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I Smell Like a Man Today

10 Feb

Before I explain, I must first ask: any Grey’s Anatomy fans out there? 

So I’m sitting here listening to my Pandora’s Norah Jones station, with a bit of writers block as to what I can write.  Not what to write (since the last month has surely brought about many normal wavelength peak and trough events, and many good meals), but what I can write without getting myself in a whole taco-added-combo-pack of trouble.  This is the World Wide Web, after all. 

Then, Anna Nalick’s song, “Breathe” came on the virtual radio.  Remember that Grey’s scene– where Meredith has her hand inside a body cavity with a living bomb and it’s literally in her hands to lift it out and give it to the bomb squad?  (Trust me, it was a good one!)  Well, surprisingly enough, the only person who dies is the mean bomb squad guy, and the episode ends with Meredith and McDreamy recounting their last kiss, and the lavender smell of her hair.  It was adequately mundane following a nail-biting brouhaha. 

I’m about at the stage of taking the time to remember the lavender smell, after the craziness. To trace the pattern in a doily after coffee has spilled on it.  To close my eyes and watch the sparkly pattern of excess light make strange shapes on my eyelids.  Too artsy-fartsy?  Ok, then just to breathe. 

My dad has this un-comeback-able phrase that he utters whenever my sister or I belly-ache about working life: “You know, they don’t call it work for nothing!” and he’s right.  Work is work. Although, I’d like to add that work is not as bad work with an IV drip of espresso (yes, my doctor-ordered-to-quit habit is back. Like a good caffeine addict I have many justifications and blames: I’m tired, I focus better with it, it’s my ADHD drug, the rain made me do it).  Meanwhile, even though every night our little Siglet still happily tries so hard to climb onto the coffee table to drink our wine, he is costing us hundreds of dollars in vet bills, and nonmonetary amounts of worry at the moment.  (Maybe because he keeps trying to drink our wine??)  Finally, as nothing is as sure as death and taxes, Rob and I have been getting all the loose ends tied up for his deployment, including our taxes.  For his 6-week deployment, Rob will be on a big-ol’ boat that will spend some time in Australia.  Come to think of it, the Vegas-Australian Thunder from Down Under show will be at our little Coos Bay casino during the time he is gone – since he’ll be in Aussie country, I think it’s only fitting that I attend. 🙂  

With an effort to create a better balancing act, I have been trying to take some time to just breathe a bit. But in my just-breathing, the provisions that every household needs have either 1) caused me to go to Walmart at an ungodly time wearing a winter coat and Ugg boots over sweatpants hoping no former students, nor parents, nor co-workers, nor anyone with eyes, will see me, OR 2) forgotten about all together.  For example: we have no eggs, and haven’t for days (this is a big deal considering we go through about two dozen a week).  I did the oh-so-frowned-upon-request of asking Rob to pick up girly firming lotion on his way home yesterday.  And finally, I went to get dressed today and remembered I have no deodorant.  Not even the half-used little travel sized that gets stuffed in the back of the cabinet.

Now I know we live on the Oregon Coast and all, but I don’t think I could take my natural ways that far. So, in our haste of life, combined with the effort to reduce the haste of life, the result is that I smell like a man today – Old Spice, “Swagger” to be exact.

So what does this call for?  More coffee – absolutely.  But something we can all enjoy?  A recipe!  Last week, Rob and I took some time to try and slow down a bit an enjoy one of his favorite meals: Shepherd’s Pie. 

Lift your chin off the table – I know I don’t tend to cook many meat-and-potatoes meals.  There was no quinoa, there was no soy, and there were definitely more than just a few ingredients.  But the result was absolutely amazing.  I even had seconds. 

While our first choice was to use ground lamb, it was unavailable at our butcher, so we went with the next best thing (in Rob’s eyes), ground beef.  Actually, he did a great job finding a 90-10 organic local Oregon brand, which made me feel a bit better about scarfing down the beef.  It happened to be a cold and rainy night (imagine!), so the meal hit even another nerve of comfort.  I used a version of my mother-in-law’s recipe for mashed potatoes, and baked that pot of tasty meat and carbs until it was thick, rich, and browned. 

During the meal, Rob recalled his days at the academy when he would eat multiple plate-fulls of Shepherd’s Pie, and I made a playful-squeamish face while piling that second helping onto my own plate. We just-breathed, and just-ate, and just-had-a-good-time.  That is until Sig tried to jump up on the table again and drink our wine.

Ladies, make this for your men (just make sure you smell like a girl when you do)!

Shepherd’s Pie 

  • 1 lb. organic ground beef (or lamb)
  • 2 strips applewood smoked bacon, diced
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 c frozen peas
  • 1 large tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 ¼ c chicken stock
  • 1 tsp minced thyme
  • 1-2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, chopped (skins on), and boiled until fork tender
  • 2 tbsp mascarpone cheese
  • ¾ c skim milk
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter, plus 1 tsp more for topping. 
  • ¼ tsp hot paprika
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

First, make the mashed potatoes: using a hand-mixer, beat the cooked potatoes, mascarpone cheese, milk, and butter together until desired creaminess (I prefer a bit more lumpy mashed potatoes, for texture).  Season with paprika, s&p to taste.  Set aside. 

Then, in a small (2 qt) dutch oven or pot, brown the bacon until crispy over medium/high heat.  Remove from pot, and place on paper towel.  Sauté the onions in the bacon fat until they start to soften.  Lightly season.  Add the carrots, sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the garlic.  Lightly season.  Sauté until the garlic just starts to become fragrant.  Add in the peas, and the ground meat.  Lightly start to brown the meat in the pot (it doesn’t have to be completely browned because it will finish cooking in the oven).  Finally, add in the thyme, the cooked bacon, the tomato paste, and chicken stock.  At this point, taste the mixture for seasoning – will probably need s, and especially p.

Top the pot with the mashed potatoes.  Try to make it fairly even, but it doesn’t have to be smooth (actually, having peaks and valleys of potatoes browns beautifully in the oven).  Dab the last tsp of butter in pieces on the top of the potatoes.

Place pot on a sheet tray (some liquid may boil over) in the oven.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes, until top is golden and crisp.

Let set and cool for a few minutes before serving.  The liquid cooks down and becomes a lovely gravy for the meal… try to get a bite of everything on one fork!

Enjoy!


Mom Would Be Proud

14 Nov

It is Sunday… such a wonderful day.  Football, food, football, and relaxing.  After all, this is the day of rest, right?

This week – Monday through Wednesday – was a tough one consisting of parent conferences and drama at the Air Station.  But, come Veterans Day last Thursday, Rob and I were all about enjoying life and our time together.

We started off Thursday with a fabulous hike – the sun was out and the 5 miles through the coastal forest did us well.  Our wildlife update consisted of albino seals, many, many banana slugs, and the Super Mario Bros Mushrooms! Afterwards, we went to a great little bakery for lunch and discovered cookies that severely ruined my calorie count.  Seriously, they were only second to Disneyland’s.  Having another Coastie friend over, we finished the night with great Turkey Ranch and Swiss Burgers… yum!

Friday, Rob had to go to work for a bit, but we still had a relaxing afternoon and continued our Friday tradition of wine and bread tasting at the Empire Cafe.  One of the greatest finds in Coos Bay – where else can you buy a fantastic bottle of wine and a garlic, parmesan, balsamic and oil dip with fresh focaccia bread for under 20 bucks?

Saturday started off the day with a sweet nuts and berries acorn squash breakfast (I highly recommend this veggie for breakfast), and a trip to Eugene.  I was feeling festive and the need to decorate our house in the festive holiday decor, so Potterybarn (and our last wedding gift card) came in fantastically handy.  This year, I am also cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time and am quite nervous about it.  So, I’m already stocking up on the necessities that will keep for the next week and a half: olives (both green with pimentos, and black), mandarin oranges, turkey stock, and honey crisp apples.  Thanksgiving has always been one of the biggest holidays in my household, with mom cooking from the start of the Macy’s Day Parade to the “Fa Ra Ra Ra Ras” of the first seasonal showing of “A Christmas Story.”  And this year my parents are coming to visit Rob and me – and getting in just in time for dinner.  I’m uber excited, but also slightly nervous about my Turkey Day dinner debut.  I’m praying I don’t over/under cook the turkey, and can even slightly live up to the festive day my mom has always prepared for us.  So, yesterday’s Eugene shopping trip definitely put me in the mood.

Today, Sunday, was the designated day of rest, relaxation and food.  We started out our day with a perfectly in-season Ruby Red grapefruit with toast smothered with natural peanut butter and honey.  Oregon does not produce much citrus due to the weather, but most is shipped in from California.  Being one who really tries to pay attention to where my food comes from (I will never buy strawberries in the wintertime!), and stay as local as possible, I try to stay true to the season, but also as close to Oregon as possible.  That being said, Oregon produces a LOT of squash, and root vegetables.  We have so many beautiful carrots, parsnips, onions, and of course, potatoes, from our farm basket that I have been racking my mind with what to do with them.  Thank goodness for the cold, rainy day, because tonight’s idea for dinner came to me in a “duh” moment: Beef Stew.  The only ingredient I needed to pick up was the beef!

This beef stew, though delicious, is a smidge different than your familiar beef stew.  Many of you from English decent may be upset with my preparation, but I ask you to 1) forgive me, and 2) give it a try.  For this meal you will need to channel your inner Scandinavian (think Ikea, light wood modern furniture, and Temmu Selanne), because it’s taste of sweet, savoy, spicy, and freshly herby, will leave you feeling incredibly satiated by the hearty meal.  You’ll be ready to go play hockey like the best of them.

Sweet?  Sweet stew?  Well, no.  You will not be running to your dentist after eating the stew.  Beef and sweet together don’t sound all that appealing to me either, unless it is an Asian-inspired sweet and sour marinade, or a very NorCal sweet and tart blackberry-balsamic reduction.  This is a very autumnal sweet incorporating the natural sugars of the carrots and the squash against the solid foundation of rosemary and sage, with the hint of cayenne and nutmeg for spice.  Unlike most traditional beef stews, I used chicken stock (rather than beef stock) to soften the flavors that are going on in the stew, and make the sauce a bit lighter.  Again, storming the norm.

After a mouth-watering, stomach-growling couple hours of stewing on the stove (I’m not good at waiting, and mom would be proud of me for doing so!) pouring the stew atop a creamy, steamy pile of smashed red potatoes warmed our stomaches through our eyes.  And for you, if it doesn’t live up to the hype (that only Rob and I can give you at the moment), then, well, move on to the dessert.

Our after-dinner treat was another experiment in favor balancing and taste.  I’ve tried it quite a few times, perfecting the flavor and desired outcome.  For most of you who know me well, know that I am not a huge fan of super-sweet things.  Chocolate, I can only handle it in small bites.  Ice cream?  Only if it has nuts or fruit.  But give me an over-ripe piece of fruit, sweetened and spiced up with special ingredients, and I’m all for the cavities.

So the classic combination of proscuitto and cantaloupe is a classic, emphasizing the saltiness of the meat, the sweetness of the fruit, and the creaminess of both.  It is very Tuscan, and usually served as an appetizer, but I took those flavors and decided to turn up the heat a little bit.  I sliced the cantaloupe into thin slices, sprinkled them with freshly cracked black pepper, drizzled tempered chocolate over the fruit, and topped it with a few flakes of high quality sea salt.  Talk about the sweet and salty combination – this will blow Honey Nut Chex Mix out of the water!!

As we have been enjoying our night (especially Rob since the Patriots are playing – and winning) we are leaving the dishes to clean later, and savoring the lingering moment of our long weekend.  Our next days ahead will consist of computers, lesson plans, helicopters, children, and rescuing people in distress.  But at least we will both have amazing left-overs at lunch to remind us of the finale of our great weekend together.


Autumn Beef Stew (serves 6-8)

  • 2-3 lbs. beef stew beef (mixture of cuts of chuck, shoulder, and sometimes brisket), patted dry and generously seasoned with s&p
  • 2  c carrots, sliced on the bias
  • 1 1/2 c parsnips, sliced on the bias
  • 1 c winter squash, diced
  • 2 c yellow onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 pint (usually a carton) crimini mushrooms, wiped and sliced
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 1/2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1/3 c full bodied red wine (cabernet works well)
  • 2 large tsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg 
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 4 med-large red potatoes, diced
  • 2 tsp Marscapone cheese
  • 1/4 c half-and-half
  • 1 tbsp chopped chives
  • s&p

In a large pot, heat olive oil over high heat.  Add meat (possibly 2-3 batches at a time) to brown on all sides, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from pan, and set aside.  Add 2 tbsp of butter to the pot, add onions, s&p and saute.  Once translucent, add mushrooms, a pinch of salt, and sautee.  Once soft, add garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add red wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan, and reduce wine until almost no liquid is left in pan, about 5 minutes.  Add carrots, parsnips, squash, cayenne, nutmeg, and tomato paste, and stir to combine.  Cook for about a minute (vegetables will start to steam), and then add the meat (including any juices that collected on the plate), bay leaf, fresh herbs, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, and then turn heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, taste for seasoning and texture (carrots/parsnips should be soft on outside but still have a bite on the inside, and beef should be tender).  In a separate bowl, combine the remaining 2 tbsp of butter, and flour, mixing with a fork (this is called a beurre manie and is classically used to thicken sauces, stews, and gravies), and add to the stew, stirring until incorporated.  Replace lid, and continue to simmer until potatoes are finished, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the chopped potatoes to a pot of cold water.  Bring the potatoes to a boil, and boil until more than one piece is fork tender (about 10 minutes).  Drain in colander, and return potatoes to cooking pot.  Add Marcapone cheese, half-and-half, a large pinch of s&p, and chives, and smash potatoes with a large fork (I do this to keep the potatoes more rustic and lumpy.  If you like smooth potatoes, use a masher, or hand-blender to mix).  Taste for seasoning and texture.

Spoon potatoes into the middle of a large serving bowl (like a pasta bowl), and ladle stew on top of potatoes.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy!


Sweet and Salty Chocolate Cantaloupe (serves 2)

  • 1/2 a cantaloupe, cut into thin slices.
  • 2 oz good quality dark chocolate
  • 5-7 cracks black pepper
  • 1-2 pinches fancy sea salt
  • Sprig of mint, to garnish – optional

Spread the cantaloupe slices on a plate in decorative fashion.  Crack pepper on top of fruit.

To temper chocolate, place 1 tsp of chocolate in microwave-safe bowl, and heat on high for 30 seconds.  Stir, and repeat until just melted.  Then add the rest of the chocolate, and stir vigorously until melted, smooth, and shiny.  While still warm, drizzle chocolate over cantaloupe, and then top with a light sprinkling of sea salt.  Note: the chocolate will harden slightly when it hits the cooler temperature cantaloupe.

Serve with coffee or a yummy cuppa tea!  Enjoy!

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