Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Dinner Series / 1

Sometimes we eat at my parent's houses, sitting around the same table I ate around with my sisters and brother as a child. The bay strikes the rocks behind us, the clock on the wall ticks away, punctuating our conversation. We start with grace and then pass the butter.

Other nights we eat at my house, at the oblong table my mother bought me last Christmas that already bears the scars of craft projects and temper tantrums. The bay is a block further away, but the meal still starts with bowed heads and gratitude.

These moments around the table are important to me, just as they were important to my parents, just as I believe that they are or will be important to my children. These moments are worth the dirty dishes they produce, worth the stress of stopping for groceries on my way home from work. 

Last night I made shepherd's pie served in my giant cast iron skillet, and I served it on mismatched plates to the people I love. We talked about weddings and the snow outside, and it was good. It was important.

My children won't likely remember this meal, or tomorrow's meal either. They won't likely recall that day, January 8th, the night mom wore her airplane earrings, and there dad was nervous about his first jury trial. And chances are, I won't remember it either. But we will remember the routine, the habit, the tradition of being together, eating together, sharing. 

What I made:

I doubled the base from Alton Brown's Shepherd Pie Recipe with a few minor changes, topped it with a slightly adapted version of this mashed cauliflower recipe instead of the potatoes and cooked it all in my skillet instead of transferring it into a baking dish.

Cast Iron Shepherd's Pie with Cauliflower Crust

Meat filling:

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium chopped yellow onions
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds ground lamb
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 oz can of tomato paste
2 cup chicken broth
2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
4 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
4 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
1 bag of frozen peas, carrot, freen bean mix
2 tablespoon cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves  minced garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cauliflower mash:

2 bags of frozen cauliflower florets
2 tablespoon cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry chives, for garnish
3 tablespoons unsalted butter


Put frozen cauliflower in a stock pot and cover with water. Cook on high heat until cauliflower is soft, about ten minutes.
Drain. while it is still hot, add the rest of the ingredients. I mash mine, but if you have a food processor or immersion blender ( I do not), now would be a good time to put it to use. 
Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

While the cauliflower is cooking, prepare the filling. Place the olive oil into a 20-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil heats up, add the onion and carrots and saute until they are turning color and just strating to get soft, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir . Add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until thoroughly browned  approximately 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
Add the corn and peas to the lamb mixture and spread evenly around the cast iron skillet, or transfer to a baking pan if you don't have a big enough skillet. Top with the mashed cauliflower. Bake for about 25 minutes, until the topping is getting a little golden. 

Let it cool for about 15 minutes before eating, even longer, if you're like my mom and eat everything luke warm. 

And if you are like Gus, feel free to add ketchup. Malcolm Gladwell made me feel so much better about my picky son's desire to coat everything in it. Read all about why ketchup just makes sense.

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