All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2013
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This is another creation inspired by existing ingredients, my own laziness & the reality of produce & its shelf life. That doesn’t mean it is not DELICIOUS. Delightful. And even – dare I say it? Delovely!
I have expressed some frustration recently with my photography but I bought a new $17 toy (a light) & the world has opened up just a bit. I was beginning to feel a tad sorry for myself as I cannot really compete with folks that are getting paid to blog. I know they had to work their way there from where I am – but – it is still a bit like me trying to compete for roles with Diane Lane or Julia Roberts. These folks have their shit together & skills, experience, equipment, financing, maybe even a team – etc. Here I am – trying to keep my monthly grocery bill down & think of new, affordable things to make and then photograph them using my i-phone & a $4 clamp light. And I have to photograph them alone – as in – with nobody to hold the fork just “that way” or assist me at all. Framing a photo & trying to hit the screen (on my i-phone, remember) to focus the image where I want the focus & then adjust to hit the shutter without effecting the focus, all with my NON-dominant left hand while I try to hold the subject matter in place with my right hand – can get really frustrating, lemme tell you! Then I have to eat the food. All of it. I cannot afford to waste it – as it COSTS. And I live alone & eat 99% of my meals alone. Then I end up eating some Goddamn lasagna for 6 days & letting the blog lag behind – while my Super King produce wilts & guilts me from the confines of the fridge. It has begun to feel oppressive & I have been comparing myself very unkindly to the vastly superior food bloggers out there (you know who you are – THUG KITCHEN).
Then – I met Piglet. I didn’t actually meet her. I saw her on my friend, Nikki Dogfather’s, Facebook page. Nikki is a full-time rescuer & she posted Piglet – immediately after she’d been pulled from the shelter – looking like this (photos stolen from Nikki):
She had terribly advanced mange – which is not contagious & HIGHLY curable – and the cure is not expensive. But these victims of mange look so scary – it is a rare person that dares even investigate. Nikki is practically a mange fetishist! I jest, of course, but she is the go-to gal in LA if someone spots a mangy baby in a local shelter. No case of mange will scare Nikki away! So – after a single mange dip & twice-daily garlic water baths (and some antibiotics) – Piglet began to recover. I am currently fostering her while she completes her recovery. Here she is two days ago in my house.
Just for some reference – here are two pugs I adopted from Nikki a few years ago.
That is Ella & Grisbi. Here is how they looked a few months later.
See? CRAZY transformation. Tragically, Ella died of a bee sting at 11 months old & Grisbi died last August 16th 2012 – in his sleep – at four years, old for no known reason. Great, big, gaping scars on my heart. 😦
So, anyway, I fell in love with Piglet ON SIGHT. I look at lots of rescues – every day. Facebook is rife with them. They all give me heart twinges but Piglet was special to me. I don’t know why. It was like a recognized her from somewhere. And now – I am care-taking gorgeous Piglet. And she is a gift & an amazing example of gratitude & resilience & of living in the moment. One can never have too many examples of THAT around.
So – a new $17 light for my photography & a new little sprite jumping around the house & a much needed PROFESSIONAL hair salon appointment on Friday (a gal can only self-Feria her color so many times in a row) – and I am feeling rather hopeful. Plus – the greatest loss I endured last week – RIGHTED itself! Yay! No longer broken & sad & no longer riding the scary pot-truffle train I got on last week (read about that HERE) and nice hair right around the corner? That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!
And the $17 light? It is so great – I want to buy 5 more. That is irrational – because I only NEED the one. But it has improved my life SO much and for so little. It reminds me of the time my plumber told me I needed a whole new kitchen tap set thing (and nice ones cost a lot) because the drip was not fixable. I used a fucking ShamWow for two years behind the sink, under the tap, to catch the dripping & water STILL leaked out – warping my cabinets & damaging the finish. Then a new plumber suggested I go buy a cheap washer (that the first plumber had declared no longer available) at a local hardware store. “You might need to buy a whole box – but they shouldn’t cost much,” he said. I went to my local mom & pop True Value & inquired. Yes. They had them. They were a dollar seventy each. A FUCKING DOLLAR SEVENTY! I bought ten – even though I only needed one. I was so fucking excited that this $1.70 thing was gonna change my life. I had to have enough to roll around on the bed with – as if they were thousand dollar bills. And THAT is how I feel about by $17 lamp.
Now – onto food. I have long made the Sunday’s at Moosewood version of veggie shepherd’s pie – and it is very good. In fact, I am going to suggest their tofu version of “meat” in this recipe as I cannot begin to tell you (other than Super King!) where you might find the faux meat I used. Here it is.
It is like weightless Grapenuts. I am not sure if they are just re-purposing some failed attempt at a new packing material – but I took the bait. While it says who distributes this shit, it does not say what is in it. No ingredients list at all. No calorie count. Nada. Could be the scabs from accident-prone paper dolls or the stuffing from padded toilet seats. I don’t know. I bought it. I cooked it. And I ate it. And I am here to tell you about it so – well – there.
If you can find it, I recommend using it. I used half that container in this decent-sized recipe so it is worth its weight in Hamburger Helper. If you cannot – or would rather not eat mystery food – substitute any faux meat thing of your choice – whether seitan or some pre-made soy version of meat or soyrizo or the stuffing from an old padded toilet seat. Or – EGADS! Use ground beef! Just know that I added over a cup of water to the 4 oz of cardboard scabs to reconstitute them into something more substantial. So – use closer to 10-12 ounces of your fake meat selection – or more.
OR – use the Sundays at Moosewood version – which is pretty great. It requires that you freeze tofu (I use two blocks), thaw it, squeeze it completely dry & then shred it into a crumble.
Copied & pasted from elsewhere – I present –
Sundays at Moosewood Shepherd’s Pie Filling
- 1 block of extra firm tofu that has been frozen, then thawed, and shredded to the appearance of ground meat
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander seeds
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 3/4 cup of walnuts, toasted and chopped
- 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
Sauté the chopped onion in oil with thyme, coriander, and black pepper until onions are translucent. Add chopped walnuts and shredded tofu. When heated through, stir in lemon juice and soy sauce. Remove from heat.
I used Brussels sprouts & carrots and, unexpectedly, a fennel bulb because – yes, you guessed it – I had them. You could use corn or peas or any other vegetables you like. I know this one screams out for corn because I made the mashed potatoes with roasted jalapenos – but – am I the only one that gets tired of the traditional pairings? Like anything pumpkin has to have butter & sage on it? Or – redheads must wear green? Or anything with jalapeno needs corn and/or black beans? This wasn’t a Mexican-themed shepherd’s pie. It was a “what’s-in-my-fridge-inspired” shepherd’s pie. You can do it, too! Do not be intimidated.
Hey! Did you notice all my photos of this look WAY alike? Me, too. Shepherd’s pie can be hard to photograph because it tends to fall apart. I got a good angle & exploited it. Apologies for the lack of imagination. I told you I was a hack. 🙂
One last note – this is genuinely spicy – so keep that in mind when you decide how much jalapeno to add! And yes – there are several steps to assemble this but all are EASY & this is worth the effort. DO NOT BE SCARED!
Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie with Brussels Sprouts, Carrots & Jalapeno Mashed Potatoes
For the jalapeno mashed potatoes
2 large Russet potatoes
3 jalapeno peppers (or to taste)
4 TBS butter
4 oz cream cheese
S&P to taste
More butter for browning
Parsley – chopped as grnish
For the “meat” filling
4 oz of freeze dried soy protein plus 1 1/3 cup water (or 8-10 oz or more of another meat substitute)
1 small onion – diced
4 garlic cloves – minced
1/3 cup soy sauce
1 cup walnuts – chopped
S&P to taste
OR use the Sundays at Moosewood tofu version noted above for the “meat” filling.
For the vegetable layer
3 carrots – diced
10 Brussels sprouts – chopped
1 fennel bulb – chopped (very optional)
1 jalapeno – seeded & diced (very optional)
S&P to taste
For the gravy
3 TBS butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup vegetable stock
2 TBS soy sauce
1/2 tsp peper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
For the roasted jalapeno mashed potatoes
Char the outside of the jalapenos until they blacken. You can do this directly on the burners or by broiling in the oven. Once blackened, seal them in Tupperware or wrap them in foil for about 15 minutes. This will sweat the skin off. Then, under cool running water, roll the blackened skin away & squeeze off the tops & remove the seeds. Then – chop the jalapenos finely.
Chop & boil the potatoes. When tender, drain & puree (I used an immersion blender but any mashing or pureeing device would work) with the roasted jalapeno, butter, cream cheese & some salt & pepper.
I added water to thin mine a bit. I didn’t want them to dry out in the oven. Set aside.
For the “meat” filling
See the Sundays at Moosewood tofu recipe in the body of text above. OR-
Heat 2 TBS olive oil in a large frying pan. Saute the onions until softened. If using REAL meat – add it here & cook it through. Add the garlic, walnuts & soy sauce & stir to bend. Add your faux meat. If using the kooky stuff I used (freeze dried mystery flakes) – add about one to one & a half cups water. Heat through. Add S& P to taste. Set aside.
For the vegetable layer
Use the faux meat pan & add 1 TBS olive oil. Saute the fennel (if using), Brussels sprouts & carrots & saute 5 minutes or so – or until tender. No science here as they will cook more in the oven.
Melt the butter over med-high heat & add the flour. Whisk for about 30 seconds. The butter should absorb that flour very quickly & become a paste. Add the soy sauce & then whisk in the stock in increments until you have a gravy. Thin with water if it gets too thick. Add pepper. Set aside.
Spray a casserole pan with cooking spray – or grease it with butter or olive oil. Layer your “meat” then gravy then veggies & then potatoes. Apologies – but I actually forgot to get a shot of the veggie layer. I think you will manage.
Then bake that sucker for a while. I baked this at 350 for 30 minutes – COVERED. It came out like this.
As you can see – the back of my oven is far hotter than the front. At any rate – I did not like the look of this. So – I swirled the potato all up & added some butter and chopped parsley & baked it at 400 for another 10-15 minutes. It came out like this.
That is a vast improvement – no? Despite my unevenly heated oven.
Then just bust out the wine, get a pot holder, use it as a placemat & sit right in front of this casserole dish – hotter than fuck – and eat as much as you possibly can. Drink too much, too. Life is short. And so are hangovers. Relative to life, that is.