Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ground Beef Assistor

There are a wide variety of products out there that help you turn plain ground beef (or whatever) into a complete meal by providing the extra ingredients and seasonings needed. I am not a fan of these products, because a well-stocked pantry should have pretty much everything you need to make beefy-macaroni casserole. I came up with this recipe off the top of my head 10 minutes after I got home from work one day last week and it was probably the tastiest thing I've had in a while.

BTW: Feel free to notice how carefully I've avoided the use of any trademarked names or phrases in this post!

  • 2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 can (14 ounces) plain tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 2 cups dried macaroni pasta (small shells, elbows, etc.)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (topping)

Brown the beef, onion, celery, and bell peppers together in a dutch oven or large, heavy skillet. Add all remaining ingredients except the cheese. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is cooked. Put into serving bowls and sprinkle with the cheese. Makes about 12 servings and is great the next day heated in the microwave.

Note: Depending on how much liquid was in the tomatoes (and how moist the veggies were), you may need to add more water to allow the pasta to cook. Ideally, the stew should thicken up so there is very little liquid in it just as the pasta cooks completely. You may need to add 1/2 cup of water once or twice during cooking if the stew sets up while the pasta is still crunchy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shepherd's Pie

Although lamb is the traditional meat for this dish, I use lean ground beef because it's quite a bit easier to come by. Sauteeing the mushrooms and onions separate from the beef gives the stew a deep, rich flavor, without toughening the meat (which can happen if you brown it too long).

  • kosher salt
  • 4 russet potatoes, cleaned, optionally peeled, and cut in half crosswise (so they are as spherical as possible)
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 ounces) plain tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • spice mixture - grind together in a spice mill or coffee grinder
    • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
    • 1/2 teaspoon celery seed
    • 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves
    • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flake
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

Put the potatoes into a large pot and cover with 2-4 inches of cold water. Add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt per 2 quarts of water in the pot. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 15-25 minutes, or until a paring knife slides through without much resistance (do not overcook so they start to fall apart). Drain and mash -

Meanwhile, put the beef into a large dutch oven over medium low heat with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Gently cook the meat until it is no longer pink, stirring frequently - you are not trying to deeply brown the meat, just remove it's raw red color. Pour the meat into a large bowl and set aside.

If there is not 2-3 tablespoons of grease leftover from the beef in the dutch oven, add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and heat over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and mushrooms with 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt for 5 minutes, until the onions have softened and started to brown. Add the garlic and saute one more minute, until the garlic is fragrant and lost its raw bite. Deglaze the pot with the canned tomtaoes. Add the tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Balsamic vinegar, spice mixture, and cooked beef. Stir well to combine. Gently fold in the bay leaves, and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes and uncovered for 10, gently stirring occasionally.

Preheat the broiler to high. Remove the stew from heat and fish out the bay leaves. Stir in the lemon juice. Spoon on the mashed potatoes and smooth into an even layer on top. Sprinkle on all of the cheese and put under the broiler for 1-3 minutes, until the cheese starts to bubble. Serve immediately

We plate the 3A's their portion, then top our portions with cheese.