Green Bean Shepherds Pie

Green Bean Shepherds Pie

Shepherd’s Pie is as traditional as it gets if you are a whitey like me. A one pot hot dish, vegetable and meat stew topped with mashed potatoes, it is what I crave when the weather turns chilly and I’m looking for something hot and hearty. And like a lot of traditional dishes, it can be twisted up and turned on its head and become a vehicle for all your own favorite additions. It’s kind of like a pizza. Some people will never want anything but pepperoni and cheese, but for the creative, there’s a whole world of barbecue sauce and cilantro out there. Traditional Shepherd’s Pie doesn’t include tomatoes or green beans, but that’s not going to stop me from trying it.

Stew:
2 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 1/2 C carrots, diced
1 1/2 C onions, diced
1 1/2 lbs green beans
2 pints canned whole tomatoes
1 large can tomato paste
Salt and Pepper
Spices to taste

Mashed Potatoes:
About 6 C chopped potatoes
About 2 T mayonnaise
Evaporated milk

Brown your ground beef. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the pan, saving all that good grease to cook the vegetables. Add the carrots and onions and cook until soft. If your green beans are fresh, boil them until al dente. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave.

In the meantime, make your mashed potatoes. Boil the potatoes in water that’s been heavily salted. You can make your mashed potatoes anyway you prefer, but my method is to toss them in a mixer with some mayonnaise for taste and as much evaporated milk as necessary to make it really creamy without turning into a smoothy. Be careful not to overmix or you’ll end up making paste.

When the carrots and onions are cooked, add the green beans and toss them in the fat. Add the meat back into the pot. Add the tomatoes including all the liquid. Give the whole tomatoes a squish as you add them to tear them into bite sized pieces. Add the tomato paste and stir well. If your tomatoes are super juicy, don’t add any more liquid. We’re aiming for a stew, not a soup. But if you need a little more liquid you could add a little water or beef broth, or even some red wine to really bring out the tomato flavors. Add lots of salt and pepper and then raid your spice cabinet for some other additions. Oregano is an obvious and classic choice, thyme is good in everything, cumin would add a lovely little punch. Season to taste and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or until the liquid reduces down and all the flavors have a chance to meld together.

Pour your stew into a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Then slap the potatoes on top like you’re frosting a cake. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until the potatoes get a pretty crust to them. Then eat.

Shepherds Pie

This recipe makes enough for a crowd. Which makes it excellent pot luck or freezer meal fare, or you could just cut the recipe in half if you’re only feeding a few people. I can just never seem to help myself from going big.

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BB8 Sugar Cookies

BB8 Cookies
Over my Christmas break, aside from the surgery and recovery, the family time and holidays, two other important things happened. 1) While laid up in bed trying not to cough or laugh, I got totally hooked on watching Youtube videos about decorating sugar cookies with royal icing. 2) I saw Force Awakens. I think I might just have a full post in me about Force Awakens, but it blew my mind and for the next week I didn’t think about anything else. So I knew I had to combine my two obsessions if I was going to get any peace.

BB8 Cookies 1

I love BB*8 as much as I hated Jar Jar Binks. When that little goofy robot shook his sassy little head? He had me. So obviously, BB*8 had to be the one that got the sugar cookie treatment, and also because I never decorated cookies this way before and a bunch of little buttons and dials are way more approachable than a human woman like Rey. This was a fantastic first project! Even as I made a ton of mistakes and would do a bunch of things differently – like work on getting the right icing consistency and changing the order of how I applied things so it didn’t require so much drying time – I think it was still totally successful. I especially love using the decorating powder to make him all grungy like he had been spending time on a desert planet.

BB8 Cookies 2

Since this was my first ever attempt at sugar cookie decorating with royal icing, I needed a whole lot of instruction. And to get that I went to Sweet Ambs. Her videos were my favorite to watch, and on her site she offers a package where you get all her recipes and some special videos. I found it to be totally worth it, but there are a whole lot of royal icing and sugar cookie recipes out there. If you have questions about anything other than this particular design, I’d send you straight to her. I’m only a beginner myself, and an enthusiastic geek about the latest Star Wars movie.

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Panzanella Salad

Panzanella Salad

With our bumper crop of little tomatoes, even Atti can’t eat them all. Despite his best efforts. So I needed a way I could gorge on them in actual meal form. Enter this perfect traditional bread salad from Italy. It’s kind of like eating a tomato sandwich in a bowl, which is really the best way to eat anything, and manages to be both fresh and healthy from all the veggies, and hearty and carb filled thanks to the bread. And the only heat it requires is to roast a couple of peppers – which you can leave out if you’re desperate – and to toast some bread. It’s the perfect end of summer meal.

4 C cherry tomatoes
2 roma tomatoes, diced
2 C cucumber, diced
1 C roasted red peppers, diced
1/2 a loaf of bread
olive oil

Cut the bread into croutons, toss in a bit of olive oil, and bake in the oven until golden brown and crispy. In a great big bowl, toss the croutons with all your diced veggies.

1/2 C olive oil
3 T vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp dijon mustard

Whisk together and then pour over the tomatoes and croutons. Cover and let rest for at least half an hour to give the bread time to soak up all that good dressing. Then eat!

This recipe was totally compiled by what I had ready in the garden that day. The actual vegetables you use and in what proportions can be completely tailored to what you like best. If you don’t like garlic, just leave it out! You have lots of fresh basil? That would be delicious! You can add anything you want to this salad and leave out anything you want too. Pretty much just like your favorite sandwich.

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Cherry Pie Pops

Cherry Pie Pops
One last farm related treat before I wrap up all the festivities, and that’s these Cherry Pie Pops. Homemade pie is such a perfect All-American staple, I knew I had to have it reflected in my Farm Table. But there was no way I was letting 20 kids loose in my house with plates full of cherry pie. These pie pops were the perfect solution. All of the tastiness of pie, but somehow I made it through the entire party without any cherry stains on my rugs!

Step 1
Since I was in time management mode, I used a pre-made refrigerated dough. If I was serving this to grown ups I’d make my own, but either way you just roll your pie dough out as normal. Use a biscuit cutter to cut out as many pieces as you can.

Step 2
Line the pieces up on a parchment lined cookie sheet, and press a lollipop stick down into the dough.

Step 3
Spoon some pie filling into the center. I actually kind of overfilled the pies in the picture. You want to be able to get that top piece on.

Step 4
Use a fork to pinch the edges of both pie crusts closed, then cut a couple of slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Since there’s a lot of crust to a smaller amount of filling than usual, I gave the crusts a little touch of water and then sprinkled them with sugar, just to up the sweetness a bit more.

Pie Pops
When it comes to the epic cake vs. pie debate, I’m a member of team cake. But if we’re talking cake pops vs. pie pops, these win, hands down.

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Corn Cob Marshmallow Treats

Corn Cob TreatsWith Easter behind me, I have to get back to showing you all the ideas I had for Atti’s farm themed birthday party. The party was a success for Atticus, but also a big success for me since I got to go nuts with the snacks and live out all my Pinterest dreams.

popcornWe borrowed a popcorn machine from Bear’s work and had popcorn popping all day. The goats were BIG fans of this one.

Orange PumpkinsA few other ideas were simple things I saw online. These orange pumpkins popped up all over the place, and so did serving potato chips and chex mix under the names “wood shavings” and “chicken feed” respectively. I’d link to something if I could find an originator, but everything I found just has people saying “I saw this online.”

But these Corn Cob treats are all mine, and I’m obsessed with them.

Step 1If you’ve ever made rice krispie treats, you know how to make these. I followed the instructions of the back of the marshmallow bag and melted together 3 T butter and the contents of one bag of marshmallows.

Step 2Then stir in 6 cups of Kix cereal and keep stirring until each little ball is coated in marshmallow.

Step 3Scoop the goopy covered cereal out onto parchment paper, making little handful sized mounds. Let these cool down until they’re not too hot to touch.

Step 4When the cereal treats are cool enough to touch but while they’re still warm and malleable, give each mound a squish to get it thoroughly stuck together but also to shape it into a corn cob shape. Just a long oval will do, you don’t need to put much thought into it.

Step 5For serving, and to finish the look, put each treat into a cellophane serving bag. Give the top of the bag a twist and tie it closed with green raffia to make it look like a husk.

Not only are these treats about the cutest things ever, but making them with Kix instead of Rice Krispies really changes the taste. There’s more cereal compared to marshmallow, so they’re not so cloyingly sweet. They disappeared embarrassingly fast. Like, Bear may or may not now posdess a blackmail picture of me double fisting these while my mouth is already full. I have to remember to stay on his good side now.

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Haystack Cookies….or Birds Nest Cookies!

Birds Nest Cookies
This is a two for one recipe. The only difference is which theme your party treats need to fit. If you’re throwing a farm birthday like I did for Atticus, then these are Haystack Cookies. If you’re looking for an adorable little treat to bring to Easter dinner, than these are Birds Nest Cookies. Either way they are crazy delicious. In the words of my friend Noelle, they taste like dehydrated funnel cakes.

Step 1
All you gotta do is melt some chocolate. I prefer to use a double boiler method, which is really just a bowl on top of a saucepan full of water. You can do it in the microwave if you feel strongly about it, but I find it not worth the convenience when you can’t control the temperature and end up burning it half the time.

Step 2
Then you just stir in a bag of crunchy chow mein noodles. As always, my measurements are *super* precise (sarcasm). I used a bag of chocolates and a bag of noodles, and just stirred and stirred until everything was coated.

Step 3
Drop spoonfuls of chocolaty noodles onto parchment paper, giving them a little squish so they’re touching enough to get stuck together as the chocolate dries.

Haystack Cookies
If you’re theme is farm or harvest, congratulations! You’re done! These were such a hit at Atti’s birthday, I thought these up at the last minute and yet these were the treat that had people questioning how my brain works. Store them in a ziplock or cookie jar and they’ll keep for ages.

Step 4
To transform the cookies from haystacks, just press down in the center to make a little dent.

Step 5
Then, using a little more melted chocolate if you need to in order to make them stay, add a few Cadbury Mini Eggs on top to complete the look.

One of the things I dislike about making food fit a theme is that you often sacrifice taste for adorableness. Have you ever eaten the fondant that cake decorators use to make all those gorgeous cakes? Bleck. Give me a plain looking buttercream frosting anyday. This is one of the very few times I can say with all honesty, this cookie is so delicious I’d make them even if I didn’t have a themed party to throw. But when I do? You better believe these will be on the table.

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Crock Pot Swiss Steak Pot Roast

Swiss Steak Pot Roast
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This was one of the very first recipes I ever shared here on the blog, but in the years since I first posted it I’ve fine tuned the recipe and figured it was time to add photos and video. Gosh I’ve been doing this for a long time. Everything has changed.

How I came up with this recipe is another of my favorite stories. On the phone with a friend we were trading recipes and I wrote down both her pot roast recipe and her sloppy joe recipe, but didn’t label anything. So when I next went to make a pot roast I accidentally came up with this concoction – a pot roast with a spicy tomato based gravy full of onions and peppers. Which is pretty much what swiss steak is. Except mine is spicy and delicious and cooks up in the crock pot with barely any work.

Crock Pot Swiss Steak Pot Roast
Pot Roast
Potatoes
Carrots
Celery
1 onion, small diced
1 green pepper, small diced
2 T butter
1 small can tomato paste
1/4 C brown sugar
2 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T balsamic vinegar
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
hot sauce to taste

In a hot and dry pan, sear all the sides of your pot roast until it’s got a lovely golden brown crust. Meanwhile, roughly chop the potatoes, celery, and carrots and toss them in your crock pot. When your pot roast is fully seared, nestle it on top of the vegetables in your crock pot.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan and add the diced onion and peppers. Saute until soft and the onions are translucent. Pour the onions and peppers out on top of the meat.

Meanwhile, combine the rest of the ingredients to make the sauce. Add a little water to thin the sauce as necessary, especially if you’re cooking a lot of vegetables or a huge hunk of meat. Pour it into the crock pot and add water if needed to cover the vegetables. Close the lid and cook until the veggies are tender and the meat falls apart with a fork.

This recipe is one of the many reasons I’m a believer in making mistakes. I never would have come up with this without totally screwing up.

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Herbal Caramel Chocolates

Herbal Caramel Chocolates
When I was a kid we used to make those microwave wilton chocolate candies for everything. We’d pull out the box full of molds my mom had stuffed in a back cabinet from the week she decided she was going to take up chocolate making, we’d rescue some ancient chocolates from another pantry, and we’d laboriously paint with melted “chocolate” to make little gobs of something that tasted like wax. All the fun was in the making, but now that I’m older and snobbier about my chocolate, I want to make something that is worth the trouble. I’ve been intimidated by chocolate but there’s really no need. It’s way easier than I believed. You just need a thermometer.

For my filling I wanted to make an herbed caramel. Some of my favorite Chocolate Artisans (that’s what they call themselves) make caramels infused with rosemary and lavender and brandy and a whole bunch of other not sweet concoctions. So far, the weirder they are the more I like them, so I had to try my hand at my own version.

To add a flavor to the caramel there are a few different ways you could go. You could just chop up bits of whatever and toss it in and you’ll get a crunchy texture, or you could infuse it by melting the butter and then soaking the flavor item in the butter until it took on the flavor, or you can just go straight to adding a few drops of flavored oils – making sure they’re food grade of course. I tried a few options and I found the oil almost fool proof, while the other ways took more finesse than I seem to possess.

Caramel Filling
4 T butter flavored as desired
1/2 C half and half
1 C brown sugar

Over a gentle heat let this all melt together, whisking frequently. Don’t let the sugar burn or the milkfats cook. When it gets to be the consistency of a good caramel sauce, take it off the heat and let it cool.

Meanwhile, prepare your chocolate. If you just melt it and mold it it will taste fine, but if you want that beautiful shiny coating the fine chocolates have you want to take the time to temper your chocolate. This just refers to a heating process that creates the most preferable texture, and has to do with how molecules line up. It’s a simple three step process.
1.)In a bowl that sits over a pot of water, you melt the chocolate until it’s about 115 to 120 degrees.

2.) While stirring, add unmelted chocolate pieces until it cools down to around 81 to 83 degrees. Remove any chocolate pieces that remain unmelted.

3.) Return the bowl to the heat and bring it slowly back up to the working temperature – 86 – 89 degrees.

When your chocolate is tempered pour it into the molds. After much watching of youtube videos, I found that the paintbrushes I used to use as a kid are for suckers. The better way to get a coating on the molds is to fill it up completely, then flip the mold over and let it drain onto a rack or back into a bowl. You’ll get a beautiful thin even coat. Let that set up thoroughly.

The caramel needs to be cool enough to not melt through the chocolate and warm enough to pour. Room temperature is ideal. Fill the molds up, but resist the urge to overfill it. Top with more chocolate and use a metal spatula to scrape off any excess and leave the clean edge.

I was not super clean when I was making mine, I went through a whole lot of trial and error to get the caramel flavorings down and I just had no more patience for doing things the right way that day. But I still found the experience pretty empowering. Chocolate making isn’t that hard, you guys! If you passed seventh grade chemistry, you can totally make beautiful shiny chocolates.

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Apple Peanut Butter Bars

Peanut Butter Apple Bars
With only a few days before Christmas, it’s time to abandon plans for elaborate home made gifts for everyone from your mother to the mailman and go to the fastest gift of all – food. A plate full of sweet treats is part of what makes the holiday so much fun, so if you haven’t knitted a scarf for your neighbor or crafted an elaborate picture frame for your hairstylist, a plate of cookies is the way to go.

I came up with this recipe based on one of our favorite evening snacks – a fresh apple cut into pieces and dunked into peanut butter. I’d take those two flavors together even over peanut butter and chocolate, but you rarely see them together. So I had to fix that. If you don’t have any apple butter available or don’t feel like making any, you can sub in your favorite jams.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars

1/2 C brown sugar
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C butter
1 C peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 C flour

1 C apple butter

Cream together the sugars, butter, and peanut butter. Add the egg and vanilla and mix together, then add the dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Set aside about 1/4 of the dough.

Butter and flour a casserole dish, then press the remaining dough into the bottom until it’s covered evenly. Poke a fork into the dough all over to give the steam somewhere to escape to so the dough doesn’t puff up. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Spread the apple butter over the cookie layer. If your apple butter is thinner than jam you might want to cook it on the stovetop for a while to thicken it up so the bottom cookie layer doesn’t get too soggy.

Take the reserved dough and crumble it over the top of the apple butter layer.

Bake at 350 for another 15 minutes. Let cool and cut into squares.

Apple Peanut Butter Bars
I made these for Bear’s work party and when I pulled the first batch out of the oven I was debating whether or not I should make more or if one would be enough. I brought a piece over to Bear and Atti and the tore it apart like cookie monster. I ended up making two more batches, so you might want to plan ahead.

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Creamy Corn Chili Dip

Creamy Corn Chili Dip
I had a pretty great weekend, filled with party after party, all at my house. Which means that as the week has gone on, I’ve been eating party leftovers every day. I think my cheese addiction has gotten a little out of control, but I regret nothing.

Parties are always a fantastic excuse to break out the food I love but can’t really eat on a daily basis (like spinach artichoke dip. How do you call that a meal? (Hmm…note to self: make that a meal)) but with having so many parties right on top of each other, it gave me an excuse to branch out and find even more food I love but shouldn’t eat daily. This corn dip is a fantastic option if you love the creamy goodness of spinach artichoke dip, but get a bit bored with the ubiquity. The corn gives a sweetness and the chilis add a punch of brightness. I could eat this for a week. Oh wait, I have.

Creamy Corn Chili Dip

2 bricks of cream cheese, softened
2 cups corn, cooked
1/2 cup milk
2 cups shredded romano cheese
7 oz can diced green chilies

I used frozen corn, because it’s convenient, so if you do to, defrost it before including it in the rest of your ingredients. Toss all the ingredients together and heat for two minutes.

Serve with tortilla chips, veggies, or bread. Makes enough to serve a crowd. Or one.

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