I’m back! I’ve been on hiatus since Thanksgiving. It was all good. I’ve been cooking (and eating) up a storm, but haven’t had time to sit down, never mind taking pictures or writing blog posts.
I had some serious business to attend to, that business being my 50th birthday. The way I see it, there are two approaches to the arrival of your 50th birthday. You could be depressed about it, after all, I don’t expect to live to be 100, so more than half of my life is over and less than half is left. On the other hand, you can embrace it. Over the course of half a century, I’ve had a great life filled with family and friends. I can easily look back over the past 50 years and reflect on many wonderful experiences, shared with family and friends I love. I chose the latter approach and planned myself a party to mark the occasion in style.
First, I spent the week between Thanksgiving and the party getting ready. My family and in-laws came from out-of-town to help celebrate. The party was just one evening in the weekend, so we made dinner for around 20 on the night before and brunch for the morning after. Plus, there were home-baked treats to welcome my visitors and home-baked party favors for the guests. That was my focus for a week, with no time for pictures or writing.
The party was a success. It exceeded all my expectations. I can think of only a handful of other occasions that I enjoyed as much. It was amazing.
There were so many leftovers, that last week, I just didn’t need to cook. I could make meals from leftovers from the dinner and brunch and the party appetizers.
Yesterday, Howard and I had a fun outing in the afternoon. We checked out the Holiday Local Market, organized by Maggie of Eat Boutique. The market was held in the newly-funky part of Boston near Fort Point Channel. The market offered an assortment of local, small-batch producers of delicious foods. There were plenty of samples to try and products to buy. Howard’s favorite was the oysters from Island Creek Oysters. Mine was the salted caramel brownie from Yummy Mummy. We bought some gifts.
Yesterday was also my first return to the kitchen. We were finally out of leftovers. Our freezer is still filled with beef, so something with ground beef seemed a natural choice. I was in the mood for a shepherd’s pie. The one I settled on was a French version from a classic (now out-of-print) cookbook, More 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey. I was reminded that I made something similar last year for French Fridays with Dorie, but Pierre Franey’s recipe was faster.
Hachis Parmentier doesn’t typically have vegetables in the filling, so I made it my own by using a little less beef and adding corn, peas, and carrots to make up the volume. I loved the smooth mashed potato topping. An interesting creamy, tomato-mushroom sauce turned this sometimes ordinary casserole into something special. It was delicious!
I’m so glad to be back in the groove.
French Shepherd’s Pie (Hachis Parmentier)
Adapted from More 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey
1¼ lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lb ground beef
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup tomato paste
½ tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
3 carrots, peeled, and diced
1 cup frozen petite peas
2 cups frozen corn kernels
3 Tbsp freshly chopped parsley
½ cup milk
1½ Tbsp butter
1/8 tsp nutmeg
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Peel the potatoes and cut each potato into 4 pieces (or equally sized pieces if the potatoes aren’t all the same size). Place the potatoes into a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat slightly, and simmer for 20 minutes, or until tender.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan or skillet. Add the onion and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens. Add the beef, and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until the meat no longer looks raw. (It will continue to cooks, so it doesn’t have to be completely cooked at this point.) Season with salt & pepper to taste.
Add the tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, and carrots to the meat. Stir to combine well. Cover, and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the peas and corn and cook for another 10 minutes. If the peas and corn aren’t warmed at this point, cook a few minutes longer. Stir in half of the chopped parsley.
Preheat the broiler.
When the potatoes are done, drain them and put them through a food mill or potato ricer. I use a potato ricer. Add the butter and stir until the butter is melted. Heat the milk (I used the microwave) and gradually stir the warm milk into the potatoes. Add salt to taste, plus the nutmeg and the remaining chopped parsley.
Transfer the meat mixture to a large baking pan, about 13×9 or a little smaller. Spoon the potatoes over the meat and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Place the dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes, or just until the potatoes are nicely browned. Serve with mushroom sauce (recipe follows).
Mushroom Sauce (Sauce Aux Champignons)
¼ lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced thinly
2 Tbsp butter, divided
1 small onion, diced
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup dry white wine
1 can (14.5 oz) petite diced tomatoes, undrained
¼ cup heavy cream
Melt 1 Tbsp butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until the onion softens. Add the mushrooms and season to taste. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms give up their liquid and it evaporates. Add the wine. Cook until the wine evaporates. Stir in the tomatoes. Cover, and cook the sauce for 15 minutes. Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter and the cream. Bring to a boil and serve hot.
Yesterday was my nephew Brett’s 10th birthday. As with everyone in my family, he got to pick out where the family ate dinner on his birthday. Brett picked a Maryland institution, Ledo Pizza.
The original location was near the University of Maryland. When I was a kid, that was the only location. Now they are scattered all over the Maryland suburbs. One recently opened near their house.
Ledo Pizza is different than the typical pizza. The pizzas are rectangular, not round, with a really flaky crust. I enjoy the treat when I’m in town.
My brother-in-law Danny is a whiz at cake decorating. He makes really creative cakes.
Isn’t Brett’s birthday cake amazing? The cake is the same shape as a regular Ledo pizza. Jane and Danny even made an extra stop at the restaurant to get a box for the cake, which they brought with them for dinner.
The pizza cake itself, which Jane baked, was half yellow and half chocolate, to make everyone happy. The buttercream frosting was tinted tan to cover the two-tone cake. (Jane said if it had been all yellow, she would not have frosted the “crust”.) The tomato sauce was the same buttercream tinted red. There aren’t a lot of fancy toppings, just the way that Brett would order. The cheese is grated white chocolate. The pepperoni is fruit leather.
I think it’s a very cool cake.