Friday, July 23, 2010

City-Girl Shepherds Pie

As a kid I was never all that fond of the bottom of the shepherds pie, I liked the crunchy part on top and the mashed potatoes (crunchy being where the potatoes browned a little) but something about the veggie/meat mix never quite appealed to me. Generally I'm a casserole skeptic, I know many people probably are tuning out right about now but hold out, I may not be a completely lost cause. In the last few years I've actually started to appreciate the finer points of some tasty casserole, but it has to be on my terms. Strangely my terms don't make a lot of sense as I seem to make them not when it's cool outside and a nice warm dish sounds good or when I'm short on time, nope I make them in the summer...or on a Saturday when I have all the time in the world to cook. Oh well, I never claimed to be normal : )

In the last year or so I've actually started to enjoy a Shepherds Pie through to the entire dish, here's my take on the classic:

A City-Girl's Shepherds Pie

3 Medium Red Potatoes
3 Medium Purple Potatoes
1lb Ground Lamb
1 Tbsp Minced Garlic
1 Tsp Finely Chopped Rosemary
1 1/2 Tsp Worcestershire Sauce
4 Tsp Flour
1/2 Cup Minced Onion
1/2 Cup Diced Carrot
1/2 Cup Red Wine
1/2 Cup Beef Stock
Olive Oil

1. Par boil potatoes. Allow them to cool enough to touch, then slice into thin rounds (maybe 1/4-1/2 inch thick)
2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add garlic and ground lamb, cook stirring frequently until lamb is well browned. Season with salt, rosemary and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well, sprinkle 2 teaspoons of flour over mixture, stir again and cook another 5 minutes. Remove meat from pan and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 350.
4. Add onion and carrot to pan, cook over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes or until onion begins to take on brown, caramelized color. Add remaining flour and stir. Increase heat slightly and add wine and stock, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any bits. Cook until liquid is reduced by half.
5. Add lamb and stir another 5 minutes.
6. Grease a casserole dish well and spread lamb/veggie mix on the bottom. Layer potatoes in rows over the top then very lightly drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes (or until potatoes are golden brown).

Seeking Vegetables...

Summer to me is usually signaled by a bountiful harvest of tomato, zucchini, peppers and sometimes eggplant. While all of this beautiful produce is easily found at my grocery store and favorite farmers market, none is readily available in the garden I painstakingly put together in the earlier part of the year! Ok, more like I made my boyfriend put together the frame, help me pour all the dirt in, but I did put in my veggies and lovingly water them daily (still do)....square-foot garden why have you forsaken me? If you could only see...oh wait, here's a pic:

By all accounts there is plenty of growth in there for loads of something, apparently only a fist-full of small (sweet and tasty) tomatoes, not nearly enough for me to cook with as I had hoped. Alas, I must purchase produce from my usual sources and hope that some late-summer haul awaits me in my garden one of these days. In the interim the succulent produce from the farmers market makes a farmers market potato salad (thanks Cooking Light!) that was a terrific accompaniment to good old fashioned fried chicken:


* 1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
* 2 pounds fingerling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
* 2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
* 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
* 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
* 2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
* 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
* 3/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
* Cooking spray
* 3/4 cup vertically sliced red onion
* 3/4 cup diced zucchini
* 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved


1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Place corn and potatoes on a jelly-roll pan. Drizzle vegetables with 1 tablespoon oil; toss to coat. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Place mixture in a large bowl. Combine tarragon and next 5 ingredients (through pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Drizzle potato mixture with dressing; toss gently to coat.

3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and zucchini to pan; cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini mixture and tomatoes to potato mixture; toss gently to combine.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Going to the Dogs

As many of my photos and post suggest, I'm a big animal lover and keep good company with my sweet yellow lab/whippet mix Jack, however in my family there are three well loved puppies who frequently come to visit, Jack, Molly (an Australian Shepherd) and the newest to the pack, Bella (a Yellow Lab).

Jack, enjoying a siesta on freshly folded laundry...bad dog!

Molly, engaging in her favorite pastime, watching people eat.

Baby Bella (she's much bigger these days) being given a stern talking to by her cousin Jack, he's a little possessive of his toys, including the blue bone Bella's lounging next to.

In honor of my four-legged family members I decided to bake some tasty treats just for them. Jack has always had a very sensitive stomach and I wanted to seek out treats that were low-cost and also that had easily recognizable ingredients that I knew were healthy and wholesome, so away my fingers flew on the keyboard searching for treats that fit the bill.

A few of the finalists were found online:

The Daily Drool Recipe Collection

Bark! Magazine

But eventually I settled on a recipe I found in a bargain of a cookbook (scavenged from my favorite website,, The Ultimate Dog Treat Cookbook by Liz Palika.

Sunflower Sensations

2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Ground, Roasted Unsalted Sunflower Seeds
3/4 Cup Cornmeal
1 Tsp Salt
2 Large Eggs
1/4 Cup Evaporated Low Fat Milk
1/4 Cup Vegetable Oil
1/4 Cup Molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, mix together all the ingredients. Knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and easy to work.
3. Form the dough into a ball and place it on a floured breadboard. Roll it out to 1/4 inch thick.
4. Use a 30inch dog bone-shaped cookie cutter to cut the rolled dough into shapes.
5. Place the cookies onto a greased cookie sheet.
6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until bottoms of the cookies are golden brown.
7. Remove from the oven, let cool thoroughly, and store in an airtight container.

For crispier treats, when all the cookies have been baked, turn off the oven. Put all the cookies back on a cookie sheet and return them to the oven. Leave them in the oven for several hours (while the oven cools) or overnight to harden.

I also was sans sunflower seeds and so I substituted 1 cup of oatmeal and it worked perfectly!

Previously I've made the Gingerbones recipe found on the Bark website, I wasn't able to take any photos (ok I forgot) but they were a big hit around here and they smelled like heaven while they baked! I haven't been brave enough to make any of the treats that have meat in them, I'm a little concerne they'll make my little house stinky but these meat-free cookies are big hits with the pooches!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Peaches for me...Millions of Peaches, Peaches for Free (I wish!)

Days pass, then weeks pass and somehow I have lost the ability to post regularly, I swear one of these days I'll reclaim some time and actually write on a weekly (or more) basis, for now I'll try again and hope it takes.

Summer has been really great thus far here in Texas, we've had some rain and the temperatures haven't been as scorching as they were last year (record breaking number of days over 100 degrees!). Farmers market trips have been bountiful and as an aspiring gardener I've been dutifully watching my veggies and awaiting the harvest (thus far only a handful of small tomatoes and two yellow squash).

One of the most refreshing (and anticipated) things that abounds early summer in Texas are peaches and a few weeks ago (mid-June) my boyfriend and I went down to Fredericksburg to sample the wares and enjoy perusing the shops (ok I loved the shops, he was a good trooper and was happiest when we found the brewery, which lets you buy by the cup and then, amazingly, you can walk around downtown with your beer!).

Fredericksburg is about an hour and a half west of Austin, the drive out on Hwy 290 is a glorious sampling of Hill Country views and once you arrive the town itself is full of amazing old homes, churches and a neat downtown shopping district full of boutique shops both old and new. As we made our way into Stonewall (a very tiny city just outside of Frederickburg) the song 'Peaches' by the Presidents of the United States started playing on repeat in my head, unfortunately for me no one was actually playing it in Fredericksburg so it stayed stuck! Each year Stonewall and Fredericksburg have their annual Peach festival, you haven't tasted peaches until you've eaten the sweet juicy fruit from this area! Every orchard has their own recipes for jam, ice cream, cobbler and other yummy items that they sell along with their peaches and every local you talk to will direct you to their own favorite orchard. So hard to choose! We ended up stopping at a few stands but far and away our favorite peaches were found at Engel's, the peaches were a beautiful shade of reddish peach and had such fragrant, juicy fruit we couldn't help but snack on one before driving off back to Austin.

Gillespie Count Courthouse (at the edge of Downtown Fredericksburg) at Christmas time.

In honor of these sweet jewels I have a few peach recipes that I'd like to share, the first of which is a Peach Quick Bread, so tasty!

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup fresh cut peaches, cubed into about 1 inch slices
1 cup pecan halves

1. Preheat oven to 350F; spray 4 mini loaf pans with a light spray of nonstick cooking spray (or use 1 9x5 loaf pan, if you wish, but you'll need to bake the one loaf longer, likely about 50 minutes) and set aside.
2. Sift, through a sieve, the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a mixing bowl; set aside.
3. In another mixing bowl, blend together the brown sugar, ricotta, oil, eggs and vanilla; set aside.
4. Dice peach slices to make one cup. If your diced peaches seem wet (they likely will), pat dry with paper towel.
6. Add flour mixture to ricotta mixture all at once and stir just until flour is incorporated; do not over-stir.
7. Stir diced peaches and pecan halves into mixture.
8. Divide mixture between the 4 mini loaf pans and smooth tops.
9. Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until tops are golden brown and a tester inserted in center of loaves comes out clean.
10. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes, then remove loaves from pans and let cool completely on a rack.