, and I was really excited. I began reading with high expectations – Colson Whitehead’s novel was not only recommended by Oprah (a book club selection) and Obama, it had won the National Book Award for Fiction as well.

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A piece of historical fiction, it re-imagines the Underground Railroad as an actual railroad that exists underground traveling from the south through various branches as it makes its way north. It was the idea that drew me in initially, even though on the surface it does seem like a real train would be a lot more difficult to run and much easier to find. In the end, the Underground Railroad wasn’t as much of a “character” in the story as I had expected; instead, our story revolved around Cora, a runaway slave from Georgia.

The structure jumps around quite a bit, and though I got used to it about a quarter of the way into the book, I found it difficult to follow in the beginning. Jumping back and forth also took away from my ability to connect with the characters, particularly Cora with whom we spent the most time. The lack of emotion combined with the mismatched historical events left me feeling a bit confused and mostly just glad it was over.

In a novel that mostly depicted the terror and hardship of American slavery, it still had some victories. And making it to the safety and splendor of Valentine Farm is a victory for Cora. There, on Saturday evenings, they all got together for a family-style meal – with “hogs [as] the first order of business” alongside “smoky collards, turnips, sweet potato pie, and the rest of the kitchen’s concoctions.”

Since the hogs made up the center of their meal, I decided to make Carolina-style pulled porkCora spends a great deal of time in both Carolinas, and her time there changes both her course of action and her outlook on the future.

Pulled pork needs to be cooked slowly over low heat so that it truly tenderizes. It can be made at low temperatures in the oven, in a smoker or in the slow cooker, which is how I chose to make mine.

First, I combined 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika, and 1 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and garlic powder. I rubbed the spice mixture onto my roughly 3-pound pork shoulder.

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While that soaked in, I sliced a large onion. (I used Spanish, but a sweeter onion would probably work just as well.) Mine probably ended up being a bit on the thicker side, but knowing that these are going to cook down all day as the bed of the pork shoulder, you wouldn’t want to slice them too thinly either. We didn’t mind the more prominent onions in our sandwiches, but use your best judgement.

I covered the bottom of the slow cooker with sliced onions and set the spice-covered pork on top.

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Next, I mixed together the wet ingredients – apple cider vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ground mustard and brown mustard – with cayenne pepper, crushed chili flakes and the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. I poured that into the bottom of the slow cooker. I didn’t think I had quite enough liquid so I added some water as the recipe suggested.

I set my slow cooker to low and let the pork and onions cook for about 8 hours. Once it was tender, I used two forks to “pull” it into small flakes and stirred the pork and onions together with the cooking liquid.

We ate the pulled pork on sandwiches, but it can also be used to make sliders, pulled pork tacos or even quesadillas. This recipe makes plenty for two, so it helps to get creative!

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Carolina-Style Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork

  • Servings: 8-12 sandwiches
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2–3 pounds pork shoulder butt roast
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar, separated
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard

Directions

  1. If pork roast is frozen, defrost in fridge. Trim off any large sections of fat.
  2. In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons of brown sugar along with all of the smoked paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder. Rub spice mixture all over the roast until it’s soaked in.
  3. Place the sliced onions in a layer on the bottom of slow cooker with the roast on top.
  4. In small bowl, mix together remaining list of ingredients from apple cider vinegar to ground mustard, plus the leftover tablespoon of brown sugar. Gently pour liquid over roast. You should have about 2 inches of liquid on bottom; if not add a bit of water.
  5. Cook covered on low for 7–8 hours, until pulled pork is tender. Shred pork in slow cooker with a fork until flaked. Stir into liquid to incorporate flavor. Let sit for about 30 minutes, drain liquid and serve.
book review, recipe

One Thousand White Women + Cornish Hens

When given the choice to remain in an eternity of solitary monotony or to move into the dangerous unknown to marry a “savage” stranger, what would you do? Having been committed to an asylum for her promiscuity, May Dodd is seemingly stuck without recourse. When President Grant agrees to provide a Cheyenne chief with 1000 white brides in a peace deal, May doesn’t hesitate to join the ranks.

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In his novel based on a proposed scenario in history, Jim Fergus explores what would’ve happened if President Grant had made a different choice. One Thousand White Women follows May Dodd and her fellow brides – nearly all of them some kind of outcast in society – as they head west on a long journey by train, each of them promised to a member of the Cheyenne tribe.  

Told primarily through the journals May Dodd kept, the experience is unlike what anyone expected – Cheyennes and brides alike. All of the women are thoroughly changed in the end. May, a rich society girl turned working class mother turned asylum inmate, marries the chief of her tribe. She is looked to as much for her bravery as for her knowledge on how to please a man. Like her husband Little Wolf, she becomes a leader among the other women.

While still trying to find her footing in the beginning, her husband takes her on a so-called honeymoon to a remote part of the prairie. Unable to communicate effectively, May does her best to get her points across and makes herself useful by cooking meals for herself and Little Wolf, using his kill of the day. For one such meal, May finds some wild onions and herbs and uses them to stuff some grouse the Chief has caught.

In an attempt to recreate that meal, I got some Cornish hens (a modern-day city substitute) and, using other more ingredient-heavy recipes like this one as a guide, put together something a bit simpler that I hoped better aligned with what May might have made. I served them with simply roasted carrots (salt, pepper and oil) and corn.     

I was only able to find frozen Cornish hens at my grocery stores, so if that’s the case for you as well, make sure they’re thoroughly thawed. Then, I trimmed off some excess skin, removed anything left in the cavity, rinsed them off and patted them dry. Next I stuffed each hen with half of an onion, chopped into 3 large chunks, and 2 garlic cloves.

I rubbed the outside of them with some olive oil (you could also use melted butter) and covered then generously in fresh chopped sage and tarragon. I placed them on a foil-covered baking sheet and placed them in a 375-degree preheated oven for an hour.

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Once I checked the temperature to ensure they were cooked through, I removed them from the oven, loosely covered with foil and allowed them to rest for 10 minutes. They tasted just as good as they smelled!

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Cornish Hens

  • Servings: 2
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Ingredients

  • 2 Cornish hens
  • 1 sprig of tarragon, leaves roughly chopped
  • 2 sprigs of sage, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 medium onion, halved and cut into 3 smaller pieces
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • olive oil or melted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Ensure your hens are fully thawed. Remove any access skin, particularly around the opening, and anything that may be in the open cavity. Rinse them with cold water and thoroughly pat dry.
  3. Stuff each hen with a half of the onion and 2 garlic cloves.
  4. Rub each hen with olive oil and cover with the fresh herbs, making sure to cover both sides of each hen.
  5. Place seasoned and stuffed hens on a foil lined baking sheet with edges, breast side up.
  6. Bake for 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer shows the hens are cooked to 165 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh or breast.
  7. Cover loosely with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Serve with vegetables.

book review, recipe

The Thornbirds + Shepherd’s Pie

My parents watched The Thornbirds miniseries in 1983. My name is Megan, the same as the main character – it also happened to be the 10th most popular name in 1985, just before I was born. Not a coincidence. Thankfully, they watched the show and didn’t read the book, in which her name is spelled Meghann. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this book, my namesake, for years. I finally did.

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For anyone who has seen the miniseries, The Thornbirds book (written by Colleen McCullough six years prior in 1977) is pretty similar. It tells the story of the Cleary family as they move to Drogheda, a sheep station in Australia, and live there through the years. Meghann, usually called Meggie, is the only daughter in a family of 8 brothers.

Already a regular Drogheda visitor when the family first arrives, the local priest Ralph befriends them but takes a special interest in Meggie. Her mother pays her little notice, preferring her sons, so he makes it a point to see that she doesn’t lack for attention and is given the opportunity for a good education and taught to ride a horse. As Meggie grows older, their familiarity breeds stronger feelings.

In a cruel turn of events, Ralph must make a choice that is really no choice at all for the devout priest. The family’s future is forever changed, but Drogheda remains a part of all of their lives no matter what. To honor their massive homestead, I decided to make shepherd’s pie. I found a recipe from Alton Brown and went to work.  

First, I chopped my onion and carrots, taking care to make them roughly equal in size. Then, I peeled and cut up my potatoes, putting them into a saucepan of water as I did so. I put them on stove, covered to bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and began on the meat filling. I cooked the onions and carrots for about 4 minutes, added the garlic, and then added the lamb. I seasoned with salt and pepper. Once that was cooked through, I added all of the remaining ingredients – tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, rosemary, thyme and chicken broth.

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While the sauce thickened, I mashed the potatoes with the half and half, butter, salt and pepper. I separated an egg and stirred in the yolk.  Then, I added the peas and corn (both frozen) to the filling. It went into a glass baking dish and I did my best to smooth the mashed potatoes over the top.

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It baked for about a half hour and smelled delicious the entire time. It was torture waiting for it to cool before we could enjoy it.

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Shepherd’s Pie

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

From: Alton Brown, Food Network

Ingredients

    For the potatoes:
  • 1½ pounds russet potatoes
  • ¼ cup half-and-half
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • For the meat filling:

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ½ pounds ground lamb
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • ½ cup fresh or frozen English peas

Directions

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Place the half-and-half and butter into a microwave-safe container and heat in the microwave until warmed through, about 35 seconds. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth. Stir in the yolk until well combined.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion and carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
  4. Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula. Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.