Posted in Being Healthy, Children, Cooking

Rescue Meal–what to make when a friend is dealing with an emergency situation

This is in the freezes beautifully section of my cookbook, and I wanted to bring something that freezes beatuifully.   ~Annelle (Daryl Hannah) in Steel Magnolias

So I just signed up to make a meal for a friend dealing with a medical crisis with her daughter. Over the weekend, a high school classmate posted on FaceBook that one of her daughters had fallen out of her second-story bedroom window. After a terrifying trip to the ER, the family brought their daughter home, only to have to rush her back to the ER, suspicious of internal bleeding.

Luckily, a close friend of theirs has taken an active role in organizing dinners for the family, and I signed up for Tuesday. Here’s what I have to work with:

  • The dinner audience: tired, anxious, terrified mom and dad, older sister (10-ish) and younger sister (6-ish)
  • Food preferences according to the kids: peas, chicken, pasta are all things they like (separate of course :)), pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, salad, fruit salad, pancakes/eggs/bacon, hamburgers & fries, steak, porkchops.

So here’s what I’m thinking is a good meal to take over already cooked, still warm, and easily re-heatable (and still good):

  • Roasted Lemon and Garlic Chicken: whole split chicken with extra drumsticks, with lemon and garlic stuffed under the skin for roasting
  • Seasoned Bowtie Pasta: you don’t always have to put sauce on pasta; it’s really nice to enjoy it with some light seasoning like salt and pepper and herbs de provence with an olive oil drizzle. And I’ll include some mix-ins like a can of artichoke hearts, a jar of roasted red peppers, olives, and feta cheese, which would make a great lunch for the next day if there’s any leftover. And don’t be afraid to use gluten free pastas if someone in the family has an allergy.
  • Loaded mashed potatoes: who doesn’t like this…homemade mashed potatoes mixed with sour cream, cheddar cheese, and bacon
  • Seasonal fruit salad: since it’s still winter-ish, I’ll do a plum, nectarine, pineapple, banana and raisin salad with a cinnamon-date balsamic creme-lemon dressing (on the side in case the kids don’t like it)
  • Clemson Tiger Paw Sugar Cookies: my dessert specialty is sugar cookies, and I know this family is completely devoted to Clemson University (as are quite a few friends of mine)

And here’s what I think are the keys to preparing and taking a meal over for friend to enjoy at their leisure or in a stressful time:

    • choose meats that are easy to keep or make moist during reheating–for the chicken, cover it with a damp paper towel and microwave for 2 minutes (direct from fridge)
    • choose sides that are as good cold as they were warm–pasta salads, vegetable salads, fresh fruits–in case the family is just too tired to heat things up
    • put sauces and mix-ins “on the side”–for two reasons: 1) you never know just what someone else likes (unless you cook for them alot) and 2) it gives them options for sprucing up any leftovers
    • make enough servings for one night and maybe lunch the next day; avoid making “double” especially if you know someone is organizing meals for each night. The buildup of leftovers and dishes can be just as overwhelming as having to come home and cook for yourself
    • use disposable containers. Aluminum pans or the Glad bakeable plastic pans are great. I also save the very nice take-out containers that my grandmother’s resort kitchen uses, as they are great for single meals and lunch packs as well as for keeping hot and cold dishes separate but not bulky.
    • include reheating instructions, since you never know when they’ll get around to eating or will want to have leftovers for lunch the next day.
    • and finally, don’t forget dessert and some beverages. If they haven’t been home long enough to cook, then there’s probably not fresh iced tea made or even lemonade much less a quick bite of sweet.

Leftover Suggestion: cut up leftover chicken, artichokes, red peppers, olives, and feta into bowtie pasta for a fabulous pasta salad lunch to take with you on Wednesday.

Other Meal Ideas:

The Casserole–this is such a classic primarily because it uses just one dish (avoiding the bulk in the fridge) and can be frozen until a later time. Also, pretty much any standard meal can be “casserolized”:

    • Spaghetti, ziti, canneloni, lasagne
    • Any stirfry over rice
    • Jambalaya, Baked Shrimp/Chicken Creole
    • Shepherd’s Pie
    • Chicken Pot Pie
    • Mexican chicken/pork and rice (with salsa and queso)
    • Italian chicken/pork and rice (with marinara and parmesean)
    • Cuban chicken/pork and rice  (with black beans, corn, plantains, and sason seasoning)
    • Indian chicken/pork and rice  (with couscous, raisins, curry, and garam masala)
    • Hawaian chicken/pork and rice  (with some pineapple)

The Restaurant Gift Certificate–especially for a restaurant that has great curbside pick-up

The Holiday Meal–give them some real comfort food by making Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter dinner with classic trimmings

Soups and Stews–paired with a simple salad and bread, a soup or stew or chili is one of the simplest and most comforting meals folks can enjoy during a stressful time when they might not be very hungry but still needs nourishment; it is heated quickly, managed in one container in the fridge, and is easy to pair with a variety of sides.

Posted in Cooking

Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie

Naturally, my first dish is quite possibly my best, but definitely a favorite of all of the families I’ve ever cooked it for. Shepherd’s Pie, or cottage pie, is more truely a “technique” than a recipe.

So what’s the difference between a technique and a recipe? Well, it’s simple really: a technique is a way of putting types of ingredients together while a recipe is a very specific collection of ingredients that blend together to make a whole new substance and flavor. Hmmm, maybe this will work better: if you can still identify the ingredients separately, then you have just made a technique; when the finished dish resembles nothing like the individual ingredients, then you’ve just made a recipe.

So back to Shepherd’s Pie: leftover meat, vegetables, potatoes. Yup, that’s it. Literally. So how does this work? Tonight’s Shepherd’s Pie is very traditionally American in the meat and potato layers, but perhaps a bit different in the middle veggie layer.

See, just a drizzle of olive oil, not even coating the bottom of the pan.

So start with a sprinkling of olive oil in your hot hot pan and toss in one rather large onion, roughly diced. Of course, if you like a finer textuer, use a fine dice. Whatever. You might also use an earthily flavored oil (rosemary, garlic, sage) as well as shallots and/or garlic at this stage. (NOTE: if you use fresh garlic, wait til you are almost done cooking the onions so you don’t risk burning it).

What you want to do is carmelize the onions, or turn them brown; at least, that is my preference. Others may just sweat them until they are clear.

When you get the onions where you like them, crumble in 2 lbs of meat. Here’s where that technique thing comes in handy. Secret: it doesn’t matter what meat you use, whether it’s ground, shredded, chopped, fresh/raw, or leftover from last week, as long as you like it. In the US, ground meat (beef or lamb) is the most traditional.

Onions carmelized, meat browned, worchestershire sauce simmering nicely

Okay, so I tossed in 2 lbs of 12% lean ground beef, sprinkled that lightly with salt and liberally with pepper and thyme. Use a spoon and break it up, browning it completely and mixing it well with the onions as it cooks. When you’ve nearly got all the pink out of the pan, sprinkle in about a quarter to a half cup of worchestershire sauce (use this GF/CF/SF recipe). This will help to deglaze the carmelized onion bits and stuck on browned meat from the bottom of the pan. I like to let the whole mixture simmer in the sauce for about 5 minutes for that delicious sauce to get into all the meat and keep it moist.

Okay, the first layer is done and ready for the baking dish. Now, because two of my family hate vegetables and the other two love them, I make two 9×9 pans of pie. Only one will get the next layer of veggies.

How pretty is that! See how the cut sides of the brussels sprouts are all browned…perfect!

So, true to form, tonight I used some fresh veggies that are coming to the end of their shelf life in the veggie crisper: some brussels sprouts (aka baby cabbages) and baby carrots. Brussels sprouts are super easy to cook and come out tasting like sweet cabbages when cooked in the skillet. Just cut off the root end, peel off any yucky leaves, slice the whole little head in half and place in the skillet (yes, with a drizzle of olive oil) cut side down. And just leave them there, place each new one as you clean and cut it. Yes, I said it, just leave them sitting there, alone, untouched, unloved. Trust me, you won’t regret it. After you’ve cut up the carrots and thrown them in the pan, stir it all around a bit. Oh, yeah, don’t forget the salt and pepper…just a light sprinkle.

Okay, all done with that layer, so onto the meat it goes in the pan. Just the one pan, remember, for the veggie lovers.

All finished with three layers of yumminess and parsley on top!

The final layer is mashed potatoes. Well, tonight, I’m taking a page out of Sandra Lee’s semi-homemade book and using instant potatoes: Betty Crocker butter and chive instant potatoes, to be exact. Now since you are going to bake all of this when the layers are done, don’t even bother with boiling water, etc. Just mix hot tap water with the other ingredients and mix up the potatoes. Spoon them into the pan(s) and use your spoon to smooth them out into a nice layer.

Now mashed potatoes are the simple, American way to prepare this dish, but originally, it was made with thinly sliced or even shredded potatoes. I haven’t tried it, but I imagine some major goodness in doing a crispy hashbrown-ish top layer, frying up the tiny diced or shredded potatoes in a thin layer in the skillet and just sliding onto the top before baking. I think I would serve that with some sour cream and chives on the plate.

If you are a garnish kind of person, go to town. I’ve enjoyed a number of toppers including roasted garlic, various herbs (parsley, chive), different cheeses, but my favorite topper has always been horseradish chedder…mmmmmmmm.

Last step: shove the whole pan in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

All the yumminess oozing out of the pie!

Now see all that juicy, saucy yumminess just oozing out onto the plate. Imagine the full, rich flavor of the beef complimented by the tangy worchestershire sauce, the lightly sweet brussels sprouts and carrots (now that they are fully roasted), and the smooth, buttery potatoes. This supper is well-paired with a Guiness beer or a spicy Malbec wine.

Casserole Reminder: make ahead of time and freeze until you are ready for it. This is a casserole, people. And all casseroles can be made up in double batches so you can freeze one for a later date. Same amount of effort for double the reward!!!

Weight Watchers PointsPlus: this makes 8 servings with each serving being 7 points.

Ingredients List:

  • 1 very large onion
  • 2 lbs meat
  • fresh or frozen veggies of your choice (need 2-3 cups worth)–briefly sautee or microwave-steam fresh veggies, place frozen directly onto cooked meat
  • 4 cups mashed potatoes (that’s 8 half-cup servings)
  • seasonings and toppings of your choice