Cottage. Pie. Cottage pie.

Apparently all my tomatoes were waiting for was a little public shaming:

matoes

YEAH! So naturally, now that I’ve got the tomatoes I’ve been waiting for, and what with the days hot and sunny and the nights warm and balmy, dinner around these parts this week has been slow-cooked, piping-hot tomato-devoid cottage pie.

What? It TOTALLLY makes sense.

Cottage pie, for the uninitiated, is shepherds pie made with not-lamb. Shepherds pie, if you’ve lived under the saddest culinary rock in the quarry, is basically lamb-based meat pie filling poured sans-crust into a pan, and then topped with mashed potatoes before baking. It’s warm, comforting, cozy goodness, and, admittedly, probably much more appropriate to nippy early spring weather or the first brisk days of fall.

Except, every summer, I get dragged to local Highland games with my mom. This is a decades-long tradition, something we’ve been doing since the distant dark ages when she danced competitively at these events. Now, we mostly go out of habit and nostalgia, and to have one guaranteed day out of the year where I am not the pastiest person in the room.

Oh, and for the food. And the beer. And ALL the food. It’s the perfect meeting place of fair foods and UK staples, including heavenly meat pies that we sometimes buy an extra case of, frozen, before we leave, and have for dinners the rest of the week.

Net result, cottage pies are a summer staple for me, common sense and contrary weather be damned. And really, when one batch makes 6 hearty servings, a little slaving over the stove goes a long way. What’s one night’s cooking for three night’s dinners, right? Assuming, that is, you don’t have little fridge elves that eat pie for breakfast and lunch while your back is turned:

just one day later!

just one day later!

The recipe here is my own, and because it’s made to suit my preferences, heavy on the vegetable and light on the meat. If you want a denser, meatier pie, definitely use more meat – all the rest of the quantities can stay about the same.

Start with:

4 ribs of celery, chopped
1/2 lb pearl onions
1/2 lb carrots – Parisian globes if you can find them (Trader Joe’s obligingly has them in the freezer section!)

Sautee vegetables in a large pan in 2 T butter, ghee, or olive oil, cooking until everything is just starting to get tender.

aromatic

Add:

1.5 lbs ground turkey
2 t Penzey’s Lamb seasoning (you can sub in an equivalent amount of a combo of parsley, thyme, marjoram, and savory, but if you have access to Penzey’s, just get the blend. It’s got a little kick of spearmint that makes it magical)
1/2 t garlic powder

Stir together with the vegetables, and keep it moving occasionally until the meat is thoroughly browned and things are starting to want to stick to your pan. Pour in:

1 12oz can beef or chicken broth

Simmer about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced about 50%. Stir in:

1 6oz can tomato paste

Transfer the whole mess to a 4 quart baking dish with high sides if you have one, or a 9×13″ baking dish if not. Top generously with mashed potatoes. Like really generously. Like two or three inches deep, if you have the space.

fluff

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden and little bits of filling start to bubble up at the edges.

With regards to potatoes: at the moment, my favorite mash starts with a 3lb bag of Yukon Golds. I peel half of them and let the other half donate their peels in the name of rustic goodness. Quarter the potatoes, boil til fork tender (about 25 minutes) in salted water, drain, and then mash together with one 14oz can of full-fat coconut milk. Add salt and white pepper to taste, and revel in the fact that you’ve now made twice the potato you actually need for this recipe, and are now blessed with a bounty of mashed happiness you can shovel right into your face. And yes, I understand coconut milk sounds odd, but it brings all the buttery goodness of butter, and doesn’t loose its texture or taste with subsequent reheating.

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Garden Weather

grow up!

grow up!

The weather in Seattle has been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Also read: hot, sticky, hot, sweaty, sunny and otherwise meant for shorts and mai tai drinks. Certainly not working.

Garden Paradise

Garden Paradise

The sunshine has done wonders for my garden and it is growing like gangbusters! Everyday I am able to harvest a few little special somethings.

Lemon & Cute Cucumbers!

Since Gunnar Rabbit ate most of all the lettuce, I haven’t tried to replant any of that and have just let my little piece of dirt do its own thing.

Which means I have six foot tall tomato plants and ever creeping lemon cucumbers.

So special!

So special!

I’m working on something special for Shannon, at her request, and I hope to have it available to you soon. Hint: it’s for nerd gardeners like us!! But I think it will be a great tool for our future plans and plantings.

So Pretty!!

So Pretty!!

In the meantime, while trying to stay cool and out of the sun, I’ve been working on  few loose end Pin-jects (pinterest projects?? No?) and hope to have a few up and ready in a few days.

A REAL ROMA!!

A REAL ROMA!!

Something about summer weather just makes me want to drink and chill out… and watch my garden grow.

-jenn

on a roll

You guys, I am ready for tomatoes.

No, I mean it. I started plants indoors in February. I nurtured them carefully, hardened them slowly, and shook my fists at the sky when 3 of them got taken out by freak May hailstorms. I selected only the snobbiest, most pompous-yet-charming varieties, and when I started finding little baby fruits on my Bloody Butchers and San Marzanos last month, I literally called half the people I know to crow about it.

The tiny baby fruits of a month ago are fat and sassy and gloriously striped and whimsically shaped and all together just heirloom as fuck.

Was that the first fbomb we’ve dropped here? Sorry, but I don’t care. Tomatoes are serious business. THESE tomatoes are serious business.

heirloom

as

bomb!

I’m sure you see the other unifying feature of these tomatoes: they’re green. THEY ARE STILL GREEN. Here I am, absolutely perishing for the taste of garden-fresh perfectly sun-ripened tomatoes, and instead, I have a mini-farm chock full o’ things that are only barely edible if breaded and fried.

NOT COOL. I have done my time in the waiting room, and I am ready to see Doctor Tomato already. Not to mention, everything else in my garden is going gangbusters – I’m crawling in carrots, overwhelmed by onions, and let’s not even talk about the lettuce.

Yet here I remain, a few tomatoes short of a salad.

I cracked this week, and dove face first into the only cure I know: a $9 jar of spaghetti sauce.

Let me say this again: A NINE DOLLAR JAR OF SPAGHETTI SAUCE. Jar. Jarred sauce. for $9. That is ALMOST TEN DOLLARS.

This is why we can’t have nice things, or more accurately, why I flinch every time I open a bank statement. Because I budget and I plan and I scrimp and I save, and then I go $9-jar-of-spaghetti-sauce crazy. But you know what? Doesn’t matter. Tastes like tomatoes and sunshine. This is summer in a jar, and the closest I can get to tomato happiness until the lazy green jerks in my garden get their sunburn on.

To assuage my guilt over the sauce, I made garden meatballs, so that I had SOME fruits of my labors to chew on. What’s a garden meatball, you ask?

Well. It’s a meatball. With things from your garden. HELLO.

These aren’t pretty – as evidenced by the total lack of pictures! – but they’re yummy, and they’re flexible, and actually ridiculously healthy, especially if you, like me, eat your meatballs and sauce entirely sans-spaghetti.

What you need is:

20 oz of ground turkey – fat, lean, whatever. Sub non-turkey if you want. Use more or less if you prefer; 20oz is just how Jennie-O likes to pack her birds

1 egg, beaten

10 Tokyo White heirloom bunching onions, whites and tops OR 1 probably-too-small-to-pick-but-too-impatient-to-wait Walla Walla onion (or one small-ish standard issue grocery store onion) – minced as fine as you can manage. Go on, feel like you’re a chef!

1 grated Chantenay Red Core carrot (or about 1/2 cup grated grocery store carrot)

about 1T minced-up carrot tops (or about 1T fresh parsley, or 1/2t dried parsley)

about 1T each fresh oregano and thyme (or 1T dried oregano, and skip the thyme, because dried thyme feels like twigs. Unless you like eating twigs.)

Liberal sprinklings of garlic powder, salt, and pepper

Preheat your oven to 350, and put the spaghetti sauce of your choice – $10 craziness or otherwise – in a large pan over low heat. Add all the herbs and vegetables to the meat, and stir-and-squish with a fork until well distributed. Pour over the eggs, and smash it all together with your hands, like you are some kind of deranged sculptor whose chosen medium is meat. Roll 2″-ish balls and bake on a cookie sheet for 20-25 minutes. You don’t need to worry about how well-done the meat is; they just need to be cooked well enough to hold their shape. Don’t worry if white goo escapes – it’s normal. Plop meatballs hot into the sauce – with or without the white goo, which may be egg but may also be magical meatparts, and honestly, I think I am better off if I don’t ask. Cook at a slow simmer for at least 30 minutes, and up to an hour. Stir occasionally – very occasionally, say every 10 minutes or so. Bask in your warm, rustic summer-scented kitchen for the intervals between stirring.

Serve over noodles, or better still, straight up in a bowl, with a side of spoon. Either way, best eaten in the sun on the back deck, while you gaze down magnanimously on the abundant green tomatoes you TOTALLY don’t need.

For now, anyway.

four-legged farming

It’s probably not surprising that right now, my favorite rabbit holes for inspiration are garden-related. I’m particularly, if mockingly, fond of the myriad delights the internet has to offer any time you do a quick search of “pet-friendly gardens.”

While I’m grateful for the lists of non-toxic plants this produces, it tickles me most of all to see the great lengths people go to when trying to design landscapes that will appeal to their furrier family members.

Maybe I’m a minimalist, and maybe my poor pets are woefully underpampered, but, honestly…it doesn’t seem that complicated to me. My three step plan for creating an irresistible dog oasis goes pretty much like this:

First, build some raised beds. We are trying out the ever-popular Square Foot Gardening concept this year, so 4×4 squares installed close to the house were the order of the day.

boxes

Feeling uncrafty, power-tool-pathetic, and all around lazy? These were no-tools-required kits from Home Depot for about $25 each. Small price to pay for a whole lot of easy, I say!

Next, add dirt to your newly built beds. Pretend the dog in the background is just hanging around, and not at all furtively watching your every move. If you do happen to make eye contact with the dog, you make sure and express, in word, gesture, and telepathy-suggestive brow-furrowing, that these? These newly-minted freshly-dirted garden beds? Are for VEGETABLES, not DOGS.

justadd

Notice I am saying nothing about digging down, or removing the grass. Because I didn’t. Because lazy. I did throw down some pretty spiffy weed cloth, which I plan on yanking out before next year’s planting. Because, if I haven’t mentioned, lazy.

Finally, turn your back. A second or two should do it.

garden

INSTANT DOG-FRIENDLY GARDEN, FOLKS. INSTANT. No lavish landscaping, palatial dog houses, or fancy fountains required.

Actually, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that for most of us, the trick is building a pet UN-friendly garden, at least if you want said garden to produce anything other than muddy footprints. I could tell you some stories about fishing Jasmine out of the zucchini bed, and how I finally gave up and accepted that the dog just Does Not Approve Of Courgettes. However, my trials and tribulations in the land of canine trespassers and trampling have NOTHING on the excitement Jenn has had this year, so I’ll leave it to her to share all the tips, tricks, and tragedies there.

Celebrating Independence Day!

Presently I’m itching to get back outside and putz around in my garden; I desperately need to water plants that have been neglected through the week and marvel at how nature knows exactly when to bloom and surprise.

The fireworks have already begun to explode in my neighborhood and we are in the early stages of dog freak outs. Should make for a great day!

In honor of Independence Day and to set the stage for this month, here are some great inspirations for how to show your Red, White and Blue around the garden, in the house, and not just on a single day each year.

Enjoy!!

 

Have  a Safe and Happy 4th of July

-Jenn