Mini Shepherd’s Pie

November 20th, 2014 · 20 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized

Of all the things that taste better the next day — Grandma Jody’s chicken, pasta with Bolognese — I think maybe Shepherd’s Pie is right up there on my list. At least part of the reason for this is because some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in front of my best friend’s fridge, eating forkfuls of the pie’s spice-spiked meat straight from the dish. But most of the reason? Well, what’s there not to love about something smothered in a crust of mashed potatoes? (Boy I’m picking up a theme this week.) I’ve never actually made a real Shepherd’s Pie — the closest I’ve come are these miniature cheater’s version, cobbled together from everything left over on Thanksgiving. (Of course Shepherd’s Pie was invented to use up leftovers, like all the best recipes, so technically it’s in fact the opposite of cheating.) I heat up a little shallot in olive oil then add whatever I’ve got stored the tupperware bins (including those bacon bits hangin’ around the brussels sprouts). Once the filling is heated through, I spoon it into ramekins and spread reheated mashed potatoes on top. I don’t even bother baking the pies, but if you’re after a more crusty topping, skip the reheating of the potatoes and bake at 375° for about 20 minutes, sprinkled with some shredded cheese if you’re feeling decadent. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Needless to say, it’s a big hit with the kids for Friday lunch.

Is there anything better than leftovers? Man, I could eat this screen right now. What leftover moves do you have in your Thanksgiving arsenals? Would love to know.

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Charcuterie Pizza

December 18th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Pork and Beef

I realize I’m not going to win any awards from the American Heart Association with this statement, but you pretty much can’t go wrong when you make a pizza from a leftover charcuterie plate. You know — the cured meat and cheese platter you put together for your holiday party that you kept buying more for because you were positive you hadn’t ordered enough? That’s me every year for every party and last time it happened I kept picking at the leftovers whenever I opened the refrigerator (willpower in the face of charcuterie: not my strong suit), which left me feeling like the glutton of the century. This time, I wised up and made use of the treasure in one fell swoop: I chopped all my meat and cheese, dumped it on a pizza crust and served it for dinner with massive tangle of greens, which, naturally, canceled out any residual guilt.

What to do with Other Holiday-ish Leftovers:

Making a Ham for Christmas? Turn leftovers into World’s Best Pea Soup.
Making Andy’s World Famous Pork Ragu? If there’s any meat leftover, make 10-Minute Tortellini. (Could also do this with Short Ribs.)
Making a spaghetti dinner ? Be sure to make extra pasta, leave it unsauced, then go for the Spaghetti Omelet.
Leftover chicken of any kind? Shred it and add to Creamy Lemony Avgolemeno. OhBoyOhBoyOhBoy.
Leftover filet of beef? (Yeah right.) Steak Sandwiches with Gruyere, Caramelized Onions and Pickles.

Charcuterie Pizza
There are surely some combinations of cheese and meat that work better than others, but chances are if the cheese is firm and you have some bocconcini (little mozzarella balls) in the mix, you’ll be good to go.

Olive oil, for greasing
1 16-ounce ball homemade pizza dough (or your favorite storebought) I replaced a cup of all-purpose flour with whole wheat for the one you see above.
1 1/2 cups homemade pizza sauce (or your favorite storebought)
Leftover cured meats, such as salami or prosciutto, chopped
Leftover firm cheese such as Manchego, Parmesan (grated) and or Bocconcini balls (halved)

Preheat oven to 500°F. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, grease a 17-by-12-inch  rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Drop your pizza dough into the center of the baking sheet, and using your fingers, press out and flatten the dough so it spreads as close as possible to all four corners. This might seem difficult, but persist — the thin crust will be worth it.

Add the sauce to dough, spreading with a spoon. Sprinkle meat on top and cover with cheese. Sprinkle meat only on one half if you want to keep part of it vegetarian-friendly. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is bubbly. If the crust is browning faster than the toppings are cooking, cover with foil and continue to bake.

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Halloween Candy, A Second Life

November 9th, 2012 · 10 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations

Wow. So many options for titles today!

  • What to Do With Leftover Halloween Candy
  • A Problem I Did Not Know I Had
  • Tips and Tricks for Making Candy Even More Unhealthy!
  • Why Talk Presidents When You Can Talk Peppermints?

Well, you get the idea. Yesterday I packed up whatever spooky outdoor decorations had not been destroyed by the hurricane and rooted around the girls’ treat bags to see what was left: Some Crunch bars, an orange Tootsie Roll, peanut M&Ms, a bag of pretzels, and about 20 Peppermint Patties. So I did what any self-respecting mother would do: I broke out one of the girls’ brownie mixes (in this case Ghirardelli), nestled in some patties before baking (submerging them in the batter completely is key), then turned my enterprising eyes toward the rest of the loot. (more…)

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I Got This

April 16th, 2012 · 20 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Domestic Affairs, Posts by Andy, Uncategorized

We have a bowl on our counter. It’s a wooden salad bowl that we have turned into a fruit bowl. I’m not a chemist, so I can’t tell you why this is, but this bowl has a strange and unpleasant effect on the produce we (stupidly) put inside it: it accelerates the ripening process. It possesses mysterious transformative properties. It’s like some kind of primitive oxygen deprivation chamber, a Destroyer of Life. Put a plum in there and, two days later, it’s a prune. Put a potato in it and, one week later, it has been colonized by these creepy, blooming nodules. It turns limes yellow, and lemons brown. Put a bunch of green bananas in it, blink three times, and they’ve been turned into the wizened, leathery fingers of a prehistoric animal. We end up throwing most of this stuff away. You’d think, given all this, we’d figure out a solution to the problem – like, I don’t know, use a different bowl? – but we’re people who have had a broken, leaning lamppost in our front yard for eight years, and have never quite mustered the energy to get it fixed. We’re people who bought four huge plastic storage bins to organize our family shame basement a few months ago, and have yet to move them the ten feet from the garage into the basement, let alone fill them. It can take me weeks to change a light bulb – to the point that the act of finally replacing them feels like a victory. Inertia is our default mode – or, at least, it sure can feel that way sometimes.

The bowl, though: God, it bums me out. I resent it for reminding me of my powerlessness. So, last Saturday morning, when I looked over and saw three blackened, old-before-their-time bananas sitting there, on the cusp of total putrefaction, I decided to act. I would save them from the trash.

“I’m making banana bread,” I said.

Jenny was at the table, reading. “You’re weird,” she said.

I went over to the shelf and pulled a few stalwart cookbooks down – Bittman, Gourmet, New York Times, Ina Garten — and starting scanning indexes.

“I have a banana bread recipe,” Jenny said. “It’s in the blue binder, under desserts.” I knew the one she was referring to: it was from her friend Elizabeth, handwritten on a Real Simple notecard, and we’d been eating it for years.

“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m good. I think I’m gonna try the Bittman.”

“Why? You love that recipe.”

“Do we have any coconut?” I asked.

“Coconut?”

“Yeah, Bittman calls for shredded coconut. Do we have any?”

“You’re really annoying.”

Jenny was all uppity about it, too. She couldn’t believe I was stepping out like this, looking elsewhere for inspiration. Was this a referendum on her banana bread? No, it was not. Did this mean I loved her any less? No, it did not. The truth is, she does the same thing to me all the time. I have a perfectly good stir-fry recipe, one we’d made happily together for ten years, but she had to go and improve it by adding rice wine vinegar and hoisin sauce. Partly, this constant off-roading and experimenting is due to having a food blog and always needing new things to write about; but partly, it’s about, well, you know what it’s about. It’s about showing your spouse that you are still capable of discovering something new, all by yourself. It’s about keeping that (flickering) flame of your old identity — the one that exists outside of the “we” of marriage, the one with free will – alive in some small way. So, with Phoebe’s help, I put our stand-by aside and tried a new banana bread. Was it better? Who’s to say? But was it mine? Yes.

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread
This is great for school lunches and, toasted, for breakfast. I added a handful of chocolate chips, and subbed out some white sugar for brown, but otherwise, this is the Bittman recipe from the original How to Cook Everything.

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
2 cups flour (any combination of whole wheat and all-purpose)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease a loaf pan.

Mix together the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and beat in the eggs. Stir this mixture into the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix. Stir in vanilla, nuts, coconut, and chocolate.

Pour the batter into your greased pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes.

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Melt the Bunny

April 10th, 2012 · 17 Comments · Baking and Sweets, Birthdays, Holidays, Celebrations, Rituals

I’m beginning to think that parenting is just a lifelong excuse to turn anything into a celebration. Because if you really think about it, there is always something to celebrate.  The problem with this of course, is…there’s always something to celebrate, i.e. there’s always some kind of treat that — in our house at least — seems to be central to the celebrating. It’s the last day of school before spring break: By The Way Bakery cupcakes! You just rode your bike four miles: Mint chip ice cream! It’s Daddy’s birthday: Cherry pie! No cavities at the dentist: Pain au chocolat! It’s Passover: Matzoh brittle! It’s Easter….oh dear Lord, Easter. I think this holiday — which we technically don’t even celebrate — might have officially eclipsed Halloween as the biggest treat-o-thon in our family. It begins with the obligatory air-dried Peeps, then the neighbor’s Easter Egg hunt where we are lucky to come home with only a few chocolate eggs. (Woe is the poor soul who wins the 1000 Jelly Bean Jar contest!) And then there is the long-awaited treat-filled basket from Grandma, which, to the girls delight, always includes a ginormous chocolate bunny. A ginormous chocolate bunny that ends up sitting in his plastic case in the corner of the kitchen like a museum piece: So fun to look at, yet never consumed. This year, we decided to change that — instead of letting him get all dusty and sad, we melted him down to make the healthy-ish chocolate covered banana pops that you see below. They are easy, delicious, and just the thing to cap off our dinner on Thursday, when we plan to celebrate the dog’s third birthday.

Chocolate Covered Banana Pops

There is a recipe for these in my first cookbook, but you don’t really need official instructions. Before you begin, cut your bananas in half, insert popsicle sticks or halved wooden skewers (as shown below) and freeze for about 15 minutes on a flat surface. While bananas are freezing, melt down your bunny over low heat (removing all bowties and styrofoam accessories, please), whisking as the bunny shrinks*. (You can also do this in the microwave in a Pyrex for about a minute, depending on the size of the bunny.) When your chocolate has melted, pour into a deep measuring cup or a cereal bowl. Dip your now semi-frozen bananas into the chocolate and place pops down on a wax-paper covered surface. Quickly sprinkle oats, sprinkles, or chopped nuts on top before the chocolate hardens. Freeze until ready to eat, at least a half hour.

*I added water as mine melted to get to the right consistency, but usually even a drop of water or hint of steam puts the chocolate at risk of seizing, so only do this if absolutely necessary. My friend who works in a test kitchen surmises that the reason mine didn’t seize and get grainy was because the chocolate in the bunny was not, in fact, real chocolate.

The chocolate hardens fast, so add your toppings quick like a bunny.

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