Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shepherd's Pie

Last night was my first go-round with trying to make a Shepherd’s Pie. If you are thinking to yourself that this dish is an English-Irish staple in a cuisine that is not exactly known for it’s stellar combination of flavors, then you and I share a common generality. But a few weeks ago, I was watching Kitchen Nightmares and Gordon Ramsay was, as usual, helping to bail out an underachieving restaurant who’s “chef” wasn’t quite up to snuff. He whipped up a Shepherd’s Pie that looked so good even on TV that I had to try to make it. And yes, I’m aware of the irony of the inspiration of making a dish featured on a show called Kitchen Nightmares. But if Gordon Ramsay made it, it can’t be all bad.

Shepherd’s Pie:

3 large potatoes, peeled
1 pound of ground beef
1 medium white or yellow onion
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot
1 can of beef stock
2/3 cup of frozen peas
2 cloves of garlic

This may be the only recipe I ever blog about that I will say this, but here it is; don’t use any salt for any seasoning. There is PLENTY in the beef stock and Worcestershire sauce. And if you choose to use a bit while boiling the potatoes, there’s even more. So don’t worry about seasoning the vegetables or meat with salt

Boil the potatoes in water until they are fork-soft. Mash them in a mixer, slowly adding milk until you reach your desired consistency, and pour slowly. You’ll find it’s far more difficult to extract the milk than to add just a little bit more. Once whipped, set aside.

Chop all the vegetables (except the peas) into small pieces. Brown the beef, and drain the majority of the grease. Reserve a little bit in the pan for sautéing the vegetables. Add a little bit of butter to the grease, and then add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic allowing them to sauté together and a medium-high heat until the are tender and starting to become translucent (roughly 5-6 minutes). Add the peas, and continue cooking for another 5-6 minutes. Keeping the heat reasonable high, stir the browned ground beef back into the pan and add the beef stock, and a few shakes of Worcestershire sauce. Allow this to simmer until the liquid has reduced.

Spread the meat and veggies in the bottom of a baking dish. Cover the top with the mashed potatoes, and a few small, intermittent dollops of butter. Then bake it all together at 400 until the peaks of the potatoes start to brown. Pull it out and serve hot.

I was so excited that this recipe came together. Well, at least that it came together well enough that I will happily make it again. It’s pretty easy all in all, but it will take a little bit of time, so make sure you allow yourself at least an hour or so before you plan to eat. But it can be made in advance of any event and easily heated, and it can easily be made in large amounts for parties or groups.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Roasting in Hell's Kitchen

This week, I finished a great book. I’m not much of a reader to be honest. But when I get my hands on a book that really captivates my interest, I hammer through it in no time. This book did just that. It was “Roasting in Hell’s Kitchen”, the Gordon Ramsay autobiography.

Lots and lots of chefs have books. The problem is, at least in my opinion, that most of them are cookbooks. Actually, let me rephrase that; most of them are recipe books. At this point in my self-appointed culinary training, I am less interested in being able to reproduce a recipe that I have read, and far more interested in learning about cooking processes. What made someone try that? How did you come up with that? What’s the thought process behind trying something prepared this way or that? What if I did this? What would happen? Also, I’m fascinated in what makes someone pursue a career in food. If you’re publishing a book, you’re clearly no hack. In fact, you probably have or had your own restaurant, maybe your own show, and I’m willing to bet your pressing up on being a millionaire if you’re not already. Did these people think that when they first put on an apron this was where they would end up? Hence, my increasing interest in their biographies and autobiographies, and less in their recipes.

If you have watched Fox at all in the last 3 years, you know who Gordon Ramsay is. If, by chance, you really don’t know who he is, allow me to provide a summary. Chef Ramsay is the brilliantly talented, foul mouthed, and explosively tempered chef behind the shows “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Hell’s Kitchen”. Chef Ramsay set a record, according to the Fox network, by dropping the F-bomb over 80 times in a 40-minute show. Now that’s some cussing.

If you were to read his book however, you would swear it was not the same person. Lest we all forget, explosive personalities make for good reality TV.

Chef Ramsay is the personification of a dream; someone who went right out knowing what he wanted to happen, and took steps to ensure that it did. He came from nothing, literally. His parents had nothing. His father was abusive. And with little support financially, psychologically, emotionally, or professionally, he made up his mind to stake the claim for what he thought he was worth doing what he loved.

I could write and write and write about the facts of his life. Eventually though, I’d probably end up plagiarizing. If you’re avid about food, or need inspiration for long-term success pick up this book. You can’t help but be impressed.