Cottage Pie

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven
Ecclesiastes 3:1

Winter. The days are cold and the nights are long.  The sun shines, but it is weak and the shadows are long. The busyness of the holiday season* is past and as the earth sleeps in preparation for the spring, we also slow down; we rest, refresh, reflect and renew. 

Though we try to eat well all year, our winter food choices tend to be especially nourishing both for the body and soul - with slow simmered stocks and broths, good fats, seasonal vegetables and fruits, and warming drinks. The foods many people think of as 'Comfort Foods'.

One of those warming, winter comfort foods is Cottage Pie. Though it isn't a food I grew up with, it is part of a culture I have adopted and is now one of my favorite winter-time foods. If you aren't familiar with Cottage Pie, think Shepard's Pie - only with beef, instead of lamb. Then some snowy winter day, try out this recipe and let me know what you think. 

Cottage Pie

2 Tbs butter
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
4 oz mushrooms, chopped
2 Tbs flour
1 cup beef stock
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
slat and pepper to taste
4 medium potatoes, cubed

Melt the butter in a deep frying pan or wide saucepan. Crumble in the beef and fry until browned. Add the onion, carrots and mushrooms, and cook until slightly softened. Add the flour and cook about 10 minutes more. Add the beef stock, worcestershire sauce and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, boil potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain thoroughly and mash, adding the remaining butter and enough milk to obtain a creamy consistency. 

Spoon meat mixture into oven-proof dish. Top with mashed potatoes and fluff the surface with a fork. Bake 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are lightly browned. 

This post is linked to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival

*Obviously I'm in the Northern Hemisphere. If you are not, carry on enjoying your summer!

Banoffee Pie

I've had many dinners out in my lifetime, but for some reason, one specific meal I had more than a decade ago at a little restaurant on the south coast of England sticks in my mind. No doubt due in part to dessert - a previously unknown to me pie called 'Banoffee Pie'.

It was years before I learned how to make it, and years more before I tried it myself. The reason I never made it was, to be honest, the recipe scared me. Really.

All the recipes I found required you to take  an unopened can of evaporated milk and boil it for a few hours to make the toffee. Not something I wanted to attempt no matter how good the result.

Then I discovered Dulce de Leche - caramelized milk that I could simply buy at the store.

So, I made my first Banoffee Pie, and it was simple to make (all you do is assemble, really), and heavenly to eat - and I don't even like bananas.

Banoffee Pie

1 baked pie shell
2 large, or three small bananas
1 jar Dulce de Leche
1.5 cups whipping cream
1 T brown sugar.

Spread the Dulce de Leche in the bottom of the pie shell. Slice bananas evenly and arrange on top. Whip the cream with the brown sugar, and pile on top of the bananas.


Chicken Enchiladas

I got this recipe years ago from a church cookbook and it quickly became a favorite. I love green chili and this time of year fresh roasted chilies are easy to find where I live. If you don't have fresh chilies, you can use the cans, of course.

 Chicken Enchiladas

3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 small cans chopped green chili, or equivalent fresh
1 quart cream
1 lb jack cheese, shredded
flour tortillas

Cook onion in butter until tender. Add chicken, garlic green chili,  1/3 of the cream, and half the cheese.  Put about 1/4 cup filling into the center of a tortilla and roll up. Arrange filled tortillas into a 13x9 inch baking dish. Pour cream over filled tortillas and sprinkle remaining cheese over the top. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes

Recalled to Life

That's the first phrase that came to mind when I looked at this blog with the intention of writing something, and realized how long it had been since I had. Which is odd, because this is normally the time of year when I go from having at least a nominal life, to a life swallowed up by work, school and other activities that go along with those things. But, it is from the book we've been reading/listening to lately so it must not have been too far from my conscious thoughts.

I've actually started several entries over the past few months, but they just never make to the bit where I push the 'publish' button. Even as I sat down to write today, I wasn't sure what I would say. I just knew I needed to start somewhere. To say something. To make a beginning all over again.

Recalled to life.  That is my decision. That is what I intend to pursue.

Cooking and feeding my family well is important to me, and I admit I've had a difficult time keeping up with my previous standards since I took over a very demanding job last year. I don't have time (or energy) these days to spend days making clotted cream, homemade jam (from backyard strawberries) and scones for a single afternoon tea. I buy buns (or ciabatta bread) for burgers instead of making them from scratch, and I even allowed The Kid to buy boxed cereal instead of making soaked, dehydrated granola and homemade yogurt.

He made it to 13 without ever using a microwave, opening a soda can or eating corn flakes and now he's done all three. Sure, the cereal we buy is a 'better' brand. The microwave was when he accompanied me to work this summer and we ate there, and the soda can one of the 'real sugar' drinks, but I know there are those out there who would tsk and judge.

But, I think he'll survive. We all will. No one needs that kinda stress about food. 

Another of the things I've done is alter my meal framework. The categories I used a year ago no longer work with my new schedule. It was silly to keep trying to make it fit (and failing miserably). So I started from scratch with an honest assessment of what was possible and it's been working quite well for several weeks now.

To start with, all weekdays are exhausting, but certain ones more so. Monday is - well, it's Monday. Tuesday is my most demanding work day. Wednesday we have after school commitments. Thursday is a reasonable day - not so exhausting, and there usually isn't anything scheduled and Friday is even better.

So, Monday became 'take something out of the freezer' and Tuesday, 'homemade pizza'. Wednesday is still pretty much 'Whatever', since it's the one night we usually can't manage dinner together. Thursdays  we cook together - a simple family favorite. On Fridays we eat out, (or order in) and on weekends we cook more complex or time consuming recipes and make double and freeze when we can.

Home-cooked food with less cooking (and clean-up) during the week; cooking together on weekends. Spending time together in the kitchen, and dinners together at the table. 

Recalled to life.

Edited 12/13: Another activity was added to our Wednesday schedule in October so we tweaked things a bit. Monday, Thursday and weekends are the same, but we moved our 'eating out' night to Wednesday. Not only does it make life easier on our busiest day of the week, but it means we can meet somewhere and have dinner together instead of eating separately. Tuesday is now 'Whatever' (minus the alteration) and on Fridays we make pizzas.

Kale Chips

It's a snowy day in my neighborhood.

It's been snowing since early morning, and though it's the kind of heavy, spring snow that doesn't really build up on the roads, it's wet and windy enough that no one particularly wants to go out in it. It's a good excuse to get some things done indoors and take a break from all the hectic activity that has become our lives lately.

As always, when I have time at home, I tend to spend much of it in my kitchen. There's often no rhyme or reason for what I decide to spend my time on. Usually it's just whatever interests me or sounds good that day. But even I think today's agenda was a bit unusual.

We started with a big weekend breakfast.  Nothing unusual here. Eggs fried in butter and coconut oil (I just got an order in from Tropical Traditions yesterday), bacon, and shredded potatoes cooked in coconut oil and bacon fat. Just the thing to keep everyone nice and warm.

Somewhere along the line, I decided to start making Kombucha again. Isn't that what one does? Just wake up one snowy morning and say to oneself 'I think I'll start making Kombucha again, and I think I should start, like, today. And instead of doing the sensible thing and ordering a culture, or getting one from a friend, I think I'll try 'growing' one from a bottle of the storebought stuff.'

I did have a jar with some long neglected cultures, but upon investigation I decided they should probably go to the compost.

So I bought a bottle of unflavored Kombucha from the store, brewed up some tea and set it in a cabinet to see what happens.

The weatherman had been warning us for days to expect a big storm, so we made sure to put out a bowl to catch the falling snow.  It wasn't long before we had more than enough for Snow Cream.

In between all these things, I made some a batch of Kale Chips. (I also made some Parmesan Crisps, but that's a tale for another day). 

Future kale chips
Kale Chips

1 bunch kale (any kind will do)
2 Tablespoons olive or/and melted coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt

Rinse the kale well. Cut out the stems and thickest veins, and tear the larger leaves into pieces.

Allow the leaves to dry thoroughly.

Heat oven to 250 degrees. Drizzle with olive oil. Rub it in to make sure the leaves are coated. Sprinkle with salt, and spread on cookie sheets, being careful not to overcrowd.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until crisp and dry, stirring once or twice during cooking.