July 2009

Okay, okay, this is technically cottage pie because I use beef, not mutton or lamb. Shepherd’s pie, rightfully, contains something sheepy. But we call it shepherd’s pie because if I asked Jim if he wanted “cottage pie,” I’d probably get a blank stare.

I have never had a better quick home-made shepherd’s/cottage pie than the one with Colman’s Shepherd’s Pie Mix from the British/Irish foods aisle at the grocery store; the envelope looks like this. I can find it in every grocery store here in the Boston area because there is a large segment of the population with recent, direct family ties to the Isles; it may be harder to locate in other parts of the country. The back of the envelope tells you exactly what you need to make a successful shepherd’s/cottage pie, but I can also tell you from memory the simple list of ingredients: an onion, some fresh carrots, frozen peas, a pound of ground meat (charmingly called ‘mince’ by our cross-Atlantic cousins), either lamb or beef (I wonder if ground turkey would work, I suppose it would, but what would we call it? Poulterer’s Pie?), mashed potatoes, and an envelope of sauce mix.

Brown mince and onion, and drain off excess fat. Mix sauce, peas, and carrots in, heat through, and then pour in to an ovenproof dish (I use a round glass casserole). Top with mashed potato (preferably with lumps!!) and bake for half an hour at 400 degrees. The directions are all on the sauce package. I warn you though, it might bubble over so watch out for hot bubbling liquid when you remove it from the oven. I let it cool on the stovetop for ten or fifteen minutes to let the sauce thicken and avoid burning my mouth!


East Side Pocket
Thayer Street
Providence, RI

Two #7 gyro pockets
Strips of Greek style season lamb, one with all the toppings, hot sauce, hummus, lettuce, tomato, hot peppers, onions, pickles, tabouleh, tahina, yogurt cucumber sauce, except the tomatoes, and one with just lettuce, onions, and yogurt cucumber sauce.

For years Jim has been trying to talk me in to gyros at East Side Pocket on Thayer Street. Every time we’re in Providence, usually for dinner and WaterFire, gyros come up as a top three contender. Having never been a fan of gyros, which in my experience are always drippy and messy eats, I have usually put up resistance, but this time our planned outing to Spike’s was kiboshed by their relocation from Thayer Street to the opposite side of town, so I gave in to gyros.

First: Not at all messy, especially if you get all the toppings like Jim does; the thin yogurt cucumber sauce gets soaked up by the hummus, tabouleh, and tahina. Whereas I had only lettuce and onions on mine, so the sauce was a little messier. But still not as messy as I’d expected.

Second: I was so disappointed by the lamb. Jim tells me that back in his college days they did the lamb the old-fashioned way, shaved to-order off a leg on the rotisserie. This lamb seemed to be ground and shaped in to long, thin patties, then done up on the grill. I am sure that doing it this way is less expensive for the restaurant, easier to control the portions, and easier to maintain the flow of stock, as well as not as hot as the open rotisserie in the cramped space in the summer, but I feel like whatever they made up in savings and air conditioning, they lost in flavor. If I hadn’t known it was lamb, I couldn’t have told you it was lamb and not beef. The seasonings were way too heavy-handed, obscuring the unique natural flavor of the meat. I fell in love with lamb in Greece, where it was always done up simply, with simple spices and sea salt to bring out the natural flavor of the meat. Jim hadn’t had a gyros in long enough that he hadn’t thought about it. I pointed out that it is good, inexpensive, plentiful college food for the students on the Hill, but I wouldn’t call it Greek, I’d call it Americanized Greek; just like how most of the Chinese food we eat in this nation is Americanized Chinese, adapted to the palate of the host country.

Jim demolished his pocket, but I could only get halfway through mine before I couldn’t get down another bite. He said it was okay if I didn’t finish mine, since they are well-sized, but I had to explain that whereas I was starving before dinner, if I had gotten up and walked away from the table at that point, I would have been merely not very hungry, with no feeling of having eaten (just of being less hungry). So while I hadn’t been planning on any dessert, I gave up on my pocket and went back inside for two pieces of baklava, the quality of which more than made up for the pocket. Soft, sticky, great texture in the filling. Jim has been saying for years, I don’t like baklava, I don’t like baklava, which is always a disappoint to me, since I love baklava. Then he looks at my two little pieces of baklava and says, What’s that? Baklava, I say. Oh, he says, if this is baklava, what is the stuff wrapped in leaves? Dolmas, or dolmades. All this time when someone says “baklava,” he pictures dolmades. No wonder he keeps telling me he doesn’t like “baklava”! As it turns out, he did like East Side Pocket’s baklava, and it filled the hole I still had in my stomach after the disappointing pocket.

Fill a burrito-sized tortilla wrap with rice & beans, and bake in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes (at 16 minutes, the edges of one burrito were turning decidedly golden and I pulled them out before the 20-minute mark).

Well, I decided to try something new inspired by Janice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a huge hit in my house, at least not with me. I think I need to tweak the flavors in the rice & beans recipe, and use fresher tortillas. But with sour cream Jim definitely thought they turned out better than he’d expected, and I’ll admit that I was expecting something much less easy-to-eat, i.e. messier. Jim is definitely willing to give this economic entree another try.

I’m also wondering about what add-ins I could use, like maybe rice and leftover pulled BBQ pork, or thinly-sliced steak, or marinated chicken.

I found this recipe somewhere on the web when I was looking for easy slow-cooker recipes. I like shrimp and I’ve been dying to try something called “creole” (whether or not it is strictly authentic; baby steps!).

Shrimp Creole
3 c. total of diced celery, chopped onion, and chopped bell pepper (in any proportion, I stuck as close to 1/3 as I could)
8 oz can plain tomato sauce
28 oz can whole (plum) tomatoes
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 tsp hot sauce
1-2 lbs raw shrimp cleaned and shelled

Everything in to the slow cooker except the shrimp. Cook 3-4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low. Add shrimp during the last half hour of cooking.

Because we were starting late in the day, we decided to do the 3-4 hours cooking on high. Most of the vegetables were still very crisp, which I think would have been solved by the lower, slower cooking time. It does have heat but not escalating heat — a steady heat, which is the type of heat I prefer. And the heat lingers in the mouth. I suppose you could adjust this by using a hotter hot sauce, or more hot sauce; I used regular Tabasco sauce, 2 teaspoons only, because we are not fans of really really hot spicy food. The shrimp cooked perfectly in the last half hour, and could have sat a bit longer, but they were plump and fresh. This is the first time I’ve ever used raw shrimp (I bought frozen, deveined, EZ-peel shrimp, and Jim did the peeling. Shrimp legs freak me out) and I am gratified by the results. It is a good change for us, dependent as we are on chicken and steak and hamburger for our proteins, and I’ve been wanting more seafood and fish but it’s so hard to know how to prepare it. We think this could be doubled in your standard slow cooker, but with less liquid; maybe leave out the 8 ounce can of plain tomato sauce, and keep a closer eye on your liquid levels throughout the cooking time? The amount of liquid did increase during cooking.

An easy, filling, one-pot meal. Well, plus the rice in the rice cooker. It earns a stamp of approval from us.

Braintree, MA

Green Bean Fries
California Turkey Burger
with sweet potato fries
Friday’s Cheeseburger
Wild Cherry Julep
bourbon, seltzer, mint leaves, and pomegranate juice over ice


A basic dinner after a full afternoon of craft shopping. Green bean fries are a must for us, and kept me, at least, from attacking something (or someone) in my advanced state of hunger.

Feeling particularly inimical toward Ben Franklin’s first choice for the national bird, Meghan ordered a turkey burger; not wanting to copycat but needing something weighty and meaty, I went with a basic cheeseburger. Meghan should have remembered to order hers without onions, but at least she remembered to substitute her regular fries for sweet potato fries, which I thought had a great texture and subtle-but-sweet flavor. Baked sweet potatoes are usually served with butter and cinnamon to play up the natural flavors, but sweet potato fries lack those two seasonings and therefore are well-suited to ketchup, surprisingly. The turkey burger is perhaps as excellent as the Abington Ale House turkey burger that I had back in May, so I’m excited to try it on our next trip (maybe).

Cheeseburger was well-cooked, had good texture, was cheesy but not too cheesy, and responded well to ketchup. My fries were not as good as Meghan’s sweet potato fries, so I am ranking TGIFriday’s fries in this order:

green bean fries
sweet potato fries
regular fries

If I could substitute green bean fries and their addicting cucumber wasabi Ranch dip for regular fries with a burger, it would be a meal made in heaven, but chances are they wouldn’t let me. Always, veggie-crisp on the inside with lightly-breaded crisp on the outside. Next, sweet potato fries, for their excellent texture and subtly different flavor. Lastly, regular ol’ fries, a comforting staple and more a vehicle for ketchup than strictly virtuous in their own right — which sometimes is just what I need, a vehicle for my condiment of choice. Sweet potato fries are more chosen for themselves in their own right, and don’t need ketchup or mayo or malt vinegar to give them character. Just like a baked sweet potato is heavenly in and of itself, but if you are looking for sour cream and chives, you’re better off with a classic Idaho or Maine spud. And red potatoes are best lightly dressed in as a side dish. Potato choice is all a product of the mood you’re in at the time.

The Wild Cherry Julep was an impulse, a photo of iced candy-pink happiness greeting us at the table. We both immediately gave in. A light dash of pomegranate really does have a cherry flavor, which threw me off. But it was refreshing and different, and next time I’ll go back to my usual Blue Moons.

We’re two points away from our first Give Me More Stripes reward. Should have ordered a second round of drinks!

My Goodness, my Guinness!

Guinness cupcakes, that is.

Though the recipe itself came from Big City, Little Kitchen, the original inspiration came from Nigella, when back in March she showcased her Chocolate Guinness Cake on her homepage. Meghan was going to make Guinness cupcakes for our Twilight on Blu-Ray debut party, but then BANSHEE went and sat on the cakes when her momma’s back was turned. So she wound up making so-called Edward Pie, but that’s getting me off track.











photo by Rachel

The recipe from Big City Little Kitchen makes an enormous batch. I think I could have gotten 24 full-size cupcakes out of it. As it was, I got 12 full-size cupcakes, had a ton of leftover batter, and decided to make mini Guinness cupcakes as an experiment. The mini cupcakes baked as much less time than the full-size cupcakes as it took me to fill about 16 of the wells in the mini cupcake pan. There was an equally ridiculous amount of frosting, but maybe if I had made 24 regular cupcakes, I wouldn’t have had so much leftover — a zip-top snack baggie full, now in my refrigerator door, and no idea what to do with it. Not that leftover icing is ever a bad thing!

Even Jim, who doesn’t like dark chocolate or Guinness, thinks these cupcakes aren’t that bad. A few mini Guinness cupcakes with coffee is rich and delicious, but not tooth-numbingly sweet, as a breakfast treat.











photo by Rachel

Says one commenter on Big City, Little Kitchen: “Try making these with Bailey’s liqueur-enhanced cream cheese icing and you’ve got a Irish Car Bomb cupcakes. Yummy!” I think that next time, that might be just what I do.

This is the original recipe for this potato salad: Creamy Potato Salad with Lemon and Fresh Herbs, Bon Appétit magazine, July 2007. Over two summers I have tweaked the recipe until it is perfect for us: little fuss, as few ingredients as possible to let the flavours of the dill and the rice wine vinegar and the texture of the potatoes really shine. An absolute hit at the family picnic every summer. I made it twice in two days this year since there was none leftover after lunch on the 4th.

Dill Potato Salad
3 lbs or so baby red potatoes
3-4 green onions (scallions), chopped, both whites and greens*
3/4 cup mayonnaise
grated zest of 1 lemon
rice wine vinegar
salt & pepper
fresh dill, chopped**

*I tend to be a little more generous with the green onions because I leave out the celery that the original recipe calls for.
**The original recipe calls for 1/4 cup parsley and 1/4 cup basil as well, but the one time I added all the herbs the recipe called for I felt more like I was eating an herb salad than a potato salad. Since then I have eliminated the parsley and basil and slightly increased the dill.

Boil all the potatoes, skin-on until fork-tender, then drain and leave to cool. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut into cubes (I eyeball it, but they’re about half-inch cubes). When there is one layer of potato in the bottom of the bowl you’re assembling the potato salad in, splash some rice vinegar over the layer and season with salt and pepper. After each layer, splash some vinegar down and season with salt and pepper, all the way to the topmost layer when you run out of potatoes (vinegar, salt & pepper that layer too). Toss in the chopped green onion, the grated zest, the mayonnaise, and the dill. Use as much dill as looks about proportional to the amount of potato salad, about 2 to 3 tablespoons more or less. I tend to be generous since I leave out the other herbs, but basically I just keep eyeballing it until the proportion of white to green looks about right.

The result is simple, with a bare few ingredients, with a “mouthwatering” flavor from the rice wine vinegar, lightness and slight crunchiness from the green onions, and as Jim says, “the fresh herbs really make it.”

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