Snowy Weekend

This weekend, my beloved and I finally got our house back!  Our recently refinished wood floors are now smooth, shiny, and glow by the light of our first Christmas tree.  On Saturday, we lifted, moved, and adjusted our furniture back to their default settings and enjoyed watching through the window as the heavy snowflakes fell from the Nebraska sky. 

Sunday arrived, and with it, an overcast sky which required serious time in the kitchen.  I usually bake on the weekends, and a roasted sweet potato quick bread sounded perfect. However, I knew a lone loaf of dessert/breakfast bread was not going to get us through dinner…I had to think of something.  I immediately arrived at one of my favorite dishes: shepherd’s pie.  Very little in life is as comforting as a dish of shepherd’s pie – especially on a cold December day. 

Before I knew it, the fragrance of brown sugar-coated sweet potatoes filled the house, and when they emerged from the oven, they were like little jeweled candies. 

I had to resist eating the entire bowl as they cooled on the counter.  Truthfully, the bread was a cinch to make after the initial roasting was done…if you’ve ever made a quick bread (think: banana bread, zucchini bread) then you know what I mean.  Just under an hour later there was a lovely loaf of roasted sweet potato and pecan bread cooling on a wire rack on my counter.  I could have eaten the entire thing right then and there!

There are three dishes I think of when cold days take over the Midwest.  The first is roasted chicken, the second is chili, and the third is shepherd’s pie.  I could not resist the thought of a gorgeous dish packed with lamb, thyme, rosemary, carrots, and, well…you get the picture.  Not to mention the potatoes!

On a cold day in December, the best stick-to-your ribs dish is shepherd’s pie.  Ground lamb, Worcestershire sauce, wine…you name it and it only adds to the earthy nature of this dish.  The house smelled absolutely wonderful as the lamb browned in the pan with the carrots, onions, garlic, rosemary, and thyme.  There is a certain traditional method to shepherd’s pie, but as usual, I like to add a few extra ingredients just to make it my own.  Shepherd’s pie is forgiving, so, add what you like and take out what you don’t.  Substitute, rearrange, and make it your own.  Trust me, in the end, on a bone-chilling Midwestern evening, you won’t be sorry.  You’ll be going back for seconds.

From here, we end up here:

And finally:

Sweet Potato & Roasted Pecan Quick Bread

adapted from Chow.com

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine salt (I used French gray sea salt)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sweet potato flesh, scooped from 2 medium roasted sweet potatoes*
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup 2% milk (can also use whole milk or probably even 1/2 & 1/2)
1/2 cup whole pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped

* For the sweet potatoes:  Preheat oven to 450ºF.  Scrub two medium sweet potatoes and chop into 1-inch chunks.  (Feel free to peel them ahead of time if you want, but I enjoyed eating the roasted peels as I packed the measuring cup with the potato flesh).  Toss the sweet potatoes with a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil, one tablespoon brown sugar, a good pinch or two of kosher salt, and a generous grind of black pepper.  Stir to coat, turn out on baking sheet, and roast until just golden brown and soft, about 30 minutes.

Instructions:
– Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Coat 9x5x3 loaf pan with butter and flour; tap out excess.  I actually use Pam spray for baking that has flour mixed in.  It’s the best!

– In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients (flour to ginger) and whisk to break up lumps.  Set aside. 

– In the bowl of your stand mixer (with paddle attachment) mix the sweet potato flesh, granulated sugar, brown sugar on medium speed until combined.  Add the melted butter and mix on low until smooth.  Add the eggs, one at at time, mixing until fully combined, then add the vanilla and mix.

– Remember to stop the mixer and scrape the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Turn the speed to low and half of the dry ingredients, then 1/4 cup of the milk.  Repeat with the rest of the flour mixture and the milk, mixing until just combined.  Remove bowl from mixer and fold in toasted nuts.

– Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake until tester comes out clean.  I ended up baking mine for just about 50 minutes, but it may take anywhere from 50 minutes to one hour, depending on your oven.  Remove and cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out and place on a rack to cool completely. 

Shepherd’s Pie

Adapted from none other than Gordon Ramsay

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 1.5 lbs ground lamb or beef
1 large carrot, grated
1 large onion, grated
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary (or more to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme (or more to taste)
4-5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce (or more or less to taste)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine
1/4 cup chicken stock

For the mash:
1 to 1.5 lbs golden potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
kosher salt
black pepper
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions:
In a large stock pot, throw in the potatoes and some salt.  Bring to a boil and set timer for 15 minutes – at this point start on your filling.  When the timer goes off, drain and put them back into the stock pot.  Mash with their ingredients and keep warm.

While the potatoes are boiling, get your filling started.  Preheat oven to 400ºF.  Heat a large pan over medium-high heat and add olive oil, then add meat.  Break up meat and stir quickly to ensure even browning.  After a few minutes, add herbs and garlic and stir.  Add carrot and onion, stir and let sweat down for a minute.  At this point, add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, and red wine.  Stir and sweat down.  Add chicken stock and cook for several more minutes until majority of liquid has reduced.

Pour mixture into casserole or some sort of oven safe dish and then spoon mash over the top.  Smooth with back of spoon and then sprinkle Parmesan cheese on the top.  Poke the top of the mash with a fork to create “peaks” and place dish on baking sheet.  Put it in the oven at 400ºF for 20 minutes or so until the potatoes turn a nice golden brown.

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