Shepherd’s Pie

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Got off to a late start with St. Patrick’s Day dinner this year, but I promised to make Shepherd’s Pie for the husband. And so I did last night with Alton Brown’s recipe. My second attempt at this Irish dish proved that a Chinese girl can make a kick-arse Shepherd’s Pie.

No can opener on hand meant no tomato paste and more red wine (for both me and the ground beef mixture). I just poured a little red wine at a time until the meat mixture tasted good. I also omitted corn and Worcestershire sauce because, well, I didn’t want corn in my meat pie, and only needed one teaspoon of Worcestershire so I wasn’t ready to fork over money for the Lea & Perrins. For the mashed potatoes, I used milk instead of the recommended half-and-half, and added sharp cheddar cheese to the mix.

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Into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 400 deg F, so that the mashed potato topping can brown a bit, et voilà! Delicious Shepherd’s Pie!Image

 

Quickie slow cooker chicken – the best slow cooker meal I’ve ever cooked

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Before and After

It’s probably an oxymoron to say “quickie slow cooker” anything, but when you look into the refrigerator for inspiration–rather than a recipe–it’s definitely quicker than going to the grocery mart, finding the right herbs, and culling together proper vegetables.

Alora… with a pound of chicken breast, I rummage through my refrigerator for an easy marinade. Ah, the champagne vinaigrette dressing from Trader Joe’s works nicely. Of course, onions go with everything in my dinners so I always have a handy bag of onions lying around. I cut up one onion into cubes and place them into the slow cooker, lining the bottom as a base. Then I put the marinated chicken breast right on top of the onions. Now, I needed something else. What other vegetables do I have? Well, I see two slightly disheveled sweet potatoes lying in my crisper. I say “disheveled” because they’ve been sitting in there for close to two weeks. Not a problem. I lop off the strange white parts that are teetering toward the moldy stage. Then I cut up the sweet potatoes into discs, 1/2- to 1-inch discs. Then I throw all of the sweet potato discs on top of the chicken.

However, something’s not right. I feel there is something still missing. I could pour a half-bottle of red wine on top so that the chicken can soak in wine while cooking, or I could use chicken broth. Unfortunately, I don’t have chicken broth in the pantry today. But wait a second! I have butternut squash soup from Trader Joe’s. I proceed to douse the sweet potatoes with TJ’s creamy butternut squash soup. Add some ground pepper from the pepper mill, add a few dashes of salt, and cover the slow cooker. Set it for a 6-hour cooking time, and voila! I walk away (or actually, go for a walk outside in the 68-degree winter wonderland of Southern California). I suggest checking on the slow cooker progress at the four-hour mark, as the chicken will likely be ready.

Incidentally, I’ve tried many times to use my slow cooker and was never really satisfied with the dinners that emerged from it. I thought that I simply wasn’t cut out to cook in this fashion, that I needed searing heat for something quick and delicious. I’m glad I gave the slow cooker one more chance.

Ingredients

  • 1 or more pounds of chicken breast
  • Champagne Vinaigrette Dressing (mine was from Trader Joe’s)
  • Organic Butternut Squash Soup (again, mine was from TJ’s)
  • 2 sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2- to 1-inch discs
  • 1 onion, cut into cubes (quarter it first, then halve the quarters)
  • Salt and pepper

Instructions

  • Marinate the chicken by covering it on both sides with the champagne vinaigrette dressing.
  • Place the onions on the bottom of the slow cooker.
  • Add the chicken so that it sits on top of the onions.
  • Add the sweet potato discs on top of and all around the chicken.
  • Douse the sweet potato discs with butternut squash soup. I used ~1/4 of the box.
  • Add generous dashes of pepper.
  • Add just a few dashes of salt.
  • Cover and set the cooking time for 6 hours.
  • Check the chicken at the 4-hour mark. It will likely be done.

 

Doctor Who Brunch

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who with a special themed brunch on Saturday! If you haven’t caught up on all the episodes before the event, that’s quite alright. You can just have a sonic screwdriver on Saturday, and watch the Doctor and his companion with the rest of us Whovians. In any case, The Day of the Doctor is sure to please old and new fans alike. There is rumor that maybe even Tom Baker will make an appearance. David Tennant will return as the Tenth Doctor, and can I just say how excited I am to see Tennant and Smith trying to out-fun one another? It’s sure to be a ball. Here’s what I’ve got on the menu.

  • Sonic screwdrivers
  • TARDIS Blueberry pancakes
  • Scrambled eggs w green onions — does anyone have a good name for this?
  • Bow-tie pasta salad
  • Dalek cupcakes

Of course, this means I need to figure out how to properly make cupcakes shaped like Daleks, a challenge I will take up. I’ve looked online for help, and there are a lot of cupcakes out there, that’s for sure. But to create a Dalek cupcake that looks like a Dalek and tastes like a Crumbs cupcake, well, that’s another story altogether. Most of the ones I’ve seen online look like Pinterest fails, unfortunately. But there are certainly inspirational ones.

I’m going to attempt a vanilla bean cupcake with chocolate ganache. With additions of a marshmallow (for its head) and pocky for its eye stalk, sucker arm (plunger thingy), and gun (curling iron thingy), I think I’ll have a mighty fine-looking Dalek cupcake. My inspiration from BBC America:

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Pot Roast, slow cooker-style

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I decided it’s time for me to eat better, meaning eat less bread, rice, pasta, chips, and chocolate. In fact, I’m going cold turkey on my three favorite foods–you guessed them–bread, rice and pasta. Hence, I’m kind of, sort of (with one foot in and dragging the other one kicking and screaming) doing the Paleo diet. I did a bunch of research online, and some folks say you can still eat hard cheeses and drink wine. Which is great news because I love having wine with dinner and eating good cheese when I can. So, after having brussel sprouts for the better part of the week, I’m now slow cooking pot roast. Mind you, I like brussel sprouts, and enjoy eating them stir-fried on a skillet with olive oil, dashes of garlic powder, black pepper, red chili flakes, sea salt, and a few squeezes of lemon or lime… but I miss having a good piece of protein.

I’m a big fan of The Pioneer Woman when it comes to beef. I’m sure living in Montana and being married to a cowboy doesn’t hurt. Ree Drummond (the PW) just understands how to coax succulent flavor out of beef. I used her Perfect Pot Roast recipe and, rather than purchasing beef broth, I made my own vegetable stock. Then I put everything in a slow cooker (a.k.a. crock pot) and set it for a 10-hour cooking time. My place smells incredible right now (yes, it’s still cooking at midnight). Tomorrow, I will feast on my roast beast.

Vegetable Stock, ingredients:

  • 1 carrot, chopped into 1/2-inch or less slices
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped into 1/4-inch slices or so
  • 1 clove of garlic, diced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 4 cups of water

Steps:

  • On medium heat, place 2 slugs of olive oil into a stock pot or large saucepan (count 1, 2, and you’re done).
  • Add garlic and stir until slightly golden. NOTE: Do not leave the garlic; it can burn very quickly.
  • Add onions. Stir the mixture until the onions soften and looks slightly transparent.
  • Add celery. Stir mixture for about 3-4 minutes.
  • Add a few dashes of black pepper.
  • Stir the vegetable mixture around, perhaps 2 more minutes.
  • Add water and bring mixture to a boil.
  • Lower the temperature and simmer on low.
  • Add 1 tsp of kosher salt.
  • Simmer 30-40 minutes on low.
  • When done, remove vegetables with a strainer — pour the stock, one ladle-full at a time, through the strainer.

Pot Roast, ingredients:

  • 2 lb London Broil (this is what I had on hand, though the Pioneer Woman recommends a 4-5 lb Chuck Roast) [Edit: You'll want to follow PW's advice. Trust me, get the Chuck Roast.]
  • 3-4 cups of Vegetable stock (above recipe)
  • 2 whole onions, halved
  • 6 whole carrots, cut into 1-inch slices
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (I highly recommend using fresh herbs, not dried. Makes all the difference in the world.)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 cup of red wine

Steps:

Follow The Pioneer Woman’s Perfect Pot Roast recipe with the following changes:

  • After deglazing the dutch oven, add the vegetable stock to the wine and stir.
  • Line the bottom of the slow cooker with half of the carrots and onions.
  • Add the meat to the slow cooker, making sure it rests on top of your foundation of carrots and onions.
  • Add the rest of the vegetables on top of the meat.
  • Now pour the wine/vegetable stock mixture into the slow cooker until it covers most of the meat (like my photograph above).
  • Add the rosemary and thyme (spread them out, but make sure a few of the herbs touch the meat and are as submerged as possible).
  • Set the cooking time for 10 hours.
  • Walk away and have a glass of wine. Or in my case, have some vegetable stock for dinner since it was 10 o’clock at night by the time I finished.

An Italian Piazza of my very own

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Spaghetti alle vongole for my birthday Italian Piazza

Spaghetti alle vongole for my birthday Italian Piazza

It’s been a little over a month since my birthday, but I wanted to share some pictures from the day. I was missing Europe and all its delicious food and atmosphere. So I told my husband I wanted an Italian dinner complete with fairy lights, a sit-down dinner with friends, and an endless flow of vino. Basically I wanted my very own Italian piazza.

The inspiration for the birthday dinner was from my last night in Vienna when I celebrated a friend’s birthday with spaghetti alle vongole, good bread, friends around the table, and lots of wine. So I wanted the same thing for my birthday. I’m so fortunate that my husband likes to throw gatherings and that I have great culinary friends.

The first thing I did in the morning was to get some live little neck clams at the fish market. Fortunately, we live near the ocean! Santa Barbara Fish Market hooked me up with fresh, fresh clams. I ended up buying a Santa’s sack of clams for a dinner for 18. I keep forgetting how difficult it is to cook dinner for over four people…

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But I love gathering my friends together to eat great food. The menu…

Appetizer: brie, fig spread, and apple bruschetta — from Food 52′s recipe.

Salad: caprese salad

Starter/Side: Risotto Milanese (saffron risotto with shrimp) — my talented friend Alisa modified the recipe from epicurious with bone marrow stock.

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Dinner: spaghetti alle vongole (à la Jamie Oliver) with lemon zest

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Dessert: tiramisu from my one true Italian friend, who said this was the first time she made tiramisu outside of Italy.

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Bellissima!

Photos by Tere.

Don’t forget about the art…part II

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Art and food à la Kunstkammer. Here I was at the Munich Residenz, looking at so many dishes. And it’s not an optical illusion or a mirror trick. There really are numerous golden dishes and buffet servers lined up in rows.

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No surprise because in the next room, rows upon rows of silver dishes sit, waiting to be used. What fabulous dinner parties the Wittelsbachs (the Bavarian dukes and family dynasty who owned the Munich Residenz) must have thrown.

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Food, glorious food, like that found in Dutch still-life paintings come close to the beauty of the tangible, aromatic fruits and breads I ate in Europe. Perhaps there is something to the idea that a painting or a picture can evoke the taste and memories of happy days.

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My Parisian salad of tart currants and sweet figs with a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I didn’t get to catch any eggs (a detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1567 Land of Cockaigne)…

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…but I did taste some wonderful crispy duck and potato dumpling in Munich, while drinking the tiniest beer.

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IMG_6694In Vienna, gold and salt go together well, as seen by Cellini’s Saliera (salt cellar) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. But it seems that gold goes well with anything…

Nikolaus Schmidt, Ornamental Basin with Ewer, ca. 1592

Nikolaus Schmidt, Ornamental Basin with Ewer, ca. 1592

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Back to the restaurant motif… note the bottles of herbs and vegetables (at least that’s what they look like) on the top shelf of the bar.IMG_7596 IMG_7604

Viennese desserts…IMG_7835

Some sort of yogurt raspberry cake at Café Central, a beautiful coffee house.IMG_7840

My favorite corner in Vienna, the Film Museum‘s cafe next to the Albertina.IMG_8117

At Neni restaurant at the Naschmarkt in Vienna, where I had my first taste of the seasonal Austrian drink Sturm. I was warned more than once to not drink too much of it for a headache would ensue the next morning. The Sturm here was crisp, fruity and chilled. Delicious.IMG_8146

Sitting down to Viennese Wienerschnitzel at Figlmüller, one of the best Wienerschnitzel restaurants in town. I, the “tourist” hosted my friends, the locals, as this restaurant is advertised mainly to tourists, though my friend who is Viennese liked it well enough.IMG_8310

And now for more dessert…IMG_8317

In Vienna, of course, one must have sachertorte and coffee at a coffee house. I did this, but honestly, I’m happy with my macchiato at a more casual place. Have you seen this much foam in an espresso macchiato? I haven’t. This was my kind of coffee shop. I’m in foam heaven at the kantine in the Museum Quarter. IMG_8516

And finally, I left Vienna for Munich to fly home. On my way to the airport, I happen by a pretzel stand at the Munich Hauptbahnhof. I had my luggage and probably didn’t have much time or room for more stuff, but now I realize that I should’ve bought all the pretzels I could stuff into my bag. These golden creations were pretty incredible. Again, München Brezeln (German for “pretzels”) impress me so much with how perfectly soft they are on the inside with a slight crunch on the outside. IMG_8651My fever for the treats have gotten so bad that I’ve started researching Bavarian pretzel recipes. I miss my daily pretzel pausa. And my daily espresso macchiato. And my daily 0.5 L glass of beer. With dessert, of course.

Don’t forget about the art…part I

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Without much internet access last week while I was visiting Vienna, I couldn’t blog about my food escapades. Now that I’ve returned home, after over 24 hours of travel time, it’s occurred to me that I’ve included food art, but not art art in my posts. I’m going to remedy that starting with an update about Kunstkammers.

I had the opportunity to visit not one, but two Kunstkammers this month. In Munich, the Kunstkammer of the Wittelsbach family resides in the Residenz. Duke Albrecht V in the 1560s built a Kunst- und Wunderkammer (a room filled with objects of art and marvel) to hold his collection of treasures which included art, nature, and the synergy of both. Today this part of the München Residenz is called the Treasury or Schatzkammer. This name indicates that the origin of the collection likely functioned as a treasury, whereby objects within could be melted down to make weapons or traded or sold (silver or gold) to support Bavaria as needed. Of course, as the collection grew, Albrecht V began amassing wonders and marvels, some of which were deemed by him to be inalienable treasures of the House of Wittelsbach (meaning they could not be removed or sold from the Wittelsbach family). Here are some of my favorite Wittelsbach treasures from the Kunstkammer of the Münich Residenz.

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The Diana and Stag automaton (above) is perhaps the most fun marvel. It was used as part of a drinking game in the Renaissance. The stag’s head can be opened to hold wine or other drink. It would have been wound up, and then set on a dining table. As an automaton, it would travel around the table, and wherever it stopped, the dinner guest closest to it would have to drink the entire contents of the vessel. The early modern dinner parties must have been so much fun!

A few more treasures from the Münich Residenz — architectural and decorative treasures to be more precise.

The Grotto Court

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The Antiquarium

The Antiquarium

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Green Galerie

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Lots and lots of dishware.

Next time… the Kunstkammer at Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum. Here’s a sneak peek with Benvenuto Cellini’s Saliera.Image

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