I made bread today. It just came out of the oven about twenty minutes ago. Made one large braided loaf and two smaller roundish loaves. Nothing fancy, just…bread.
Alex smelled it baking and came upstairs, nose first, wondering when he could have a slice – "still warm, so the butter melts." I promised him a slice soon and went back to leaning on my kitchen work table and staring at the blogs on my Google reader, sort of catching up.
My day started out fine, but then, somewhere in the middle of the morning, I started getting stuffed up and sneezy. I thought it was dust and dry air, but it stayed with me through the afternoon and just wouldn't go away. I started prepping for dinner, picked up the kids at school, made some coffee because I was feeling tired, and so on…and by the time dinner was served a little after five I knew I was coming down with something. My throat is scratchy, on the way to sore. My head has that foggy, murky, stuffed-with-cement feeling, and my temper was WAY shorter than usual. Yuck.
But, I took some Tylenol, made some tea, and I'll go to bed at a reasonable hour and see how I feel tomorrow. Fortunately for me, I made chicken pot pie for dinner, which is SORT OF like chicken soup, only better, in my opinion. It was yummy, although Alex didn't like all that puff pastry crust – the part that sunk into the liquid – or the bits of onion. Oh well, can't please everyone all the time.
He is, however, happy about this bread. In fact, just before I started typing, he told me that it was the best bread EVER. Not just the best bread I'd ever baked, but in the whole entire history of the bread-baking world, it's the best. Ever. And then Julia made a trophy out of Legos and gave it to me. They're pretty damn sweet kids when they want to be.
Speaking of not pleaseing everyone all the time, last night was one of my biggest failures as a cook. I'll blame it on day-before-coming-down-with-a-cold interference, or something. Or temporary insanity. Or laziness. Or stupidity. In fact, I named the whole mess "Idiot Pie." I know, I should have taken pictures. Sorry, you'll just have to use your imagination.
Let me set the stage first. For some reason, I always have thought that Bill didn't like Shepherd's Pie. So I never made it. Simple as that. It wasn't anything we had on any regular basis when I was a kid (at least not that I remember), and we cook plenty of other good things around here, so I didn't miss it or long for it all these years.
Anyway, somehow, at some point over the past several days, the subject of Shepherd's Pie came up and I learned that Bill did not, in fact, dislike Shepherd's Pie at all. And that, if I made it, he would be very happy to eat it.
But you know what? I don't think I've ever made it. Weird, huh?
Anyway, I thought it would be a good way to use up some of the leftover vegetables from my Dad's birthday dinner. (I don't know if I'd mentioned this at all, but my mom had offered to bring something since I was making the main dish and the dessert, so we agreed that she'd bring a vegetable, probably a green one. She ended up bringing pretty much every vegetable in the grocery store, all cooked and still warm in a large cooler (or, in this case, warmer). Needless to say, we still have 25 tons of vegetables still in the fridge. She just laughed when I suggested she take some home along with the few remaining pasties and a bit of dessert. She laughed. Cackled, really. And snickered. And pointed.
So we've got all these vegetables to use up.
I figured some of them would go nicely in the Shepherd's Pie. So now, about the meat. Well, here's where tradition and I tragically parted ways. Again, I don't know what I was thinking. But here goes. I had a few packages of stew beef in the freezer. I'd used one for the Cornish pasties, and froze the others for some other day. I'd taken one out to thaw…and I decided to use it for the Shepherd's Pie.
I don't know why.
Anyway, I figured I should at least LOOK at a recipe. I knew it would involve mashed potatoes, and that was no problem. I had potatoes, I could make mashed potatoes easily. All set.
I found a nice little recipe and basically proceeded to ruin it. I think I sauteed some onions…browned my stew beef (which I'd cut into smaller pieces…which…in case you're wondering, are NOT the same as ground meat. And, also, lamb is the traditional meat in Shepherd's pie – yeah, Shepherd…watching the Sheep…who give birth to Lambs…who get attacked by wolves…who then put the lamb meat through a meat grinder, dig up some potatoes, and make themselves a lovely pie, laughing at the Shepherd who was looking the other way when the hit went down.) What was I talking about? Oh, yes, chopped up stew beef.
Now, I keep saying "stew beef" instead of just plain ol' "beef" because stew beef is the sort of beef that does best in low temperature, slow cooking methods. Like…well…stew. It is not meant to be cooked quickly like a steak. If you cook it fast, it gets tough. If you cook it slowly, it relaxes and falls apart. Turns out it's not really meant to be used as a substitute for ground lamb in a Shepherd's Pie, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!
So anyway, I softened my onions, quickly browned the beef, poured in some lovely beef stock we'd made a couple of weeks ago (okay, Bill made it, and he said, after this meal, that I now have to ask permission before I use any more of it.), and noticed that it really wasn't a whole LOT of food in that large Le Creuset dutch oven I'd been planning to make this whole thing in.
Okay, I've got a smaller vessel…I have a souffle pan thingy that would work. All set.
I made the mashed potatoes while my meat and onions were hanging out in the larger pot, and damn it all to hell, I put too much milk in. So I had slightly wet mashed potatoes. Okay, not slightly. Just plain wet. I kept the flame going under them in a feeble attempt to cook off some of the moisture. It wasn't working.
So I added some ricotta cheese. Because that's the logical thing to do, isn't it? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Anyway, I ladled my beef mixture into the souffle pan. It came to within 3/8 of an inch or so of the rim. Yikes. Next, I carefully spooned my mashed potato slush on top. There was just enough to sort of cover the whole mess, not counting all the little places where it leaked through. I put the souffle pan on a baking sheet and was JUST about to put it in the oven when Bill came into the room and asked "Did you put the vegetables in?"
THE VEGETABLES! OH NO! I RUINED IT!
And meanwhile, Julia was running around wanting attention about something, and Bill had some sort of look on his face that I interpreted as "I can't believe I married this loser chick who doesn't know that Shepherd's Pie is made with ground lamb" but which was probably just simple horror. Naturally I snapped and, waving my arms wildly and babbling incoherently, I evicted them from the kitchen. "Me, too?" Bill asked. "YES!" I shrieked. "I KEEP GETTING DISTRACTED!" So Bill and Julia went downstairs where Alex was watching something about dinosaurs and I angrily scooped potato slush off the top of the toughened-meat casserole. I yanked a bowl out of the fridge, and was about to dump the vegetables in with the meat, but realized it would probably overflow. So I dumped all that back into the dutch oven. But. The surface area was now TOO BIG. So I hastily cooked up more potatoes (good god, will this never end? NO!) and sort of…incorporated them into the mashed potatoes (they weren't soft enough to mash, not quite, but I figured they could finish cooking in the oven), and spread that mess on top of the beef and vegetables. Then, in a last, pathetic attempt to make it all TASTY, I grated some parmesan cheese on top. Sad, isn't it?
I baked it in the oven for who knows how long, took it out, dished it up, and waited for the complements to start pouring in. Bill said "…………….I like the mashed potatoes and the broth part………." Alex asked "Did you follow a recipe?" and I said "Sort of," and Julia thought about that a moment and said " 'Sort of' means no."
And that was that, really.
It is not over.
I will make Shepherd's Pie. And I will make a damn good one. Just wait and see.
And when I do, both my kids AND Bill will FALL OVER THEMSELVES to build Lego trophies in my honor.