Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner Menu

A warm-ish winter day in Georgia, and we decided to have our favorite steakhouse meal at home. The girls behaved, and enjoyed their meals, and I must say, it was more pleasant than going to a crowded restaurant on this holiday night. Here's the menu:

Valentine's Menu for My Family
Lemon Poached Shrimp Cocktails
Grilled Flatiron Steak
Creamed Spinach
Buttery Potatoes
Ebony and Ivory Cheesecake

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Little Pies on the Prairie

It's a little sad to think that I've reached this number of years and never eaten Shepherd's Pie until recently. The classic dish features ground meat, usually lamb, in a savory sauce, mixed with peas and carrots and topped with mashed potatoes and melted cheese. This homey dish was simply not on my mother's rotating roster of (always delicious and nutritious) meals. In recent weeks, since tasting it at a local joint (a Georgia version of an Irish pub, I'm assured), I've been obsessed with creating the dish at home. My first notion, to braise a lamb shoulder and proceed with a stew and then the pie, was potentially time-consuming, not to mention fraught with the complication of purchasing lamb. Sheep, in any form, is difficult to come by in Georgia. Ground beef, that old housewifely standby, is the quick version's meat of choice, and if you're an Anglophile or of the Motherland born, you will remind me that this dish is then called Cottage Pie.

Potatoes, peas and carrots are staples in my larder, but ground beef is not. My last few trips to the store, I completely forgot to purchase it. Needing to put supper on the table and unwilling to venture to the store on a bitter cold February night, I decided to use the ground bison meat my husband had purchased intending to make Ta Tonka burgers, one of my meat-crazed daughter's favorite meals (see earlier post). The result was individual pies, each in its own cozy ramekin. My children were delighted to push their spoons into the gooey melted Cheddar, around the vegetable matter underneath, straight to the savory meat at the bottom. Hubby was pleased, too, and this dish will certainly go into the mealtime rotation.

We now have a nomenclature issue. If Shepherd's Pie implies that you used lamb, and Cottage Pie refers to the beef version, what should you call this dish when made with ground bison meat? Why, Prairie Pie, of course. While part of me wonders if "prairie pie" is a cowboy euphemism for (ahem) manure, a quick google reveals that it's unlikely. Let's hope.

Okay, so here's the recipe for a tasty, filling wintertime meal,

Prairie Pie

4 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, finely chopped
5 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4 inch dice
1 cup frozen green peas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound ground bison (or ground beef, if you simply must be a rule breaker)
1 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup low-sodium beef broth
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1. Face the cooktop and locate three pots: two saucepans filled with salted water and set to boil. The third pan should be a skillet in which to brown the ground bison. Now is a good time to assemble the baking and serving dish/dishes and place them on a baking sheet. I used two small ramekins for the kidly portions and two gratin dishes for the adult meals. You could use all ramekins, all gratins, or one single casserole dish. My recipe will generously feed two adults and two children with no leftovers. You will need to expand the recipe by 1/2 or more if you need to feed teenage werewolves, fieldhands or stevedores.

2. Boil the peeled, cubed potatoes in one pot of salted water until done, about 10 to 15 minutes. Boiled the peeled, diced carrots in the second pot of salted water about 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp-tender.

3. Heat oil in the skillet. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add the ground bison and cook until browned, about 15 minutes. Bison is lean, and there will not be excess fat to pour off. Sprinkle the flour over the meat and onion mixture and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in ketchup, soy sauce and beef broth. Pepper is a nice addition at this point, and salt is a possibility. Taste before, during and after the seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

4. Drain the carrots and set aside. Drain the potatoes, add the butter and milk, salt and pepper, and mash until smooth. I'm a fan of rustic potatoes, with a few small chunks in the mash, but feel free to mash to your desired level of consistency.

5. When all the ingredients are ready, but before the assembly, preheat the oven to 350. To assemble: for a ramekin, put about 1/3 cup of the meat mixture in the bottom. Top with a tablespoon or so of diced carrots and a tablespoon of frozen green peas. Cover this with a goodly smear of mashed potatoes, covering the meat and vegetables completely. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top. For the other dishes, you really should be able to figure it out on your own.

6. Place the individual dishes or the single casserole, on a baking sheet and into the 350 oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheesy is ooey-gooey and the potatoes are a light golden brown.

You can make this dish ahead of time, in fact, it's perfect for mommies who may have an hour in the morning to cook the ingredients and an hour in the afternoon to assemble the dishes and bake.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mix Things Up

On this holiest of holy days, Super Bowl Sunday, Americans raise our couch potato selves from the primordial comfort of La-Z-Boy loungers and salute the most patriotic of foods: the cellophane wrapped snack. Today, millions of bags of potato chips, corn chips, and all manner of peanuts and popcorn will be torn open and poured straight into bowls. Perhaps served with a dip, perhaps not. Either way, as a true American, I knew that something better could be made.

After years of diligent research, I have crafted a snack mix that is the ultimate reward for the football fan, salty and crunchy, cheesy and nutty, satisfying to every munch monster.

And it goes something like this:

Lucy's Secret Snack Mix

1 (16 oz.) package Snyder's of Hanover Cheddar Cheese Pretzel Pieces
1 (9 oz.) package Snyder's of Hanover Butter Snaps Pretzels
1 (9 oz.) box Keebler Club Puffed Snack Bites Original Flavor
1 (12 oz.) box Keebler Club Crackers Snack Sticks Original Flavor
1 (12 oz.) can lightly salted peanuts
1 (1 oz.) envelope Hidden Valley Ranch Original Ranch Salad Dressing
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Heat oven to 300. In a large, shallow pan, mix together all snack ingredients. Stir together the salad dressing and oil and pour over the snacks. Evenly distribute the seasoning throughout the mixture. Bake in oven, stirring frequently, for about a half hour. This is absolutely irrestisible warm from the oven. You can store it at room temp in sealed containers, but it won't last long. Actually, the untouched mix could probably last for a week or more, but my point is, it won't be around your house for very long if the munch monsters know where to find it.