Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s fall.  In Vancouver we’re still having warm days, but the rain is picking up, and the leaves are starting to come off the trees.  That means it’s time to switch from salads to comfort foods, and one of the things I miss most being vegetarian is a good shepherd’s pie.  It’s an easy thing to make, but getting enough protein can be difficult if you’re just using mixed veggies.  So I came up with the idea of replacing ground beef or lamb with brown lentils.  I think the brown ones hold up a bit better than green ones, and they retain a bit of bite, which I like.

lentils

I totally winged this one, and the result was nothing short of amazing…in my humble opinion.  Unfortunately it didn’t photograph well, but I find un-photogenic foods often taste the best.  I also haven’t fully raved about my new Kuhn Rikon pressure cooker on the blog yet, but let’s just say the mashed potatoes that have been coming out of my kitchen lately are some of the best ever.  I decided to pack even more veggies into my shepherd’s pie and threw in a parsnip for fun this time.

Anyways, let’s get straight to the good stuff cause I gotta get back to work.  Here’s my recipe for Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with Parsnip Kale Mash.

For the mash:

  • 3-4 big yukon gold or russet potatoes
  • 1 large parsnip
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, stemmed and chopped
  • 3 tbsp. butter (use less, use olive oil, whatever makes you happy here)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Make the mash however you usually do, the parsnips and potatoes take the same amount of time to cook and are happy to take a hot bath together.  Add in the butter, milk and kale when they’re done and whip them to perfection (if you were like me and had some leftover creme fraiche in your fridge you would also add that).  In my pressure cooker I did them on the second red ring for 6 minutes and used the natural release method (yes, I am aware there are funny jokes to be made about these instructions). Set them aside and keep warm.

For the base:

  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed, picked over and cooked until they are tender but retain some bite (about 15 minutes)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups chopped cremini or white button mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 3 cups vegetable stock or water

Saute the onion, celery, carrots and mushrooms over medium heat for 7-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and bay leaves and cook 2 more minutes.  Season with salt and pepper at this point, and add the tomato paste.  Cook out the tomato paste a bit until it’s bubbly, then add the wine and simmer it down to reduce slightly.  Add in the drained lentils and 2 cups of stock.  Simmer for 20 minutes, adding more stock if it dries out.  Continue cooking until lentils reach desired doneness.  Cooking times may very with green lentils as well.

Once everything is ready and seasoned to your liking (don’t forget to remove the bay leaves), put the base into a 9 x 11 glass casserole dish and top with mashed potatoes. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes and let stand another 10.  I drizzled a bit of white truffle oil on top, and you could also grate some Parmesan cheese.

You could make individual pies for a dinner party if you wanted…otherwise this casserole keeps really well in the fridge, and would also freeze well.

Bon Appetit!

NOLA Style Superbowl

I’ve never been to New Orleans, but it’s on the hit list for sure.  Crawfish, creole cooking and bourbon all sound pretty good to me.  So I’m preparing a feast, on what to me is one of the best days of the year, to honor the great host city of Superbowl 2013.

super bowl 2013 rotator

Let’s get it out of the way before we get to the really good stuff.  Sadly, because my New England Patriots and my second husband Tom Brady were brutally ousted by the stupid birds, and my other favourite team had a heartbreaking loss in the divisionals to Atlanta, I’m cheering for the 49ers today.  They’re a great West Coast team and their QB knows how to do it right, so I’m feeling pretty good about this whole thing.

And we all know that you need great food to go with a great game, so today I’m pulling out all the stops; and leaving all the calories in!  I was originally going to do something in honor of the teams (Maryland crab cakes etc.), and then I decided that I couldn’t pass up an excuse to go NOLA style.  It’s a joint effort today, my better half is quarterbacking the ribs and I’m pulling everything else together.

Yesterday I made homemade BBQ sauce, compliments of the new Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Foolproof.  I love the simplicity of Ina Garten’s food, and although I usually slim down her recipes this one didn’t appear to need any modification.  The end result was about 5 cups of the most delicious, vinegary, thick and rich BBQ sauce I’ve ever had.  I was ready to take a bath in it!  The main ingredient is not ketchup as one might think, rather it has Dijon, hoisin, tomato paste, honey, cider vinegar, Worcestershire and soy sauce to name a few.   It cost way more to make than buying it off the shelf, but it will last for a long time in the fridge.  So move over Sweet Baby Ray, my sauce is the boss!

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So with the ribs all rubbed down and doing their thing in the fridge for now, I spent the morning making the game-winning touchdown of the meal.  Sticky toffee bourbon cake (also from the Barefoot Contessa).  If that doesn’t scream NOLA I’m not sure what does.  I modified the recipe only slightly, to integrate some espresso.  BC doesn’t seem to like coffee flavoured things, but in my humble opinion you can’t make sticky toffee anything without a little kick of beans.  We have a few bourbons in the house at the moment, but I opted for Buffalo Trace.  Basically you make your cake, loaded with dates, and then as soon as you pull it out of the oven you poke holes all over it and smother it with a rich caramely bourbon sauce.  After it soaks in I’ll flip it and pour the rest on top.  So as you can imagine, my apartment smells pretty freaking fantastic right about now!

photo (5)

I figured we should get some veggies in with this amazing meal, so at half time (cause I actually care more about the game than Beyonce) I’ll be making sweet and spicy mashed yams (BC recipe), and a brussels sprout and kale slaw.

Can’t wait to get this party started!  Regardless of whether you’re watching the Harbowl or the Superbaugh let’s hope for a great game.  And if my team loses I’m expecting to see quite the victory dance from good old Ray Lewis so I guess either way I’m happy.

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Real Italian Ribollita

I tend to remember my travel experiences based on what I’ve eaten.  I could be somewhere totally amazing and have crap food and the place would be tainted for me. This also works the other way around, and so Tuscany remains on top of my list.  Not only because it’s amazing as it is, but also because one of the best meals I’ve ever had was enjoyed in the tiny picturesque village of Lecchi, on a candle lit terrace, with the man of my dreams (yes, George Clooney joined me for dinner!), on a warm September night.

We almost didn’t find Malborghetto after taking a couple of wrong turns on the way from our arguturismo in Pianella.  But thankfully we did, and my love for ribollita was born. Ribollita is a a typical Tuscan bread soup and can be vegetarian or include pancetta or other salumi type meat.  I like to think of it as something you make when you want to tidy up your fridge.   Our entire meal at Malborghetto was fantastic, from the ribollita, to the pear and peccorino ravioli I had, to the wild boar stew my husband got.  The chef, Simone, is a hoot, he wanders around to all the tables and chats with his guests.  He must have liked us because we received complimentary glasses of vin santo after our meal.  If you are ever anywhere near Siena, or even Florence, seek this place out, it’s truly amazing!

So I’ve wanted to make ribollita since we returned, and tonight the stars aligned.  I had some leftover kale and white beans from bruschetta I made on the weekend, and half a crusty dried out baguette.  These are staple ingredients in any ribollita.  But really, you can find just about any recipe and make it your own.  I like to cook based on tastes and ingredients I remember rather using a recipe for things like this, but if you haven’t tried the real deal in Italy yet here are some guidelines to help you along the way.

My Real Italian Ribollita

  • 1/2 recipe leftover cannellini beans with kale (from Epicurious) – I used canned beans instead of dried and skipped the whole soaking/adding water bit, I just added them to my kale once it was tender
  • 1-2 carrots, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 12 oz. can tomato puree
  • 1/2 T dried red chilli flakes (use more or less depending on how spicy you like things)
  • 1/2 c. diced pancetta or other salumi (obviously if meat isn’t your thing you can totally skip it without compromising the flavour of the dish)
  • about 4 c. of diced dried bread (baguette works well, leave on the crusts)
  • 2-3 c. chicken stock (depending on how thick you want it
  • 1/2 c. shredded parmesan or other Italian cheese (tonight I used asiago)

Saute your carrot and garlic in some olive oil for 6-7 min. until the carrot is tender, being careful not to burn the garlic.  Add your leftover kale and white beans (or, if you’re doing this from scratch, do the kale part first, and then go from the carrots forward in this recipe, adding the beans when you add your liquids), tomatos, chicken stock and chilli flakes. Simmer this for 10 min. or so.  In a separate saute pan fry up your meat until it’s a bit crisp on the edges, then put it on your soup with any oil from the pan. At this point you can check for seasoning, the meat will add natural salt so you probably don’t need to add much.  About 10 min. before you’re ready to eat add the bread and half the cheese and let it get all soggy.  The bread will drink up most of the liquid so if you want more of a soup you can add more stock.  Once you’re ready to serve it up do a final check and season with salt and pepper, top with the remaining cheese, and you could even throw some fresh basil or parsley on there too.  If you’re feeling really adventurous drizzle a little white truffle oil on top.

Ribollita is the perfect fall one pot meal.  It can be a first course, or a hearty main depending on what you include, and I suspect I will make my co-workers very envious tomorrow, because this is one of those things that I know will taste even better the next day! It’s comfort food on a rainy night, but it can also be fun and elegant in its own way at a dinner party.

So although I can’t pop into Malborghetto for a meal when I want to, the wonderful food there inspired me to follow my heart when it comes to cooking, and reminded me that you can make truly amazing food at home, without having a recipe in front of you.