Thursday, January 17, 2013

Cooking Lessons

Who knew I would be in my 60's before I realized I love to cook?

I blame the Food network - or should I credit them?  I think it is credit.  I have always been hesitant to try different things because .......  hmmm, I wonder why that was?  Fear of failure? never planning?  Ignorance? Limited time? Fear of not liking it?- probably all of the above.

I tend to be a rule follower.  So when faced with a recipe, I follow it to the letter.  At one point, even going so far as to put ingredients I didn't like (like cilantro -Blah!) into the recipe and expecting to like the finished product.  D'oh!  So recently, I had two recipe breakthroughs.  One was at Thanksgiving when I used a stuffing recipe for a starter but then changed it based on what I like and what I had available.  I got more compliments on the stuffing this year than I ever did on my usual recipe.  Unfortunately, I DIDN'T WRITE DOWN WHAT I DID!  So stupid!

My second recipe was Shepherd's Pie.  I tried to find a recipe that made sense, and that had ingredients that I remembered from my childhood.  I searched the Internet, all my cookbooks, talked to folks at church - no luck.  Then I stumbled on an Alton Brown recipe that seemed like I could change it to be even better than the meal I remembered.  It worked.  And I actually wrote down all the changes.  I made it again last night - and it was good!

Now the only problem is it makes enough for 6 people (maybe even 8) and it is so good, I have to portion it out before we eat it all!

Here is the recipe:

Shepherds Pie                                                                  

Preheat oven to 400° (If you have a glass dish, reduce the heat to 350 and add about 15 minutes)

Meat Ingredients:
2 T canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ lb hamburger (I used 80/20)
1 tsp Natures Seasonings
1 T Herb Ox Beef granules (Sodium free)
¼ cup flour
1 T tomato paste
1 to 2 Cups beef stock (I use Kitchen Basics)
2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp chopped thyme leaves
½ to 1 cup frozen corn
½ to 1 cup frozen peas

Potato Ingredients: (I cheat!)
2 - Bob Evans Original Mashed Potatoes, 24 oz - will need about 30-32 oz.
1 - egg yolk

Place the canola oil into a 12-inch saute pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the carrots and saute just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add the hamburger, seasoning and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute. (If the hamburger is either very lean or very fatty, you will need to add either more or less flour.  You want to absorb much of the fats with flour.  Add the tomato paste, 1 cup beef stock, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened.  You may need to add more beef stock to make a gravy like consistency.  Add the corn and peas (amount according to your taste) to the hamburger mixture.  Taste for spices and adjust if necessary. Spread evenly into an 11 by 7-inch glass baking dish.

Heat the potatoes in the microwave 3 minutes on high. (Vent as the directions suggest) Stir.  You want them warm and easy to handle.  Probably will need about ¼ - ½ of the second container.  Mix in the egg yolk.  Top the meat with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula.

Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Hope you love it too!

Saturday, January 12, 2013


We spent a small fortune in the last quarter of the year in order to participate in a weight loss program supervised by a doctor.  It touts rapid weight loss, which would probably work if you do exactly what you are told to do.
I guess I never was very good at following a dictator.  As soon as I am told I HAVE to do something in a certain way, I look for ways to do the same thing in MY way.  I am such a child.
We  attended a weekly class over an hour from home.  Every week, we had to purchase our weekly "prescription" of food.  And we had to report on our behavior the previous week. 
So what did I do?  Lied, lied and lied!  I wrote down what they wanted to hear.  I did about 75% of the right behavior and lied about the rest.  In the end I lost over 15 pounds including 3 inches off my waist!  In that same time period, some of our classmates lost 30-40 pounds.  To be fair, they were considerably heavier to start than we were.  But our biggest mistake was trying to do this from October through December.  Yeesh! 
The premise of the program is to eat at minimum,  a specific number of meals and nothing else.  They called it "out of the box" if you eat anything not purchased from them.  Much of the class time was spent brainstorming how to get through tricky times like Thanksgiving without eating anything out of the box.  Really?  We spent 30 minutes one night, helping one of the women with ideas how she could eat only the food from the diet when she was on a blind date that week.  Are you kidding me?
So I guess I was bound to be less successful than someone totally dedicated to the program.  I was never going to miss Thanksgiving which is probably my favorite meal of the year.  I was also not going to take my food to a restaurant and ask them to microwave it for me.  I will eat the meals most of the time now.  We have enough food to last about 3 months!  And I am peeling off about 1-2 pounds a week.  I can live with that.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sad Start to the Year

In the last week, I have found out that two former classmates died from cancer. 

Jim was in Lew's class and was one of his friends.  He had a business in the Poconos and several children and grandchildren.  He was 63.  And he died of colon cancer.

Leon (Lonnie to some) was the year behind me.  We dated for about 6 months of my senior year.  He was such a nice boy and had the best smile.  I can still see it.  He also had his own business, several children and grandchildren.  He was 61.  And he died of cancer. 

Tonight we learned devastatng news.  Our next door neighbor of 18 years, Scott,  has died from pancreatic cancer.  He has a wife, 5 children, and is only 50 years old.  We thought he had been lucky to have diagnosed his cancer in the very early stages.  Not so. 

These three fine men have succumbed to the ravages of cancer. Their battle is over and they have gone to their heavenly reward. Yet it hurts my heart to think of the fun and funny men that no longer grace this world.  I cannot stop thinking of Scott's family.  His oldest daughter married about 18 months ago.  Hers is the only wedding he will attend.  He will not know any grandchildren.  They will not grow old together.  His youngest, a son, is only in middle school.  I am so very sad for them. 

So I will cook them a meal, offer condolences and offer up prayers for their peace and strength.  God bless them especially in the days to come. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Pop Pop Mutiny

For Christmas, Bill - also known as Pop-pop - wrote a book for Nathan.  Bill has dreamed of reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson to him.  They often talk about pirates and treasure hunting, so at Halloween, they both dressed up as pirates and we took tons of pictures. Then when we were on vacation, we took lots of photos of pirate ships and other pirate items that he could use in developing pictures for the story.

Captain Nathan fighting Seaman Pop-pop

When we got home, Bill sat down to write the story.  He spent quite a lot of hours creating the final photos, that include Nathan and Bill fighting with swords on a ship!  Vicki and I edited it and when completed, became the cutest personal storybook ever. 

On Christmas morning, we gave him the book and read it to him.  That afternoon, Grandpa Joe read the story to him.The next day his Dad read the story to him.  Then Nathan decided - Dad, tell Pop-pop to get more books.  I'll take them to the library and sell them to my friends.

Now Nathan is working on another story that he a Pop-pop can do together.  I think it has something to do with rescuing a princess from a dragon.

The Johnson entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in that little guy!