Leek and Mushroom Cottage Pie

So, you don’t know what a cottage pie is? I didn’t either, but now that I do, I don’t want to live in a world without it.

My dad has always been what one would call a meat and potatoes kind of guy; preferring that every meal to contain meat in one form or another. When meat’s missing from his dinner or lunch he says, “You know what would make this really great? Some (insert your choice of meat here)!” It drives me crazy.

Being his daughter, I grew up with chicken or ground beef in my dinner almost every night, so it astounds him that his only daughter could be a vegetarian (most recently turned pescatarian because of the goodness that is bagels and lox), simply because I don’t like the taste of meat.

The first time I made this mushroom and leek cottage pie, my dad was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe it was vegetarian, “I can’t even tell there’s no meat in this!” When he uttered these words, I know it sounds dramatic, but I was shocked. I’d never gotten a response like that from him when I’d cooked dinner in the past.

Since then, I’ve been scouring the internet for ways to get that meat-like sensation into foods to make my cooking more appealing to meat-lovers. The secret, I’ve found, is mushrooms. LOTS and LOTS of mushrooms.

Mushrooms have this meat-like taste because, like meats and broths, they have a strong umami flavor. Umami is a Japanese word which translates to “pleasant savory taste.” So long story short, if you want to make vegetarian food that your non-vegetarian friends and family will love, the key is to throw in all the mushrooms you can to whatever you’re making. Oh, and soy sauce and tomatoes too.

Soy sauce and tomatoes are two more of those sneaky, ninja vegetarian foods that pack a killer punch in the umami department. So that’s just a thought for all you people out there, mushrooms, soy sauce and tomatoes.

Now back to the real star of the show, the mushroom and leek cottage pie. A cottage pie (sometimes called a Shepherd’s pie and even more rarely called a hachis parmentier, thanks Wikipedia) is usually made with a ground meat of some kind that is cooked in a sauce with onions, smothered with a layer of yummy mashed potatoes on top, and then thrown in the oven to bake. It’s a very wintery and comforting kind of dish that makes you feel all warm and cozy on the inside.

The recipe I use substitutes out the ground meat for creamy mushrooms and leeks. While there’s no meat, this pie still has a rich, thick sauce, with a nice carroty crunch. The garlic mashed potatoes dolloped on top are by far the best thing about this pie. I personally don’t like big lumps in my mashed potatoes. I prefer a nice, smooth mash, but the consistency of your mashed potatoes is entirely up to you, no potato police here.

Once the pie’s in the oven, the top of the potatoes will crisp up giving you a little bit of a crunchy texture to combat the softness of the mushroom and leek mixture below.

I found this recipe on the New York Times Cooking website and made a couple of tweaks to it by adding in some carrots for crunch, lots of garlic to the mashed potatoes and some spice for a little extra kick. It’s a really easy dinner to throw together; who doesn’t love some mashed potatoes?!

Here’s the Mushroom and Leek Cottage Pie recipe:

Happy cooking!:)

Feel-good Lasagna

Have a bad day? Or maybe a great day that needs celebrating? No matter the occasion (or for no occasion whatsoever) this lasagna is the answer. This is a no-frills, back to the basics lasagna because it’s a classic (and there’s a reason for that, so let’s keep it that way).

Lasagna is one comfort food that never ceases to disappoint. You can try to jazz it up with different spices or by subbing Alfredo for tomato sauce, but 9 times out of 10, it will never live up to the original, tried and tested lasagna. That said, this recipe isn’t going to stray very far from tradition (besides the addition of a few (VERY FEW) anchovies), but I can guarantee you that it will taste fantastic.

I found this recipe in another one of my quarantine-induced boredom online-shopping purchases (my bank account is not on speaking terms with me at the moment) called, Nothing Fancy, by Alison Roman. At first, I, too, was skeptical that there was nothing in this recipe with flashing lights saying, “Notice me! I’m different!” There was no special spice added or new-fangled sauce, it was just your basic lasagna recipe.

Love this book, but my bank account is hurting.

After cooking it, however, I realized that this lasagna is anything but basic. The sauce isn’t straight out of the jar, it’s made from scratch–cooked down for about an hour from two cans of tomatoes, a diced onion, some garlic, a couple of anchovies, salt and pepper, and a dash of basil. This sauce isn’t to be rushed; it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you try to rush the sauce, it won’t be as thick as it needs to be in order to impart the intense tomatoey (is that even a word?), rich flavor typical of a memorable lasagna.

Is she memorable? I think so.

The anchovies, although optional, add yet another layer of flavor to the sauce; giving it a meaty taste without adding any ground beef to it (another sneaky attempt to get my dad to think there’s meat in a food when in reality, there’s not). I wasn’t completely sure if I was going to add the anchovies in or not; I went back and forth for a while, but at the last minute I decided just to go for it. I am so happy that I did because if I hadn’t added them, I don’t think that the sauce would have had that detectable umami flavor that made it seem almost meaty.

So, I’ve talked a lot about the sauce, now its on to the noodles. There’s not a whole lot to say here besides the fact that you only need to boil them for about 4 minutes. This short boiling time is because the noodles will continue to cook in the oven once the lasagna has been assembled. Ignore every voice in your head saying that the noodles need to cook for longer and just drain those bad boys after the 4 minutes of boiling. Just trust the system here.

This next part is for all those cheese lovers out there. Besides the sauce, what makes a great lasagna standout from its lesser counterparts is the cheese mixture. A lasagna wouldn’t be a lasagna without that creamy, cheesy ricotta layer breaking up the noodles and sauce, and this recipe is no exception. This is not for those unfortunate lactose intolerant souls out there, that’s for sure. Not only is there 2 cups of ricotta, but there’s 6 cups of shredded mozzarella, 1 cup of grated Parmesan and a little heavy cream in there to bind all those yummy cheeses together. Let me tell you, I honestly could sit there and just eat the cheese mixture all by itself, it’s that good.

Okay, one last thing. So, I don’t know if this is just an operator error (a solely just me problem) or if this happens to everyone, but whenever I’ve made lasagna in the past, it has never (not once!) all fit into a single glass dish. There’s always about three more layers that I have to throw into a smaller dish to freeze for a dinner later on down the road. While this isn’t a real issue (I can always use a quick freezer meal that’s all ready to go and just needs to be popped into the oven), it’s just annoying. All I want is to have all of those yummy layers to fit into one single dish (maybe I just need to buy myself a deeper dish, but that’s beside the point)! Anyway, if your dish is the same size as mine, you’ll run into the same problem, but that just means you have one more delicious lasagna ready to go to enjoy in a week or two.

I lied. Now this is the last thing I want to say, listen when the recipe says to bake the lasagna twice. The first bake goes in with a piece of aluminum foil on over the dish in order to melt all of those gorgeous cheeses and the second bake (with the foil off) is meant to make the lasagna all crispy and brown on top; just the way grandma used to make it. So, do not, for the love of god, skip the two bake process. What I said earlier for the sauce is apt for this situation too: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Bake the shit out of that lasagna–the crispier and browner, the better.

That’s all I have to say about this lovely, lovely lasagna; except, please try this because I’m telling you, it’ll knock your socks off.

Where’d your socks go? Oh, right. They were knocked off.

Here’s the Feel-good Lasagna recipe:

Serves 6-10 (depending on peoples’ appetites) | Total time: 2 hrs 15 min

INGREDIENTS:

For the sauce:

  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 1 large onion (yellow or whatever you have), chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 6 anchovy fillets (optional)
  • Salt, pepper, basil and Italian seasoning, to taste
  • 2 TBS tomato paste
  • 1, 28 oz. can of whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1, 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • A dash of hot sauce

For everything else:

  • 6 cups of shredded mozzarella
  • 2 cups (16 oz.) of ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan
  • ¼ cup of heavy cream
  • Salt, pepper, basil, and a dash of Cajun seasoning, to taste
  • 1 box (1 lb) of lasagna noodles

DIRECTIONS:

  • Step 1: To make the sauce, on medium heat and in a large pot, heat the olive oil. Then add the onion, garlic and anchovies. Season this with salt, pepper, a little basil and Italian seasoning. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent. This should take around 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Once translucent, add in the tomato paste and stir for about 2 minutes (the paste will turn a deep red color).
  • Step 2: Open the whole peeled tomato can and crush the whole tomatoes into smaller pieces (ones that are bite-sized) using your hands. Then add these and the can of crushed tomatoes to the pot. Fill one of the now empty tomato cans halfway with water and dump this into the pot too. Season with salt, pepper and basil. Bring the tomato sauce to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes; until the sauce has thickened to the consistency of a jarred pasta sauce. During this time, stir the sauce occasionally.
  • Step 3: Preheat your oven to 425º F and bring a large pot of boiling water to a boil. Make sure this water is generously salted.
  • Step 4: To construct the lasagna, start out by combining all of the cheeses (the ricotta, only 5 of the 6 cups of mozzarella, and Parmesan) with the heavy cream. Season this with salt, pepper, a little basil and Cajun.
  • Step 5: Cook the lasagna noodles in the boiling water for only 4 minutes. By only cooking the noodles this short period of time means that they will not be all the way cooked through. The noodles will finish up cooking in the oven after the lasagna has been assembled. Drain the noodles and separate any noodles that are trying to stick together; this will make it easier when assembling the lasagna.
  • Step 6: This is when the real lasagna construction begins. First, spoon a little bit of sauce on the bottom of a 3 qt baking dish. Cover this with a layer of noodles (try not to overlap the noodles too much). Top the noodle layer with a good couple of ladles full of sauce, followed by a layer of the cheese mixture (use about a fourth of the mixture). Top with another layer of noodles and then repeat these steps three more times (or until you’ve reached the top of your dish). End with a layer of noodles followed by a dollop of sauce and then top this with the leftover 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and a little extra Parmesan.
  • Step 7: Cover your dish with aluminum foil and place this on top of a baking sheet (to catch any lasagna that might bubble over while the lasagna’s cooking). Then slide the whole thing in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes. Once these 30 minutes are up, the pasta should be completely cooked through and the sauce should be bubbling up around the edges. At this point, take off the aluminum foil from the top of the lasagna and continue to bake it for another 35 to 45 minutes (until its nice and brown and crispy on top). Make sure to let it cool slightly before digging in.

Happy cooking!:)

Killer Kickin’ Kimchi

Kimchi is a magical example of fermentation at work. Fermentation is a beautiful thing when making beer and sourdough starters, but once you try kimchi, it’ll be your new favorite fermented food. I promise!

For me, as I’m sure for many others too, this time in quarantine has made me really nostalgic for a time not too long ago when we could freely go out to restaurants for dinner and spend time eating with people other than only those we live with. Just the atmosphere of a restaurant and the idea of spending time with friends made eating fun. Now, dinnertime just feels like one more mundane task to get through after a long day of staying at home. Dinner needs to become fun again, so I’ve been racking my brain for something different and punchy to spice things up (both figuratively and literally).

There’s one thing that I’ve been wanting to make myself for a long time that ticks the exciting column due to in part to both its taste and appearance. And that is Kimchi.

Kimchi is a Korean cuisine staple of salted and fermented vegetables, like napa cabbage and Korean radish, that can be mixed with many different seasonings, such as gochugaru (Korean chili powder), spring onions, garlic, ginger, etc. I like kimchi because it’s so versatile; I can have it as a side dish, add it to soup, put it in an omelet, or just eat it right out of the jar.

Food with Asian influences and a long shelf life have always held a special spot in my heart (and stomach), and I’m happy to report kimchi satisfies both requirements. It can be stored in a jar in the refrigerator for up to a month, and to make Kimchi even more appealing, it gets better with age. The longer it sits, the tangier and stronger its flavor becomes.

Kimchi fermenting away in the fridge.

I recently purchased a cookbook (during one of my many quarantine-induced boredom online-shopping sessions) by the New York Times food columnist, Alison Roman, called Dining In (it has so many great recipes, there will no doubt be more posts to come from it), and in it there’s a recipe for kimchi.

My new favorite quarantine past-time is paging through this book over and over again.

Roman’s kimchi recipe calls for napa cabbage over Korean radish, so if you’re one who prefers your kimchi crunchy, I would substitute Korean radishes for the head of napa cabbage that this particular recipe calls for. One more note, kimchi is usually spiced with the Korean chili powder, gochugaru, but if you don’t have that, it’s totally fine, just use red chili flakes instead (your kimchi, like mine, just won’t have the red coloring of traditional kimchi).

This will make a mildly spicy kimchi (you can always add more chili powder or red pepper flakes for additional heat) that’s also slightly sweet. This sweetness comes from the addition of an Asian pear, adding yet another level of flavor to your kimchi.

Need some exercise during this quarantine time with the gyms closed and overly strenuous exercise discouraged? Well, kimchi can solve that problem for you too. So roll your sleeves up and harness your inner masseuse because when making kimchi you have to massaging the heck out of that cabbage. You have to do this because massaging the cabbage it will cause it to shrink down to a much more reasonable-looking and manageable size.

When you first get out your cabbage, slice it up and put it in the bowl, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be saying, “There’s absolutely no way I need this much kimchi!” but trust me, once you put in a little sweat-equity, you’ll see that it’s the perfect amount. So don’t be afraid of overdoing it, just really get in there and massage that kimchi as if your life depends on it. Your kimchi will reward you for your effort later.

I feel like I’ve said the word ‘kimchi’ so many times that at this point, the word’s lost all meaning (Kimchi! Kimchi! Kimchi!). I swear though, if you’ve never had it, please, please, please, give kimchi a try. It’ll give you the chance to spice up dinnertime and make eating exciting again, while also helping you to get in your workout for the day. You won’t regret it!

I like to just eat it right out of the jar.

Here’s the recipe I used from Dining In:

Happy fermenting! 🙂