Recipe: Cottage Pie w/ Mushrooms

IMG_4278As much as I hate to admit it… winter is coming. Calgary is already getting snow, and while it’s still in the 80s in the Philadelphia area, there is a chill in the wind when it blows. I’m already dreading the cold, dark months to come, but I’m taking advantage of the cooler weather to cook some stick-to-your-ribs comfort food, like cottage pie! You may have heard of shepherd’s pie, but not cottage pie, because in the United States many places are serving cottage pie as shepherd’s pie. So what’s the difference? Traditional shepherd’s pie is made with lamb, while cottage pie is made with beef.

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Ingredients! Not shown: ground beef, potatoes, mushroom seasoning.

I’ve been reading a lot about umami lately since I’m writing an episode of my upcoming podcast about the Five Basic Tastes, and I wanted to utilize some of the knowledge I’d gained in my research. This recipe contains not just one, but FIVE sources of the revered umami: ground beef, cheddar cheese, Worcestershire sauce, mushrooms and tomato paste, which makes it intensely satisfying.

I’m pretty good at managing cooking a few different things at once, but for those of you who might not have the confidence to do so, I’m going to order this in a way that makes the most sense.

The very first thing you should do is peel and boil your potatoes until a knife stuck into the center of the largest potato slides out without catching. Drain them well, and mash with a potato masher. Add in the cheddar cheese and butter and mash through until smooth and the butter and cheese is well incorporated. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. In a large non-stick skillet, brown 1 lb of lean ground beef until no longer pink. Scrape the ground beef into a colander and rinse with hot water. Set aside. (You don’t have to drain or rinse the beef, but it will reduce the fat content of the dish.) In the same skillet with the residue from cooking the beef, add the onions, carrots,  garlic and mushrooms and cook over medium low heat until the vegetables have exuded all of their water and the carrots are tender. Add the tomato paste, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire, mushroom seasoning (I used this one) and black pepper and cook over low heat until the tomato paste has caramelized a bit, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Add in the frozen peas. Mix the corn starch into a cup of cool water, and pour it into the skillet, making sure to fully dissolve the bouillon cubes. Allow to thicken for a minute then stir in the ground beef. Mix thoroughly and turn off the heat.

Spread the filling evenly in a 9″ pie plate. Spread the mashed potato mixture evenly on top, smoothing it right to the edges. Once the top is smooth, use a fork to make ridges across the top. This will help with getting little brown bits on the top. Bake for 20-30 minutes.

I suggest you allow this to sit for 5-10 minutes before digging in, as it will be like molten lava at first! The filling is rich and savory, the mashed potatoes hearty and mildly cheesy, and this cottage pie will keep you full for hours! I hope you’ll give it a go.

Cottage Pie with Mushrooms

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Hearty filling loaded with umami flavor topped with browned cheesy potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 lb. peeled white potatoes (approx. 2 lbs before peeling)
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 c. chopped onions
  • 1 c. chopped carrots
  • 8 oz. crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp mushroom seasoning blend (I used this one)
  • 1 c. frozen peas
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Boil the potatoes until tender. Drain well and mash with butter and cheese. Set aside.
  3. Brown the ground beef in a non-stick skillet until no longer pink. Drain and rinse with hot water. Set aside
  4. In the same skillet, cook the carrots, onions, mushrooms and garlic until soft and all of the water has evaporated. Add in the tomato paste, bouillon cubes, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and mushroom seasoning and cook for 2-3 minutes until the tomato paste is caramelized slightly.
  5. Add in the frozen peas. Mix the cornstarch with the water and add to the pan, stirring until thickened. Add the ground beef back in and mix well. Remove from heat.
  6. Spread the meat mixture evenly in the bottom of a 9″ pie plate, then top with the mashed potatoes. Smooth the top of the mashed potatoes, bringing them all the way to the edge, then graze with a fork to create ridges.
  7. Bake for 20-30 minutes. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes then serve.

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Recipe: Eggplant “Chips” for Nachos

I love nachos. Who doesn’t? I’ve made various incarnations of nachos in the past: Greek Nachos (ground pork on top of pita chips with tzatziki and feta), shredded chicken nachos on baby bell peppers instead of tortilla chips, and the really delicious Buffalo Chicken Sweet Potato Nachos over on Recipe for History at Blazing Caribou Studios.

IMG_4066But recently I’d been seeing these gorgeous Sicilian eggplant at the Farmers’ Market right out front of my day job and I couldn’t pass up using such striking local produce in a delicious meal! It was a 90+ degree day but since I only had to set the oven to 250 degrees, it wasn’t so bad.

The first step was making eggplant “chips”. I cut off the stem end and sliced the tubby eggplants into 1/8th inch slices. The benefit of Sicilian eggplant is their shape: all the slices you make will be pretty close in size. You want the slices to be sturdy enough when cooked to withstand the hearty toppings but not so thick that they never quite turn into chips.

I sprayed two large baking racks with vegetable oil cooking spray and laid the slices out on top, spraying the tops of them with additional cooking spray. Then I set both racks in a 250 degree oven and waited. And waited. And waited. After 90 minutes I lowered the oven even further, to 170 degrees, and let them back another 30 minutes. What came out of that low and slow oven were sturdy eggplant chips with a slight bendiness: a bit like the texture of dried apples. Turns out it was the perfect platform for the heavy toppings that often accompany nachos. You will not pick these up, take a bit and have the chip disintegrate and lose your toppings all over your lap!

I topped mine with seasoned ground beef, shredded cheddar, black olives, pickled jalapenos, shredded lettuce and tomatoes. Each “chip” held up to being smothered in toppings but gave between the teeth without being tough. Will it replace crunchy pita or tortilla chips? Nah. But is eggplant a way healthier and low calorie substitute to grain based chips. They held up well to a couple of minutes in the broiler to melt the cheese without burning, too. I will definitely make these again!

Eggplant Chips

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Firm eggplant slices perfect for topping with nacho stuff!

Ingredients

  • 2 large Sicilian eggplants
  • vegetable oil spray
  • 2 cooling racks

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Slice the stem end off of each eggplant and slice into 1/8″ thick slices.
  3. Spray two large cooling racks with vegetable oil spray and place the eggplant slices in a single layer. Spray the slices with additional vegetable oil spray.
  4. Bake for 90 minutes, then lower the temperature to 170 and bake for an additional 30 minutes.
  5. Top with your favorite nacho toppings and enjoy!

Recipe: Breakfast Carrot Cake Squares (Gluten Free)

I have a bit of a love for cream cheese frosting. And carrots. And warm spices. I mean, cake in general is pretty amazing, but carrot cake has vegetables in it. Vegetables. It should, by all accounts, be healthy, right? Yeah, it’s totally not. But it can be! And then you can eat it for BREAKFAST! And they’re gluten free! And to make them easy to eat on the go, the cream cheese is now inside the bars!

This recipe has all of the important notes of carrot cake:

I switched out regular cream cheese for Neufchâtel cheese and used dried egg whites for fresh, because I had it on hand. If you don’t have dried, just use 3 fresh and cut back on the water a little bit. Also, I’ve been having a discussion about dates with a close friend and I realized this recipe would be amazing sweetened with chopped dates if you don’t like sucralose. I also used brown rice flour here, since I had some I wanted to use up. That makes this recipe gluten free, but if you don’t have brown rice flour, feel free to use whole wheat flour or oat flour.

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I peeled and grated carrots until I had 1 1/2 cups of shredded carrots. I used my hand grater, which, at the time, felt like way less work than dragging out my food processor and then cleaning it. I was being lazy.

Then it’s as simple as combining all the dry ingredients and adding water. I started off with a half cup of water but had to double it to get the right consistency, so it’s okay to tweak it a bit. It’s just water anyway. But you want the batter to be thick: it shouldn’t be pourable.

The next step is to sandwich the Neufchâtel cheese between two layers of carrot mixture, so I pressed half of the mixture into a baking dish prepared with cooking spray. Then gently add the remainder of the carrot mixture on top and pat down gently and evenly. It should look like this:

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Then pop that baby in the oven! Mine took 35 minutes at 350 degrees. It never browned on top, but the surface was dry and not “squishy” when I gently prodded it with a finger. The next step is the hardest part. Wait. I’m serious. WAIT. You want this to be totally cool before you even try to slice it. If you don’t, it will fall apart when you try to pick it up, and drop molten cream cheese on your lap. (Don’t ask how I know this.)

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Once it’s cool, you can slice it and enjoy! This is much more like a dense square than a cake, so it will keep you full for quite a while. I paired mine with a banana for a breakfast around 300 calories.

I think I’ll definitely make this again using dates as a sweetener, but it was super yummy! What do you think? Do you love carrot cake as much as I do? Let me know in the comments!

Breakfast Carrot Cake Squares

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: easy
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A slightly sweet, dense carrot cake sandwiched around cream cheese for a slightly tart, warmly spiced bite.

NUTRITION PER SERVING: 197.4 cals, 8.7g fat, 292.3mg sodium, 24.4g carbs, 6.7g protein.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 tbsp dried egg whites
  • – 1/4 cup sucralose
  • 1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
  • 1 cup water
  • 8 oz block Neufchâtel cheese, room temperature

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients thoroughly.
  3. Stir in the water until there are no dry pockets, then fold in the carrots.
  4. Press half of the carrot mixture into a loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray, pressing it into an even layer.
  5. Cut the Neufchâtel into 8 pieces and lay out in a grid on top of the bottom layer.
  6. Carefully spread the remaining carrot mixture on top of the Neufchâtel and press into an even layer.
  7. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes until the squares feel firm when pressed with a finger. Allow to cool completely before cutting into 8 squares.