Beef

Shepherd’s Pie with Cheddar Potato Topping

St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday.  After dropping my son off at school I remembered, having dressed him in nothing green.  With blog posts and Instagram feeds full of “pot o’ gold” crafts, kids decked out in green and green or Irish foods, I knew I’d failed as a mom and food blogger.  I figured I should make something for dinner that night that was somewhat Irish, even though I’ve never been big on the holiday.  The more important thing about March 17 is that it’s my niece’s birthday!  Happy 4th birthday, Maren!

I’d seen a few people posting pics of their beautiful Irish soda breads on social media, but I am kind of breaded out at the moment.  The next thing that popped into my head was Shepherd’s Pie.  A complete meal with meat, veggies and starch all in one pan!

shepherdspie5

I found an easy and basic recipe, made a quick grocery list and headed to the store.  This one from Martha is basically what I made, but with a few changes.  I also took some tips from a cookbook just recently added to my collection, America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

In perusing recipes I found some call this dish Shepherd’s Pie, and others call it Cottage Pie.  What’s the difference?  Opinions differ as to whether or not there is one.  Cottage pie was the term first used for the dish.  But over time people began calling it Cottage pie if it contained beef and Shepherd’s pie if it contained lamb.  A lot of what I’ve read says you can use either term.

shepherdspie4

This meal wound up being quite good, a terrific comfort food, and something you can make in advance.  Cook the meat filling and the potatoes, store them separately, refrigerate for up to 1 day, then layer in the casserole and bake when you’re ready.  You can even assemble this in the morning, refrigerate it and bake it in the evening.  I’d recommend adding a little extra milk to the potatoes if you’re going to make it in advance.  For some reason I feel like letting mashed potatoes sit in the fridge dries them out.  This might not be true, but it just makes me feel better to add a little extra liquid.  No one likes dry potatoes.  A couple tablespoons should be enough.

shepherdspie2

I like the combination of carrots, celery, onion and peas in this, but you can leave the peas out if you’re not a fan, or add corn to the mix.  If you don’t have fresh thyme, use 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme leaves.  Instead of water use leftover beef or chicken broth.  It’s not enough to justify opening a new container, but if you have 1 cup that needs to be used, this is a fine time to use it.  Instead of sharp white cheddar you can use regular cheddar cheese, or leave it out if you like.  Use the combination of 2% milk and cream, or use all whole milk or all 2%.  The cream adds a nice richness, but isn’t totally necessary.

You don’t need to serve this with anything, but pairing it with a crispy green salad is a good way to round out the meal.  Enjoy!

shepherdspie1

Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

Filling

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 4 stalks celery, cut in half lengthwise then chopped
  • 4 carrots, cut into quarters lengthwise then chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 cup water or broth
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • salt and pepper to taste

Potatoes

  • 2 large russet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup 2% milk
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 3 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 egg

Directions

Filling

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and drizzle with a little olive or vegetable oil.  Add in the beef and cook, breaking up the pieces until it is no longer pink, about 8 minutes.
  2. Line a large plate with paper towels and remove meat from the pan to drain on the paper towels.
  3. Return the pan to the heat and add in onion, celery and carrots.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until vegetables become tender.  Season with a pinch of salt and the thyme.
  4. Add in the flour and tomato paste and stir to combine, cook for 2 minutes.
  5. Add in the water or broth, stir to combine and bring to a simmer.  Add in the peas, stir and let cook for 3-5 minutes.

Potatoes

  1. Peel the potatoes and then cut into small chunks.
  2. Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with cool water.
  3. Place pan over high heat and cook for about 15 minutes, until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork,
  4. Drain the water from the potatoes, then return to the pan and begin mashing to release some of the steam, mash for about 1 minute.
  5. Add in the butter and milk along with some salt.  Mash it up, then add in the cheese and continue to mash until it reaches a consistency that you like.  Add in more milk if the potatoes seem dry, and taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. Mix in egg.

Assemble and Bake

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Spray a casserole dish (a deep 8×8, 9×9 or 11×17) with non-stick spray.
  3. Layer beef mixture on the bottom of the pan, then layer potatoes on top and spread evenly.
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until top begins to brown.

 

Meatballs with Zucchini and Carrot

My kids, ages 3 and 16 months, aren’t very good at eating their vegetables.  Fruit, cheese, bread, french fries, ice cream, cookies, chocolate?  No problem.  But vegetables are another story.  Carson will eat a baby carrot from time to time, and Betsy will eat a few green peas if I mix them up in her macaroni.  But that’s as good as it gets around here.  So in an effort to get them to eat more vegetables I decided to hide them in meatballs.  Both of my kids are pretty good at eating meatballs, so I figured this was a genius plan.

meatballs1

The first night I gave them the meatballs plain without sauce, and they weren’t the biggest fans.  And I felt like a failure.  I went to all that trouble and they didn’t want them!?  But the next night I heated them in some pasta sauce and we had much better results.  My kids ate vegetables!  Without gagging!

These meatballs are simple and geared towards a picky kid’s palate.  Not a lot of spice or heat.  If your kids are more daring than mine (or if you’ve done a better job of exposing them to spices!) add what you like to the mix.  You could also use half beef and half Italian sausage for a more interesting meatball.  I used jarred sauce, but if you have a great recipe, then use it…and then share it with me!  Do you have any great meals that are healthy and delicious that your kids enjoy?  I’d love to hear them.  We need all the help we can get!

meatballs2

Meatballs with Zucchini and Carrots

Makes 24-30 meatballs

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (85/15)
  • 3/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrot
  • 1/2 cup shredded zucchini (pressed between paper towels to remove excess moisture)
  • 1/4 cup grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Pasta sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl and let soak for a couple minutes.  Add in beef, egg, vegetables and seasonings and mix (clean hands are a great tool here) until combined.
  3. Form into balls (around golf ball size) and place in a greased pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes.  You can pour on some sauce in the last 10 minutes of baking or heat the sauce separately.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Balls of meat stuffed with cheese and covered in a chunky marinara sauce?!  I am all in.  And I’m not sure if it’s being pregnant or the change in the seasons, or maybe both, but this kind of meal is right up my alley right now.

mozzarella-stuffed-meatball

These meatballs are total comfort food and will leave you full and happy.  Just like food should when it’s cold out.  Who in their right mind is eating salad right now, anyway?  I guess maybe I should be…but instead I’m eating meatballs, pasta and rosemary rolls.  And I’m ok with that.

Like most meatballs you will end up with a mess in your kitchen.  BUT you can form the meatballs ahead of time, refrigerate them, clean up that round of dishes, then fry and bake them for dinner that night, or even the next day.  You can probably get away with not frying them at all and just putting them straight into the oven.  Maybe just add 10-15 extra minutes, especially if you’ve refrigerated them.  Regardless of the mess you make though, they are definitely worth it!

You have a few options with these meatballs.  Pair with some spaghetti or other pasta (I made this spaghetti with simple garlic sauce and thought it was a nice combination) or load them onto some substantial crusty bread for meatball subs or sandwiches.  One of the greatest things about these meatballs is that both of my kids LOVED them!  So not only did Ben and I eat 2 dinners with them, but the kids had at least 4 meals of meatballs and ate them up.  Carson asked for more!  Rarely do they eat the food we do and enjoy it.  This is definitely going into my kid friendly meal file.

One tool I use for cookies and meatballs and to get them to be uniform in size is a scoop like this.  I have a small one (about 1 inch in diameter) and a larger one that is closer to 2 inches.  It’s something I’d recommend you have in your kitchen if you do much cooking and baking.  Get a sturdy one.   It will be worth the money, work better and last longer than the cheaper ones will.

The original recipe simmers the meatballs in the sauce in the same pan they are cooked in.  I finished them off in the oven and the only thing that wasn’t great about that was that some of the cheese escaped, which in the end was not a big deal.  There was still plenty of cheese inside the meatballs!  No need to worry.  Enjoy!

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Adapted slightly from Just a Pinch

Makes 24-30 meatballs depending on size

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground sirloin (90/10)
  • 1 pound ground sweet Italian turkey sausage (or mild or hot)
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 small white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 27 cubes (or how ever many meat balls you get)
  • olive oil
  • flour
  • 1 jar simple marinara sauce

Directions

  1. Mix meat, breadcrumbs, seasonings, onion, garlic, eggs and milk.  Clean hands are the best tool for the job, but a spoon or spatula is fine.  Mix until everything is combined but not overly mixed.
  2. Divide into balls of equal size, 1 1/2 to 2 inches.  Place on a foil lined baking sheet, then take each meatball and press one cube of cheese into the center and form the meat around the cheese so that it is sealed.  Place back on the foil lined baking sheet.  At this point you can cover and refrigerate the meatballs for later.
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F and heat a drizzle of oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Put 1/2 cup of flour into a bowl.  Dredge each meatball lightly in flour, then place in the pan.  Repeat until pan is full but not overly crowded.  Cook for a minute or so on each side (I know this is hard to do with a round shape, but it’s not super important to get every bit of it cooked just the same.  Just make sure the majority of the meatball is browned.)  Be careful not to burn them.  If they’re browning too much, turn down the heat.  As the meatballs finish, move them to a 9×13 inch pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.  Repeat with the remaining meatballs until they’ve all been browned, adding more oil if needed.
  4. Pour the entire jar of marinara sauce over the meatballs.  Add about 1/4 cup of water to the jar, screw on the cap, shake it up and pour it over the meatballs also.  Spread it out as evenly as you can.  Put into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes (a little longer is you did not fry the meatballs or if they were refrigerated).  Cut open a meatball to be sure they’re cooked thoroughly, there shouldn’t be much if any pink.
  5. Enjoy on top of pasta, or on some nice crusty bread.

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Caramelized Onions

The more I cook, the more I realize how much I absolutely love cooking comfort food.  And eating comfort food.  I really love eating comfort food.  And I’ve been doing a lot of it lately. This meatloaf has been one of our favorites.

baconmeatloaf

Covering your dinner with bacon can’t be a bad thing.  This meatloaf is covered in 10 strips of bacon which give it great flavor and create a great slicing guide.  I got this recipe from The Pioneer Woman, my go-to for comfort food.  Try her pot roast!  It makes me smile just thinking about it.  The only change I made to this meatloaf was to add some caramelized onion.

I’ve made this twice now.  The first time I followed the recipe exactly, but felt that the bacon was kind of soggy.  So the next time I baked the meatloaf without the sauce at the beginning of the cooking time at an attempt to crisp it up a little before putting the sauce on.  I think it was better, not so much that I could definitely tell a difference but enough that I will do it that way in the future.  Either way the bacon is a great addition and makes this meatloaf spectacular.  It would still be good without the bacon, so leave it out if you must.

I don’t have a roasting pan.  Not sure why.  I should probably get one.  So I baked the meatloaf on a shallow baking pan lined with parchment.  It releases a lot of juice, so I soaked it up with paper towels after it came out of the oven.  I can see why a roasting pan would be helpful, but don’t fret if you don’t have one.  You don’t need it.

This would easily feed 8 people, possibly 10.  Ben and I can easily make 3 meals out of it.  Sliced for dinner the first night, then meatloaf sandwiches for lunch or dinner a couple of times.  Few things can beat a meatloaf sandwich on some soft white bread.  Enjoy!

Bacon Wrapped Meatloaf with Caramelized Onions

From The Pioneer Woman

Ingredients

Meatloaf

  • 1 medium yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 6 slices white bread
  • 2 pounds ground beef (I used 1 pound of 85/15 and 1 pound of 93/7)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup minced Italian parsley
  • 4 whole eggs, beaten
  • 10 slices Thin/regular Bacon

Sauce

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup brown Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard

Directions

  1. Caramelize the onion: Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and drizzle of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet.  Add the sliced onion and stir the onion to coat with butter.  Sprinkle with kosher salt and a generous pinch of sugar.  Let cook, stirring occasionally and monitoring the heat so the onions do not burn, 10-15 minutes.  Onions should be brown and soft.  If the onions begin to crisp and burn and there is no moisture left in the pan, add a few teaspoons of water.  Remove from the pan from the heat and let cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour milk over the bread slices. Allow it to soak in for several minutes.
  3. Place the ground beef, milk-soaked bread, onion, Parmesan, seasoned salt, salt, black pepper, and parsley in a large mixing bowl. Pour in beaten eggs.
  4. With clean hands, mix the ingredients until well combined. Form the mixture into a loaf shape on a broiler pan, which will allow the fat to drain. (Line the bottom of the pan with foil to avoid a big mess!)
  5. Lay bacon slices over the top, tucking them underneath the meatloaf.
  6. Cook meatloaf for 15 minutes.
  7. While the meatloaf is cooking, make the sauce: stir together ketchup, brown sugar and mustard in a mixing bowl. Pour 1/3 of the mixture over the top of the bacon. Spread with a spoon.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes, then pour another 1/3 of the sauce over the top. Bake for another 15 minutes. Slice and serve with remaining sauce.

 

Beef, Bean and Beer Chili for Frito Pie

Goodness, blogging has certainly taken a back seat to mothering lately!  As it should, of course.  I kind of feel like I’ve fallen off the face of the earth in some ways, though.  I am beat.  I have permanent dark circles under my eyes and I can’t always form complete and comprehensible thoughts.  I almost always feel foggy headed.  And I hear this doesn’t get any better as your children get older…

Baby Betsy is 7 weeks old now and we are all alive, which is really saying something.  If you want more details, then check this out.  We love our sweet girl and are so very blessed to have our two beautiful and healthy babies.

A few weeks ago we had a group of friends and family at our house to watch an Aggie game.  We’d planned on grilling, but with rain chances that day being 100% we decided to make chili and have Frito pie instead.  It ended up only raining in the morning, so we could have grilled, but I am glad we changed our plans.  Chili and football just go together, don’t you think?  Now if only we could have a football Saturday under 80 degrees.  I am so ready for that.

I don’t know about you, but when I decide to make something I rarely get to say, “I have the best recipe for _____!”.  I start searching around online and in my cookbooks for a new recipe.  I don’t know how many times I’ve made chili, but except for this chicken chili, I have never used the same recipe twice.  I can stop searching.  I can print a hard copy of this recipe and put it with my keepers.  Thanks Jimmy Fallon and Martha!

The recipe for Jimmy Fallon’s chili is made in a crock pot.  I made it in a big stock pot since I was making 1 1/2 times the recipe and my crock pot isn’t big enough.  (And I needed my crock pot to make a batch of Velveeta and Rotel queso!)  And honestly, if you’re already getting a skillet dirty I don’t see the point in moving everything to the crock pot and getting that dirty too.  I guess the “set it and forget it” aspect is nice, but there is enough prep work that I don’t think it would be that helpful.  I did everything in one pot and that meant fewer dishes to clean which made my husband happy.  And that is good.

 

Beef and Bean Chili

From Martha Stewart courtesy of Jimmy Fallon

Feeds 12 generously

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 pounds ground chuck beef, ground for chili
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1-2 large white onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped fine
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juices
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for serving
  • 2 (12-ounce) bottles amber beer (I used this)
  • 3 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
For Serving
  • Fritos
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Green onions, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches if necessary, add beef and cook until no longer pink.  Season with salt and pepper; drain on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a thick layer of paper towels and set aside.
  2. Add remaining tablespoon olive oil to skillet and reduce heat to medium. Add onions, garlic, and jalapeno; season with salt. Cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add beef to the onion mixture, and mix in chile powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne pepper. Add tomatoes, cilantro, beer and beans.  Stir together and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1-2 hours.
  4. At this point you can either serve the chili or take it off the heat, let it cool off and put the pot in the fridge overnight.  The next day, reheat the chili over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until hot.
  5. Serve over Fritos, topped with cheese, sour cream and green onions or your favorite chili toppings.

Freezer Meals

With baby countdown at 2 weeks and 1 day I felt it necessary to make some freezer meals for those days (of which I’m sure there will be many) that I don’t have time to cook a real meal.  I searched quite a few websites for recipes that would freeze and reheat well.  I cannot attest to their post-freezer goodness , but I did some taste testing along the way and I was pleased with the flavors and a little upset that I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy the food for dinner that night.

I didn’t want to make typical freezer meals.  Lasagna, chili and casseroles that use cans of cream of whatever soup were just not the kind of meals I was looking for.  Yes, I like to make things difficult for myself.  Yes, I am a bit of a food snob.  Ask me a year from now, and I think my love of convenience foods will have grown.  But since I have the time now, why not make something extra good?

Here is what I ended up with in my freezer.  Click on the meal for a link to the recipe.  The pastitsio and shepherd’s pie include freezing instructions.  I added my own for the chicken pasta.

Pastitsio – a layered Greek noodle dish with ground beef, tomatoes and bechamel sauce.  The beef layer is spiced with olives, oregano, cinnamon and oregano.

Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake – a bowtie pasta casserole with chicken, artichokes, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and cheese.

Shepherd’s Pie – Turkey, tomato, peas, corn and mushrooms topped with mashed carrots and potatoes.

These are not the quickest meals to get prepped for the freezer.  But the time you spend now will be time you save in a few weeks or a couple months when you go to enjoy the results of your hard work.  I made the pastitsio the other afternooon, I think it took me about an hour and a half to cook and clean up.  I made the chicken pasta and shepherd’s pie Saturday morning, and I think my total chopping, cooking, boiling, packaging and cleaning time was 3 hours.  Here’s my kitchen during its worst moment on Saturday.

I know some of you have now decided that I am crazy to have spent that much of my Saturday morning on this project, but it’s something I’d planned to do…and so I had to do it.  I also kind of like spending that time in the kitchen and having something to show for it.  It makes me feel productive, and it’s a lot more fun that organizing the stacks of paper on the desk in the office.  And look at my fully stocked freezer!  Two 9×13 pans and two 8×8 pans of food waiting patiently to be eaten.  Why does this kind of thing make me happy?

Here are a few quick notes and changes on these recipes.  Some changes were made because of personal preferences, others because I forgot to or chose not to buy an ingredient.  I am becoming more and more comfortable with improvising in the kitchen.  It makes life so much easier, and it saves money too.  A jar of sun-dried tomatoes was going to set me back $5.99…so I used some sun-dried tomato pesto that I already had.  It makes me feel so resourceful when I can do things like that.

Pastitsio:

  • Left out the red wine
  • Used green olives instead of Kalamata
  • Used only 4 tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of milk and 1 egg in the pasta mixture
  • Use a LARGE and DEEP pan, I did not have room in a regular 9×13 to fit all the sauce.  It broke my heart to pour that creamy bechamel down the drain.

Chicken Florentine Artichoke Pasta

  • Cooked 2 chicken breasts in a skillet and chopped it up to make 2 cups
  • Used a 12 ounce package of pasta instead of 8 ounce
  • Used 2 tablespoons of sun dried tomato pesto instead of the chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • Freezer Instructions: Bake without bread crumbs for 15 minutes, then with bread crumbs for 5 minutes.  Let cool completely, then cover with plastic wrap and a couple layers of foil.  When ready to bake, let it thaw in the fridge overnight, then bake @ 350 F covered with foil for 20 minutes and without foil for 15-20 minutes or until nicely brown on top.

Shepherd’s Pie

  • Used 6 carrots and 4 large baking potatoes which was enough to top 2 8-inch pans
  • Made one of my pans with cheese, and one without
  • Used 1 1/2 cups mushrooms, 1 1/2 cups peas and 1 cup corn in addition to the meat and tomatoes

When Ben and I get around to eating these over the next couple months I will give some feedback about how the thawing and re-heating goes.  If you try them in the meantime and bake them right away, please let me know how they turn out!

Argentine Flank Steak with Salsa Criolla

To kick off the long weekend we had a great dinner with Ben’s parents who made the trip up from Austin to visit.  I’ve had this recipe from Fine Cooking printed out and in my wonderfully organized recipe binder for a while now with every intention of making it, but just never got around to it.  So, I pulled this out with high hopes that it would be a winner.  Here is the link to the original recipe.

It turned out to be a great meal that we all really enjoyed.  All the preparation can be done 24 hours in advance, so that made this meal an even better choice for company.  I rubbed the meat down and made the salsa about 7 hours before dinner, which was plenty of time for the flavors to infuse the meat and for the salsa to get really yummy.

The steak alone has a bit of kick.  The cool, vinegary, slightly sweet salsa is a great complement to the spice.  I served this with a green salad, simple scalloped potatoes, and baguette.  The recipe recommends using any leftover steak and salsa mixed in with scrambled eggs and cheese.  I wish we’d had more leftovers!

Here are the very few changes I made to the recipe.

I used one 2-pound steak since there were only four of us.  However, I made the same amount of rub, so that makes me think that if you plan to make 4 pounds of steak you may want to consider doubling the rub ingredients.

The 1/2 cup of olive oil in the salsa just seemed like too much to me, so I reduced it to 1/4 cup and added just a slight drizzle more.  Mix up the salsa and use your own judgement and preferences as you do so.  Add a small amount to start, then add more if you need it.

(more…)